« PrécédentContinuer »
In the fifteenth century Florence was a republic, wherein administration was vested in a council of ten citizens and a standard-bearer (gonfaloniere). The de Medicis, whether members of the Council or not, though they held no more exclusive title than that of citizen, enjoyed a rôle almost equivalent to that of monarchs. By prudence and forbearance the elder branch maintained their position of power, exhibiting no tendency to despotism or tyranny for more than a century. The first absolute ruler was the despot Alexander, illegitimate son of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and half-brother to Catherine. He was elected chief or governor in 1530, with the title of Duke della citta di Penna. Alexander was murdered in 1536, and the free city or republic of Florence was merged in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany then established. Cosmo de Medicis, of the collateral branch, was elected first Grand Duke. This new dynasty lasted until early in the eighteenth century, when Tuscany fell into the hands of ,
of the Austrians.
Many of the members of both branches occupied prominent places in history. Lorenzo the Magnificent, grandson of the first mentioned Cosmo, was the greatest of the men. His grandson Lorenzo, appointed Duke of Urbino by his uncle Pope Leo X, was father of Catherine, the dominant character with whom we are concerned. Her mother was Madeleine de la Tour, of the royal house of France, who died in giving birth to this, her only child, in 1519. The Duke succumbed a few days later, victim, some say, of the foul disease then new to Europe, the nature and causation of which were only later understood. The orphan Catherine was taken over by Pope Leo X, and brought up under precarious conditions. Her life was more than once in danger from political plotters. But her irregular existence dragged on until 1533. In that year she was conducted, at the
age of fourteen, to the French court by Pope Clement VII, whose alliance seemed of such importance to Francis I that he consented to a marriage between his second son and the Pope's protegée ; but he refused absolutely to entertain the initial suggestion of his Holiness that the Dauphin should espouse her. The Florentines, with an enormous retinue, met the French escort party at Livourne. The marriage ceremony of this boy and girl, whose ages were, respectively, fifteen and fourteen, was carried out with great splendour, Clement
VII remaining in France throughout the greater part of the ceremonies which lasted several weeks.
The marriage was regarded in court circles as a mesalliance, and the little Florentine was totally eclipsed by such grandes dames as Queen Eleanor, Marguerite of Navarre, Diana of Poitiers, the Duchess of Guise, the Duchess of Albany, etc. However, she displayed much prudence and patience, atavistic traits recalling her great ancestor, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Philip Strozzi, her uncle by marriage, had paid out in gold her fortune of 200,000 ducats, to the sneers of the courtiers, who thought the alliance of the grocers' daughter with the House of Valois worth much
In these first years, as in most of her life at the French court, she counted few friends outside those members of her retinue who remained with her. Chief of these were Strozzi, Birague, the Gondi, Sardini, and the brothers Ruggieri. Their position at court was precarious ; suspicion, jealousy, dislike, meeting them everywhere, it was only by the exercise of great caution and self-control, following t're example set by their precocious mistress, that they maintained it. The situation became too complex for honest Strozzi, who was impelled by nostalgia and discomfort to return to his native city. There, at least, was something tangible to go on : one met one's enemies mostly in the open; one's stupid blushes were not evoked at every turn by perky demoiselles d'honneur and by the covert sneers of court underlings. During the first three years of her french life Catherine's position as wife of the second son was naturally subordinate, and her prospects on the death of the Dauphin, so far from improving, became less secure : she was childless, and divorce was freely talked of. This danger was, however, averted.
Her greatest enemy at first was Diana of Poitiers, Duchess of Valentinois, who, though nineteen years older than Henry II, was Catherine's rival in his affections. The vanities of this courtesan were a fruitful theme for the satirists of the day. Jean Vouté, a disciple of the Italian Aretino, and other Voltaires, with less cryptic utterance than Rabelais, did not spare her foibles. peint n'attrape point de gibier,' wrote one by way of introduction to stronger remarks. The law of libel was yet in embryo, and the Press, in its irresponsible infancy, was the willing playmate of lampooners. The irregular rôle of Diana at court, her influence in State affairs during Henry's
reign, her flagrant assumption of royal prerogatives, made the queen's position an unenviable one. Seeming indifference, not merely to petty annoyance but to greater misfortune, such as the guilty amours of her husband, gave Catherine the aspect, in superficial eyes, of a poor soulless foreigner, content to remain submerged. But, smooth runs the water where the brook is deep'; she was actually engaged with all her wonderful wits in special stratagem. Her ruse was to play off two prominent ladies of easy virtue, one against the other. A string pulled here, & button touched there by an invisible hand aroused reactions in Diana and d'Etampes which were incompatible with friendship and trust. The result, indeed, looked at one time like proving a counterpart to the story of the proverbial pair of feline combatants whose little affair ended in mutual demolition. It was a preliminary training for the intricacies with which she was ever confronted. 'Ne caressez que vos ennemis, she wrote once to her daughter, the Queen of Spain. The subtlety of her role in the early days
. became apparent later. There was nothing to gain by crying out against a faithless husband ; no woman of her rank ever finds much redress for such wrongs.
When Calvinism began to be a menace to peace in France-peace in religion, that is-namely, some fifteen years after its inception at Geneva, and seven or eight years before actual religious war, the Catholics formed a more coherent party under the elder Guise, from which crystallized the league under the leadership of the younger Guise. Diana, 'wearing her faith, but as the fashion of her hat,' identificd herself with the Catholic party, where in her ze al was measured by the advances made in the graces of the reformers by the Duchess d'Etampes. They were acquisitions to their respective parties, no doubt, and their relative merits from this standpoint have exercised the minds of certain observers ; but there's small choice in rotten apples.
Catherine's greatest political enemy was probably the younger Guise, styled, like his father, Balafré (scarred). The Guise family had designs on the French crown for more than a century. Their pretensions had little basis beyond inordinate ambition, the claims of the House of Lorraine being subordinate to those of Navarre. There was no overt declaration of their policy, but many things prove its nature. Two prominent marriages added
distinction to the family, namely, that of Marie of Lorraine to James V of Scotland, and that of Francis himself, the elder Balafré, to the daughter of the Duchess of Ferrara, grand-daughter of Louis XII. A third marriage, of later date, had a similar significance, that of Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) with Catherine's son, who became Francis II. Francis of Guise' was a wonderful soldier and leader of men. His defence of Metz in 1551 against Charles V is one of the finest pages in siege warfare.
His part in the preparations for defence is no less great than the siege itself. Not content with directing operations, he spent several hours a day in manual labour, chiefly carrying the hod! Such a lead gave no choice to his subordinates of all ranks but to follow, and the concentrated effort provided a nut which the Germans failed to crack.
In the siege of Boulogne, in 1545, he received a huge gash from a lance, which transfixed his face, causing that unsightly scar which gave him the name Balafré. His life was saved by the bold and timely intervention of the father of surgery, Ambroise Paré. He failed before Boulogne, which was subsequently sold by the English for less than they had paid for it, when the outer forts were taken by the French. But the greatest of his deeds was the taking of Calais, that powerful stronghold, which had been in English hands since the time of Edward III (210 years). Philip Strozzi, who had been his henchman at Metz, entered the town in disguise and the information which he sent out induced Guise to make the attempt on New Year's Day, 1558, which resulted in the great coup. Guise was killed at the siege of Orleans in 1563, the murder, as it is styled, being instigated by Huguenots, of whom Coligny received the chief blame. The actual murderer (?) was Poltrot de Meré. Whether guilty or not, Coligny paid the penalty, in death, nine years later; he was one of ihe first victims on St. Bartholomew's Day, or a day or two before it.
The anger of Hnry of Guise at his father's death knew no bounds. He swore vengeance on the supposed perpetrators, whom he pursued with an intense hatred, a fict which must be reckoned with when attempting to allocate the responsibility for the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
The Ruggieri brothers, into whose hands fell the future Queen of France, were responsible for her love of mysticism,
· He was Duke of Aumalo until 1860, when on the death of his father ho tot the titlo Duke of Guise.