1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 02
On the morning of the Feast of St. Louis, the king of France awoke in the darkness. He was unable to sleep any longer. By the time he rose and shrugged into his robe, his ever-attentive valet Beringhien was already in his bedchamber, building up the fire to help his master ward off the unexpected late summer chill.
Beringhien knew better than to ask Louis why he was up and about at this hour. The king had long since ceased to observe the hours an adult man would normally keep. The lever and the coucher took place at the appointed times, so that the gentlemen who had the honor of assisting with the royal robing and disrobing could be present as needed. But what took place behind the door of the king’s cabinet was entirely different.
This was a special morning. Beringhien had laid out some of the king’s wardrobe when he retired just before Matins, and as soon as he dealt with the fireplace he retired without a word to complete the task, leaving Louis to attend to his duty with the chamber-pot.
In his dressing chamber, the king yawned, removing his robe and dropping it on the ground so that he could stand in his small-clothes. As he noted the attire that his valet had chosen he favored Beringhien with a slight smile. Even in the chilly pre-dawn dark it warmed the valet’s heart to see it. So little brought his royal master to smile these days, with the press of duty and the swirl of intrigues and the weight of the crown upon Louis’ brow.
“Send word to Father Caussin that I desire to have him hear my confession,” he said when he was done. “And present my respects to my lady, my lady the queen and inform her that I wish to call upon her when she is ready to receive me.”
“Majesty –” Beringhien began to reply, and then saw the expression on his master’s face: excitement, tinged perhaps with impatience. “Sire. It is two hours before dawn.”
“You do not think that my confessor will be, be ready to serve me at this hour?”
“No, Sire . . . but the queen . . .”
“When my spiritual duty is done she shall receive me. See to it, see to it,” he said, waving the valet off.
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” Beringhien answered, and bowed himself out of the king’s presence.
The stern voice of Père Nicolas Caussin, the king’s Jesuit confessor, pronounced the absolution upon the king as he knelt in the confessional. After a few polite words thanking His Majesty for his piety and his goodness in setting an example, Caussin withdrew from his side of the screen, leaving the king alone.
He offered up a private prayer and rose, stepping back into his private chapel, and then made his way along a corridor, just beginning to brighten with the first rays of sunlight. Three of his gentlemen-in-waiting kept a respectful distance from the king as they followed. In the distance, the first lauds-bells were chiming across the city, calling the faithful to prayer.
Presently he came to the apartments in the Louvre set aside for the queen. The outer door was already open. As he walked through, he received a low bow from François de Crussol, the duke of Uzès, gentleman-in-ordinary to the queen. He was of an age with the king and had been in Anne’s service for a dozen years, attending her before and at the lever — when she rose from bed and emerged to greet her courtiers. He had received word from Beringhien, and though he appeared to have scarcely performed his morning toilet, was alert and ready to receive the king.
“Sire,” Uzès said. “Her Majesty humbly begs her pardon as she is not yet ready to receive you, but asked that I present you in just a few minutes.”
“Very well, very well. It is — it is quite early.”
“Indeed so, my lord. I trust you rested well, Sire?”
“I could hardly sleep. A great day, a great day, Uzès.” The king shifted from foot to foot, then turned suddenly to his entourage. “My good gentilhommes, your service is not required — I shall call for you at once if you are needed.”
The three young noblemen offered deep bows and withdrew, scarcely concealing their delight in being released from the royal presence. They knew not to stray far, since the king’s mood might suddenly change, but they were clearly eager to be away from his sight.
The king turned again. “And how do you, Monsieur le duc? Are you well this fine day?”
“I thank Your Majesty for asking. I am quite well.”
“And the queen?”
“I believe she does well also. I –”
His reply was interrupted by the opening of the inner door of the chamber and the appearance of Marie-Aimée de Rohan, the Duchess of Chevreuse, the principal lady-in-waiting for the queen. The king disliked the duchess. At one time they had been very close, when she was married to Charles d’Albert, duc de Luynes — the king’s falconer and favorite, who had died fifteen years before. Since then she had descended into various intrigues, primarily aimed at Cardinal Richelieu. She had even been dismissed and exiled at one point, only to be reinstated earlier this year at the request of his queen.
As in so many things, Louis felt that circumstances had trapped him into such a decision — but it would soon be of no matter.
“Madame,” the king said, removing his hat. “Is Her Majesty ready to receive me?”
“Yes, sire,” the duchess answered. “She has just risen from her bed and made her morning prayer. She begs to receive you in her cabinet.”
“Splendid, splendid,” Louis said. “I would speak with her alone.”
The duchess de Chevreuse let one eyebrow drift upward, as if it were the strangest thing in the world for husband and wife — king and queen — to be alone together. But she had no inclination to gainsay her sovereign, and merely stood aside as the king entered the chamber. Uzès remained without, and the duchess closed the door behind her and looked at him.
“Do you have any idea –” she began.
“I have found that it is best not to ask, Madame,” the duke answered. “I am sure that if it is intended that I know, that I shall learn in due time.”
“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
“Do you wish the polite answer or the truth?”
“The truth, of course.”
“I am insanely curious. The king here, at dawn? I have no idea why he might come, and then seek private audience with our mistress. But it is his right. Perhaps they want to –”
“On a feast-day? Really, François –”
The duke shrugged, with a slight smile at her shocked look. He thought she was being quite disingenuous. When they were much younger they had both seen the loose morality of the court when Louis’ father was king. There had been eight légitimés, the recognized offspring of Henry IV with his various mistresses, and God only knew how many other by-blows that had never been brought to court.
“The calendar is stuffed with feast-days, Marie. I rather think the saints turn a blind eye to it all.”
She gave him another shocked look, which he continued to disregard. She reached for the door-handle as if preparing to stalk back into the queen’s inner chambers, then, realizing the order for privacy, let her hand drop to her side, and settled with as much dignity as she could manage into a chair.
Louis stood just inside the doorway for several seconds. Anne — who at court was called Anne of Austria though she was a Spanish princess — his wife of more than twenty years, sat at her toilet-table, her back to him; her long tresses lay loosely on her shoulders rather than being bundled up in a chignon or elaborately pinned in a coiffure, as she preferred and as court style demanded. She was dressed in a long plain underdress, and was examining herself in the mirrors at the back of the table.
She had seen him there; but it was some sort of game for her to pretend she had not. At another time, with an audience, this was something she might have prolonged to keep him waiting — to make sure he understood that he moved in her realm, that in these rooms he followed an orbit around her rather than she about him. But the time for such artifice and entertainment was past, if indeed it had ever been the true course she had wished to follow.