Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 04
As Gaston put it, she was “safely out of the clutches of her royal brother-in-law and his lackey of a cardinal.” She was also awaiting the birth of her first child within the next six weeks.
Richelieu might view the prospect of legitimate sons from Gaston’s second wife as a nerve-wracking balancing act. Gaston might view it as enthralling. Isabella Clara Eugenia considered it a troubling complication.
“I can hardly wait.” Henriette de Lorraine-Vaudémont bounced on her toes.
Marguerite, her sister–her heavily pregnant sister–turned her face without lifting her head from the bolster. “I hadn’t realized you were so fond of my husband.” Since Marguerite, even in her present condition, was, if not precisely pretty, at least far from unattractive, she did not sound particularly worried.
“Not Monsieur,” Henriette said with disgust. “Ugh. Antoine.”
This time, Marguerite made the effort to sit up. “Henriette, you are being careless.”
“Why not be careless? I’m a widow, not a young, unmarried girl. Who is going to reprimand me? Not our brother Charles, not with all his women. And the bastard is dead.”
‘Bastard’ was the most literal possible description of Henriette’s late husband. Louis de Guise, baron d’Ancerville, grand chamberlain and seneschal of Lorraine, bastard son of the Cardinal de Guise, and her uncle’s favorite, had been nearly a quarter-century her senior.
Legally, they had married when she was eleven, because the Estates had refused to let her uncle marry Nicole to him. Practically, they had married when she was eighteen. Finally, a long two years later, when she was twenty, he had died. It could have been worse. He could have lived longer.
Of course, she had already left him by then. Louis had been annoyingly stiff-necked about her affairs, even when she pointed out most reasonably that since it was clear that she was barren, he didn’t have a thing to worry about.
At least the marriage, by the favor of her brother and the consent of the late Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, had brought her the title of princesse, however meaningless, and her very own tiny principality to rule. All her own, since Louis had died. In Lorraine, but not Lorraine proper. The heavily indebted duke of Pfalz-Veldenz, Georg Johann, count palatine by birth, had sold most of the various territories to her grandfather in 1584. A dreamer, the man had founded new cities in his left-bank-of-the-Rhine lands and set them up as a refuge for persecuted Huguenots from France. Pfalzburg–Phalsbourg, in French, Philippopolis in Latin documents. Who could guess what the up-timers might call it. Philipsburg, maybe, though the proper translation would be Fort Palatine. Lixheim, founded by the indebted count’s son in 1608 to provide a haven for more Reformed refugees and then, the son being equally if not more indebted, sold to her brother in 1623. Hambach, bought by her grandfather a few years before Pfalzburg, in 1561, from the bishop of Metz. That was directly east of Nancy, south of Sarreguemines–almost far enough south to be in Alsace, and far enough east to border on the USE. Sampigny lay to the northeast, closer to Metz; she had built a lovely new chateau there in 1630, just in time for the French to take it away. Saint-Avold, Neufchâteau, a few other scattered lands, this, that, and the other.
Not a lot, but hers. Her lands to govern, with no husband to govern her. At the age of twenty-three, almost twenty-four, she had achieved something almost no noblewoman in Europe could dream of.
She was free.
Or she would be free, if French troops had not occupied her little principality along with the rest of Lorraine.
Free, except that she had fallen in love with Antoine.
Antoine de l’Aage, duc de Puylaurens. Her brother-in-law Gaston’s favorite, with his sweet Languedoc drawl. Panderer to Gaston’s pleasures, and as beautiful of body as he needed to be for that. Adviser in his intrigues against Richelieu. Most recently, by grace of Gaston’s reconciliation with his brother, Louis XIII, the king of France, also granted the titles of duc d’Aiguillon and pair de France.
Antoine was destined, if one believed the eleventh edition of the Encylopedia Britannica, now so widely reprinted and distributed, to die in prison, incarcerated on the orders of that same king, in little more than a year.
Antoine had read the encyclopedia article also. “I read a proverb that the up-timers have,” he told her the last time they saw one another, before he went back to France with Gaston. “‘There’s nothing that concentrates a man’s mind quite as much as the prospect of being hanged in the morning.’ I plan, my dear Henriette, to concentrate very hard.”
It was insane of her to love Antoine. Thank God that he had managed to duck the marriage they had arranged for him with the sister-in-law of Nogaret, who in turn had just married one of Richelieu’s distant cousins. Nogaret, the duc de La Valette, first married one of the illegitimate daughters of Henri IV. Everyone said that he poisoned her once the marriage was no longer advantageous. He’d be an uncomfortable man to have in the family, so to speak, even on the fringes. If Antoine hadn’t managed to escape the match, what relation would the brother of her lover’s wife have been to her? Not in in-law. But not an out-law, either.
Still, even though Antoine was still single, she was not insane enough to marry him herself.
She was instead, if anybody would ever bother to notice, really rather shrewd. Probably, she would have to wait as long as she had already lived before anyone noticed that. Men seemed to pay more attention to a woman’s mind after she had passed beyond the age of bearing children.
“I just can’t imagine what all those women see in Charles.” While Henriette’s mind was wandering, Marguerite’s had stayed focused on the topic of their brother. “Especially la Chevreuse–she is so lovely.”
Henriette grinned. “The size of the nose is supposed to be a clue, you know.”
Marguerite started to say something appropriately repressive.
A footman, with great ceremony, opened the doors.
The heavy, not particularly attractive–well, plain, to put it bluntly–woman who entered motioned to Marguerite that she should not, in these private chambers, make the effort to get up.
Nicole, duchess of Lorraine, their cousin and sister-in-law. Duchess of Bar by birth. Her father Henri, their uncle, had died leaving only two daughters. It had made perfect sense to everyone, particularly the pope, who had stepped in as arbitrator, that Nicole, as the older female heir, should be married off to their brother Charles, the closest heir in the male line. It would keep the two parts of the duchy together. It was a neat solution to so many possible problems. Except…
Well, except that Nicole and Charles loathed one another. Always had. Probably always would. It had not been easy for the older members of the family and spokesmen for the Lorraine Estates to obtain the mutual consent without which the wedding could not proceed.
The story circulated that when the happy mother of the groom had ceremonially opened the curtains of the state bed the morning after the wedding night, the newlyweds had been found lying, backs toward one another, on opposite edges of the mattress, the sixteen-year-old groom sulking and the twelve-year-old bride sobbing with misery.