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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Scenes and the Actors

By Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911)

From ‘Mademoiselle’s Campaigns,’ in ‘Atlantic Essays’

THE HEROINE of this tale is one so famous in history that her proper name never appears in it. The seeming paradox is the soberest fact. To us Americans, glory lies in the abundant display of one’s personal appellation in the newspapers. Our heroine lived in the most gossiping of all ages, herself its greatest gossip; yet her own name, patronymic or baptismal, never was talked about. It was not that she sunk that name beneath high-sounding titles; she only elevated the most commonplace of all titles till she monopolized it and it monopolized her. Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Souveraine de Dombes, Princesse Dauphine d’Auvergne, Duchesse de Montpensier, is forgotten, or rather was never remembered; but the great name of MADEMOISELLE, La Grande Mademoiselle, gleams like a golden thread shot through and through that gorgeous tapestry of crimson and purple which records for us the age of Louis Quatorze.

In May of the year 1627, while the slow tide of events was drawing Charles I. toward his scaffold,—while Sir John Eliot was awaiting in the Tower of London the summoning of the Third Parliament,—while the troops of Buckingham lay dying, without an enemy, upon the Isle of Rhé,—at the very crisis of the terrible siege of Rochelle, and perhaps during the very hour when the Three Guardsmen of Dumas held that famous bastion against an army, the heroine of our story was born. And she, like the Three Guardsmen, waited till twenty years after for a career.

The twenty years are over. Richelieu is dead. The strongest will that ever ruled France has passed away; and the poor broken King has hunted his last badger at St. Germain, and then meekly followed his master to the grave, as he has always followed him. Louis XIII., called Louis le Juste, not from the predominance of that particular virtue (or any other) in his character, but simply because he happened to be born under the constellation of the Scales, has died like a Frenchman, in peace with all the world except his wife. That beautiful and queenly wife, called Anne of Austria (though a Spaniard),—no longer the wild and passionate girl who fascinated Buckingham and embroiled two kingdoms,—has hastened within four days to defy all the dying imprecations of her husband, by reversing every plan and every appointment he has made. The little prince has already shown all the Grand Monarque in his childish “Je suis Louis Quatorze,” and has been carried in his bib to hold his first Parliament. That Parliament, heroic as its English contemporary, though less successful, has reached the point of revolution at last. Civil war is impending. Condé, at twenty-one the greatest general in Europe, after changing sides a hundred times in a week is fixed at last. Turenne is arrayed against him. The young, the brave, the beautiful cluster around them. The performers are drawn up in line, the curtain rises,—the play is ‘The Wars of the Fronde,’—and into that brilliant arena, like some fair circus equestrian, gay, spangled, and daring, rides Mademoiselle.

Almost all French historians, from Voltaire to Cousin (St. Aulaire being the chief exception), speak lightly of the Wars of the Fronde. “La Fronde n’est pas sérieuse.” Of course it was not. Had it been wholly serious, it would not have been wholly French. Of course French insurrections, like French despotisms, have always been tempered by epigrams; of course the people went out to the conflicts in ribbons and feathers; of course over every battle there pelted down a shower of satire, like the rain at the Eglinton tournament. More than two hundred pamphlets rattled on the head of Condé alone, and the collection of Mazarinades, preserved by the Cardinal himself, fills sixty-nine volumes in quarto. From every field the first crop was glory, the second a bon-mot. When the dagger of De Retz fell from his breast pocket, it was “our good archbishop’s breviary”; and when his famous Corinthian troop was defeated in battle, it was “the First Epistle to the Corinthians.” While, across the Channel, Charles Stuart was listening to his doom, Paris was gay in the midst of dangers, Madame de Longueville was receiving her gallants in mimic court at the Hôtel de Ville, De Retz was wearing his sword-belt over his archbishop’s gown, the little hunchback Conti was generalissimo, and the starving people were pillaging Mazarin’s library, in joke, “to find something to gnaw upon.” Outside the walls, the maids of honor were quarreling over the straw beds which annihilated all the romance of martyrdom, and Condé, with five thousand men, was besieging five hundred thousand. No matter,—they all laughed through it, and through every succeeding turn of the kaleidoscope; and the “Anything may happen in France,” with which La Rochefoucauld jumped amicably into the carriage of his mortal enemy, was not only the first and best of his maxims, but the keynote of French history for all coming time.

But behind all this sport, as in all the annals of the nation, were mysteries and terrors and crimes. It was the age of cabalistic ciphers, like that of De Retz, of which Guy Joli dreamed the solution; of inexplicable secrets, like the Man in the Iron Mask, whereof no solution was ever dreamed; of poisons, like that diamond dust which in six hours transformed the fresh beauty of the Princess Royal into foul decay; of dungeons, like that cell at Vincennes which Madame de Rambouillet pronounced to be “worth its weight in arsenic.” War or peace hung on the color of a ball dress, and Madame de Chevreuse knew which party was coming uppermost by observing whether the binding of Madame de Hautefort’s prayer-book was red or green. Perhaps it was all a little theatrical, but the performers were all Rachels.

And behind the crimes and the frivolities stood the Parliaments, calm and undaunted, with leaders like Molé and Talon, who needed nothing but success to make their names as grand in history as those of Pym and Hampden. Among the Brienne Papers in the British Museum there is a collection of the manifestoes and proclamations of that time; and they are earnest, eloquent, and powerful, from beginning to end. Lord Mahon alone among historians, so far as my knowledge goes, has done fit and full justice to the French Parliaments; those assemblies which refused admission to the foreign armies which the nobles would gladly have summoned in, but fed and protected the banished princesses of England, when the court party had left those descendants of the Bourbons to die of cold and hunger in the palace of their ancestors. And we have the testimony of Henrietta Maria herself, the only person who had seen both revolutions near at hand, that “the troubles in England never appeared so formidable in their early days, nor were the leaders of the revolutionary party so ardent or so united.” The character of the agitation was no more to be judged by its jokes and epigrams, than the gloomy glory of the English Puritans by the grotesque names of their saints, or the stern resolution of the Dutch burghers by their guilds of rhetoric and symbolical melodrama.

But popular power was not yet developed in France, as it was in England; all social order was unsettled and changing, and well Mazarin knew it. He knew the pieces with which he played his game of chess: the king powerless, the queen mighty, the bishops unable to take a single straightforward move, and the knights going naturally zigzag; with a host of plebeian pawns, every one fit for a possible royalty, and therefore to be used shrewdly, or else annihilated as soon as practicable. True, the game would not last forever; but after him the Deluge.

Our age has forgotten even the meaning of the word “Fronde”; but here also the French and Flemish histories run parallel, and the Frondeurs, like the Gueux, were children of a sarcasm. The Counselor Bachaumont one day ridiculed insurrectionists as resembling the boys who played with slings (frondes) about the streets of Paris, but scattered at the first glimpse of a policeman. The phrase organized the party. Next morning all fashions were à la fronde,—hats, gloves, fans, bread, and ballads; and it cost six years of civil war to pay for the Counselor’s facetiousness.

That which was, after all, the most remarkable characteristic of these wars might be guessed from this fact about the fashions. The Fronde was pre-eminently “the War of the Ladies.” Educated far beyond the Englishwomen of their time, they took a controlling share, sometimes ignoble, often noble, always powerful, in the affairs of the time. It was not merely a courtly gallantry which flattered them with a hollow importance. De Retz, in his ‘Memoirs,’ compares the women of his age with Elizabeth of England. A Spanish ambassador once congratulated Mazarin on obtaining temporary repose. “You are mistaken,” he replied: “there is no repose in France, for I have always women to contend with. In Spain, women have only love affairs to employ them; but here we have three who are capable of governing or overthrowing great kingdoms,—the Duchesse de Longueville, the Princesse Palatine, and the Duchesse de Chevreuse.” And there were others as great as these; and the women who for years outwitted Mazarin and outgeneraled Condé are deserving of a stronger praise than they have yet obtained, even from the classic and courtly Cousin.

What men of that age eclipsed or equaled the address and daring of those delicate and high-born women? What a romance was their ordinary existence! The Princesse Palatine gave refuge to Madame de Longueville when that alone saved her from sharing the imprisonment of her brothers Condé and Conti,—then fled for her own life, by night, with Rochefoucauld. Madame de Longueville herself, pursued afterwards by the royal troops, wished to embark in a little boat, on a dangerous shore, during a midnight storm so wild that not a fisherman could at first be found to venture forth; the beautiful fugitive threatened and implored till they consented; the sailor who bore her in his arms to the boat let her fall amid the furious surges; she was dragged senseless to the shore again, and on the instant of reviving, demanded to repeat the experiment; but as they utterly refused, she rode inland beneath the tempest, and traveled for fourteen nights before she could find another place of embarkation.

Madame de Chevreuse rode with one attendant from Paris to Madrid, fleeing from Richelieu, remaining day and night on her horse, attracting perilous admiration by the womanly loveliness which no male attire could obscure. From Spain she went to England, organizing there the French exiles into a strength which frightened Richelieu; thence to Holland, to conspire nearer home; back to Paris, on the minister’s death, to form the faction of the Importants; and when the Duke of Beaufort was imprisoned, Mazarin said, “Of what use to cut off the arms while the head remains?” Ten years from her first perilous escape, she made a second: dashed through La Vendée, embarked at St. Malo for Dunkirk, was captured by the fleet of the Parliament, was released by the governor of the Isle of Wight, unable to imprison so beautiful a butterfly, reached her port at last, and in a few weeks was intriguing at Liège again.

The Duchesse de Bouillon, Turenne’s sister, purer than those we have named, but not less daring or determined, after charming the whole population of Paris by her rebel beauty at the Hôtel de Ville, escaped from her sudden incarceration by walking through the midst of her guards at dusk, crouching in the shadow of her little daughter, and afterwards allowed herself to be recaptured rather than desert that child’s sick-bed.

Then there was Clémence de Maille, purest and noblest of all, niece of Richelieu and hapless wife of the cruel ingrate Condé, his equal in daring and his superior in every other high quality. Married while a child still playing with her dolls, and sent at once to a convent to learn to read and write, she became a woman the instant her husband became a captive; while he watered his pinks in the garden at Vincennes, she went through France and raised an army for his relief. Her means were as noble as her ends. She would not surrender the humblest of her friends to an enemy, nor suffer the massacre of her worst enemy by a friend. She threw herself between the fire of two hostile parties at Bordeaux, and while men were falling each side of her, compelled them to peace. Her deeds rang through Europe. When she sailed from Bordeaux for Paris at last, thirty thousand people assembled to bid her farewell. She was loved and admired by all the world, except that husband for whom she dared so much—and the Archbishop of Caen. The respectable archbishop complained that “this lady did not prove that she had been authorized by her husband,—an essential provision, without which no woman can act in law.” And Condé himself, whose heart, physically twice as large as other men’s, was spiritually imperceptible, repaid this stainless nobleness by years of persecution, and bequeathed her as a lifelong prisoner to his dastard son.

Then on the royal side there was Anne of Austria, sufficient unto herself,—Queen Regent, and every inch a queen (before all but Mazarin) from the moment when the mob of Paris filed through the chamber of the boy king, during his pretended sleep, and the motionless and stately mother held back the crimson draperies with the same lovely arm that had waved perilous farewells to Buckingham, to the day when the news of the fatal battle of Gien came to her in her dressing-room, and “she remained undisturbed before the mirror, not neglecting the arrangement of a single curl.”

In short, every woman who took part in the Ladies’ War became heroic,—from Marguerite of Lorraine, who snatched the pen from her weak husband’s hand and gave De Retz the order for the first insurrection, down to the wife of the commandant of the Porte St. Roche, who, springing from her bed to obey that order, made the drums beat to arms and secured the barrier; and fitly, amid adventurous days like these, opened the career of Mademoiselle.

The First Campaign

GRANDCHILD of Henri Quatre, niece of Louis XIII., cousin of Louis XIV., first princess of the blood, and with the largest income in the nation (500,000 livres) to support these dignities, Mademoiselle was certainly born in the purple. Her autobiography admits us to very gorgeous company; the stream of her personal recollections is a perfect Pactolus. There is almost a surfeit of royalty in it; every card is a court card, and all her counters are counts. “I wore at this festival all the crown jewels of France, and also those of the Queen of England.” “A far greater establishment was assigned to me than any fille de France had ever had, not excepting any of my aunts, the Queens of England and of Spain, and the Duchess of Savoy.” “The Queen, my grandmother, gave me as a governess the same lady who had been governess to the late King.” Pageant or funeral, it is the same thing. “In the midst of these festivities we heard of the death of the King of Spain; whereat the queens were greatly afflicted, and we all went into mourning.” Thus, throughout, her ‘Memoirs’ glitter like the coat with which the splendid Buckingham astonished the cheaper chivalry of France: they drop diamonds.

But for any personal career Mademoiselle found at first no opportunity, in the earlier years of the Fronde. A gay, fearless, flattered girl, she simply shared the fortunes of the court; laughed at the festivals in the palace, laughed at the ominous insurrections in the streets; laughed when the people cheered her, their pet princess; and when the royal party fled from Paris, she adroitly secured for herself the best straw bed at St. Germain, and laughed louder than ever. She despised the courtiers who flattered her; secretly admired her young cousin Condé, whom she affected to despise; danced when the court danced, and ran away when it mourned. She made all manner of fun of her English lover, the future Charles II., whom she alone of all the world found bashful; and in general she wasted the golden hours with much excellent fooling. Nor would she perhaps ever have found herself a heroine, but that her respectable father was a poltroon.

Lord Mahon ventures to assert that Gaston, Duke of Orléans, was “the most cowardly prince of whom history makes mention.” A strong expression, but perhaps safe. Holding the most powerful position in the nation, he never came upon the scene but to commit some new act of ingenious pusillanimity; while, by some extraordinary chance, every woman of his immediate kindred was a natural heroine, and became more heroic through disgust at him. His wife was Marguerite of Lorraine, who originated the first Fronde insurrection; his daughter turned the scale of the second. Yet personally he not only had not the courage to act, but had not the courage to abstain from acting: he could no more keep out of parties than in them, but was always busy, waging war in spite of Mars and negotiating in spite of Minerva.

And when the second war of the Fronde broke out, it was in spite of himself that he gave his name and his daughter to the popular cause. When the fate of the two nations hung trembling in the balance, the royal army under Turenne advancing on Paris, and almost arrived at the city of Orléans, and that city likely to take the side of the strongest,—then Mademoiselle’s hour had come. All her sympathies were more and more inclining to the side of Condé and the people. Orléans was her own hereditary city. Her father, as was his custom in great emergencies, declared that he was very ill and must go to bed immediately: but it was as easy for her to be strong as it was for him to be weak; so she wrung from him a reluctant plenipotentiary power,—she might go herself and try what her influence could do. And so she rode forth from Paris one fine morning, March 27th, 1652,—rode with a few attendants, half in enthusiasm, half in levity, aiming to become a second Joan of Arc, secure the city, and save the nation. “I felt perfectly delighted,” says the young girl, “at having to play so extraordinary a part.”

The people of Paris had heard of her mission, and cheered her as she went. The officers of the army, with an escort of five hundred men, met her half-way from Paris. Most of them evidently knew her calibre, were delighted to see her, and installed her at once over a regular council of war. She entered into the position with her natural promptness. A certain grave M. de Rohan undertook to tutor her privately, and met his match. In the public deliberation there were some differences of opinion. All agreed that the army should not pass beyond the Loire: this was Gaston’s suggestion, and nevertheless a good one. Beyond this all was left to Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle intended to go straight to Orléans. “But the royal army had reached there already.” Mademoiselle did not believe it. “The citizens would not admit her.” Mademoiselle would see about that. Presently the city government of Orléans sent her a letter, in great dismay, particularly requesting her to keep her distance. Mademoiselle immediately ordered her coach, and set out for the city. “I was naturally resolute,” she naïvely remarks.

Her siege of Orléans was one of the most remarkable military operations on record. She was right in one thing,—the royal army had not arrived: but it might appear at any moment; so the magistrates quietly shut all their gates, and waited to see what would happen.

Mademoiselle happened. It was eleven in the morning when she reached the Porte Bannière, and she sat three hours in her state carriage without seeing a person. With amusing politeness, the governor of the city at last sent her some confectionery,—agreeing with John Keats, who held that young women were beings fitter to be presented with sugar-plums than with one’s time. But he took care to explain that the bonbons were not official, and did not recognize her authority. So she quietly ate them, and then decided to take a walk outside the walls. Her council of war opposed this step, as they did every other; but she coolly said (and the event justified her prediction) that the enthusiasm of the populace would carry the city for her, if she could only get at them.

So she set out on her walk. Her two beautiful ladies of honor, the Countesses de Fiesque and de Frontenac, went with her; a few attendants behind. She came to a gate. The people were all gathered inside the ramparts. “Let me in,” demanded the imperious young lady. The astonished citizens looked at one another and said nothing. She walked on,—the crowd inside keeping pace with her. She reached another gate. The enthusiasm was increased. The captain of the guard formed his troops in line and saluted her. “Open the gate,” she again insisted. The poor captain made signs that he had not the keys. “Break it down, then,” coolly suggested the daughter of the House of Orléans; to which his only reply was a profusion of profound bows, and the lady walked on.

Those were the days of astrology; and at this moment it occurred to our Mademoiselle that the chief astrologer of Paris had predicted success to all her undertakings from the noon of this very day until the noon following. She had never had the slightest faith in the mystic science, but she turned to her attendant ladies, and remarked that the matter was settled: she should get in. On went the three until they reached the bank of the river, and saw opposite the gates which opened on the quay. The Orléans boatmen came flocking round her; a hardy race, who feared neither queen nor Mazarin. They would break down any gate she chose. She selected one, got into a boat, and sending back her terrified male attendants, that they might have no responsibility in the case, she was rowed to the other side. Her new allies were already at work, and she climbed from the boat upon the quay by a high ladder, of which several rounds were broken away. They worked more and more enthusiastically, though the gate was built to stand a siege, and stoutly resisted this one. Courage is magnetic; every moment increased the popular enthusiasm, as these high-born ladies stood alone among the boatmen; the crowd inside joined in the attack upon the gate; the guard looked on; the city government remained irresolute at the Hôtel de Ville, fairly beleaguered and stormed by one princess and two maids of honor.

A crash, and the mighty timbers of the Porte Brûlée yield in the centre. Aided by the strong and exceedingly soiled hands of her new friends, our elegant Mademoiselle is lifted, pulled, pushed, and tugged between the vast iron bars which fortify the gate; and in this fashion, torn, splashed, and disheveled generally, she makes entrance into her city. The guard, promptly adhering to the winning side, present arms to the heroine. The people fill the air with their applauses; they place her in a large wooden chair, and bear her in triumph through the streets. “Everybody came to kiss my hands, while I was dying with laughter to find myself in so odd a situation.”

Presently our volatile lady told them that she had learned how to walk, and begged to be put down; then she waited for her countesses, who arrived bespattered with mud. The drums beat before her as she set forth again; and the city government, yielding to the feminine conqueror, came to do her homage. She carelessly assured them of her clemency. She “had no doubt that they would soon have opened the gates, but she was naturally of a very impatient disposition, and could not wait.” Moreover, she kindly suggested, neither party could now find fault with them; and as for the future, she would save them all trouble, and govern the city herself,—which she accordingly did.

By confession of all historians, she alone saved the city for the Fronde, and for the moment secured that party the ascendency in the nation. Next day the advance guard of the royal forces appeared—a day too late. Mademoiselle made a speech (the first in her life) to the city government; then went forth to her own small army, by this time drawn near, and held another council. The next day she received a letter from her father (whose health was now decidedly restored), declaring that she had “saved Orléans and secured Paris, and shown yet more judgment than courage.” The next day Condé came up with his forces, compared his fair cousin to Gustavus Adolphus, and wrote to her that “her exploit was such as she only could have performed, and was of the greatest importance.”

Mademoiselle stayed a little longer at Orléans, while the armies lay watching each other, or fighting the battle of Bléneau, of which Condé wrote her an official bulletin, as being generalissimo. She amused herself easily, went to mass, played at bowls, received the magistrates, stopped couriers to laugh over their letters, reviewed the troops, signed passports, held councils, and did many things “for which she should have thought herself quite unfitted, if she had not found she did them very well.” The enthusiasm she had inspired kept itself unabated, for she really deserved it. She was everywhere recognized as head of affairs; the officers of the army drank her health on their knees when she dined with them, while the trumpets sounded and the cannons roared; Condé, when absent, left instructions to his officers, “Obey the commands of Mademoiselle as my own;” and her father addressed a dispatch from Paris to her ladies of honor, as field-marshals in her army: “À Mesdames les Comtesses Maréchales de Camp dans l’Armée de ma Fille contre le Mazarin.”