France – Saint-Cloud

The Castle of Saint-Cloud was practically destroyed during the siege of Paris by the Germans. Blackened walls, heaps of unsightly rubbish, a few solitary columns and shivering’ statues, were all they left of the home of Henriette d’Angleterre. When first I visited it years ago-it was in this state, and I thought I had never seen a more melancholy place. There was the glorious park, its trees as luxuriant, its lawns as velvety as ever. Even the flowers were blooming in the garden—roses, reminding one of the frail beauties who had once tended them, for, as we know, “Saint-Cloud was full of roses in summer.” The fountains, too, lay sleeping in their mossy basins—above all, the cascade, so admired by Louis XIV., and which was kept playing when he came to visit his brother, the Duke of Orleans. Yes, it was all as I had pictured it, the birds, the sunshine, the sweet fresh air, and below, the flowing waters of the Seine; and I was living two centuries back, when suddenly I came within sight of the palace. It was like finding a skeleton among a bed of roses. All kinds of melancholy thoughts came into my mind, and to this day, the memories I have of Saint-Cloud are memories of death scenes.

It was Clodowald, the son of Clodomir, the Merovingian King of Orleans, who founded Saint-Cloud. He had seen his young brothers murdered by their uncles Childebert and Clotaire, to avoid any disconcerting questions as to their rights to the throne; Clodowald himself would have shared their fate, save for the devotion of a faithful servant, with whose help he took sanctuary. Then, judging that he was -not wanted by the world, he prudently left it, cut off his long hair, sign of his illustrious origin, and became a monk. He died in the cell he shared with his friend and master, Severin, at Nogent-sur-Seine, having made himself so beloved by the people of the neighbour-hood that ever afterwards the place was known as Saint-Clouard or Saint-Cloud. From that time it was visited by pilgrims, and presently a monastery sprang up. Later, one of those Italians, who followed Catherine ‘ de Medicis to France, built a splendid house at Saint-Cloud, and called it the Maison de Gondi. It was in this , house that there took place the first great tragedy of Saint-Cloud.,

It is the first of August 1589; Saint-Cloud is glowing in the sunshine. Henri III. is living here, in the Maison de Gondi, driven out of his capital by the League, headed by the Duchesse de Montpensier, sister of the murdered Due de Guise and his brother the Cardinal. Henri has just risen, and is about to be dressed. He has heard. that, the night before, a young monk has arrived with important news from Paris. Henri is very anxious about Paris, for he has been told that the people are attending Masses for the souls of the dead Duke and Cardinal; that women, children, and students are marching barefoot and fasting, going from chapel to chapel, to pray for the souls of the enemies he has just murdered, and he knows what that means in a Parisien. So the young monk has been well entertained for the sake of the news he brings. He is a curious young fellow, much given to talking of fights, so that his brother monks have nicknamed him ” Captain Jacques Clement.” Sitting among Henri’s servants the night before, they noticed that he cut up his meat with a long, sharp, black-handled knife.

” The monks of your order are very much opposed to the King, are they not? ” one man had asked. ” I have been told that there are no less than six who have sworn to kill him.”

“Oh, there are bad and good,” replied Jacques laconically.

As Henri sits waiting that bright morning, the young monk enters, cool and self-contained.

“I must speak alone to your Majesty,” says he, ” the message is for no ear save yours,” and Belgrade and La Guesle, who are in attendance, retire.

Then the monk, who is kneeling at the King’s feet, draws out a knife, a long black-handled knife, and … delivers his message. When the lords rushed in, he was standing, his arms stretched wide, waiting. As for the King, he died next day, making a great demonstration of piety, like all his race, crying, ” My God, have pity on me, and pardon my sins! ” And certainly he had many to pardon, for he was perhaps the most utterly despicable and worthless of the whole House of Valois.

The old Maison de Gondi had been rebuilt and beautified when the next tragedy occurred. Louis XIV., always careful for the grandeur of his family, had turned it into a splendid palace, and given it to his brother, the Duke of Orleans, commonly known as ” Monsieur.” ” Monsieur ” had lately married that sweet and beautiful lady, Henriette-Anne, the baby girl who had been born to Henrietta Maria and Charles I. immediately after the battle of Exeter. It is she who haunts Saint-Cloud; her delicate, long face, with its bright eyes, and fair curls, flits about everywhere among the trees. It must have been a case of Beauty and the Beast, this marriage of hers with Philippe d’Orleans; for, while she was one of the most charming women of her time, with all the fascination of the Stuarts, and a sweet amiable nature, which, as Madame de la Fayette says, ” gained for her the love of men and the adoration of women,” ” Monsieur ” was undoubtedly the most odious little brute imaginable. As a child he had been considered pretty, and his mother, Anne of Austria, had, ‘for a long time, delighted to dress him as a girl. When at last the fat little man took to male attire, he was never happy unless he was decked out with ribbons and necklaces, bracelets and rings. While his brother Louis was working day and night, fulfilling all the duties of his own Prime Minister, and trying to make up for his defective education, ” Monsieur ” was playing with his jewels, or decking himself before his mirror. Poor Henriette-Anne, it must have been a miser-able life for her at Saint-Cloud. When that last day came, and she felt herself dying, I wonder whether she was sorry to go? She was still young—under thirty. Over in England, where she had been staying at the Court of her brother, Charles II., she had been feted, admired, and loved. Now she was back in the humdrum life of Saint-Cloud. As she said to Madame de la Fayette, the very morning of the day she died: “I am so tired of all the people around me. Sometimes I do not know how to bear with them.”

When I again visited Saint-Cloud, only the other day, a fete was being held in the park. All the way from Saint-Germain I had been thinking of Henriette-Anne and that lamentable 29th of June 1670; and I was not prepared for the crowded entrance, the holiday-makers, the noise, the laughter, the fun. It seemed like joking at a funeral. It reminded me of the account of Madame’s death-chamber, given by Mademoiselle de Montpensier.

“Madame is dying,” said the Queen in a low voice, -and what is most terrible is that she thinks she has been poisoned.”

They found her in her great curtained bed, so changed that she looked as though she were already a corpse, her face pale, her nose shrunken. And all the while people kept coming and going, laughing, talking and joking as though nothing unusual were taking place.

” I told the King,” says Mademoiselle, ” that some one should speak to her of God,” and, finally,, Bishop Bossuet was sent for, and remained with her to the end. What a strange melancholy scene was this I One by one they left her there to die—the King, the Queen, Mademoiselle, Madame de Montespan, and La Valliere. Even her odious little husband thought of nothing but how to get hold of her money and jewels. At last she was alone with the Bishop and one or two of her women.

” Give me the ring for the’ Bishop,” faltered the dying girl, and some one handed her a magnificent emerald ring.

” For you,” said she turning to Bossuet, who was kneeling at her bedside, and it was thus the daughter of Charles I. passed out into the night.

In all the sad story of that heartless reign, I doubt whether there is a more pathetic episode than the death of Henriette d’Angleterre at Saint-Cloud. “Oh, disastrous night! Oh, night of terror! When, like a clap of thunder, suddenly is heard the astounding news: Madame is dying I Madame is dead.”