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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE KING OF PARIS

[306] HENRY III. was alarmed by the cold greeting of his subjects. Moreover, a few days after his return to the capital, the Sorbonne, the famous college of Paris, decreed that "the government might be taken away from princes who were found not what they ought to be."

The decree had a sinister sound in the king's ears. He feared what might happen if his rival the duke came to Paris, and he forbade him to enter the city.

But Guise laughed at the king's order, knowing that he was unable to enforce it. In a few days, in defiance of his king, he boldly came to the capital.

It is true that he entered the city quietly, hiding his face with his cloak, but he was soon recognised and cheered at every step. Before long a crowd gathered around him, flowers were thrown upon him from the windows, a young girl, pushing through the crowd, kissed him, crying, "Brave prince, since you are here we are all saved."

Tall and fair, with curls clustering around his brow, the hero went straight on toward the Louvre and, unattended, was led into the presence of the king.

"What brings you thither?" asked Henry III. haughtily. "I commanded you not to come."

"I entreat your Majesty," answered the duke, "to believe in my fidelity, and not allow yourself to go by the reports of my enemies."

The king allowed the duke to leave the palace in safety, but neither his anger nor his fear was allayed. He ordered [307] his Swiss troops to guard the Louvre more closely. This was an unfortunate move, for it roused the indignation of the Paris mob.

Before the Swiss could reach the palace, chains were stretched across the streets leading to the Louvre, while great barricades of timber and paving-stone were run up around it. The day was called the " Day of Barricades."

So angry was the mob that it attacked the Swiss soldiers, who at length laid down their arms. The rabble then hastened toward the palace, meaning to attack the king himself, but the Duke of Guise rode among them unarmed, carrying only a white stick in his hand, and, for he was the idol of the citizens, soon succeeded in calming their fury.

Being now, in reality. King of Paris, Guise sent for the queen-mother, hoping to make terms, through her, with the king.

Catherine de Medici came and used all her wiles to make the duke listen while she talked to him of many different things, for while she talked and he listened, the king was escaping from Paris, vowing that he would not enter the city again, save through a hole in the wall.

But it was useless for Henry IV. to be angry. Guise was all-powerful, and in July 1588 the king was forced to sign the Edict of Union, making the duke Lieutenant-General of France, dismissing his own favourite, and promising to take up arms against the Huguenots.

Every one, even the duke, knew that Henry signed the Edict only because he could do nothing else. Rumours soon began to steal about that the king would not rest until his enemy was slain.

Again and again Guise was warned that his life was in danger, but he refused to take any precautions.

In December 1588, as the duke sat down to dinner, he found a note under his table saying, "The king means to kill you."

Guise asked for a pen, and wrote beneath the words he [308] had read, "He dare not,"then carelessly flung the note under the table.

Two days before Christmas, Henry III., who was still at his castle of Blois, rose early and, going to a secret staircase, he let nine guards enter. Leading them to his own room he hid them behind some curtains, first giving to each a dagger.

That same day the Duke of Guise, with only a few friends, rode to the castle to attend a meeting of the council. He was told that the king wished to see him alone. Pulling his cloak around him, the duke went fearlessly to the king's room.

As he reached the door, he stooped to raise the curtains, when at once the assassins sprang from their hiding-place and stabbed him. Henry of Guise paid for his fearlessness with his life.

The Cardinal of Guise was killed the following day, and many of the nobles belonging to the League were imprisoned.

At the next council meeting Henry III., as he entered the room, looked around at all the members, and then in a voice of triumph he said, "I am now sole king."

A little later he went to see the queen-mother, who had been ill and knew nothing of what had happened.

"How do you feel?" asked her son.

"Better," she answered.

"So do I," replied the king. "I feel much better; this morning I have become King of France again; the King of Paris is dead."

"God grant," she answered, "that you become not king of nothing at all."

A few days later Catherine de Medici died, her power, to gain which she had done so many cruel deeds, all useless and outworn.

Henry III. soon found that the death of his enemy had not helped his cause. Many cities rose in revolt against him, led by the Duke of Mayenne and the Duke of Aumale, [309] brothers of the murdered Duke of Guise. The Sorbonne too, declared that he had no right to wear a crown, and the Pope excommunicated him.

As his mother had feared. Henry was now king of nothing at all. In vain Henry tried to make terms with members of the League. They turned from him in hatred, for he had slain their chief.

Then in April 1589 the hapless king turned to Henry of Navarre, and begged him to come to his aid.

Henry of Navarre, because he loved his country and wished for her sake that war might soon cease, promised to help the king against his enemies. In wise, brave words he spoke to the people of France, begging them to forget their own quarrels and ambitions for the sake of their country and their king.

Henry of Navarre then joined Henry III. Together they marched against Paris and encamped with a large army at St. Cloud, where, the French king could see "quite at his ease his city of Paris."

"Yonder," he cried, pointing to the city, "is the heart of the League; it is there that the blow must be struck It is a great pity to lay in ruins so beautiful and goodly a city. Still, I must settle accounts with the rebels who are in it and who ignomimously drove me away."

Paris was in dismay when she saw the two kings and their army approaching the capital. Yet in the hearts of every Catholic there was fierce resentment against the King of France, for he had made friends with a Huguenot to save his crown.

The clergy in the city preached vehemently against this new alliance; they even said that Henry III. ought to be killed, one young monk, named Jacques Clement, brooded over what he heard, until he believed that to slay the king would be to do God a service.

Paris was to be stormed on the 2nd of August. On the 1st, Jacques Clement went to St. Cloud and begged to speak [310] with the King of France, for he had private tidings for his ear alone.

And so the monk, just because he was a monk, was admitted to the king's presence, and before Henry was aware, Jacques had drawn a dagger from his sleeve and stabbed him.

"Ah, wicked monk, he has killed me! Kill him!" cried the king, and at his voice the guards rushed in and the monk was slain.

Jacques Clement had done his work well, for the wound proved fatal. Henry III. dying the next morning, August 2, 1589. With him perished the last of the lungs of the House of Valois.


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