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From A Gallery or Eccentrics, by Morris Bishop, New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1928; pp. 103-112.


Morris Bishop



LOUIS the great Louis, the Sun-King, visiting the work upon his Louvre, remarked a casual hammer upon a staircase. “There,” said His Majesty to Perrault, “lies the weapon Duke Mazarin wields so handily.”

Perrault laughed with the gusto fitting to an architect in the presence of his sovereign; Perrault knew, as who did not, the zealous habit of Duke Mazarin, and how he would pound with a righteous hammer the nudity of pagan statues, taking earnestly to heart the words of Ennius:

Flagitii principium est, nudare inter cives corpora.1

Montaigne had in his time berated a statue-gelder; and in later days the Prince Panfili and Mgr. Farnese in Rome, and the Duc de Valentinois in France, brought decorum to heathen liberty with the decent fig-leaf. Duke Mazarin likewise was content to endue with a shift or clout of plaster certain works: a Saint Sebastian of Caraccio, a David of Guido, a Diana, a Magdalen, a Leda, of Paolo Veronese.2 He was content also to chasten with brush and paint-pot the carnalities of Titian and Correggio.

St.-Evremond gives us a stirring picture of that Art-Gallery raid:3 “M. Mazarin leaves Vincennes at 104 daybreak for this famous expedition; he awakes Tourolles, his curator, bids him open one of the galleries, enters there with a mason, takes from his hand a heavy hammer, and casts himself with fury upon the statues. Tourolles, bursting into tears, in vain protests the ruin of so many masterpieces; weariness was the only stop to the work. At about seven in the evening, M. de Colbert arrives; he sees the massacre, as one might say, calls the assassin a madman, and, oppressed by veritable grief, quits him. M. Mazarin goes tranquilly to supper, and about nine o’clock, accompanied by five or six of his domestics, gives a hammer to each and returns to the gallery with his escort. Some he animates by his example; the lagging of others he reproaches. He chooses as his portion the sex which he flees and yet desires. . . . One might see well by the fury of his blows . . . that his repentance was perchance avenging the errors of his imagination. It was a Saturday; midnight sounds; that signal of Sabbath repose cuts short the task.” To this Choisy adds the detail that His Grace spared only a tapestry portraying with all the allurement of the cunning needle Mars seated by the side of Venus. “Why,” asked Colbert, “do you spare this Mars and Venus?” “Ah,” replied the Duke, “they belong to my family.”

The world of fops and finnikins jested at the perfringent Duke. The great Ménage looked up from his grammars to write the stately verses, which, in part, follow:

Frangendas mandat famulo qua porte tenellas

Ad venerem mentes posse movere putat.

Marmore frigidior, statius taciturnior ipsis

Horret ad haec famulus jussaque dura fugit.


Irata Armandus dextra capit ocius ensem,

Nec mora, quod fieri jusseret, ipse facit.

Ense, pedes Thetidis, Junonis brachia, dextram

Palladis, et totam dedecorat Venerem;

Fit pulvis, Divum Patrii qui pocula miscet,

Non parcit formae, pare Cupid, tuae.4

The attack on lascivious art was but an incident in a long career of well-doing. Armand de la Porte, son of the Maréchal de la Meilleraie, was born in 1630, scion of a house recently enriched, ennobled, and Catholicized. He fell deeply enamored of Hortense Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin, when she was but ten years old. He proposed his suit to the Cardinal, and was contemptuously refused, the Cardinal asserting even that he would as soon give his niece to a valet. But Armand, then Marquise de la Meilleraie and Grand Master of the Artillery, was a dogged hunter; he vowed that if he might but marry Hortense, he would willingly die three months after. He married her four years later (28 February 1661) and, as she acridly notes in her memoirs, he did not die.

She was indeed a catch, for her uncle’s wealth and for her own beauty. When in 1661 she danced in the Royal Ballet of the Seasons (in which His Majesty danced the rôle of Springtide) Isaac de Benserade exclaimed of her:

Cette petite Muse en charmes, en attraits

N’est à pas une inférieure,

Aussi pas une jamais

N’eut l’esprit et le sein formez de si bonne heure.5

Later she was to be known as one of the most beautiful women of Europe, by the testimony of the courtiers of 106 four capitals, and even in the shrewd judgment of Mme de la Fayette. How says Macaulay: “No gift of nature or of fortune seemed to be wanting to her. Her face was beautiful with the rich beauty of the South, her understanding quick, her manners graceful, her rank exalted, her possessions immense; but her ungovernable passions had turned all these blessings into curses.” And the Abbé de St. Réal: “She is one of these lofty Roman Beauties, no way like our Baby Visaged, and Puppet-like Faces of France.” He continues, with questionable taste: “You must see her lapped in a Night-Gown to Judge with more exactness of her.”6 Her young loveliness aroused Charles the Second of England, when a penniless pretender in France, boasting vainly of a Restoration to ministers too shrewd to see the future. He asked, in 1660, for the hand of Hortense, and Mazarin returned a negative wrapped in every reason but the true one. Having missed so nearly being Charles’s queen, she was one day to become his mistress, counterpoising thus the career of the saintly Maintenon.

The Marquis, espousing Hortense, obtained the title of Duc Mazarin and a vast fortune of twenty-eight millions of livres. Gramont calls him the richest subject in Europe. Yet, with all her wealth, the Duchess brought him many a sorrow. Though dutifully four times a mother by her nineteenth year, she did not cease to be a worldly giddy-pated creature, bemused with vanities. She would not, professing godliness, learn in silence with all subjection. The Duke labored earnestly to correct her. Visitors were forbidden the house; she was not permitted to attend the play, to sit 107 late, to play blind-man’s bluff. Domestics to whom she showed favor were forthwith dismissed, and her carriage was taken from her; yet would she not learn shamefacedness and sobriety. In spite of the Duke’s interdiction she would wear beauty patches. To a sorry pass did matters come; after the Duke had taken into her own hands her diamonds, vain gauds of the world, she fled to the nunnery of Chelles, whence strange stories were soon reported. It was asserted that in gayety of heart or by Hell’s promptings she and the Marquise de Courcelles had put ink in the holy-water basin. This charge she denied in her memoirs, though admitting that in an effort to wash her feet, in defiance of conventual rule, she had let the water escape from a leaky coffer; it had followed a demon-traced path to drip upon the monacal beds. She denied as well that with the Marquise she was wont to run through the convent halls by night, crying “Tayaut!” to a pack of little dogs.

Duke Mazarin, beside himself at his wife’s contumacy, rode to Chelles at the head of sixty horse to demand her return. But the Abbess seems to have well befriended her charge. She put in Hortense’s hand the keys of the convent; and when Duke Mazarin demanded through the grill audience with the Abbess, his wife brandished the keys in his face and told him that she was Abbess for that day. The Duke retired, vowing that he would return with a great band and would take the convent by force. On the following day a throng was seen approaching; and Hortense sought refuge by crawling through a gap in the parlor-grill into a tiny hidy-hole. The cry went up that the visitors were a band of friends, headed by the Duc de Bouillon; 108 but Sidonie Courcelles must needs work a quarter hour to pull out by the heels the Duchess, wedged fearfully in her burrow.

Hortense brought suit against her lord in the Cour des Enquêtes. “This Court,” she says, “consisted most of young men of great wit and eloquence, and they all strove who should be most forward to serve me.” They served her well indeed, but the Duke appealed to the Grande Chambre, composed of ancients of a humor to quash the gallant decree of the witty young men. Foreseeing mischance, the Duchess resolved to take refuge with her sister, the Constabless Colonna, in Rome. She escaped from Paris, and rode across France to Nancy, disguised as a man. She was accompanied in her flight only by two gentlemen-couriers and by her maid, Nanon, clad also in men’s garments (though “she was extream low of stature, and so unfit to be clothed in man’s apparel, that I could never look upon her without laughing).”

By way of Switzerland the party came to Rome. There the Duchess remained for four years, leading the life of gallantry, adventure, and tumult for which she was supremely fitted. The Constables of Colonna, meanwhile, was longing to be quit of her husband, and purposed a flight to France. Hortense, delighted with the prospect of doing good with excitement, arranged the escape. After a myriad misadventures, the two put to sea in a felucca with a villain captain, dodged a Turkey pirate, weathered a great storm, and came to shore in France, like heroines of romance, says Mme de Sévigné, with a store of pearls and no underclothes.

Hortense sought the protection of a former suitor, Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy in his capital in Turin. 109 He made her warmly welcome; she remained for three years, from 1672 to 1675, as his pensioner in Chambéry. On his death Hortense felt it time to be on her way; she set forth, “on horseback, and wearing a plumed hat and peruke,” to visit another old suitor, Charles the Second of England.

“When through the world fair Mazarine had run,

  Bright as her fellow-traveller, the sun;

  Hither at length the Roman eagle flies,

  As the last triumph of her conquering eyes.”

So chanted Waller at her coming. How indeed her eyes triumphed over the meaner beauties of Charles’s court; how gallant Old Rowley settled a pension of 4000 pounds upon her; how she galloped to hounds, cheered at cock-fights, drank absinthe in pint-pots, cast stink-bombs, fenced with Lady Sussex in St. James’s Park, both in their night-gowns; how she made of her drawing-room a salon where the wit of France and England assembled, where the Italian opera in England had its beginnings, and where play ran high; how at length she fell on evil days and her guests were wont to leave a guinea beneath their plates to pay for their entertainment; all this has been told elsewhere. We must return to her deserted spouse.

Not to his wife alone did he confine his corrections and admonishments in the way of virtue. The voice of his tormenting genius dinned within him, bidding him even turn his eyes against the Sun. Conrart7, St.-Simon and others tell how Duke Mazarin came to Louis with word that the Angel Gabriel had sent him a message. When His Majesty signified the august 110 willingness to hear more, the Duke stated that the Lord was not happy at the dealings of the Most Christian King with Mlle de la Vallière. The King replied only, in a sweet and favorable manner, says Conrart, “I counsel you to speak of this to no one, for you would bring only sorry judgments upon yourself.” Yet steadfast Mazarin indeed spoke of it, and indeed aroused only laughter and ridicule of piety in the debased society of the period. When, not long after, Hortense fled to Nancy, the Duke ran with the news to the Louvre, and though it was three in the morning, insisted on having the King cried up, praying that His Majesty would have the saucy wife pursued and brought back to trial. But the King, with midnight petulance, refused to intervene, vowing it strange that the Angel Gabriel had not forewarned his darling of Hortense’s purpose.

The royal exacerbation was not lasting. Duke Mazarin was made governor of Alsace, Brisach, Belfort, Vincennes, and the Great Bailiwick of Haguenau, which last alone brought him 30,000 lives of income. The King put him in all his councils, gave him the privileges and entrances of the First Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, and even borrowed two million livres from him. The Duke came near to being appointed Marshal of France; but it was reported at this period (1664) in a letter to Marie Sobieski, Queen of Poland, that the Duke was convinced that he was a tulip, and had himself sprinkled and set out in the sun daily. Such a tendency toward metamorphoses may well have given pause to a King intent on victories.

Great donations, mismanagement, and endless lawsuits gradually reduced the Duke’s property, till at the end of his life, he, the former byword for wealth, came 111 to real straits. He occupied his later years in the promotion of virtue on his estates. He tried to bring to pass the extraction of the front teeth of the comely maidens of his villages, lest their pastoral beauty should prove a stumbling-block to the faint of purpose. He forbade country lasses to milk cows; he constrained wet-nurses from their labors on Fridays and Saturdays, fast days. He taught the peasant women what demure and pudibund gestures should be adopted when they were bounden to churn and spin. He made rules for apprentice apothecaries, that they might conciliate decency with their functions. If we may not at first comprehend the shamefulness of these businesses, we may agreeably speculate upon what foulness the Duke discovered therein.

Angels, Powers, and Dominations directed his smallest decision. Mazarin Castle took fire; says St-Simon, “all ran toward to extinguish it, but he drove away those scoundrels who attempted to oppose God’s good pleasure.” It being manifest in the Pentateuch that choice by lots is a sacred ordinance, he held yearly a lottery of offices to his servant staff, whereby “the cook became bailiff and Boots the master’s secretary.” Of his said mocking Voltaire:8

Craignant de faire un choix par sa faible raison,

Il tirait aux trois dés les rangs de la maison.

Le sort, d’un postillon faisait un secrétaire;

Son cocher étonné devint home d’affaire,

Un docteur hibernois, son très-digne aumônier,

Rendit grâce au destin qui le fit cuisinier.

The Duchess Hortense died in Chelsea in 1699. Jean Bouhier of Dijon reports that in despair at losing her 112 lover, the Duke of Albemarle, to the fresher charms of her daughter, the Duchesse de Richelieu, she retired to her room and drank two very large bottles of brandy with herbal infusions designed to aid the digestion. She then died, “with a firmness worthy of old Rome.” As she was deep in debt, her creditors would not permit her body to leave the kingdom. Her husband at length ransomed her remains, and as if to make amends for the long separation, journeyed about with them for a year from one estate to another, as did Joanna the Mad of Spain with the body of her consort. He deposited her body for a time in the church of Notre-Dame de Liesse, Our Lady of Gayety, the great shrine ff the Laonnais. There, says St.-Simon, the good folk prayed to it as to a saint and had their chaplets touched to it. Finally she was buried beside her uncle, in the church of the College of the Four Nations of Paris.

Duke Mazarin, so long inconsolable, at last sought consolation. In 1712, at the age of 82, he married a Mlle de la Chaussée, whom he had had educated in a convent and who was fifteen at the time of the nuptials. Mme Petit Dunoyer commented slyly that no doubt the duke was following Scripture, deeming it better to marry than to burn.

He died within a year.

Now crowding oblivion has shouldered him out of our ken. Yet it would seem a sad thing for us to forget him utterly; for does not his spirit still live on?


 1  Apud Cicero: Tusc. Quaes. IV, 33.

 2  Lettres de Colbert, VI, 280, note 1.

 3  Œuvres, ed. 1739, VII, 273.

 4  St.-Evremond Œuvres, (Amsterdam, 1739), V. 216, n.

 5  Œuvres (1698), 205.

 6  Memoirs of the Dutchess Mazarine, London, 1676.

 7  Petitot, 2d ser., vol. XLVIII, p. 277.

 8  Epître LI.






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