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composer: unknown (c. 1750)
performers: Le Poème harmonique
director: Vincent Dumestre 

Le Roi a fait battre tambour

1. Le roi a fait battre tambour
Pour voir toutes ses dames  (To see all his ladies)
Et la première qu’il a vue (the first one)
Lui a ravi son âme

The king had drummers beat their drums /  So he could see all the ladies of his kingdom / And the first one he saw / Stole his soul

2. Marquis dis-moi la connais-tu
Qui est cette jolie dame ?
Le marquis lui a répondu
Sire roi, c’est ma femme (she is my wife)

Marquis do tell if you know her / Who is that pretty lady / The Marquis answered / Your Majesty, she is my wife

3. Marquis, tu es plus heureux que moi
D’avoir femme si belle
Si tu voulais me la donner (If you wanted)
Je me chargerais d’elle

Marquis, you are happier than I  / To have so beautiful a wife / If you gave her to me / I would look after her

4. Sire, si vous n’étiez le roi (if you were not)
J’en tirerais vengeance
Mais puisque vous êtes le roi (since your are)
À votre obéissance (obedience)

Your Majesty / Were you not the King / I would seek revenge / But since you are the King / I must obey

5. Marquis ne te fâche donc pas
T’auras ta récompense
Je te ferai dans mes armées
Beau maréchal de France

Marquis, do not get angry / You will be rewarded / In my armies you will be / A handsome maréchal (marshall) of France

6. Adieu, ma mie, adieu, mon cœur ! (Farewell)
Adieu mon espérance (my hope)
Puisqu’il nous faut servir le roi
Séparons-nous d’ensemble (Let us separate)

Farewell, my dearest, farewell my heart / Farewell my hopes / Since we must the King serve / Let us part

7. La reine a fait faire un bouquet
De belles fleurs de lys
Et la senteur de ce bouquet
A fait mourir marquise

The Queen had a bouquet made / Of beautiful lillies / And the scent of this bouquet / Caused the Marquise to die

The Story behind the song

We know that Le Roi a fait battre tambour was written in 1750.  However, it is difficult to determine whose story the song tells.  Opinions differ.  But, in all likelihood, the song tells of events that took place at the end of the sixteenth century, during the reign of Henri IV (13 December 1553 – 14 May 1610), King of France and King of Navarre.

Let us back up a little: Henri II dies

Henri II (31 March 1519 – 10 July 1559) was King of France from 31 March 1547 until his death in 1559.  He was wounded during a jousting tournament and died. Henri II had three sons and all three were potential heirs to the throne of France or dauphins.  It therefore seemed that the Valois Kings of France would continue to reign for a long time.  However, Henri II died prematurely.  Consequently, when his sons ascended the throne, they were too young and the person who reigned was their mother, Catherine de’ Medici (13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589).

The Fate of Henri II’s sons AND THAT OF mARGUERITE

Francis II (19 January 1544 – 5 December 1560), who was married to Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots), reigned for 18 months.

Charles IX (27 June 1550 – 30 May 1574) ascended the throne at the age of 10 (1560 or 1561) and died at the age of 24.  He did not survive the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre which his mother had forced him to order and which began on the 23rd of August 1572.

The Massacre took place a few days after Marguerite de Valois was forced (by Catherine de’ Medici) to marry Henri IV, King of Navarre.  She protected her new husband but, afterwards, the couple seldom shared the same roof.

Henry III (19 September 1551 – 2 August 1589) became king in 1574, at the age of twenty-three and fell ill and died at the age of 38.

Marguerite de valois and the Salic Law

The Salic law prevented Marguerite de Valois to succeed her brothers.  Women could not ascend the throne.  So, ironically, Henri IV, the Huguenot (French Calvinist Protestant ) King she had been forced to marry, was suddenly the new heir to the throne of France.

Henri IV, the King of Navarre, became King of France and Navarre in 1589 and was crowned when his official mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, suggested he convert to Catholicism, which he did.  He is reported to have said: Paris vaut bien une messe (Paris [being King of France] is well worth a mass).

Marguerite de Valois as murderess

When Henri IV was having his marriage to Marguerite de Valois (la reine Margot) annulled, Gabrielle d’Estrées (1573– 10 April 1599), his official mistress, died of eclampsia during a pregnancy.  She was bearing their fourth child.  Rumours started circulating that she had been poisoned by the Queen (Marguerite de Valois).  Therefore, the lady killed by the scent of a bouquet of lilies was Gabrielle d’Estrées, an extremely beautiful woman.

Henri IV married Marie de’ Medici (26 April 1575 – 4 July 1642) in October 1600, but the Marguerite de Valois’s title remain that of Queen.

More on the Song

The song is performed in the French of the Ancien Régime, i.e. before the French Revolution (1789-1794).  Roi is pronounced Roé, as it is still pronounced by many French Canadians.  Moreover, the lyrics I have provided are not identical to the words I have found.  I will have to transcribe this older version of the song.

There are several recordings of “Le Roi a fait battre tambour.”  The words given above are the words used by Nana Mouskouri.[i]


So now we know the probable origin of the our featured song, a famous song.  But more importantly, we have seen how dangerous jousting tournaments can be, if one is married to a Medici.  Catherine de’ Medici was manipulative and bloodthirsty and ruined her children’s life.  Henri II had three sons, yet the Valois line died in 1589, the year Henri III and Catherine de’ Medici died.


[i] I found the lyrics at:  http://www.metrolyrics.com/le-roi-a-fait-battre-tambour-lyrics-nana-mouskouri.html 

Related blog:
Dumas, père & Marguerite de Valois fictionalized
© Micheline Walker
19 September 2012