, , ,

The Princess of Cleves
Published by G. Kearly No. 46 Fleet Street Augt. 1, 1777. (Wikisource)

We are at the court of Henri II (1519-1559) of France, a Valois king. He and Catherine de’ Medici have three sons, which should have ensured the House of Valois’s survival. The video I showed in an earlier post mentions a second François. This second François is François de France (1555-1584). He was the last child born to Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. He died of tuberculosis in 1584, five years before Henri III’s assassination, King of Poland and France, the last of Henri II’s three heirs. As you know, French King Henri III’s death ended the rule of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon. Henri and Catherine de’ Medici had daughters. One of their daughters is Marguerite de Valois. She marries Henri III of Navarre, whose father is a Bourbon. Henri III de Navarre is the future Henri IV of France. However, the Salic Law prevented a woman from ascending the throne of France. Marguerite de Valois is Alexandre Dumas père‘s Reine Margot. Her marriage to Henri IV was annulled. She could not have children. Henri II’s mistress is Diane de Poitiers also called Madame de Valentinois or Duchesse de Valentinois.

La Magnificence et la Galanterie

Henri II of France
Henri II of France (Wikipedia)
Diane de Poitiers, Henri II’s mistress.

The novel begins with a praise of Henri II’s court. It is described as magnificent and is also characterized by galanterie. This is where Madame de Chartres has taken her 16-year old daughter who has reached an age when, in 17th-century France, a young woman looked for a husband.

La magnificence et la galanterie n’ont jamais paru en France avec tant d’éclat que dans les dernières années du règne de Henri second. Ce prince était galant, bien fait et amoureux ; quoique sa passion pour Diane de Poitiers, duchesse de Valentinois, eût commencé il y avait plus de vingt ans, elle n’en était pas moins violente, et il n’en donnait pas des témoignages moins éclatants. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
[Grandeur and gallantry never appeared with more lustre in France, than in the last years of Henry the Second’s reign. This Prince was amorous and handsome, and though his passion for Diana of Poictiers [sic], duchess of Valentinois, was of above twenty years standing, it was not the less violent, nor did he give less distinguishing proofs of it.] (Wikisource, first line)

La Princesse de Clèves

  • le Prince de Clèves falls in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres
  • le Chevalier or Duc de Guise is his rival
  • ambition

The Prince of Cleves first meets Mademoiselle de Chartres at an Italian jeweller’s. He has never seen her. However, the King’s sister, Madame sœur du roi, guesses that he has met Mlle de Chartres and invites him to return in the morning. Mademoiselle de Chartres is a young woman he has met. He is delighted to realize that her beauty matches her rank.

Meeting her was le coup de foudre, love at first sight. Le Prince de Clèves wishes to marry Mlle de Chartres, but his father will not agree to this union. He is not the first-born son, which constitutes a disadvantage. As well, the Prince has a rival. The Duc de Guise has also fallen in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres, but his brother, le Cardinal de Lorraine, will not let him marry Mlle de Chartres. Once again, not being the firstborn is an obstacle. Therefore, it occurs to Madame de Chartres that her daughter should marry a prince of the blood. She would be above the Prince de Clèves and the chevalier de Guise. The Prince de Montpensier shows interest in such an alliance, but Diane de Poitiers, the King’s mistress, tells the King to forbid a marriage between Mlle de Chartres and the Prince de Montpensier.

Deceptive Appearances

The court may scintillate, but ambition and galanterie undermine all relationships. Rank is often put into the service of ambition and not so noble galanterie. Diane de Poitiers is very ambitious.

L’ambition et la galanterie étaient l’âme de cette cour, et occupaient également les hommes et les femmes. Il y avait tant d’intérêts et tant de cabales différentes, et les dames y avaient tant de part, que l’amour était toujours mêlé aux affaires, et les affaires à l’amour. Personne n’était tranquille, ni indifférent; on songeait à s’élever, à plaire, à servir ou à nuire; on ne connaissait ni l’ennui, ni l’oisiveté, et on était toujours occupé des plaisirs ou des intrigues. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
[Ambition and gallantry were the soul of the court, and employed both sexes equally; there were so many different interests and so many cabals, and the ladies had so great a share in them, that love was always mixed with business, and business with love.] (Wikisource [12])

Although the Prince of Cleves is very much in love with Mlle de Chartres, having a private conversation with her is difficult. Mlle de Chartres has entered a court teeming with courtiers. But the Prince de Clèves is so enamoured that he succeeds in speaking with her. He tells her not to marry him simply to obey her mother.

Il ne la voyait que chez les reines, ou aux assemblées; il était difficile d’avoir une conversation particulière. Il en trouva pourtant les moyens, et il lui parla de son dessein et de sa passion avec tout le respect imaginable; il la pressa de lui faire connaître quels étaient les sentiments qu’elle avait pour lui, et il lui dit que ceux qu’il avait pour elle étaient d’une nature qui le rendrait éternellement malheureux, si elle n’obéissait que par devoir aux volontés de madame sa mère. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
([…) he had no opportunity of seeing her but at court or public assemblies, so that it was very difficult for him to get a private conversation with her; at last he found means to do it, and informed her of his intention and of his love, with all the respect imaginable.] (Wikisource [14])

Mlle de Chartres is grateful for the manner in which he has spoken to her and he dares to hope that she loves him.

Comme mademoiselle de Chartres avait le cœur très noble et très bien fait, elle fut véritablement touchée de reconnaissance du procédé du prince de Clèves. Cette reconnaissance donna à ses réponses et à ses paroles un certain air de douceur qui suffisait pour donner de l’espérance à un homme aussi éperdument amoureux que l’était ce prince: de sorte qu’il se flatta d’une partie de ce qu’il souhaitait. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
[As Mademoiselle de Chartres had a noble and generous heart, she was sincerely touched with gratitude for the prince of Cleves’s behaviour; this gratitude gave a certain sweetness to her words and answers, sufficient to furnish hopes to a man so desperately enamoured as the prince was so that he flattered himself in some measure that he should succeed in what he so much wished for.] (Wikisource [14])

La Princesse reports the Prince de Clèves’ words to her mother. Madame de Chartres tells her daughter that if she is inclined to marry the Prince of Cleves, she would consent to this marriage. However, in no way does she press her daughter to marry the prince.

Elle rendit compte à sa mère de cette conversation, et madame de Chartres lui dit qu’il y avait tant de grandeur et de bonnes qualités dans monsieur de Clèves, et qu’il faisait paraître tant de sagesse pour son âge, que, si elle sentait son inclination portée à l’épouser, elle y consentirait avec joie. Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne.
[She gave her mother an account of this conversation; and Madam de Chartres told her, that the prince of Cleves had so many good qualities, and discovered a discretion so much above his years, that if her inclination led her to marry him, she would consent to it with pleasure. (Wikisource [14])

Mlle de Chartres response is baffling. She decides to marry the prince “with less reluctance” than another man and having “no particular affection to his person.”

Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
[Mademoiselle de Chartres made answer, that she observed in him the same good qualities; that she should have less reluctance in marrying him than any other man, but that she had no particular affection to his person.] (Wikisource [17])

So Mlle de Chartres marries the prince willingly, but she remains as she was before the wedding: cold. Madame de La Fayette writes that the Prince the Clèves will continue to love the Princesse because he has something to wish for.

Cela fit aussi que pour être son mari, il ne laissa pas d’être son amant, parce qu’il avait toujours quelque chose à souhaiter au-delà de sa possession; et, quoiqu’elle vécût parfaitement bien avec lui, il n’était pas entièrement heureux. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797)
[(…) hence it was, that though he was her husband, he did not cease to be her lover, because he had always something to wish beyond what he possessed; and though she lived perfectly easy with him, yet he was not perfectly happy.] Wikisource [17]

Read more: A Lost Post, but … (La Princesse de Clèves meets the Duc de Nemours.)

I must break here. The stage is set as in a comedy or tragedy. Depending on the context, répugnance can mean disgust. The next articles will be brief.


Love to everyone 💕
I am no longer the only author of my posts. Rebuilding posts has led to mental fatigue. I will not post for a few days.

Madame de La Fayette (Wikipepia)

© Micheline Walker
22 December 2020