But true to himself, if to no one else, Clement temporized and dallied to the last, even to the moment of Catherine's farewell dinner at Florence, urguig his age, the sun, the dust, in order to escape from more perplexities. Go he did, however, and the great cavalcade at last set off. The marriage-contract can still be read with all its stipulations. France settled an immense sum upon Catherine, and the Pope promised her a dowry of thirty thousand golden crowns ; but the full sum was apparently never paid and Clement was generally supposed to have broken faith with France.
Nothing could exceed the splendour of the wedding pageants at Marseilles. The chief figure there, strange to say, was not the bridegroom — still a half-fledged lad — but his father Francois I, behind whose dazzling personality the prince seems to dis- appear. Francois and Clement, the astute monarch and the crafty prelate, had a regal meeting, and while they dealt in ceremonious courtesies, they sounded the depths of one another's cunning.
The Pope tried to make the King promise to undertake a crusade against the Turks, and the King tried to ascertain the Pope's real intentions towards the Powers of Europe. And all the time, on carpets of gold tissue, Hymen was spouting long Latin compliments and nymphs were reciting wordy verses to the newly-married pair.
But the Pope departed, the feasting ended, and Catherine's married life began. There must at once have been cruel disappointment for this fifteen-year old bride. She, the polished princess, found herself the unwished for wife of a silent gloomy boy, who had nothing to say to her, or, for the matter of that, to anybody else. There is singularly little known about their early years together and the reason probably is because there is little to learn.
They had not much individual life, moving tribally about with the Court in the strange crowded fashion of those strange days. Catherine might have found some com- pensation for what she missed in private life, had the public welcomed her more warmly. The marriage, however, was un- popular.
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For the country at large she was, from the first, " The Florentine " — an object of suspicion and dislike. She was, with some justice, accused of raising her Italian followers over the heads of the French, which did not help to mend matters ; nor did the Pope's shabby behaviour about her dowry induce France to love her better. Two years after the marriage, the Venetian envoy reports that the match was still objected to and that only Catherine's submissiveness could make her position possible.
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Even to her, the arrival at the French Court, that supreme school of etiquette, must have appeared formidable. She had written from Italy to beg Francois I to give her dancing lessons at Marseilles that she might not make an awkward impression on the French ladies.
Her qualms were by no means unfounded. For these great personages were already jealous of the influence she would exercise over the King, and were not too well disposed towards her till they saw her por- trait. Her heavy cheeks and rather unformed look reassured them and they found consolation in talking over the royal bride's impecuniosity and the over-sumptuousness of her trousseau.
Her chief lady was the friendliest. It is strange that her fellow lady- in-waiting should have been Anne de Pisseleu, otherwise Madame de Chateaubriant, the woman whom she was soon to sup- plant in the King's affections.
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Marguerite de Vendome, a Bourbon and later Duchesse de Nevers, was also of Catherine's train ; so were Charlotte Gouffler, dame de Brissac, and Anne Gouffier, dame de Montreuil, the daughters of a rich and learned family — a retinue alarming enough for a girl of fifteen. But happily the King's sister. Marguerite d'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre, took her under her protection. To this loving and powerul lady Catherine had the skill to defer.
From the moment she arrived in France, she took the role of the humble, appealing young girl, and she had the reward she wanted in Marguerite's constant friendship and good word with the King. This, perhaps, she hardly needed, for he encouraged her at once, and from the time he received her at Marseilles to the day of his death she was his constant companion. Her quick wit, her bold tongue, her acute insight pleased him. He loved fashion, and she did all she could, she even learned Greek, to be in the fashion, and to win him.
He lost no time in enrolling her in his famous Petite Bande — the troop of blondes and brunettes, who followed him in the chase and dined at his table and asked him primitive riddles and, generally speaking, rejuvenated him. They accom- panied him from palace to palace, from Les Toumelles in Paris to Fontainebleau, paradise of hunters ; or from the river-girt Chateau of Amboise to the proud little city of Blois.
The fair and irresponsible ghosts of the Little Band still meet us on its palace staircase, the spiral, shell-like staircase which seems made to lead aerially from one golden pleasure to another. Every lady capable of charming the King's tired taste was of it. The Duchesse d'Estampes was the ruler of the rainbow- coloured troop and its members were bound to have her approval. No one was allowed to be squeamish and few had the inclination to be so.
For the rest, a provision of high spirits and good stories, together with a hardy taste for exercise, was all that was required. The real significance of the Band was, however, beyond the King's control. It bore a leading part in Court intrigue, and was the faction of one of the two crafty queens who were trying to out-plot each other on the State chess-board.
The Duchesse d'Estampes was not for long the only ruling force ; the Petite Bande soon became a fighting regiment, an opposition party to the rising planet — to Diane de Poitiers and her followers. For the curtain had already gone up and the first Act of the drama which was to occupy the reign had begun. Diane de Poitiers had taken possession of Henri II, and in , three years after her marriage, Catherine found herself supplanted in the heart of her husband. The great world immediately divided into camps, one for the King and his Duchess, the other for the Prince and Diane. Father and son had never got on and now the position became strained.
Everything depended on the relative power of the ladies. The Duchesse d'Estampes was the younger and enjoyed saying that she was bom on Diane's wedding-day. But Diane had the stronger mind and knew best how to use it.
In place of the Petite Bande, she had the Guises as her allies and also the Connetable, Mont- morency. This was a grievance with Catherine, for he had at first been her staunch friend and she did not rest till, later, she got him back again. Roimd him and Diane, at this moment, gathered all the charmers who were not of the Petite Bande.
They began the fashion which afterwards did so much to ruin the Reformation in France. Without one religious thought, they made a party badge of the differing creeds and stifled the free growth of thought and of faith with intrigue. Diane led the Catholics, Madame d'Estampes the growing sect of the Huguenots. Thus, from the beginning, Catherine was identified with the Reforming party ; though the fact then had little importance, for it impelled her to no course of action.
Her adherence to Madame d'Estampes was the only intimation that she gave of any enmity towards Diane, but that, too, brought about no direct results. For at this period of her life it was Catherine's pose to efface herself and pass unnoticed. For deliberately biding her hour, she made herself like a sheet of blank paper to the world till the light should come that would reveal the writing below the surface.
Meanwhile, she had to bear neglect, even at public festivals, as well as the frank con- tempt of the public for her childlessness. There was a time, some ten years after her marriage, when Francois, actually meditated her divorce from Henri. Catherine, now Dauphine, still remained without children and, at a great family council, Diane de Poitiers persuaded the King that a separation of the husband and wife was the only wise course. The rumour of the King's resolve reached her, and the meek little diplomat knew how to play her part.
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Catherine and Arnaud
She had, she said, heard of his intention ; she sacrificed herself for the good of France and would retire to a convent, or remain in his service, as he pleased. Perad venture it will please Him to grant to you and to me the grace that we desire more than aught in the world. Marguerite, the Queen of Navarre, wrote Catherine a letter of sympathy: "My brother," she says, "will never allow this repudiation, as evil tongues pretend. From a fhotograph by A. The King and I will rejoice with you then, in spite of these wretched backbiters.