Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Death of Charles IX.

Dr. Cayet is an old French controversial writer, but is better known in French literature as an historian. His Chronologie Novenaire is full of anecdotes unknown to other writers. He collected them from his own observations, for he was under-preceptor to Henry IV. The dreadful massacre of St. Bartholomew took place in the reign of Charles IX.; on which occasion the English court went into mourning. The singular death of Charles has been regarded by the Huguenots as an interposition of divine justice: he died bathed in his blood, which burst from his veins. The horrors of this miserable prince on his dying bed are forcibly depicted by the anecdotes I am now collecting. I shall premise, however, that Charles was a mere instrument in the hands of his mother, the political and cruel Catherine of Medicis.

Dr. Cayet, with honest naïveté, thus relates what he knew to have passed a few hours before his death.

“King Charles, feeling himself near his end, after having passed some time without pronouncing a word, said, as he turned himself on one side, and as if he seemed to awake, ‘Call my brother!’ The queen mother was present, who immediately sent for the Duke of Alençon. The king perceiving him, turned his back, and again said, ‘Let my brother come!’ The queen, his mother, replied, ‘Sir, I do not know whom you mean; here is your brother.’ The king was displeased, and said, ‘Let them bring my brother the King of Navarre; it is he who is my brother.’ The queen mother observing the dying monarch’s resolute order, sent for him; but, for reasons known only to herself, she commanded the captain of the guards to conduct him under the vaults. They went to the King of Navarre, and desired him to come and speak to the king; at that moment, this prince has since repeatedly said, he felt a shuddering and apprehension of death so much that he would not go. But King Charles persisting on his coming, the queen mother assured him that he should receive no injury. In this promise, however, he put little trust. He went, accompanied by the Viscount d’Auchy, on whose word he chiefly relied. Having, however, observed under these vaults a great number of halberdiers and arquebusiers in ranks, he would have returned, when the viscount and the captain reassured him that no harm should happen to him. The soldiers bowed, and their behaviour was respectful. By a private staircase he entered the chamber of the king, who, immediately on perceiving him, turned towards him, and stretched out his arms. The King of Navarre was affected; he sighed and wept, and fell on his knees at the side of the bed. Charles embraced, and having kissed him, said, ‘My brother, you lose a good master and a good friend. I know it is not you who occasions me so much trouble; had I believed what they said, you would not have been alive; but I have always loved you. It is to you alone I trust my wife and daughter; earnestly do I recommend them to your care. Do not trust the queen; but God protect you!’

“The queen mother here interrupted him, ‘Ah, sir, do not say that!’—‘Yes, madam, I must say it; it is the truth. Believe me, my brother; love me; assist my wife and daughter, and implore God for mercy on me. Adieu, my brother, adieu!’ The King of Navarre remained till his majesty expired.”

The following minute particulars are drawn from the journal of Pierre de L’Etoile. In the simplicity of his narration, so pleasing in the old writers, the nurse and the monarch, — the religious remorse of the one, and the artless consolations of the other — become interesting objects.

“King Charles, two days before his death, having called for Mazzille, his chief physician, and complaining of the pains he suffered, asked him if it was not possible that he, and so many other celebrated physicians that were in his realms, could give some alleviation to his disorder; ‘for I am,’ said he, ‘cruelly and horridly tormented.’ To which Mazzille replied, that whatever had depended on them had been tried, but that in truth God only could be the sovereign physician in such complaints. ‘I believe,’ said the king, ‘that what you say is true, and that you know nothing else. Draw from me my custode (or large cap), that I may try to rest.’ Mazzille withdrew, and left orders that all should leave the king except three, viz., La Tour, St. Pris, and his nurse, whom his majesty greatly loved, although she was a Huguenot. As she had just seated herself on a coffer, and began to doze, she heard the king groan bitterly, weeping and sighing; she then approached the bed softly, and drawing away his custode, the king said to her, giving vent to a heavy sigh, and shedding tears plentifully, insomuch that they interrupted his discourse —‘Ah! my dear nurse! my beloved woman, what blood! what murders! Ah! I have followed wicked advice! O my God! pardon me, and be merciful. I know not where I am, they have made me so perplexed and agitated. How will all this end! — What shall I do? I am lost for ever! I know it.’— Then the nurse thus addressed him:—‘Sire, be the murders on those who forced you to order them; your majesty could not help it, and since you never consented, and now regret them, believe God will never impute them to you, and will cover them with the mantle of justice of his Son, to whom alone you should look for aid. Ah! for the honour of God, let your majesty cease from this weeping.’ Having said this, she rose for a handkerchief, for his was drenched with tears: Charles having taken it from her, made a sign that she should retire and leave him to repose.

The dreadful narrative of the massacre of St. Bartholomew is detailed in the history of De Thou; and the same scene is painted in glowing, though in faithful colours, by Voltaire in the Henriade. — Charles, whose last miserable moments we come from contemplating, when he observed several fugitive Huguenots about his palace in the morning after the massacre of 30,000 of their friends, took a fowling-piece, and repeatedly fired at them.

Such was the effect of religion operating, perhaps not on a malignant, but on a feeble mind!

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