The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

Jambicque Repudiating Her Lover
Jambicque repudiating her Lover

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Tale xliii.

Jambicque, preferring the praise of the world to a good conscience, strove to appear before men other than site really was; but her friend and lover discovered her hypocrisy by means of a little chalk-mark, and made known to everybody the wickedness that she was at such pains to hide.

There dwelt in a very handsome castle a high and mighty Princess, who had in her train a very haughty lady called Jambicque. 1 The latter had so deceived her mistress that the Princess did nothing save by her advice, deeming her the discreetest and most virtuous lady of her day.

1 There are no means of positively identifying this woman. Brantôme, who refers at length to the above tale in his Vies des Dames Galantes (Lalanne’s edition, pp. 236-8), implies that he knew her name but would not tell it. He says, however, that “she was a widow and lady of honour to a very great Princess, and knew better how to play the prude than any other lady at Court." — M.

This Jambicque used greatly to inveigh against wanton passion, and whenever she perceived any gentleman in love with one of her companions, she would chide them with much harshness, and, by making ill report of them to her mistress, often cause them to be rebuked; hence she was feared far more than she was loved by all the household. As for herself, she never spoke to a man except in a loud voice, and with much haughtiness, and was therefore reputed a deadly enemy to all love. Nevertheless, it was quite otherwise with her heart, for there was a gentleman in her mistress’s service towards whom she entertained so strong a passion that, at last, she could no longer endure it. 2

2 Brantôme writes as follows concerning the gentleman referred to above: “According to what I have heard from my mother, [Anne de Vivonne, wife of Francis de Bourdeille], who was in the Queen of Navarre’s service and knew some of her secrets, and was herself one of the narrators [of the Heptameron, i.e., Ennasuite], this gentleman was my late uncle La Chastàigneraye, who was brusque, hasty, and rather fickle. The tale, however, is so disguised as to hide this, for my said uncle was never in the service of the great Princess, who was mistress of the lady [Jambicque], but in that of the King her brother.” This shows the Princess to have been Queen Margaret herself; and Jambicque, being described by Brantôme as a widow and lady of honour to the Princess, might possibly be Blanche de Tournon ( Madame de Chastillon), concerning whom see vol. i. of the present work, p. 84 (note 7) and pp. 122-4. Her successor as lady of honour to Margaret was Brantôme’s own grandmother, of whom he says that she was not so shrewd, artful, or ready-witted in love matters as her predecessor. On the other hand, Blanche de Tournon must have been over forty when La Chastàigneraye engaged in this adventure, even allowing that he was only a youth at the time. — Ed.

The regard which she had for honour and good name caused her to conceal her affection, but after she had been consumed by this passion for a full year, being unwilling to find relief as other lovers do in look and speech, she felt her heart so aflame that, in the end, she sought the final cure. And she resolved that it were better to satisfy her desire with none but God in the secret of her heart, rather than speak of it to a man who might some time make it known.

After taking this resolve, she chanced to be one day in her mistress’s apartment, when, looking out upon a terrace, she perceived walking there the man whom she so dearly loved. She gazed upon him until the falling darkness was hiding him from her sight, when she called a little page of hers, and pointing to the gentleman, said —

“Do you see yonder that gentleman who wears a crimson satin doublet and cloak of lynx fur? Go and tell him that one of his friends would speak with him in the garden gallery.”

As soon as the page was gone, she herself passed through her mistress’s wardrobe and into the gallery, having first put on her low hood and half-mask. 3

3 See ante, vol. iii. p. 27.

When the gentleman was come to where she was waiting, she immediately shut the two doors by which they might have been surprised, and then, without taking off her mask, embraced him very closely, and in the softest whisper imaginable said —

“For a long time, sweetheart, the love I bear you has made me desire time and place for speaking with you, but fearfulness for my honour was for a while so strong as to oblige me, in my own despite, to conceal my passion. Albeit, in the end, the strength of love has vanquished fear, and, in the knowledge that I have of your honour, I protest to you that if you will promise to love me without ever speaking of the matter to any one, or asking of me who I am, I will be your true and faithful sweetheart, and will never love any man but you. But I would rather die than that you should know who I am.”

The gentleman promised her what she asked, which made her very ready to do as much for him, namely, to refuse him nothing he might desire to have. It was between five and six o’clock in winter-time, so that he could see nothing of the lady, but by the touch of her dress he perceived that it was of velvet, which at that time was not worn every day except by ladies of high and mighty lineage. And so far as his hand could let him judge of what was beneath, there was nothing there that was not excellent, trim, and plump. Accordingly, he was at pains to entertain her as well as he was able. She on her part did no less, and the gentleman readily perceived that she was a married woman.

She desired afterwards to return immediately to the place whence she had come, but the gentleman said to her —

“I esteem greatly the undeserved favour that you have shown me, but I shall esteem still more that which you may bestow at my request. So well pleased am I by this your kindness, that I would fain learn whether I may not look for more of the same sort, and, also, in what manner you would have me act; for, knowing you not, I shall be powerless to woo.”

“Have no concern,” said the lady, “about that. You may rest assured that every evening, before my mistress sups, I shall not fail to send for you, and do you be in readiness on the terrace where you were just now. I shall merely send you word to remember what you have promised, and in this way you will know that I am waiting for you here in the gallery. But if you hear talk of going to table, you may withdraw for that day or else come into our mistress’s apartment. Above all things, I pray you will never seek to know me, if you would not forthwith bring our friendship to an end.”

So the lady and the gentleman went their several ways. And although their love affair lasted for a great while, he could never learn who she was. He pondered much upon the matter, wondering within himself who she might be. He could not imagine that any woman in the world would fain be unseen and unloved; and, having heard some foolish preacher say that no one who had looked upon the face of the devil could ever love him, he suspected that his mistress might be some evil spirit.

In this perplexity he resolved to try and find out who it was that entertained him so well, and when next she sent for him he brought some chalk, and, while embracing her, marked the back of her shoulder without her knowledge. Then, as soon as she was gone, the gentleman went with all speed to his mistress’s apartment, and stood beside the door in order to look from behind at the shoulders of those ladies that might go in.

He saw Jambicque enter among the rest, but with so haughty a bearing that he feared to look at her as keenly as at the others, and felt quite sure that it could not have been she. Nevertheless, when her back was turned, he perceived the chalk mark, whereat he was so greatly astonished that he could hardly believe his eyes.

However, after considering both her figure, which was just such a one as his hands had known, and her features, which he recognised in the same way, he perceived that it was indeed none other than herself. And he was well pleased to think that a woman who had never been reputed to have a lover, and who had refused so many worthy gentlemen, should have chosen himself alone.

But Love, which is ever changeful of mood, could not suffer him to live long in such repose, but, filling him with self-conceit and hope, led him to make known his love, in the expectation that she would then hold him still more dear.

One day, when the Princess was in the garden, the lady Jambicque went to walk in a pathway by herself. The gentleman, seeing that she was alone, went up to converse with her, and, as though he had never elsewhere met her, spoke as follows —

“Mistress, I have long borne towards you in my heart an affection which, through dread of displeasing you, I have never ventured to reveal. But now my pain has come to be such that I can no longer endure it and live, for I think that no man could ever have loved you as I do.”

The Lady Jambicque would not allow him to finish his discourse, but said to him in great wrath —

“Did you ever hear or see that I had sweetheart or lover? I trow not, and am indeed astonished to find you bold enough to address such words to a virtuous woman like me. You have lived in the same house long enough to know that I shall never love other than my husband; beware, then, of speaking further after this fashion.”

At this hypocrisy the gentleman could not refrain from laughing and saying to her —

“You are not always so stern, madam, as you are now. What boots it to use such concealment towards me? Is it not better to have a perfect than an imperfect love?”

“I have no love for you,” replied Jambicque, “whether perfect or imperfect, except such as I bear to the rest of my mistress’s servants. But if you speak further to me as you have spoken now, I shall perhaps have such hatred for you as may be to your hurt.”

However, the gentleman persisted in his discourse.

“Where,” said he, “is the kindness that you show me when I cannot see you? Why do you withhold it from me now when the light suffers me to behold both your beauty and your excellent and perfect grace?”

Jambicque, making a great sign of the cross, replied —

“Either you have lost your understanding or you are the greatest liar alive. Never in my life have I to my knowledge shown you more kindness or less than I do at this moment, and I pray you therefore tell me what it is you mean.”

Then the unhappy gentleman, thinking to better his fortune with her, told her of the place where he had met her, and of the chalk-mark which he had made in order to recognise her, on hearing which she was so beside herself with anger as to tell him that he was the wickedest of men, and that she would bring him to repent of the foul falsehood that he had invented against her.

The gentleman, knowing how well she stood with her mistress, sought to soothe her, but he found it impossible to do so; for, leaving him where he stood, she furiously betook herself to her mistress, who, loving Jambicque as she did herself, left all the company to come and speak with her, and, on finding her in such great wrath, inquired of her what the matter was. Thereupon Jambicque, who had no wish to hide it, related all the gentleman’s discourse, and this she did so much to the unhappy man’s disadvantage, that on the very same evening his mistress commanded him to withdraw forthwith to his own home without speaking with anyone and to stay there until he should be sent for. And this he did right speedily, for fear of worse. 4

4 It has been mentioned in note 2 that the gentleman in question was Brantôme’s uncle La Chastaigneraye. Born, according to most accounts, in 1520, Francis de Vivonne, Lord of La Chastaigneraye, was a godson of Francis I., and early displayed marked skill and prowess in all bodily exercises and feats of arms. He was, however, of a very quarrelsome disposition, and had several duels. A dispute arising between him and Guy de Chabot, Lord of Jarnac, they solicited permission to fight, but Francis I. would not accord it, and it was only after the accession of Henry II. that the encounter took place. The spot fixed upon was the park of St. Germain-en-Laye, and the King and the whole Court were present (July 10, 1547) — In the result, La Chastaigneraye was literally ham-strung by a back-thrust known to this day as the coup de Jarnac. The victor thereupon begged the King to accept his adversary’s life and person, and Henry, after telling Jamac that “he had fought like Cæsar and spoken like Cicero,” caused La Chastaigneraye to be carried to his tent that his wound might be dressed. Deeply humiliated by his defeat, however, the vanquished combatant tore off his bandages and bled to death. — Ed.

So long as Jambicque dwelt with her mistress, the gentleman returned not to the Princess’s house, nor did he ever have tidings of her who had vowed to him that he should lose her as soon as he might seek her out. 5

5 After referring to this tale Brantôme adds that he had heard tell of another Court lady who was minded to imitate Jambicque, but who, “every time she returned from her assignation, went straight to her room, and let one of her serving maids examine her on all sides to see if she were marked. By this means she guarded herself against being surprised and recognised, and indeed was never marked until at her ninth assignation, when the mark was at once discovered by her women. And thereupon, for fear of scandal and opprobrium, she broke off her intrigue and never more returned to the appointed spot. Some one said ‘twould have been better if she had let her lover mark her as often as he liked, and each time have had his marks effaced, for in this wise she would have reaped a double pleasure — contentment in love and satisfaction at duping her lover, who, like he who seeks the Philosopher’s Stone, would have toiled hard to discover and identify her, without ever succeeding in doing so." — (Lalanne’s OEuvres de Brantôme, pp. 236-8). — M.

“By this tale, ladies, you may see how one who preferred the world’s esteem to a good conscience lost both the one and the other. For now may the eyes of all men read what she strove to hide from those of her lover, and so, whilst fleeing the derision of one, she has incurred the derision of all. Nor can she be held excused on the score of simplicity and artless love, for which all men should have pity, but she must be condemned twice over for having concealed her wickedness with the twofold cloak of honour and glory, and for making herself appear before God and man other than she really was. He, however, who gives not His glory to another, took this cloak from off her and so brought her to double shame.”

“Her wickedness,” said Oisille, “was without excuse. None can defend her when God, Honour, and even Love are her accusers.”

“Nay,” said Hircan, “Pleasure and Folly may; they are the true chief advocates of the ladies.”

“If we had no other advocates,” said Parlamente, “than those you name, our cause would indeed be ill supported; but those who are vanquished by pleasure ought no longer to be called women but rather men, whose reputation is merely exalted by frenzy and lust. When a man takes vengeance upon his enemy and slays him for giving him the lie, he is deemed all the more honourable a gentleman for it; and so, too, when he loves a dozen women besides his own wife. But the reputation of women has a different foundation, that, namely, of gentleness, patience and chastity.”

“You speak of the discreet,” said Hircan.

“Yes,” returned Parlamente, “because I will know none others.”

“If none were wanton,” said Nomerfide, “those who would fain be believed by all the world must often have lied.”

“Pray, Nomerfide,” said Geburon, “receive my vote, and forget that you are a woman, in order that we may learn what some men that are accounted truthful say of the follies of your sex.”

“Since virtue compels me to it, and you have made it my turn, I will tell you what I know. I have not heard any lady or gentleman present speak otherwise than to the disadvantage of the Grey Friars, and out of pity I have resolved to speak well of them in the story that I am now about to relate.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09