The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

the Advocate's Wife Attending on The Prince
The Advocate’s Wife attending on the Prince

131.jpg Headpiece

Tale xxv.

A young Prince, whilst pretending to visit his lawyer and talk with him of his affairs, conversed so freely with the lawyer’s wife, that he obtained from her what he desired.

In the city of Paris there dwelt an advocate who was more highly thought of than any other of his condition, 1 and who, being sought after by every one on account of his excellent parts, had become the richest of all those who wore the gown.

Now, although he had had no children by his first wife, he was in hopes of having some by a second; for, although his body was no longer hearty, his heart and hopes were as much alive as ever. Accordingly, he made choice of one of the fairest maidens in the city; she was between eighteen and nineteen years of age, very handsome both in features and complexion, and still more handsome in figure. He loved her and treated her as well as could be; but he had no children by her any more than by his first wife, and this at last made her unhappy. And as youth cannot endure grief, she sought diversion away from home, and betook herself to dances and feasts; yet she did this in so seemly a fashion that her husband could not take it ill, for she was always in the company of women in whom he had trust.

One day, when she was at a wedding, there was also present a Prince of very high degree, who, when telling me the story, forbade me to discover his name. I may, however, tell you that he was the handsomest and most graceful Prince that has ever been or, in my opinion, ever will be in this realm. 2

The Prince, seeing this fair and youthful lady whose eyes and countenance invited him to love her, came and spoke to her with such eloquence and grace that she was well pleased with his discourse.

Nor did she seek to hide from him that she had long had in her heart the love for which he prayed, but entreated that he would spare all pains to persuade her to a thing to which love, at first sight, had brought her to consent. Having, by the artlessness of love, so promptly gained what was well worth the pains of being won by time, the young Prince thanked God for His favour, and forthwith contrived matters so well that they agreed together in devising a means for seeing each other in private.

The young Prince failed not to appear at the time and place that had been agreed upon, and, that he might not injure his lady’s honour, he went in disguise. On account, however, of the evil fellows 3 who were wont to prowl at night through the city, and to whom he cared not to make himself known, he took with him certain gentlemen in whom he trusted.

And on entering the street in which the lady lived, he parted from them, saying —

“If you hear no noise within a quarter of an hour, go home again, and come back here for me at about three or four o’clock.”

They did as they were commanded, and, hearing no noise, withdrew.

The young Prince went straight to his advocate’s house, where he found the door open as had been promised him. But as he was ascending the staircase he met the husband, carrying a candle in his hand, and was perceived by him before he was aware. However Love, who provides wit and boldness to contend with the difficulties that he creates, prompted the young Prince to go straight up to him and say —

“Master advocate, you know the trust which I and all belonging to my house have ever put in you, and how I reckon you among my best and truest servants. I have now thought it well to visit you here in private, both to commend my affairs to you, and also to beg you to give me something to drink, for I am in great thirst. And, I pray you, tell none that I have come here, for from this place I must go to another where I would not be known.”

The worthy advocate was well pleased at the honour which the Prince paid him in coming thus privately to his house, and, leading him to his own room, he bade his wife prepare a collation of the best fruits and confections that she had.

Although the garments she wore, a kerchief and mantle, made her appear more beautiful than ever, the young Prince affected not to look at her or notice her, but spoke unceasingly to her husband about his affairs, as to one who had long had them in his hands. And, whilst the lady was kneeling with the confections before the Prince, and her husband was gone to the sideboard in order to serve him with drink, she told him that on leaving the room he must not fail to enter a closet which he would find on the right hand, and whither she would very soon come to see him.

As soon as he had drunk, he thanked the advocate, who was all eagerness to attend him; but the Prince assured him that in the place whither he was going he had no need of attendance, and thereupon turning to the wife, he said —

“Moreover, I will not do so ill as to deprive you of your excellent husband, who is also an old servant of mine. Well may you render thanks to God since you are so fortunate as to have such a husband, well may you render him service and obedience. If you did otherwise, you would be blameworthy indeed.”

With these virtuous words the young Prince went away, and, closing the door behind him so that he might not be followed to the staircase, he entered the closet, whither also came the fair lady as soon as her husband had fallen asleep.

Thence she led the Prince into a cabinet as choicely furnished as might be, though in truth there were no fairer figures in it than he and she, no matter what garments they may have been pleased to wear. And here, I doubt not, she kept word with him as to all that she had promised.

He departed thence at the hour which he had appointed with his gentlemen, and found them at the spot where he had aforetime bidden them wait.

As this intercourse lasted a fairly long time, the young Prince chose a shorter way to the advocate’s house, and this led him through a monastery of monks. 4 And so well did he contrive matters with the Prior, that the porter used always to open the gate for him about midnight, and do the like also when he returned. And, as the house which he visited was hard by, he used to take nobody with him.

Although he led the life that I have described, he was nevertheless a Prince that feared and loved God, and although he made no pause when going, he never failed on his return to continue for a long time praying in the church. And the monks, who when going to and fro at the hour of matins used to see him there on his knees, were thereby led to consider him the holiest man alive.

This Prince had a sister 5 who often visited this monastery, and as she loved her brother more than any other living being, she used to commend him to the prayers of all whom she knew to be good.

One day, when she was in this manner commending him lovingly to the Prior of the monastery, the Prior said to her —

“Ah, madam, whom are you thus commending to me? You are speaking to me of a man in whose prayers, above those of all others, I would myself fain be remembered. For if he be not a holy man and a just” — here he quoted the passage which says, “Blessed is he that can do evil and doeth it not” — ”I cannot hope to be held for such.”

The sister, wishing to learn what knowledge this worthy father could have of her brother’s goodness, questioned him so pressingly that he at last told her the secret under the seal of the confessional, saying —

“Is it not an admirable thing to see a young and handsome Prince forsake pleasure and repose in order to come so often to hear our matins? Nor comes he like a Prince seeking honour of men, but quite alone, like a simple monk, and hides himself in one of our chapels. Truly such piety so shames both the monks and me, that we do not deem ourselves worthy of being called men of religion in comparison with him.”

When the sister heard these words she was at a loss what to think. She knew that, although her brother was worldly enough, he had a tender conscience, as well as great faith and love towards God; but she had never suspected him of a leaning towards any superstitions or rites save such as a good Christian should observe. 6 She therefore went to him and told him the good opinion that the monks had of him, whereat he could not hold from laughing, and in such a manner that she, knowing him as she did her own heart, perceived that there was something hidden beneath his devotion; whereupon she rested not until she had made him tell her the truth.

And she has made me here set it down in writing, for the purpose, ladies, of showing you that there is no lawyer so crafty and no monk so shrewd, but love, in case of need, gives the power of tricking them both, to those whose sole experience is in truly loving. And since love can thus deceive the deceivers, well may we, who are simple and ignorant folk, stand in awe of him.

“Although,” said Geburon, “I can pretty well guess who the young Prince is, I must say that in this matter he was worthy of praise. We meet with few great lords who reck aught of a woman’s honour or a public scandal, if only they have their pleasure; nay, they are often well pleased to have men believe something that is even worse than the truth.”

“Truly,” said Oisille, “I could wish that all young lords would follow his example, for the scandal is often worse than the sin.”

“Of course,” said Nomerfide, “the prayers he offered up at the monastery through which he passed were sincere.”

“That is not a matter for you to judge,” said Parlamente, “for perhaps his repentance on his return was great enough to procure him the pardon of his sin.”

“’Tis a hard matter,” said Hircan, “to repent of an offence so pleasing. For my own part I have many a time confessed such a one, but seldom have I repented of it.”

“It would be better,” said Oisille, “not to confess at all, if one do not sincerely repent.”

“Well, madam,” said Hircan, “sin sorely displeases me, and I am grieved to offend God, but, for all that, such sin is ever a pleasure to me.”

“You and those like you,” said Parlamente, “would fain have neither God nor law other than your own desires might set up.”

“I will own to you,” said Hircan, “that I would gladly have God take as deep a pleasure in my pleasures as I do myself, for I should then often give Him occasion to rejoice.”

“However, you cannot set up a new God,” said Geburon, “and so we must e’en obey the one we have. Let us therefore leave such disputes to theologians, and allow Longarine to give some one her vote.”

“I give it,” she said, “to Saffredent, but I will beg him to tell us the finest tale he can think of, and not to be so intent on speaking evil of women as to hide the truth when there is something good of them to relate.”

“In sooth,” said Saffredent, “I consent, for I have here in hand the story of a wanton woman and a discreet one, and you shall take example by her who pleases you best. You will see that just as love leads wicked people to do wicked things, so does it lead a virtuous heart to do things that are worthy of praise; for love in itself is good, although the evil that is in those that are subject to it often makes it take a new title, such as wanton, light, cruel or vile. However, you will see from the tale that I am now about to relate that love does not change the heart, but discovers it to be what it really is, wanton in the wanton and discreet in the discreet.”


1 In five of the oldest MSS. of the Heptameron, and in the original editions of 1558, 1559, and 1560, the words are “than nine others of his condition.” The explanation of this is, that the advocate’s name, as ascertained by Baron Jerome Pichon, was Disome, which, written Dix-hommes, would literally mean “ten men.” Baron Pichon has largely elucidated this story, and the essential points of his notice, contributed to the Mélanges de la Société des Bibliophiles Français, will be found summarized in the Appendix [below]. — Ed.

2 Francis L, prior to his accession. — Ed.

3 The French expression here is mauvais garsons, a name generally given to foot-pads at that time, but applied more particularly to a large band of brigands who, in the confusion prevailing during Francis I.’s captivity in Spain, began to infest the woods and forests around Paris, whence at night-time they descended upon the city. Several engagements were fought between them and the troops of the Queen-Regent, and although their leader, called King Guillot, was captured and hanged, the remnants of the band continued their depredations for several years. — B. J.

4 If at this period Jane Disome, the heroine of the story, lived in the Rue de la Pauheminerie, where she is known to have died some years afterwards, this monastery, in Baron Jerome Pichon’s opinion, would be the Blancs-Manteaux, in the Marais district of Paris. We may further point out that in the Rue Barbette, near by, there was till modern times a house traditionally known as the “hôtel de la belle Féronnière.” That many writers have confused the heroine of this tale with La Belle Féronnière (so called because her husband was a certain Le Féron, an advocate) seems manifest; the intrigue in which the former took part was doubtless ascribed in error to the latter, and the proximity of their abodes may have led to the mistake. It should be pointed out, however, that the amour here recorded by Queen Margaret took place in or about the year 1515, before Francis I. ascended the throne, whereas La Féronnière was in all her beauty between 1530 and 1540. The tradition that the King had an intrigue with La Féronnière reposes on the flimsiest evidence (see Appendix [below]), and the supposition, re-echoed by the Bibliophile Jacob, that it was carried on in the Rue de l’Hirondelle, is entirely erroneous. The house, adorned with the salamander device and corneted initials of Francis I., which formerly extended from that street to the Rue Git-le-Coeur, never had any connection with La Féronnière. It was the famous so-called Palace of Love which the King built for his acknowledged mistress, Anne de Pisseleu, Duchess of Étampes. — Ed.

5 This of course is Queen Margaret, then Duchess of Alençon. On account of her apparent intimacy with the prior, M. de Montaiglon conjectures that the monastery may have been that of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. — See ante, Tale XXII. — Ed.

6 In Boaistuau’s edition this sentence ends, “But she had never suspected him of going to church at such an hour as this." — L.

Appendix B.

Baron Jerome Pichon’s elucidations of this story, as given by him in the Mélanges de la Société des Bibliophiles Français, 1866, may be thus summarised:—

The advocate referred to in the tale is James Disome, who Mézeray declares was the first to introduce Letters to the bar, though this, to my mind, is a very hazardous assertion. Disome was twice married. His first wife, Mary de Rueil, died Sept. 17, 1511, and was buried at the Cordeliers church; he afterwards espoused Jane Lecoq, daughter of John Lecoq, Counsellor of the Paris Parliament, who held the fiefs of Goupillières, Corbeville and Les Porcherons, where he possessed a handsome château, a view of which has been engraved by Israel Silvestre. John Lecoq’s wife was Magdalen Bochart, who belonged like her husband to an illustrious family of lawyers and judges. Their daughter Jane, who is the heroine of the tale, must have been married to James Disome not very long after the death of the latter’s first wife, for her intrigue with Francis I. originated prior to his accession to the throne (1515). This is proved by the tale, in which Disome is spoken of as being the young prince’s advocate. Now none but the Procurors and Advocates-General were counsel to the Crown, and Disome held neither of those offices. He was undoubtedly advocate to Francis as Duke de Valois, and, from certain allusions in the tale, it may be conjectured that he had been advocate to Francis’s father, the Count of Angoulême.

When Francis ascended the throne his intrigue with Jane Disome was already notorious, as is proved by this extract, under date 1515, from the Journal d’un Bourgeois de Paris: “About this time whilst the King was in Paris, there was a priest called Mons. Cruche, a great buffoon, who a little time before with several others had publicly performed in certain entertainments and novelties’ (sic) on scaffolds upon the Place Maubert, there being in turn jest, sermon, morality and farce; and in the morality appeared several lords taking their cloth of gold to the tomb and carrying their lands upon their shoulders into the other world. And in the farce came Monsieur Cruche with his companions, who had a lantern by which all sorts of things were seen, and among others a hen feeding under a salamander, 1 and this hen carried something on her back which would suffice to kill ten men (dix hommes, i.e., Disome).

1 The salamander was Francis I.’s device.

The interpretation of this was that the King loved and enjoyed a woman of Paris, who was the daughter of a counsellor of the Court of Parliament, named Monsieur le Coq. And she was married to an advocate at the bar of Parliament, a very skilful man, named Monsieur James Disome, who was possessed of much property which the King confiscated. Soon afterwards the King sent eight or ten of his principal gentlemen to sup at the sign of the Castle in the Rue de la Juiverie, and thither, under the false pretence of making him play the said farce, was summoned Messire Cruche, who came in the evening, by torch-light, and was constrained to play the farce by the said gentlemen. But thereupon, at the very beginning, he was stripped to his shirt, and wonderfully well whipped with straps until he was in a state of the utmost wretchedness. At the end there was a sack all ready to put him in, that he might be thrown from the window, and then carried to the river; and this would assuredly have come to pass had not the poor man cried out very loudly and shown them the tonsure on his head. And all these things were done, so it was owned, on the King’s behalf.”

It is probable that this intrigue between the King and Jane Disome ceased soon after the former’s accession; at all events Francis did not evince much indulgence for the man whose wife he had seduced. Under date April, 1518, the Journal dun Bourgeois de Paris mentions the arrest of several advocates and others for daring to discuss the question of the Pragmatic Sanction. Disome was implicated in the matter but appears to have escaped for a time; however in September of that year we find him detained at Orleans and subjected to the interrogatories of various royal Commissioners. The affair was then adjourned till the following year, when no further mention is made of it.

Disome died prior to 1521, for in September of that year we find his wife remarried to Peter Perdrier, Lord of Baubigny, notary and secretary to the King, and subsequently clerk of the council to the city of Paris. Perdrier was a man of considerable means; for when the King raised a forced loan of silver plate in September 1521, we find him taxed to the amount of forty marcs of silver (26 1/2 lbs. troy); or only ten marcs less than each counsellor of Parliament was required to contribute. Five and twenty years later, he lost his wife Jane, the curious record of whose death runs as follows: “The year one thousand five hundred forty-six, after Easter, at her house (hôtel) Rue de la Parcheminerie, called Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, died the late Demoiselle Jane Lecoq, daughter of Master John Lecoq, Counsellor of the Court of Parliament, deceased; in her lifetime wife of noble Master Peter Perdrier, Lord of Baubigny, &c, and previously wife of the late Master James Disome, in his lifetime advocate at the Court of Parliament and Lord of Cernay in Beauvaisis; and the said Demoiselle Jane Lecoq 2 is here — buried with her father and mother, and departed this life on the 23rd day of April 1546. Pray ye God for her soul.”

2 The church of the Celestines.

Less than a twelvemonth afterwards King Francis followed his whilom mistress to the tomb. She left by Peter Perdrier a son named John, Lord of Baubigny, who in 1558 married Anne de St. Simon, grand-aunt of the author of the Memoirs. John Perdrier was possibly the Baubigny who killed Marshal de St. André at the battle of Dreux in 1562.

Such is Baron Pichon’s account of Jane Lecoq and her husbands. We have now to turn to an often-quoted passage of the Diverses Leçons of Louis Guyon, sieur de la Nauthe, a physician of some repute in his time, but whose book it should be observed was not issued till 1610, or more than half-a-century subsequent to King Francis I.’s death. La Nauthe writes as follows:—

“Francis I. became enamoured of a woman of great beauty and grace, the wife of an advocate of Paris, whom I will not name, for he has left children in possession of high estate and good repute; and this lady would not yield to the King, but on the contrary repulsed him with many harsh words, whereat the King was sorely vexed. And certain courtiers and royal princes who knew of the matter told the King that he might take her authoritatively and by virtue of his royalty, and one of them even went and told this to the lady, who repeated it to her husband. The advocate clearly perceived that he and his wife must needs quit the kingdom, and that he would indeed find it hard to escape without obeying. Finally the husband gave his wife leave to comply with the King’s desire, and in order that he might be no hindrance in the matter, he pretended to have business in the country for eight or ten days; during which time, however, he remained concealed in Paris, frequenting the brothels and trying to contract a venereal disease in order to give it to his wife, so that the King might catch it from her; and he speedily found what he sought, and infected his wife and she the King, who gave it to several other women, whom he kept, and could never get thoroughly cured, for all the rest of his life he remained unhealthy, sad, peevish and inaccessible.”

Brantôme, it may be mentioned, also speaks of the King contracting a complaint through his gallantries, and declares that it shortened his life, but he mentions no woman by name, and does not tell the story of the advocate’s wife. It will have been observed in the extract we have quoted that Guyon de la Nauthe says that the advocate had left children “in possession of high estate and good repute.” Disome, however, had no children either by his first or his second wife. The question therefore arises whether La Nauthe is not referring to another advocate, for instance Le Féron, husband of La belle Féronnière. These would appear to have left posterity (see Catalogue de tous les Conseillers du Parlement de Paris, pp. 120-2-3, and Blanchard’s les Présidents à mortier du Parlement de Paris, etc., 1647, 8vo). But it should be borne in mind that the Féronnière intrigue is purely traditional. The modern writers who speak of it content themselves with referring to Mézeray, a very doubtful authority at most times, and who did not write, it should be remembered, till the middle of the seventeenth century, his Abrégé Chronologique being first published in 1667. Moreover, when we come to consult him we find that he merely makes a passing allusion to La Féronnière, and even this is of the most dubious kind. Here are his words: “In 1538 the King had a long illness at Compiègne, caused by an ulcer. . . . He was cured at the time, but died [of it?] nine years later. I have sometimes heard say(!) that he caught this disease from La belle Féronnière.”

Against this we have to set the express statement of Louise of Savoy, who writes in her journal, under date 1512, that her son (born in 1494) had already and at an early age had a complaint en secrete nature. Now this was long before the belle Féronnière was ever heard of, and further it was prior to the intrigue with Jane Disome, who, by Queen Margaret’s showing, did not meet with “the young prince” until she had been married some time and was in despair of having children by her husband. The latter had lost his first wife late in 1511, and it is unlikely that he married Jane Lecoq until after some months of widowhood. To our thinking Prince Francis would have appeared upon the scene in or about 1514, his intrigue culminating in the scandal of the following year, in which Mons. Cruche played so conspicuous a part. With reference to the complaint from which King Francis is alleged to have suffered, one must not overlook the statement of a contemporary, Cardinal d’Armagnac, who, writing less than a year before the King’s death, declares that Francis enjoys as good health as any man in his kingdom (Genin’s Lettres de Marguerite, 1841, p. 473). Cardinal d’Armagnac’s intimacy with the King enabled him to speak authoritatively, and his statement refutes the assertions of Brantôme, Guyon de la Nauthe and Mézeray, besides tending to the conclusion that the youthful complaint mentioned by Louise of Savoy was merely a passing disorder. — Ed.

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