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Saint-Antoine, had been predicted by her husband, who, like all the family, was a dabbler in astrology. Olympe Mancini was next wedded to a prince of the house of Savoy. Then Laura, Duchess of Mercœur, died at nineteen years
age; and the same year Mancini, the astrologer, died at Rome, not without having uttered certain prophecies in regard to the cardinal which were anything but palatable. The cardinal had also, as we have before seen, lost his eldest nephew ; but he had two others, the eldest of whom became the Duke of Nevers ; the youngest was killed, when only twelve years of age, by his fellow collegians, when tossing him in a blanket.
There still remained three nieces to provide for, and with them, although under the careful superintendence of Madame de Venelle and of the queen herself, matters did not go on quite so well. The letters that are extant of Mazarin's, both to the queen and to the governess, attest to the difficulties that he had to combat with. These flighty young ladies came out in January, 1660. The Muses hastened to record the fact, but their virulence had abated since the days of the Fronde. They were no longer spoken of as ces petites harengeres. They were now
Les illustres Mancines,
Du Louvre à présent citadines. The cardinal effected less advantageous marriages for his younger nieces than he had done for the elder ones. His health was now failing him. He had been three months on an island in the midst of a river, buried in fogs, negotiating a treaty, and he had contracted a sickness which soon carried him to his grave. It is strange but true, that the statesman who had done so much for his family died regretted by none. Hortense has left an explanation of the circumstance in the statement that the man who was the most urbane, polished, and polite of all other men in public, was the most rude, tyrannical, and even brutal at home. ("Mém. de la Duchesse de Mazarin :" Euvres de Saint-Real, t. v.)
We have seen that the eldest niece, Laura Mancini, was espoused at Bruhl, at the time of Mazarin's exile, by the Duke of Merccur. This young lady had been destined for the Duke of Candale, who died young, at Lyons. But it is doubtful if the marriage would ever have come off, for the duke was one of the handsomest and most gallant men of his day, and he kept postponing the wedding till his death. His friend SaintEvremond said of him : “In the latter years of his life all our ladies were in love with him. After having set them against one another by the interests of gallantry, he brought them all together in tears for his death.” The marriage of Laura with the Duke of Mercæur was the source of much scandal. The duke was summoned before the parliament, and he excused himself in the best way he could, by saying that his marriage took place before the exile of the cardinal, and that he had only been to Bruhl to see his wife and not the exiled minister. The duke was ridiculed as a man without character ; but this does not appear to have been substantiated by his conduct, for so great was his devotion to the cause of Mazarin, that he challenged his own brother, the Duke of Beaufort, in his defence; he put down the rebellion in Provence, and carried on a successful war in Savoy and Modena. “Merceur,” M. Renée sums up, “malgré son caractère timide et mou, était brave.”
As to Laura, she was, wondrous to relate, a pattern of goodness-a lady of angelic virtues--so much so, that the Queen of Sweden used to banter the Chevalier de Grammont for the love which he bore to her, and the little gratitude that he could expect. She had three children, the eldest of whom was the celebrated Vendôme, the conqueror at Lazzara, and the second was a grand prior. Unfortunately, she died in childbed of her third, and her death so afflicted her husband, that he withdrew to a convent of Capuchins, where he remained shut up for several days. Although still young, he allowed himself to form no more attachments, but, taking orders, he entered with fervour into his new vocation, and died a cardinal and legate of the Holy See in France.
The life and character of Laura Mancini form a pleasant contrast to the fortunes of most of the other nieces of the cardinal. Anne-Marie Martinozzi was married against her inclinations to the Prince de Conti, who was not only ill-favoured by nature, being little and hump-backed, but was also still less favoured morally, being passionate, perverse, dissolute, and unprincipled. Marie herself, a good and pious young woman, had been affianced to the gay deceiver, the Duke of Candale; but he resembled the Prince de Conti, who, in marrying Marie, said, “He did not care which niece he had, he wedded the cardinal, and not a woman,' in that point, and was polite enough to cede his betrothed to his rival. As for the unworthy Conti, he is said not only to have contracted a bad disorder immediately previous to his nuptials, to the subsequent sad sufferings of a good and chaste lady, but also to have been in such a passion with his poetical secretary, Sarrazin, on the conclusion of the marriage, as to have killed him with a pair of tongs.
This precious scion of a once chivalrous aristocracy had passed the Sorbonne, and was in reality a prince-abbé, having vowed, in 1663, to live and die in the company of Jesus. The cardinal did not, as he had promised, give the prince the office of connétable, but he conferred on him the government of Guienne, and he built an hotel for himself and wife on the Quai Malaquais, in Paris.
As is often the case, inconstant himself—for he not only devoted himself, after his marriage, to Madame de Sévigné, but he is said to have entertained a violent passion for his relative, Madame de Longuevillehe was excessively jealous of his wife, and he even extended this jealousy to the person of the king himself. A certain Marquis of Vardes, as handsome as Candale, and far more agreeable, was, it appears, however, really more to be dreaded. Madame de Conti was, in fact, a woman of the world before she became a saint. She passed, by degrees, from indifference to faith. She began by reforming her toilet and visiting the poor. She sold, in a year of scarcity, full 60,000 crowns' worth of jewellery, to feed those who were in want.
A widow at twenty-nine years of age, a great prince is said to have offered her his hand, which was declined. The alliance, according to Port Royal, would have raised her three degrees higher than the influ: ence of her uncle the cardinal could effect for her. The allusion is supposed to be to Monsieur, brother of Louis XIV. Anne-Marie died of apoplexy at thirty-five years of age. The manner of her death is related at length by Madame de Sévigné. She left 20,000 crowns to the poor, and as many to her servants. One of her sons, the Prince of Conti, was
depicted by Saint-Simon as being one of the most perfect gentlemen of
Les Mancini, les Martinosses,
was Laura Martinozzi, who was asked in marriage at sixteen years
of age, and wedded by Alphonse de Modène, without his even seeing her. The Prince of Modena wanted at that time the support of France against Spain, and, as a result of his son's marriage, he was made generalissimo of the French troops in Spain. This was a regular system with the cardinal; all his nephews, or their relations, became commanders and governors. There were now three—the Duke of Modena and Duke of Mercœur, in Italy, and the Prince-abbé of Conti, in Catalonia. Alphonse was less warlike than his father, and on the death of the latter, and his succession to the throne, he, with the concurrence of his uncle—the cardinal-negotiated peace with Spain. He did not, however, live to enjoy it long, for, afflicted with gout, he died at twenty-eight years age, in 1662, leaving two children, a boy and a girl, and Laura as regent. The boy was unfortunately as afflicted as the father ; and when Laura, after ruling for some years with great capacity, withdrew to a convent, leaving the throne to her son, he soon sank, the house of D’Este dying with him.
One of the most interesting features, to us as English, associated with this cardinal's niece, is, that by the instrumentality of Louis XIV., her daughter-as great a bigot as herself, and therefore an apt subject for upholding popery in England-was married to the Duke of York, afterwards James II. ; and the house of Stuart was expelled the country, in the
persons of herself, her royal husband, and her son.
Olympe Mancini, who was brought up with the young prince afterwards Louis XIV., and was so familiar with him that even a closer intimacy was at one time dreamt of, was, after disputing their lovers with her fair cousins, wedded to Eugène de Carignan, of the house of Bourbon, in Savoy, and who was, in consequence, created Comte de Soissons. The marriage of Olympe did not, however, in any way interrupt the friendly relations that had so long existed between herself and the king. Louis XIV., who had been initiated into those arts in which he afterwards so much excelled by Cateau la Borgnesse, never passed a day without a visit to the Hôtel de Soissons. The cardinal had to supply his nieces with hotels, at the same time that he conferred some provincial or army appointment on their husbands. Poor Olympe, who had been done out of the Prince of Conti, the Prince of Modena, and Armand de la Meilleraie, by her sisters and cousins, was also destined to be eclipsed in the king's favours by Marie Mancini; but this did not last long, for after his marriage, Louis XIV., tired of the jealous Marie, renewed his intimacy with Olympe. The cardinal took advantage of the circumstance to get her appointed superintendant of the queen's household. As to the count, we are told that during the king's secession to Marie, he was much mortified at the neglect shown to his wife, " for he was,” Madame de Motteville tells us, “un honnête homme et
surtout un bon mari.” It would be curious to know what Madame de Motteville understood by her idea of a good husband! The Count de Soissons was, however, so good a husband, that he was ever ready to fight for his wife's privileges. Thus a quarrel arose at court between the Duchess of Navailles, as dame d'honneur to the queen, and Olympe, as superintendant. Madame de Navailles had certain windows walled up by which the king, it is said, used to pay nocturnal visits to the maids of honour. She even told the king to his face that she would fulfil her duties, and would not permit that the maids should be no longer maids of honour. Olympe, on the other hand, was much less severe in her restrictions, and the dispute that thus arose betwixt the two ladies divided the court into two parties, till the husbands also interfered, and the Comte de Soissons called out the Duke of Navailles.
The king, in the mean time, having fallen in love with La Vallière, he assigned to the Marquis of Vardes, of whom we have before spoken, the task of taking Olympe off his hands. This Vardes was the son of one of Henry IV.'s mistresses, and his affairs of heart and honour were equally
The most brilliant of his conquests, and the most touching of his victims, is said to have been the Duchess of Roquelaure : "elle était parfaitement belle et sage.” The duchess, abandoned like all the rest by Vardes, died of grief at the early age of twenty-three. The Prince of Conti once found this “ des hommes de France le mieux fait et le plus aimable” by the bedside of his wife, Anne-Marie Martinozzi, and that a few moments after he had declined taking a drive with him, on the plea of fatigue after hunting. Vardes was as successful with Olympe as he had been with Anne-Marie; her passion for the marquis became so ungovernable as to be manifest to all except to her husband, who, when a quarrel happened between the lady and her lover, went to bring him back and to effect a reconciliation. This "charming man” deceived and abused the friendship of the king, his master, that of Madame, the king's sister, and that of all his friends and mistresses in their turn : “C'était comme un goût d'artiste auquel il ne résistait pas."
At length an order of the king's came like a thunder-clap to take away her dear De Vardes from Madame de Soissons. He was imprisoned in the Bastille, and removed thence to the citadel of Montpellier. The count and countess were also exiled for a time, and then restored again to favour. “ Such a loss,” our historian says, was a bitter trial to the countess, but her heart did not consume itself in vain regrets. De Vardes had left more than one disciple. The most brilliant of all was that Marquis of Villeroy, whom the ladies designated as Le Charmant. He was admitted to the Hôtel de Soissons on the same footing as Vardes had been before. If we were to believe the songs and secret chronicles of the day, Le Charmant had also others, who succeeded to him in their turn; but, we are told, “no serious writing comes to back them, and, whatever may be said of it, history, were it even the history of ladies, cannot be exactly founded upon songs."
When at the age of thirty-five Olympe lost “ un mari si facile pour elle;” she lost, at the same time, one who is elsewhere designated as mari paisible, honoré, considérable, et qui était un brave et dévoué champion." The only fault of the Comte de Soissons was his blind passion for ayworthless woman, and he died not without suspiciods of having been
poisoned when on his way to join the army of Turenne, of which he was one of the most distinguished officers.
Olympe was at this time much given to the practice of magical arts. Horoscopes were drawn, astrology practised, and various systems of divination were in vogue at the Hôtel de Soissons. An “old gentleman” signalised the death of M. de Soissons by making a white horse appear
in glass of water held in the hand of a child in the presence of Villeroy, of Vendôme, and of Madame de Bouillon. The coincidence has certainly a guilty aspect about it. It was not surprising, however, that Olympe should be addicted to magical arts, when the cardinal used to consult horoscopes himself in reference to the marriages of his nieces. But Olympe did not content herself with necromancy. She got implicated in the notorious case of Madame de la Voisin, which followed, after a brief in. terval of four years, upon that of the Marchioness of Brinvilliers. La Voisin implicated the Marshal de Luxembourg, the Countess of Soissons, and her sister, the Duchess of Bouillon. The marshal was arrested and imprisoned for two years at the Bastille ; Madame de Bouillon browbeat and mystified her judges, and got off. Olympe ran away terrified, as she says, at the hostility of M. de Louvois and of Madame de Montespan, who were determined upon her ruin. M. Amédée Renée, following in this matter the kindly views enunciated by Madame de Sévigné, does not believe that Olympe dabbled in the “poudres de succession.' She had eight children, and none bad perished, and she lived on good terms with her mother-in-law, the Princess of Carignan. What she consulted La Voisin about is supposed to have been limited to the subject of the king and his mistresses, and the art of making herself beloved by the former.
The persecution of the Countess of Soissons was, however, something frightful. “M. de Louvois,” the Abbé de Choisy relates, “pursued her jusque dans les enfers.” In all the towns and all the villages that she had to pass through she was refused reception at the hotels ; she had to sleep on straw, and to suffer the insults of the populace, who called her a witch and a poisoner. At Brussels she was so persecuted, that had not the Count de Monterey, governor of the Low Countries, interfered, she would have been torn to pieces by the populace. A dance of cats tied together was got up in her presence. The gates of Namur, of Antwerp, and of other towns were actually closed against her. « Nous ne voulons point de ces empoisonneuses," said the authorities, backed by the populace. The persecutions of the fair and frail one were not, however, destined to last for ever; she was fortunate enough to find a refuge in the arms of the Prince of Parma. 6 M. le Prince de Parme," wrote the mother of Marshal de Villars, “ est donc amoureux de la Comtesse de Soissons ? Ce n'est pas un joli galant.” If the prince was not handsome, he was, however, both wealthy and powerful, and what is more, could protect Olympe in her misfortunes. The countess herself, it must be remembered, was forty-two years of age, and, in the words of her biographer, “ n'offrait plus d'amorce à l'ambition; il faut donc croire que son commerce n'était pas sans quelques charmes."
Olympe left five sons and three daughters in France, under the charge of the Princess of Carignan. The eldest, the Count of Soissons, married the beautiful but illegitimate daughter of a squire called La Cropte