It had been a stern fight, but Henry had won, and now he sent both husband and father about their business. The father he appointed Governor of Chartres; the husband he dismissed peremptorily, and then set out upon his campaigns, with Gabrielle among his retinue. Thus wooed Henry of Navarre.
Dreux du Radier has described Gabrielle as possessing, at this time, "the most beautiful head in the world; fair and plenteous hair; blue eyes so brilliant as to dazzle one; a complexion of the composition of the Graces, but in which lilies surpassed the roses unless it were animated by some deep feeling; a well shaped nose; a mouth on which gaiety and love reposed, and which was perfectly furnished. The contour of her face was such as painters take as a model; her ears were small, acute and well bordered; her bosom was of a beauty to make one forget all others; her figure, arms, hands and feet all corresponded with her head, and formed a perfect whole which none could admire with impunity."
Were Gabrielle but one-half so lovely as this writer has described her, it would be easy to understand the King's insatiate infatuation. And as to his infatuation there can be no doubt; he worshipped the very ground on which she trod, and was jealous of her favours as only a lover can be jealous. M. de Bellegarde was the particular object of his hatred; but his jealousy was quite unreasonable, for, in spite of stories to the contrary, stories which owe their origin to the idle tongue of scandal, Gabrielle never wavered in her constancy, and Bellegarde himself was the very soul of honour.
Henry's letters, however, proclaim his fears. "You know," he wrote on one occasion, "how offended I was on arriving in your presence on account of my competitor's journey."the competitor was de Bellegarde. "But," continued the King, " the power which your eyes had over me saved you from half of my complaints. You satisfied me in regard to speech, though not in heart; but if I had known what I have learnt about the said journey since I have been here, at Saint Denis, I would not have gone to see you, but would have broken off everything at once."
The path of a royal favourite is rarely smooth. Gabrielle's was no exception. A hundred inquisitive, malicious lips sought to prejudice the King against her, and, although he denied their allegations strongly, insinuation filled his heart with doubt. He could endure it no longer. M. de Belle-garde must go. He banished him from Court, and forbade him to return until he could do so accompanied by a wife and family.
There was, however, yet another reason why separation from Gabrielle was intolerable to him, and, if letters ever have a meaning, one has but to select at random from those written by Henry to find that reason: " My beautiful angel, if it were allowable for me to importune you at every moment with the remembrance of your subject, I believe that the end of each of my letters would be the beginning of a new one. . . . I wear only black, and, indeed, I am a widower of all that can give me joy and contentment."
So early as 1593 Henry began seriously to consider the question of marrying Gabrielle. France needed a queen; he needed an heir. But would France accept her as queen? The intention was, indeed, fraught with difficulties; tact and discretion were imperative. For the present he was content with giving Gabrielle the status of Queen Deputy. She was, he declared, "a person in whom he could have confidence, to whom he might confide his secrets and worries, receiving from her in all such matters familiar and sweet consolation."
As such she was recognised in public; she presided at his Court, and was accorded all the privileges and honour of a queen.
The country may have murmured, but protest it dared not, for Gabrielle was not unpopular with her people.
On the occasion of his State entry into Paris in 1594, "the Lady of Liancourt," we are told, "went a little before the King in a magnificent litter, which was quite open, and she was covered with so many pearls and such brilliant gems that they outvied the torchlight, and her gown was of black satin tufted all over with white."
Paris received her graciously. Henry dared, therefore, to proceed further with his plans. In the following January he annulled her marriage. Liancourt's first wife and she, he argued, were first cousins, and, therefore, since no special dispensation had been granted, this, the second marriage, was,ipso facto, null and void. Still France did not pro-test. In February, therefore, he proceeded to recognise Cesar, the son whom Gabrielle had borne to him in the previous year, and the Paf-lement de Paris duly registered the Royal decree. But there was yet an obstacle in the way to marriage. Before he could call Gabrielle his wife, he had to divorce the Queen, the spouse from whom he had been separated for ten years.
This, however, was not an insuperable difficulty, for Queen Marguerita, who was living in retirement at Auvergne, welcomed the thought of freedom, and, moreover, ecclesiastical authorities appeared quite willing to grant this favour. Henry, however, was careful not to hasten the proceedings. His Ministers, it was true, encouraged the divorce; they approved warmly of his intention to re-marry, but, as he also knew, they were particularly anxious to prevent him from marrying Gabrielle.
Sully was especially relentless in his opposition. That Henry might not be able to find a better wife the great Minister admitted. But could Gabrielle become his Queen? The idea was preposterous, for Cesar then would be his heir, and,
Gabrielle D'estrees was the heroine of perhaps the most famous of historical love stories.