1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 41

“No effort will be spared in finding all that were involved, even those who dare not show their faces again in our city.

“I take only a few more moments of your time this day, my friends, to announce a mark of my royal favor. Some years ago, the pernicious act of a hateful minister in service to our King caused loyal and brave members of a noble — nay, a royal — family to be cast into exile. This day we rescind that banishment, and welcome my dear brother César, and his sons, back to their native land. Dear brother, we grant you a pardon for whatever crimes are supposed to have been committed to cause such a false judgment. It shall be as if they have never been.”

Vendôme turned at this and knelt before Gaston, who placed a hand on his head for a moment and then offered him his hand to bring him back to his feet. The two royal brothers embraced; Gaston spoke some words into Vendôme’s ear, but no one else in the hall was able to discern what was said.

When Vendôme returned to his place, a mask of calm upon his face, Gaston extended his hands wide in a theatric gesture.

“To you, my fellow Frenchmen, we pledge the loyalty of a devoted monarch, and offer you the assurance that we will be ever ready to offer an attentive ear to just entreaties, a pious heart in my supplication in your behalf, and a steady and strong sword in the prosecution of justice in our realm and beyond whenever — and wherever — it is needed. We ask only that you pray with us — and for us.”


Though it would have been his preference to immediately take up residence in the king’s Apartments, Gaston recognized the need for propriety. Therefore, on his instructions, Vachon had established himself — and his royal master’s effects — in a suitable guest suite. Marguerite had adjoining quarters, and his daughter not far away: not close enough to anger his wife, but close enough to annoy her. He loved Marguerite dearly . . . but he loved La Petite Mademoiselle de France dearly as well. The two women would need to learn to get along with each other.

His presence in Paris introduced a vast number of petitioners to his schedule, even on his first day at the royal palace; but Gaston was not interested, or prepared, to receive any of them. Still, there was one whom he could not refuse. Accordingly, late in the afternoon of his arrival, a distinguished gentleman presented himself at the outer door of Monsieur Gaston’s apartments. He was admitted at once; the sitting-room was spare and nearly empty, but for Gaston himself and César de Vendôme, whom he had invited to be present.

There was only one chair, and Gaston occupied it, with his half-brother standing behind. The gentleman visitor offered a courtly bow.

“Be welcome, Don Antonio,” Gaston said. “Be at your ease. What can we do for you?”

“I thank your Royal Majesty for taking the time to speak with me,” said Don Antonio de Zuñiga y Davila, the Marquis de Mirabel.

He was a figure well known at the French court. For nearly fifteen years he had been King Philip of Spain’s personal representative. Greying at the temples and with a carefully-trimmed beard, Don Antonio was exquisitely turned out. He wore the ruff and extensive lace cuffs still in fashion at the Spanish court, with a silken doublet over which he bore the heavy collar and cross of the Order of Calatrava.

“It is our pleasure.”

“Your words this afternoon were worthy of the highest praise, Your Majesty,” he said. “On behalf of my master, permit me to extend the most sincere condolences on your loss. King Louis was a friend and brother to my own monarch, and it pains him greatly to hear of his death — and the manner in which it came to him.”

“It pains us as well,” Gaston said. “It is a regret that we have no Ravillac on hand to immediately punish.” He glanced back at Vendôme, who said nothing and did not change expression — except perhaps to slightly clench his fists. If Mirabel noticed it, he gave no sign.

“The monk who murdered your royal father was mad, Your Majesty — but his act was performed in public, before many witnesses. This heinous deed took place elsewhere, as I am told.”

“Indeed, yes. But we sense that you did not come merely to convey this, Don Antonio.”

The Spanish ambassador looked slowly from Gaston to Vendôme and back. “I wish to discuss matters that are delicate in nature, Your Majesty.”

“Our brother enjoys our most complete trust,” Gaston answered, smiling. “Whatever you have to say to us, Don Antonio, you may say in front of him.”

“As you wish, Majesty.” He folded his hands in front of him, and then let them fall to his sides. “There are a few questions to which I am commanded to obtain answers. Most pressing is the location and condition of my master’s royal sister, Queen Anne. Can you apprise me of her current whereabouts?”

“Ah. Regrettably we cannot.”

“I see. I would have expected her to be here . . . it was understood that she was heavy with child and had gone into seclusion, as a . . . precaution due to her delicate condition. King Philip is eager to know that she is well, and whether she has given birth.”

“We can readily understand your royal master’s curiosity in this matter, Don Antonio. Regrettably, Queen Anne’s seclusion was a closely-held secret, its location known to but a few.”

“But not yourself.”

“Unfortunately, we have been long absent from the land of our birth, Señor,” Gaston said. “So no.”

“A few, including –”

“Our late brother,” Gaston said. “And his minister.”

“The distinguished Cardinal Richelieu. I have noted his absence as well,” Mirabel said. “I am surprised that he was not on hand to welcome you to Paris.”

“We, too, are troubled by his absence.” Once again Gaston looked back at Vendôme, long enough that it would be impossible for Mirabel not to take note of it. “That the queen and our brother’s minister, as well as . . . others . . . are not in Paris is a matter of the gravest concern. It is no mere coincidence; and in view of the cardinal’s long legacy of intrigue, we fear that there are darker connotations.”

Mirabel’s right eyebrow elevated, but otherwise his face remained a mask of diplomatic composure.

“I do not completely take Your Majesty’s meaning.”

“It would be improper to impugn the motives or actions of our royal sister-in-law in any way,” Gaston said. “But Cardinal Richelieu’s intrigues and plots are of such depth and are of such long standing that the most stalwart and clever can be caught up in them. It is impossible to say what role he may have had in the tragedy.”

“You are suggesting . . . that he may have had something to do with the assassination of the king? It was understood that he was in the king’s company when the party was attacked.”

“And his body was not found among the dead,” Gaston answered smoothly. “Nor was the body of his trusted créature, Servien. We find that somewhat curious, Don Antonio. Don’t you?”

“I had not considered the matter, Your Majesty.”

“It is no more than speculation,” Gaston said, with a wave of his hand. “There is no evidence to support it . . . yet the queen is absent, the king is dead, and the cardinal is missing. We have no suitable explanation.”

Mirabel did not reply for several moments; Gaston let his last words hang in the air, remaining silent while the Spaniard considered it.

“That brings me to my second matter, Your Majesty. I am empowered to offer any assistance that you might find useful in locating Her Royal Majesty the queen, and in uncovering the truth regarding the death of His Majesty.”


“My master has servants whose methods are exceedingly effective in extracting the truth, Your Majesty.”

Gaston’s expression never wavered. “Please convey our sincerest gratitude to our royal brother for his offer,” he said. “But we will manage with our own servants. And our own methods.”

“As Your Majesty wishes,” Mirabel said.

“Was there anything else?”

“There are some matters that require consultation, Your Majesty,” Mirabel said. “But they can wait until after Your Majesty’s coronation.”

“Very well,” Gaston said. “Then you have our leave to go.”

Mirabel executed another courtly bow and withdrew from the room, not turning his back until he was outside the door. Vachon waited in the doorway, and after a few moments gave a curt nod, indicating that Mirabel had departed.

“Well,” Gaston said. “That was interesting.”

“I am glad you found it so,” Vendôme said. “The Spanish wish to offer us — what? Inquisitors?”

“Or some such thing. I suspect that is only the beginning of their demands.”

“Have you made some foolish bargain with them, Gaston?”

“I’m not sure I like your tone, Brother.”

“You already have your noose around my neck, Gaston. You can hardly threaten me further. I will take whatever tone I please — in private.”

“I suppose I should thank you for that mercy,” Gaston said. The smiling mask had gone. “In answer to your question, César, I have made no foolish bargains with the Spanish; but we must needs become more intimate with them than heretofore. They are our co-religionists, after all, and it is not clear to me that they are the enemy.”

“Of course they are the enemy, Gaston. The Spanish would as soon slit our throats as take us by the hand.”

“I don’t think it is at all clear. Our chief enemy is not Spain: poor, backward Spain, last century’s great power. We have far more to fear if we look east. The up-timers and their self-styled Emperor Gustav Adolf, assuming he regains his full faculties, are a far more potent threat to our native land, César, not to mention his up-timer conspirators. A few years of exile may have blunted your perceptions even further than I previously thought.”

“You think you’re the soul of wit,” Vendôme snarled. “I do not find you the least bit entertaining.”

“I do not seek to entertain.” Gaston rose from his seat. “I will want to know what Mirabel knows, and what he is telling his king. But what I most want to know is where Richelieu is, and where Anne is. Now that you have been granted a royal pardon, your movements should be much less constrained. Make whatever inquiries you can, and take whatever steps you need, but find them. Both of them.

“This isn’t the last time we’ll be taking questions from Don Antonio de Zuñiga y Davila, and the next time I should like to be better prepared.”

“I have your leave to withdraw, then?”

“Yes, yes. Of course.” Gaston turned away, waving his hand in dismissal. If he saw the anger in Vendôme’s eyes he did not take note of it.

When his half-brother had gone, Gaston stood for a long time, looking about his largely unfurnished sitting-room. He was angry: if there had been something breakable close to hand, he would have hurled it to the floor or against the wall — but there was nothing but a heavy chair.

You already have your noose around my neck, Vendôme had said.

“Yes,” Gaston said to no one in particular. “And sooner than you think, Brother, I will take great pleasure in pulling it tight.”