Estrées, Gabrielle d' (1573–1599)

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Estrées, Gabrielle d' (1573–1599)

French mistress of Henry IV of France who, in her 26 years of life, became queen of the realm in all but name. Name variations: Gabrielle d'Estrees; Duchess of Beaufort or Duchess de Beaufort; Duchess d'Etampes or Duchess d'Étampes; Marquise de Monceaux or Marchioness of Monceaux; Dame de Liencourt; Dame de Vandeuil. Born on December 23, 1573, at Coeuvres, in Picardy (some sources erroneously cite 1565 in the château at la Bourdaisière); died on April 10, 1599, in Paris, France; daughter of Antoine d'Estrées, marquis of Coeuvres, and Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière; sister of François-Annibal d'Estrées, bishop of Noyon and constable of France; married Nicolas d'Amerval, Sieur de Liencourt (Baron de Benais), in June 1592 (divorced 1594); mistress Henry of Navarre also known as Henry IV (1553–1610), king of France (r. 1589–1610); children: (with Henry IV) Caesar, duke of Vendôme; Catherine Henriette de Vendôme , duchess of Elbeuf; Alexander, Chevalier de Vendôme.

Though Gabrielle d'Estrées was only one of 56 documented mistresses of Henry IV, king of France, she was the only woman to whom he remained faithful. Together, they had three children, all legitimized by royal decree, and it was only the sudden death of d'Estrées at age 26 that thwarted their probable marriage. Though 20 years younger than the king, d'Estrées possessed a keen intellect, irresistible charm, and an inborn political savvy, all of which she used to advance Henry's cause of a united France. Historians credit her with promulgating the Edict of Nantes (1598), a decree guaranteeing religious freedom to the Protestants of France, which ended the Wars of the Faith. "It was she," writes Noel Gerson, "acting as a self-appointed agent, who brought about a reconciliation between Henry and the great nobles who had bled France dry to prevent him from acquiring the crown that was rightfully his. It was Gabrielle, acting decisively in a moment of national peril, who supplied the funds that enabled Henry's army to defeat the most persistent of his foes, the legions of Philip II of Spain."

The daughter of Antoine d'Estrées, marquis of Coeuvres, Gabrielle grew up a castle in the town of Coeuvres, a few miles southeast of Soissons, France. She had two brothers, François-Annibal d'Estrées, who wrote extensively about Gabrielle in his Memoirs (1666), and François-Louis d'Estrées, and five sisters, including Françoise d'Estrées , Angélique d'Estrées , Julienne d'Estrées , and Diane d'Estrées , who later wrote the book Memorial to Gabrielle, Duchess de Beaufort (1615). (The fifth sister is not named in the available sources.) Absent from the household was Gabrielle's mother Fran-çoise Babou de la Bourdaisière d'Estrées , who had run off with a neighbor, taking her youngest daughter with her. She would later give birth to an illegitimate daughter, compounding the scandal that surrounded her. (In June 1592, Françoise and her lover were murdered, although nothing is known about the circumstances of the crime.) Gabrielle was raised by her mother's sister Isabelle de Sourdis , wife of the former governor of Chartres and mistress of Armand de Chiverny, Henry IV's legal advisor. From age ten on, Gabrielle never saw her mother again; it was Isabelle who exercised any maternal influence.

Antoine d'Estrées was a strict father, intent on keeping his daughters from their mother's legacy. A somewhat enlightened man, however, he insisted that all of his children learn to read and write, and to that end employed a tutor. Gabrielle was a reluctant scholar at best, preferring to be out in the fields riding her pony.

Estrées, Angélique d'

French abbess. Name variations: Abbess of Maubisson. Daughter and one of eight children of Antoine d'Estrées, marquis of Coeuvres, and Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière d'Estrées ; sister of François-Annibal d'Estrées, bishop of Noyon and constable of France, and Gabrielle d'Estrées (1573–1599).

Quite nearly as corrupt as her mother, Angélique d'Estrées had numerous affairs, then joined the Convent of Maubisson, where she rose to become abbess. She not only continued to take lovers, but encouraged the young nuns in her charge to do the same, outraging even the lenient church hierarchy of the time. She was eventually banished to the Renaissance equivalent of a home for delinquents, where she lived out the remainder of her life under close observation.

Estrées, Diane d' (b. 1572)

French author. Name variations: Dame de Balagny. Born in 1572; daughter and one of eight children of Antoine d'Estrées, marquis of Coeuvres, and Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière d'Estrées ; sister of François-Annibal d'Estrées, bishop of Noyon and constable of France, and Gabrielle d'Estrées (1573–1599); second wife of Louis de Balagny, Prince de Cambrai; children: several.

Just a year older than Gabrielle and very close to her sister, Diane d'Estrées provided much of what is known about Gabrielle in her book Memorial to Gabrielle, Duchess de Beaufort. Diane married Louis de Balagny and had several children.

Estrées, Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière, Dame d' (d. 1592)

Notorious French woman. Born Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière at the chateau La Bourdaisière near Tours; one of seven daughters of Jean Babou (a prominent soldier, politician, and diplomat in the reign of Henry II); married Antoine d'Estrées, marquis of Coeuvres; eloped with Antoine, Marquis de Tourzel-Alègre, in 1583; children: (with Antoine d'Estrées) eight, including François-Annibal d'Estrées; François-Louis d'Estrées; Françoise d'Estrées; Julienne d'Estrées; Diane d'Estrées (b. 1572); Gabrielle d'Estrées (1573–1599); Angélique d'Estrées ; (with Antoine Tourzel-Alègre) one daughter.

"The sisters Babou were the seven deadly sins," wrote Voltaire, and it would seem that Françoise may have been the most beautiful and the most dissolute. Soon after her marriage to Antoine d'Estrées, she embarked on a number of casual affairs but then took herself out of circulation to give birth to eight children in as many years, including Gabrielle d'Estrées . In 1583, at age 40, she tired of marriage and eloped with Antoine, Marquis de Tourzel-Alègre, a much younger man. She lived openly with him in Picardy, bearing an illegitimate daughter and becoming a symbol of sin for her country neighbors. The murder of Françoise and her lover, in June 1592, occurred in the very week of Gabrielle's wedding to Nicolas d'Amerval. By that time, however, Gabrielle, as well as her siblings, had long since ceased to think much about their mother, and they mourned her passing only as duty dictated.

Sourdis, Isabelle de

Aunt of Gabrielle d'Estrées. Name variations: Isabelle Babou de Sourdis. Born Isabelle Babou; one of seven daughters of Jean Babou (a prominent soldier, politician, and diplomat in the reign of Henry II) sister of Françoise Babou de la Bourdaisière d'Estrées ; married M. de Sourdis (governor of Chartre).

Married to the governor of Chartre and mistress of Armand de Chiverny, Henry IV's legal advisor, Isabelle de Sourdis rescued the household of Antoine d'Estrées after her sister Françoise deserted the family. She unabashedly promoted Gabrielle's relationship with Henry primarily to achieve her own ambitions to join the royal court. Following Gabrielle's death, Isabelle purportedly begged the king for custody of Gabrielle's children, probably less out of concern for them than her desire to maintain her influence at court. Henry eventually rejected the idea, and Isabelle quickly faded into obscurity.

As teenagers, the sisters spent two years in Paris (1587–89), in their father's townhouse, Hôtel d'Estrées, located on the Rue des Bons-Enfants. With the eruption of France's civil war, the girls were forced to return to Coeuvres for their safety. There, they led privileged though confined and boring lives, seldom rising before the afternoon meal. "Gabrielle, in those days, would have slept until dusk if allowed to rest undisturbed," wrote Diane. Though she fought the tendency in her nature, Gabrielle's indolence became her most outstanding trait. Her brother, François-Annibal, attributed his sister's laziness to her remarkable beauty. "My father's knights fawned upon Gabrielle from the time she was scarcely out of swaddling clothes," he wrote in his Memoirs, "and even the most ferocious visiting warriors thawed when she smiled at them.… With that smile she gained the ability to set armies in motion, and not until she began to return the love of the King did she know that it is simpler to begin a war than to halt one."

Gabrielle's father, despite his Catholicism, was loyal to the future Huguenot king Henry IV, but he protected his large landholdings by receiving the commanders of any troops who were operating in the area. In summer 1589, upon hearing that King Henry III had been murdered, Antoine had members of his family sign a pledge of loyalty to Henry IV. "Gabrielle would sign no paper and cried that she wanted peace so she could taste the joys of Paris which were being denied her," writes Diane. "For two days she sulked in our rooms, and in vain our father begged her to join us at table. When she would not, he directed that no viands be served to her in her chamber.…I comment on these events, long past, not to hold up my sister to ridicule nor to parade her ignorance, but to show how marked is the contrast between her thinking in those days and in the times that followed. It is scarcely credible that she who cared nothing of the world populated by kings should have become the most powerful woman in France, showing a strength of purpose exceeded only by that of the King, and a subtlety in political maneuvers equaled by none."

Earlier in Paris, Gabrielle had fallen in love with Roger de Saint-Larry, duke of Bellegarde, a handsome man about 11 years her senior. (Biographer Adrien Desclozeaux maintains that Roger was Gabrielle's only lover before Henry IV, but others claim there were several intimates before the king.) Roger, who served as chief equerry to Henry IV in his struggle against the Catholic League (15,000 Spanish, Austrian, and Papal State troops), often boasted to the king of his conquest of Gabrielle, and Henry, long separated from his wife Margaret of Valois (1553–1615) and an avowed womanizer, grew increasingly curious about the "glorious Venus" Roger described. On November 8 or 10, 1589, Henry accompanied his aide to Coeuvres to meet Gabrielle, who in the course of the visit made it quite clear that her heart belonged to Roger. Henry made a strategic withdrawal, although Gabrielle's beauty and charm did not go unnoticed. Sometime around December 1590, as the forces of the League were occupying the town of Coeuvres, Henry made a second attempt to see Gabrielle, risking his life to do so. Reappearing at the castle gates disguised as a woodcutter, he looked so bedraggled that the sentries would not let him in until Gabrielle's brother arrived at the gate and identified him. Gabrielle, for her part, had to be coaxed away from her beauty regimen to spend time with Henry. Polite and charming during his two-day visit, she was nonetheless unimpressed with the man, whose intelligence and wit were no substitute for Roger's good looks. Henry, however, left the castle besotted and firmly suggested to his chief equerry that he look elsewhere for love. "There are many hundreds of young ladies of quality in France," he purportedly told Roger. "Disport yourself with one of them. I believe that the lovely d'Estrées has learned to care only for me." Roger, confident in Gabrielle's feelings for him, paid little heed and continued to meet his love in secret, though he was more discreet around the king. (The circumstances of their courtship would be detailed in Aventures de la Cour de Perse, written by Gabrielle's close friend Louise de Guise , later the Princess de Conti, a year after Henry's death.)

By January 1591, Henry's army had laid siege to the city of Chartres, which was in the hands of the League, and he had set up headquarters in a small castle outside the city of Bonneval. Having just dismissed his then mistress Corisande d'Audoins , countess of Guiche, Henry was no doubt delighted when Mme de Sourdis appeared at his headquarters with her nieces Diane and Gabrielle in tow. Sourdis had arrived ostensibly to join her husband, who having been governor of Chartres under Henry III, had attached himself to Henry IV. However, the de Sourdises were embarrassed over the fact that Isabelle's brother was the commandant of the League forces holding the city, and she therefore was particularly anxious to demonstrate her loyalty to the king. Henry, taking full advantage of the situation, whiled away siege time by courting Gabrielle: "The King showed valor in the siege of Chartres that he conducted by day, and my sister showed equal courage in the siege of Gabrielle that he conducted by night," writes Diane in her Memorial. "She spurned his advances gently, but with such frequency that our aunt and uncle feared that their future was ruined." Following the siege and their uncle's return to his post as governor of Chartres, Gabrielle and Diane returned to Coeuvres and a year passed before Gabrielle and Henry met again.

The common notion that Gabrielle became Henry's mistress during the siege of Chartres has not been remotely substantiated. In fact, she was still in love with Roger and might have been hoping to see him in Bonneval. In one of the few communications still extant by Gabrielle in her own handwriting, she wrote to her father: "I have seen Roger at a distance, but he is afraid to speak to me. I fear that my hopes of becoming the Duchess of Bellegarde will not be realized."

In June 1592, aware that the king was not interested in marrying his daughter and hoping to save her reputation, Antoine d'Estrées arranged for Gabrielle to marry Nicolas d'Amerval, Sieur de Liencour, a widower whose late wife was Antoine's cousin. Although a wealthy member of the minor nobility in Picardy, Nicolas was short and plump, and the father of two teenage daughters. On first hearing of the marriage arrangement, Gabrielle was shocked and spoke to no one for four days. However, custom dictated that she obey her father, and so she dutifully wed Nicolas and moved into his house, Liencourt. The early days of the marriage, difficult to be sure, were further darkened by news of the murder of Gabrielle's mother and her lover.

Surprised by the nuptials, Henry impulsively arrived at Liencourt a few day after the ceremony with gifts for the bride: an estate and manor at Assy and a château at Saint-Lambert, each of which would assure her an independent income. The king spent only one night at Liencourt before making a hasty retreat, but the gifts drove a wedge between husband and wife. For the next three months, they did not sleep together, and Gabrielle was reported as continually weeping. (In her later divorce proceedings, Gabrielle would claim that her husband was impotent.)

Soon after his visit, Henry wrote Gabrielle an impassioned plea to join him before he set off to fight Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma, who had organized a new army in the Low Countries. On September 4, 1592, chaperoned by her aunt, Gabrielle left Liencourt and joined Henry at Chartres the following day. Diane maintained that her aunt, anxious to become part of court life, persuaded Gabrielle to abandon her husband, and that Gabrielle only consented in hopes of being reunited with Roger, with whom she had continued to correspond. Upon reaching Henry's headquarters at Chartres, Gabrielle remained with him as he traveled from town to town, struggling to unify his kingdom. It was a nomadic existence, with long hours spent on horseback and little of the luxury that Gabrielle so cherished. Under Isabelle's careful scrutiny, however, she voiced no complaints. Occasionally, an increased pace forced Henry to leave the women behind, at which times he wrote Gabrielle at least once every day. As might be imagined, Gabrielle was an indifferent letter writer.

On her own for the first time and heady with freedom, Gabrielle continued her relationship with Roger, much to the displeasure of her father and of Henry, who suffered fits of jealousy and poured out his pain in his letters. Though he eventually dismissed Roger as his equerry, Henry was careful not to force the duke into siding with his enemies. By April 1593, however, Gabrielle had given up her affair with Roger, having fallen in love with Henry. "My sister told me that she loved the King with her heart and soul," writes Diane, "and was so sincere in her protestations of that love that our father forgave her transgressions." All who knew Gabrielle remarked on the dramatic changes in her behavior. Well-known for her habit of inconsiderate tardiness, by July she began to pick up the trait of her paramour who was famous for his punctuality. From then on, Gabrielle matured quickly, growing increasingly fascinated with the world around her and taking great interest in the affairs of state and Henry's position in them.

In 1593, Gabrielle, more pragmatic than religious, talked Henry into converting to Catholicism, reasoning that as a Catholic, he would be welcomed in every city in France, including Paris and Rouen which remained in the hands of the League. His conversion might also pave the way for a papal divorce decree, ending his marriage to Margaret of Valois and opening the door for her. In masterminding Henry's conversion, Gabrielle enlisted the aid of the king's sister Catherine of Bourbon , who, early in 1593, made a journey to France and decided to stay. As devout a Protestant as Henry but desirous of marrying a Catholic of whom her brother disapproved, Catherine had much to gain by supporting Gabrielle's plan. While Henry's conversion was of personal concern to Gabrielle, it carried enormous political implications that were debated endlessly by the royal Council. In the end, however, Gabrielle was the deciding factor, much to the dismay of those opposing conversion. Maximilien de Béthune, duke of Sully, begrudgingly credits Gabrielle with accomplishing what no royal advisor had been able to do. "She, and she alone, was responsible for the King's failure to remain true to the faith for which so many of his friends had suffered and died," he declared in his Memoirs. "She alone flattered and bemused him, until he scarce knew what to think, and when his brain became addled by her seductive temptations, she used her sly wiles to speak of the benefits that he would reap if he became a papist."

Following the conversion ceremony, which was held on July 25, 1593, Henry sent letters to the parliaments of every province in the country asking for support, and dispatched a mission to Rome to lay the groundwork for conciliation with Pope Clement VIII. He also met with angry Huguenot leaders to mollify and reassure them, enlisting Gabrielle to reinforce his efforts. "Each of us who had sworn to uphold the King of Navarre, a faithful member of the Reformed Church, was now required to visit the salon of the d'Estrées, mistress of the Catholic King of France" recorded Maximilien in a biased account. "She played her role with pretty gestures, sweet exclamations, and fervent protestations that all would be as it had been in former years." Despite the duke's lingering disapproval, Gabrielle succeeded in assuring the Huguenots that they would be safe and the king would not betray them.

With domestic opposition to Henry virtually over, Paris opened its gates, and on March 22, 1594, he and Gabrielle made a triumphant entry into the city. A few months later, on June 7, 1594, Gabrielle gave birth to her first child, a son named Caesar. That same year, Henry used his prestige and power to obtain a divorce for Gabrielle, although he had not yet decided to marry her. After her divorce was granted, Gabrielle adopted the title Madame the Marquise de Monceaux and was appointed a miniature court. At the same time, her son Caesar was pronounced legitimate under the law of the realm. (Henry would pronounce each of their subsequent children legitimate in the same manner.) After clarifying Gabrielle's status, Henry put her in charge of the delicate negotiation with the pope to readmit France to the Church, a tribute to his faith in her skill as a diplomat.

While Henry tended to an erupting conflict with Spain, Gabrielle attempted to open the lines of communication with the Vatican, which she eventually did through correspondence with Cardinal Arnaud d'Ossat, bishop of Rennes, who relayed her documents to the pope. Her appeal, set forth in two letters (March 19 and March 30, 1595) and probably reviewed by Henry and several French cardinals, was a straightforward plea from a concerned wife and mother. "My position is not that of an ordinary woman, though ordinary I be, save that I enjoy the confidence of him who is King of France," she wrote in the first letter. "His son is my son, and together we must strive to make for him, and for others, a community in France, as in all other lands, safe from the rages of war." Her second letter, sent long before she could have received a reply to the first, retained a delicate tone but ended on a strongly political note. "I pray that His Holiness will open his ears when Your Grace goes before him, and that France will soon be accepted within the Church, a prayer in which all women in this realm do most fervently join." Though there is no way of judging the impact of Gabrielle's letters, the outcome was overwhelmingly favorable. In letters to all the religious houses and orders in France, dated April 15, 16, and 17, Pope Clement directed them to pray for Henry IV's prosperity, health, and well-being.

Flush with the victory of his admission to the Church, Henry gave his mistress carte blanche to negotiate on his behalf, although she held no official government post and was not entitled to attend Council meetings. In March 1596, in a precedent-setting declaration, Henry gave Gabrielle the guardianship of Caesar and the right to administer all of his property. Soon afterward, he made Gabrielle and his sister Catherine of Bourbon official members of the royal Council, presenting each of them with the symbolic set of golden keys. (The keys were among several items stolen from Gabrielle on her deathbed; Henry would conduct a painstaking search for them, but they would never be found.) By the autumn of 1596, Gabrielle was attending Council meetings regularly, and in October she traveled to Rouen, where Henry presided over "an assembly of notables." In November, she gave birth to a daughter Catherine named after Henry's sister, who became the child's godmother. Shortly thereafter, Gabrielle returned to the Council which had convened to discuss the invasion of Spanish troops into a number of towns, including Calais. (Luckily, given Henry's depleted war chest, Elizabeth I of England sent British troops to Calais, thus relieving the king of some of the military burden.) That winter, departing briefly from her official duties, Gabrielle played matchmaker, arranging the marriage of one of her younger sisters, Julienne, to Georges de Villars Brancas, Chevalier d'Oyse, an event that was celebrated splendidly at the palace.

In 1597, during the lively celebration preceding Lent, Henry received word that Spain had launched a surprise attack on Amiens, signifying that Philip II was initiating a campaign to destroy Henry. While the king immediately rallied his troops for battle, Gabrielle, aware that the royal treasury was depleted, gathered all her ready cash and gave it to Henry. That same evening, she visited the town houses of the greatest nobles to solicit further contributions, and even roused the banker from a sound sleep in order to sell her jewelry. In a final gesture of support, she rode out of Paris with the army's vanguard, meeting up with Henry at the fortress at Beauvais and remaining with him at the front throughout the campaign. Given Gabrielle's behavior, there could no longer be any doubt about her loyalty to Henry, for she put her very security in jeopardy. If Henry were killed in battle, she and her children would be left unprotected. If France was defeated, it would be impossible for Henry to repay her the cash she had given him or redeem her jewelry. In the act of joining Henry on the battlefront, she not only faced the hardships of traveling with the army but risked losing her life.

It was not until September that Henry was finally victorious over the Spaniards, and he and an exhausted Gabrielle returned to Paris. Thankful for Gabrielle's loyalty, the king repaid her the thousands of écus she had given him and redeemed all of her jewels. He also made her a gift of several properties that he had purchased at a bargain price from the debt-ridden Duchess de Guise. In addition, Henry issued letters patent, raising Gabrielle's properties to a dukedom for her. A gala ball was planned in honor of the new duchess but was canceled at Gabrielle's request. She was pregnant again and needed time to regain her strength.

Gabrielle d'Estrées continued to play an important role in affairs of state, particularly in the touchy negotiation surrounding Henry's reclamation of Brittany, then under control of Marie of Luxemburg and her husband Philippe-Em-manuel, duc de Mercoeur, the brother of dowager queen Louise of Lorraine , widow of Henry III. (As part of the peace agreement, Gabrielle contracted a marriage between her four-year-old son Caesar and the daughter of Philippe-Em-manuel and Marie, who was older than the prospective bridegroom by six months.) Though advanced in her pregnancy, Gabrielle remained involved in the most important project of Henry's reign, the reconciliation of Catholics and Protestants. She participated in all the discussions for a final treaty of peace with Spain, many of which were held at a château at Nantes. The Edict of Nantes, which ultimately reunited Protestants and Catholics for the first time since the Reformation had divided them, was issued on April 13, 1598, just four days before Gabrielle gave birth to a third child, a son named Alexander. Gabrielle took a month-long rest after the birth. "The door of my sister's chamber was barred to those gentlemen who wanted His Majesty to modify the Edict granting religious freedom to the Huguenots," writes François-Annibal, "and to those who believed that they had received too little liberty."

There is only speculation as to when Henry decided to marry Gabrielle, but in the spring of 1598, he broached the matter of divorce with Margaret of Valois (ensconced in a château outside Usson in the Auvergne) and sent his ecclesiastical diplomat Cardinal d'Ossat on a mission to Rome to sound out the Pope on the matter. So certain was Henry that the response from Rome would be favorable that, on March 2, he publicly announced that the wedding would take place on Easter Sunday. (Later, when hope for the Papal decree dimmed, he secretly made arrangements that would compel a member of the French ecclesiastical hierarchy to dissolve his marriage and perform the ceremony that would make Gabrielle queen.) While waiting for official word from Rome, Gabrielle rehearsed for her royal role. She moved all her belongings into the palace and ordered new furniture and a closet full of new gowns. On November 17, 1598—Henry's birthday—she moved into the official Louvre bedchamber, after which she virtually became queen of the realm in all but name. "My sister was more powerful than the King at this time," writes François-Annibal, "His Majesty's faith in her being so great that he left in her hands many matters that otherwise would have required his personal attention."

What Gabrielle and Henry did not know as they planned their Easter wedding was that the Vatican was opposed to their marriage on political grounds, the pope having decided that Henry's marriage to Marie de Medici would better serve the interest of peace. Meanwhile, Gabrielle became pregnant with her fourth child. As word from Rome was further delayed, her normally robust health declined, and she began to experience premonitions of disaster. She became depressed and weepy and was awakened from her sleep frequently by nightmares. A short time before Easter, 1599, at the suggestion of Father René Benoit, the king's confessor, Gabrielle was sent from the palace at Fontainebleau to Paris to offer prayers in her own parish church. (Benoit believed this would set a good example and atone for the questionable behavior of her past.) By this time, Gabrielle was exhausted from her wedding preparations, and six months along in her pregnancy. When she left the palace on April 5, 1599, her physicians felt it unwise for her to ride in a coach, so she was carried in a litter for the two-day journey to the bank of the Seine where a boat was waiting to take her across the narrow river to Paris. While saying her good-byes to Henry on the riverbank, she broke down in tears, telling the king she was sure that they would not see each other again. At one point, she purportedly became so hysterical that Henry offered to take her back to Fontainebleau, but she eventually decided to complete the journey.

Upon arriving in Paris, she had dinner at the home of Louis Zamet, a wealthy Swiss financier who kept a house in the city, and then retired to the apartment of her aunt Isabelle de Sourdis. The next morning, she traveled to the church of Petit Saint-Antoine by litter, waving to the friendly crowds that lined the street. During the church service, Gabrielle complained about the heat and afterwards immediately returned to her aunt's house. Now bothered by a terrible headache, she lost consciousness, but recovered within an hour and appeared better. She canceled two dinner engagements for that evening, but slept peacefully through the night and the next day was given permission by her attending physicians to keep her normal schedule. At two o'clock in the afternoon, however, she went into premature labor, which lasted until Friday morning, when the child was stillborn. Throughout the day, she was in increasing pain, and died of puerperal convulsions at five o'clock on Saturday morning, April 10, 1599.

For the week following Gabrielle's death, Henry wore black, an unprecedented act that established a new custom. Returning to Paris with his now motherless children, he ordered a state funeral to be held on Saturday, April 17. Since Henry had not married Gabrielle, her funeral service could not be held at Notre Dame, so it took place at the church of Saint-Germainl'Auxerrois. (No funeral services were held at Notre Dame for persons of lower rank than a king or queen.) In the days following the funeral, handbills were circulated in Paris suggesting that Gabrielle had been purposely poisoned, but after a short period of speculation, it was determined that she had eaten a "corrupt" bit of fruit at the home of Louis Zamet.

About six months after Gabrielle's death, Henry took a new mistress, Henriette d'Entragues , Marquise de Verneuil, a difficult woman who was later implicated in his assassination (1610). It was Marie de Medici, however, who finally won the king's hand in marriage and became queen of France, She had five children, the eldest of whom became Louis XIII, but Henry continued to love and protect Gabrielle's two sons and daughters who lived with the royal family. Caesar de Vendôme grew up to lead a quiet life, marrying a noblewoman of no particular distinction. Alexander, Chevalier de Vendôme, likewise, had an undistinguished career in the military, and never married. Catherine Henriette de Vendôme , Henry's favorite, was distinguished by her brilliant marriage to Charles of Lorraine, duc d'Elbeuf, a prominent member of the Guise family. In the middle of the 17th century, she and her brother Caesar became involved in an ugly legal dispute over their mother's property. For a brief time, the old scandals were revisited, and Gabrielle's reputation was called into question, just as it had been earlier with the publication of Maximilien's widely read Memoirs. Although curiosity about Gabrielle d'Estrées flared from time to time after that, her remarkable story has been, for the most part, lost to modern history.


Desclozeaux, Adrien. "Gabrielle d'Estrées" (monograph). Paris, 1887.

Lewis, Paul [Noel B. Gerson]. Lady of France. NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1963.

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Estrées, Gabrielle d' (1573–1599)

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