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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

The Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency affair

Henri's foreign worries were compounded by a love affair that had unforeseen consequences. At nearly 57 years of age, Henri had fallen in love again. His new paramour was Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency , daughter of the connétable Henri de Montmorency and more than forty years younger than the king. In January 1609, he caught sight of her at a performance of the Ballet de la Reine and was, so it was said, immediately smitten.

Although her father had promised her to François de Bassompierre , the king wanted her to marry his cousin Henri de Condé , a prince of the blood, whom he hoped would be more compliant and less jealous. A mistake. Immediately after the wedding at Chantilly on 17 May 1609, Condé prevented his young bride from responding to the ageing sovereign's attentions. These took the form of romantic letters in which Henri called Charlotte his "beautiful angel" and expressed himself quite unguardedly. Condé, seeking to remove Charlotte from Henri's advances, decided to take her away from the court and out of the country – but not before he had called the king a "tyrant" in public. Here the story takes a political turn, because Condé and Charlotte took refuge in Brussels, among the archdukes that were said to be close to Madrid. Henri IV was furious, feeling that he had been ridiculed in the eyes of other European sovereigns. He cursed and raged, and even asked Sully to cut Condé's purse strings because he was "playing the devil". He even – if we can believe a letter sent to de Préaux, in February 1610 – became depressed, writing "I am wasting away so much from my cares that I am only skin and bones. Everything displeases me, and I flee society […]".

And yet, this sad affair only strengthened the king's resolve to put an end to the Habsburgs. He prepared for battle, ready to redraw the map of Europe.

Related multimedia

Title: Portrait of Madame de Montmorency

Portrait of Charlotte de Montmorency
© RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Portrait of Madame de Montmorency, by Daniel Dumonstier. Engraving, pastel, pierre noire, sanguine, 16th–17th c. Musée du Louvre, RF1427

Title: King Henri IV

Portait of Henri IV, 1610
Musée Condé de Chantilly
King Henri IV, drawing, 1610. French School, early 17th century. Pierre noire and sanguine. Musée Condé de Chantilly, Inv. PD 410

Title: Ball at the court of Henri IV

Ball at the court of Henri IV
© MBA, Rennes, Dist RMN / Patrick Merret
Ball at the court of Henri IV, painting on wood by Louis de Caulery, circa 1610. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, INV1906-27-48

Title: Henri II de Bourbon

Portrait of Henri II de Bourbon
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Henri II de Bourbon, prince de Condé, drawing by Thierry Bellange, 17th c. Musée national du château de Pau
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