Read CHAPTER VIII.  HIS INSOLENCE OF BUCKINGHAM of The Historical Nights Entertainment‚ Second Series, free online book, by Rafael Sabatini, on ReadCentral.com.

George Villier’s Courtship of Ann of Austria

He was Insolence incarnate.

Since the day when, a mere country lad, his singular good looks had attracted the attention of King James ­notoriously partial to good-looking lads ­and had earned him the office of cup-bearer to his Majesty, the career of George Villiers is to be read in a series of acts of violent and ever-increasing arrogance, expressing the vanity and levity inherent in his nature.  Scarcely was he established in the royal favour than he distinguished himself by striking an offending gentleman in the very presence of his sovereign ­an act of such gross disrespect to royalty that his hand would have paid forfeit, as by law demanded, had not the maudlin king deemed him too lovely a fellow to be so cruelly maimed.

Over the mind and will of King Charles his ascendancy became even greater than it had been over that of King James; and it were easy to show that the acts of George Villiers’ life supplied the main planks of that scaffold in Whitehall whereupon Charles Stuart came to lose his head.  Charles was indeed a martyr; a martyr chiefly to the reckless, insolent, irresponsible vanity of this Villiers, who, from a simple country squire with nothing but personal beauty to recommend him, had risen to be, as Duke of Buckingham, the first gentleman in England.

The heady wine of power had gone to his brain, and so addled it that, as John Chamberlain tells us, there was presently a touch of craziness in him ­of the variety, no doubt, known to modern psychologists as megalomania He lost the sense of proportion, and was without respect for anybody or anything.  The Commons of England and the immensely dignified Court of Spain ­during that disgraceful, pseudo-romantic adventure at Madrid ­were alike the butts of this parvenu’s unmeasured arrogance But the crowning insolence of his career was that tragicomedy the second act of which was played on a June evening in an Amiens garden on the banks of the river Somme.

Three weeks ago ­on the 14th May, 1625, to be precise ­Buckingham had arrived in Paris as Ambassador Extra-ordinary, charged with the task of conducting to England the King of France’s sister, Henrietta Maria, who three days earlier had been married by proxy to King Charles.

The occasion enabled Buckingham to fling the reins on to the neck of his mad vanity, to indulge to the very fullest his crazy passion for ostentation and magnificence.  Because the Court of France was proverbially renowned for splendour and luxury, Buckingham felt it due to himself to extinguish its brilliance by his own.  On his first coming to the Louvre he literally blazed.  He wore a suit of white satin velvet with a short cloak in the Spanish fashion, the whole powdered over with diamonds to the value of some ten thousand pounds.  An enormous diamond clasped the heron’s plume in his hat; diamonds flashed in the hilt of his sword; diamonds studded his very spurs, which were of beaten gold; the highest orders of England, Spain, and France flamed on his breast.  On the occasion of his second visit he wore a suit of purple satin, of intent so lightly sewn with pearls that as he moved he shook them off like raindrops, and left them to lie where they fell, as largesse for pages and the lesser fry of the Court.

His équipages and retinue were of a kind to match his personal effulgence.  His coaches were lined with velvet and covered with cloth of gold, and some seven hundred people made up his train.  There were musicians, watermen, grooms of the chamber, thirty chief yeomen, a score of cooks, as many grooms, a dozen pages, two dozen footmen, six outriders, and twenty gentlemen, each with his own attendants, all arrayed as became the satellites of a star of such great magnitude.

Buckingham succeeded in his ambition.  Paris, that hitherto had set the fashion to the world, stared mouth-agape, dazzled by the splendour of this superb and scintillating ambassador.

Another, by betraying consciousness of the figure that he cut, might have made himself ridiculous.  But Buckingham’s insolent assurance was proof against that peril.  Supremely self-satisfied, he was conscious only that what he did could not be better done, and he ruffled it with an air of easy insouciance, as if in all this costly display there was nothing that was not normal.  He treated with princes, and even with the gloomy Louis XIII., as with equals; and, becoming more and more intoxicated with his very obvious success, he condescended to observe approvingly the fresh beauty of the young Queen.

Anne of Austria, then in her twenty-fourth year, was said to be one of the most beautiful women in Europe.  She was of a good height and carriage, slight, and very gracefully built, of a ravishing fairness of skin and hair, whilst a look of wistfulness had come to invest with an indefinable tenderness her splendid eyes.  Her childless marriage to the young King of France, which had endured now for ten years, had hardly been successful.  Gloomy, taciturn, easily moved to suspicion, and difficult to convince of error, Louis XIII. held his wife aloof, throwing up between himself and her a wall of coldness, almost of dislike.

There is a story ­and Tallemant des Raux gives credit to it ­that in the early days of her reign as Queen of France, Richelieu had fallen deeply in love with her, and that she, with the mischief of an irresponsible young girl, had encouraged him, merely to betray him to a ridicule which his proud spirit had never been able to forgive.  Be that or another the reason, the fact that Richelieu hated her, and subjected her to his vindictive persecution, is beyond dispute.  And it was he who by a hundred suggestions poisoned against her the King’s mind, and thus kept ever open the gulf between the two.

The eyes of that neglected young wife dilated a little, and admiration kindled in them, when they rested upon the dazzling figure of my Lord of Buckingham.  He must have seemed to her a figure of romance, a prince out of a fairy-tale.

That betraying glance he caught, and it inflamed at once his monstrous arrogance.  To the scalps already adorning the belt of his vanity he would add that of the love of a beautiful young queen.  Perhaps he was thrilled in his madness by the thought of the peril that would spice such an adventure.  Into that adventure he plunged forthwith.  He wooed her during the eight days that he abode in Paris, flagrantly, openly, contemptuous of courtiers and of the very King himself.  At the Louvre, at the Hotel de Chevreuse, at the Luxembourg, where the Queen-Mother held her Court, at the Hotel de Guise, and elsewhere he was ever at the Queen’s side.

Richelieu, whose hard pride and self-love had been wounded by the Duke’s cavalier behaviour, who despised the fellow for an upstart, and may even have resented that so shallow a man should have been sent to treat with a statesman of his own caliber ­for other business beside the marriage had brought Buckingham to Paris ­suggested to the King that the Duke’s manner in approaching the Queen lacked a proper deference, and the Queen’s manner of receiving him a proper circumspection.  Therefore the King’s long face became longer, his gloomy eyes gloomier, as he looked on.  Far, however, from acting as a deterrent, the royal scowl was mere incense to the vanity of Buckingham, a spur to goad him on to greater daring.

On the 2nd of June a splendid company of some four thousand French nobles and ladies, besides Buckingham and his retinue, quitted Paris to accompany Henrietta Maria, now Queen of England, on the first stage of her journey to her new home.  The King was not of the party.  He had gone with Richelieu to Fontainebieau, leaving it to the Queen and the Queen-Mother to accompany his sister.

Buckingham missed no chance upon that journey of pressing his attentions upon Anne of Austria.  Duty dictated that his place should be beside the carriage of Henrietta Maria.  But duty did not apply to His Insolence of Buckingham, so indifferent of whom he might slight or offend.  And then the devil took a hand in the game.

At Amiens, the Queen-Mother fell ill, so that the Court was compelled to halt there for a few days to give her Majesty the repose she required.  Whilst Amiens was thus honoured by the presence of three queens at one and the same time within its walls, the Duc de Chaulnes gave an entertainment in the Citadel.  Buckingham attended this, and in the dance that followed the banquet it was Buckingham who led out the Queen.

Thereafter the royal party had returned to the Bishop’s Palace, where it was lodged, and a small company went out to take the evening cool in the Bishop’s fragrant gardens on the Somme, Buckingham ever at the Queen’s side.  Anne of Austria was attended by her Mistress of the Household, the beautiful, witty Marie de Rohan, Duchess of Chevreuse, and by her equerry, Monsieur de Putange.  Madame de Chevreuse had for cavalier that handsome coxcomb, Lord Holland, who was one of Buckingham’s creatures, between whom and herself a certain transient tenderness had sprung up.  M. de Putange was accompanied by Madame de Vernet, with whom at the time he was over head and ears in love.  Elsewhere about the spacious gardens other courtiers sauntered.

Now either Madame de Chevreuse and M. de Putange were too deeply engrossed in their respective companions, or else the state of their own hearts and the tepid, languorous eventide disposed them complacently towards the affair of gallantry upon which their mistress almost seemed to wish to be embarked.  They forgot, it would seem, that she was a queen, and remembered sympathetically that she was a woman, and that she had for companion the most splendid cavalier in all the world.  Thus they committed the unpardonable fault of lagging behind, and allowing her to pass out of their sight round the bend of an avenue by the water.

No sooner did Buckingham realize that he was alone with the Queen, that the friendly dusk and a screen of trees secured them from observation, than, piling audacity up on audacity, he determined to accomplish here and now the conquest of this lovely lady who had used him so graciously and received his advances with such manifest pleasure.

“How soft the night!  How exquisite!” he sighed.

“Indeed,” she agreed.  “And how still, but for the gentle murmur of the river.”

“The river!” he cried, on a new note.  “That is no gentle murmur.  The river laughs, maliciously mocking.  The river is evil.”

“Evil?” quoth she.  He had checked in his step, and they stood now side by side.

“Evil,” he repeated.  “Evil and cruel.  It goes to swell the sea that soon shall divide me from you, and it mocks me, rejoicing wickedly in the pain that will presently be mine.”

It took her aback.  She laughed, a little breathlessly, to hide her discomposure, and scarce knew how to answer him, scarce knew whether she took pleasure or offense in his daring encroachment upon that royal aloofness in which she dwelt, and in which her Spanish rearing had taught her she must ever dwell.

“Oh, but Monsieur l’Ambassadeur, you will be with us again, perhaps before so very long.”

His answer came in a swift, throbbing question, his lips so near her face that she could feel his breath hot upon her cheek.

“Do you wish it, madame?  Do you wish it?  I implore you, of your pity, say but that you wish it, and I will come, though I tear down half a world to reach you.”

She recoiled in Wright and displeasure before a wooing so impetuous and violently outspoken; though the displeasure was perhaps but a passing emotion, the result of early training.  Yet she contrived to answer him with the proper icy dignity due to her position as a princess of Spain, now Queen of France.

“Monsieur, you forget yourself.  The Queen of France does not listen to such words.  You are mad, I think.”

“Yes, I am mad,” he flung back.  “Mad with love ­so mad that I have forgot that you are a queen and I an ambassador.  Under the ambassador there is a man, under the queen a woman ­our real selves, not the titles with which Fate seeks to dissemble our true natures.  And with the whole strength of my true nature do I love you, so potently, so overwhelmingly that I will not believe you sensible of no response.”

Thus torrentially he delivered himself, and swept her a little off her feet.  She was a woman, as he said; a queen, it is true; but also a neglected, coldly-used wife; and no one had ever addressed her in anything approaching this manner, no one had ever so much as suggested that her existence could matter greatly, that in her woman’s nature there was the magic power of awakening passion and devotion.  He was so splendidly magnificent, so masterful and unrivalled, and he came thus to lay his being, as it were, in homage at her feet.  It touched her a little, who knew so little of the real man.  It cost her an effort to repulse him, and the effort was not very convincing.

“Hush, monsieur, for pity’s sake!  You must not talk so to me.  It ... it hurts.”

O fatal word!  She meant that it was her dignity as Queen he wounded, for she clung to that as to the anchor of salvation.  But he in his egregious vanity must of cours e misunderstand.

“Hurts!” he cried, and the rapture in his accents should have warned her.  “Because you resist it, because you fight against the commands of your true self.  Anne!” He seized her, and crushed her to him.  “Anne!”

Wild terror gripped her at that almost brutal contact, and anger, too, her dignity surging up in violent outraged rebellion.  A scream, loud and piercing, broke from her and rang through the still garden.  It brought him to his senses.  It was as if he had been lifted up into the air, and then suddenly allowed to fall.

He sprang away from her, an incoherent exclamation on his lips, and when an instant later Monsieur de Putange came running up in alarm, his hand upon his sword, those two stood with the width of the avenue between them, Buckingham erect and defiant, the Queen breathing hard and trembling, a hand upon her heaving breast as if to repress its tumult.

“Madame!  Madame!” had been Putange’s cry, as he sprang forward in alarm and self-reproach.

He stood now almost between them, looking from one to the other in bewilderment.  Neither spoke.

“You cried out, Madame,” M. de Putange reminded her, and Buckingham may well have wondered whether presently he would be receiving M. de Putange’s sword in his vitals.  He must have known that his life now hung upon her answer.

“I called you, that was all,” said the Queen, in a voice that she strove to render calm.  “I confess that I was startled to find myself alone with M. L’Ambassadeur.  Do not let it occur again, M. de Putange!”

The equerry bowed in silence.  His itching fingers fell away from his sword-hilt, and he breathed more freely.  He had no illusions as to what must have happened.  But he was relieved there were to be no complications.  The others now coming up with them, the party thereafter kept together until presently Buckingham and Lord Holland took their leave.

On the morrow the last stage of the escorting journey was accomplished.  A little way beyond Amiens the Court took its leave of Henrietta Maria, entrusting her now to Buckingham and his followers, who were to convey her safely to Charles.

It was a very contrite and downcast Buckingham who came now to Anne of Austria as she sat in her coach with the Princesse de Conti for only companion.

“Madame,” he said, “I am come to take my leave.”

“Fare you well, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur,” she said, and her voice was warm and gentle, as if to show him that she bore no malice.

“I am come to ask your pardon, madame,” he said, in a low voice.

“Oh, monsieur ­no more, I beg you.”  She looked down; her hands were trembling, her cheeks going red and white by turns.

He put his head behind the curtains of the coach, so that none might see him from outside, and looking at him now, she beheld tears in his eyes.

“Do not misunderstand me, madame.  I ask your pardon only for having discomposed you, startled you.  As for what I said, it were idle to ask pardon, since I could no more help saying it than I can help drawing breath.  I obeyed an instinct stronger than the will to live.  I gave expression to something that dominates my whole being, and will ever dominate it as long as I have life.  Adieu, madame!  At need you know where a servant who will gladly die for you is to be found.”  He kissed the hem of her robe, dashed the back of his hand across his eyes, and was gone before she could say a word in answer.

She sat pale, and very thoughtful, and the Princesse de Conti, watching her furtively, observed that her eyes were moist.

“I will answer for the Queen’s virtue,” she stated afterwards, “but I cannot speak so positively for the hardness of her heart, since without doubt the Duke’s tears affected her spirits.”

But it was not yet the end.  As Buckingham was nearing Calais, he was met by a courier from Whitehall, with instructions for him regarding the negotiations he had been empowered to carry out with France in the matter of an alliance against Spain ­negotiations which had not thriven with Louis and Richelieu, possibly because the ambassador was ill-chosen.  The instructions came too late to be of use, but in time to serve as a pretext for Buckingham’s return to Amiens.  There he sought an audience of the Queen-Mother, and delivered himself to her of a futile message for the King.  This chimerical business ­as Madame de Motteville shrewdly calls it ­being accomplished, he came to the real matter which had prompted him to use that pretext for his return, and sought audience of Anne of Austria.

It was early morning, and the Queen was not yet risen.  But the levees at the Court of France were precisely what the word implies, and they were held by royalty whilst still abed.  It was not, therefore, amazing that he should have been admitted to her presence.  She was alone save for her lady-in-waiting, Madame de Lannoi, who was, we are told, aged, prudent and virtuous.  Conceive, therefore, the outraged feelings of this lady upon seeing the English duke precipitate himself wildly into the room, and on his knees at the royal bedside seize the coverlet and bear it to his lips.

Whilst the young Queen looked confused and agitated, Madame de Lannoi became a pillar of icy dignity.

“M. Duc,” says she, “it is not customary in France to kneel when speaking to the Queen.”

“I care nothing for the customs of France, madame,” he answered rudely.  “I am not a Frenchman.”

“That is too obvious, monsieur,” snapped the elderly, prudent and virtuous countess.  “Nevertheless, whilst in France perhaps monsieur will perceive the convenience of conforming to French customs.  Let me call for a chair for Monsieur Duc.”

“I do not want a chair, madame.”

The countess cast her eyes to Heaven, as if to say, “I suppose one cannot expect anything else in a foreigner,” and let him kneel as he insisted, placing herself, however, protectingly at the Queen’s pillow.

Nevertheless, entirely unabashed, heeding Madame de Lannoi’s presence no more than if she had been part of the room’s furniture, the Duke delivered himself freely of what was in his mind.  He had been obliged to return to Amiens on a matter of State.  It was unthinkable that he should be so near to her Majesty and not hasten to cast himself at her feet; and whilst gladdening the eyes of his body with the sight of her matchless perfection, the image of which was ever before the eyes of his soul, allow himself the only felicity life now held for him ­that of protesting himself her utter slave.  This, and much more of the kind, did he pour out, what time the Queen, embarrassed and annoyed beyond utterance, could only stare at him in silence.

Apart from the matchless impudence of it, it was also of a rashness beyond pardon.  Unless Madame de Lannoi were the most circumspect of women, here was a fine tale for Court gossips, and for the King’s ears, a tale that must hopelessly compromise the Queen.  For that, Buckingham, in his self-sufficiency and arrogance, appears to have cared nothing.  One suspects that it would have pleased his vanity to have his name linked with the Queen’s by the lips of scandal.

She found her tongue at last.

Monsieur Duc,” she said in her confusion, “it was not necessary, it was not worth while, to have asked audience of me for this.  You have leave to go.”

He looked up in doubt, and saw only confusion; attributed it perhaps to the presence of that third party to which himself he had been so indifferent.  He kissed the coverlet again, stumbled to his feet, and reached the door.  Thence he sent her a flaming glance of his bold eyes, and hand on heart ­

Adieu, madame!” said he in tragic tones, and so departed.

Madame de Lannoi was discreet, and related at the time nothing of what had passed at that interview.  But that the interview itself had taken place under such conditions was enough to set the tongue of gossip wagging.  An echo of it reached the King, together with the story of that other business in the garden, and he was glad to know that the Duke of Buckingham was back in London.  Richelieu, to vent his own malice against the Queen, sought to feed the King’s suspicions.

“Why did she cry out, sire?” he will have asked.  “What did M. de Buckingham do to make her cry out?”

“I don’t know.  But whatever it was, she was no party to it since she did cry out.”

Richelieu did not pursue the matter just then.  But neither did he abandon it.  He had his agents in London and elsewhere, and he desired of them a close report upon the Duke of Buckingham’s movements, and the fullest particulars of his private life.

Meanwhile, Buckingham had left behind him in France two faithful agents of his own, with instructions to keep his memory green with the Queen.  For he intended to return upon one pretext or another before very long, and complete the conquest.  Those agents of his were Lord Holland and the artist Balthazar Gerbier.  It is to be presumed that they served the Duke’s interests well, and it is no less to be presumed from that which followed that they found her Majesty willing enough to hear news of that amazingly romantic fellow who had flashed across the path of her grey life, touching it for a moment with his own flaming radiance.  In her loneliness she came to think of him with tenderness and pity, in which pity for herself and her dull lot was also blent.  He was away, overseas; she might never see him again; therefore there could be little harm in indulging the romantic tenderness he had inspired.

So one day, many months after his departure, she begged Gerbier ­as La Rochefoucauld tells us ­to journey to London and bear the Duke a trifling memento of her ­a set of diamond studs.  That love-token ­for it amounted to no less ­Gerbier conveyed to England, and delivered to the Duke.

Buckingham’s head was so completely turned by the event, and his desire to see Anne of Austria again became thereupon so overmastering, that he at once communicated to France that he was coming over as the ambassador of the King of England to treat of certain masters connected with Spain.  But Richelieu had heard from the French ambassador in London that portraits of the Queen of France were excessively abundant at York House, the Duke’s residence, and he had considered it his duty to inform the King.  Louis was angry, but not with the Queen.  To have believed her guilty of any indiscretion would have hurt his gloomy pride too deeply.  All that he believed was that this was merely an expression of Buckingham’s fanfaronading, thrasonical disposition, a form of vain, empty boasting peculiar to megalomaniacs.

As a consequence, the King of England was informed that the Duke of Buckingham, for reasons well known to himself, would not be agreeable as Charles’s ambassador to his Most Christian Majesty.  Upon learning this, the vainglorious Buckingham was loud in proclaiming the reason ("well known to himself”) and in protesting that he would go to France to see the Queen with the French King’s consent or without it.  This was duly reported to Richelieu, and by Richelieu to King Louis.  But his Most Christian Majesty merely sneered, accounted it more empty boasting on the part of the parvenu, and dismissed it from his mind.

Richelieu found this attitude singularly exasperating in a King who was temperamentally suspicious.  It so piqued and annoyed him, that when considered in addition to his undying rancour against Anne of Austria, it is easily believed he spared no pains to obtain something in the nature of a proof that the Queen was not as innocent as Louis insisted upon believing.

Now it happened that one of his London agents informed him, among other matters connected with the Duke’s private life, that he had a bitter and secret enemy in the Countess of Carlisle, between whom and himself there had been a passage of some tenderness too abruptly ended by the Duke.  Richelieu, acting upon this information, contrived to enter into correspondence with Lady Carlisle, and in the course of this correspondence he managed her so craftily ­says La Rochefoucauld ­that very soon she was, whilst hardly realizing it, his Éminence’s most valuable spy near Buckingham.  Richelieu informed her that he was mainly concerned with information that would throw light upon the real relations of Buckingharn and the Queen of France, and he persuaded her that nothing was too insignificant to be communicated.  Her resentment of the treatment she had received from Buckingham, a resentment the more bitter for being stifled ­since for her reputation’s sake she dared not have given it expression ­made her a very ready instrument in Richelieu’s hands, and there was no scrap of gossip she did not carefully gather up and dispatch to him.  But all was naught until one day at last she was able to tell him something that set his pulses beating more quickly than their habit.

She had it upon the best authority that a set of diamond studs constantly worn of late by the Duke was a love-token from the Queen of France sent over to Buckingham by a messenger of her own.  Here, indeed, was news.  Here was a weapon by which the Queen might be destroyed.  Richelieu considered.  If he could but obtain possession of the studs, the rest would be easy.  There would be an end ­and such an end! ­to the King’s obstinate, indolent faith in his wife’s indifference to that boastful, flamboyant English upstart.  Richelieu held his peace for the time being, and wrote to the Countess.

Some little time thereafter there was a sumptuous ball given at York House, graced by the presence of King Charles and his young French Queen.  Lady Carlisle was present, and in the course of the evening Buckingham danced with her.  She was a very beautiful, accomplished and ready-witted woman, and to-night his Grace found her charms so alluring that he was almost disposed to blame himself for having perhaps treated her too lightly.  Yet she seemed at pains to show him that it was his to take up again the affair at the point at which it had been dropped.  She was gay, arch, provoking and irresistible.  So irresistible that presently, yielding to the lure of her, the Duke slipped away from his guests with the lady on his arm, and they found themselves at the foot of the garden in the shadow of the water-gate that Inigo Jones had just completed for him.  My lady languished at his side, permitted him to encircle her with a protecting arm, and for a moment lay heavily against him.  He caught her violently to him, and now her ladyship, hitherto so yielding, with true feminine contrariness set herself to resist him.  A scuffle ensued between them.  She broke from him at last, and sped swift as a doe across the lawn towards the lights of the great house, his Grace in pursuit between vexation and amusement.

But he did not overtake her, and it was with a sense of having been fooled that he rejoined his guests.  His questing eyes could discern her nowhere.  Presently he made inquiries, to be told that she had desired her carriage to be called, and had left York House immediately upon coming in from the garden.

He concluded that she was gone off in a pet.  It was very odd.  It was, in fact, most flagrantly contradictory that she should have taken offense at that which she had so obviously invited.  But then she always had been a perverse and provoking jade.  With that reflection he put her from his mind.

But anon, when his guests had departed, and the lights in the great house were extinguished, Buckingham thought of the incident again.  Cogitating it, he sat in his room, his fingers combing his fine, pointed, auburn beard.  At last, with a shrug and a half-laugh, he rose to undress for bed.  And then a cry escaped him, and brought in his valet from an adjoining room.  The riband of diamond studs was gone.

Reckless and indifferent as he was, a sense of evil took him in the moment of his discovery of that loss, so that he stood there pale, staring, and moist of brow.  It was no ordinary theft.  There were upon his person a dozen ornaments of greater value, any one of which could have been more easily detached.  This was the work of some French agent.  He had made no secret of whence those studs had come to him.

There his thoughts checked on a sudden.  As in a flash of revelation, he saw the meaning of Lady Carlisle’s oddly contradictory behaviour.  The jade had fooled him.  It was she who had stolen the riband.  He sat down again, his head in his hands, and swiftly, link by link, he pieced together a complete chain.

Almost as swiftly he decided upon the course of action which he must adopt so as to protect the Queen of France’s honour.  He was virtually the ruler of England, master in these islands of an almost boundless power.  That power he would exert to the full this very night to thwart those enemies of his own and of the Queen’s, who worked so subtly in concert.  Many would be wronged, much harm would be done, the liberties of some thousands of freeborn Englishmen would be trampled underfoot.  What did it matter?  It was necessary that his Grace of Buckingham should cover up an indiscretion.

“Set ink and paper yonder,” he bade his gaping valet.  “Then go call M. Gerbier.  Rouse Lacy and Thom, and send them to me at once, and leave word that I shall require a score of couriers to be in the saddle and ready to set out in half an hour.”

Bewildered, the valet went off upon his errand.  The Duke sat down to write.  And next morning English merchants learnt that the ports of England were closed by the King’s express command ­delivered by his minister, the Duke of Buckingham ­that measures were being taken ­were already taken in all southern ports ­so that no vessel of any kind should leave the island until the King’s further pleasure were made known.  Startled, the people wondered was this enactment the forerunner of war.  Had they known the truth, they might have been more startled still, though in a different manner.  As swiftly as couriers could travel ­and certainly well ahead of any messenger seeking escape overseas ­did this blockade spread, until the gates of England were tight locked against the outgoing of those diamond studs whirls meant the honour of the Queen of France.

And meanwhile a diamond-cutter was replacing the purloined stones by others, matching them so closely that no man should be able to say which were the originals and which the copies.  Buckingham and Gerbier between them guided the work.  Soon it was accomplished, and a vessel slipped down the Thames, allowed to pass by those who kept close watch to enforce the royal decree, and made sail for Calais, which was beginning to manifest surprise at this entire cessation of traffic from England.  From that vessel landed Gerbier, and rode straight to Paris, carrying the Queen of France the duplicate studs, which were to replace those which she had sent to Buckingham.

Twenty-four hours later the ports of England were unsealed, and commerce was free and unhampered once more.  But it was twenty-four hours too late for Richelieu and his agent, the Countess of Carlisle.  His Eminence deplored a fine chance lost through the excessive power that was wielded in England by the parvenu.

Yet that is not quite the end of the story.  Buckingham’s inflamed and reckless mind would stop at nothing now to achieve the object of his desires ­go to France and see the Queen.  Since the country was closed to him, he would force a way into it, the red way of war.  Blood should flow, ruin and misery desolate the land, but in the end he would go to Paris to negotiate a peace, and that should be his opportunity.  Other reasons there may have been, but none so dominant, none that could not have been removed by negotiation.  The pretexted casus belli was the matter of the Protestants of La Rochelle, who were in rebellion against their king.

To their aid sailed Buckingham with an English expedition.  Disaster and defeat awaited it.  Its shattered remnant crept back in disgrace to England, and the Duke found himself more detested by the people than he had been already ­which is saying much.  He went off to seek comfort at the hands of the two persons who really loved him ­his doting King and his splendid wife.

But the defeat had neither lessened his resolve nor chastened his insolence.  He prepared a second expedition in the very teeth of a long-suffering nation’s hostility, indifferent to the mutinies and mutterings about him.  What signified to him the will of a nation?  He desired to win to the woman whom he loved, and to accomplish that he nothing recked that he should set Europe in a blaze, nothing recked what blood should be poured out, what treasure dissipated.

Hatred of him by now was so widespread and vocal, that his friends, fearing that soon it would pass from words to deeds, urged him to take precautions, advised the wearing of a shirt of mail for greater safety.

But he laughed sneeringly, ever arrogant and scornful.

“It needs not.  There are no Roman spirits left,” was his contemptuous answer.

He was mistaken.  One morning after breakfast, as he was leaving the house in the High Street, Portsmouth, where he lodged whilst superintending the final preparations for that unpopular expedition, John Felton, a self-appointed instrument of national vengeance, drove a knife to the hilt into the Duke’s breast.

“May the Lord have mercy on your soul!” was the pious exclamation with which the slayer struck home.  And, in all the circumstances, there seems to have been occasion for the prayer.