Friday, September 22, 2017

Queen Elizabeth I’s navel

‘She was clad in a dress of black taffeta, bound with gold lace, and like a robe in the Italian fashion with open sleeves and lined with crimson taffeta. She had a petticoat of white damask, girdled, and open in front, as was also her chemise, in such a manner that she often opened this dress and one could see all her belly, and even to her navel.’ This description of Queen Elizabeth I comes from a journal written by André Hurault de Maisse, who died all of 410 years ago today. At the time, Hurault was undertaking a diplomatic mission for King Henry IV who wanted to end France’s war with Spain.

Hurault was born around 1539. He seems to have married twice, first to Renée and then to Catherine Berziau who already had two sons. He became the foremost French diplomat of his time, being ambassador to Venice from 1582. He died on 22 September 1607. See and Rooke Books for the very little information about him that can be found freely online and in English.

In 1597, Hurault was appointed by Henry IV of France for a special mission to England. At that time, France and England were allied in war with Spain, but Henry wanted to make peace with Spain, and needed Elizabeth’s consent to do so (under the terms of their agreement). While on that mission, he kept a journal, and it is because of this journal that Hurault is still remembered today. The journal was the prime source of an 1855 French book Elisabeth et Henri IV (1595-1598): Ambassade de Hurault de Maisse en Angleterre; and the journal first appeared in English in 1931 when Nonesuch Press published De Maisse: A Journal of all that was accomplished by Monsieur De Maisse, Ambassador to England from King Henry IV to Queen Elizabeth, as translated by G. B. Harrison and R. A. Jones. In addition to the title, the book’s front cover carries this blurb: ‘This fascinating contemporary picture, the best account there is of Queen Elizabeth, Essex, and others of the men around her at Court, is now published for the first time.’ A review of the book can be found in The Spectator archive.

Most of the entries in Hurault’s journal are long, here is one of them.

15 December 1597
‘I thought that I should have appeared before the Queen. She was on point of giving me audience, having already sent her coaches to fetch me, but taking a look into her mirror said that she appeared too ill and that she was unwilling for anyone to see her in that state; and so countermanded me.

To-day she sent her coaches and one of her own gentlemen servants to conduct me. When I alighted from my coach Monsieur de Mildmay, formerly ambassador in France, came up to me and led me to the Presence Chamber, where the Lord Chamberlain came to seek me as before and conducted me to the Privy Chamber where the Queen was standing by a window. She looked in better health than before. She was clad in a dress of black taffeta, bound with gold lace, and like a robe in the Italian fashion with open sleeves and lined with crimson taffeta. She had a petticoat of white damask, girdled, and open in front, as was also her chemise, in such a manner that she often opened this dress and one could see all her belly, and even to her navel. Her head tire was the same as before. She had bracelets of pearl on her hands, six or seven rows of them. On her head tire she wore a coronet of pearls, of which five or six were marvellously fair. When she raises her head she has a trick of putting both hands on her gown and opening it insomuch that all her belly can be seen. She greeted me with very good cheer and embraced me, and then, having been some three feet from the window, she went and sat down on her chair of state and caused another to be brought to me, taking care to make me cover, which I did. The business that was accomplished is written in my despatch to the King of the 16th of this month. Speaking of Brittany, she said that the King would no longer go there, and that it was made a present to a lady whom she knew not how to name. Afterwards she corrected herself; she said several times: “Gabrielle, that is the name of an angel; but there has never been a female.”

She often called herself foolish and old, saying she was sorry to see me there, and that, after having seen so many wise men and great princes, I should at length come to see a poor woman and a foolish. I was not without an answer, telling her the blessings, virtues and perfections that I had heard of her from stranger Princes, but that was nothing compared with what I saw. With that she was well contented, as she is when anyone commends her for her judgment and prudence, and she is very glad to speak slightingly of her intelligence and sway of mind,so that she may give occasion to commend her. She said that it was but natural that she should have some knowledge of the affairs of the world, being called thereto so young, and having worn that crown these forty years; but she said, and repeated often, that it came from the goodness of God, to which she was more beholding than anyone in the world. Thereupon she related to me the attempts that had been made as much against her life as against her state, holding it marvellous strange that the King of Spain should treat her in a fashion that she would never have believed to proceed from the will of a Prince; yet he had caused fifteen persons to be sent to that end, who had all confessed. Thereupon she related that one of her treasurers of finance had told her that it was the force of love which made the King of Spain behave so, and that it was a dangerous kind of love; she would a thousand times rather be dead than win so much from him, and if she had one of her subjects and Councillors who had attempted or counselled any man to attempt such an act she would have put him to death forthwith; but she was in God’s keeping. When anyone speaks of her beauty she says that she was never beautiful, although she had that reputation thirty years ago. Nevertheless she speaks of her beauty as often as she can. As for her natural form and proportion, she is very beautiful; and by chance approaching a door and wishing to raise the tapestry that hung before it, she said to me laughing that she was as big as a door, meaning that she was tall.

It is certain that she was very greatly displeased that the King was unwilling to come and see her as he had promised, for she greatly desires these favours, and for it to be said that great princes have come to see her. During the siege of Rouen, thinking that the King was to come and see her, she went to Portsmouth with a great train, and she appeared to be vexed and to scoff that the King had not come thither.

The first time that the late Duke of Anjou came to England privately without letting himself be seen, and had only reached Greenwich, there came news of a very great illness that befell the late King, which lasted for a short while. It was then proposed in her Council to detain him on the ground that the passport which had been given to him was only as “Monsieur” and not as the King of France. They had expressly invented this subtilty, but she always resisted it and would none of it. The King, however, being in good health, there was no need of this counsel.

I departed from her audience at night, and she retired half dancing to her chamber, where is her spinet which she is content that everyone should see. The Lord Chamberlain conducted me to the door at the entrance of the Presence Chamber, and then Monsieur Mildmay conducted me to my coach.

Before I went to find her Majesty, Stafford came to entertain me in the Presence Chamber. He ought to be in the Council of State, and it should be noted that the King should entertain him as one well versed in the affairs of France and inclined to her; and one could use him.’

The Diary Junction

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