History tells us that when Gabrielle de Estrées was sixteen years old she was so pretty and already in possession of a good figure, that at her mother’s instigation she was sold as mistress to Henri III. The deal was negotiated through a third party, Montigny, and a sum of six thousand crowns was agreed as payment to compensate her mother, Madame d’Estrees, for the loss of her daughter. Though why she deserved it, being surely the most unfeeling mother imaginable, is hard to say. Montigny, however, only remitted her two-thirds of that amount, retaining the balance for himself, and when this came to the king’s ears, consequently lost all favour.
Gabrielle, however, got the worst deal as her mother sells her again, passing her on from lover to lover, including the Cardinal de Guise. She was with him for more than a year, until May 1588 when he left for Paris to support his nephew, the Duke de Guise, in what became known as the Day of the Barricades.
For a time Gabrielle felt free, was passionately in love with the Duke de Bellegarde, Grand Equerry of France, Master of the King's Wardrobe and First Gentleman of his Chamber. Henri III, with whom Bellegarde was in high favour, is said to have supported his suit. Unfortunately, Gabrielle was a sprightly, spoiled little miss at this time and also in love with the Duke de Longueville. Playing one off against the other she couldn’t quite make up her mind which would make the better husband.
As this picture shows, Gabrielle was a perfect beauty, and the courtiers waxed lyrical on the subject.
‘Blue eyes so brilliant as to dazzle one; a complexion of the composition of the Graces but in which the lilies surpassed the roses unless it were animated by some deep feeling… a mouth on which gaiety and love reposed, and which was perfectly furnished.’
‘she had fair hair like fine gold, caught up in a mass, or slightly crisped above the forehead…’
‘the nose straight and regular, the mouth small, smiling and purplish, the cast of physiognomy engaging and tender. A charm was spread over every outline. Her eyes were blue, quick, soft and clear. She was wholly feminine in her tastes, her ambitions, and even her defects.’
Bellegarde was so besotted he foolishly boasted about her to his master, Henry of Navarre, later crowned Henry IV of France. Henry means to have her. And the rest, as they say, was history…
Her life certainly makes a good story, and I couldn’t resist telling it. But Gabrielle desperately longs to choose her own lover for once, to marry and be respectable, wishing she hadn’t foolishly prevaricated over which to accept.
Meanwhile, Henry’s Queen, Marguerite de Navarre, is determined not to agree to a divorce until she has a just financial settlement. But then there are other ways of getting rid of an inconvenient wife…
Here is the blurb for Reluctant Queen, which is the sequel to Hostage Queen.
The story of Gabrielle d’Estrées is one of love, betrayal, intrigue and tragedy. All she wanted was to marry for love, and enjoy the respectability of a happy marriage. But in the court of sixteenth century France this was almost impossible to achieve. She was sold by her own mother to three different lovers before catching the eye of a king. Henry has a weakness for beautiful women with fair hair and blue eyes, and once he sees Gabrielle, he knows he must have her. She bears him children and he promises to marry her. But Henry of Navarre still has a war to fight to win the crown of France, and succeeds only when he finally accepts that ‘Paris is worth a Mass’.
Queen Margot is in exile, where she flees in fear for her life, suffers the siege of Agen, a plague, and creates yet further scandals, but she will only grant him a divorce if he agrees not to marry his latest ‘whore’. Rosny, his favourite adviser, disapproves strongly of the match, and plans a more suitable political marriage for the King. Is the love of a king enough to secure Gabrielle the happiness and respectability she craves, and a crown for her son as the next dauphin of France?
Published by Severn House as a hardback. Paperback to follow later in the year.