Gabrielle d'Estrées, marquise de Monceaux, duchesse de Beaufort
|Died||10 April 1599 (aged 25–26)|
|Cause of death||Eclampsia|
Nicolas Damerval de Liancourt
(m. 1592; annulled 1595)
Gabrielle d'Estrées, Duchess of Beaufort and Verneuil, Marchioness of Monceaux (French: [ɡabʁijɛl dɛstʁe]; 1573 – 10 April 1599) was a mistress, confidante and adviser of Henry IV of France. She persuaded Henry to renounce Protestantism in favour of Catholicism in 1593. Later she urged French Catholics to accept the Edict of Nantes, which granted certain rights to the Protestants. Being legally impossible for the king to marry her as he was already married to Margaret of Valois, he controversially filed for an annulment to Pope Clement VIII in February 1599 to end his childless first marriage, and announced his intention to marry Gabrielle and have her crowned the next Queen of France, while legitimizing their three children that were born out of wedlock. Her coronation and wedding never occurred however due to her untimely and sudden death.
She was born at either the Château de la Bourdaisière in Montlouis-sur-Loire, in Touraine, or at the château de Cœuvres, in Picardy. Her parents were Antoine d'Estrées, Marquis of Cœuvres, and Françoise Babou de La Bourdaisière, who had been the mistress of Henry III of France.
In November 1590, Henry IV fell in love with Gabrielle d'Estrées. She became one of his many mistresses in the middle of his bitter struggle with the Catholic League. Although he was married to Margaret of Valois, Henry and Gabrielle were openly affectionate with each other in public. Her father, anxious to save his daughter from so perilous an entanglement, married her to Nicholas d'Amerval, seigneur de Liancourt, but the union proved unhappy.
Fiercely loyal, Gabrielle accompanied Henry during his campaigns. Even when heavily pregnant, she insisted on living inside his tent near the battlefield, making sure his clothing was clean and that he ate well after a battle, handling the day to day correspondence while he fought. As she was intelligent and practical, Henry confided his secrets to her and followed her advice. When the two were apart, Henry frequently wrote her letters while on his sojourn trips at war camps.
Born a Catholic, Gabrielle knew that the best way to conclude the religious wars was for Henry himself to become a Catholic. Recognizing the wisdom in her argument, on 25 July 1593 Henry declared that "Paris is well worth a Mass" and permanently renounced Protestantism. This enabled him to be crowned King of France on 27 February 1594. Henry also arranged for Gabrielle's marriage to Liancourt to be annulled the same year.
On 7 June 1594, their first child was born, a son, César de Bourbon, future Duke of Vendôme. On 4 January 1595, Henry IV officially recognized and legitimized his son in a text validated by the Parlement de Paris. In that text, he also recognized Gabrielle d'Estrées as the mother of his son and as "the subject the most worthy of our friendship"; in other words, Henry IV had the Parlement de Paris officially ratify Gabrielle's position as his mistress. In 1596, he made her marquise de Monceaux and, the following year, duchesse de Beaufort, a peeress of France.
Henry IV also recognized and legitimized two more children he had with Gabrielle: Catherine-Henriette de Bourbon, a daughter born in 1596, and Alexandre de Bourbon, a son born in 1598. The relationship between Henry and Gabrielle did not sit well with some members of the French aristocracy, and malicious pamphlets circulated that blamed the new duchess for many national misfortunes. One of the most vicious nicknames ascribed to Gabrielle was la duchesse d'Ordure ("the Duchess of Filth").
Gabrielle became Henry's most important diplomat, using her female friends amongst the various Catholic League families to bring about peace. In March 1596, Henry gave both Gabrielle and his sister Catherine a set of gold keys which bestowed upon them seats on his council. This gift pleased Gabrielle so much that she took to wearing the little keys on a chain around her neck.
In 1598, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which gave the Huguenots certain rights while deferring to Catholics. Joining forces, the Huguenot Catherine and Catholic Gabrielle went to work overriding the objections of powerful Catholics and Huguenots and forcing compliance with the edict. Henry was so impressed with her efforts that he wrote "My mistress has become an orator of unequaled brilliance, so fiercely does she argue the cause of the new Edict."
After applying to Pope Clement VIII for an annulment of his marriage and authority to remarry, in March 1599 Henry gave his mistress his coronation ring. Gabrielle, so sure that the wedding would take place, stated, "Only God or the king's death could put an end to my good luck". A few days later, on 9 April, she suffered an attack of eclampsia and gave birth to a stillborn son. King Henry was at the Château de Fontainebleau when news arrived of her illness. The next day, 10 April 1599, while Henry was on his way to her, she died in Paris.
The King was grief-stricken, especially given the widely held rumor that Gabrielle had been poisoned. He wore black in mourning, something no previous French monarch had done. He gave her the funeral of a queen; her coffin was transported amidst a procession of princes, princesses, and nobles to the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church in Paris, for a requiem mass. Remembered in French history and song as La Belle Gabrielle, she was interred in the Notre-Dame-La-Royale at Maubuisson Abbey in Saint-Ouen-l'Aumône (Val-d'Oise, Île-de-France).
Her four children by Henry were:
- César, Duke of Vendôme (1594–1665), married Françoise de Lorraine (1592–1669) and had issue. In 1626, he participated in a plot against Cardinal Richelieu. César was captured and held in prison for three years. In 1641 he was accused of conspiracy again and this time fled to England.
- Catherine Henriette de Bourbon (1596–1663), married Charles II, Duke of Elbeuf.
- Alexandre, Chevalier de Vendôme (1598–1629).
- stillborn son (1599).
Representation in art
She is the subject of the painting Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs by an unknown artist (c. 1594), currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Gabrielle sits up nude in a bath, holding (presumably) Henry's coronation ring, whilst her sister sits nude beside her and pinches her right nipple. Henry gave Gabrielle the ring as a token of his love shortly before she died.
A very similar painting with the same characters in different positions is in the Palace of Fontainebleau, and yet a third one, without her sister, in the Musée Condé in the Château de Chantilly.
Gabrielle d’Estrées and her sister, the Duchess of Villars - Palace of Fontainebleau
- French: Gabrielle d'Estrées, duchesse de Beaufort et Verneuil, marquise de Monceaux
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- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Estrées, Gabrielle d'". Encyclopædia Britannica. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 801.
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- "Lettres de légitimation de César de Vendôme ; Paris, 4 janvier 1595". calames.abes. In french.
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- "Les Dames au Bain". Château de Fontainebleau (in French). Retrieved 9 October 2020.
- "Les incontournables". Domaine de Chantilly (in French). Retrieved 9 October 2020.
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- Media related to Gabrielle d'Estrées at Wikimedia Commons