The Helmet of Navarre
Frontispiece and title page
|Subject||Henry IV of France 1553-1610|
|Genre||Historical novel, Fiction|
|Publisher||The Century Co.|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PZ3.R875 H PS3535.U453|
The Helmet of Navarre is a historical novel by American writer Bertha Runkle published in 1901. It first appeared in serial form in the magazine The Century Magazine in 1900. Later, she adapted the novel for the stage.
The New York Times made the following announcement on July 14, 1900,
"A young romantic novelist, Miss Bertha Runkle, of New York City, will make her debut in the August Issue of The Century Magazine with the first chapters of a novel which will run through eight numbers of the periodical. The work is described as a dramatic romance of love and adventure, and is entitled "The Helmet of Navarre". The scene of the tale is laid in Paris during the siege by Henry of Navarre, and the action occupies the four days preceding the Sunday when Henry entered the city to accept the Roman Catholic faith. Miss Runkle is the daughter of Mrs. L.G. Runkle, a woman well known in New York literary circles."
Runkle was only twenty-one when the book appeared in the Century Magazine. She had the story in her mind for two years or so, and the actual writing took about four months. The title was taken from a passage in Thomas Babbington Macaulay's poem Ivry, which its author adopted as a motto:
"Press where ye see my white plume shine amidst the ranks of war,"And be your oriflamme today, the helmet of Navarre."
The book went on to become No. 3 on the list of bestselling novels in the United States for the entire year of 1901 as determined by the New York Times. The year of its release, she teamed up with playwright, Lawrence Marston, to adapt her story to the Broadway stage in a production by Charles Frohman.
A 1901 review of the book had the following to say about it,
"The book came out with a great shouting, a banging of drums, blaring of trumpets, and tons of advertising, and it was not a book that one could easily ignore, for great black letters heralding its power, its beauty, and its great worth stared at one from the pages of every newspaper and magazine. In fact, a line in large letters upon the paper wrapper of the very book itself, quoted a contemporary to the effect that "any writer of any age might rejoice in its equal." For this reason many read it who would not have otherwise done so, and the effect, on the whole, was very agreeable.
Considered, then, as an entity, The Helmet of Navarre was not "the most remarkable work of present-day fiction," as its publishers would have us believe, but a very creditable bit of writing, especially for an author who had not yet reached the quarter-century mark ; and one which was read by a great many people simply from the fact of its having been vigorously brought to their attention. But the fact that it was the product of the American girl that we are so proud of, the American girl who can fish, and shoot, and do and dare, is its greatest merit. Vive la femme Americaine!"
The reader began with expectation of immediately seeing the king, or at least catching a glimpse of his plume, or his horse's heels, but such was not the case. The author's restraint in not at once hurling this fiery meteor among the lesser constellations, inspired gratitude. Fictional kings are extremely difficult things to manage. Like the queen in "Alice in Wonderland," they are either continually in the way, or else are always thundering Off with his, or her, head!" For this reason Miss Runkle showed judicious fore-sight and a sense of the artistic that was very commendable, but his cause was at the bottom of the events which were primarily introduced. The power of the League and of Monsieur de Mayenne was dying and Henry was about to ascend the throne, when the story began. The great Duc de St. Quentin was Henry's staunch partisan and had come up to Paris to flaunt his loyalty in the face of Mayenne. Felix Broux, servitor of the aforesaid, was the hero of the tale, and came to Paris at the same time, and immediately became involved in a number of plots, counterplots, escapades, fights and brawls, that have happened to the innumerable fictional heroes of the France of that period, from the famous musketeers of Dumas to the rollicking blades of Stanley Weyman.
The intrigue in which the youthful hero be-came implicated, was as complicated as the windings of the maze, from the looking-glass intricacies of which the gullible visitor pays a delicate sum to be extracted. The Duc de St. Quentin and his son, the Comte de Mar, had become estranged through the villainies of one Lucas, who was employed as the Duke's secretary, but was in reality a nephew of Mayenne and a spy of the League. Felix Broux and the Comte de Mar became warm friends and moved from one peril to another with a cheerful indifference to sudden death that gladdened the heart. The former was the means of bringing about a reconciliation and understanding between father and son, and of exposing the evil machinations of Lucas, and thereafter served de Mar with unfailing loyalty and unswerving purpose. Lucas, who was the evil genius of the tale, time and time again wove plot after plot with trigonometrical precision, but the St. Quentins, who were ever upon the brink of destruction, always managed to extricate themselves with the dexterity of a Sherlock Holmes.
The love episodes were furnished by the Comte de Mar and a ward of the Duc de Mayenne, Lorance de Montluc. Lorance eventually escaped from her guardian's house, and made a journey on foot to her lover in the camp of the Bearnais at St. Denis, and the book ended with the customary union of two fond and loving hearts. There were the usual number of snares, secret passages, mysterious inns, and rascally landlords, and, of course, many sparks from whizzing swords. The fact that the author eschewed the local color that is generally supposed to exist in turns of speech, in " characteristic " oaths and exclamations, such as, " By the second little finger of the Knight of Saint Madrid," " Ventre Saint Gris," etc., was decidedly a point in her favor. The few that were used had no taint of artifice, and the merit was everywhere in evidence.