Icones Animalium

Louis XIII’s favourite childhood book was Icones Animalium by Conrad Gesner (1516-1565)

He called it his ‘Lion Book.’

Gesner was a Swiss natural historian, the first to try to record the zoological world comprehensively with his book Historia Animalium.

Icones Animalium was an abbreviated version of his masterpiece, first published in 1560 and it contains many woodcuts of animals – real and imaginary.

Farmyard animals, beasts of the chase, dogs, hawks, unicorns, dragons and sea monsters.

His first attempts to draw a giraffe/giraffo/cameleopardis was a bit hit and miss. A deer with a very long neck. But in 1559, Gesner received a drawing made from life by a friend in Constantinople who had witnessed the presentation of a giraffe to the Emperor of the Turks.

The pictures, however accurate or inaccurate, have a real charm that delight today as much as they did in the 17th century in the palace of St Germain- en- Laye.

The abuse of Louis XIII

Louis XIII is an intriguing and very complex character. Accused of coldness, melancholy and homosexuality, he has divided opinion over the years. Many see him as a cipher and pawn of his incredibly clever First Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. But Louis, for all his perceived faults, had undeniable qualities.

The negative slant on his personality is subjective but with a very real basis in fact. And yet – when his childhood is investigated – it is possible to see why he was such a complicated human being.

Jean Héroard was born in Montpellier in the year 1551. His descent was from a long line of influential doctors with international connections and he spent his early career in the pay of the Gonzagas and then Charles IX of France. Charles’ brother and heir, Henri III,  retained this doctor and Henri IV renewed the contract when his wife Marie de Medici became pregnant with the future Louis XIII.

As soon as the umbilical cord was severed, this doctor took control and responsibility for the heir of the throne of France’s care. What set Héroard apart – in history – was the very detailed, day by day account he kept of his new charge’s life.

When just two days old, the dauphin Louis had trouble suckling so Héroard brought in a surgeon who cut the membranes beneath the infant’s tongue in three places – a common enough practice but Louis – for the rest of his life – was afflicted by a stutter and he often had to poke his tongue out of his mouth and hold it between his lips.

From that day on Héroard seems to have sought and found complete control over all of the child’s inputs and outputs. The first suppository was administered when Louis was just 10 days old.

By whatever standards, both activities were an invasion  and one that continued for many years, robbing Louis of control over his own body.

Héroard records the dauphin farting near the nose of an attendant who said, ‘Sir, you must fire your musket again.’

‘But it’s not loaded,’ said Louis.

‘Sir, but what should it be loaded with?’

‘With merde,’ the dauphin replied.

A close reading of Louis’ childhood brings unmistakable proof of profound abuse. He was whipped regularly on the orders of both his mother (Marie de Medici) and his father (Henri IV)

Héroard should not hold the full blame. His nurse, his governess, his siblings(legitimate and illegitimate) play their parts. As does his father,the sexual exhibitionist.

When Louis is only four or five years old and after a visit to his father, Héroard questions the dauphin and records…

‘…he (Louis) said some new words and phrases that are shameful and unworthy of his upbringing, saying that Papa’s was a lot longer than his, that his was a long as that – showing half the length of his arm.’

The violence and the abuse were not abnormal. The adults thus produced were afflicted. These adults populate our history books.

Thought provoking?

Louis as a child by Frans Pourbus the Younger

Louis as a child by Frans Pourbus the Younger

Assassins and the Vatican

In 1604 Denis lebedy de Batilly wrote a 64 page tract titled Traict de l’origine des anciens assasins porte-couteaux. He gave it the subtitle – With examples of their attempts and homicides against certain kings, princes, and lords of Christianity.

The pamphlet was produced in Lyon and gained a wide audience including Camillo Borghese otherwise known as Pope Paul V(1552-1621).

It is said that the passage in the book that this Pope most admired was…

‘Fly from the man who carries the death of kings and princes in his hands.’

Pope Paul V

Pope Paul V

The book was not entirely accurate, historically, but it made certain observations and gave certain revelations which contributed to the knowledge and understanding of assassins to 17th century Europe.

Batilly was one of Henri IV of France and Navarre’s officials and he would have been aware of the attempts made on Henri’s life after he abjured Protestantism to become king of France.

Paris is worth a Mass

Henri IV if France and Navarre

Henri IV of France and Navarre

Henri (husband of Marie de Medici and father of Louis XIII and Henrietta Maria) was certain that, one day, he would be assassinated and took precautions for a time.

But, on 14th May 1610, the king had meetings to attend. He went, despite the fact that an unsealed letter had been found in his rooms – ‘Sire, under no conditions go out this afternoon.’

The story of the assassination of Henri IV is well known. As his coach became caught between a wagon full of hay and one full of buckets in the narrow rue de La Ferronnerie, a man climbed on to the running board and stabbed at the king.

The first strike was to the chest and superficial. The second pierced a lung, cutting the aorta.

It was 4pm, 14th May 1610.

Jean-François Ravaillac, the assassin was caught, brought to the palais de Retz and searched. In his pockets were found eight silver coins, a rosary, a paper with the name Beillard and a strange octagonal piece of parchment with Christ’s name on each side and, in the centre, ‘Prepared for the pain of torment, in God’s name.’

Ravaillac had known associations with the Jesuits, and the Holy Alliance – a secret Vatican agency who employed spies and assassins across Europe.

Pope Paul V held a solemn Mass in the memory of the late King of France . And in secret spaces inside the catacombs of Rome another Mass was said for the Catholic Martyr – Jean François de Ravaillac.