Henriette stamped her small foot, face scarlet with temper. ‘How dare they dismiss me from court! Did you not see how the King gazed into my eyes, entranced; how he complimented me on my dancing? The courtiers are calling me “une femme toute charmante”. He danced with me twice, so how dare anyone send me packing as if I were of no account. It’s the fault of that strumpet, Gabrielle. She was furious because of the attention Henry was paying me.’
‘Hush, my sweet. Take care what you say. Palace walls have ears.’ Her mother glanced anxiously around, as if the Swiss guards might appear at any moment to physically evict them. ‘The Duchess de Beaufort is the King’s favourite, carrying his child and about to become his queen at last. You must make allowances for her condition. This pregnancy is proving more difficult than the others so she is naturally tense.’
‘Bah, more likely she fears she can no longer hold the King’s love. They say she’s calling me “une baggage”!’ Henriette stormed, ripping the silver combs from her coiffure and flinging them across the room. She’d been excited to receive the invitation to attend the wedding celebrations of the King’s sister, had revelled in the admiration she’d attracted; now it was all spoiled, and she was beside herself with fury.
Pushing Henriette gently down on to a dressing stool Madame d’Entragues began to brush the bright auburn hair, soothing her tempestuous daughter with soft words as well as with strokes of the brush. The former Marie Touchet, one time mistress of Charles IX, had never been one to make a fuss, her gentle manner often providing a calming influence on the excitable young king.
Her daughter was another creature altogether. Quite unlike her younger sister, dear little Marie-
Sadly, Henriette had inherited her father’s scheming, crafty nature. François de Balzac, Baron de Marcoussis and Lord of Entragues and Malesherbes, was utterly tenacious when it came to getting his own way. As governor of the city of Orleans he’d once offered to sell the town to Henry of Navarre, the plan only thwarted when the citizens fiercely objected.
This daughter was equally ruthless.
And if Henriette did not quite possess the beauty of Henry’s long-
Henriette was expressing that displeasure now. Shrugging off her mother’s ministrations, she began to storm about the room, the maids running about in a desperate bid to catch the vases and marble figurines she picked up at random to hurl in the wake of the silver combs. And as she raged, Henriette complained bitterly about the imperfections of the quarters allotted to them and how glad she would be to leave it, while at the same time describing Gabrielle as a bloated fishwife, saying how much more attentive she would be to the King were she allowed to stay.
‘Take care what you wish for,’ Marie softly warned, gathering up shards of broken china. ‘Loving a king can be fraught with danger, child.
Henriette d’Entragues isn’t satisfied with simply being the mistress of Henry IV of France, she wants a crown too. Despite his promises to marry her, the King is obliged by political necessity to ally himself with Marie de Medici, an Italian princess who will bring riches to the treasury. But Henriette isn’t for giving up easily. She has a written promise of marriage which she intends to use to declare the royal marriage illegal. All she has to do to achieve her ambition is to give Henry a son, and then whatever it takes through intrigue and conspiracy to set him on the throne.