Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/Fourth Discourse (4.)

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4.

WE have yet among us to this day Madame de Nemours, of yore in the April of her beauty the wonder of the world, which doth still defy all devastating time. I may truly say of her, as may all that have seen her with me, that she was erst the fairest dame, in her blooming days, in all Christendom. I did see her one day dance, as I have told elsewhere, with the Queen of Scots, they twain all alone together and without any other ladies to bear them company, by way of a caprice, so that all such, men and women, as did behold them knew not to which to adjudge the palm of beauty. Verily, as one said at the time, you would have thought them those two suns which we read in Pliny to have once appeared together in the sky, to dazzle the world. Madame de Nemours, at that time Madame de Guise, did show the more luxurious figure; and if it be allowed me so to say without offence to the Queen of Scots, she had the more imposing and apparent dignity of port, albeit she was not a Queen like the other. But then she was grand-daughter of that great King,[1] the father of his people, whom she did resemble in many of her features, as I have seen him portrayed in the gallery of the Queen of Navarre, showing in every look the great monarch he was.

I think I was the first which did call her by this name of Grand-daughter of the great King, Father of his People. This was at Lyons, time when the King did return out of Poland; and often would I call her so, and she did me the honour to deem it well, and like it at my hands. She was in very deed a true grand-daughter of that great King, and especially in goodness of heart and beauty. For she was ever very good-hearted, and few or none are to be found that she ever did ill or displeasure to, while many did win great advantage in the time of her favour, that is to say in the time of her late husband, Monsieur de Guise, which did enjoy high consideration in France. Thus were there two very noble perfections united in this lady, goodness and beauty, and both of these hath she right well maintained to this present day, and by their means hath married two most honourable husbands, and two that few or none at all could have been found to match. And indeed, and if another could be found of like sort and worthy of her, and if she did wish for a third, she might well enjoy one more, so fair is she yet.

And 'tis a fact that in Italy folk do hold the ladies of Ferrara for good and tasty morsels, whence hath come the saying, potta ferraresa, just as they say, cazzo mantuano (a Mantua verge). As to this, when once a great Lord of that country was making court to a great and beauteous Princess of France, and they were all commending him at Court for his excellent merits, valiance and the high qualities which did make him deserving of her favours, there was one, the late M. d'Au,[2] Captain of the Scottish Guards, which did come nearer the point than any with these words, "Nay! you do forget the chief of all, his cazzo mantuano to wit."

I did once hear a like speech, how when the Duke of Mantua, which was nicknamed the Gobin (Hunchback), because he was excessively hunchbacked, was desirous of wedding the sister of the Emperor Maximilian, the lady was told that he was so sadly deformed. But she only made answer, as 'tis said: Non importa purche la campana habbia qualche diffetto, ma ch' el sonaglio sia buono ("No matter if the bell have some flaw, provided the clapper be good"),—meaning thereby this same cazzo mantuano. Some indeed aver she did never say the thing at all, seeing she was too modest and well brought up; but at any rate others did say it for her.

But to return to this same Princess of Ferrara, I did see her at the marriage of the late M. de Joyeuse appear clad in a mantle of the Italian fashion, the sleeves drawn back half way up the arms in the Siennese mode. But there was no lady there which could outshine her, and no man but said: "This fair Princess cannot make herself any fairer, so fair is she already. And 'tis easy to judge by her beauteous face that she hath other hidden beauties of great charm and parts which are not seen. Just as by looking at the noble fa9ade of a fine building, 'tis easy to judge that within there be fair chambers, antechambers and closets, fair alcoves and privy places." In many another spot likewise hath she displayed her beauty, and no long while since, in this autumn of her days, and especially in Spain at the marriage of Monsieur and Madame de Savoie, in such wise that the admiration of her and her charms did remain graven in that land for all time. And if my pen had wings of power and range enough to raise her to the skies, right gladly would I devote it to the task; but 'tis too weak for such emprise. Yet will I speak of her again later. No doubt is there but this Princess was a very beautiful woman in her Springtide, her Summer and Autumn, yea! and is still in her Winter, albeit she hath had many griefs and many children.

The worst of it is that the Italians, scorning a woman which hath had a number of children, do call such an one scrofa, that is to say a "sow." But surely they which do bear handsome, gallant and noble sons, as did this Princess, are praiseworthy, and do in no wise merit this ugly name, but rather that of heaven's favourites.

I will only add this remark: What a strange and wondrous inconsistency is here, that the thing of all others most fickle and inconsistent doth offer such resistance to time, to wit a pretty woman! 'Tis not I which do say this; sorry should I be to do so. For truly I do esteem highly the constancy of many of the sex, nor are all inconstant. 'Tis from another I borrow the remark.

I would gladly adduce the names of ladies of other lands, as well as of our own, that have still been fair in their Autumn and Winter; but for this while I will mention two only in this class.

One is the good Queen Elizabeth of England, the which is reigning at this day, and who they tell me is as fair as ever. If this be true, I do hold her for a very fair and beauteous Princess; for myself have seen her in her Summertide and in her Autumn season. As for her Winter, she doth now approach near the same, if she be not there already; for 'tis long ago I did see her, and the first time ever I saw her, I know what age they did give her then. I do believe what hath kept her so long in her prime of beauty is that she hath never been wed, nor borne the burden of marriage, the which is a very grievous one, above all when a woman hath many children. The said Queen is deserving of all praise on all accounts, were it not for the death of that gallant, beautiful and peerless Princess, the Queen of Scots, the which hath sore stained her good repute.