Fleurette: first love of the future Henry IV of France, aged 12

Fleurette: first love of the future Henri IV aged 12
From “L’Hermite en province, ou Observations sur les mœurs et les usages français au commencement du XIXe siècle” (Tome 1), published in 1812 

 The prince of Béarn, Henri IV, was not yet twelve years old when Charles IX came to Nérac, in the summer of 1565, to visit the court of Navarre. The fifteen days that he spent there were marked by games, festivals of which the young Henri was already the most beautiful ornament. It is on this occasion that the young prince crossed Fleurette, his first mistress and the only one who was faithful to him, with whom he lived emotions to which his tutor judged good to put an end to…

Henri IV of France

 In March 1564, Charles IX of France began a grand tour of France organized by the queen mother, and intended to show the king around and introduce him to his kingdom. Etienne de Jouy tells us the following anecdote about his visit to the court of Navarre, and more precisely about his visit to Nerac, from July 28 to August 1, 1565.
Charles IX liked to shoot the bow; one wanted to give him the entertainment of it, and one thinks well that none of the courtiers, not even the duke of Guise, who excelled in this exercise, had the clumsiness to show himself more skilled than the monarch. Henri, that one still called Henriot, advances, and, of the first blow, removes, with his arrow, the orange which was used as goal.


Image :Château de Nérac / Nérac castle

According to the rule of the game, he wants to start again and to shoot first; Charles opposes it and pushes him back with mood; Henri moves back a few steps, arms his bow and directs his arrow on the chest of his adversary: this one puts himself very quickly in the shelter behind the biggest of his courtiers, and orders that one moves away from his person this dangerous grand-cousin.

Peace was made; the same game started again the following day: Charles found a pretext not to come there. This time, the duke of Guise removed the orange which he split in two; there were no others. The young prince saw a rose on the breast of a pretty girl who was among the spectators; he seized it and ran to place it at the goal. The duke shoots first, and does not reach; Henri, who succeeds him, puts his arrow in the middle of the flower, and goes to give it back to the pretty village girl, without detaching it from the victorious arrow which serves as its stem. 

The trouble which is painted on the charming figure of this young girl, which he still embellishes, is communicated to the one which makes it born, and the soft glances which they exchange with stealth are the first signs of the new life which has just begun for them.

Photo à Nérac (47600) : Fleurette et sa légende dans la garenne - Nérac,  17109 Communes.com
On his way back to the castle, Henri asked questions of those around him; he learned that the lovely child was named Fleurette, that she was the daughter of the castle gardener, and that she lived in the small pavilion at the end of the stable building. From the next day, gardening became Henri’s passion; he chose a piece of land of a few toises in the vicinity of the fountain of the Garenne, where he knew that Fleurette went several times during the day; he surrounded it with a trellis; he made plantations there where he worked with all the more ardour as he was helped by Fleurette’s father, and that he had, twenty times a day, the occasion or the pretext to see her.

 If I were writing a historical novel, confides Etienne de Jouy, I would have the freedom to arrange or imagine a crowd of pretty details; but I tell an anecdote, and I must limit myself to the simple account of the main facts. And our future academician continues.
For nearly a month Henriot had been telling Fleurette about it. Here, Etienne de Jouy indicates that it is from there that this figurative expression comes to us to tell fleurette, whose etymology, he specifies, is surer, than the majority of those which Morin gives us in his Dictionary. Henriot and Fleurette loved each other madly, without knowing yet what they wanted; they learned it one evening at the fountain. Fleurette had gone there a little late; the air was pure; the murmur of the waters, the complaints of the nightingale enchanted the silence of the woods, and the moon lit, of a mysterious day, a retreat where nature is already voluptuous.

What happened in this evening, at the fountain of the Garenne, between the small prince of twelve years and the small shepherdess of fourteen? It is easier to imagine it than to describe it; all that I could know, writes Etienne de Jouy, is that on the way back from the fountain the shepherdess had taken the arm of the prince of Bearn, and that this one carried the jug on his head. They separated at the entrance to the park; one returned cheerfully to the castle, the other wept as she returned to her modest home.

Fleurette de Nérac — Wikipédia

 Fleurette’s father had not noticed that his daughter, from that day on, went later than usual to the fountain; but the young prince’s tutor, the virtuous La Gaucherie, had observed that his royal pupil always had a pretext for escaping at the same hour, and that, in the best weather in the world, the shape of his hat was usually wet. This remark aroused the watchful eye of the wise mentor; he followed the young prince at a distance, and arrived, unseen, early enough and near enough to realize that he had come too late. Convinced, like Fénelon, that flight is the only remedy for love, without further admonition, he announced to the young prince that they would return the next day to Pau, from where they would leave to go to the interview at Bayonne, where the loss of the Protestants was resolved.

The instinct of glory, and perhaps that of inconstancy, already spoke to the heart of Henri; this need for a first separation, which he ran in tears to announce to Fleurette, found without his knowledge some softening in the bottom of his soul; but how to paint the despair of the naive and sensitive Fleurette? In the last moments of a happiness ready to escape to her, she foresaw all the evils of the future.

“You are leaving me, Henri,” said the tender child, choked with tears, “you are leaving me, you will forget me, and I will have only to die.” Henri reassured her and made her the oath of an eternal love, which Fleurette alone was to acquit: “Do you see this fountain of the Garenne (she said to him at the moment when the bell of the castle recalled Henri, and gave the signal for departure); absent, present, you will find me there–always there!” she added with an expression which he did not forget. 

Conter fleurette... - Mes Photos....
Statue de Fleurette, par Daniel Campagne (1896), dans une grotte du parc de la Garenne à Nérac

 The fifteen months which passed until the return of Henri to the castle of Nérac, had developed in the soul of the young hero of the virtues incompatible with the innocence of the first loves, and the girls of honor of Catherine de Médicis had taken care to erase from his memory the image of the poor small Fleurette: this one, more afflicted than surprised of a change of which her precocious reason had warned her since a long time, did not fight against a misfortune which she had foreseen, and thought only to escape from it.
She had seen several times the prince of Béarn walking in the Garenne with Mlle. d’Ayelle, and had not been able to resist the desire to be one day on their steps. The sight of Fleurette, even more beautiful because of her sadness and her pallor, awakened in the heart of the young prince a tender memory: he went, the next morning, to his lodgings, found her alone and gave her an appointment at the fountain of the Garenne: I will be there at eight o’clock, answered the young girl without raising her eyes from her work.

Conter fleurette... - Mes Photos....

Henri went away at once; he waited, with love, that a glance of Fleurette had revived in his bosom, for the hour which was to return it to him. It rang; he left the castle by a concealed door and passed through the thickets of the wood, for fear of meeting someone in the alleys. He arrives at the fountain; Fleurette does not appear; he waits a few minutes; the least noise of the leaves makes his heart tremble; he goes, comes, stops…, approaches the fountain; a small stick is planted on the very place where he has so many times sat near Fleurette.

It is an arrow; he recognizes it; the faded rose still holds on to it; a paper is attached to the point; he takes it, tries to read it; but the day has gone out… Palpitating, worried, troubled, he flies back to the castle, opens the fatal bill, and reads these words: “I told you that you would find me at the fountain; perhaps you passed by me without seeing me; go back and look for me better… You did not love me any more… it was necessary… My God! Forgive me!”

It is an arrow; he recognizes it; the faded rose still holds on to it; a paper is attached to the point; he takes it, tries to read it; but the day has gone out… Palpitating, worried, troubled, he flies back to the castle, opens the fatal bill, and reads these words: “I told you that you would find me at the fountain; perhaps you passed by me without seeing me; go back and look for me better… You did not love me any more… it was necessary… My God! Forgive me!”

Henri has guessed the meaning of these words; the palace resounds with his cries: they come running; valets, equipped with torches, follow him to the Garenne. Why dwell on cruel details? The body of the loving child was removed from the bottom of the basin where the waters of the fountain flowed, and deposited between the two trees which one still sees there. The heart-rending regrets, the pain of Henri, who remained at least faithful to the memory of Fleurette, can only honor the memory of a prince “born to serve as a model for all kings by his bravery in battle, his loyalty in negotiations, his generosity in victory, his vast conceptions in the cabinet; by his constant activity, by his love for his people, by his greatness of soul, finally by all the qualities which constitute the most beautiful, the greatest character”, writes of him Villeneuve-Bargemont in his notice on Nérac. qui constituent le plus beau, le plus grand caractère», écrit de lui Villeneuve-Bargemont dans sa notice sur Nérac.

  Fleurette is the only one of the mistresses of Henri IV who loved him as he deserved to be loved, adds Etienne de Jouy, the only one who was faithful to him, whom he could confess without blushing; but she was not presented; she did not have the stool at the queen’s house, she did not work with the ministers and the confessor, she did not give to France either bastard princes, or legitimate princes; also history does not mention herest 


Conter fleurette... - Mes Photos....

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