Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1382
In Paris, Bussy d’Ambois is a soldier and gentleman too poor to gain favor at the court. He meets Monsieur, brother of King Henry III, by appointment in a side street. Monsieur, chiding Bussy for his downcast countenance, reminds him that some of the greatest men in history have endured obscurity and exile before becoming renowned. Anxious to have ambitious and ruthless young men about him, Monsieur invites Bussy to be his man and to become a courtier. Later, Maffe, Monsieur’s steward, comes to Bussy and, seeing the wretched state he is in, gives him only one hundred crowns of the thousand that Monsieur sent Bussy. Bussy, perceiving that Maffe is a proud scoundrel and knowing Monsieur’s reputation for generosity, is able to talk Maffe out of the remaining nine hundred crowns. With the money in his possession, Bussy strikes Maffe in payment for his insubordination. Maffe hints that he will be avenged.
Monsieur introduces Bussy, dressed in fine new clothes, at court. As he is presented to various noble people of the court, he impresses them with his directness. The duke of Guise jealously notes that Bussy is being quite free with the duke’s wife, Elenor, and suggests that Bussy not be so forward. Bussy, in conduct unlike that expected of a courtier, answers Guise sharply. Although warned by Monsieur, Bussy persists in dallying pleasantly with Elenor. Having offended Guise, Bussy also bluntly incurs the enmity of three courtiers, Barrisor, l’Anou, and Pyrrhot.
In the duel that follows, the three courtiers and two of Bussy’s friends are killed; Bussy is the only survivor. He later goes to the court with Monsieur, who successfully wins a pardon for Bussy from King Henry. Bussy thanks the king and declares that he could not avoid defending his honor. Guise is deeply offended by the royal pardon Bussy receives.
Tamyra, Countess of Montsurry, meets Bussy and falls in love with him. At the same time, Monsieur, making every attempt to seduce the noblewoman, gives her a pearl necklace. Later, Tamyra enters a secret chamber in back of her bedchamber. A friar, in league with her, brings Bussy by a secret passageway to the chamber on the pretext that Bussy is to explain to Tamyra a false report that he killed Barrisor because the dead man was interested in the countess. The friar, after hinting of Tamyra’s love for Bussy and cautioning him to be discreet, leaves Bussy and Tamyra together.
After Tamyra’s passion for Bussy is consummated, she expresses a deep feeling of guilt and fears that she might be discovered. Bussy assures her that he will protect her from all dishonor. As he takes leave of her, again accompanied by the friar, she gives him the necklace Monsieur gave her. At daybreak, Montsurry returns home to find his wife awake and fully clothed. She explains that she was not able to sleep while he was away on business. When he asks her to come to bed with him, she begs off, saying that the friar does not approve of making love by daylight.
Bussy, having become a great favorite of the king, declares to the court that he will be the king’s own right arm in exposing sycophants, rascals, and any other unprincipled men in the realm. Grown heady with favor, he taunts Guise, who retorts that Bussy is the illegitimate son of a cardinal. The two men are ready to settle their grudge in a duel, but the king manages to reconcile them momentarily.
Monsieur realizes that he sponsored a man who cannot be manipulated. He and Guise plot Bussy’s downfall by gaining the confidence of the serving-women of the chief ladies of the court. Pero, Tamyra’s maid, discloses to Monsieur that her mistress gave herself to Bussy, but the servant is unable to reveal the identity of the person who acted as go-between in the illicit affair.
Bussy, at the height of his power in the court, reminds his patron of Monsieur’s ambition to be king. He declares that he will assist Monsieur in everything short of actually killing King Henry. Monsieur asks Bussy for his honest opinion of him; Bussy says he will give it in return for Monsieur’s opinion of Bussy. Monsieur thereupon declares that Bussy is a vain, pompous, ruthless, and inconsistent man. Bussy, in return, says that Monsieur is a liar, a gossip, and the fountainhead of all cruelty and violence in France. The two, having made their disclosures of each other’s worth, go together to a banquet given by the king.
During the banquet, Monsieur suggests to Bussy that he pay court to Tamyra, who is reputed to be unapproachable. When Bussy pretends to have only the slightest acquaintance with her, Monsieur hints that he knows more than he will tell. The king, sensing that violence is in the offing, beckons to his favorite to join him, and he and Bussy leave the banquet hall.
Monsieur offers to show Montsurry a letter that will reveal to him the perfidy of his wife. The trusting Montsurry refuses to take the letter, but his suspicions are aroused. Tamyra, aided by Pero, is able to convince Montsurry that he has no cause to suspect his wife of faithlessness.
Later, Bussy and Tamyra meet in the secret chamber and Tamyra reveals to her lover that Monsieur knows of their meetings. The friar invokes spirits so that the two can foresee what the future might hold. Behemoth, the chief spirit invoked, re-creates an image of Monsieur, Guise, and Montsurry in conference. Monsieur and Guise, having convinced Montsurry of Tamyra’s passion for Bussy, urges him to force Tamyra to reveal the identity of the go-between so that Bussy might more easily be ambushed and killed. Pero comes to the conferring lords and gives Monsieur a letter written by Tamyra. Montsurry, utterly confused by that time, and not knowing whom to trust, stabs Pero. Behemoth forecasts a violent end for the friar, Tamyra, and Bussy unless they are able to act with the greatest wisdom.
Montsurry returns to his house and seizes Tamyra, who is in the company of the friar. Despite the friar’s warning to him not to act with violence, Montsurry orders Tamyra to write her confession. She resists, whereupon he stabs her repeatedly. When she persists in her refusal to write, he places her on a rack. The friar, who leaves the scene of violence, returns with a sword and kills himself with it. Tamyra, tortured on the rack, confesses that the friar was the go-between. She writes to Bussy in her own blood that he is to come to her in the secret chamber.
Montsurry, disguised as the friar, brings hired murderers to his friends Monsieur and Guise; then he leaves them to lure Bussy to a carefully plotted doom. The ghost of the friar appears to Bussy and predicts a dire fate for him. When the ghost leaves, after declaring that it will meet Bussy in Tamyra’s secret chamber, Bussy apprehensively invokes the spirit of the underworld. The spirit appears and tells him that the friar is really dead and that Bussy should not heed his next summons from Tamyra. Bussy wants to know who will deliver the summons. The spirit cannot answer because a stronger spirit, Fate, controlled by Monsieur and Guise, prevents that disclosure.
Montsurry, dressed as the friar, brings the letter written in blood to Bussy. Duped by the disguise and defying the malign predictions he heard, Bussy follows Montsurry back to Tamyra.
The ghost of the friar, meanwhile, appears to Tamyra and advises her to shout a warning to Bussy as he is brought into the secret room. When Bussy and Montsurry enter the chamber, she does indeed warn Bussy. As his enemies and the hired murderers close in on their victim, the ghost of the friar unnerves the murderers and Bussy is given time to collect himself. Having killed one of the murderers, he is about to kill Montsurry when he is shot down. Bussy, propping himself on his sword so that he might die in a defiant attitude, forgives those who brought him to his death. After Bussy’s death, Montsurry banishes Tamyra, his unfaithful wife.