(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The court of Henry II of France is filled with many intrigues, as much of the heart as of anything else. The court itself is divided into several groups. One group is partial to the queen, who is at odds with Henry because he chooses to be guided in his personal life and in his government by Diane de Poitiers, the duchess of Valentinois, who had been his father’s mistress and is now a grandmother in her own right. A second group is that which surrounds the duchess of Valentinois. A third group is that which has as its center Princess Mary, wife of the dauphin, the beautiful and brilliant young woman who is also queen of Scotland.

Into this scene of rivalry comes Madame de Chartres, with her very beautiful daughter, to be married to a nobleman with a rank as high as possible; Madame de Chartres hopes even for a prince of royal blood. Unfortunately for the mother’s hopes, the intrigues of the court keep her from arranging a match so brilliant or advantageous. A marriage with either monsieur de Monpensier, the chevalier de Guise, or the Prince de Clèves seems the best that could be made, and there are obstacles to a marriage with either of those, as Madame de Chartres discovers. Each of the groups at the court is afraid that such a marriage would upset the status of the powers as they stand.

Finally, arrangements are made for a marriage to the Prince de Clèves. The gentleman, however, is perturbed by the attitude of his bride. He loves her greatly, and she seems to love him dutifully but without the abandon for which he wishes. He tries to be satisfied when she tells him that she will do her best to love him, but that she feels no real passion for him or any man. The marriage is celebrated in grand style, and a fine dinner party, attended by the king and queen, is given at the Louvre.

For many months no one at the court, where extramarital attachments are the rule rather than the exception, dare to say anything about the young wife. Thanks to her mother’s solicitude and her own lack of passion where men are concerned, the Princess de Clèves keeps a spotless reputation. Her mother, who soon is on her deathbed, knows from various conferences with the princess—unusual conferences for a married woman to have with her mother, for in reality they are confessions—that the princess has no inclinations to stray from her marital vows.

One evening, however, a court ball is given in honor of one of the king’s daughters, whose marriage is pending. A late arrival at the ball is the duke de Nemours, the most handsome and gallant courtier in France. At his entrance, the Princess de Clèves, who had never seen the duke before, is ordered by the king to dance with him.

Queen Elizabeth of England has taken an interest in the...

(The entire section is 1136 words.)