24 Pages


In the few years of peace preceding the outbreak, in 1585, of the last and most disastrous of the wars of religion, a great outburst of poetry and music was to be heard in Paris. At court, in 1581, all the resources of poets, artists, musicians, and mechanics were expended on the splendid entertainments with which the King, Henri III, honoured the marriage of his favourite, Due Anne de Joyeuse, to the Queen's half-sister, Marie de Lorraine. The 'Magnificences' for the Joyeuse wedding lasted for about a fortnight, and during this time a different entertainment was given nearly every day. One of these entertainments, the Ballet comique de la reine, is well known because a printed edition of it was published in 1582.1 It is less well known that this performance was one of a series, the other items in which can be reconstructed, to some extent, from various sources. Neither the politicoreligious intention of these festivals nor their artistic importance can be fully realized through study of the Ballet comique alone which is, in some ways, not quite characteristic of the series as a whole, though closely linked with it in imagery and intention. It is the purpose of the present essay to study the Joyeuse Magnificences as a whole, as far as possible in all their aspects, but with particular attention to their reflection of the themes and images of French monarchy. In these dark years of the century which lead up to its darkest years, the final cataclysm of the wars of the League which was for a time to blot out the monarchy in France, the court of the Valois is making a last effort to oppose the oncoming storm with the weapons of art.