The betrothal ceremony confirmed that these two people promised to marry one another, an agreement which could be considered more legally binding than the marriage ceremony itself. Once betrothed, if a couple had sexual intercourse, then they were considered married. And a betrothal contract could only be broken if both parties agreed.
Not that the young woman concerned had much say in the matter. Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affairs. Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses with whom he sired numerous illegitimate children, and three or four maîtresse-en-titre.
But with Henriette de’Entragues he perhaps took on more than he’d bargained for she had set her sights on nothing less than marriage, and with it a crown. She therefore insisted upon a promesse de matrimonio before agreeing to surrender her maidenhead, allegedly still intact, and becoming his mistress. In a weak moment of overwhelming desire, Henry agreed that if she could give him a son, then he would marry her. A decision which was to create untold problems in the years ahead, and leave Henriette fighting a battle for what she perceived as her rights, at whatever the cost.
Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.
Henry left such traditions to the bourgeoisie, but provided well for all his children, whatever their status, and was a loving father. Those he had with Henriette shared the royal nursery with the legitimate heirs he had with his queen, Marie de Medici, much to that lady’s displeasure. But Henry loved to play with them, and it was so much more practical to keep them all together in one place. The people of Paris were highly entertained by the fact that his mistress and queen were often enceinte at the same time.
Henriette d’Entragues isn’t satisfied with simply being the mistress of Henry IV of France, she wants a crown too. Despite his promises to marry her, the King is obliged by political necessity to ally himself with Marie de Medici, an Italian princess who will bring riches to the treasury. But Henriette isn’t for giving up easily. She has a written promise of marriage which she intends to use to declare the royal marriage illegal. All she has to do to achieve her ambition is to give Henry a son, then whatever it takes through intrigue and conspiracy to set him on the throne.
The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here: