Red Book of Heroes - Andrew Lang

The Little Abbess

A nun!

As one reads the word, two pictures flash into the mind. One is that of sisters of mercy going quickly through the streets, with black dresses and flappy white caps, to visit their poor people. If you look at their faces, you will notice how curiously smooth and unlined they are, even when they are not young any more, and their expression is generally quiet and contented, while the women of their own age who live in the world appear tired and anxious.

The other picture is one that most of us have to make for ourselves, as few have had a chance of seeing it. This nun is also dressed in black robes, and has a flowing black veil, and a white band across her forehead, under which her hair, cut short when she takes her vows, is hidden away. She never leaves her convent, except for a walk in the garden, but she often has children to teach, for many convents are great Roman Catholic schools, and the nuns have to take care that they can tell their scholars about the discoveries of the present day: about wireless telegraphy, about radium, about the late wars and the changes in the boundaries of kingdoms, and many other things.

Of course, nuns are divided into various orders, each with its own rules, and some, the strictest, do not admit anyone inside the convent at all, even into a parlour. After a girl has taken the veil, she is allowed to receive one visit from her friends and relations, and then she says good-bye to them for ever.

But if you had been living in Paris towards the end of the sixteenth century, when Catherine de Medicis was queen-mother, and into the days when Henry IV. was king, and his son Louis succeeded him, you would have found this picture of a convent very far from the truth. Convents were comfortable and even luxurious houses, richly endowed, where poor noblemen and gentlemen sent their daughters for life, paying on their entrance what money they could spare, but keeping enough to portion one or two girls—generally the prettiest of the family—or to help the son to live in state. If, as often happened, the father did not offer enough, the abbess would try to get more from him, or else refuse his daughter altogether. If she was accepted, he bade her farewell for the time, knowing that he could see her whenever he chose, and that she would lead quite as pleasant and as amusing an existence as her married sister. Perhaps, too, she might even be allowed to wear coloured clothes, for there was one order in which the habit of the nuns was white and scarlet; but even if the archbishop, or the abbot, or the king, or whoever had supreme power over the convent, insisted on black and white being worn, why, it would be easy to model the cap and sleeves near enough to the fashion to look picturesque; and could not the dress be of satin and velvet and lace, and yet be black and white still?

As to food, no one was more particular about it than the abbess of a large convent, or else the fine gentlemen and elegant ladies would not come from Paris or the country round to her suppers and private theatricals, where the nuns acted the chief parts, or to the balls for which she was famous. How pleasant it was in the summer evenings to sit with their friends and listen to music from hidden performers; and could anything be so amusing as to walk a little way along the road to Paris till the nuns reached a stretch of smooth green turf, where the monks from a neighbouring monastery were waiting to dance with them in the moonlight?

No, decidedly, nuns were not to be pitied when Henry IV. was king.

Yet soon all these joys were to be things of the past, and it was a girl of sixteen who set her hand to the work.

The family of the Arnaulds were well known in French history as soldiers or lawyers—sometimes as both, for the grandfather of the child whose story I am going to tell you commanded a troop of light horse in time of war, and in time of peace was, in spite of his being a Huguenot—that is, a Protestant—Catherine's trusted lawyer and adviser. This Antoine Arnauld, or M. de la Mothe, as he was called, was once publicly insulted by a noble whose claim to some money Arnauld had been obliged to refuse.

Father of the Abbess insulted


"You are mistaking me for somebody else," answered M. de la Mothe, quietly.

"What do you mean? I thought you just admitted that you were M. de la Mothe?" replied the angry nobleman.

"Oh, yes," said the lawyer, "so I am; but sometimes I change my long robe for a short coat, and once outside this court you would not dare to speak to me in such a manner."

At this point one of the attendants whispered in his ear that this was the celebrated soldier, and the nobleman, who seems to have been a poor-spirited creature, instantly made the humblest apologies.

Many of his relatives remained Huguenots up to the end, but M. de la Mothe returned to the old religion after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572. No man ever had a narrower escape of his life, for his house in Paris was attacked during the day, and though his servants defended it bravely, neither he nor his children would have been left alive had not a messenger wearing the queen's colours been seen pushing through the crowd. The leaders then called upon the mob to fall back, and the messenger produced a paper, signed by the queen, giving the family leave to come and go in safety.

M. de la Mothe's son, Antoine Arnauld, had in him more of the lawyer than the soldier, and he was clever enough to escape detection for acts which we should certainly call frauds. But he was an excellent husband to the wife of thirteen whom he married, and a very affectionate father to the ten out of his twenty children who lived to grow up.

Monsieur Arnauld was much thought of at the French bar, and was entrusted with law cases by the court and by the nobles. He was a pleasant and clever man, and made friends as easily as money, and if he and his wife had chosen they might have led the same gay life as their neighbours. But the little bride of thirteen did not care for the balls and plays in which the fashionable ladies spent so much of their time, and her dresses were as plain as those of the nuns ought to have been. She looked well after her husband's comfort, and saw that her babies were well and happy, and when everything in her own house was arranged for the day, she went through the door that opened into her father's Paris dwelling, and sat with her mother, who was very delicate and could scarcely leave her sofa.

The summer months were passed at monsieur Arnauld's estate of Andilly, not far from Paris, to which they all moved in several large coaches. Even here the lawyer was busy most of the day over his books and papers, but in the evening he was always ready to listen to his wife's account of her visits to their own poor people, or to those of the village near by. At a period when scarcely anyone gave a thought to the peasants, or heeded whether they lived or died, Arnauld's labourers were all well paid, and the old and ill fed and clothed. And if monsieur Arnauld did not go amongst them much himself, he allowed his wife to do as she liked, and gave her sound advice in her difficulties.

As they grew older the children used often to accompany their mother on her rounds, and learnt from her how to help and understand the lives that were so different from their own. They saw peasants in bare cottages contented and happy on the simplest food, and sometimes on very little of it. They did not think about it at the time, of course, but in after-years the memory of these poor people was to come back to them; and they no longer felt strange and shy of those whom they were called upon to aid.

Madame Arnauld's second daughter, Jacqueline, was a great favourite with her grandfather, monsieur Marion, and was very proud of it. In Paris every morning she used to run into his house, locking the door of communication behind her. If, as often occurred, her brothers and sisters wanted to come too, and drummed on the panels to make Jacqueline open it, she would call out through the key-hole:

"Go away! You have no business here, this house belongs to me," and then she would run through the rooms till she found her grandfather, and sit chattering to him about the things she liked and the games she was fond of. She was quick and clever and easily interested, and it amused monsieur Marion to listen to her when he had no work to occupy him; but one fact he plainly noticed, and that was that Jacqueline was never happy unless she was put first.

The young abbess


In the year 1599, madame Arnauld, though only twenty-five, had eight children, and her father, monsieur Marion, who was already suffering from the disease which afterwards killed him, began to be anxious about their future. After talking the matter over with his son-in-law, they decided that it was necessary that the second and third little girls, Jacqueline and Jeanne, should become nuns, in order that Catherine, the eldest, might have a larger fortune and make a more brilliant marriage. Not that monsieur Marion intended that they should be common nuns. He would do better than that for Jacqueline, and as his majesty Henry IV. had honoured him with special marks of his favour, he had no doubt that the king would grant an abbey to each of his granddaughters.

When the plan was told to madame Arnauld, she listened with dismay.

"But Jacqueline is hardly seven and a half," she said, "and Jeanne is five;" but monsieur Marion only laughed and bade her not to trouble herself, as he would see that their duties did not weigh upon them, and that though he hoped they would behave better than many of the nuns, yet they would lead pleasant lives, and their mother could visit them as often as she liked.

Madame Arnauld was too much afraid of her father to raise any more objections, but she had also heard too much of convents and their ways to wish her daughters to enter them. Meanwhile the affair was carried through by the help of the abbe of Citeaux, and as a rule existed by which no child could be appointed abbess, the consent of the Pope was obtained by declaring each of the girls many years older than she really was. Both Arnauld and Marion considered themselves, and were considered by others, to be unusually good men, yet their consciences never troubled them about this wicked fraud.

However, by the aid of the false statement all went smoothly, and the old and delicate abbess of Port Royal, an abbey situated in a marshy hollow eighteen miles from Paris, agreed to take Jacqueline as helper or coadjutrix, with the condition that on the death of the old lady the little girl was to succeed her, while Jeanne was made abbess of Saint-Cyr, six miles nearer Paris, where madame de Maintenon's famous girls' school was to be founded a hundred years later. The duties of the office were to be discharged by one of the elder nuns till Jeanne was twenty.

It is always the custom that the young girls or novices should spend a year in the convent they wish to enter before they take the vows, which are for life. During that time they can find out if they really wish to leave the world for ever, or if it was only a passing fancy; while the abbess, on the other hand, can tell whether their characters are suited to a secluded existence, or if it would only make them—and therefore other people—restless and unhappy. When Jacqueline became a novice in 1599, her father invited all his friends, and a very grand company they were. The child was delighted to feel that she was the most important person present, and no doubt amused her grandfather by her satisfaction at being "first." No such fuss seems to have been made over Jeanne on a similar occasion, but in a few weeks both little girls were sent for eight months to Saint-Cyr.

Abbesses though they might be, they were still the children who had played in their father's garden only a few weeks before. Jacqueline and her elder sister Catherine, the one who was "to be married," and very unhappily, were chief in all the games and mischief. They were very daring, and were always quick at inventing new plays. They were very sensible, too, and if one of their brothers or sisters hurt themselves during their games, these two knew what was best to be done without troubling their mother. They were all fond of each other, and never had any serious quarrels; but Jacqueline was generally the leader, and the others, especially the shy and dreamy Jeanne, let themselves be ruled by her. At Saint-Cyr, Jacqueline, who felt no difference, and speedily became a favourite of the other novices, ordered her sister about as she had been accustomed to do, and generally Jeanne obeyed her meekly; but at last she rebelled and informed Jacqueline, much to her surprise, that it was her abbey, and that if Jacqueline did not behave properly she might go away to her own.

Some months of Jacqueline's noviciate had still to run when she was sent to the abbey of Maubuisson, which belonged to the same order of nuns as Port Royal, whereas the nuns of Saint-Cyr belonged to another community. The abbess, Angelique d'Estrees, was a famous woman, and her nuns were some of the worst and most pleasure-loving in the whole of France. Most likely madame Arnauld heard of the change with trembling, but she could do nothing: in October 1600, Jacqueline, then nine years old, took the veil and the vows of poverty and obedience in the midst of a noble company. She was far too excited to think about the religious ceremony which had bound her for life to the cloister, and certainly nobody else—unless her mother was present—thought about it either. Her very name was changed too, and instead of "Jacqueline" she became "Angelique," as "Jeanne" became "Agnes."

As soon as the little girl was a professed nun, monsieur Marion and monsieur Arnauld, who were not satisfied that the pope's consent already obtained was really sufficient, began afresh to prepare a variety of false papers, in order that when Angelique took possession of her abbey no one should be able to turn her out of it. Seventy years before a law had been passed declaring that no nun could be appointed abbess under forty, and though this was constantly disregarded, the child's father and grandfather felt that it was vain to ask the Pope to nominate a child of nine to the post. So in the declaration her age was stated to be seventeen; but even that Clement considered too young, and it required all the influence that monsieur Marion could bring to bear to induce him at last to give his consent. Permission was long in coming, and in the midst of the negotiations the old abbess died suddenly, and Angelique, now ten and a half, was "Madame de Port Royal."

When Angelique said good-bye to the nuns at Maubuisson, all of whom had been fond of her, her mother took her to Port Royal, fearing in her heart lest the customs of the convent might be as bad as in the one ruled by madame d'Estrees. But she was consoled at finding the abbey far too poor to indulge in all the expensive amusements of Maubuisson, and that it contained only thirteen nuns, so that Angelique would not have so many people to govern. It was thirty years since a sermon had been preached within its walls, except on a few occasions when a novice had taken the veil, and during the carnival, just before Lent, all the inmates of the convent, the chaplain or confessor among them, acted plays and had supper parties. Like the Maubuisson sisters, the nuns always kept their long hair, and wore masks and gloves; but they were only foolish, harmless young women following the fashion, except the oldest of them all, whom madame Arnauld managed to get dismissed.

Angelique was now nearly eleven, but much older in her thoughts and ways than most children of her age, though she was still fond of games, and spent part of the day playing or wandering about the garden. If it was wet, she read Roman history, and perhaps she may have learnt something of housekeeping from the prioress, who saw that all was kept in order. The abbess said carefully the short prayers appointed for certain hours of the day, and heard matins every morning at four and evensong every afternoon. After this was over, she did as she was bidden by her superior, the abbot of Citeaux, and took all her nuns for a solemn walk on the hills outside the abbey.

Abbess and her nuns


At first the young abbess was full of self-importance, and much occupied with her position. After Agnes's taunts when they were both at St. Cyr—oh, long ago now!—it was delightful to be able to send her own carriage for her, and play at the old home games in the garden. But by-and-by the novelty wore off, and she became very tired of her life, which was always the same, day after day, and would never, never be different. If only she could be back at Andilly with the rest! and then she would shut her eyes very tight so that no tears might escape them.

Lively and impulsive though she was, she was not accustomed to speak of her feelings to others, and did her best to thrust her longing for freedom into the background. But she grew pale and thin in the struggle, and at last there came a day when a visitor, guessing what was the matter, hinted that as she had taken her vows before she was old enough to do so by law, it would be easy to get absolved from them. Something of the kind may have perhaps occurred to Angelique, but, put into words, the idea filled her with horror, for deep down in her mind she felt that though her profession had been thrust upon her before she knew what she was doing, she would feel ashamed and degraded all her life if she broke her vows. Still, she wanted to forget it all if she could, and in order to distract her thoughts she began to receive and pay visits in the neighbourhood, to the great grief of her mother, who feared this was the first step towards the moonlight balls of Maubuisson.

Angelique was far too tender-hearted to withstand her mother's tears, and gave up paying calls; spending the time instead in reading Plutarch's "Lives" and other books about ancient history, and pretending to herself that she was each of the heroes in turn. But even Plutarch was a poor substitute for home life, and when her fifteenth birthday was drawing near she began to wonder if she could stand it any longer.

"I considered," she says herself, "if it would be possible for me to return to the world, and even to get married, without telling my father or mother, for the yoke had become unsupportable." Perhaps, she reflected, she might go to La Rochelle, where some of her Huguenot aunts were living, and though she had no wish to change her own religion, yet she was sure they would protect her. As to the difficulties of a young abbess travelling through France alone, they did not even occur to her, and she seems to have arranged her plans for escape without informing the good ladies of their expected visitor.

The day Angelique had fixed for her flight had almost come when she fell very ill of a sort of nervous fever, chiefly the result of the trouble of mind she had been going through, though the unhealthy marshes round Port Royal may have had something to do with her illness. Monsieur and madame Arnauld at once sent a litter drawn by horses to fetch her to Paris, where the best doctors awaited her. Her mother hardly left her bedside, and for some time Angelique was at rest, feeling nothing except that she was at home, and that the old dismal life of the convent must be a dream. But as she grew stronger her perplexities came back. She could not bring such grief on her parents, who loved her so much, yet the sight of her aunts in their beautiful dresses with long pointed bodices, and the pretty hoods that covered their hair when they came to inquire after her, revived all her longings for the amusements of other girls. Again she kept silence, but secretly induced one of the maids to make her a pair of corsets, "to improve her figure."

It may have been the sight of the corsets which caused monsieur Arnauld, whose keen eyes nothing escaped, to take alarm. At any rate, one day he brought a paper, so ill-written that it could hardly be read, and thrust it with a pen into Angelique's hand, saying, "Sign this, my daughter."

The girl did not dare to refuse, or even to question her father, though she did manage to make out a word or two, which showed her that the paper contained a renewal of the vows she so bitterly regretted.

Though custom and respect kept her silent, Angelique's frank and straightforward nature must have felt bitterly ashamed as well as angry at the way her father had tried to trick her, and she seems on the whole to have been rather glad to return to her abbey. The nuns were delighted to have her back again, and as she remained very delicate all through the winter, she was a great deal indoors, too tired to do anything but rest, and read now and then a little book of meditations, which one of the sisters had given her.

Just at this time an event happened which turned the whole course of Angelique's life.

A Capuchin monk, father Basil by name, stopped at Port Royal one evening, and asked the abbess's leave to preach. At first she refused, saying it was too late; then she changed her mind, for she was fond of hearing sermons, which, even if they were bad, generally gave her something to think of. There does not seem to have been anything very striking about this one, but when it was ended "I found myself," says Angelique, "happier to know myself a nun than before I had felt wretched at being one, and that there was nothing in the whole world that I would not do for God."

Now Angelique's inward struggles took a different turn; she no longer desired to be free of her vows, but rather to carry them out to the utmost of her power, and to persuade her nuns to do so likewise. For some time she met with little encouragement. Another friar of the order of the Capuchins, to whom she opened her heart when he came to preach on Whit Sunday, was a man of no sense or tact, and urged such severe and instant reforms that the poor nuns were quite frightened. Then the prioress, whom Angelique also consulted, told her that she was not well, and excited, and that in three months' time she would think quite differently; all of which would have been true of a great many people, but was a mistake as regarded Angelique. Thus disappointed in both her counsellors, the abbess longed to resign her post, and to become a simple nun in some distant convent; but she dared not disobey her newly awakened conscience, which told her to stay where she was and do her work.

It is to be noted that, unlike most reformers, Angelique took care that her reforms began at the right end—namely, with herself. Again and again we see that when she made a new rule or revived an old one she practised it secretly herself long before she asked any of her nuns to adopt it. At this time she was torn between the advice of two of the Capuchin monks, one of whom urged her to lay down her burden and to enter as a sister in some other convent; while the other, the father Bernard, who had alarmed the nuns by his zeal, at last seemed to understand the position of Angelique, and told her that, having put her hand to the plough, she must not draw back.

Angelique was only sixteen and in great trouble of mind, and in her sore distress she did some foolish things in the way of penances which she afterwards looked on with disapproval, for she never encouraged her nuns to hurt their bodies so as to injure their minds. Indeed, her character was too practical for her to adopt the follies which were the fashion in some of the religious houses not wholly given over to worldly pleasures. She had no wish to become famous or to be considered a saint when she knew how far she was from being one, and prayed earnestly and sensibly never to be allowed to see visions—the visions which she was well aware were often the result first of fasting, and next the cause of vanity, with its root in the praise of men.

As usual, the early autumn proved a trying season for Angelique, and she again fell ill of a fever, and spent some weeks at Andilly with her troop of brothers and sisters. But she could not shake off the sad thoughts which were pressing on her, and was glad to go back to the convent, taking with her little Marie Arnauld, then seven years old. The winter passed before she could decide what to do, and her illness was increased by the damp vapours arising from the ponds and marshes around the abbey. She was worn out by thinking, and at length the prioress was so alarmed by her appearance that she begged the abbess to do whatever she thought right, as the sisters would submit to anything sooner than see her in such misery.

The relief to Angelique's mind was immense, and she instantly called on the whole community to assemble together. She then spoke to them, reminding them of the vow of poverty they had taken, and showing them how, if it was to be kept, they must cease to have possessions of their own and share all things between them. When she had finished, a nun rose up and silently left the room, returning in a few minutes with a little packet containing the treasures by which she had set so much store. One by one they all followed her example, and Angelique's first battle was won.

In spite of the French proverb which says "it is only the first step which hurts," the second step on the road to reform was the cause of far more pain to Angelique, for she was resolved to put an end to the practice of permitting the relatives and friends of the nuns free entrance into the convent; and knew that her father, who during all these years had come and gone as he wished, would not submit quietly to his exclusion. Therefore she made certain alterations in the abbey: ordered a foot or two to be added to the walls, and built a parlour outside with only a small grated window, through which the nuns would be allowed now and then to talk to their families.

All being ready, she again assembled the sisters, and informed them of the new rule which was to be carried out, and when shortly after a novice took the veil, and her friends were entertained outside the convent, many voices were raised in discontented protest, and more than once the murmur was heard, "Ah! it will be a very different thing when monsieur Arnauld comes."

But it was not. Angelique never made one rule for herself and another for her nuns, and by-and-by when her father's work was over in Paris, and they all moved to Andilly, the abbess knew that her time of trial had come. She wrote to either her mother or sister, madame le Maitre, begging them to inform her father of the new state of affairs; but this they do not seem to have done. At all events, on September 24, 1609, Angelique received a message from her father, saying that they would arrive the next morning to see her.

Now the abbess of Port Royal was no hard-hearted, despotic woman, delighting to display her power and to "make scenes." She was an affectionate girl, easily touched and very grateful, and in her generosity had striven to forget her father's double dealing in the matter of her vows. That the coming interview would be a cause of much pain to both she well knew, and she entreated two or three of the nuns—among whom was her sister Agnes, who had resigned Saint-Cyr and was now at Port Royal—to spend the night in praying that her determination might not falter.

It was at the dinner-hour, about eleven o'clock, that the noise of a carriage was heard in the outer court of the abbey. The abbess turned pale and rose from her seat, while those of the sisters whom she had taken into her confidence hastened away to be ready for the different duties she had assigned to them. Angelique, holding in her hands the keys of every outer door leading into the convent, walked to the great gate, against which monsieur Arnauld, who was accompanied by his wife, his son, and two of his daughters, was knocking loudly. He was not used to be kept waiting like this, and did not understand the meaning of it, and when the tiny window cut in the thick oak panels was suddenly thrown open, and his daughter's face appeared, he asked impatiently what was the matter that the gates were locked, and why she did not open them. Angelique replied gently that if he would go into the parlour beside the gate she would speak to him through the grating and explain the reason of the gates being shut; but her father, not believing his ears, only rapped the louder, while madame Arnauld reproached her daughter with lack of respect and affection, and monsieur d'Andilly her brother called her all sorts of names.

The noise was so great that it reached the refectory or dining-hall, where the nuns were still sitting, and soon their voices were joined to the clamour, some few upholding the conduct of their abbess, but most of them condemning her.

At this point monsieur Arnauld, seeing that Angelique would not give way, bethought him of a trick by which he could gain a footing inside the walls. If, he said, Angelique had lost all sense of duty and obedience to her parents, he would not suffer his other children to be ruined by her example, and Agnes and little Marie must be given up to him at once. No doubt he reckoned on the great door being opened for the girls to come out, and that then he would be able to slip inside; but, unfortunately, Angelique knew by experience of what her father was capable, and had foreseen his demand. She answered that his wishes should be obeyed, and seeking out one of the sisters whom she could trust, gave her the key of a little door leading from the chapel outside the walls, and bade her let Agnes and Marie out that way. This was done, and suddenly the two little nuns were greeting their father as if they had dropped from the skies.

At length understanding that neither abuse nor tricks could move Angelique, monsieur Arnauld consented to go to the parlour, and there a rush of tenderness came over him, and he implored her to be careful in what she did, and not to ruin her health by privations and harsh treatment. Angelique was not prepared for kindness, and after all she had undergone it proved too much for her. She fell fainting to the ground, and lay there without help, for her parents could not reach her through the grating in the wall, and the nuns, thinking that monsieur Arnauld was still heaping reproaches on her head, carefully kept away. At last, however, they realised that help was needed, and arrived to find their abbess lying senseless. Her first words on recovering were to implore her father not to leave that day, and the visitors passed the night in a guest-room which she had built outside the walls, and next morning she had a long and peaceful talk with her family from a bed placed on the convent side of the grating.

Abbess in prison


In the end the abbot of Citeaux gave permission for monsieur Arnauld still to inspect the outer buildings and gardens, as he had been in the habit of doing, while his wife and daughters had leave to enter the convent itself when they wished. But this was not for a whole year, as madame Arnauld in her anger had sworn never to enter the gates of Port Royal, and it was only after hearing a sermon setting forth that vows taken in haste were not binding that she felt at liberty once more to see her daughter.

The income left by the founder of Port Royal was very small—about 240 l. a year—little enough on which to support a number of people and find work for the poor, though, of course, it could perhaps buy as many things as 1,200 l. a year now.

When Angelique first went there as abbess, monsieur Arnauld, who managed all the money matters, paid all that seemed necessary for the comfort of his daughter and the nuns. But after the day when she closed the gates on him Angelique would no longer accept his help, as she felt she could not honestly do so while behaving in a manner of which he disapproved. So she called together her little community, and they thought of all the things they could possibly do without. The masks and the gloves had already been discarded, and there seemed to be nothing for the sisters to give up, if they were to help the sick people and peasants who crowded about their doors, but their food and their firing. Not that she intended to support anybody in idleness; Angelique was far too sensible for that. She took counsel with her father, and found work for the men, and even the children, in the gardens and lands belonging to the abbey. Their wages were small, but each day good food was prepared in the kitchens—Angelique had no belief in bad cooking—and was wheeled out by the sisters in little carts as far as the garden walls, where the workmen could eat it while it was hot. Then some of the children or women were employed as messengers to carry bowls with dinners to the old and ill. Of course some of these were in the abbey infirmary, and were looked after by the nuns, and especially by Angelique, who took the one who seemed to need most care into her own room, while she slept on the damp floor—for half the sickness at Port Royal was due to the marshes that surrounded it. If it happened that she had her cell to herself, there was no fire to warm her, yet she often got up in the night to carry wood to the long dormitory where several of the nuns slept, so that they, at least, should not suffer from cold.

All the daily expenses she saw to herself, as debt was hateful to her, and she and the sisters denied themselves food and wore the cheapest and coarsest clothes, not for the sake of their own souls, but of other people's bodies.

In many ways, though she did not know it and certainly would have been shocked to hear it, Angelique resembled the Puritans, whose influence in England was daily increasing. She had a special dislike to money being spent on decorations and ornaments in churches, or in embroidered vestments for priests, and never would allow any of them in her own. She also invented a loose and ugly grey dress for the girls to wear who desired admission to the convent, instead of permitting them to put on the clothes they had worn at home, as had always been the custom. The first to wear it was her own sister Anne, who after leading the gay life of a Parisian young lady for a year, at fifteen resolved to abandon it for ever and join her three sisters at Port Royal.

It is possible that monsieur Arnauld may have regretted his hastiness in forcing Angelique and Agnes to become nuns when he saw one daughter after another following in their footsteps. Anne he had expected to remain, for she was full of little fancies and vanities, and he could not imagine her submitting to the work which he knew the abbess loved.

He would have laughed sadly enough if he could have seen how right he was. On the first night that Anne slept in the abbey, she laid a cloth on a table in her cell, and tried to make it look a little like the dressing-table she had left in Paris. Angelique happened to pass the open door on her way to the chapel, and, smiling to herself, quietly stripped the table. Some hours later she went by again, and over it was spread a white handkerchief. This she also removed, but, leaving Anne to apply the lesson, she did not make any remark, and sent her to clean out the fowl-house.

By this time the eyes of the world had been turned to Port Royal, and to the strange spectacle of a girl who, possessed of every talent which would enable her to shine in society, had deliberately chosen the worst of everything, and had induced her nuns to choose it too. Possibly the quiet and useful life led by the Port Royal sisters may have made the gaieties and disorders of the other convents look even blacker than before; but however that may be, when Angelique was about twenty-six a most difficult and disagreeable piece of work was put into her hands.

The king, Louis XIII., a very different man from his father, Henry IV., had determined to put an end to the state of things that prevailed, and resolved to begin with Maubuisson.

Now nobody had ever attempted to interfere with madame d'Estrees, who was still abbess, and when the abbot of Citeaux, her superior, informed her that in obedience to the king's commands he proposed to come over and inspect Maubuisson, she was extremely angry. Without caring for the consequences, she locked up in a cell two monks who had brought the message, and kept them without food for some days; after which she roughly bade them return whence they came, and thought no more about the matter.

For two years the affair rested where it was; then the king again turned his attention to Maubuisson, and wrote to the abbot of Citeaux inquiring why his previous orders had not been carried out, bidding him send an officer at once and obtain an exact report of the conduct of the nuns and the abbess.

The commissioner, monsieur Deruptis, arrived with three or four men at Maubuisson, and congratulated themselves when they found the doors flung wide and they were invited to enter.

"The reverend mother is too unwell to see anyone to-day," said the nun who admitted them, "but she has prepared rooms in the west tower for your reception, and to-morrow she hopes to be able to speak with you herself." So saying she led them down several passages till she reached a little door, which she unlocked, and then stood back for them to pass in. As soon as they were all inside, making their way up the corkscrew stairs, she swung back the door, and before the men realised what had happened they heard the key turn in the lock.

For four days they were kept prisoners, with nothing to eat but a very little bread and water; while every morning the commissioner was severely flogged till he was almost too weak to move. At length, driven to desperation, he and his companions contrived to squeeze themselves through a narrow window, and returned dirty and half-starved to the abbot.

Powerful as the abbess might be, even her friends and relations thought she had gone too far, and they were besides very angry with her for allowing her own young sister, who was a novice in the convent, to be secretly married there. They therefore informed the abbot of Citeaux that as far as they were concerned no opposition would be made, and he instantly started for Maubuisson, sending a messenger before him to tell the abbess that he was on his way. For all answer the messenger came back saying that the abbess would listen to nothing; but the abbot, now thoroughly angry, only pushed on the faster, and thundered at the great gates. He hardly expected that madame d'Estrees would refuse to see him when it came to the point, but she did; he then, as was his right, called an assembly of the nuns, and summoned her to attend. Again she declined; she was ill, she said, and could not leave her bed; so, fuming with rage, he went back to Paris and told the whole story to the king.

After certain forms of law had been gone through, which took a little time, the Parliament of Paris issued a warrant for the seizure of the abbess, and for her imprisonment in the convent of the Penitents in Paris. On this occasion the abbot took a strong body of archers with him, but wishing to avoid, if possible, the scandal of carrying off the abbess by force, he left them at Pontoise. He went alone to the abbey, and for two days tried by every means he could think of to persuade the abbess to submit. But she only laughed, and declared she was ill, and at last he sent for his archers and ordered them to force an entrance.

"Open, in the king's name!" cried their captain; but as the doors remained closed, he signed to his men to force them, and soon two hundred and fifty archers were in the abbey, seeking its abbess. During the whole day they sought in vain, and began to think that she was not in the house at all; at length a soldier passing through a dormitory noticed a slight movement in one of the beds, which proved to contain the rebellious abbess. The man bade her get up at once, but she told them that it was impossible, as she had hardly any clothes on. The soldier, not knowing what to do, sent for his captain, who promptly bade four archers take up mattress and abbess and all, and place them in the carriage which stood before the gates.

In this manner, accompanied by one nun, madame d'Estrees entered the convent of the Penitents.

It is very amusing to read about, but at the time the affair made a great noise, and the other abbesses who were conscious of having neglected their vows had long felt very uneasy and watched anxiously what would happen next. Of course, Maubuisson could not be left without a head, and as soon as the abbess was removed, the abbot summoned the nuns before him and informed them that they might choose which of three ladies should take the place of madame d'Estrees. One of the three was madame de Port Royal.

The "ladies of Maubuisson," as they had always been called, trembled at the thought of what they might have to undergo at the hands of Angelique, yet they liked still less the other abbesses proposed. In the end it was she who was appointed, and a fortnight later arrived at Maubuisson with three of her own nuns, one being her young sister Marie.

Some of the Maubuisson nuns remembered their new abbess quite well, when she had lived amongst them nearly seventeen years before. These she treated with the utmost consideration, for she knew it was unreasonable to expect them to give up all at once the habits of a lifetime, and she thought it wiser to gain permission to add thirty young novices to the community whom she might train herself. To these girls she taught the duties performed by her own nuns, and herself took part in carrying wood for the fires, keeping clean the chapel and other parts of the abbey, washing the clothes, digging up the garden, and singing the chants, for she had been shocked by the discordant and irreverent manner in which the services were conducted. She even allowed her novices to wait on the older nuns, replacing their own servants.

For a year and a half Angelique struggled patiently to soften the hearts of the Maubuisson "ladies," but without success, and her courage and spirits began to fail her. Then, in September 1619, an event occurred which, unpleasant though it was, brought her back to her old self, and this was the sudden return of madame d'Estrees.

At six o'clock one morning the late abbess, who had managed to escape from the convent where she had been imprisoned, unexpectedly appeared as the nuns were on their way to church, having been let in secretly by one of the sisters.

"Madame," she said to Angelique, "I have to thank you for the care you have taken of my abbey, and to request that you will go back to yours."

"There is nothing I long for more, madame," replied Angelique, "but I have been placed here by the abbot of Citeaux, our superior, and I cannot leave without his permission." Upon this madame d'Estrees declared that she was abbess and would take her proper position; but Angelique, merely asserting that the king and the abbot had placed her there, and there she must stay, walked calmly to her own seat, while madame d'Estrees, not having made up her mind what to do, went off to see her own nuns, who seldom were present at the early service.

By command of Angelique, everything went on as usual in the abbey, except that the keys of all the doors had been given up to her. But after dinner, to her great surprise, the chaplain came to her and informed her that it was her duty to give way to force, and that if she did not do so quietly the armed men whom madame d'Estrees had left outside the walls would thrust her out. The abbess replied that she could not forsake her charge; but she had hardly spoken when, to her amazement, five soldiers with naked swords advanced towards her, and threatened her with violence if she did not do as they wished. But no Arnauld ever submitted to bullying, and Angelique repeated her words, and said that nothing but force could make her quit her post.

While this conversation was going on the novices, terrified at what might be happening to their abbess, crowded round in order to protect her. They were all very much excited, and when madame d'Estrees, who had entered also, happened to touch Angelique's veil, one of the young nuns turned to her and cried out indignantly:

"Wretched woman! Would you dare to pull off the veil of madame de Port Royal?" and snatching the veil which the abbess had put on her own head, she tore it off and flung it in a corner.

"Put madame out," said madame d'Estrees, turning to the gentlemen with her, and Angelique, who did not resist, was at once thrust out of the door and into a carriage that was waiting. In an instant the carriage was covered with novices as with a swarm of flies. The wheels, the rumble, the coach-box, all were full of them; it was astonishing how they got there in their heavy, cumbrous clothes. Madame d'Estrees called to the coachman to whip up the horses, but he, perhaps enjoying the scene, replied that if he moved he was certain to crush somebody. Then Angelique left the coach, and the novices got down from their perches and stood around her.

Finding that this plan had failed, madame d'Estrees ordered one of her lackeys to stand at the gate of the abbey and to allow Angelique, her two sisters, and the two Port Royal nuns to pass out, but no one else. She herself took hold of Angelique, who was nearly torn in half between her friends and enemies, and pulled her out of the gate, all the novices pressing behind her. The moment the rival abbesses had passed through a strong young novice seized hold of madame d'Estrees and forced her to the ground, keeping her there until every one of her companions was on the outside. It was in vain that the lackey tried to stop them.

"If you attempt to shut that door we will squeeze you to death," cried they, and each in turn gave the door behind which he stood a good push!

At length they were outside, and were walking quietly down the road to Pontoise, where they took refuge in a church, till the inhabitants, hearing of their arrival, placed all they had at their disposal.

Great was the indignation of the king and the abbot when, next morning, a letter from mere Angelique informed them of what had happened. Instantly a warrant was issued for the arrest of madame d'Estrees, and a large body of archers was sent off post-haste to Maubuisson in order to carry it out. But the abbess had received warning of her danger, and was not to be found, though her flight was so hurried that on searching her rooms the captain discovered several important papers that she had left behind her. Her friend, madame de la Serre, took refuge in a cupboard, which was concealed by tapestry, high up in a wall. The dust seems to have got into her nose, and she sneezed, and in this manner betrayed herself to the archers who set a ladder against the wall, which the lady instantly threw down. The captain then levelled his pistol at her, and bade his men put up the ladder again.

Soldiers search the abbey


When all was quiet in the abbey, the archers mounted their horses and rode to Pontoise, and under their protection Angelique and her nuns walked back to Maubuisson at ten o'clock that night, escorted by the people of Pontoise, and lighted by a hundred and fifty torches borne by the archers. For six months a guard of fifty remained there, but when madame d'Estrees was at last captured and sent back for life to the Convent of the Penitents, at the request of Angelique they returned to their quarters, and she was left to manage the nuns herself.

The last year of her residence at Maubuisson was, if possible, more unpleasant than the rest had been, for the title of abbess was given to a lady of high birth whose views were far more worldly than those of Angelique. She was very angry at the presence of the thirty poor nuns who had been added to the community, and declared she would turn them out. So Angelique begged them to come with her to Port Royal, small though her abbey was, and had them taken there in a number of carriages sent by madame Arnauld.

After this Angelique, or some of the nuns chosen by her, was often sent to reform other convents, and very hard work it was. She had, besides, her own cares at Port Royal, for the abbey, always unhealthy, was made worse by overcrowding and underfeeding, and the income and the dormitories which had been held sufficient for sixteen now had to do for eighty. A low fever broke out, of which many died, and soon it became clear that the rest would follow if they did not leave. At length, at the entreaty of her mother, Angelique applied for permission to move into Paris, where madame Arnauld had taken a house for them.

It is not easy, of course, even in a big town, to find a ready-made building large enough to hold so many people, and, though Angelique added a sleeping-gallery, the refectory or dining-room was so small that the nuns had to dine in parties of four. Her father was dead, and she does not seem to have thought of consulting any of her brothers; more space appeared a necessity, and, much as she hated debt, in her strait she made up her mind that she must borrow money in order to build fresh dormitories, and, breaking her rule, accepted a rich boarder, who became the cause of infinite trouble.

Just at this period the king's mother, who was in Paris, paid a visit to the famous abbess, and inquired if she had nothing to ask for, as it was her custom always to grant some favour on entering a convent for the first time.

Angelique replied that she prayed her to implore the king's grace to allow a fresh abbess to be chosen every three years, and leave being granted, she and her sister Agnes, who was her coadjutor, instantly resigned. She meant the change to be a safeguard, so that no one nun should enjoy absolute power for long; but as regarded her own abbey it was a great mistake, for she had a gift of ruling such as belonged to few women, and often when a mean or spiteful sister was elected she would wreak her ill-temper upon the late abbess, and impose all sorts of absurd penances upon her, which Angelique always bore meekly.

During the years that followed Angelique not only had her four younger sisters with her, Agnes, Anne, Marie, and Madeleine, but later her mother and her widowed sister, madame le Maitre. They were all happy to be together, though the rule of silence laid down by Angelique to prevent gossip must have stood in the way of much that would have been pleasant. By-and-by her nieces almost all entered the convent, and, what is still more surprising, her brothers and several of her nephews, most of them brilliant and successful men, one by one quitted the bar or the army, and formed a little band known as the "Recluses of Port Royal," who afterwards did useful work in draining and repairing the abbey "in the fields," so that the nuns could go back to it.

And all this was owing to the example and influence of one little girl, who had been thrust into a position for which she had certainly shown no liking.

In the last twenty-five years of Angelique's life her religious views underwent a change, and her confessor, St. Cyran, who shared them, was imprisoned, on a charge of heresy, at Vincennes. Even as a young girl she had left the chapel at Port Royal bare of ornaments, and later sold the silver candlesticks which were a gift to the altar of Port Royal de Paris, in order to bestow the money on the poor. Everyone looked up to her, but by-and-by it began to be whispered that she was "a dangerous person," who thought that the Church needed reforming as well as the convents, and had adopted the opinions of one Jansen, a Swiss, who wished to go back to the faith of early times, when St. Augustine was bishop.

In 1654 she heard through one of her nephews that in consequence of some of the recluses having resisted a decree of the pope condemning a book of Jansen's, a resistance supposed to have been inspired by the abbess herself, it was reported that she was either to be sent to the Bastille or imprisoned in some convent. She did not take any notice, and neither threat was fulfilled; but the hatred which the order of the Jesuits bore to the "Jansenists," as their opponents were called, never rested, and later a command came for the recluses to be dispersed, and the leaders were forced to go into hiding. Then her schoolgirls were sent to their homes, "la belle Hamilton," a Scotch girl, among them; and after them went the candidates, or those who wished to take the veil. All these blows came thick and fast, and Angelique, with health broken from the incessant labours of over fifty years, was attacked by dropsy.

The nuns were in despair, and hung about her night and day, hoping that she might let fall some words which they might cherish almost as divine commands; but Angelique, who, unlike her sister Agnes, had all her life been very impatient of sentimentality, detected this at once, and took care "neither to say nor do any thing remarkable." "They are too fond of me," she once said, "and I am afraid they will invent all sorts of silly tales about me." And in order to put a stop as far as she could to all the show and parade which she knew her nuns would rejoice in, as she felt that her end was drawing near she gave them her last order:

"Bury me in the churchyard, and do not let there be any nonsense after my death."