The Heptameron

Du Mesnil Learns his Mistress's Infidelity from Her Maid
The Heptameron - Day 1 - Tale 1: Du Mesnil Learns his Mistress's Infidelity from Her Maid

The Heptameron - Day 1 - Tale 1

Summary of the First Tale Told on the First of the Heptameron

The wife of a Proctor, having been pressingly solicited by the Bishop of Sees, took him for her profit, and, being as little satisfied with him as with her husband, found a means to have the son of the Lieutenant-General of Alençon for her pleasure. Some time afterwards she caused the latter to be miserably murdered by her husband, who, although he obtained pardon for the murder, was afterwards sent to the galleys with a sorcerer named Gallery; and all this was brought about by the wickedness of his wife.(1)

Tale 1 of the Heptameron

The Heptameron - First Day

Ladies, said Simontault, I have been so poorly rewarded for my long service, that to avenge myself upon Love, and upon her who treats me so cruelly, I shall be at pains to make a collection of all the ill turns that women hath done to hapless men; and moreover I will relate nothing but the simple truth.

In the town of Alençon, during the lifetime of Charles, the last Duke,(2) there was a Proctor named St. Aignan, who had married a gentlewoman of the neighbourhood. She was more beautiful than virtuous, and on account of her beauty and light behaviour was much sought after by the Bishop of Sees,(3) who, in order to compass his ends, managed the husband so well, that the latter not only failed to perceive the vicious conduct of his wife and of the Bishop, but was further led to forget the affection he had always shown in the service of his master and mistress.

Thus, from being a loyal servant, he became utterly adverse to them, and at last sought out sorcerers to procure the death of the Duchess.(4) Now for a long time the Bishop consorted with this unhappy woman, who submitted to him from avarice rather than from love, and also because her husband urged her to show him favour. But there was a youth in the town of Alençon, son of the Lieutenant-General,(5) whom she loved so much that she was half crazy regarding him; and she often availed herself of the Bishop to have some commission intrusted to her husband, so that she might see the son of the Lieutenant, who was named Du Mesnil, at her ease.

Heptameron - The First Story

This mode of life lasted a long time, during which she had the Bishop for her profit and the said Du Mesnil for her pleasure. To the latter she swore that she showed a fair countenance to the Bishop only that their own love might the more freely continue; that the Bishop, in spite of appearances, had obtained only words, from her; and that he, Du Mesnil, might rest assured that no man, save himself, should ever receive aught else.

One day, when her husband was setting forth to visit the Bishop, she asked leave of him to go into the country, saying that the air of the town was injurious to her; and, when she had arrived at her farm, she forthwith wrote to Du Mesnil to come and see her, without fail, at about ten o'clock in the evening. This the young man did; but as he was entering at the gate he met the maid who was wont to let him in, and who said to him, "Go elsewhere, friend, for your place is taken."

Supposing that the husband had arrived, he asked her how matters stood. The woman, seeing that he was so handsome, youthful, and well-bred, and was withal so loving and yet so little loved, took pity upon him and told him of his mistress's wantonness, thinking that on hearing this he would be cured of loving her so much. She related to him that the Bishop of Sees had but just arrived, and was now in bed with the lady, a thing which the latter had not expected, for he was not to have come until the morrow. However, he had detained her husband at his house, and had stolen away at night to come secretly and see her. If ever man was in despair it was Du Mesnil, who nevertheless was quite unable to believe the story. He hid himself, however, in a house near by, and watched until three hours after midnight, when he saw the Bishop come forth disguised, yet not so completely but that he could recognise him more readily than he desired.

Haptameron - Du Mesnil in his despair returned to Alençon

Du Mesnil in his despair returned to Alençon, whither, likewise, his wicked mistress soon came, and went to speak to him, thinking to deceive him according to her wont. But he told her that, having touched sacred things, she was too holy to speak to a sinner like himself, albeit his repentance was so great that he hoped his sin would very soon be forgiven him. When she learnt that her deceit was found out, and that excuses, oaths, and promises never to act in a like way again were of no avail, she complained of it to her Bishop. Then, having weighed the matter with him, she went to her husband and told him that she could no longer dwell in the town of Alençon, for the Lieutenant's son, whom he had so greatly esteemed among his friends, pursued her unceasingly to rob her of her honour. She therefore begged of him to abide at Argentan,(6) in order that all suspicion might be removed.

The husband, who suffered himself to be ruled by his wife, consented; but they had not been long at Argentan when this bad woman sent a message to Du Mesnil, saying that he was the wickedest man in the world, for she knew full well that he had spoken evilly (sic.) of her and of the Bishop of Sees; however, she would strive her best to make him repent of it.

finding his mistress at vespers
in the church of the Jacobins

The young man, who had never spoken of the matter except to herself, and who feared to fall into the bad graces of the Bishop, repaired to Argentan with two of his servants, and finding his mistress at vespers in the church of the Jacobins,(7) he went and knelt beside her, and said—

"I am come hither, madam, to swear to you before God that I have never spoken of your honour to any person but yourself. You treated me so ill that I did not make you half the reproaches you deserved; but if there be man or woman ready to say that I have ever spoken of the matter to them, I am here to give them the lie in your presence."

Seeing that there were many people in the church, and that he was accompanied by two stout serving-men, she forced herself to speak as graciously as she could. She told him that she had no doubt he spoke the truth, and that she deemed him too honourable a man to make evil report of any one in the world; least of all of herself, who bore him so much friendship; but since her husband had heard the matter spoken of, she begged him to say in his presence that he had not so spoken and did not so believe.

To this he willingly agreed, and, wishing to attend her to her house, he offered to take her arm; but she told him it was not desirable that he should come with her, for her husband would think that she had put these words into his mouth. Then, taking one of his serving-men by the sleeve, she said—

"Leave me this man, and as soon as it is time I will send him to seek you. Meanwhile do you go and rest in your lodging."

He, having no suspicion of her conspiracy against him, went thither.

She gave supper to the serving-man whom she had kept with her, and who frequently asked her when it would be time to go and seek his master; but she always replied that his master would come soon enough. When it was night, she sent one of her own serving-men to fetch Du Mesnil; and he, having no suspicion of the mischief that was being prepared for him, went boldly to St. Aignan's house. As his mistress was still entertaining his servant there, he had but one with himself.

Just as he was entering the house, the servant who had been sent to him told him that the lady wished to speak with him before he saw her husband, and that she was waiting for him in a room where she was alone with his own serving-man; he would therefore do well to send his other servant away by the front door. This he did. Then while he was going up a small, dark stairway, the Proctor St. Aignan, who had placed some men in ambush in a closet, heard the noise, and demanded what it was; whereupon he was told that a man was trying to enter secretly into his house.

At the moment, a certain Thomas Guérin, a murderer by trade, who had been hired by the Proctor for the purpose, came forward and gave the poor young man so many sword-thrusts that whatever defence he was able to make could not save him from falling dead in their midst.

Meanwhile the servant who was waiting with the lady, said to her—

"I hear my master speaking on the stairway. I will go to him."

But the lady stopped him and said—

"Do not trouble yourself; he will come soon enough."

A little while afterwards the servant, hearing his master say, "I am dying, may God receive my soul!" wished to go to his assistance, but the lady again withheld him, saying—

Scenes from the Heptameron

"Do not trouble yourself; my husband is only chastising him for his follies. We will go and see what it is."

Then, leaning over the balustrade at the top of the stairway, she asked her husband—

"Well, is it done?"

"Come and see," he replied. "I have now avenged you on the man who put you to such shame."

So saying, he drove a dagger that he was holding ten or twelve times into the belly of a man whom, alive, he would not have dared to assail.

When the murder had been accomplished, and the two servants of the dead man had fled to carry the tidings to the unhappy father, St. Aignan bethought himself that the matter could not be kept secret. But he reflected that the testimony of the dead man's servants would not be believed, and that no one in his house had seen the deed done, except the murderers, and an old woman-servant, and a girl fifteen years of age. He secretly tried to seize the old woman, but, finding means to escape out of his hands, she sought sanctuary with the Jacobins,(8) and was afterwards the most trustworthy witness of the murder. The young maid remained for a few days in St. Aignan's house, but he found means to have her led astray by one of the murderers, and had her conveyed to a brothel in Paris so that her testimony might not be received.(9)

To conceal the murder, he caused the corpse of the hapless dead man to be burnt, and the bones which were not consumed by the fire he caused to be placed in some mortar in a part of his house where he was building. Then he sent in all haste to the Court to sue for pardon, setting forth that he had several times forbidden his house to a person whom he suspected of plotting his wife's dishonour, and who, notwithstanding his prohibition, had come by night to see her in a suspicious fashion; whereupon, finding him in the act of entering her room, his anger had got the better of his reason and he had killed him.

But before he was able to despatch his letter to the Chancellor's, the Duke and Duchess had been apprised by the unhappy father of the matter, and they sent a message to the Chancellor to prevent the granting of the pardon. Finding he could not obtain it, the wretched man fled to England with his wife and several of his relations. But before setting out he told the murderer who at his entreaty had done the deed, that he had seen expresses from the King directing that he should be taken and put to death. Nevertheless, on account of the service that he had rendered him, he desired to save his life, and he gave him ten crowns wherewith to leave the kingdom. The murderer did this, and was afterwards seen no more.

The murder was so fully proven by the servants of the dead man, by the woman who had taken refuge with the Jacobins, and by the bones that were found in the mortar, that legal proceedings were begun and completed in the absence of St. Aignan and his wife. They were judged by default and were both condemned to death. Their property was confiscated to the Prince, and fifteen hundred crowns were to be given to the dead man's father to pay the costs of the trial.

They were judged by default
and were both condemned to death.

St. Aignan being in England and perceiving that in the eyes of the law he was dead in France, by means of his services to divers great lords and by the favour of his wife's relations, induced the King of England (10) to request the King of France (11) to grant him a pardon and restore him to his possessions and honours. But the King of France, having been informed of the wickedness and enormity of the crime, sent the process to the King of England, praying him to consider whether the offence was one deserving of pardon, and telling him that no one in the kingdom but the Duke of Alençon had the right to grant a pardon in that duchy. However, notwithstanding all his excuses, he failed to appease the King of England, who continued to entreat him so very pressingly that, at his request, the Proctor at last received a pardon and so returned to his own home.(12) There, to complete his wickedness, he consorted with a sorcerer named Gallery, hoping that by this man's art he might escape payment of the fifteen hundred crowns to the dead man's father.

To this end he went in disguise to Paris with his wife. She, finding that he used to shut himself up for a great while in a room with Gallery without acquainting her with the reason thereof, spied upon him one morning, and perceived Gallery showing him five wooden images, three of which had their hands hanging down, whilst two had them lifted up.(13)

"We must make waxen images like these," said Gallery, speaking to the Proctor. "Such as have their arms hanging down will be for those whom we shall cause to die, and the others with their arms raised will be for the persons from whom you would fain have love and favour."

"This one," said the Proctor, "shall be for the King by whom I would fain be loved, and this one for Monseigneur Brinon, Chancellor of Alençon." (14)

"The images," said Gallery, "must be set under the altar, to hear mass, with words that I will presently tell you to say."

Then, speaking of those images that had their arms lowered, the Proctor said that one should be for Master Gilles du Mesnil, father of the dead man, for he knew that as long as the father lived he would not cease to pursue him. Moreover, one of the women with their hands hanging down was to be for the Duchess of Alençon, sister to the King; for she bore so much love to her old servant, Du Mesnil, and had in so many other matters become acquainted with the Proctor's wickedness, that except she died he could not live. The second woman that had her arms hanging down was his own wife, who was the cause of all his misfortune, and who he felt sure would never amend her evil life.

When his wife, who could see everything through the keyhole, heard him placing her among the dead, she resolved to send him among them first. On pretence of going to borrow some money, she went to an uncle she had, named Neaufle, who was Master of Requests to the Duke of Alençon, and informed him of what she had seen and heard. Neaufle, like the old and worthy servant that he was, went forthwith to the Chancellor of Alençon and told him the whole story.

As the Duke and Duchess of Alençon were not at Court that day, the Chancellor related this strange business to the Regent,(15) mother of the King and the Duchess, and she sent in all haste for the Provost of Paris,(16) who made such speed that he at once seized the Proctor and his sorcerer, Gallery. Without constraint or torture they freely confessed their guilt, and their case was made out and laid before the King.

Certain persons, wishing to save their lives, told him that they had only sought his good graces by their enchantments; but the King, holding his sister's life as dear as his own, commanded that the same sentence should be passed on them as if they had made an attempt on his own person.

However, his sister, the Duchess of Alençon, entreated that the Proctor's life might be spared, and the sentence of death be commuted to some heavy punishment. This request was granted her, and St. Aignan and Gallery were sent to the galleys of St. Blancart at Marseilles,(17) where they ended their days in close captivity, and had leisure to ponder on the grievousness of their crimes. The wicked wife, in the absence of her husband, continued in her sinful ways even more than before, and at last died in wretchedness.

"I pray you, ladies, consider what evil is caused by a wicked woman, and how many evils sprang from the sins of the one I have spoken of. You will find that ever since Eve caused Adam to sin, all women have set themselves to bring about the torment, slaughter and damnation of men. For myself, I have had such experience of their cruelty that I expect to die and be damned simply by reason of the despair into which one of them has cast me. And yet so great a fool am I, that I cannot but confess that hell coming from her hand is more pleasing than Paradise would be from the hand of another."

Parlamente, pretending she did not understand that it was touching herself he spoke in this fashion, said to him—

"Since hell is as pleasant as you say, you ought not to fear the devil who has placed you in it."

"If my devil were to become as black as he has been cruel to me," answered Simontault angrily, "he would cause the present company as much fright as I find pleasure in looking upon them; but the fires of love make me forget those of this hell. However, to speak no further concerning this matter, I give my vote to Madame Oisille to tell the second story. I feel sure she would support my opinion if she were willing to say what she knows about women."

Forthwith all the company turned towards Oisille, and begged of her to proceed, to which she consented, and, laughing, began as follows—

"It seems to me, ladies, that he who has given me his vote has spoken so ill of our sex in his true story of a wicked woman, that I must call to mind all the years of my long life to find one whose virtue will suffice to gainsay his evil opinion. However, as I have bethought me of one worthy to be remembered, I will now relate her history to you."


  1. The incidents of this story are historical, and occurred in Alençon and Paris between 1520 and 1525.—L.

  2. The Duke Charles here alluded to is Margaret's first husband.—Ed.

  3. Sees or Séez, on the Orne, thirteen miles from Alençon, and celebrated for its Gothic cathedral, is one of the oldest bishoprics in Normandy. Richard Coeur-de-Lion is said to have here done penance and obtained absolution for his conduct towards his father, Henry II. At the time of this story the Bishop of Sees was James de Silly, whose father, also James de Silly, Lord of Lonray, Vaux-Pacey, &c, a favourite and chamberlain of King Louis XII., became Master of the Artillery of France in 1501. The second James de Silly—born at Caen—was ordained Bishop of Sees on February 26th, 1511; he was also Abbot of St. Vigor and St. Pierre-sur-Dives, where he restored and beautified the abbatial church. In 1519 he consecrated a convent for women of noble birth, founded by Margaret and her first husband at Essey, twenty miles from Alençon, the ruins of which still exist. A year later Francis Rometens dedicated to him an edition of the letters of Pico della Mirandola. He died April 24th, 1539, at Fleury-sur-Aiidellé, about fifteen miles from Rouen, and was buried in his episcopal church. (See Gallia Christiana, vol. xi. p. 702.) His successor in the See of Sees was Nicholas Danguye, or Dangu (a natural son of Cardinal Duprat), with whom M. Frank tries to identify Dagoucin, one of the narrators of the Heptameron.—L. and Ed.

  4. This was of course Margaret herself.—Ed

  5. Gilles du Mesnil, Lieutenant-General of the presidial bailiwick and Sénéchaussée of Alençon.—B. J.

  6. Argentan, on the Orne, twenty-six miles from Alençon, had been a distinct viscounty, but at this period it belonged to the duchy of Alençon.—Ed.

  7. The name of Jacobins was given to the monks of the Dominican Order, some of whom had a monastery in the suburbs of Argentan.—Ed.

  8. It was still customary to take sanctuary in churches, monasteries, and convents at this date, although but little respect was shown for the refugees, whose hiding-places were often surrounded so that they might be kept without food and forced to surrender. After being considerably restricted by an edict issued in 1515, the right of sanctuary was abolished by Francis I. in 1539.—B. J. and D.

  9. Prostitutes were barred from giving evidence in French courts of law at this period.—D.

  10. Henry VIII.

  11. Francis I.

  12. The letters of remission which were granted to St. Aignan on this occasion will be found in the Appendix to the First Day (B). It will be noted that Margaret in her story gives various particulars which St. Aignan did not fail to conceal in view of obtaining his pardon.—L.

  13. This refers to the superstitious practice called envoûtement, which, according to M. Léon de Laborde, was well known in France in 1316, and subsisted until the sixteenth century. In 1330 the famous Robert d'Artois, upon retiring to Brabant, occupied himself with pricking waxen images which represented King Philip VI., his brother-in- law, and the Queen, his sister. (Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions, vol. xv. p. 426.) During the League the enemies of Henri III. and the King of Navarre revived this practice.—(L.) It would appear also from a document in the Harley MSS. (18,452, Bib. N'at., Paris) that Cosmo Ruggieri, the Florentine astrologer, Catherine de' Medici's confidential adviser, was accused in 1574 of having made a wax figure in view of casting a spell upon Charles IX.—M.

  14. John Brinon, Councillor of the King, President of the Parliament of Rouen, Chancellor of Alençon and Berry, Lord of Villaines (near Dreux), Remy, and Athueuil (near Montfort-l'Amaury), belonged to an old family of judicial functionaries. He was highly esteemed by Margaret, several of whose letters are addressed to him, and he was present at the signing of her marriage contract with Henry II. of Navarre (Génin's Lettres de Marguerite, p. 444). He married Pernelle Perdrier, who brought him the lordship of Médan, near Poissy, and other important fiefs, which after his death she presented to the King. His praises were sung by Le Chandelier, the poet; and M. Floquet, in his History of the Parliament of Normandy, states that Brinon rendered most important services to France as a negotiator in Italy in 1521, and in England in 1524. The Journal d'un Bourgeois de Paris mentions that he died in Paris in 1528, aged forty-four, and was buried in the Church of St. Severin.—L. According to La Croix du Maine's Bibliothèque Françoise, Brinon was the author of a poem entitled Les Amours de Sydire.—B. J.

  15. Louise of Savoy.

  16. John de la Barre, a favourite of Francis I. See note to Tale lxiii. (vol. v.), in which he plays a conspicuous part.—Ed.

  17. This passage is explained by Henri Bouché, who states in his Histoire Chronologique de Provence (vol. ii. p. 554), that after Francis I.'s voyage in captivity to Spain it was judged expedient that France should have several galleys in the Mediterranean, and that "orders were accordingly given for thirteen to be built at Marseilles—four for the Baron de Saint-Blancart, as many for Andrew Doria, &c." The Baron de Saint-Blancart here referred to was Bernard d'Ormezan, Admiral of the seas of the Levant, Conservator of the ports and tower of Aigues-Mortes, and General of the King's galleys. In 1523 he defeated the naval forces of the Emperor Charles V., and in 1525 conducted Margaret to Spain.—L. (See Memoir of Margaret, p. xli.)

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