Privy Council Register
A letter registered 22 June 1617 and addressed to Sir George Buck, Master of the Revels, reads:
Wee are informed that there are certeyne Players or Comedians wee know not of what Company, that goe about to playe some enterlude concerning the late Marquess d’Ancre, wch for many respect[s] wee thincke not fitt to be suffered : Wee doe therefore require yow vpon yor [per]ill to take order that the same be not represented or played in any place about this Cittie or ellswhere, where yow haue authoritie. And hereof haue yow a speciall Care. So &c’./
(Malone Society Collections 1. 4-5: 376)
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
The principal subject of the lost play was almost certainly Concino Concini (1575-1617), the obscure son of a Florentine notary who rose to become a leading minister in the government of King Louis XIII in early seventeenth-century France. Following his move to Marseille in 1600 among the entourage of Marie de Medici, Concini gained considerable favour by marrying Eleonora Galigai, also a Florentine and a favourite attendent of the queen. Concini instantly gained notoriety for his wit, attractiveness, and reckless aspiration as the first gentleman of the queen’s household, rapidly cultivating the resentment of competitive French courtiers. His political connections and intrigues nevertheless perpetuated the newly prominent couple’s elevation and enrichment, and when Henri IV died in 1609, leaving de Medici regent, Concini purchased the marquisate d’Ancre and other honours. In 1613, he was appointed to the powerful office of maréchal of France, whose powers he was soon accused of abusing. In 1614, the year Louis XIII reached his majority, D’Ancre briefly sponsored the future Cardinal Richelieu, however a combination of de Medici’s relinquishing of authority to her son, intense competition with other rising courtiers, and the absence of public trust in the Italian soon precipitated his political fall.
D’Ancre’s undoing began in 1615 when he levied a private army, ostensibly to better fortify the towns in the maréchal’s purview but in a manner that stirred suspicions of treason. Louis XIII journeyed that year to Bordeaux to meet his Spanish consort, leaving the gates of Paris carefully guarded in his absence. When a corporal, a local shoemaker named Picard, adhered strictly to the king’s law and required D’Ancre to produce a passport at a city gate, he was brutally beaten by the marquis’s servants. The incident led to the hanging of two of D’Ancre’s men and public opinion turned rancorously against the marquis. His reputation received an even greater blight in 1616 when he was suspected of involvement in the arrest of the powerful Henri II de Bourbon, le Prince de Condé. On this occasion, a mob besieged his hôtel. Interpreting the death of his daughter in January 1617 as a sign of his impending downfall, D’Ancre sought to purchase a financial claim in the duchy of Ferrara from the Pope and to retire to Italy. His wife’s loyalty to her mistress, de Medici, however ultimately overruled this plan and D’Ancre remained in Paris, haunted by ominous dreams and encircled by both civic and courtly enemies.
D’Ancre’s end came on the morning of April 24, 1617 when a group of courtiers lead by the captain of the king’s guard violently confronted him on the drawbridge of the Louvre. A pistol shot grievously wounded him and as he struggled to rise to his knees, his assailants slashed and stabbed him to death with their blades. King Louis reportedly expressed gratitude through an overlooking window as D’Ancre’s body was stripped of its expensive clothes and relieved of the small fortune he always carried in money should he need to flee his dangerous circumstances. Although an effort was made to inter his body under the pavement of the church of St Germain de l’Auxerrois, the marquis’s enemies succeeded in exhuming and mutilating it. According to a contemporary English translation of a French account:
when he was buried secretly in the night, they dis-interred [him] at high noone day, and thinking him vnworthy of buriall, they dragged his corps to the foot of Pont neuf; there hung [him] vp by the feete, on a gibbet he had lately erected: then they cut off his nose, and his eares, pluckt out his eyes, couched his head, cut off likewise his armes, and shamefull parts: this being done, it was trailed again through the streetes of the Citie, beaten, and laid vpon with cudgels, part of it burnt before his own house, and some of it once again retrailed and burnt a second time, and what remained was at last throwne into the water. Now, the longer they had been mute, no man daring to speake against him, the more they talked, sung, and writ so loudly, and publikely, that all the streetes re-echoed with the exulting ioyes and outcries of the inhabitants. The blow was no sooner giuen, bur a miraculous change and alteration was obserued all ouer France, espeically in Paris; for euery one assuned to himself a new forme, through such an admirable pleasure and contentment. (The Oration 11)
D’Ancre’s wife, Eleanora, received no further protection from de Medici following the murder. She was forcibly removed from her apartments, stripped of her finery, and jailed in the Bastille. After repeated interrogations and a trial, she was convicted of witchcraft and, along with her husband, of lèse majesté. An executioner beheaded her on a public scaffold, her body and head were burned, and her heirs dispossessed.
Posthumously, the couple was extensively vilified by French pamphlet literature (see Works Consulted below).
Moralizing commentary in works such as The Ghost of the Marquesse d’Ancre (1617), an English translation of a contemporary French publication, may well have informed the construction and tone of the lost D'Ancre play:
Oh, what inexplicable miseries doth affectation of power and greatness bring vnto men! O how our disordinate appetites, to amass, and puchase wordly honours, doth heape and augment our misfortunes! Thou now feelest it, now that a sodaine death hath violently carryed thee out of the world (and as may be inferred by all pregnant probabilties) in the height of thy sinnes and transgressions. Now thou feelest it; thou, who after so many worldly delights, so many flatteries of honours, of contentments, art now more miserable peraduenture then the most wretched creature in France … And now thou knowest apparantly what difference there is betwixt the beginnings and ends of Fortune, how variable and mutable shee is; who being huffed vp to such eminent place, didst foolishly giue credit to a prediction and prophesie made of thee; and that when thou didst passe along the streetes euery one should put off his hat, and cry out, Viue le Roy. But now thou seest that Fortune inuerting quite this prediction, it yet comes to be most true, but thankes be to God, cleane contrary to thine own expectation: instead of thy beds of state, of Gold, siluer, and silke, thou wert laid within a stinking puddle of a foule and vncleane water, and for trapped and riche harnished horses, thou wert trailed along the streetes by rascally and contemptible people. (A2v-A3v)
The same text offers a theatrical image of D’Ancre’s tormented wife, awaiting execution and still enthralled by the spirit she reputedly conjured to sway her patroness and advance her husband:
Behold here one, that was called the Marshallesse of France, who was possessed of the Queenes greatest fauours, and disposed wholy of her will, and being inclosed within a prison, spits for anger, cryes and howles out like a shee-wolfe that had been robbed of her whelps. I saw her by chance the other day in the Bastille, she lookes most hideously, and stroke feare into all those that did behold her; and her staring eyes, gastly countenance, with her fearful visage and distracted speech plainely shew that she is conducted by some other spirit besides her owne: her hayre all fulle of skirfe and filth, hanging loose and confused vpon her shoulders, tearing her owne face and bosome, so as I neuer was touched with such an affrightment before. Wherefore I went and hid my selfe in a corner, to see the issue and further euent of this businesse, when incontinently I heard her vomit and belch out these or the like words:
- What, I? who lately could the Furies moue,
- To practise murder and confusion;
- Shall I endure? no, no, I will not sure:
- Rather both heauen and earth I will confound,
- The Elements, and all this lower round
- Ile make a Chaos, mixing waues of fire,
- The ayre, the earth, the heauens, and heate and cold,
- What is beneath shall soone mount vp aloft,
- I will my Husbands cynders summon vp.
- Phoebus by Verses hath beene made descend
- From th’highest Firmament, and Riuers quite reuerse,
- To flye the vaste and spacious Ocean.
- Nothing I feare: my force I must extende:
- So loud Ile yelpe, that all shall vnderstand;
- If I the Gods immortall cannot moue,
- Yet will I Diuels infernall proue.
- Assist me therefore Pluto, hideous Megara,
- Come succour me; and all you dreadful Fiends
- In hels deepe dungeon, fearing nor men nore Gods.
- What? shall our enemies vs thus deface?
- Permit it not or thou neglect’st our case.
- Shalle we before our time be thus subdude
- By this same Prince? nay, rather cut his thread,
- O daughter of the night, that so his destinie
- May no wayes curbe our Fame and Dignitie.
- Heauens fauour, I see plaine, this mortall wight:
- The Gods in counsell, all, succour him whith might.
- Thou that canst pleasure or annoy each one,
- And cause a sonne his fathers bloude to shed,
- By discord also thou canst soon devise
- Firmest accords and houses to dissolve:
- In briefe, thous canst hurt men by sundry meanes,
- Out of thy bosome foule some poysons belch,
- Now breake this peace, and sowe both warre and strife,
- That so by millions they may falle and dye.
- Come hither Misoquin, who didst always
- Protect my husband; come, make no delay.
When she had finished this discourse, I saw a Spirit of strange shape and forme to appeare, with staring eyes, a huge mouth, or rather indeed a gulfe, without a nose, but hauing a body like a Caterpiller, and wings, but without legs or armes, and I beleeue it was one of those that are called watry Spirits. (A3v-A4v)
References to the Play
Fleay: On the Privy Council's letter, Fleay remarks: "They did not know what company intended to perform it. But the play was no doubt Thierry and Theodoret, by Fletcher and Massinger" (Chronicle History 309-10).
Chambers: In his discussion of The Duchess of Malfi, Chambers mentions the possibility that the extant text of Webster's play may reflect the "purging of the French Court by Louis XIII after the assassination of Marshall d'Ancre on 14 April 1617. It need not be inferred that this is the 'enterlude concerninge the late Marquesse d'Ancre', which the Privy Council ordered the Master of Revels to stay on 22 June 1617" (3.511).
Bentley: "Presumably the play was new when the Privy Council ordered it suppressed. It is noteworthy that the Council does not say that 'Marquis d'Ancre' was the title of the play, but only that it concerned him. [...] It may be that the play is to be identified with one of the many other lost pieces known to us only be some unrevealing title" (5.1371).
Clare: "Presumably the play described the career and recent murder oft the French noble, who had been a favourite of the Queen Dowager but disliked by her son. […] The threat to Buc is an indication that the Master of the Revels was himself at risk of sanctions if he failed to censor plays in accordance with attitudes expressed in Council. The 'many respectes' which persuaded the members of the Privy Council that the play was 'not fitt to be suffered' can only be surmised. […] Louis XIII was implicated in the death; he was reported as being present and remarking that now he was King of France. Such a[n] event might be good theatre; but the Privy Council perhaps anticipated—or even received—French complaints and thus considered it judicious to prohibit a play which exposed power struggles at the French court. Moreover, the theme itself would surely have caused alarm. The Marquis d'Ancre was representative of a certain type of tragic hero who set himself up in opposition to the Crown. Here was a subject which aroused considerable disquiet, as has been illustrated in official reactions to Sejanus, Philotas, and The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron" (194-95).
Dutton: Using "Marquis d'Ancre" as an example of censorship taking the form of a "total proscription," Dutton observes: "The Council was clearly prepared to ban any play on the topic, no matter how tactful, since they had not seen the text of this one; someone, very probably the French Ambassador, had objected to what was afoot and the Privy Council complied in the interests of good relations. There was, apparently, none of the confusion or duplicity that surrounded Byron, since Buc seems successfully to have suppressed the play" (206).
Further information welcome.
For What It's Worth
Like Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois and Shirley’s Chabot, Admiral of France, the lost D’Ancre play belonged to an intermittently popular subgenre treating the doomed careers of noblemen in French political affairs.
News of the assassination spread immediately to England. On 17 April (i.e. 27 April, New Style), a mere three days after Ancre's death, Nathaniel Newbery entered in the Stationers' Register "a true relacon of the Death of the Marquis D'ANCRE together with the manifestacon of the Combinacon and Tyranny of him and his adherentes" (Arber 3.607). In the following weeks, a slew of publications appeared:
- The True Relation of the Deserved Death of that Base and Insolent Tyrant, the Marquis d'Ancre (STC 5622), published by Newbery (S.R. 17 April)
- The Letter of the French King, to the Parliament of Roan, concerning the death of the Marshall D'Ancre (STC 16835), publ. Newbery (S.R. 23 April)
- The French Iubile: or, The Ioy and Thanksgiving of all France (STC 5618), publ. Newbury (S.R. 26 April)
- A True Recital of Those Things that Have Been Done in the Court of France, since the death of the Marshall d'Ancre (STC 11292), publ. Newbery (S.R. 8 May)
- The Ghost of the Marquesse d'Ancre, with his Spirits attending him (STC 5620), publ. Nicholas Bourne (S.R. 9 May)
- The French Kings Declaration Made in Favour of the Princes, Dukes, Peeres, Officers of the Crown (STC 16835.5), publ. William Arondell (S.R. 3 June)
- The Oration Made unto the French King by the Deputies of the Nationall Synode of the Reformed Churches of France (STC 11305), publ. Newbery (S.R. 3 June)
- The Last Will and Testament of the Marquis d'Ancre (STC 5621), publ. William Arondell (not entered?)
Any London dramatist considering a play on the subject of Ancre's assassination would have found ample source material at his disposal.