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Pré aux clercs, Le (Eugène de Planard)




In 1582, ten years after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the reign of the Valois dynasty is nearing its end. Henri III has succeeded his brother Charles IX. Their sister Marguerite, the famous ‘Reine Margot’, has returned to live at the Louvre Palace as a political tool of the Queen Mother, Catherine de’ Medici. Marguerite’s husband Henri, King of Navarre, is consolidating his status as chief claimant to the throne of France.

Act I

In Étampes, where the royal hunts take place, the innkeeper Nicette is celebrating her betrothal to Girot, host of the Parisian tavern of Le Pré aux clercs. Both of them hope in this way to get nearer to court circles, Nicette being Marguerite’s country goddaughter. The festivities are disturbed by cavalrymen from the King’s household who harass a Protestant gentleman, Mergy. But an Italian courtier, Cantarelli, recognises him as the man who saved him at the siege of Bergerac. Thanks to Cantarelli’s protection, Mergy is enabled to fulfil his role as ambassador of Navarre to Henri III. The courtier also gives him precious information about Marguerite and her favourite, the Protestant Countess Isabelle de Montal. Mergy, who is in love with Isabelle, now learns that she is resisting the advances of the Catholic nobleman Comminge, a feared duellist. While Mergy goes off to observe the hunt, Comminge himself appears and tells Cantarelli of his latest duel. The arrival of the hunt obliges them to join the King; this gives Marguerite a chance to be alone with Isabelle and urge her to conceal her sadness, which displeases the Queen Mother. Horrified to discover that the King wants to marry her off to Comminge, Isabelle faints, bringing both Comminge and Mergy to her side. The latter is protected by his ambassadorial status, but the atmosphere is heavy with menace when the hunting party sets out for Paris, despite Marguerite’s gracious invitation to Nicette and Girot to come to the palace.

Act II

At the Louvre, on the evening of a court ball, Marguerite plots the secret marriage of Isabelle and Mergy. To this end she employs Cantarelli, a skilful intriguer, who, as an Italian, has been charged with preparing that evening’s masked ball. The courtiers performing the masquerade are joined by Marguerite’s guests, Nicette and Girot. Their presence gives Marguerite the idea of arranging the wedding of the Protestant lovers at the same time as that of the two innkeepers, at the chapel of the Pré aux clercs the next day. Cantarelli adroitly reassures Comminge by asserting that Mergy has not come to court on Isabelle’s account but for an altogether more regal mistress, Marguerite. Meanwhile, Henri III makes known his negative response to Mergy’s embassy: Marguerite and Isabelle will not return to Navarre, and the latter will marry Comminge, who is overjoyed. The despairing Mergy challenges him to a duel, which is to take place the following evening at the Pré aux clercs.


The Pré aux clercs is not only the haunt of duellists, but also a favourite promenade of Parisians, situated just opposite the Louvre, on the Left Bank of the Seine. Girot and Nicette, at their wedding reception, are already quarrelling, since Girot is not aware that their marriage also serves Marguerite’s plans – Mergy and Isabelle have just been married at the same time. Following the orders of Marguerite, who is personally supervising operations, Cantarelli brings the newlyweds a safe-conduct that will enable them to reach Navarre. But he also announces an imminent threat: Comminge is on his way there to fight a duel against an unknown opponent. The couple and their friends separate until nightfall, which will favour their flight; this also enables Mergy to conceal from Isabelle the risk he runs in his impending duel with Comminge. The latter, initially cheerful and self-confident, soon realises that Cantarelli lied to him and Isabelle and Mergy love each other: the hatred between the adversaries intensifies. A company of watchmen urges them to go and fight under the cover of the trees, away from the windows of the Louvre – and out of the audience’s sight. As eight o’clock strikes, Marguerite, Nicette and Girot prepare for the two Protestants’ escape. But where is Mergy? Cantarelli now reveals that he is fighting a duel with Comminge nearby. Seeing a boat going past carrying the body of the defeated duellist, Isabelle faints. But Mergy returns victorious. The couple can now make good their escape.


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  • Pré aux clercs, Le (Planard / Hérold)