According to the unanimous testimonies of historians and observers, most of the courts and nations of Europe copied with increasing avidity the pomp, the diversions, and the fashions of France. This mania for imitation the French overcame, among many people, the most violent and deep-rooted national antipathy. It first seized the courts and the superior ranks, and gradually descended to the middle and lower classes.
In this state of things the character of women was warped by the temptations and impulses of the times. In the court of France, as has been observed, in the houses of the nobility generally, and indeed almost everywhere, womankind was not respected, nor did woman respect herself. The state was governed by vanity, by the love of luxury and extravagance, by the eagerness for self-indulgence, and by the absence of any respect for true dignity. France entered upon the sixteenth century with all the social evils of the fifteenth, and with new dangers before her. For in the midst of the ruin of the old society, religion as well as social order had become embroiled, and the Church had run herself into as much danger as the State. Facts like the following show us how far the sex had been taught to throw aside all those qualities which naturally belong to it.
Examples of Perversion
After the conspiracy of Amboise in 1560, when the prisoners were taken out daily by dozens to be executed, we are assured that the Guises reserved the principal prisoners for the purpose, by their torments, of affording amusement to the ladies of the court after dinner, who then, with the king and his brothers, placed themselves in the windows of the castle of Amboise, in which the court was residing, while the victims were brought to the courtyard of the palace, a few every day, and put to death in the most barbarous manner, in view of the ladies.
We are told further, that the chancellor, Olivier, a man of more gentleness in his character, was so horrified by the atrocities committed on this occasion, that he took to his bed, and died before the end of the month.
Such were the qualities of which seem to have prevailed more or less among womankind in France at the commencement of the great troubles of the latter half of the century of which we are speaking.
Among the aristocratic classes, especially among those which were naturally taken for imitation, virtue had long been at a discount, and vice reigned without any control.
The civil war of 1580 was ascribed almost entirely to the maids of honor of Queen Marguerite of Navarre and the young beauties of the court, who, in their feeling of hostilities against the king of France, Henry III., distributed their last favors almost indiscriminately to all who would join in the insurrection against him, to such a degree that it was popularly called “the war of the lovers.” This character of license had become so strongly imprinted on the French character, that it remained more or less attached to it until comparatively recent times.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.