The town of Nérac is full of history. It is the birthplace of Henri III of Navarre who later became Henry IV, king of France. His reign was marked by years of fighting between Protestants and Catholics. In an attempt to bring about a reconciliation and, eventually, to cement his claim to the throne, Henry switched allegiance six times between the two factions . It took him nine long years to bring about peace. Nevertheless, he was eventually assassinated by a religious fanatic. Some things never change.
historians remember Henry IV as “The Good King.” He is fondly remembered for his concern for the common people, and for his many affairs. Indeed, he supposedly had, over time, 76 official mistresses. His life was the inspiration of Shakespeare’s play, “Love’s Labour Lost,” the term “Le Vert Galant”—The Vigorous Suitor—and the legend of Fleurette.
Fleurette was the young daughter of the palace gardener at Nérac. The future king, supposedly, seduced and abandoned her. The legend continues by saying that poor Fleurette killed herself when she realized that Henry no longer shared her passion. Fleurette’s name, however, survives in the French expression “conter Fleurette”; that in English became “flirt.” She is thought to be Henry’s first mistress. As for their ages at the time of their affair, reports vary widely. He is said to have been as young as twelve or as old as nineteen. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Fleurette was either fourteen or sixteen. The stories also vary as to the length of their relationship. Some stories claim it was a one-time encounter. In others, it continued for months. According to legend, after returning from a trip in which he tasted the delights of many other women, Henry made an assignation to meet Fleurette at the fountain where they first fell in love. Instead of the living Fleurette, he found her body. She could not bear to live without his love. It is also reported that she was the only mistress who remained true to Henry .
On the beautiful walkway on right bank of the river Baïse, in the park called “La Garenne” one can admire a beautiful statue of Fleurette. It is the work of sculptor Daniel Campagne. In 1896, the statue was placed inside one of the park’s grottoes. My friends and I discovered the statue on a recent walk. We were captivated by the story and amazed at Fleurette’s very perky breasts. Could the real Fleurette have been so blessed? Would Henry really have left someone so perfectly endowed?
Spoiler alert: Historians report that the real Fleurette lived another sixteen years after the affair ended. I’m sorry to say I was disappointed to hear that. So much for romance.