Summary and publication details        Charlotte Yonge's own preface  

Online text of Stray Pearls    

Publication details, summary and further reading

(Text kindly supplied by Amy de Gruchy)


January 1881 - May 1883, serialized in The Monthly Packet, editor C.M. Yonge, publishers Walter Smith, late Mozley


Stray Pearls is a sequel to The Chaplet of Pearls (1868) and follows the fortunes of three of the grandchildren of the chief characters in that novel. Their mother is a Frenchwoman, a Roman Catholic married to an English gentleman, and high in the favour of King Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria. Margaret is the chief character whose memoirs are interspersed with chapters by her younger sister Annora, a Protestant, while Margaret has been reared as a Catholic. She is married at sixteen to a French Vicomte. The marriage, though an arranged one, is very happy, but Margaret is widowed at nineteen, and decides to devote her life to her husband's family, her little son and his estates. However, her attempts to improve the lot of the peasants arouses the suspicions of the authorities, and she is summoned to live in Paris.

There she gives a home to the surviving members of her family, her mother, brother and sister, exiled Royalists. She avoids a forced marriage and witnesses much of the Fronde as the attendant of Mademoiselle, the French King's cousin, but her principal concern, like that of the reader, is with the affairs of her brother and sister, Annora and Eustace.

Annora's love for a high-principled French lawyer falls foul of the French caste system. Eustace has lost his English sweetheart, Millicent, whose family have married her to a rich old Dutchman, the purchaser of the chaplet of pearls. Near the end of the tale Millicent is widowed, but by then Eustace is fatally ill, illness caused partly by his exertions during the Civil War, but made worse by the persecution he suffers as a result of his mother's ill-judged attempts to convert him to her religion. However, before his death he and Millicent enable Annora to marry her lover and return to England. Soon afterwards Margaret and her son are dismissed to their estate.

There is a large cast of fictitious and historical characters. The three main male characters, Margaret and Annora's husbands and brother have differing roles but similar characteristics, courage, love, piety and resignation. On the one side of them is the girls' half-brother, whose pride and concern for his family is excessive, and on the other the young noble married to Cécile (Margaret's sister-in-law) who is completely indifferent to his family responsibilities. Margaret herself is a pattern of goodness, love, docility and firmness, contrasting with her self-willed mother and sister, and the weaker willed Millicent and Cécile, though all in the end are redeemed by love.

In one brief fictitious incident the future Cardinal de Retz springs to life, but in general the historical characters remain textbook figures.

There is no attempt at a plot, rather it is a chronicle of family events. Some incidents allow a degree of suspense, but in general interest is held by concern for the chief characters. The tale is set mainly in France, with excursions into Holland, which is vividly pictured.

The historical information is correct, but so detailed that it is difficult to digest for readers not already familiar with the period. In a lengthy Preface C.M. Yonge gives a summary of events, but this contains so much additional material that the result is further confusion. There is some inconsistency in the dating of the family events, adding to the difficulties.

Moral teaching is implicit rather than explicit, though both Margaret and Annora reprove themselves for their failings. There is no overt religious bias. Full credit is given to the goodness found in both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and the only bigots are the converts from the latter.

Further Reading

For contemporary reviews see L. Madden, J.B. Shorthouse and C.M. Yonge, unpublished thesis, University of London Diploma in Librarianship, 1964.

Stella Waring, 'A passion for history', Charlotte M. Yonge Fellowship Journal, 1999, pp. 23-24.

Charlotte Yonge's own Preface to Stray Pearls

No one can be more aware than the author that the construction of this tale is defective. The state of French society, and the strange scenes of the Fronde, beguiled me into a tale which has become rather a family record than a novel.

Formerly the Muse of the historical romance was an independent and arbitrary personage, who could compress time, resuscitate the dead, give mighty deeds to imaginary heroes, exchange substitutes for popular martyrs on the scaffold, and make the most stubborn facts subservient to her purpose. Indeed, her most favoured son boldly asserted her right to bend time and place to her purpose, and to make the interest and effectiveness of her work the paramount object. But critics have lashed her out of these erratic ways, and she is now become the meet handmaid of Clio, creeping obediently in the track of the greater Muse, and never venturing on more than colouring and working up the grand outlines that her mistress has left undefined. Thus, in the present tale, though it would have been far more convenient not to have spread the story over such a length of time, and to have made the catastrophe depend upon the heroes and heroines, instead of keeping them mere ineffective spectators, or only engaged in imaginary adventures for which a precedent can be found, it has been necessary to stretch out their narrative, so as to be at least consistent with the real history, at the entire sacrifice of the plot. And it may be feared that thus the story may partake of the confusion that really reigned over the tangled thread of events. There is no portion of history better illustrated by memoirs of the actors therein than is the Fronde; but, perhaps, for that very reason none so confusing.

Perhaps it may be an assistance to the reader to lay out the bare historical outline like a map, showing to what incidents the memoirs of the Sisters of Ribaumont have to conform themselves.

When Henry IV. succeeded in obtaining the throne of France, he found the feudal nobility depressed by the long civil war, and his exchequer exhausted. He and his minister Sully returned to the policy of Louis Xl., by which the nobles were to be kept down and prevented from threatening the royal power. This was seldom done by violence, but by giving them employment in the Army and Court, attaching them to the person of the King, and giving them offices with pensions attached to them.

The whole cost of these pensions and all the other expenses of Government fell on the townspeople and peasantry, since the clergy and the nobles to all generations were exempt from taxation. The trade and all the resources of the country were taking such a spring of recovery since the country had been at peace, and the persecution of the Huguenots had ceased, that at first the taxation provoked few murmurs. The resources of the Crown were further augmented by permitting almost all magistrates and persons who held public offices to secure the succession to their sons on the payment of a tariff called la Paulette, from the magistrate who invented it.

In the next reign, however, an effort was made to secure greater equality of burthens. On the meeting a of States-General – the only popular assembly possessed by France – Louis XIII., however, after hearing the cornplaints, and promising to consider them, shut the doors against the deputies, made no further answer, and dismissed them to their houses without the slightest redress. The Assembly was never to meet again till the day of reckoning for all, a hundred and seventy years later.

Under the mighty hand of Cardinal Richelieu the nobles were still more effectually crushed, and the great course of foreign war begun which lasted, with short intervals, for a century. The great man died, and so did his feeble master, and his policy, both at home and abroad, was inherited by his pupil Giulio Mazarin, while the regency for the child, Louis XIV., devolved on his mother Anne of Austria – a pious and well-meaning but proud and ignorant Spanish Princess – who pinned her faith upon Mazarin with helpless and exclusive devotion believing him the only pilot who could steer her vessel through troublous waters.

But what France had ill brooked from the high-handed soil of her ancient nobility was intolerable from low-born Italian, of graceful but insinuating manners. Moreover, the war increased the burthens of the country, and, in the minority of the King, a stand was made at last.

The last semblance of popular institutions existed in the Parliaments of the Provinces, especially that of Paris. The nucleus of this was the old feudal Council of the Counts of Paris, consisting of the temporal and spiritual peers of the original county, who had the right to advise with their chief and to try the causes concerning themselves. The immediate vassals of the King had a right to sit there, and were called Pairs de France, in distinction from the other nobles who only had seats in the Parliament in whose province their lands might lie. To these St. Louis, in his anxiety to repress lawlessness, had added a certain number of trained lawyers and magistrates; and these were the working members of these Parliaments, which were in general merely courts of justice for civil and criminal causes. The nobles only attended on occasions of unusual interest. Moreover, a law or edict of the King became valid on being registered by a Parliament. It was a moot question whether the Parliament had the power to baffle the King by refusing to register an edict, and Henry IV. had avoided a refusal from the Parliament of Paris, by getting his edict of toleration for the Huguenots registered at Nantes.

The peculiarly oppressive house-tax, with four more imposts proposed in 1648, gave the Parliament of Paris the opportunity of trying to make an effectual resistance by refusing the registration. They were backed by the municipal government of the city at the Hotel de Ville and encouraged by the Coadjutor of the infirm old Archbishop of Paris, namely, his nephew, Paul de Gondi, titular Bishop of Corinth in partibus infidelium, a younger son of the Duke of Retz, an exceedingly clever young man, descended from an Italian family introduced by Catherine de Medici. There seemed to be a hope that the nobility, angered at their own systematic depression, and by Mazarin’s ascendency, might make common cause with the Parliament and establish some effectual check to the advances of the Crown. This was the origin of the party called the Fronde, because the speakers launched their speeches at one another as boys fling stones from a sling (fronde) in the streets.

The Queen-Regent was enraged through all her despotic Spanish haughtiness at such resistance. She tried to step in by the arrest of the foremost members of the Opposition, but failed, and only provoked violent tumults The young Prince of Condé, coming home from Germany flushed with victory, hated Mazarin extremely, but his pride as a Prince of the Blood, and his private animosities impelled him to take up the cause of the Queen. She conveyed her son secretly from Paris, and the city was in a state of siege for several months. However, the execution of Charles I. in England alarmed the Queen on the one hand, and the Parliament on the other as to the consequences of a rebellion, provisions began to run short, and a vague hollow peace was made in the March of 1649.

Condé now became intolerably overbearing, insulted every one, and so much offended the Queen and Mazarin that they caused him, his brother, and the Duke of Bouillon, to be arrested and imprisoned at Vincennes. His wife, though a cruelly-neglected woman whom he had never loved, did her utmost to deliver him, repaired to Bordeaux, and gained over the Parliament there, so that she held out four months against the Queen. Turenne, brother to Bouillon, and as great a general as Condé, obtained the aid of the Spaniards, anti the Coadjutor prevailed on the King’s uncle, Gaston, Duke of Orléans, to represent that the Queen must give way, release the Princes, part with Mazarin, and even promise to convoke the States-General. Anne still however, corresponded with the Cardinal, and was directed by him in everything. Distrust and dissension soon broke out, Condé and the Coadjutor quarrelled violently, and the royal promises made to both Princes and Parliament were eluded by the King, at fourteen, being declared to have attained his majority, and thus that all engagements made in his name became void.

Condé went off to Guienne and raised an army; Mazarin returned to the Queen; Paris shut its gates and declared Mazarin an outlaw. The Coadjutor (now become Cardinal de Retz) vainly tried to stir up the Duke of Orléans to take a manly part and mediate between the parties; but being much afraid of his own appanage, the city of Orléans, being occupied by either army, Gaston sent his daughter to take the charge of it, as she effectually did – but she was far from neutrality, being deluded by a hope that Condé would divorce his poor faithful wife to marry her. Turenne, on his brother’s release, had made his peace with the Court, and commanded the royal army. War and havoc raged outside Paris; within the partisans of the Princes stirred the populace to endeavour to intimidate the Parliament and municipality into taking their part. Their chief leader throughout was the Duke of Beaufort, a younger son of the Duke of Vendôme, the child of Gabrielle d’Estrées. He inherited his grandmother’s beauty and his grandfather’s charm of manner; he was the darling of the populace of Paris, and led them, in an aimless sort of way, wherever there was mischief to be done; and the violence and tumult of this latter Fronde was far worse than those of the first.

A terrible battle in the Faubourg St. Antoine broke Condé’s force, and the remnant was only saved by Mademoiselle’s insisting on their being allowed to pass through Paris. After one ungrateful attempt to terrify the magistrates into espousing his cause and standing a siege on his behalf Condé quitted Paris, and soon after fell ill of a violent fever.

His party melted away. Mazarin saw that tranquillity might be restored if he quitted France for a time. The King proclaimed an amnesty, but with considerable exceptions and no relaxation of his power; and these terms the Parliament, weary of anarchy, and finding the nobles had cared merely for their personal hatreds, not for the public good, were forced to accept.

Condé, on his recovery, left France, and for a time fought against his country in the ranks of the Spaniards. Beaufort died bravely fighting against the Turks at Cyprus. Cardinal de Retz was imprisoned and Mademoiselle had to retire from Court, while other less distinguished persons had to undergo the punishment for their resistance, though, to the credit of the Court party be it spoken, there were no executions, only imprisonments and in after years the Fronde was treated as a brief frenzy, and forgotten.

Perhaps it may be well to explain that Mademoiselle was Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, daughter of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, by his first wife, the heiress of the old Bourbon branch of Montpensier. She was the greatest heiress in France, and an exceedingly vain and eccentric person, aged twenty-three at the beginning of the Fronde.

It only remains to say that I have no definite authority for introducing such a character as that of Clément Darpent, but it is well known that there was a strong under-current of upright, honest, and highly-cultivated men among the bourgeoisie and magistrates, and that it seemed to me quite possible that in the first Fronde, when the Parliament were endeavouring to make a stand for a just right, and hoping to obtain further freedom, a young and educated man might entertain further hopes and schemes, and, acting on higher and purer principles than those around him, be universally misunderstood and suspected.

Online text of Stray Pearls

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