The plot of the novel is based on the story of a truly beloved king Louis XIII conspiracy in 1642, the Marquis of Saint-Marr against the all-powerful Cardinal Richelieu.
1639. Young Henri d’Affia, the Marquis de Saint-Mar, goes to serve the king – he goes to the siege of the captured Perpignan by the Spanish troops. Under the cover of the night, he bids farewell to Maria Gonzaga, the Duchess of Mantua, who lives in the castle under the tutelage of his mother. Young people love each other, but Mary “was born the daughter of a monarch,” and to get her hand, St. Mar should rise. With this thought the young man sets out on his journey.
On the way, he calls in Luden to see his mentor, the abbe Kiye. There he witnesses the execution of the priest Urben Grandje,
St. Mar understands that in the face of Judge Lobardemon he acquired a mortal enemy. At night, a young man “characterized by painful sensitivity and constant excitement of the heart” is harassed by troubled dreams: Urben Grandje under torture, a weeping mother, Maria Gonzago, leading him to the throne, where he can not rise, a gentle hand that turns out to be the executioner’s hand.. .
Saint Mar arrives under the walls of Perpignan and breaks his tent where the young noblemen who are to be represented to the king have already settled. Going around, he meets with the parliamentary adviser de Tu, his childhood friend. “They embraced, and their eyes were moistened with sweet tears.” Saint-Mar and de Tu participate in the assault of the Spanish bastion, while displaying the wonders of courage.
St. Maru is privileged to appear before the
Driving through the camp, Saint-Mar rescues two Spanish prisoners from reprisal. Sending them to his tent, he himself, advancing pain in a wounded leg, goes to the king. All of Henri’s thoughts are focused on how to “please” his Majesty, for he needs to “either be exalted or die.” De Tu reproaches him for his vanity. Saint-Mar assures a friend that his “intentions are as pure as heaven.”
The king joyfully meets the young man: his appearance saves Louis from a painful conversation with the cardinal. Looking at Saint-Mar, Richelieu feels that this young man can cause him a lot of trouble. Seeing that St. Mar is injured, the king orders to call his doctor and declares that if the wound is not dangerous, the young man will accompany him to Paris.
Richelieu is sure that Saint-Mar will become a favorite, and sends his own brother, Joseph’s father, to watch over him. “Let him either serve me, or he will fall,” declares the cardinal.
Sitting at the head of Saint-Mar, de Tu talks about how much benefit the country can bring an honest courtier, fearlessly speaking the monarch’s words of truth. Wishing to open the veil of the future, young people, following the old belief, unfold a prayer book with a sword, in order to read their destiny on the opened pages. With a drawn smile, Saint-Mar read out a story about the execution of two holy martyr friends, Gervase and Protasius. At this moment, Father Joseph enters the tent. According to the same belief, the first one who enters the room after reading will have a great influence on the fate of the readers.
Father Joseph is present at the conversation of Saint-Mar with the prisoners he rescued. One of them is the son of Judge Lobardemon; because of his father’s cruelty, he was forced to leave his home. Saint-Mar gives the young Lobardemon the opportunity to escape, but his secret becomes known to his father Joseph.
It takes two years. Saint-Mar is an ober-mastermaster, a recognized favorite of Louis XIII. Cardinal is seriously ill, but continues to rule the country. Arrived at the court, Mary of Mantua is under the auspices of Queen Anne of Austria, who wants to marry her to the Polish king. But Mary still loves Saint-Mar, and the abbe Kiye secretly betroths them. Now the young man must become a constable to openly ask for her hands.
But, despite the friendship of the king, Saint-Mar does not manage to rise, and he blames Richelieu for this. Many nobles hate the all-powerful minister; from this discontent a conspiracy is born to remove the cardinal from power. The brother of King Gaston of Orleans and Anne of Austria are involved in it. The head of the conspirators is the general favorite of Saint-Mar.
For the sake of overthrowing Richelieu rebellious noblemen agree to collude with Spain and to enter the country’s enemy troops. Having become acquainted with the plans of the conspirators, the queen refuses to support them, but promises to keep in secret everything that she knows.
Accidentally learning about the plans of Saint-Mar, de Tu reproaches a friend for betraying the interests of his country. In response, Saint-Mar tells him of his love for Mary – for it was for her sake that he became a courtier, for her sake he wants to be a “good genius” of Louis and destroy the tyrant-cardinal. Otherwise, he can only die. De Tu in despair: he saw Mary at the court, and she seemed to him a frivolous flirt. However, for the sake of a friend, he is ready for anything, even for participation in a conspiracy.
Notable conspirators gather in the cabin of the courtesan Marion Delorme and bring Saint-Maru an oath of loyalty. “The king and the world” is their cry. Having signed a treaty with the Spaniards, Saint-Mar with the young Lobardemon sends him to Spain. Learning how far the conspirators went, Gaston of Orleans also refuses to participate in such a dubious enterprise.
Under the cover of darkness Saint-Mar and Maria meet in the church of St. Eustache. Saint-Mar tells the lover about the plot and asks her to terminate their engagement. The girl is shocked: she is the bride of a rebel! But she does not intend to change her oath and leave Saint-Mar. Suddenly the voice of the abbe Kiye is heard: he is calling for help. It turns out that he was tied up and muzzled, and in his place, in the confessional, next to which there was a conversation between lovers, the faithful servant of the cardinal father Joseph slipped. The abbot manages to free himself, but it’s too late: Father Joseph heard everything.
Judge Lobhardemont is ordered to obtain a contract. In the Pyrenees, he overtakes the envoy of Saint-Mar and learns in him his son. However, the judge is full of hatred, not forgiveness. Having seized the paper he needed, he traitorously kills his own son.
Saint-Mar and the faithful de Tu come to the camp of the conspirators under Perpignan. Here St. Mara finds a letter from the queen, who asks him to release the Duchess of Mantua from her vows, so that she may marry the Polish king. In desperation, Saint-Mar responds that only death can separate him from Mary, and sends the messenger with the letter back. Feeling that the plot has failed, Saint-Mar dissolves the conspirators.
Having received the proof of the betrayal of Saint-Mar, Richelieu demands from the king an order to arrest his pet, threatening, in case of refusal, to resign. Realizing that he himself is not in a position to rule the country, Louis obeys. Suddenly, Saint-Mar appears. “I give up, because I want to die,” he declares to the astonished king, “but I am not defeated.” Also acts and selfless De Tu.
Saint-Mar and de Tu are imprisoned in the fortress. During the investigation, Father Joseph comes to the cell and suggests that Saint Maru poison Richelieu. After the death of the cardinal, the king will undoubtedly return the young man his disposition, and then he will become the patron of Joseph’s father and help him become a cardinal. Saint-Marc indignantly rejects the offer of a hypocritical monk.
The judges of Saint-Mar and de Tou are appointed Lobardemon and his assistants at the Ludensky court; they sentence friends to death. But the judges themselves do not live up to the execution of their sentences: the assistants of Richelieu push them into the water, and the huge blades of the mill wheels grind them into pieces.
To the inmates as a confessor, the abbot Kiye is admitted. From him Saint-Mar recognizes that the Queen is bitterly reproaching herself for a letter. But most importantly, there is no news from his beloved Mary… Abbot says that the former conspirators want to release them near the scaffold itself, Saint-Mar needs only to sign-to put on a hat. However, young people, “prepared for death for a long time”, reject the help of friends, and, reaching the scaffold, Saint-Mar throws his hat on the ground away from himself. Like the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, Saint-Mar and de Tu perish under the ax of the executioner.
“The last breath of” young people “was also the last breath of the monarchy,” concludes the author through the mouth of the poet Corneille.