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still more savage reprisals on each side. The young nobles had been
trained into making a fashion of ferocity, and practising graceful ways
of striking death-blows. Whole districts had been laid waste, churches
and abbeys destroyed, tombs rifled, and the whole population accustomed
to every sort of horror and suffering; while nobody but Henry IV.
himself, and the Duke of Sully, had any notion either of statesmanship
or of religious toleration.

11. Henry's Plans. - Just as the reign of Louis XI. had been a period
of rest and recovery from the English wars, so that of Henry IV. was one
of restoration from the ravages of thirty years of intermittent civil
war. The king himself not only had bright and engaging manners, but was
a man of large heart and mind; and Sully did much for the welfare of the
country. Roads, canals, bridges, postal communications, manufactures,
extended commerce, all owed their promotion to him, and brought
prosperity to the burgher class; and the king was especially endeared to
the peasantry by his saying that he hoped for the time when no cottage
would be without a good fowl in its pot. The great silk manufactories of
southern France chiefly arose under his encouragement, and there was
prosperity of every kind. The Church itself was in a far better state
than before. Some of the best men of any time were then living - in
especial Vincent de Paul, who did much to improve the training of the
parochial clergy, and who founded the order of Sisters of Charity, who
prevented the misery of the streets of Paris from ever being so
frightful as in those days when deserted children became the prey of
wolves, dogs, and pigs. The nobles, who had grown into insolence during
the wars, either as favourites of Henry III. or as zealous supporters of
the Huguenot cause, were subdued and tamed. The most noted of these were
the Duke of Bouillon, the owner of the small principality of Sedan, who
was reduced to obedience by the sight of Sully's formidable train of
artillery; and the Marshal Duke of Biron, who, thinking that Henry had
not sufficiently rewarded his services, intrigued with Spain and Savoy,
and was beheaded for his treason. Hatred to the house of Austria in
Spain and Germany was as keen as ever in France; and in 1610 Henry IV.
was prepared for another war on the plea of a disputed succession to the
duchy of Cleves. The old fanaticism still lingered in Paris, and Henry
had been advised to beware of pageants there; but it was necessary that
his second wife, Mary de' Medici, should be crowned before he went to
the war, as she was to be left regent. Two days after the coronation, as
Henry was going to the arsenal to visit his old friend Sully, he was
stabbed to the heart in his coach, in the streets of Paris, by a fanatic
named Ravaillac. The French call him Le Grand Monarque; and he was one
of the most attractive and benevolent of men, winning the hearts of all
who approached him, but the immorality of his life did much to confirm
the already low standard that prevailed among princes and nobles in

12. The States-General of 1614. - Henry's second wife, Mary de' Medici,
became regent, for her son, _Louis XIII._, was only ten years old, and
indeed his character was so weak that his whole reign was only one long
minority. Mary de' Medici was entirely under the dominion of an Italian
favourite named Concini, and his wife, and their whole endeavour was to
amass riches for themselves and keep the young king in helpless
ignorance, while they undid all that Sully had effected, and took bribes
shamelessly. The Prince of Condé tried to overthrow them, and, in hopes
of strengthening herself, in 1614 Mary summoned together the
States-General. There came 464 members, 132 for the nobles, 140 for the
clergy, and 192 for the third estate, _i.e._ the burghers, and these,
being mostly lawyers and magistrates from the provinces, were resolved
to make their voices heard. Taxation was growing worse and worse. Not
only was it confined to the burgher and peasant class, exempting the
clergy and the nobles, among which last were included their families to
the remotest generation, but it had become the court custom to multiply
offices, in order to pension the nobles, and keep them quiet; and this,
together with the expenses of the army, made the weight of taxation
ruinous. Moreover, the presentation to the civil offices held by
lawyers was made hereditary in their families, on payment of a sum down,
and of fees at the death of each holder. All these abuses were
complained of; and one of the deputies even told the nobility that if
they did not learn to treat the despised classes below them as younger
brothers, they would lay up a terrible store of retribution for
themselves. A petition to the king was drawn up, and was received, but
never answered. The doors of the house of assembly were closed - the
members were told it was by order of the king - and the States-General
never met again for 177 years, when the storm was just ready to fall.

13. The Siege of Rochelle. - The rottenness of the State was chiefly
owing to the nobility, who, as long as they were allowed to grind down
their peasants and shine at court, had no sense of duty or public
spirit, and hated the burghers and lawyers far too much to make common
cause with them against the constantly increasing power of the throne.
They only intrigued and struggled for personal advantages and rivalries,
and never thought of the good of the State. They bitterly hated Concini,
the Marshal d'Ancre, as he had been created, but he remained in power
till 1614, when one of the king's gentlemen, Albert de Luynes, plotted
with the king himself and a few of his guards for his deliverance.
Nothing could be easier than the execution. The king ordered the
captain of the guards to arrest Concini, and kill him if he resisted;
and this was done. Concini was cut down on the steps of the Louvre, and
Louis exclaimed, "At last I am a king." But it was not in him to be a
king, and he never was one all his life. He only passed under the
dominion of De Luynes, who was a high-spirited young noble. The
Huguenots had been holding assemblies, which were considered more
political than religious, and their towns of security were a grievance
to royalty. War broke out again, and Louis himself went with De Luynes
to besiege Montauban. The place was taken, but disease broke out in the
army, and De Luynes died. There was a fresh struggle for power between
the queen-mother and the Prince of Condé, ending in both being set aside
by the queen's almoner, Armand de Richelieu, Bishop of Luçon, and
afterwards a cardinal, the ablest statesman then in Europe, who gained
complete dominion over the king and country, and ruled them both with a
rod of iron. The Huguenots were gradually driven out of all their
strongholds, till only Rochelle remained to them. This city was bravely
and patiently defended by the magistrates and the Duke of Rohan, with
hopes of succour from England, until these being disconcerted by the
murder of the Duke of Buckingham, they were forced to surrender, after
having held out for more than a year. Louis XIII. entered in triumph,
deprived the city of all its privileges, and thus in 1628 concluded the
war that had begun by the attack of the Guisards on the congregation at
Vassy, in 1561. The lives and properties of the Huguenots were still
secure, but all favour was closed against them, and every encouragement
held out to them to join the Church. Many of the worst scandals had been
removed, and the clergy were much improved; and, from whatever motive it
might be, many of the more influential Huguenots began to conform to the
State religion.



1. Richelieu's Administration. - Cardinal de Richelieu's whole idea of
statesmanship consisted in making the King of France the greatest of
princes at home and abroad. To make anything great of Louis XIII., who
was feeble alike in mind and body, was beyond any one's power, and
Richelieu kept him in absolute subjection, allowing him a favourite with
whom to hunt, talk, and amuse himself, but if the friend attempted to
rouse the king to shake off the yoke, crushing him ruthlessly. It was
the crown rather than the king that the cardinal exalted, putting down
whatever resisted. Gaston, Duke of Orleans, the king's only brother,
made a futile struggle for power, and freedom of choice in marriage, but
was soon overcome. He was spared, as being the only heir to the kingdom,
but the Duke of Montmorency, who had been led into his rebellion, was
brought to the block, amid the pity and terror of all France. Whoever
seemed dangerous to the State, or showed any spirit of independence,
was marked by the cardinal, and suffered a hopeless imprisonment, if
nothing worse; but at the same time his government was intelligent and
able, and promoted prosperity, as far as was possible where there was
such a crushing of individual spirit and enterprise. Richelieu's plan,
in fact, was to found a despotism, though a wise and well-ordered
despotism, at home, while he made France great by conquests abroad. And
at this time the ambition of France found a favourable field in the
state both of Germany and of Spain.

2. The War in Flanders and Italy. - The Thirty Years' War had been
raging in Germany for many years, and France had taken no part in it,
beyond encouraging the Swedes and the Protestant Germans, as the enemies
of the Emperor. But the policy of Richelieu required that the disunion
between its Catholic and Protestant states should be maintained, and
when things began to tend towards peace from mutual exhaustion, the
cardinal interfered, and induced the Protestant party to continue the
war by giving them money and reinforcements. A war had already begun in
Italy on behalf of the Duke of Nevers, who had become heir to the duchy
of Mantua, but whose family had lived in France so long that the Emperor
and the King of Spain supported a more distant claim of the Duke of
Savoy to part of the duchy, rather than admit a French prince into
Italy. Richelieu was quick to seize this pretext for attacking Spain,
for Spain was now dying into a weak power, and he saw in the war a means
of acquiring the Netherlands, which belonged to the Spanish crown. At
first nothing important was done, but the Spaniards and Germans were
worn out, while two young and able captains were growing up among the
French - the Viscount of Turenne, younger son to the Duke of Bouillon,
and the Duke of Enghien, eldest son of the Prince of Condé - and
Richelieu's policy soon secured a brilliant career of success. Elsass,
Lorraine, Artois, Catalonia, and Savoy, all fell into the hands of the
French, and from a chamber of sickness the cardinal directed the affairs
of three armies, as well as made himself feared and respected by the
whole kingdom. Cinq Mars, the last favourite he had given the king,
plotted his overthrow, with the help of the Spaniards, but was detected
and executed, when the great minister was already at death's door.
Richelieu recommended an Italian priest, Julius Mazarin, whom he had
trained to work under him, to carry on the government, and died in the
December of 1642. The king only survived him five months, dying on the
14th of May, 1643. The war was continued on the lines Richelieu had laid
down, and four days after the death of Louis XIII. the army in the Low
Countries gained a splendid victory at Rocroy, under the Duke of
Enghien, entirely destroying the old Spanish infantry. The battles of
Freiburg, Nordlingen, and Lens raised the fame of the French generals to
the highest pitch, and in 1649 reduced the Emperor to make peace in the
treaty of Münster. France obtained as her spoil the three bishoprics,
Metz, Toul, and Verdun, ten cities in Elsass, Brisach, and the Sundgau,
with the Savoyard town of Pignerol; but the war with Spain continued
till 1659, when Louis XIV. engaged to marry Maria Theresa, a daughter of
the King of Spain.

3. The Fronde. - When an heir had long been despaired of, Anne of
Austria, the wife of Louis XIII., had become the mother of two sons, the
eldest of whom, _Louis XIV._, was only five years old at the time of his
father's death. The queen-mother became regent, and trusted entirely to
Mazarin, who had become a cardinal, and pursued the policy of Richelieu.
But what had been endured from a man by birth a French noble, was
intolerable from a low-born Italian. "After the lion comes the fox," was
the saying, and the Parliament of Paris made a last stand by refusing to
register the royal edict for fresh taxes, being supported both by the
burghers of Paris, and by a great number of the nobility, who were
personally jealous of Mazarin. This party was called the Fronde, because
in their discussions each man stood forth, launched his speech, and
retreated, just as the boys did with slings (_fronde_) and stones in the
streets. The struggle became serious, but only a few of the lawyers in
the parliament had any real principle or public spirit; all the other
actors caballed out of jealousy and party spirit, making tools of "the
men of the gown," whom they hated and despised, though mostly far their
superiors in worth and intelligence. Anne of Austria held fast by
Mazarin, and was supported by the Duke of Enghien, whom his father's
death had made Prince of Condé. Condé's assistance enabled her to
blockade Paris and bring the parliament to terms, which concluded the
first act of the Fronde, with the banishment of Mazarin as a peace
offering. Condé, however, became so arrogant and overbearing that the
queen caused him to be imprisoned, whereupon his wife and his other
friends began a fresh war for his liberation, and the queen was forced
to yield; but he again showed himself so tyrannical that the queen and
the parliament became reconciled and united to put him down, giving the
command of the troops to Turenne. Again there was a battle at the gates
of Paris, in which all Condé's friends were wounded, and he himself so
entirely worsted that he had to go into exile, when he entered the
Spanish service, while Mazarin returned to power at home.

4. The Court of Anne of Austria. - The court of France, though never
pure, was much improved during the reign of Louis XIII. and the regency
of Anne of Austria. There was a spirit of romance and grace about it,
somewhat cumbrous and stately, but outwardly pure and refined, and quite
a step out of the gross and open vice of the former reigns. The Duchess
de Rambouillet, a lady of great grace and wit, made her house the centre
of a brilliant society, which set itself to raise and refine the
manners, literature, and language of the time. No word that was
considered vulgar or coarse was allowed to pass muster; and though in
process of time this censorship became pedantic and petty, there is no
doubt that much was done to purify both the language and the tone of
thought. Poems, plays, epigrams, eulogiums, and even sermons were
rehearsed before the committee of taste in the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and
a wonderful new stimulus was there given, not only to ornamental but to
solid literature. Many of the great men who made France illustrious were
either ending or beginning their careers at this time. Memoir writing
specially flourished, and the characters of the men and women of the
court are known to us on all sides. Cardinal de Retz and the Duke of
Rochefoucauld, both deeply engaged in the Fronde, have left, the one
memoirs, the other maxims of great power of irony. Mme. de Motteville,
one of the queen's ladies, wrote a full history of the court. Blaise
Pascal, one of the greatest geniuses of all times, was attaching
himself to the Jansenists. This religious party, so called from Jansen,
a Dutch priest, whose opinions were imputed to them, had sprung up
around the reformed convent of Port Royal, and numbered among them some
of the ablest and best men of the time; but the Jesuits considered them
to hold false doctrine, and there was a continual debate, ending at
length in the persecution of the Jansenists. Pascal's "Provincial
Letters," exposing the Jesuit system, were among the ablest writings of
the age. Philosophy, poetry, science, history, art, were all making
great progress, though there was a stateliness and formality in all that
was said and done, redolent of the Spanish queen's etiquette and the
fastidious refinement of the Hôtel Rambouillet.

5. Court of Louis XIV. - The attempt from the earliest times of the
French monarchy had been to draw all government into the hands of the
sovereign, and the suppression of the Fronde completed the work. Louis
XIV., though ill educated, was a man of considerable ability, much
industry, and great force of character, arising from a profound belief
that France was the first country in the world, and himself the first of
Frenchmen; and he had a magnificent courtesy of demeanour, which so
impressed all who came near him as to make them his willing slaves.
"There is enough in him to make four kings and one respectable man
besides" was what Mazarin said of him; and when in 1661 the cardinal
died, the king showed himself fully equal to becoming his own prime
minister. "The State is myself," he said, and all centred upon him so
that no room was left for statesmen. The court was, however, in a most
brilliant state. There had been an unusual outburst of talent of every
kind in the lull after the Wars of Religion, and in generals, thinkers,
artists, and men of literature, France was unusually rich. The king had
a wonderful power of self-assertion, which attached them all to him
almost as if he were a sort of divinity. The stately, elaborate Spanish
etiquette brought in by his mother, Anne of Austria, became absolutely
an engine of government. Henry IV. had begun the evil custom of keeping
the nobles quiet by giving them situations at court, with pensions
attached, and these offices were multiplied to the most enormous and
absurd degree, so that every royal personage had some hundreds of
personal attendants. Princes of the blood and nobles of every degree
were contented to hang about the court, crowding into the most narrow
lodgings at Versailles, and thronging its anterooms; and to be ordered
to remain in the country was a most severe punishment.

6. France under Louis XIV. - There was, in fact, nothing but the chase
to occupy a gentleman on his own estate, for he was allowed no duties
or responsibilities. Each province had a governor or _intendant_, a sort
of viceroy, and the administration of the cities was managed chiefly on
the part of the king, even the mayors obtaining their posts by purchase.
The unhappy peasants had to pay in the first place the taxes to
Government, out of which were defrayed an intolerable number of
pensions, many for useless offices; next, the rents and dues which
supported their lord's expenditure at court; and, thirdly, the tithes
and fees of the clergy. Besides which, they were called off from the
cultivation of their own fields for a certain number of days to work at
the roads; their horses might be used by royal messengers; their lord's
crops had to be got in by their labour gratis, while their own were
spoiling; and, in short, the only wonder is how they existed at all.
Their hovels and their food were wretched, and any attempt to amend
their condition on the part of their lord would have been looked on as
betokening dangerous designs, and probably have landed him in the
Bastille. The peasants of Brittany - where the old constitution had been
less entirely ruined - and those of Anjou were in a less oppressed
condition, and in the cities trade flourished. Colbert, the
comptroller-general of the finances, was so excellent a manager that the
pressure of taxation was endurable in his time, and he promoted new
manufactures, such as glass at Cherbourg, cloth at Abbeville, silk at
Lyons; he also tried to promote commerce and colonization, and to create
a navy. There was a great appearance of prosperity, and in every
department there was wonderful ability. The Reformation had led to a
considerable revival among the Roman Catholics themselves. The
theological colleges established in the last reign had much improved the
tone of the clergy. Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, was one of the most noted
preachers who ever existed, and Fénélon, Archbishop of Cambrai, one of
the best of men. A reform of discipline, begun in the convent of Port
Royal, ended by attracting and gathering together some of the most
excellent and able persons in France - among them Blaise Pascal, a man of
marvellous genius and depth of thought, and Racine, the chief French
dramatic poet. Their chief director, the Abbot of St. Cyran, was
however, a pupil of Jansen, a Dutch ecclesiastic, whose views on
abstruse questions of grace were condemned by the Jesuits; and as the
Port-Royalists would not disown the doctrines attributed to him, they
were discouraged and persecuted throughout Louis's reign, more because
he was jealous of what would not bend to his will than for any real want
of conformity. Pascal's famous "Provincial Letters" were put forth
during this controversy; and in fact, the literature of France reached
its Augustan age during this reign, and the language acquired its
standard perfection.

7. War in the Low Countries. - Maria Theresa, the queen of Louis XIV.,
was the child of the first marriage of Philip IV. of Spain; and on her
father's death in 1661, Louis, on pretext of an old law in Brabant,
which gave the daughters of a first marriage the preference over the
sons of a second, claimed the Low Countries from the young Charles II.
of Spain. He thus began a war which was really a continuance of the old
struggle between France and Burgundy, and of the endeavour of France to
stretch her frontier to the Rhine. At first England, Holland, and Sweden
united against him, and obliged him to make the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle
in 1668; but he then succeeded in bribing Charles II. of England to
forsake the cause of the Dutch, and the war was renewed in 1672.
William, Prince of Orange, Louis's most determined enemy through life,
kept up the spirits of the Dutch, and they obtained aid from Germany and
Spain, through a six years' terrible war, in which the great Turenne was
killed at Saltzbach, in Germany. At last, from exhaustion, all parties
were compelled to conclude the peace of Nimeguen in 1678. Taking
advantage of undefined terms in this treaty, Louis seized various cities
belonging to German princes, and likewise the free imperial city of
Strassburg, when all Germany was too much worn out by the long war to
offer resistance. France was full of self-glorification, the king was
viewed almost as a demi-god, and the splendour of his court and of his
buildings, especially the palace at Versailles, with its gardens and
fountains, kept up the delusion of his greatness.

8. Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. - In 1685 Louis supposed that the
Huguenots had been so reduced in numbers that the Edict of Nantes could
be repealed. All freedom of worship was denied them; their ministers
were banished, but their flocks were not allowed to follow them. If
taken while trying to escape, men were sent to the galleys, women to
captivity, and children to convents for education. Dragoons were
quartered on families to torment them into going to mass. A few made
head in the wild moors of the Cevennes under a brave youth named
Cavalier, and others endured severe persecution in the south of France.
Dragoons were quartered on them, who made it their business to torment
and insult them; their marriages were declared invalid, their children
taken from them to be educated in the Roman Catholic faith. A great
number, amounting to at least 100,000, succeeded in escaping, chiefly to
Prussia, Holland, and England, whither they carried many of the
manufactures that Colbert had taken so much pains to establish. Many of
those who settled in England were silk weavers, and a large colony was
thus established at Spitalfields, which long kept up its French

9. The War of the Palatinate. - This brutal act of tyranny was followed
by a fresh attack on Germany. On the plea of a supposed inheritance of
his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans, Louis invaded the Palatinate
on the Rhine, and carried on one of the most ferocious wars in history,
while he was at the same time supporting the cause of his cousin, James
II. of England, after he had fled and abdicated on the arrival of
William of Orange. During this war, however, that generation of able men
who had grown up with Louis began to pass away, and his success was not

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeHistory of France → online text (page 5 of 8)