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so uniform; while, Colbert being dead, taxation began to be more felt by
the exhausted people, and peace was made at Ryswick in 1697.


10. The War of the Succession in Spain. - The last of the four great
wars of Louis's reign was far more unfortunate. Charles II. of Spain
died childless, naming as his successor a French prince, Philip, Duke of
Anjou, the second son of the only son of Charles's eldest sister, the
queen of Louis XIV. But the Powers of Europe, at the Peace of Ryswick,
had agreed that the crown of Spain should go to Charles of Austria,
second son of the Emperor Leopold, who was the descendant of younger
sisters of the royal Spanish line, but did not excite the fear and
jealousy of Europe, as did a scion of the already overweening house of
Bourbon. This led to the War of the Spanish Succession, England and
Holland supporting Charles, and fighting with Louis in Spain, Savoy, and
the Low Countries. In Spain Louis was ultimately successful, and his
grandson Philip V. retained the throne; but the troops which his ally,
the Elector of Bavaria, introduced into Germany were totally overthrown
at Blenheim by the English army under the Duke of Marlborough, and the
Austrian under Prince Eugene, a son of a younger branch of the house of
Savoy. Eugene had been bred up in France, but, having bitterly offended
Louis by calling him a stage king for show and a chess king for use, had
entered the Emperor's service, and was one of his chief enemies. He
aided his cousin, Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy, in repulsing the French
attacks in that quarter, gained a great victory at Turin, and advanced
into Provence. Marlborough was likewise in full career of victory in the
Low Countries, and gained there the battle of Ramillies.


11. Peace of Utrecht. - Louis had outlived his good fortune. His great
generals and statesmen had passed away. The country was exhausted,
famine was preying on the wretched peasantry, supplies could not be
found, and one city after another, of those Louis had seized, was
retaken. New victories at Oudenarde and Malplaquet were gained over the
French armies; and, though Louis was as resolute and undaunted as ever,
his affairs were in a desperate state, when he was saved by a sudden
change of policy on the part of Queen Anne of England, who recalled her
army and left her allies to continue the contest alone. Eugene was not a
match for France without Marlborough, and the Archduke Charles, having
succeeded his brother the Emperor, gave up his pretensions to the crown
of Spain, so that it became possible to conclude a general peace at
Utrecht in 1713. By this time Louis was seventy-five years of age, and
had suffered grievous family losses - first by the death of his only son,
and then of his eldest grandson, a young man of much promise of
excellence, who, with his wife died of malignant measles, probably from
ignorant medical treatment, since their infant, whose illness was
concealed by his nurses, was the only one of the family who survived.
The old king, in spite of sorrow and reverse, toiled with indomitable
energy to the end of his reign, the longest on record, having lasted
seventy-two years, when he died in 1715. He had raised the French crown
to its greatest splendour, but had sacrificed the country to himself and
his false notions of greatness.


12. The Regency. - The crown now descended to _Louis XV._, a weakly
child of four years old. His great-grandfather had tried to provide for
his good by leaving the chief seat in the council of regency to his own
illegitimate son, the Duke of Maine, the most honest and conscientious
man then in the family, but, though clever, unwise and very unpopular.
His birth caused the appointment to be viewed as an outrage by the
nobility, and the king's will was set aside. The first prince of the
blood royal, Philip, Duke of Orleans, the late king's nephew, became
sole regent - a man of good ability, but of easy, indolent nature; and
who, in the enforced idleness of his life, had become dissipated and
vicious beyond all imagination or description. He was kindly and
gracious, and his mother said of him that he was like the prince in a
fable whom all the fairies had endowed with gifts, except one malignant
sprite who had prevented any favour being of use to him. In the general
exhaustion produced by the wars of Louis XIV., a Scotchman named James
Law began the great system of hollow speculation which has continued
ever since to tempt people to their ruin. He tried raising sums of money
on national credit, and also devised a company who were to lend money to
found a great settlement on the Mississippi, the returns from which were
to be enormous. Every one speculated in shares, and the wildest
excitement prevailed. Law's house was mobbed by people seeking
interviews with him, and nobles disguised themselves in liveries to get
access to him. Fortunes were made one week and lost the next, and
finally the whole plan proved to have been a mere baseless scheme; ruin
followed, and the misery of the country increased. The Duke of Orleans
died suddenly in 1723. The king was now legally of age; but he was dull
and backward, and little fitted for government, and the country was
really ruled by the Duke of Bourbon, and after him by Cardinal Fleury,
an aged statesman, but filled with the same schemes of ambition as
Richelieu or Mazarin.


13. War of the Austrian Succession. - Thus France plunged into new
wars. Louis XV. married the daughter of Stanislas Lecksinsky, a Polish
noble, who, after being raised to the throne, was expelled by Austrian
intrigues and violence. Louis was obliged to take up arms on behalf of
his father-in-law, but was bought off by a gift from the Emperor Charles
VI. of the duchy of Lorraine to Stanislas, to revert to his daughter
after his death and thus become united to France. Lorraine belonged to
Duke Francis, the husband of Maria Theresa, eldest daughter to the
Emperor, and Francis received instead the duchy of Tuscany; while all
the chief Powers in Europe agreed to the so-called Pragmatic Sanction,
by which Charles decreed that Maria Theresa should inherit Austria and
Hungary and the other hereditary states on her father's death, to the
exclusion of the daughters of his elder brother, Joseph. When Charles
VI. died, however, in 1740, a great European war began on this matter.
Frederick II. of Prussia would neither allow Maria Theresa's claim to
the hereditary states, nor join in electing her husband to the Empire;
and France took part against her, sending Marshal Belleisle to support
the Elector of Bavaria, who had been chosen Emperor. George II. of
England held with Maria Theresa, and gained a victory over the French at
Dettingen, in 1744. Louis XV. then joined his army, and the battle of
Fontenoy, in 1745, was one of the rare victories of France over England.
Another victory followed at Laufeldt, but elsewhere France had had heavy
losses, and in 1748, after the death of Charles VII., peace was made at
Aix-la-Chapelle.


14. The Seven Years' War. - Louis, dull and selfish by nature, had been
absolutely led into vice by his courtiers, especially the Duke of
Bourbon, who feared his becoming active in public affairs. He had no
sense of duty to his people; and whereas his great-grandfather had
sought display and so-called glory, he cared solely for pleasure, and
that of the grossest and most sensual order, so that his court was a
hotbed of shameless vice. All that could be wrung from the impoverished
country was lavished on the overgrown establishments of every member of
the royal family, in pensions to nobles, and in shameful amusements of
the king. In 1756 another war broke out, in consequence of the hatreds
left between Prussia and Austria by the former struggle. Maria Theresa
had, by flatteries she ought to have disdained, gained over France to
take part with her, and England was allied with Frederick II. In this
war France and England chiefly fought in their distant possessions,
where the English were uniformly successful; and after seven years
another peace followed, leaving the boundaries of the German states just
where they were before, after a frightful amount of bloodshed. But
France had had terrible losses. She was driven from India, and lost all
her settlements in America and Canada.


15. France under Louis XV. - Meantime the gross vice and licentiousness
of the king was beyond description, and the nobility retained about the
court by the system established by Louis XIV. were, if not his equals in
crime, equally callous to the suffering caused by the reckless
expensiveness of the court, the whole cost of which was defrayed by the
burghers and peasants. No taxes were asked from clergy or nobles, and
this latter term included all sprung of a noble line to the utmost
generation. The owner of an estate had no means of benefiting his
tenants, even if he wished it; for all matters, even of local
government, depended on the crown. All he could do was to draw his
income from them, and he was often forced, either by poverty or by his
expensive life, to strain to the utmost the old feudal system. If he
lived at court, his expenses were heavy, and only partly met by his
pension, likewise raised from the taxes paid by the poor farmer; if he
lived in the country, he was a still greater tyrant, and was called by
the people a _hobereau_, or kite. No career was open to his younger
sons, except in the court, the Church, or the army, and here they
monopolized the prizes, obtaining all the richer dioceses and abbeys,
and all the promotion in the army. The magistracies were almost all
hereditary among lawyers, who had bought them for their families from
the crown, and paid for the appointment of each son. The officials
attached to each member of the royal family were almost incredible in
number, and all paid by the taxes. The old _gabelle_, or salt-tax, had
gone on ever since the English wars, and every member of a family had to
pay it, not according to what they used, but what they were supposed to
need. Every pig was rated at what he ought to require for salting. Every
cow, sheep, or hen had a toll to pay to king, lord, bishop - sometimes
also to priest and abbey. The peasant was called off from his own work
to give the dues of labour to the roads or to his lord. He might not
spread manure that could interfere with the game, nor drive away the
partridges that ate his corn. So scanty were his crops that famines
slaying thousands passed unnoticed, and even if, by any wonder,
prosperity smiled on the peasant, he durst not live in any kind of
comfort, lest the stewards of his lord or of Government should pounce on
his wealth.


16. Reaction. - Meantime there was a strong feeling that change must
come. Classical literature was studied, and Greek and Roman manners and
institutions were thought ideal perfection. There was great disgust at
the fetters of a highly artificial life in which every one was bound,
and at the institutions which had been so misused. Writers arose, among
whom Voltaire and Rousseau were the most eminent, who aimed at the
overthrow of all the ideas which had come to be thus abused. The one by
his caustic wit, the other by his enthusiastic simplicity, gained
willing ears, and, the writers in a great Encyclopædia then in course of
publication, contrived to attack most of the notions which had been
hitherto taken for granted, and were closely connected with faith and
with government. The king himself was dully aware that he was living on
the crust of a volcano, but he said it would last his time; and so it
did. Louis XV. died of smallpox in 1774, leaving his grandsons to reap
the harvest that generations had been sowing.


CHAPTER VII.

THE REVOLUTION.


1. Attempts at Reform. - It was evident that a change must be made.
_Louis XVI._ himself knew it, and slurred over the words in his
coronation oath that bound him to extirpate heresy; but he was a slow,
dull man, and affairs had come to such a pass that a far abler man than
he could hardly have dealt with the dead-lock above, without causing a
frightful outbreak of the pent-up masses below. His queen, Marie
Antoinette, was hated for being of Austrian birth, and, though a
spotless and noble woman, her most trivial actions gave occasion to
calumnies founded on the crimes of the last generation. Unfortunately,
the king, though an honest and well-intentioned man, was totally unfit
to guide a country through a dangerous crisis. His courage was passive,
his manners were heavy, dull, and shy, and, though steadily industrious,
he was slow of comprehension and unready in action; and reformation was
the more difficult because to abolish the useless court offices would
have been utter starvation to many of their holders, who had nothing but
their pensions to live upon. Yet there was a general passion for reform;
all ranks alike looked to some change to free them from the dead-lock
which made improvement impossible. The Government was bankrupt, while
the taxes were intolerable, and the first years of the reign were spent
in experiments. Necker, a Swiss banker, was invited to take the charge
of the finances, and large loans were made to Government, for which he
contrived to pay interest regularly; some reduction was made in the
expenditure; but the king's old minister, Maurepas, grew jealous of his
popularity, and obtained his dismissal. The French took the part of the
American colonies in their revolt from England, and the war thus
occasioned brought on an increase of the load of debt, the general
distress increased, and it became necessary to devise some mode of
taxing which might divide the burthens between the whole nation, instead
of making the peasants pay all and the nobles and clergy nothing. Louis
decided on calling together the Notables, or higher nobility; but they
were by no means disposed to tax themselves, and only abused his
ministers. He then resolved on convoking the whole States-General of the
kingdom, which had never met since the reign of Louis XIII.


2. The States-General. - No one exactly knew the limits of the powers
of the States-General when it met in 1789. Nobles, clergy, and the
deputies who represented the commonalty, all formed the assembly at
Versailles; and though the king would have kept apart these last, who
were called the _Tiers Etât_, or third estate, they refused to withdraw
from the great hall of Versailles. The Count of Mirabeau, the younger
son of a noble family, who sat as a deputy, declared that nothing short
of bayonets should drive out those who sat by the will of the people,
and Louis yielded. Thenceforth the votes of a noble, a bishop, or a
deputy all counted alike. The party names of democrat for those who
wanted to exalt the power of the people, and of aristocrat for those who
maintained the privileges of the nobles, came into use, and the most
extreme democrats were called Jacobins, from an old convent of Jacobin
friars, where they used to meet. The mob of Paris, always eager, fickle,
and often blood-thirsty, were excited to the last degree by the debates;
and, full of the remembrance of the insolence and cruelty of the nobles,
sometimes rose and hunted down persons whom they deemed aristocrats,
hanging them to the iron rods by which lamps were suspended over the
streets. The king in alarm drew the army nearer, and it was supposed
that he was going to prevent all change by force of arms. Thereupon the
citizens enrolled themselves as a National Guard, wearing cockades of
red, blue, and white, and commanded by La Fayette, a noble of democratic
opinions, who had run away at seventeen to serve in the American War. On
a report that the cannon of the Bastille had been pointed upon Paris,
the mob rose in a frenzy, rushed upon it, hanged the guard, and
absolutely tore down the old castle to its foundations, though they did
not find a single prisoner in it. "This is a revolt," said Louis, when
he heard of it. "Sire, it is a revolution," was the answer.


3. The New Constitution. - The mob had found out its power. The
fishwomen of the markets, always a peculiar and privileged class, were
frantically excited, and were sure to be foremost in all the
demonstrations stirred up by Jacobins. There was a great scarcity of
provisions in Paris, and this, together with the continual dread that
reforms would be checked by violence, maddened the people. On a report
that the Guards had shown enthusiasm for the king, the whole populace
came pouring out of Paris to Versailles, and, after threatening the life
of the queen, brought the family back with them to Paris, and kept them
almost as prisoners while the Assembly, which followed them to Paris,
debated on the new constitution. The nobles were viewed as the worst
enemies of the nation, and all over the country there were risings of
the peasants, headed by democrats from the towns, who sacked their
castles, and often seized their persons. Many fled to England and
Germany, and the dread that these would unite and return to bring back
the old system continually increased the fury of the people. The
Assembly, now known as the Constituent Assembly, swept away all titles
and privileges, and no one was henceforth to bear any prefix to his name
but citizen; while at the same time the clergy were to renounce all the
property of the Church, and to swear that their office and commission
was derived from the will of the people alone, and that they owed no
obedience save to the State. The estates thus yielded up were supposed
to be enough to supply all State expenses without taxes; but as they
could not at once be turned into money, promissory notes, or assignats,
were issued. But, as coin was scarce, these were not worth nearly their
professed value, and the general distress was thus much increased. The
other oath the great body of the clergy utterly refused, and they were
therefore driven out of their benefices, and became objects of great
suspicion to the democrats. All the old boundaries and other
distinctions between the provinces were destroyed, and France was
divided into departments, each of which was to elect deputies, in whose
assembly all power was to be vested, except that the king retained a
right of veto, _i.e._, of refusing his sanction to any measure. He swore
on the 13th of August, 1791, to observe this new constitution.


4. The Republic. - The Constituent Assembly now dissolved itself, and a
fresh Assembly, called the Legislative, took its place. For a time
things went on more peacefully. Distrust was, however, deeply sown. The
king was closely watched as an enemy; and those of the nobles who had
emigrated began to form armies, aided by the Germans, on the frontier
for his rescue. This enraged the people, who expected that their newly
won liberties would be overthrown. The first time the king exercised his
right of _veto_ the mob rose in fury; and though they then did no more
than threaten, on the advance of the emigrant army on the 10th of
August, 1792, a more terrible rising took place. The Tuilleries was
sacked, the guards slaughtered, the unresisting king and his family
deposed and imprisoned in the tower of the Temple. In terror lest the
nobles in the prisons should unite with the emigrants, they were
massacred by wholesale; while, with a vigour born of the excitement, the
emigrant armies were repulsed and beaten. The monarchy came to an end;
and France became a Republic, in which the National Convention, which
followed the Legislative Assembly, was supreme. The more moderate
members of this were called Girondins from the Gironde, the estuary of
the Garonne, from the neighbourhood of which many of them came. They
were able men, scholars and philosophers, full of schemes for reviving
classical times, but wishing to stop short of the plans of the
Jacobins, of whom the chief was Robespierre, a lawyer from Artois,
filled with fanatical notions of the rights of man. He, with a party of
other violent republicans, called the Mountain, of whom Danton and Marat
were most noted, set to work to destroy all that interfered with their
plans of general equality. The guillotine, a recently invented machine
for beheading, was set in all the chief market-places, and hundreds were
put to death on the charge of "conspiring against the nation." Louis
XVI. was executed early in 1793; and it was enough to have any sort of
birthright to be thought dangerous and put to death.


5. The Reign of Terror. - Horror at the bloodshed perpetrated by the
Mountain led a young girl, named Charlotte Corday, to assassinate Marat,
whom she supposed to be the chief cause of the cruelties that were
taking place; but his death only added to the dread of reaction. A
Committee of Public Safety was appointed by the Convention, and
endeavoured to sweep away every being who either seemed adverse to
equality, or who might inherit any claim to rank. The queen was put to
death nine months after her husband; and the Girondins, who had begun to
try to stem the tide of slaughter, soon fell under the denunciation of
the more violent. To be accused of "conspiring against the State" was
instantly fatal, and no one's life was safe. Danton was denounced by
Robespierre, and perished; and for three whole years the Reign of Terror
lasted. The emigrants, by forming an army and advancing on France,
assisted by the forces of Germany, only made matters worse. There was
such a dread of the old oppressions coming back, that the peasants were
ready to fight to the death against the return of the nobles. The army,
where promotion used to go by rank instead of merit, were so glad of the
change, that they were full of fresh spirit, and repulsed the army of
Germans and emigrants all along the frontier. The city of Lyons, which
had tried to resist the changes, was taken, and frightfully used by
Collot d'Herbois, a member of the Committee of Public Safety. The
guillotine was too slow for him, and he had the people mown down with
grape-shot, declaring that of this great city nothing should be left but
a monument inscribed, "Lyons resisted liberty - Lyons is no more!" In La
Vendée - a district of Anjou, where the peasants were much attached to
their clergy and nobles - they rose and gained such successes, that they
dreamt for a little while of rescuing and restoring the little captive
son of Louis XVI.; but they were defeated and put down by fire and
sword, and at Nantes an immense number of executions took place, chiefly
by drowning. It was reckoned that no less than 18,600 persons were
guillotined in the three years between 1790 and 1794, besides those who
died by other means. Everything was changed. Religion was to be done
away with; the churches were closed; the tenth instead of the seventh
day appointed for rest. "Death is an eternal sleep" was inscribed on the
schools; and Reason, represented by a classically dressed woman, was
enthroned in the cathedral of Notre Dâme. At the same time a new era was
invented, the 22nd of September, 1792; the months had new names, and the
decimal measures of length, weight, and capacity, which are based on the
proportions of the earth, were planned. All this time Robespierre really
seems to have thought himself the benefactor of the human race; but at
last the other members of the Convention took courage to denounce him,
and he, with five more, was arrested and sent to the guillotine. The
bloodthirsty fever was over, the Committee of Public Safety was
overthrown, and people breathed again.


6. The Directory. - The chief executive power was placed in the hands
of a Directory, consisting of more moderate men, and a time of much
prosperity set in. Already in the new vigour born of the strong emotions
of the country the armies won great victories, not only repelling the
Germans and the emigrants, but uniting Holland to France. Napoleon
Buonaparte, a Corsican officer, who was called on to protect the
Directory from being again overawed by the mob, became the leading
spirit in France, through his Italian victories. He conquered Lombardy
and Tuscany, and forced the Emperor to let them become republics under
French protection, also to resign Flanders to France by the Treaty of
Campo Formio. Buonaparte then made a descent on Egypt, hoping to attack
India from that side, but he was foiled by Nelson, who destroyed his
fleet in the battle of the Nile, and Sir Sydney Smith, who held out Acre
against him. He hurried home to France on finding that the Directory had
begun a fresh European war, seizing Switzerland, and forcing it to give
up its treasures and become a republic on their model, and carrying the
Pope off into captivity. All the European Powers had united against


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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeHistory of France → online text (page 6 of 8)