Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Peace of Utrecht, 1713

King Louis XIV had outlived his good fortune by 1713.

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 splendor, but had sacrificed the country to himself and his false notions of greatness.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Wars of the Palatinate and of Spanish Succession

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

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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

In 1685 Louis XIV 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 character.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Louis XIV's 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.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Royal Court of King Louis XIV

King Louis XIV of France
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 demeanor, 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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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.