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

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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Thirty Years' 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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

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 favorable field in the state both of Germany and of Spain.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

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.