Sunday, August 24, 2014

The States-General of 1614

King Henry IV'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.

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