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Louis XIV

      On September 16, 1638, Paris was in a state of intense excitement and rejoicing. The booming of cannon resounded through the city, the people gave thanks in their churches, all the palaces of the nobility were illuminated, and so brilliant were the bonfires and torches in the evening that one could see to read on both sides of the Seine. The poor were feasted as never before, and there was no limit to the enthusiasm.

      The occasion of this unbounded rejoicing was the birth of an heir to the throne of France. Louis XIII., the son of Henry IV., the first of the Bourbons, was king. He had married the daughter of Philip III. of Spain, who was called Anne of Austria, after her mother. She was one of the most beautiful women of her time; but for twenty-two years she had lived nearly in a state of separation from her husband, and no living heir to the throne had been born. The king and the queen were not harmonious; and after the lapse of this long period, the birth of a son was regarded as an extraordinary, if not a miraculous event, especially by the devout people of the nation, who called the child the "God-given."

      Louis XIII. was personally a brave man, and had some good qualities; but as a ruler he was weak and incapable of governing his kingdom. He admitted Cardinal Richelieu to his cabinet, and the astute politician became his prime-minister, and was the actual ruler of France. The king fully appreciated the vast abilities of his great minister, even while he feared, if he did not hate him, and became but a pliant tool in the hands of the greatest statesman of his time.

      It is said that Richelieu was fascinated by the beauty and grace of Anne of Austria, and that she made a bitter enemy of the minister by repelling his courtesies. Be this as it may, they were never friends, except so far as the relations of state compelled them to be such. He died in 1642, naming Cardinal Mazarin as his successor. Before his death he had built up the power of France, and won for her an influential position among the governments of Europe. But he had repressed constitutional liberty, and severely burdened the people with taxation to carry on the wars he advocated.

      Two years after the birth of the Dauphin, as the heir to the throne was then called, another son was born to the king, the Duke of Anjou, who afterward became the Duke of Orleans. The brother of the king is called "Monsieur" in France, by courtesy; and he is so designated in various works of the time. Louis XIII. died when his two sons were respectively five and three years old, naming the queen as regent during the minority of the young king. Richelieu had died the year before, and Mazarin had been installed in his place.

      The Palais-Royal, which claims the attention of every visitor in Paris at the present time, was built by Richelieu for his own residence, and was called the Palais-Cardinal. At his death he bequeathed it to the king, and it became the residence of Anne of Austria and her two children. The official in charge of the palaces represented that it was not proper for the king to live in the mansion of a subject, and the inscription bearing the former name was removed, and that of the present day was substituted for it; which seemed to many to be an act of ingratitude to the statesman who had presented it to the crown. The chamber which had been occupied by Richelieu was given to Louis, then only five years old. It was a small apartment, for the cardinal built more for effect upon the world than for his own personal comfort; but it was conveniently located for the proper care of the young king, for whose sake alone the name of the palace had been changed.

Moliere at breakfast with Louis XIV.

      The Palais-Royal, as enlarged and beautified from time to time by its first occupant, who was ambitious to be more magnificently lodged than the nominal sovereign at the Louvre, was the most splendid royal residence of the time. Corneille, the greatest tragic poet of France, said of it in one of his poems, that "the entire universe cannot present the equal of the magnificent exterior of the Palais-Cardinal;" though, as the stranger looks upon it to-day, the praise of the French Shakespeare seems to be extravagant.

      The apartments of the queen-regent were vastly more extensive and elegant than those of his little majesty, and she caused a great deal of money and good taste to be expended in their further ornamentation. Cardinal Mazarin also went to reside with the royal family in this luxurious palace, and his rooms looked out upon the Rue des Bons Enfants (the street of the Good Children), though the name was hardly applicable to those who dwelt in the place. Louis was provided with the surroundings of royalty on a small scale, such as valets, and young nobles as children of honor, even while the young king was pinched in his personal comforts and luxuries. Until he was seven years old Louis was mostly in the hands of the feminine portion of the household, like other children. At this age the governor appointed to take charge of him, the sub-governor, the preceptor, and the valets, entered upon their special functions; the king was practically emancipated from the nursery.

      Laporte, a valet who had long been on duty in the royal family, and had served a term in the Bastille for his fidelity, desired to read to the king, when he went to bed, something besides fairy tales; if his juvenile majesty went to sleep the reading would be lost; if not, something instructive would be retained in his memory. He read the history of France, and his charge was interested in it. Permission had been obtained of the preceptor, but Mazarin did not approve of the reading. One evening, to escape from the crowd, the cardinal passed through the room during the reading. Louis closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. He had already taken a strong aversion to the minister, like the greater portion of the people in general.

      On one occasion he called the cardinal "the Grand Turk," and the remark was reported to his mother, who sent for him and scolded him severely for it. The queen-regent did not share the general dislike of the minister, for they were on the most intimate terms of friendship. It was not a matter of record, but it was believed by many, that Mazarin had been privately married to Anne of Austria. The minister had brought his relatives to Paris, where he was in a situation to advance their fortunes. One of his youngest nephews had been appointed an enfant d'honneur of the king, who did not confine his dislike to the minister, but extended it to his family. Two of these were designated to remain with his majesty when he went to bed, and Laporte had been instructed by the queen to give each of them a stand with two candles in it, as an emblem of office and a token of honor. The king had the selection, and he forbade Laporte to give it to the young Mazarin.

      The minister was one of the most adroit and cunning diplomats of his time, or any time. He was an Italian by birth, and had been in the military and diplomatic service of the Pope, in which capacity he had been recognized as a man of transcendent abilities by Richelieu, who had retained him in France, where he became a naturalized Frenchman. He was the most obsequious of courtiers, and he made himself indispensable to the queen, who nominally wielded the executive power of the government. He filled one of the most difficult political positions imaginable, and did it with consummate skill, though he very nearly sacrificed himself to the indignation of the people and the nobility in the accomplishment of his purposes.

      Richelieu had deprived the representatives of the people of many of their powers and liberties, and the Parliament had attempted to recover them under Mazarin. He caused their leaders to be arrested, which initiated the war of the Fronde, consisting more of a series of riots than of organized warfare. This disturbance compelled the court to retire to St. Germain, where Louis was born. The young king was conveyed there under the protection of the Royal Guard, which forms an exciting scene in the series of Dumas, Pere, "Les Trois Mousquetaires." Though humiliated and banished, Mazarin triumphed in the end. He had the hardihood to arrest the Great Conde, who had made the rebellion a success at one time. The minister was driven from the seat of his power into exile; but diplomacy accomplished what soldiers could not, and after an absence of a year he returned, and established himself so securely that he held his office to the day of his death.

      Under Mazarin's direction and skilful intriguing at home and abroad, the influence of France was largely increased beyond her own borders, and the way was paved for triumphs to be achieved after he had himself passed away. In the family, as it were, of such a statesman and such an intriguer, were passed the earliest years of the life of Louis XIV. As the skilful diplomat had overcome the people and the nobility, changing them from the bitterest foes to at least the semblance of friends, so the hatred of the young king was buried under his respect for the vast ability of the minister.

      Louis was brought up in the midst of political storms and in the turmoil of civil war. Mazarin was avaricious, and carried his economical notions in household matters to a ridiculous extent, limiting the young king's wardrobe, furniture, garments for underwear and bed use, so that some of the latter did not half cover the limbs of the growing boy, and he was compelled to sleep on a bed covered with ragged sheets. He was a bright boy, and being a king, he realized that he was not supported in the style that became his exalted condition. He was inclined to military recreations and to athletic exercises. He came very early to an understanding of what was necessary to support his character as the ruler of a great nation, and as a boy he cultivated the graces of social life, and was always a gentleman. He was a good horseman, and delighted in this exercise.

      The civil war had "hunted him from pillar to post," and it was not till he was a dozen years old that he was permanently settled down in Paris. All these events of his early life had left a powerful impression upon his mind. It was the custom for the children of honor and the king to exchange little presents among themselves. One of these gifts to the juvenile monarch was a golden cannon drawn by a flea, which seemed to indicate a knowledge of his tastes. Another present was a case of surgical instruments, containing all the implements, but weighing only a few grains; and doubtless it suggested the horrors of the battle-field. Another present was a miniature sword of agate, ornamented with gold and rubies. These were all given to him by the same young noble; in return for them Louis was willing to lend the giver the cross-bow of which he made use himself.

      "Kings give what they lend, sire," interposed a governess; and then Louis presented it to him, wishing it was something more valuable; for his pocket-money evidently did not permit him to indulge in such expensive gifts as those he had received; but such as they were, he gave them with his whole heart. The recipient of the gift kept it, and regarded it as vastly more valuable than if it had been covered with gold and diamonds from another.

      September 7, 1651, was a memorable day in the annals of France, and if it was not marked by the popular rejoicings which had greeted the birth of the king, it was because the people were worn out by the war of the Frondeurs. The grand master of ceremonies had notified the Parliament that Louis XIV. would take the "seat of justice," the place of the monarch in this body on solemn and important occasions, on that day, for the purpose of declaring his majority, and assuming the government. There was a great deal of simple fiction in the formalities, for his majesty was only a boy of fourteen, with far less education than is usually obtained by one of that age at the present time, and was incapable of ruling over a great nation.

      There was even some fiction in regard to his age, for though he had entered his fourteenth year, he was hardly thirteen years old. If a boy of that age were transferred from his place in school to the presidency of the United States to-day, the cases would be parallel. The education of the juvenile king had been neglected, perhaps intentionally, by Mazarin for his cunning purposes, and though he had been instructed in all the forms and ceremonials of the court, he was deficient in his knowledge of the solid branches of learning, even for one in his sphere at that age. But the government, so far as he was concerned, was all a fiction. It was to be carried on in his name in the future as it had been in the name of his mother, the queen-regent, before, though neither of them was the actual ruler. Mazarin was more than "the power behind the throne;" he was practically the throne itself.

      At seven o'clock in the morning, six heralds, clothed in crimson velvet covered with fleurs de lis, the royal emblem of France, mounted on elegantly caparisoned horses, led the court to the palace where the Parliament assembled. The king's trumpeters came next to the heralds, and they were followed by the governors of provinces, two hundred of the nobility, and the officers of the royal household, escorted and flanked by several companies of light horsemen. Pages and valets had been dressed in new liveries, and the spectacle was as magnificent as the occasion required.

      Then came the boy-king, as a chronicler of the period describes him, "with his august countenance beaming with a gentle dignity truly royal, and with his natural politeness, calling forth from the assembled multitude that lined the streets redoubled good wishes for his health and prosperity." The youth who played the principal part in this great ceremonial was dressed in elegant garments, so covered with gold embroideries that the color and material could hardly be discerned. He was mounted on a beautiful and high-spirited horse, which pranced and curvetted as if aware that he bore a king; and Louis managed him so skilfully and gracefully that he won the admiration of the spectators.

      The king was received at the entrance of the palace chapel, where the court attended divine service, by the Bishop of Bayeux, who made an address to him, to which he listened, apparently in a thoughtful mood, and then ushered him into the chapel, where he heard low mass. Then he took his place in the hall of parliament. The minutest particulars of the scene that surrounded him when he took his seat are given in the memoirs of some who were present. Seated, and with his head covered, which was alone his privilege, the young king addressed the assembled representatives of the people:

      "Gentlemen, I have come before my Parliament to inform you that, in obedience to the law of my kingdom, I desire to take upon myself the government of my country; and with the blessing of God, I trust that it will be conducted with justice and piety. My chancellor will state to you more particularly my intentions."

      The official indicated returned to his place and eloquently enlarged upon the address of his majesty in a long discourse. The queen-mother then spoke to him, telling him that she had taken charge of his education and of the government in accordance with the expressed wish of the late king, her honored lord, and in obedience to the law she passed over to him the government of the kingdom, and hoped that the grace of God, with his own power and prudence, would render his reign a happy one. The king thanked her for the care she had given to his education and the government of the kingdom, and begged her to continue to give him her good counsels, saying that she should be his chief adviser.

      His brother, the Duke of Anjou, then approached him, kneeled, kissed his hand, and protested his fidelity. The Duke of Orleans then followed the example of his nephew, as did a multitude of princes, dukes, marshals, ecclesiastics, and all the officers of state. The royal party returned to the Palais-Royal amidst the unanimous acclamations of the multitude, and the cries of "Vive le roi" continued all night, with bonfires and illuminations. The boy of fourteen was now actually the king, so far as forms could make him so, though he was to remain not much more than a cipher for several years to come.

      The war of the Fronde lasted about eight years, and was carried on in the interest of the people against the court, which had overburdened them with taxes. The word "fronde" means a sling, and was applied to those who criticised the government then and in later years. The Parliament refused to impose the taxes required by the regent, which meant Mazarin, and some of its members were arrested and imprisoned. Some of the most distinguished nobles in France were implicated with the opposition, including the great Conde, the king's uncle. Mazarin's politic yielding, which alone saved him from destruction, assisted in restoring peace. Conde was in arms against the government, but he was defeated by Turenne. The people and the nobles were tired of the strife, and a general amnesty was proclaimed in 1653.

      Though Louis was well instructed in his religious duties, was entirely familiar with court etiquette, and knew enough about military affairs to enable him to review his troops, he knew little or nothing about the politics of his kingdom, for he had been purposely kept in ignorance of affairs of state. But he manifested a sound judgment and considerable discernment even at this early age. He accompanied Turenne in a campaign against Conde, and was present at the siege of Arras, which put an end to the Fronde contests. Some of the Frondeurs had injudiciously called in the aid of Spain to their cause, and that brought on war between the two nations. Peace was made in 1659, and one of the articles of the treaty stipulated the marriage of Louis XIV. and Marie Therese, daughter of Philip IV. of Spain, and they were married a year later. This princess was good-natured and beautiful, but this was about all that could be said of her, for she was rather weak in intellect, and was not such a queen as "Louis the Great" needed. His majesty was not attached to her, though he invariably treated her with the most ceremonious respect, and extended to her the utmost kindness and consideration.

      Though the king had a certain respect for the proprieties of his position, he lived in a period of the greatest immorality and license, while he attended strictly to his formal religious duties. Judged by any standard of the morals of more modern times, the verdict of average citizens would be against him. He was surrounded by dissolute men, and some, who ought to have protected him from the assaults of vice, placed him in its way. He was no worse in this respect than even Richelieu and Mazarin, not to mention his mother and many of the most noted men of his time. This is not the place to detail the king's gallantries, for they would fill a volume.

      When Louis was twenty-three years of age, Cardinal Mazarin died, having ruled the nation for eighteen years; but ten of them were after the king had come to his majority, and the minister had discovered that he had a will of his own, incompetent as he then was to hold the reins of government. Louis went to see him in his final hours, and asked him for his last counsels. "Sire," replied the dying cardinal, "see that you respect yourself, and others will respect you; never have another first minister; employ Colbert in all things in which you need the services of an intelligent and devoted man." And the king followed this advice, and perhaps Mazarin gave it because he understood so well the inclination of Louis.

      Mazarin died possessed of an immense fortune, which was not generally believed to have been honestly acquired. He was a usurer, though he could be very liberal when his policy demanded. On his death-bed his confessor warned him that he was eternally lost if he did not restore whatever wealth he had fraudulently accumulated; but the dying cardinal declared that he had nothing which had not been bestowed upon him by the bounty of the king. His fortune was estimated at fifty millions of francs, or about ten millions of dollars, a vast sum for that time. He gave the bulk of it to his nieces and nephews, with presents to members of the royal family, and eighteen large diamonds to the crown, called "the Mazarins."

      Like Richelieu, he had built a palace on the Seine, which he gave to the State, and the Palais Mazarin is now occupied by the French Academy. This act and the creation of a dukedom were to perpetuate his name. He was the owner of one of the original twenty-five Bibles printed by Gutenberg, which is called by Mazarin's name, and was once sold for about twenty thousand dollars.

      After the death of the great minister, officials of the government desired to know to whom they were to apply for instructions, and the king promptly replied that they were to address themselves to him. Louis had hitherto devoted himself almost wholly to the pleasures of his dissolute age, and he astonished his people and the nations of Europe by assuming in reality the entire control of the affairs of state, which he retained to the end of his life. He proceeded at once to examine into the finances of the nation, and appointed Colbert, as Mazarin had advised, minister of this department. He succeeded Fouquet, a brilliant man who had amassed enormous wealth by robbing the treasury. Louis was firm and resolute in carrying out his will, and he caused the arrest of the peculating minister immediately after a magnificent fete he had given in honor of his sovereign. He was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life.

      Colbert did not disappoint the king, and the measures recommended by him at once improved the finances, stimulated the commerce of the country, established extensive manufactures, and filled the treasury. France was in the highest degree prosperous as a nation. Louis was arbitrary and absolute. His most notable saying, "L'etat c'est moi" (I am the State), was fully realized in his administration. He made war and made peace at his own pleasure, and, as monarchs are measured, he was entitled to the appellation of Louis le Grand, chiselled on the triumphal arches of Paris to perpetuate his glory. In the later years of his reign his wars made serious inroads upon the treasury, and they were not always successful. The building of the immense and extravagant palace of Versailles, with its surroundings, costing a billion francs, was an act of folly often condemned, and was one of the burdens which broke down the treasury of the nation. Colbert was dead, and the king, with Louvois, his over-liberal minister, dissipated the resources he had collected.

      Marie Therese, the queen, died in 1683. He afterward married Madame de Maintenon, then the widow of the lame and deformed poet Scarron, who had rescued her from poverty. She had a powerful influence over the king, which was unfortunate for him, for she was a bigot, though a better woman than most of those who had been his intimates. Throughout his reign Louis maintained the most severe system of court etiquette. He regarded himself as the absolute owner of his realm, and the arbiter of the existence of all his subjects. His habits were methodical. He rose at eight, and was dressed by his valets in the presence of many courtiers, after he had performed his devotions. He breakfasted at ten, and dined alone at one, waited upon by the highest officers of the court. His presence awed those who came before him.

      He patronized and encouraged poets, authors, and artists; and Moliere, both author and actor, was a great favorite with him, and appears to have been the only man of his profession who was ever admitted to the honor of dining with the king. Though Louis was not known to make a joke himself, he greatly enjoyed the witty conversation of Moliere, who is commemorated in Paris by a fountain and street named after him.

      The last years of the reign of Louis XIV. are in strong contrast with the glorious period of the zenith of his prosperity. Several bloody defeats of his armies darkened the military splendor of his reign, the treasury was well-nigh bankrupt, and his court for the speedy trial and punishment of offenders, political or otherwise, had estranged the people; but he remained arbitrary and absolute to the end. At the age of seventy-seven he died, after intense suffering, in 1715. He died a great king, but not a great man.

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