In a word, Athenians are by nature incapable of either living a quiet life themselves, or of allowing anyone else to do so. — Thucydides

Louis XIV - John S. C. Abbott




Festivities of the Court


1661-1664


Cardinal Mazarin was exceedingly unpopular both with the court and the masses of the people. Haughty, domineering, avaricious, there was nothing in his character to win the kindly regards of any one. His death gave occasion to almost universal rejoicing. Indeed, it was with some difficulty that the king repressed the unseemly exhibition of this joy on the part of the court. The cardinal, as we have mentioned, had been for many years virtually monarch of France. He, in the name of the king, imposed the taxes, appointed the ministry, issued all orders, and received all reports. The accountability was so entire to him that the monarch, immersed in pleasure, had but little to do with reference to the affairs of the realm.

Immediately upon the death of Mazarin, the king summoned to his presence Tellier, minister of War, Lionne, minister of State, and Fouquet, minister of the Treasury. He informed them that he should continue them in office, but that henceforth he should dispense with the services of a prime minister, and that they would be responsible to him alone. The young king was then twenty-two years of age. He was very poorly educated, had hitherto developed no force of character, and appeared to all to be simply a frivolous, pompous, self-conceited young man of pleasure.

Fouquet had held the keys of the treasury. When the king needed money he applied to him for a supply. The almost invariable reply he received was,

"Sire, the treasury is empty, but his eminence will undoubtedly advance to your majesty a loan."

The money came, the king little cared where from while reveling in luxury, and dancing and flirting with the beauties who crowded his court.

Fouquet was an able but thoroughly unprincipled man. He had grown enormously rich by robbing the treasury. The king disliked him. But Fouquet knew that the king could not dispense with his services. He was a marvelously efficient financier, and well knew how to wrench gold from the hands of the starving millions. The property he had acquired by fraud was so great that he often outvied the king in the splendor of his establishments. Conscious of his power, he doubted not that he should still be able to hold the king, in a measure, subject to his control.

Scarcely had Louis returned from his brief conference with his ministers to his cabinet at the Louvre, ere the secretary of the deceased cardinal, M. Colbert, entered, and requested a private audience. He informed the king, to his astonishment and inexpressible delight, that the cardinal had concealed fifteen millions of money (three millions of dollars) in addition to the sums mentioned in his will; that it was doubtless his intention that this money should immediately replenish the utterly exhausted treasury of his majesty.

The king was overjoyed. He could scarcely believe the intelligence. Concealing the tidings from Fouquet, he speedily and secretly recovered the money from the several places in which it had been deposited. Fifteen millions of francs would be a large sum at any time, but two hundred years ago it was worth three or four times as much as now. Fouquet was utterly bewildered in attempting to imagine where the king had obtained the sums he was so lavishly expending.

Louis XIV. by nature and by education was excessively fond of the pomp and the punctilios of court etiquette. As this new era of independence dawned upon him, it was his first and most anxious object to regulate even to the minutest details the ceremonies of the court. He was of middling stature. High-heeled shoes added between two and three inches to his height. His hair was very fine and abundant, and he wore it long, in masses of ringlets upon his shoulders. Deep blue eyes, a fair complexion, and well moulded features formed an unusually handsome countenance. He was stately in his movements, pompous in his utterance, and every word of every sentence was pronounced slowly and with distinct enunciation, as if an oracle were giving out its responses.

There was no resemblance morally, intellectually, or physically between the king and his only brother Philip. They did not love each other. During their whole lives there had been one perpetual struggle on the part of the king to domineer over his brother, and on the part of Philip to resist that domination. Philip was gentle in disposition, effeminate in manners, and, though a voluptuary in his tastes, a man of chivalric courage. As Duke of Orleans he had large wealth, many retainers, and feudal privileges, which invested him with power which even the king was compelled to respect.

Charles II. was now King of England. The whole nation had apparently received him with exultation. Suddenly, from being a penniless and crownless wanderer, he had become a sovereign, second in rank and power to no other sovereign in Europe. His mother Henrietta, his widowed sister the Princess of Orange, and his younger sister Henrietta, of course, shared in the prosperity and elevation of Charles. They were no longer pensioners upon the charity of their French relatives, but composed the royal family of the British court.

It will be remembered how cruelly Louis treated his young cousin in the ball-room in the days of her adversity. Charles in those days had solicited of Mazarin the hand of his niece, Mary Mancini. But the proud cardinal promptly rejected the offer of a wandering prince, without purse or crown. Very soon after Charles II. ascended the throne of England, Mazarin hastened to inform him that he was ready to confer upon him his niece. Charles, a profligate fellow, declined the proffered alliance, to the great chagrin of the haughty cardinal.

Prosperity is sometimes a great beautifier. The young Princess Henrietta, upon whom the sun of prosperity was now shining in all its effulgence, seemed like a new being, radiantly lovely and self reliant. Philip fell desperately in love with her. With a form of exquisite symmetry, with the fairest complexion and lovely features, she suddenly found herself the sister of a monarch, transformed into the principal ornament, almost the central attraction, of the court. She went to England to attend the coronation of her brother. She then returned to Paris. On the 31st of March, 1661, she was married to Philip in the Palais Royal, in the presence of the royal family and the prominent members of the court.

A few weeks after this the whole court removed to Fontainebleau. Here a month was spent in an incessant round of festivities. The fickle king, as soon as his brother had married Henrietta, saw in her new personal beauty and mental charms. It is not improbable that she almost unconsciously, in order to avenge the past neglect of the king, had studied all courtly graces, all endearments of manner, all conversational charms, that she might compel the king to do justice to the fascinations of person and character with which she was conscious of being richly endowed. Unhappily, she was triumphantly successful; perhaps far more so than she had intended. The changeful and susceptible king became completely entranced. He was continually by her side, exasperating Philip by his gallantry, and keenly wounding the feelings of his young queen.

The marriage of the king with Maria Theresa had been merely a matter of state policy. The connection had not been inspired by any ardent affection on either side. Though the king treated her with great politeness as the Queen of France, her enthusiastic nature claimed a warmer sentiment from her young husband. When she saw the attentions to which she was entitled lavished upon Henrietta, the wife of his brother, her affectionate heart was chilled. She became reserved, wept, sought retirement, withdrawing from all those gayeties in which her husband attracted the attention of the whole court by his undisguised admiration for Henrietta. At last her secret anguish so far overcame her that she threw herself, trembling and in tears, at the feet of Anne of Austria, and confided to her the grief of her heart.

The queen-mother could not have been surprised at this avowal. Her eyes were open to that which all the court beheld; and, besides, Philip had already complained to his mother that Louis was endeavoring to rob him of the love of his bride. The remonstrances of the queen-mother were of no avail. The selfish king, ever seeking only his own pleasure, cared little for the wreck of the happiness of others. He devoted himself with increasing assiduity to the society of Henrietta, frequently held his court in her apartments, and instituted a series of magnificent fétes in her honor.

Philip, then Duke of Orleans, and in the enjoyment of magnificent revenues and of much independent feudal power as brother of the king, was designated in the court as Monsieur. There was at that time in the court a young lady, one of Henrietta's maids of honor, Mademoiselle de la Valliére. Her romantic career, which subsequently rendered her famous throughout Europe, merits a brief digression.

Louise Françoise, daughter of the Marquis de la Valliére, was born at Tours in the year 1644. She was, consequently, seventeen years of age at the time of which we write. Her father died in her infancy. Her mother, left with an illustrious name and a small income, took for a second husband a member of the court, Gaston, duke of Orleans, to whom we have previously alluded, who was brother of Louis XIII. and uncle of the king. He resided at Blois.

As the king and court were on their way to the frontiers of Spain for the marriage of Louis with Maria Theresa, it will be remembered that he stopped for a short visit to his uncle at his magnificent palace of Blois. This grand castle, with its gorgeous architectural magnificence, its shaded parks and blooming gardens, was to Louise and her many companions an earthly paradise. Here, in an incessant round of pleasures, she had passed her girlhood.

The sight of the young monarch, so graceful in figure, so handsome in features, so marvelously courteous in bearing, aroused all the enthusiasm of the susceptible young maiden of sixteen. He was her sovereign, as well as to her eyes the most fascinating specimen of a man. She felt as though she were gazing upon a superior, almost a celestial being. She dreamed not of having fallen in love with him. The feeling of admiration, and almost of adoration, was altogether too elevated for earthly passion. In the presence of the king she was but an obscure child. In the crowded assemblage of wealth, and rank, and beauty which greeted the king at Blois, Louise was unnoticed. The king went on his way, leaving an impression on the heart of the young girl which could never be effaced. She thought it would be heaven to live in his presence, to watch his movements, to listen to his words, even though no word were addressed to her.

Soon after this the Duke of Orleans died. His court was broken up. Louise was appointed to a place as one of the maids of honor of the Princess Henrietta. She joined the court of Madame  in Paris just before their departure for Fontainebleau, to which place, of course, she accompanied them.

Here, in the midst of scenes of most brilliant festivities, Louise feasted her eyes with the sight of the king. Louis was exceedingly fond of exhibiting his grace as a dancer. Among these entertainments, the king took part in a ballet with Henrietta, he, in very picturesque dress, representing the goddess Ceres. At the close of the ballet, Louise, bewildered by the scene, and oppressed by inexplicable emotions, proposed to three of her lady companions that they should take a short walk into the dim recesses of the forest. It was a brilliant night, and the cool breeze fanned their fevered cheeks. As the four young ladies retired, one of the companions of the king laughingly suggested to him that they should follow them, and learn the secret of their hearts.

The ladies seated themselves at the foot of a large tree, where they began to discuss the scenes and actors of the evening. The king and his companion, concealed at a short distance, heard every word they uttered. Louise was for a time silent, but, being appealed to upon some subject, with very emphatic utterance remarked that she wondered that they could see any body, or think of any body but the king, when he was present. Upon her companions rallying her for being so much carried away by the splendors of royalty, she declared "that it was not the king, as a king, who excited her admiration, but it was Louis, as the most perfect of men; that his crown added nothing to his splendor of person or mind."

The king could not see the speaker; he could only hear her enthusiastic and impassioned voice. The parties returned to the chateau. Louise was very much chagrined that she should have allowed herself so imprudently to express her feelings. She knew that the conversation would be repeated, and feared that she should become a subject of ridicule for the whole court. In the interesting account which she gives of these events in her autobiography, she says that she retired to her room and wept bitterly.

The next morning Louise repaired to the apartments of Henrietta. She was surrounded by her suite of ladies. The king was already there. As, with his accustomed gallantry, he passed down the room addressing a few words to each, he approached Louise. Her heart throbbed violently. He had never spoken to her before.

In response to his question, "And what did you think of the ballet last night?" she, greatly agitated, attempted an answer. The king observed her confusion, and instantly recognized her voice. It was the same which he had heard the evening before in the forest expressing such enthusiastic admiration for his person. The king started, and fixed his eyes so intently upon her as to increase her embarrassment and attract the observation of all around. With a profound bow the king passed on, but again and again was seen to turn his eyes to the blushing girl. From that time Mademoiselle de la Valliére became the object of the marked and flattering attention of the king.

The unaffected timidity and modesty of her demeanor, her brilliant complexion, large and languishing blue eyes, and profusion of flaxen hair, were enough of themselves to excite the admiration of one so enamored of beauty as was Louis XIV. But, in addition to this, the self-love of Louis was gratified by the assurance that Louise admired him for his personal qualities, and not merely for his kingly crown. As the king was well aware of the gossip with which the court was filled in view of his devotion to Madame Henrietta, he perhaps deemed it expedient, by special attention to Louise, to divert the current of thought and conversation.

A few days after this a great hunt took place in the park. It was a hot summer's day. At the close of the hunt a table was spread loaded with delicacies. As the king and the courtiers, in the keenest enjoyment of the merry scene, were partaking of the sumptuous repast, almost unobserved a thunder-cloud arose, and there descended upon them a flood of rain so deluging that the company scattered in all directions for shelter. Louise running, she knew not where, soon found the king by her side. Politely taking her by the hand, he hurried her to a large tree, whose dense canopy of leaves promised some protection from the shower. There they stood, the young and handsome king, the beautiful maiden, the rain falling upon them in floods. It is interesting to record that the homage which rank paid to beauty was such that the king stood bareheaded, with his plumed hat in his hand, engaged during the hour the rain descended in animated conversation. After this it was observed that in the evening drives in the park he would ride on horseback for a short time by the carriage of the queen, or of the Princess Henrietta, and would then gallop to the coach of Louise.

He soon commenced a daily correspondence with her. Louis was by no means a well-educated man. In fact, he might be almost regarded as illiterate; but his letters were written with so much delicacy of sentiment and elegance of expression, that Louise was embarrassed in knowing how to return suitable replies. She was mortified at the thought of having her awkward letters compared with the elegant epistles which she received. In her embarrassment, she applied to the Marquis of Dangeau, a man of superior talents and culture, to write her responses for her.

Louise was a very noble girl, frank, sincere, confiding. On one occasion, when the king was complimenting her upon the rare beauty of her letters, the artless child confessed that she was not the author of them, but that they were written by the Marquis of Dangeau. The king smiled, and had the grace to admit that his letters to her were written by the same individual!

It had become a common entertainment of the court to put up in a lottery some beautiful article of jewelry. On one occasion the king drew a very costly pair of bracelets. All were looking with some curiosity to see to whom he would present them. Pausing for a moment, the king admiringly contemplated the sparkling gems, and then, threading his way through the throng of ladies, advanced to Mademoiselle de la Valliére, who stood a little apart, and placed them in her hands. Henrietta turned pale, and bit her lip with vexation. The queen, Maria Theresa, looked on with a marble smile, which revealed nothing of her feelings. Louise was embarrassed, but with admirable tact she assumed that the king had merely presented them to her for inspection. After carefully examining them, she handed them back to him, saying, with a courtesy, "They are indeed very beautiful." Louis, instead of receiving them, said, with a stately bow, "In that case, mademoiselle, they are in hands too fair to resign them," and returned to his seat.

As we have mentioned, the minister of the treasury was rolling in ill-gotten wealth. His palace of Vaux, upon which he had expended fifteen millions of francs, eclipsed in splendor the royal palaces of Fontainebleau and Saint Germain. The king disliked him as a man. He knew very well that he was robbing the treasury, and it was annoying to have a subject live in state surpassing that of the sovereign. M. Fouquet very imprudently invited Louis and all his court to a magnificent féte at his chateau. All the notabilities of France were bidden to this princely festival, which the minister resolved should surpass, in splendor, any thing that France had hitherto witnessed.

The king, with an imposing escort, reached the gates of the chateau. Fouquet met him there, and conducted him and all the court, first, to the park. Here a spectacle of splendor presented itself which astonished the king. Notwithstanding all he had heard of the gorgeousness of his minister's palace, he was still not prepared for such a scene of luxury and enchantment. Instead of being gratified, he turned to Fouquet, and said to him bitterly,

"I shall never again, sir, venture to invite you to visit me. You would find yourself inconvenienced."

Fouquet felt the keen rebuke. For a moment he turned pale. He soon, however, rallied, and did all in his power to gratify his guests by the gorgeous spectacles and sumptuous entertainments of his more than regal home. The king, led by his host, passed through all the apartments of the chateau, and acknowledged that in its interior adornings there was not probably another edifice in Europe which could equal it in magnificence.

[Illustration] from Louis XIV by John S. C. Abbott
CHATEAU DE VAUX.


In the evening there was a ball in the grand saloon of the castle. The king having danced several times with Louise, she became fatigued, and expressed the desire to leave, for a short time, the heated room. Louis drew her arm through his own, and, conducting her through the magnificent suite of apartments, which had already excited his displeasure, pointed out to her the armorial bearings of the proud minister, which were conspicuous in every room. The shield represented a squirrel ascending the topmost branches of a tree, with the motto "quo non ascendam."

Neither the king nor his fair companion understood Latin. Just then the king's secretary, M. Colbert, entered. He hated Fouquet. He had already detected the minister in many falsifications of the treasury accounts, and had explained the robbery to the king. Louis had been for some time contemplating the arrest of Fouquet, but hardly dared, as yet, to strike one so powerful.

As M. Colbert entered, Louise inquired of him the significance of the motto.

"It signifies," he replied, "to what height may I not attain, and this significance is well understood by those who know the boldness of the squirrel or that of his master."

Just at that moment another courtier came up, who remarked, "Your majesty has probably not observed that in every instance the squirrel is pursued by a serpent."

The king turned pale with anger, and ordered the captain of his musketeers to attend him. Louise understood full well what this meant. She threw herself at his feet, and entreated him not to sully his reputation by arresting a man whose guest he was, and who was entertaining him and his court with the highest honors. With the greatest difficulty, the king was dissuaded from immediate action. For a time he smothered his vengeance, and the court returned to Fontainebleau.

The king's displeasure not only remained unabated, but increased with added evidence of the pride, display, and fraudulent transactions of his minister. At length he ordered him to be secretly arrested, conveyed in close confinement to Angers, while a seal was placed on all his property. But for the interposition of the kind-hearted Louise, the degraded minister would have lost his life. It was easy for the king, immersed in pleasure, to forget the miserable. M. Fouquet was left in his imprisonment, almost as entirely lost to the world as if he had been consigned to the oubliettes  of the Bastile.

Soon after this, the 1st of November, 1661, Maria Theresa gave birth to a dauphin. Louis was greatly elated. Still, the pride which he took in the child as the heir to the throne did not secure for his neglected wife any more tenderness of regard. He treated her with great courtesy, while his affections were vibrating between Henrietta and Louise. Every thing seemed to combine to magnify the power of the king. Still, the pleasure-loving monarch, while apparently wholly resigning himself to the career of a voluptuary, was with instinctive sagacity striving to undermine the resources of the haughty nobility, and to render his own court the most magnificent in Europe.

For several months the court continued immersed in gayety. Dancing, in all variety of costumes, was the great amusement of the king. There were balls every evening. Mademoiselle de la Valliére became more and more the object of the marked attentions of Louis. All his energies seemed absorbed in the small-talk of gallantry; still there were occasional indications that there were latent forces in the mind of the king which events might yet develop.

One evening the king was attending a brilliant ball in the apartments of Henrietta. As he was earnestly engaged in conversation with the beautiful Louise, some important dispatches were placed in his hands. He seated himself at a table to examine them. Many eyes watched his countenance as he silently perused the documents. It was observed at one moment that he turned deadly pale, and bit his lip with vexation. Having read the dispatches to the end, he angrily crushed them in his hand, and said to several of the officers of the court who were around him,

"Our embassador in London has been publicly insulted by the Spanish embassador." Then turning to M. Tellier, the Minister of War, he said, "Let my embassador at Madrid leave that city immediately. Order the Spanish envoy to quit Paris within twenty-four hours. The conferences at Flanders are at an end. Unless Spain publicly recognizes the superiority of our crown, she may prepare for a renewal of the war."

These orders of the king created general consternation. It was virtually inaugurating another war, with all its untold horrors. M. Tellier seemed thunderstruck. The king, perceiving his hesitation, said to him imperiously,

"Do you not understand my orders? I wish you immediately to assemble the council. I will meet them in an hour."

The king then returned to the ladies, and entered into trifling small-talk with them, as if nothing of moment had occurred.

It seems that a dispute had arisen in London between the French and Spanish embassadors upon the point of precedence. This had led to a bloody encounter in the streets between the retinues of the two ministers. The French were worsted. The Spaniards gained the contested point.

The King of Spain was the brother of Anne of Austria. His first wife, the mother of Maria Theresa, was sister of Louis XIII., and consequently aunt of Louis XIV. Thus there was a peculiar bond of relationship between the French and Spanish courts. Still Louis was unrelenting in the vigorous action upon which he had entered. In addition to the hostile measures already adopted, a special messenger was sent to Philip IV. to inform him that, unless he immediately recognized the supremacy of the French court, and made a formal apology for the insult offered the French minister, war would ensue. The Spanish king, unwilling, for so trivial a cause, to involve the two nations in a bloody conflict, very magnanimously yielded to the requirements demanded by the hot blood and wounded pride of his son-in-law. In the presence of all the foreign ministers and the assembled court at Fontainebleau, the Spanish embassador made a humble apology, and declared that never again should the precedence of the embassador of France be denied.

A very similar difficulty occurred a short time after at Rome. The French embassador there, the Duke of Créqui, an old feudal noble, accompanied by troops of retainers armed to the teeth, had, by his haughty bearing, become extremely unpopular both with the court and the people of Rome. The myrmidons of the duke were continually engaged in night-brawls with the police. On one occasion they even attacked, sword in hand, the Pope's guard, and put them to flight. The brother of Pope Alexander VII., who hated Créqui, instigated the guard to take revenge. In an infuriated mob, they surrounded the palace of the embassador, and fired upon his carriage as it entered his court-yard. A page was killed, and several other attendants wounded. Créqui immediately left the city, accusing the Pope of instigating the outrage.

Louis XIV. demanded reparation, and the most humble apology. The proud Pope was not disposed to yield to his insolent demands. Affairs assumed so threatening an aspect, that the Pope ordered two of the guard, one an officer, to be hung, and the Mayor of Rome, who was accused of having instigated the outrage, to be banished. This concession, however, by no means satisfied the irascible Louis. He commenced landing troops in Italy, threatening to besiege Rome. The Pope appealed to the Roman Catholic princes of Germany for aid. They could not come to his rescue, for they were threatened with war by the Turks. The unhappy Pope was thus brought upon his knees. He was compelled to banish from Rome his own brother, Don Mario Chigi, and to send an embassador to Paris with the most humble apology.

These events were but slight episodes in the gay life of the pleasure-loving king. He was still reveling in an incessant round of feasting and dancing, flitting with his gay court from one to another of his metropolitan and rural palaces.

There are few so stern as not to feel emotions of sympathy rather than of condemnation for Louise de la Valliére. She was a child of seventeen, exposed to all the fascinations and temptations of the most luxurious court then upon the globe. But God has implanted in every bosom a sense of right and wrong. She wept bitterly over her fall. Her remorse was so great that she withdrew as far as possible from society, and the anguish of her repentance greatly embarrassed her royal lover.

Henrietta was greatly annoyed at the preference which the king had shown for Louise over herself. She determined to drive the unfortunate favorite from the court. Anne of Austria, with increasing years, was growing oblivious of her own youthful indiscretions, and was daily becoming more stern in her judgments. A cancer had commenced its secret ravages upon her person. Its progress no medical skill could arrest. She tried to conceal the terrible secret which was threatening her with the most loathsome and distressing of deaths. In this mood of mind the haughty queen sent for the weeping Louise to her room. Trembling in every nerve, the affrighted child attended the summons. She found Anne of Austria with Henrietta by her side. The queen, without assigning any cause, sternly informed her that she was banished from the court of France, and that suitable attendants would immediately convey her to a distant castle. Upon Louise attempting to make some inquiry why she was thus punished, the haughty queen sternly interrupted her with the reply "that France could not have two queens."

Louise staggered back to her room overwhelmed with despair. Both God and man will declare that, whatever fault there might have been in the relations then existing between the king and this unprotected girl, the censure should have rested a thousand fold more heavily upon the king than upon his victim. And yet Louise was to be driven in ignominy from the court, to enter into a desolated world utterly ruined. Through the remainder of the day no one entered her apartment. She spent the hours in tears and in the fever of despair. In the evening Louis himself came to her room and found her exhausted with weeping. He endeavored to ascertain the cause of her overwhelming distress. She, unwilling to be the occasion of an irreconcilable feud between the mother and the son, evaded all his inquiries. He resorted to entreaties, reproaches, threats, but in vain. Irritated by her pertinacious refusal, he suddenly left her without speaking a word of adieu.

Louise seemed now truly to be alone in the world, without a single friend left her. But she then recalled to mind that she had formerly entered into an agreement with the king that, in case of any misunderstanding arising between them, a night should not pass without an attempt at reconciliation. A new hope arose in her mind that the king would either return, or send her a note to inform her that his anger no longer continued.

"And so she waited and watched, and counted every hour as it was proclaimed from the belfry of the palace. But she waited and watched in vain. When at length, after this long and weary night, the daylight streamed through the silken curtains of her chamber, she threw herself upon her knees, and praying that God would not cast away the victim who was thus rejected by the world, she hastened, with a burning cheek and a tearless eye, to collect a few necessary articles of clothing, and throwing on her veil and mantle, rushed down a private staircase and escaped into the street. In this distracted state of mind she pursued her way to Chaillot, and reached the convent of the Sisters of St. Mary, where she was detained some time in the parlor. CHAILLOT WAS A VILLAGE ON THE BANKS OF THE SEINE, ABOUT A MILE AND A HALF FROM THE TUILERIES, NEAR THE PRESENT BRIDGE OF JENA. THE NUNS OF THE ORDER OF ST. MARY HAD A CELEBRATED CONVENT HERE, WHERE PERSECUTED GRANDEUR OFTEN SOUGHT AN ASYLUM. WITHIN THE WALLS OF THIS CONVENT THE WIDOWED QUEEN OF CHARLES I. AND DAUGHTER OF HENRY IV. DIED IN THE YEAR 1669.At length the grating was opened and a portress appeared. On her request to be admitted to the abbess, she informed her that the community were all at their devotions, and could not see any one.

"It was in vain that the poor fugitive entreated and asserted her intention of taking the vows. She could extort no other answer, and the portress withdrew, leaving her sitting on a wooden bench desolate, heart-sick. For two hours she remained motionless, with her eyes fixed upon the grating, but it continued closed. Even the dreary refuge of this poor and obscure convent was denied her. Even the house of religion had barred its doors against her. She could bear up no longer. From the previous evening she had not tasted food, and the fatigue of body and anguish of mind which she had undergone, combined with this unaccustomed fast, had exhausted her slight remains of strength. A sullen torpor gradually overcame her faculties, and eventually she fell upon the paved floor cold and insensible."

The king had probably passed a very uncomfortable night. Early in the morning he learned that Louise had disappeared. Much alarmed, he hastened to the apartments of Madame Henrietta in the Tuileries. She unfeelingly expressed entire ignorance of the movements of Mademoiselle de la Valliére. He immediately repaired to the rooms of his mother. She was unable to give him any information respecting the lost favorite. Bitterly, however, she reproached her son with his want of self-control in allowing himself to cherish so strong an attachment to Mademoiselle de la Valliére. She accused him of having no mastery over himself.

The king's eyes flashed with indignation. He was fully convinced that his mother was in some way the cause of the departure of Louise. Angrily he replied,

"It may be so that I do not know how to control myself, but I will at least prove that I know how to control those who offend me."

Turning upon his heel, he left the apartment. By some means he obtained a clew to the retreat of Louise. Mounting his horse, accompanied by a single page, he galloped to the convent of Chaillot. As there had been no warning of his approach, the grating still remained closed. He arrived just after the poor girl had fallen from the wooden bench upon the tesselated floor of the cold and cheerless anteroom. Her beautiful form lay apparently lifeless before him. Tears fell profusely from his eyes. He chafed her hands and temples. In endearing terms he entreated her to awake. Gradually she revived. Frankly she related the cause of her departure, and entreated him to permit her to spend the remainder of her saddened life buried in the cloisters of the convent.

The king insisted, with all his authority as a monarch, and with all his persuasive influence as a man, that Louise should return with him to the Louvre. He was inspired with the double passion of love for her, and anger against those who had driven her from his court. Louise, saddened in heart and crushed in spirit, with great reluctance at last yielded to his pleadings. The page was dispatched for a carriage. Seated by the side of the king, Mademoiselle de la Valliére returned to the palace, from which she supposed a few hours before she had departed forever. Louis immediately repaired to the apartment of Madame Henrietta, and so imperiously insisted that Louise should be restored to her place as one of her maids of honor, that his sister-in-law dared not refuse. The influence of Anne of Austria was now nearly at an end. She was dying of slow disease, and, notwithstanding all her efforts to conceal the loathsome malady which was devouring her, she was compelled to spend most of her time in the seclusion of her own chamber.

Louis XIV., in the exercise of absolute power, with all the court bowing before him in the most abject homage, had gradually begun to regard himself almost as a God. He had never recovered from the mortification which he had experienced at the palace of Vaux, in finding a subject living in splendor which outvied that of the crown. He determined to rear a palace of such extraordinary magnificence that no subject, whatever might be his resources, could equal it. For some time he had been looking around for the site of the building, which he had resolved should, like the Pyramids, be a monument of his reign, and excite the wonder and admiration of future ages.

About twelve miles from Paris there was a little village of Versailles, surrounded by an immense forest, whose solemn depths frequently resounded with the baying of the hounds of hunting-parties, as the gayly dressed court swept through the glades.

On one occasion, Louis XIV., in the eagerness of the chase, became separated from most of the rest of the party. Night coming on, he was compelled, and the few companions with him, to take refuge in a windmill, where they remained till morning. The mill was erected upon the highest point of ground. The king caused a small pavilion to be erected there for his accommodation, should he again chance to be overtaken by night or a storm. Pleased with the position, the king ere long removed the pavilion, and ordered his architect, Lemercier, to erect upon the spot an elegant chateau according to his own taste. A landscape gardener was also employed to ornament the grounds. The region soon was embellished with such loveliness as to charm every beholder. It became the favorite rural resort of the king.

The chateau and its grounds soon witnessed a series of festivities, the fame of which resounded through all Europe. Republican America will ponder the fact, which the aristocratic courts of Europe ignored, that these entertainments of boundless extravagance were at the expense of the overtaxed and starving people. That king and courtiers might riot in luxury, the wives and daughters of peasants were harnessed by the side of donkeys to drag the plow.

Early in the spring of 1664, the king, accompanied by his court of six hundred individuals, gentlemen and ladies, with a throng of servants, repaired to Versailles. The personal expenses of all the guests were defrayed by the king with the money which he wrested from the people. With almost magical rapidity, the artificers reared cottages, stages, porticoes, for the exhibition of games, and the display of splendor scarcely equaled in the visions of Oriental romances.

The first entertainment was a tournament. The cavaliers were gorgeously dressed in the most glittering garb of the palmiest days of feudalism, magnificently mounted with wondrous trappings, with their shields and devices, with their attendant pages, equerries, heralds at arms. Among them all the king shone pre-eminent. His dress, and the housings of his charger, embellished with the crown jewels, glittered with a profusion of costly gems which no one else could equal.

The queen, with three hundred ladies of the court, brilliant in beauty, and in the most attractive dress, sat upon a platform, beneath triumphal arches, to view the procession as it passed. The gleaming armor of the cavaliers, their prancing steeds, the waving of silken banners, and the flourish of trumpets, presented a spectacle such as no one present had ever conceived of before.

The tilting did not cease till evening. Suddenly the blaze of four thousand torches illumined the scene with new brilliance. Tables were spread for a banquet, loaded with every delicacy.

"The tables were served by two hundred attendants, habited as dryads, wood deities, and fawns. Behind the tables, which were in the form of a vast crescent, an orchestra arose as if by magic. The tables were illuminated by five hundred girandoles. A gilt balustrade inclosed the whole of the immense area."