Louis XIV - John S. C. Abbott

The Marriage of the King


The Princess Marguerite of Savoy was very beautiful. She was a brunette, with large, lustrous eyes, fairy-like proportions, queenly bearing, and so graceful in every movement that she scarcely seemed to touch the ground as she walked. Her reception by the king, the queen, and the whole court was every thing that could be desired. The duchess and her daughter that night placed their heads upon their pillows with the undoubting conviction that Marguerite was to be the Queen of France. The king ordered his suite to be ready, in their gala dresses, to attend him on the morrow to the apartments of the princess.

The morning came. To the surprise and bewilderment of the court, every thing was changed. The king was thoughtful, distant, reserved. With great formality of etiquette, he called upon the princess. His countenance and manner indicated an entire change of feeling. With the coldest phrases of court etiquette he addressed her. He was civil, and civil only. The warmth of the lover had disappeared entirely. The Duchess of Savoy was astounded. Even the French court seemed stupefied by so unexpected and decisive an alteration in the aspect of affairs.

The explanation which gradually came to light was very simple. During the night a courier had arrived, in breathless haste, with the announcement that the Queen of Spain had given birth to a son. Maria Theresa was no longer heir to the throne. The way was consequently open to the Spanish marriage. This alliance would secure peace with Spain, and was altogether a more powerful and wealthy connection than that with the court of Savoy. The cardinal immediately communicated the intelligence to the queen-mother and the king. They alone knew it. Marguerite was to be rejected, and the hand of Maria Theresa to be claimed.

Mary Mancini was utterly bewildered by the change, so inexplicable to her, in the posture of affairs. The face of the queen was radiant with joy. The king seemed a little embarrassed, but very triumphant. The Duchess of Savoy betrayed alternately surprise, indignation, and despair. The eagle eye and painful experience of Mary taught her that the Princess Marguerite was struggling to retain her self-possession, and to maintain a cheerful spirit, while some terrible blow had fallen upon her.

The news from Spain was such that Mazarin, upon receiving it after midnight, hastened to the bedchamber of the queen with the announcement. As he entered, the queen rose upon her pillow, and the cardinal said:

"I have come to tell you, madame, a piece of news which your majesty never anticipated."

"Is peace proclaimed?" inquired the queen, earnestly.

"More than peace," the cardinal exultantly replied; "for the Infanta brings peace in her hand as but a portion of her dower."

This extraordinary scene took place on the night of the 29th of November, 1658. It was the task of the wily cardinal to break the humiliating intelligence to the Duchess of Savoy. He assured her that he felt bound to seek, above all things else, the interests of France; that an opportunity had unexpectedly occurred for an alliance with Spain; that this alliance was far more desirable than any other; but that, should any thing occur to interrupt these negotiations, he would do every thing in his power to promote the marriage of the king with the Princess Marguerite.

Notwithstanding the intense irritation which this communication excited, there was too much self-respect and too much good breeding in the court of Savoy to allow of a sudden rupture, which would provoke the sarcastic remarks of the world. Still the duchess, in a private interview with Mazarin, could not restrain her feelings, but broke out into passionate upbraidings. The thought that she had been lured to expose herself and her daughter to the derision of all Europe stung her to the quick. The Princess Marguerite, however, by her graceful composure, by her courtesy to all around her, and by the skill with which she concealed her wounded feelings, won the admiration of all in both courts.

For several days the two courts remained together, engaged in a round of festivities. This seemed necessary to avoid the appearance of an open rupture. The fickle king, in these assemblies, treated Marguerite with his customary courtesy; but he immediately turned to Mary Mancini with his marked attentions and devotion, dancing with her repeatedly on the same evening, and keeping her constantly by his side. Indeed, his attentions were so very marked as to lead the courtiers to think that the king rejoiced at his escape from his marriage with Marguerite from the hope that it might yet lead to his securing Mary for his bride. But it is more probable that the king, utterly selfish, reckless of the feelings of others, and devoted to his own enjoyment, sought the society of Mary because it so happened that she was the one, more than any other then within his reach, who, by her personal beauty and her mental attractions, could best beguile his weary hours. He was ready at any moment, without a pang, to lay her aside for another who could better minister to his pleasure or to the aspirings of his ambition.

The king, with his court, returned to Paris. The secret communicated by the mysterious visitor from Spain was still undivulged. The mystery was so great, and its apparent bearing upon the destiny of Mary so direct, that she resolved to interrogate one of the most influential ministers of the court upon the subject. He, thinking in some degree to evade the question, replied that the courier had come simply to inform Anne of Austria that the Queen of Spain had given birth to a son. This revealed the whole to Mary.

In the mean time, arrangements were made for Cardinal Mazarin to meet the Spanish minister on the frontiers of the two kingdoms to negotiate for the Spanish marriage. The cardinal, fully convinced that now it would be impossible to secure the hand of the king for his niece Mary, and anxious to convince the queen that he was heartily engaged in promoting the Spanish alliance, ordered Mary immediately to withdraw from the court, and retire to Brouage. This was a fortified town on the sea-coast many leagues from Paris. The king heard of the arrangement, and, forbidding the departure of Mary from the court, hastened to the cardinal demanding an explanation. Mazarin informed him that the Infanta of Spain would be very indignant should she learn that, while he was making application for her hand, he was retaining near him one whom he had long treated with the most devoted and affectionate attentions; that her father, Philip IV., would be disgusted; that there would be a probable rupture of the negotiations; and that the desolating war between France and Spain would continue.

Louis declared that he should not allow his pleasure to be disturbed by such considerations. Roused by opposition, he went so far as to say that he was quite ready to carry on the war with Spain if that power so wished; that the war would afford him an opportunity to acquire glory in the eyes of his countrymen, and in that case he would marry Mary Mancini.

But the cardinal was fully conscious that neither the queen nor France would now submit to such an arrangement. He had with great skill retained his attitude of command over the young monarch, holding his purse and governing the realm, while the boy-king amused himself as a ballet-dancer and a play-actor. The cardinal remained inexorable. It is said that the king wept in the excess of his chagrin as he felt compelled to yield to the representations of his domineering minister. As he unfolded to him the miseries which would be inflicted, not only upon the kingdom, but upon the court, should the desolating and expensive war be protracted, the king threw himself upon a sofa, and buried his face in his hands in silent despair. It was decided that Mary should be exiled from the court.

The king, thwarted, vexed, wretched, repaired to the cabinet of his mother. They conversed for an hour together. As they retired from the cabinet, Madame de Motteville says, "the eyes of both were red with weeping. The orders were immediately issued for Mary's departure. She was to go with an elder sister and her governess. The morrow came; the carriage was at the door. Mary, having taken leave of the queen, repaired to the apartment of Louis to bid him adieu. She found him deluged in tears. Summoning all her resolution to maintain self-control, she held out her trembling hand, and said to him reproachfully, 'Sire, you are a king; you weep; and yet I go.'"

The king uttered not a word, but, burying his face in his hands upon the table, sobbed aloud. Mary saw that it was all over with her; that there was no longer any hope. Without speaking a word, she descended the stairs to her carriage. The king silently followed her, and stood by the coach door. She took her seat with her companions, and, without the interchange of a word or a sign, the carriage drove away. Louis remained upon the spot until it disappeared from sight.

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


The Isle of Pheasants, a small Spanish island in the Bidassoa, a boundary river between France and Spain, was fixed upon as the rendezvous for the contracting parties for the royal marriage. Four days after the exile of Mary, the king and court, with a magnificent civil and ecclesiastical retinue, set out for the island. The king insisted, notwithstanding the vehement remonstrances of the queen, upon visiting Mary Mancini on the journey. As the splendid cortége passed through the streets of Paris, the whole population was on the pavement, shouting a thousand blessings on the head of their young king.

Mary Mancini had received orders from the queen to proceed with her sister to Saint Jean d'Angély, where, upon the passage of the court, she was to have an interview with the king. "Her interview," writes Miss Pardoe, "was, however, a bitter one. Divided between vanity and affection, Louis was at once less firm and less self-possessed than Mary. He wept bitterly, and bewailed the fetters by which he was shackled. But as he remarked the change which nights of watching and of tears had made in her appearance, he felt half consoled. The only result of this meeting was to harrow the heart of the poor victim of political expediency, and to prove to her upon how unstable a foundation she had built her superstructure of hope."

From Saint Jean d'Angély the court proceeded, by way of Bordeaux, to Toulouse. Here they awaited the conclusion of the treaty. The negotiation was tedious, as each party was anxious to gain all that was possible from the other. Many questions of national moment and pride were involved. At length the conference was amicably concluded. The king agreed to pardon the Prince of Condé, and restore to him all his honors; and the Infanta Maria Theresa renounced for herself and her descendants all claim to the inheritance of her parents. She was to receive as a dowry five hundred thousand golden crowns. There were several other articles included in the treaty which have now ceased to be of any interest.

Much surprise was soon excited in the court of Louis XIV. by the intimation that the marriage ceremony must be postponed until the spring. Philip IV. stated that his infirm health would not allow him to take so long a journey in the inclement weather of winter. Louis XIV. had never yet seen his affianced bride. We do not learn that he was at all annoyed by the delay. The intervening weeks were passed in journeyings and a round of amusements. Early in May, 1660, the king returned to the vicinity of the Isle of Pheasants, where he was to meet the King of Spain and Maria Theresa.

The most magnificent preparations had been made at the Isle of Pheasants for the interview between the two courts and the royal nuptials. Bridges were constructed to the island from both the French and Spanish sides of the river. These bridges were covered, and so decorated as to present the aspect of beautiful galleries. Upon the island a palace was erected, consisting of one immense and gorgeous apartment, with lateral chambers and dressing-rooms. This apartment was carpeted, and furnished with all the splendor which the combined monarchies of France and Spain could command.

Two doors, directly opposite each other, enabled the two courts to enter simultaneously. A straight line across the centre of the room divided it into two portions, one half of which was regarded as French, and the other as Spanish territory. The Spanish court took up its residence at Fontarabia, on the eastern or Spanish bank of the river. Louis and his court occupied Saint Jean de Luz, on the French or western side of the stream.

There are many exactions of court etiquette which to republican eyes seem extremely irrational and foolish. Louis could not cross the river to take his Spanish bride, neither could Maria Theresa cross the stream to be married on French soil; therefore Don Luis de Haro, as the proxy of Louis XIV., having the French Bishop of Frejus as his witness, was married to Maria Theresa in the church at Fontarabia. The ceremony was conducted with the most punctilious observance of the stately forms of Spanish etiquette.

Madame de Motteville gives the following account of the appearance of the bride:

"The Infanta is short, but well made. We admired the extreme fairness of her complexion. The blue eyes appeared to us to be fine, and charmed us by their softness and brilliancy. We celebrated the beauty of her mouth, and of her somewhat full and roseate lips. The outline of her face is long, but, being rounded at the chin, pleased us. Her cheeks, rather large, but handsome, had their share of our praise. Her hair, of a very light auburn, accorded admirably with her fine complexion."

The Infanta was dressed in white satin, ornamented with small bows of silver serge. She wore a large number of brilliant gems, and her head was decorated with a mass of false hair. The first lady of her household bore her train.

During the ceremony Philip IV. stood between his daughter and the proxy of Louis. The princess did not present her hand to Don Luis, nor did he present to her the nuptial ring. At the close of the ceremony the father embraced his child, and silently the gorgeous train swept from the church.

The next day Anne of Austria, accompanied by her second son, then Duke of Orleans, repaired to the Isle of Pheasants to meet her brother, Philip IV., and the royal bride. Court etiquette did not yet allow Louis XIV. to have an interview with the lady to whom he was already married by proxy. He, however, sent to his young queen, by one of his nobles, a present of some very fine jewels.

Though Philip IV. was the brother of Anne of Austria, and though they had not met for many years, Spanish etiquette would not allow any demonstrations of tenderness. The interview was chillingly stately and dignified. Anne, for a moment forgetting the icy restraints of the court, in sisterly love endeavored to salute her brother on the cheek. The Spanish king held back his head, rejecting the proffered fondness. The young bride threw herself upon her knees, requesting permission to kiss the hand of Anne of Austria. The queen-mother lifted her from the floor, and tenderly embraced her.

After some time had elapsed, Cardinal Mazarin entered, of course from the French side, and, advancing to their majesties, informed them that there was a distinguished stranger at the door who begged permission to enter. Anne and Philip affected to hold a brief conference upon the subject, when they gave their consent for his admission.

Louis XIV. entered in regal attire to see for the first time, and to be seen for the first time by, his bride. As he approached, Maria Theresa fixed her eyes upon him, and blushed deeply. Philip IV. smiled graciously, and said audibly to Anne of Austria, "I have a very handsome son-in-law."

As we have mentioned, there was a line separating the Spanish half of the room from the French half. Louis advanced to the centre of the apartment, and kneeled upon a cushion which had been provided for him there. The King of Spain kneeled also upon a similar cushion. Cardinal Mazarin then brought in a Bible, with a cross upon the volume. One of the high Spanish church officials did the same on his side. The treaty of peace was then read simultaneously to Philip IV. in Spanish, to Louis XIV. in French. At its conclusion, they each placed their hands upon the Bible, and took a solemn oath to observe its stipulations. During this scene one sovereign was ceremonially in France, and the other in Spain. Having taken the oath, they rose, and in stately strides advanced to the frontier line. Here they cordially embraced each other.

At the conclusion of sundry other ceremonies, some tedious, some imposing, the two courts returned each to its own side of the river. Maria Theresa accompanied her father. The next morning the queen-mother, with a suitable retinue, returned to the island palace, where she met again the bride of her son, and conducted her to her own apartments at Saint Jean de Luz. Two days elapsed, while preparations were made again to solemnize the marriage beneath the skies of France.

A platform was constructed, richly carpeted, from the residence of Anne of Austria to the church. The young maiden-queen was robed in French attire for this repetition of the nuptial ceremony. She wore a royal mantle of violet-colored velvet, sprinkled with fleur de lis, over a white dress. A queenly crown was upon her brow. Her gorgeous train was borne by three of the most distinguished ladies of France. At the conclusion of this ceremony Louis XIV. received his bride. The king was then in the twenty-second year of his age.

Until within a week of the royal marriage, the king wrote frequently to Mary Mancini. Then the correspondence was suddenly dropped. The king never after seemed to manifest any interest in her fate.

After a few days of festivity, the court commenced, on the 15th of June, its leisurely return toward Paris. Having reached Vincennes, the illustrious cortége tarried for several days in the royal chateau there, until preparations could be completed for a magnificent entrance into the capital. The gorgeous spectacle took place on the 26th of August, 1660. For many weeks the saloons of the Louvre and the Tuileries resounded with unintermitted revelry.

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


Very cruelly the queen-mother sent a message to Mary Mancini, expressing her regret that she could not be present at the royal nuptials, and requiring her to come immediately to be present at the entrée of the king and queen into the metropolis, and to share in the festivities of the palace. The order came to the crushed and bleeding heart of Mary like a death-summons. Accompanied by her two sisters, and with suitable attendants, she set forth on her sad journey. All France was rejoicing over the royal marriage, and as her carriage rapidly approached Paris, every hour pierced her heart with a new pang. With all the fortitude she could summon, she could not retain the roseate glow of health and happiness. Her cheeks were pale and emaciate, and her forced smile only proclaimed more loudly the grief which was consuming her heart. She alighted at the new palace of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, and hastily retired to her apartment.

She had scarcely entered her room ere a letter from the cardinal was presented to her, soliciting her hand for Prince Colonna, one of the most illustrious nobles in wealth and rank in Europe. This marriage would give her position scarcely second to that of any lady not seated on a throne. The ambitious cardinal, not fully understanding the delicate mechanism of a young lady's heart, had negotiated this matter, hoping thus to rescue his niece from the humiliating sympathy of the courtiers. But the noble nature of Mary recoiled from such a rescue. She had instinctively resolved that in her own person, and by her own individual force of character, however great might be her sufferings, she would maintain her womanly dignity. Consequently, to the surprise of the cardinal, she returned a cold and positive refusal to the proposition.

Soon after this she received a communication to repair to the palace of Fontainebleau, there to be presented to the young queen, with her two sisters, and many others of the notabilities of the realm. The presentation was to take place on the ensuing Sunday, immediately after high mass. Her elder sister, the Countess de Soissons, assisted by the Princess de Conti, was to preside at the ceremony.

Mary had just entered the audience-hall, and was approaching the queen to be presented, when Louis XIV. entered the apartment to invite Maria Theresa to accompany him in a walk in the park. Just at that moment Madame de Soissons was presenting Mademoiselle Mancini. The king heard the name which had once been apparently so dear to him. Without the slightest emotion or the least sign of recognition, he bowed, as if in the presence of a perfect stranger, and inquired of Mary respecting her uncle the cardinal. He then exchanged a few courteous words with the other ladies in the room with the same assumed or real indifference, and invited all the ladies of the circle to attend the queen in a hunt in which she was about to engage.

It seemed as if the fates had combined to expose poor Mary to every species of mental torture. Her brain reeled, and, scarcely able to retain her footing, she withdrew a little apart to rally her disordered senses. Unable any longer to endure these sufferings, she begged to be excused from attending the hunt, alleging that the feeble health of her uncle the cardinal rendered it necessary for her to return to Paris. Her carriage was ordered for her departure, but, at a short distance from the chateau, she encountered the whole hunting-party, filling the road with its splendor. Her carriage was compelled to stop, that the king and queen and royal train might pass.

"And thus again she saw Louis, who preceded the cavalcade on horseback, surrounded by the nobles of his court. The heart of Mary throbbed almost to bursting. It was impossible that the king should not recognize the livery of her uncle—the carriage in which he had so often been seated by her side; he would not, he could  not pass her by without one word. She deceived herself. His majesty was laughing at some merry tale, by which he was so much engrossed that he rode on without even bestowing a look upon the gilded coach and its heart-broken occupant."

Mary returned to Paris pondering deeply her awful destiny. She saw that she was fated to meet continually the king and queen in their festivities; that with a broken heart she must feign gayety and smiles; that by lingering torture she must sink into the grave. There was no refuge for her but to escape from Paris and from the court. Apparently the only way to accomplish this was to accept the proffered hand of the Prince Colonna, who would remove her from Paris to Rome.

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


The next morning, pale and tearless, Mary drove to Vincennes, where Cardinal Mazarin then was, and informed him that she was ready to marry Prince Colonna, provided the marriage could take place immediately, and that the cardinal would, without an hour's delay, write to the king to obtain his consent. The cardinal was rejoiced, and proceeded with energy. The king, without one kind word, gave his cold and indifferent consent. In accordance with the claims of etiquette, he sent her some valuable gifts, which she did not dare to decline.

"Mary walked to the altar," says Miss Pardoe, to whom we are indebted for many of these details, "as she would have walked to the scaffold, carrying with her an annual dower of one hundred thousand livres, and perjuring herself by vows which she could not fulfill. Her after career we dare not trace. Suffice it that the ardent and enthusiastic spirit which would, had she been fated to happiness, have made her memory a triumph for her sex, embittered by falsehood, wrong, and treachery, involved her in errors over which both charity and propriety oblige us to draw a veil; and if all Europe rang with the enormity of her excesses, much of their origin may safely be traced to those who, after wringing her heart, trampled it in the dust beneath their feet."

A few days after the scenes of presentation at Fontainebleau, the royal pair made their triumphal entry into Paris. In those days of feudal oppression and ignorance, the masses looked up to kings and queens with a degree of superstitious reverence which, in our enlightened land, seems almost inconceivable. Louis XIV. was a heartless, selfish, pleasure-loving young man of twenty-one, who had never in his life done any thing to merit the especial esteem of any one. Maria Theresa was an amiable and pretty girl, who never dreamed that she had any other function than to indulge in luxuries at the expense of others. Millions were to be impoverished that she and her husband might pass through life reveling in luxury and charioted in splendor. One can not contemplate such a state of things without being agitated by the conflicting emotions of pity for such folly and indignation for such outrages. Louis and Maria Theresa were received by the populace of Paris with as much reverence and enthusiasm as if they had been angels descending from heaven, fraught with every blessing.

Scarcely had the morning dawned ere the whole city was in commotion. The streets were thronged with countless thousands in the most brilliant gala dresses. Triumphal arches spanned the thoroughfares through which the royal procession was to pass. Garlands of flowers and hangings of brilliantly colored tapestry concealed the fronts of the houses from view. The pavements were strewn with flowers and sweet-scented herbs, over which the wheels of the carriages and the hoofs of the horses would pass without noise. At the barrier a gorgeous throne was erected. Here the young queen was seated in royal state, to receive the homage of the several distinguished officers of the city and of the realm. At the close of these ceremonies, which were rendered as imposing as civil and ecclesiastical pomp could create, the apparently interminable procession of carriages, and horsemen, and footmen, with the most dazzling adornments of caparisons, and uniforms, and banners, with resounding music, and shouts of acclaim which seemed to rend the skies, commenced its entrance into the city.

An antique car had been constructed, of massive and picturesque proportions, emblazoned with gold. Upon this car the young queen was seated. She was, in reality, very beautiful, but in this hour of triumph, with flushed cheek and sparkling eye, robed in the richest attire, brilliant with gems, and so conspicuously enthroned as to be visible to every eye, she presented an aspect of almost celestial loveliness.

The young king rode by her side, magnificently mounted. His garments of velvet, richly embroidered with gold and jewels, had been prepared for the occasion at an expense of considerably more than a million of dollars. The splendors of this gala-day were never forgotten by those who witnessed them.

For succeeding weeks and months the court luxuriated in one continued round of gayety and extravagance. Night after night the magnificent saloons of the Louvre and the Tuileries resounded with music, while proud lords and high-born dames trod the floors in the mazy dance, and inflamed their passions with the most costly wines. It can not be denied that a man who is trained from infancy amidst such scenes could acquire elegance of manner which those engrossed in the useful and ennobling employments of life rarely attain. Neither can it be denied that this is as poor a school as can possibly be imagined to prepare one wisely to administer the affairs of a nation of twenty millions of people. In fact, Louis XIV. never dreamed of consulting the interests of the people. It was his sole object to aggrandize himself by promoting the splendor, the power, and the glory of the monarchy.

One does well to be angry when he reflects that, to maintain this reckless and utterly useless extravagance of the king and the court, the millions of the peasantry of France were compelled to live in mud hovels, to wear the coarsest garb, to eat the plainest food, while their wives and their daughters toiled barefooted in the fields. One would think that guilty consciences would often be appalled by the announcement, "Know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment?"

Though this revolting state of society was the slow growth of time, and though no one there could have regarded this aristocratic oppression as it is now estimated in the clearer light of the present day, still these outrages, inflicted by the strong upon the weak, by the rich upon the poor, merit the unmitigated condemnation of men, as they have ever incurred the denunciations of God.

Cardinal Mazarin, more than any other man in France, was accountable for the enormous luxury of the court, and the squalid misery of the people. He knew better. He was professedly a disciple of Jesus Christ, and yet a more thorough worldling could hardly have been in Christian or in pagan lands. He was one of the most gigantic robbers of the poor of which history gives any mention.

In the midst of these festivities, Mazarin decided to invite the court to a grand ballet, which should transcend in splendor every thing which Paris had witnessed before. To decorate the saloons, a large amount of costly draperies were manufactured at Milan. In arranging these tapestries, by some accident they took fire. The flames spread rapidly, utterly destroying the room, with its paintings and its magnificently frescoed roof. The fire was eventually extinguished, but the shock was a death-blow to the cardinal. He was then in feeble health. His attendants conveyed him from the blazing room to the Chateau Mazarin.

The terror of the scene so aggravated the maladies from which the cardinal had for a long time suffered, that he was prostrated upon his bed, and it soon became evident that his dying hour was near at hand. There are many indications that the haughty cardinal was tortured by the pangs of remorse. He was generally silent, though extremely dejected. His body was subjected to the most extraordinary convulsions, while inaudible murmurs escaped his lips.

Count de Brienne, in his memoirs, states that, on one occasion, he entered the chamber of the cardinal on tiptoe, his valet informing him that his eminence was asleep. He found Mazarin bolstered in an arm-chair before the fire, apparently in a profound slumber, "and yet," writes the count, "his body rocked to and fro with the greatest rapidity, from the back of his chair to his knees, now swinging to the right, and again to the left. These movements of the sufferer were as regular and rapid as the vibrations of the pendulum of a clock. At the same time inarticulate murmurs escaped his lips."

The count, much moved by the wretched spectacle, summoned the attendant, and awoke the cardinal. Mazarin, in awaking, betrayed that troubled state of soul which had thus agitated his body. In most melancholy tones, he said,

"My physician, M. Guénaud, has informed me that I can live but a few days."

Count de Brienne, wishing to console him, said, "But M. Guénaud is not omniscient. He may be deceived."

The cardinal, uttering a heavy sigh, exclaimed, "Ah! M. Guénaud well understands his trade."

Mazarin, as we have mentioned, had acquired enormous wealth. The resources of the kingdom had been in his hands. The poor had been oppressed by as terrible a system of taxation as human nature could endure and live. With the sums thus extorted, he had not only maintained the army, and supported the voluptuousness of the court, but he had also appropriated vast sums, without the slightest right to do so, to his own private enrichment. He was now dying. The thought of going to the bar of God with his hands full of this stolen gold tortured him. Constrained by the anguish of a death-bed, he sent for a Theatine monk to act as his confessor, and to administer, in his last hours, the services of the Church.

The virtuous monk was quite startled when the cardinal, with pale and trembling lips, informed him that he had accumulated a fortune of over forty millions of francs—$8,000,000. Mazarin allowed that he considered it a sin that he had by such means accumulated such vast wealth. His pious confessor boldly declared that the cardinal would peril his eternal salvation if he did not, before his death, make restitution of all his ill-gotten gains, reserving only that for which he was indebted to the bounty of the king.

The dying sinner, trembling in view of the judgment, replied in faltering accents, "In that case I must relinquish all. I have received nothing from the king. My family must be left in utter beggary."

The confessor was deeply moved by the aspect of despair presented by the cardinal. Embarrassed by the difficulties of the position, he sent for a distinguished member of the court, M. Colbert, to confer with upon the situation.

The shrewd courtier, after a little deliberation, suggested that, as it would be manifestly impossible to restore the money to the different individuals, scattered all over the realm, from whom it had been gathered in the ordinary collection of the taxes, the cardinal should make a transfer of it, as a donation, to the sovereign. "The king," added M. Colbert, "will, without any question, annul so generous an act, and restore the property to you. It will then be yours by royal grant."

The cardinal, who had lived, and moved, and had his being in the midst of trickery and intrigue, highly approved of the suggestion. The papers were immediately made out, transferring the property to the king. It was the 3d of March, 1661. Three days passed, and there was no response of rejection—no recognition of the gift. The cardinal was terror-stricken. As he sat bolstered in his chair, he wrung his hands in agony, often exclaiming, "My poor family! my poor family! they will be left without bread."

At the close of the third day M. Colbert entered the dying chamber with a document in his hand, announcing that the king had restored to the cardinal all his property, authorizing him to dispose of it as he judged to be best.

It is scarcely possible that this trickery could have satisfied the conscience of the cardinal. His confessor professed to be satisfied, and granted the dying man that absolution which he had previously withheld. Still Mazarin was extremely reluctant to die. He dressed with the utmost care; painted his wrinkled brow and emaciate cheeks, and resorted to all the appliances of art to maintain the aspect of youth and vigor. But death could not thus be deceived. The destroying angel on the 9th of March bore his spirit away to the judgment seat of Christ. He died in the Chateau Mazarin, at the age of fifty-two, having been virtually monarch of France for eighteen years.

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


It appeared by the will of Mazarin that his property was vastly greater even than the enormous sum which he had reluctantly admitted. That portion of it which might be included under the term real estate, consisting of houses, lands, etc., amounted to over fifty millions of francs, while his personal effects, embracing the most costly furniture, diamonds, and other jewels, of which he strictly forbade any inventory to be taken, amounted to many millions more. The legacies to his nieces and to other aristocratic friends were truly princely. To the poor  he left a miserable pittance amounting to about twelve hundred dollars.

The cardinal was a heartless, avaricious man, of but little ability, and yet endowed with a very considerable degree of that cunning which sometimes proves to be temporarily so successful in diplomatic intrigues. The king was probably glad to be rid of him, for he could not easily throw off a yoke to which he had been habituated from childhood. During most of the cardinal's illness Louis continued his usual round of feasting and dancing. Upon his death he manifested no grief. It seems that he had previously made up his mind no longer to be troubled by a prime minister, but to rule absolutely by his own will.

Two days before the death of Mazarin, when he was no longer capable of transacting any business, the president of the ecclesiastical assembly inquired of the king "to whom he must hereafter address himself on questions of public business." The emphatic and laconic response was, "To myself."