Louis XIV - John S. C. Abbott

Intrigues and Wars


The treasury of the king was empty. Extravagant building, a voluptuous court, and all the enormous expenses of civil and foreign wars, had quite exhausted the finances of the realm. It became necessary to call upon the cities for contributions. New offices were invented, which were imposed upon the wealthy citizens, and for which they were compelled to pay large sums. Even the massive silver plate and furniture, which had attracted the admiration of all visitors to Versailles, were sent to the Mint and coined. Most of the value of these articles of ornament consisted of the skill with which the materials had been wrought into forms of beauty. In melting them down, all this was sacrificed, and nothing remained but the mere value of the metal. Large as were the sums attained by these means, they were but trifling compared with the necessities of the state.

Louvois, the minister of Louis, had for a long time held the reins of government. It was through his influence that the king had been instigated to revoke the Edict of Nantes, to order the dragonnades, and to authorize those atrocities of persecution which must ever expose the name of Louis XIV. to the execrations of humanity. It was Louvois who, from merely contemptible caprice, plunged France into war with Germany. It was through his persuasions that the king was induced to order the utter devastation of the Palatinate.

But the influence of Louvois was now on the wane. The jealous king became weary of his increasingly haughty assumptions. The conflagration of the Palatinate raised a cry of indignation which the king could not but hear. The city of Treves had escaped the flames. Louvois solicited an order to burn it. The king refused to give his consent. Louvois insolently gave the order himself. He then informed the king that he had done so that he might spare the conscience of the king the pain of issuing such an edict.

Wars of Louis XIV


Louis was furious. In his rage he forgot all the restraints of etiquette. He seized from the fireplace the tongs, and would have broken the head of the minister had not Madame de Maintenon rushed between them. The king ordered a messenger immediately to be dispatched to countermand the order. He declared that if a single house were burned, the head of the minister should be the forfeit. The city was saved.

In 1691 the French army was besieging Mons. The king visited the works. The haughty minister, unintimidated even by the menace of the tongs, ventured to countermand an order which the king had issued. The lowering brow of the monarch convinced him that his ministerial reign was soon to close.

The health of the minister began rapidly to fail. He became emaciate, languid, and deeply depressed. A few subsequent interviews with the king satisfied him that his disgrace and ruin were decided upon. Indeed, the king had already drawn up the lettre de cachet  which was to consign him to the Bastile. About the middle of June, 1691, Louvois met the king in his council chamber, and, though the monarch was unusually complaisant, Louvois so thoroughly understood him that he retired to his residence in utter despair. Scarcely had he entered his apartment ere he dropped dead upon the floor. Whether his death were caused by apoplexy, or by poison administered by his own hand or that of others, can never be known. The king forbade all investigation of the case.

Immediately after the death of Louvois, the king began to devote himself to business with an energy which he had never before manifested. Madame de Maintenon made some farther efforts to induce him to proclaim their marriage, but she soon perceived that nothing would induce him to change his resolution, and she accepted the situation. Louis now yielded more than ever to her influence; but he was always apprehensive that she might be engaged in some secret intrigue, and kept a vigilant watch over her. In letters to a friend, she gives some account of her splendid misery.

"The king is perpetually on guard over me. I see no one. He never leaves my room. I am compelled to rise at five in the morning in order to write to you. I experience more than ever that there is no compensation for the loss of liberty."

Again she writes, in reference to the weary routine of court life: "The princesses who have not attended the hunt will come in, followed by their cabal, and wait the return of the king in my apartment in order to go to dinner. The hunters will come in a crowd, and will relate the whole history of their day's sport, without sparing us a single detail. They will then go to dinner. Madame de Dangeau will challenge me, with a yawn, to a game of backgammon. Such is the way in which people live at court."

It will be remembered that the king and queen had an only son, the dauphin. He was a man of ignoble character and of feeble mind. Still, as heir to the throne, he was, next to the king, the most important personage in the realm. The dauphin had three sons, who were in the direct line of succession to the crown. These were Louis, duke of Burgoyne, Philip, duke of Anjou, and Charles, duke of Berri.

The eldest, the Duke of Burgoyne, who, of course, next to the dauphin, was heir to the throne, was thirteen years of age. The king selected for his wife Adelaide, the daughter of the Duke of Savoy, a remarkably graceful, beautiful, and intelligent child of eleven years. The pretty little girl was brought to France to spend a few months in the court previous to her marriage, which was to take place as soon as she should attain her twelfth year. She came in great splendor, with her retinue, her court, and her ladies of honor. Both the king and Madame de Maintenon were charmed with the princess. Sumptuous apartments were assigned her in the palace of Versailles. Madame de Maintenon wrote to the Duchess of Savoy,

"The king is enchanted with her. He expatiates on her deportment, her grace, her courtesy, her reserve, and her modesty. She has all the graces of girlhood, with the perfections of a more mature age. Her temper appears as perfect as her figure promises one day to become. She only requires to speak to display the extent of her intellect. I can not resist thanking your royal highness for giving us a child who, according to all appearance, will be the delight of the court, and the glory of the century."

The king resolved that the festivities at the marriage of these two children should be the most splendid which France had ever witnessed. He announced the intention of appearing himself, upon the occasion, in the most sumptuous apparel which the taste and art of the times could furnish. This intimation was sufficient for the courtiers. Preparations were made for such a display of folly and extravagance as even alarmed the king. All ordinary richness of dress, of satin, and velvet, and embroidery of gold, was discarded for fabrics of unprecedented costliness, for bouquets of diamonds, and wreaths of the most precious gems.

"I can not understand," exclaimed the king, "how husbands are mad enough to suffer themselves to be ruined by the folly of their wives."

The marriage took place between the bride of twelve years and the bridegroom of fourteen at six o'clock in the evening of the 7th of December, 1697. The ceremony was performed in the chapel of the palace at Versailles. The ensuing festivals exceeded in magnificence all that Versailles had previously witnessed. But there was no rejoicing among the people. They listened, some silently, some sullenly, some murmuringly, to the chiming bells and the booming cannon. The elements of discontent and wrath were slowly beginning to collect for bursting forth one hundred years later, in that most sublime of moral tempests, the French Revolution.

The grand avenue to Versailles day after day was crowded with gorgeous equipages. At night it blazed with illuminations. The highest ingenuity was taxed to devise new scenes of splendor and amusement, which followed each other in rapid succession. Three days after the marriage, the king gave a special assembly which was to eclipse all the rest. All the ladies were directed to appear in dresses of black velvet, that the precious gems, which were almost literally to cover those dresses, might sparkle more brilliantly. The great gallery of Versailles was illuminated by four thousand wax-lights. The young bride wore upon her apron alone jewels estimated at a sum equal to fifty thousand dollars.

On the 1st of November, 1700, Charles II., the half crazed King of Spain, died, leaving no heir. The pope, Innocent XII., bribed by Louis XIV., sent a nuncio to the dying king, enjoining upon him to transmit his crown to the children of the Dauphin of France, as the legitimate heirs to the monarchy. As the Duke of Burgoyne was the direct heir to the throne of France, the second son of the dauphin, the Duke of Anjou, still a mere boy, was proclaimed King of Spain, with the title of Philip V.

On the 14th of the month the Spanish embassador was summoned to an audience with Louis XIV. at Versailles. The king presented his grandson to the minister, saying, "This, sir, is the Duke of Anjou, whom you may salute as your king."

A large crowd of courtiers was soon assembled. The Spanish minister threw himself upon his knees before the boy with expressions of profound homage. There was a scene of great excitement. The king, embracing with his left arm the neck of the young prince, pointed to him with his right hand, and said to those present,

"Gentlemen, this is the King of Spain. His birth calls him to the crown. The late king has recognized his right by his will. All the nation desires his succession, and has entreated it at my hands. It is the will of Heaven, to which I conform with satisfaction."

The Duke of Anjou was quite delighted in finding himself thus liberated from all the restraints of tutors and governors, and of being, in his boyhood, elevated to the dignity of a crowned king. As soon as these stately forms of etiquette were concluded, and he was alone with his brothers, he kicked up his heels and snapped his fingers, exclaiming with delight,

"So I am King of Spain. You, Burgoyne, will be King of France. And you, my poor Berri, are the only one who must live and die a subject."

The little prince replied, perhaps upon the principle that "the grapes were sour," perhaps because he had observed how little real happiness regal state had brought to his grandfather,

"That fact will not grieve me. I shall have less trouble and more pleasure than either of you. I shall enjoy the right of hunting both in France and Spain, and can follow a wolf from Paris to Madrid."

Preparations were immediately made for the departure of the boy-king to take possession of his Spanish throne and crown. The pomp-loving French king had decided to invest the occasion with great splendor. He regarded it as a signal stroke of policy, and a great victory on his part, that he had been enabled, notwithstanding the remonstrances of other nations, to place a French Bourbon prince upon the throne of Spain, thus virtually uniting the two nations. He thought he had thus extended the domain of France to the Straits of Gibraltar. "Henceforth," exclaimed Louis XIV., exultingly, "there are no more Pyrenees."

To his grandson, the new king, he said, "Be a good Spaniard, but never forget that you were born a Frenchman. Carefully maintain the union of the two nations. Thus only can you render them both happy."

There was a final meeting of the royal family to take leave of the young monarch as he was departing for his realm. All the young nobility of France, with a numerous military escort, were to compose his brilliant retinue. The Duchess du Maine, the legitimatized daughter of Madame de Montespan, and thus the half brother of the dauphin, persuaded the dauphin to invite her mother to the palace on this occasion. Here occurred the last interview between the heartless king and his discarded favorite.

As the king made the tour of the room, he found himself opposite Madame de Montespan. She was greatly overcome by her emotions, and, pale and trembling, was near fainting. The king coldly and searchingly, for a moment, fixed his eye upon her, and then said, calmly,

"Madame, I congratulate you. You are still as handsome and attractive as ever. I hope that you are also happy."

The marchioness replied, "At this moment, sire, I am very happy, since I have the honor of presenting my respectful homage to your majesty."

The king, with his studied grace of courtesy, kissed her hand, and continued his progress around the circle. The monarch and his perhaps equally guilty victim never met again. She lived twenty-two years after her expulsion from the palace. They were twenty-two years of joylessness. Her confessor, who seems to have been a man of sincere piety, refused her absolution until she had written to her husband, the Marquis de Montespan, whom she had abandoned for the guilty love of the king, affirming her heartfelt repentance, imploring his forgiveness, and entreating him either to receive her back, or to order her to any place of residence which he should think proper. The indignant marquis replied that he would neither admit her to his house, nor prescribe for her any future rules of conduct, nor suffer her name ever again to be mentioned in his presence.

The reverend father compelled her, in atonement for her sins, to sit at a frugal table; to consecrate her vast wealth to objects of benevolence; to wear haircloth next her skin, and around her waist a girdle with sharp points, which lacerated her body at every movement. She was also daily employed in making garments of the coarsest materials with her own hands for the sick in the hospitals, and for the poor in their squalid homes.

The guilty marchioness was dreadfully afraid of death. Every night a careful guard of women watched her bedside. In a thunder-storm she would take an infant in her lap, that the child's innocence might be her protection. In the night of the 26th of May, 1707, she was attacked in her bed by very distressing suffocation. One of her sons, the Marquis of Antin, was immediately sent for. He found his mother insensible. Seizing a casket which contained her jewels, he demanded of an attendant the key. It was suspended around the neck of his dying mother, where she ever wore it. The young man went to the bedside, tore away the lace which veiled his mother's bosom, seized the key, unlocked the casket, emptied its contents into his pockets, descended to his carriage, and hurried away with the treasure, leaving his mother to die without a relative to close her eyes. An hour after she breathed her last.

The king was informed of the death of Madame de Montespan just as he was setting out on a shooting excursion. "Ah! indeed," he said, "and so the marchioness is dead. I should have thought that she would have lasted longer. Are you ready, M. de la Rochefoucald? I have no doubt that after this last shower the scent will lie well for the dogs. Come, let us be off at once."

We have slightly anticipated the chronological sequence of events in this narrative of the death of Madame de Montespan, which took place in the year 1707. James II. of England died in exile at St. Germain in September, 1701. The Prince of Orange then occupied the British throne with the title of William III. He formed what was called the "Grand Alliance" against the encroachments of France. For several years the war of the "Spanish Succession" raged with almost unprecedented fury throughout all Europe.

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


The king's health was now failing, and troubles in rapid succession came crowding upon him. His armies encountered terrible defeats. The king had thus far lived on friendly terms with his only brother Philip, duke of Orleans, the playmate of his childhood, and the submissive subject of maturer years. They were now both soured by misfortune. In a chance meeting at Marly they fell into a violent altercation respecting the conduct of one of the sons of the duke. It was their first quarrel since childhood. The duke was so excited by the event that he hastened to his palace at St. Cloud with flushed cheeks and trembling nerves, where he was stricken down by apoplexy. A courier was immediately dispatched to the king. He hastened to the bedside of his brother, and found him insensible.

Philip was two years younger than Louis. To see him die was a louder appeal to the conscience of the king than the view of St. Denis from the terrace at St. Germain. Death was, to this monarch, truly the king of terrors. He could not endure the spectacle of his brother's dying convulsions. Burying his face in his hands, he wept and sobbed bitterly. It was a midnight scene, or rather it was the sombre hour of three o'clock in the morning.

At 8 o'clock in the morning the king took his carriage and returned to Marly, and repaired immediately to the apartment of Madame de Maintenon. At 11 o'clock his physician arrived with the intelligence that the duke was dead. Again the king was overcome with emotion, and wept almost convulsively; but, soon recovering himself, he apparently resolved to make every effort to throw off these painful thoughts.

Notwithstanding the remonstrances of Madame de Maintenon, he persisted in his determination to dine, as usual, with the ladies of the court. Much to the astonishment of the ladies, he was heard, in his own room, singing an air from a recent opera which was far from funereal in its character.

In the month of May of this same year, 1701, the Duke of Anjou, the young King of Spain, who was uneasily seated upon his beleaguered throne, entered into a matrimonial alliance with Maria Louisa of Savoy, younger sister of Adelaide, the duchess of Burgoyne. She was of fairy-like stature, but singularly graceful and beautiful, with the finest complexion, and eyes of dazzling brilliance. Her mental endowments were also equal to her physical charms. Louis XIV., ever anxious to retain the control over the court of Spain, appointed the Princess des Ursins to be the companion and adviser of the young queen. This lady was alike remarkable for her intelligence, her sagacity, her tact, and her thorough acquaintance with high and courtly breeding. The young King of Spain was perfectly enamored of his lovely bride. She held the entire control over him. The worldly-wise and experienced Princess des Ursins guided, in obedience to the dictates of Louis XIV., almost every thought and volition of the young queen. Thus the monarch at Marly ruled the court at Madrid.

While foreign war was introducing bankruptcy to the treasury of France, civil war was also desolating the kingdom. The sufferings of the Protestants equaled any thing which had been witnessed in the days of pagan persecution. The most ferocious of all these men, who were breathing out threatenings and slaughter, was the Abbé de Chayla. This wretch had captured a party of Protestants, and, with them, two young ladies from families of distinction. They were all brutally thrust into a dungeon, and were fettered in a way which caused extreme anguish, and crushed some of their bones. It was the 24th of July, 1702. At ten o'clock in the evening, a party of about fifty resolute Protestants, thoroughly armed, and chanting a psalm, broke into the palace of the infamous ecclesiastic, released the prisoners from the dungeon vaults, seized the abbé, and, after compelling him to look upon the mangled bodies and broken bones of his victims, put him to death by a dagger-stroke from each one of his assailants. The torch was then applied, and the palace laid in ashes.

Hence commenced the terrible civil war called The War of the Camisards. The Protestants were poor, dispersed, without arms, and without leaders. Despair nerved them. They fled to rocks, to the swamps, the forests. In their unutterable anguish they were led to frenzies of enthusiasm. They believed that God chose their leaders, and inspired them to action. Thus roused and impelled, they set at defiance an army of twenty thousand men sent against them.

The terrible war lasted two years. Fiends could not have perpetrated greater cruelties than were perpetrated by the troops of the king. It is one of the mysteries of divine providence that one man  should have been permitted to create such wide-spread and unutterable woe. Louis XIV. wished to exterminate Protestantism from his realms. Millions were made wretched to an intensity which no pen can describe. Louis XIV. wished to place his grandson, without any legal title, upon the throne of Spain. In consequence, Europe was deluged in blood. Cities were sacked and burned. Provinces were devastated. Hundreds of thousands perished in the blood of the battle-field. The book of final judgment alone can tell how many widows and orphans went weeping to their graves.

The Pope Clement IX. fulminated a bull against the Camisards, and promised the absolute remission of sins to those engaged in their extermination. Protestant England and Holland sent words of cheer to their fellow-religionists. We can not enter into the details of this conflict. The result was that the king found it impossible to exterminate the Protestants, or to blot out their faith. A policy of semi-tolerance was gradually introduced, though in various parts of the kingdom the persecuting spirit remained for several years unbroken. The king, chagrined by the failure of his plans, would not allow the word Protestant or Huguenot to be pronounced in his presence.

The distress in France was dreadful. A winter of unprecedented severity had even frozen the impetuous waters of the Rhone. Provisions commanded famine prices. The fields were barren, the store-houses exhausted, the merchant ships were captured by the enemy, and the army, humiliated by frequent defeats, was perishing with hunger. The people became desperate. The king was ignominiously lampooned and placarded. He dared not appear in public, for starving crowds gathered around his carriage clamoring for bread. Even the king and the nobility sent their plate to the Mint. The exhaustion of the realm had become so complete that the haggard features of want seemed to be staring in even at the windows of the palace. Madame de Maintenon practiced so much self-denial as to eat only oaten bread.

In April of 1711 the dauphin was taken sick with apparently an attack of fever. It proved to be malignant smallpox. After a brief sickness, which terrified and dispersed the court, he died, almost alone, in a burning fever, with a frightfully swollen face, and in delirium. Even the king could not visit the dying chamber of his son. He fainted upon his sofa when he heard that the dauphin was in his last agonies.

The terror-stricken courtiers fled from the palace of Meudon, where the loathsome remains of the heir to the throne of France awaited burial. The corpse was hurried into a plain coffin, which was not even covered by the royal pall. Not a single mourning coach followed the only legitimate son of Louis XIV. to the grave. He had two sisters, the Princess of Conti and the Duchess of Bourbon Condé. Neither of them ventured to join the funeral procession of their only brother. He had three sons, Louis, Philip, and Charles. Philip was king of Spain. Louis and Charles were at home. But they kept at a safe distance, as did the king his father, from the meagre funeral procession which bore, with indecent haste, the remains of the prince to the vaults of St. Denis.