Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Louis XIV's Early Campaigns

The garden party given by the dishonest Fouquet was not the only great outdoor entertainment of the time. About a year after, the court held a fine pageant, called Carrousel on the square before the Louvre, which ever since has been known by that name. On this occasion, a quadrille on horseback was danced by the courtiers, all dressed with the utmost magnificence to represent characters in myth and allegory. Even the king and queen appeared in fancy costume, and Louis, having elected to personate the sun, wore $2,500,000 worth of diamonds, which flashed and glittered so that they won for him the title of "King Sun" (le Roi Soleil), by which he was generally known thereafter. This brilliant social event is the subject of a painting which now adorns the picture gallery of Versailles.

Being young, the king greatly enjoyed stir and activity, and, anxious to shine in every field, he was not at all sorry when a pretext arose for a war with Spain (1667). You remember, do you not, that Louis had married a Spanish princess. "Her father had now just died, leaving all his lands to her little step-brother; but Louis XIV claimed that while this child undoubtedly had a right to the crown of Spain, he had none whatever to the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), which by Flemish law should devolve instead upon the children of the first wife.

As the Spaniards were not ready to agree to this, war resulted, and Louis went off to join his army, which in a few weeks' time conquered Flanders and Franche-Comte. So little fighting was done, however, in this campaign, that it was playfully said, "Louis might have sent his valet to take possession of the country in his name, and have saved himself the trouble of going in person!" But if Louis did not have a chance to distinguish himself in battle, he received as many compliments as if he had done wonderful things, and greatly enjoyed his novel experiences.

The war of "the Devolution of Flanders," which was little more than a military promenade, was concluded by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which added a piece of land to France in the north. It soon led, however, to another conflict, with Holland (1672-1678), which was waged partly because Louis's vanity was sorely wounded by the fun the Dutch made of his recent campaign, and partly because the Dutch navy kept interfering with the commerce of France.

Once more "King Sun" set out at the head of his army, splendidly organized by his war minister, Louvois, severely drilled by Martinet and others (whence a strict disciplinarian is still often termed "a Martinet"), and magnificently generaled by the great Conde, Turenne, and others.

A tremendous fuss was made at court when news came that the French army had forded the Rhine and had driven away the troops guarding the passage. Poems were written about it, and great speeches made, for stay-at-homes fancied that the king and his army had breasted the waves at the risk of their lives, whereas, in fact, the French had merely forded a shallow part of the stream, almost unopposed by the enemy.

Town after town was captured. The Hollanders, unprepared for an invasion, then tried to compromise; and their great statesmen, the De Witt brothers, corresponded actively with Louvois on this subject. In fact, had not the Hollanders suddenly overthrown the existing government, torn the De Witts to pieces, and placed William of Orange at the head of affairs, these negotiations might have resulted favorably. This William of Orange, however, was an excellent and uncompromising leader. When he saw that the French had nearly reached Amsterdam, he did not hesitate to have the dikes broken and flood the country! This move checked the advance of the French, and gave William ample time to secure the alliance of both Spain and Germany to continue the war.

When the German princes began to threaten the northeastern frontier of France, Louis changed his plans, and for the second time conquered Franche-Comte. In later campaigns, Conde won the battle of Seneffe (1674) over the Prince of Orange, and Turenne—who had done wonders in many smaller engagements—was killed at Sasbach (1675).

The cannon ball which killed Turenne carried off at the same time the arm of one of his officers. When this man's son was trying to comfort him, he quickly replied: "You should not weep for me, but for the death of this great man. You may love your father, but neither you nor the country will ever find such a general again!" As for the soldiers, when they heard Turenne was dead, they all wailed, "Our father is dead; we are lost!" The general whom they thus almost worshiped was buried first at St. Denis, among the French kings, and then in a chapel of the Invalides, where his tomb is second in interest only to that of Napoleon.

It may interest you to read a few anecdotes about the brave general, who is one of the great French heroes. For instance, Turenne was noted for always keeping his promises. Once, when held up by highwaymen, he begged them not to take a ring he wore, offering to give them more than it was worth, if they would only call at his house for the money. When he was freed on these terms, someone suggested that he should use this opportunity to have the thieves arrested; but Turenne indignantly refused, saying: "The promise of an honest man is inviolable. He should never fail to keep his word, even if he did give it to rascals!"

Another time, when dressed in white, Turenne was vigorously clapped on the shoulder by a valet, who mistook him for the cook. Suddenly perceiving his error, the offender fell down on his knees, gasping, "My lord, I thought you were George!" But, instead of the angry dismissal he expected, he heard only the calm rejoinder, "Well, even had I been George, you need not have hit so hard!"

While Turenne knew the sense of fear, he never yielded to it. Once, when about to mount his horse, he perceived that his knees were shaking violently, and remarked with a queer smile, "If my knees only knew where I am going to take them, they would shake even harder!" Besides physical courage, Turenne possessed what is much rarer, true moral courage. Thus, he stanchly refused to fight a duel, simply because it was against the law. When his opponent taunted him with cowardice, Turenne proposed that they should undertake, in common, some perilous adventure for the country's good, saying proudly, "Let us see which of us will best carry it out!"

In one battle Turenne noticed that his staff seemed mortified because they could not help ducking when a cannon ball whistled over their heads. Always genial and sympathetic, he tactfully cried: "Boys, you are right. Such visitors well deserve a curtsy!"

Porte St. Denis


Before this war ended, the French admiral Duquesne won several naval battles in the Mediterranean, but received neither praise nor reward for this triumph, simply because he was a Huguenot,—a sect not in favor at court. In protesting against such unfair treatment, Duquesne was heard to mutter, "It is true that I am a Protestant, but I thought that my services were Catholic!" The treaty of Nimwegen (1678), which ended the war with Holland, extended the boundaries of France on the north and on the west. It also marked the highest point of the reign of Louis XIV, whom his people thereafter proudly termed "Louis the Great" and "the Great Monarch" (grand Monarque). It was in commemoration of his military feats in this campaign that Louis XIV erected two permanent triumphal arches (Porte St. Denis and Porte St. Martin) in Paris, where they still stand, the admiration of all who behold them.