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

The Beginning of a Great Reign

Louis XIII having died (1643) before his son and heir was five years old, Anne of Austria was immediately proclaimed regent, as the king's will provided. The remainder of the will was, however, utterly disregarded, one of the queen mother's first moves being to take the young king to the Parliament of Paris to have some of its measures annulled. Little Louis XIV is said to have behaved in the most creditable fashion on this occasion, standing very still on a high stool, and holding out his hand to be kissed, with the utmost gravity and decorum.

While the queen was nominally at the head of affairs, the royal authority was really directed by Cardinal Mazarin, the man whom Richelieu designated as most capable to carry on his work. An Italian, of rather common extraction, unable to express himself in French without betraying his foreign origin, Mazarin was equally despised and hated by the courtiers, many of whom fancied they should have had the privilege of ruling in the regent's name.

To overcome their opposition and secure his own ends, Mazarin cleverly used both flattery and diplomacy. It was because of his smooth and insinuating manners that the courtiers slyly said, "After the lion comes the fox." Richelieu, of course, was the lion, for he had opposed them openly, and had never tried to conciliate them by flattery or concession, as did the sly fox, Cardinal Mazarin!

It was mainly by his artful ways that Mazarin won the queen's favor, and gained complete influence over her. Still, clever as Mazarin was, he made one great mistake, for he sorely neglected the education of the little king, who should have had every advantage. Thus, he left him until his seventh year to the care of women, and then abruptly turned him over to that of men, who knew little about children, and hence did not succeed in either entertaining or instructing him. Nevertheless, the child showed fine aptitudes, and an intense pride which evidently formed the basis of his character, and which, if properly directed, would have made him greater than he ever became.

When the history of his country was first read aloud to him, Louis XIV's youthful ambitions were so greatly fired that he boldly announced he was going to emulate Charlemagne, St. Louis, and Francis I! And he flew into a terrible rage when someone reproved him for being lazy, by comparing him to Louis the Slothful, one of the "do-nothing kings."

Mazarin's neglect of the young king's comfort and education arose mainly from innate stinginess. He cut down expenses to such an extent, we are told, that he would allow Louis XIV only two pairs of sheets a year, saying that if they were washed once every six months it would be quite enough, as laundering was very expensive!

With a miserly prime minister and a weak and vain mother, Louis XIV received most of his training from his devoted valet, who was so impressed by his master's position and dignity that he insisted upon the boy's behaving like a king at all times. Once, when the young monarch, in playful mood, began to wrestle, this man suddenly sat down and put on his hat, two things which were never allowed in the presence of the sovereign. This unusual conduct on the part of a generally respectful attendant so startled and mystified the young prince, that he paused abruptly in his play to demand haughtily what it might mean. Whereupon the valet, resuming his wonted bearing, instantly replied: "Pardon, Sire; I did not realize that the king was in the room!"

As the queen was known to be pleasure-loving, easygoing, and gentle, her brother-in-law Gaston and the other nobles eagerly clustered around her, flattering her in every way, and begging gifts and favors which she freely showered upon them. Indeed, such were the benefits they then received, and such their greedy hopes for the future, that they kept singing the regent's praises, until someone maliciously suggested that there were only five words left in the French language, namely, the oft-heard phrase, "The queen is so good!"

Louis XIV's reign had begun when the French period of the Thirty Years' War was just at its height, and it was on the very day of his coronation that the battle of Rocroi took place (1643). In this memorable encounter the French general, later known as the great Conde, who was then only twenty-two years old, won a brilliant victory over the Spaniards; but the fame resulting from this triumph so completely turned his youthful head that he soon after joined a conspiracy formed by some nobles, who were of the opinion that they alone should advise the queen in Mazarin's stead.

At the head of the conspirators was the fiery Duke of Beaufort,—a grandson of Henry IV,—who planned nothing less than the murder of Mazarin. But while Beaufort was brave, he was not cautious. So Mazarin, having discovered the plot, had this leader locked up in the fortress of Vincennes, where he had to remain in close confinement until he effected a romantic escape five years later.

Meantime, the Thirty Years' War went on, and Conde—again in command—helped to win the battle of Freiburg (1644), where many brave Frenchmen lost their lives. This evidently did not trouble the young general, for when his attention was called to the fact, he carelessly retorted, "Why, Paris alone daily supplies France with as many men as we have lost during all these encounters!" Though he did not feel for his men, Conde could nevertheless inspire them to do great deeds; in this battle, for instance, it was reported that he suddenly threw his staff of command into a trench ahead of him, bidding his men follow and help recover it, which they did.

The next year Conde fought another famous battle (Nordlingen), and in 1646 he besieged and took Dunkirk, a very important port on the Channel. But he was not the only famous general in France at that time; Turenne was equally noted for bravery, and shared with Conde the glory of his great victories. Besides, Turenne waged by himself a brilliant and successful campaign in Bavaria.

The war had lasted so long, and the losses had been so great, that the enemy were now weary of warfare. Not long after another victory by Conde at Lens, the Thirty Years' War ended with the treaty of Westphallia (1648). This treaty not only secured France in her recent conquests, but assured the independence of both Holland and Switzerland. Besides, it placed France again at the head of nations, and for one hundred and fifty years thereafter served as "the basis of common law in Europe."