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

Later Wars of Louis XIV

Louis XIV not only paid Charles II of England a yearly sum of money to favor French policies, but also encouraged Charles's successor, James II, in his attempts to rule as an absolute monarch and to convert the English to Catholicism. This roused an English revolt. Louis's old foe, William of Orange, crossed over to England, and when James II fled, gladly accepted the crown tendered to him and to his wife—a daughter of the deposed king. James naturally turned to Louis for a home during his exile, as well as for means to recover the throne for himself and his infant son,—later known in England as "the Old Pretender."

Thus Louis XIV became involved in war with England, while William headed the League of Augsburg against him, having secured the aid of Germany, Spain, Holland, and Sweden. As a result, France waged war (1688-1697), against great odds, and this struggle marks the beginning of the Great Monarch's decline. Until then, Louis had always gone to war in person, but he now sent the Dauphin in his stead, saying: "My son, in sending you to command my armies, I afford you an opportunity of making your merits known. Go, and so act in the face of Europe, that when I am no more it shall not perceive that the king is dead!"

The war was waged on all sides of France at once, and for years we hear of nothing but battles and destruction. The French, for instance, ravaged the Rhine country and ruined many castles there. Then, against England were fought the naval battles of Beachy Head (1689), La Hogue (1692), and Cape St. Vincent (1693), in which the great French admiral Tourville and other sailors won many laurels. But one of these mariners, Jean Bart, showed his great conceit when the king remarked one day, "I wish I had ten thousand men like you!" by coolly replying, "I can well believe it, Sire."

In 1690 a great land battle was fought at Fleurus, where the French general, Luxembourg,—a hunchback,—won a brilliant victory over the Imperialists, capturing many standards, which were hung in the church of Notre Dame in Paris. Another victory of his so irritated William of Orange that he angrily exclaimed, "Shall I then never beat this accursed hunchback?" When this exclamation was repeated to Luxembourg, he proudly cried: "Hunchback! What does he know about it? He has never seen my back!" He further proved his courage by winning two more battles (Steinkirk, 1692, and Neerwinden, 1693) over this same foe, while Catinat, another famous French general, won a battle in Italy over the Duke of Savoy.

In spite of all these victories, the cost of the war proved so great, and the losses so heavy, that Louis XIV was glad to put an end to hostilities by the treaty of Ryswick (1697), whereby he gave up all his recent conquests—save Strassburg—and promised no longer to support James II in his vain attempts to recover the English throne. This treaty of Ryswick, however necessary to France and acceptable to the rest of Europe, was intensely disappointing to Vauban, who dejectedly said, "We have always beaten the enemy, and yet we make a peace which dishonors the king and the nation!"

While the war was going on, Louis XIV spent most of his time at Versailles, directing everything and working hard on his plans for the building of the Hotel des Invalides and of the Louvre Colonnade. His principal recreation consisted in hearing the plays written by Moliere, Corneille, and Racine. He also took an interest in helping Madame de Maintenon found St. Cyr, at the other end of the park of Versailles, a boarding school for the daughters of his officers. (The institution now bearing the name St. Cyr is for young men only, and furnishes officers for the army.) When these damsels left school, their patroness often arranged marriages for them, and even supplied their dowries.

Now, as Madame de Maintenon had no money of her own, it was only by interesting the king in this establishment that she could obtain the funds to continue her good work. She therefore asked the poet Racine to write tragedies which the young ladies could play before the king, introducing choruses so that all the pupils could take part at once. As a result of this request, we have the two famous tragedies of Athalie and Esther, based on episodes of Old Testament history, and hence suited to the youthful actresses who first played them.

The king, although old, still kept open court, insisting upon the nobles appearing there frequently. Indeed, even elderly peers were not exempt. Once, when the gouty Conde slowly advanced to meet the waiting king, he had to excuse himself by saying, "Sire, I beg your Majesty's pardon for keeping you waiting." The king on this occasion graciously replied: "Do not hurry, cousin. When one is so weighted with laurels, one cannot, of course, proceed any faster!" To an unfortunate general, brokenhearted at having to capitulate, and fearing the royal wrath, Louis once kindly said, "Marquis, you showed your courage in the defense, and your wisdom in the capitulation."

Arbitrary as Louis was, he occasionally showed that he did not object to hearing the truth. Once, for instance, when he insisted upon pardoning a criminal, his chancellor objected, and only upon the king's positive order produced the seals. But when Louis handed them back, the chancellor proudly refused to accept them, declaring they had been defiled! This made the king pause and think, after which he flung the paper he had just sealed into the fire. Delighted at having thus made justice prevail, the chancellor rapturously cried, "I take back the seals, Sire, for fire purifies everything."