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 Age of Louis XIV

Because so many great men lived in France during this long reign, "the Age of Louis XIV" is as famous in France as is the Age of Pericles in Greek history, or the Age of Augustus in Roman annals, or the Age of Elizabeth in England. You have already heard of the great generals Turenne, Conde, Luxembourg, Catinat, and Villars; of the great admirals Duquesne, Tourville, and Jean Bart; of the ministers Colbert and Louvois; of the engineer Vauban; and of some famous architects, painters, sculptors, and landscape gardeners. You will now, doubtless, be interested in hearing something about the orators and writers of so brilliant an epoch.

Corneille, for instance, was a tragic poet, who wrote plays so fine that they are now French classics, and are still given by the most prominent actors. Racine, his friend and rival, worked in the same field, and it was he, as we have seen, who supplied Madame de Maintenon with suitable plays for her girls. Moliere, on the other hand, was the first great French comedian.

Louis XIV and Moliere


In spite of his genius, Moliere was scorned by the courtiers because his father was only a small tradesman; and even the palace servants, imitating their betters, were rude to him. But the king, who enjoyed Moliere's plays, put an end to this state of affairs by inviting the poet to breakfast one morning. While they were seated alone together, the king gave orders to admit the courtiers, and seeing their surprise, quietly said, "Gentlemen, please excuse me, but I am giving Moliere his breakfast, because I hear that my lackeys consider it beneath them to associate with him!"

Needless to state, the king's footmen never again had a chance to offer Moliere a dinner, for the nobles all vied with one another in inviting him to their tables. The author of many immortal comedies which ridicule the follies of his day and the vices and weaknesses of his time, Moliere was also a talented actor, and was on the stage when overtaken by his last illness.

The gentle, absent-minded fable writer. La Fontaine, delighted everybody in those days with his witty tales of animals and people, which have since supplied the French with a great number of good proverbs and apt quotations. Another member of the literary circles of the time was Boileau, who wrote satires, a poem on the Art. of Versification, and some flattering odes about Louis XIV When he brought the latter to the king for his approval, even Louis XIV must have deemed them a trifle fulsome, for he once said, "I should praise you more had you praised me less!" Still, although a born courtier, the witty Boileau could tell the truth with tact when he chose to do so. For instance, when the king once wrote some verses and asked his opinion of them, Boileau promptly said: "There is nothing impossible to your Majesty. You wished to make some bad verses, and you succeeded admirably!"

The most famous letter writer of the times was Madame de Sevigne, who conveyed all the news of the court to her married daughter, in able and sprightly letters that are admired by all who read them. La Bruyere, another famous writer of this reign, is now mostly known for his wise maxims, which are as familiar in France as "Poor Richard's" are in the United States.

La Fontaine


Among the great orators and preachers who had the opportunity not only to lecture to the king and court, but also to instruct the royal children, were Bossuet, who wrote a history of the world; Fenelon, author of a French version of the classical tale of Telemachas; and Fleury, compiler of a Church history. During Lent, or when some great person died, magnificent sermons or funeral orations were delivered by famous preachers, some of whom, it is said, did not hesitate to tell even the king that he should do his duty. We know that occasionally this preaching had a salutary effect, for Louis XIV once remarked to one of them: "Father, I have heard many great orators, and I have been well pleased with them, but every time I have heard you I have been displeased with myself."

The king, whom every one still envied and flattered, was really a sad and discontented old man, and his reign, which had begun so gloriously, was slowly drawing to a dreary end. Madame de Maintenon, in one of her letters, clearly intimates that the positions of king and courtier had their drawbacks, by writing, "Save those who fill the highest stations, I know of none more unfortunate than those who envy them!" The king's sadness in old age was due to his many cares and also to family losses; for his son, the Dauphin, died in 1711, and one year later, the second Dauphin, Louis's grandson, was carried off with his wife and eldest boy by smallpox, a disease then causing great ravages everywhere. Louis's heir and successor was, therefore, his second great-grandson, who was only five years old when his great-grandfather's long reign finally came to an end.

After begging his courtiers' pardon for the bad example he had given them, and imploring them to be loyal to his successor, Louis XIV spoke a few memorable words to his child-heir, saying: "Try to keep the peace with your neighbors. I have been too fond of war. Do not imitate me in that, nor in my too great expenditure."

Somewhat later he fell into deep slumber; and Madame de Maintenon, thinking he would never be conscious again, left the palace and took refuge in St. Cyr, where she was to end her days. But presently Louis opened his eyes again for the last time, and seeing a page in tears, gently inquired: "Why do you weep? Did you then imagine I was immortal?" A few minutes later, the Great Monarch's reign was over.

With Louis XIV, it may be said, ended also the days of the glorious Old France whose story you have read. Little did he dream of the great changes which were to take place in the next hundred years,—although they were in part due to causes he himself had set in motion,—and which were to make the story of Modern France of thrilling interest.

Genealogy of French Royal Families

Merovingian Kings (448-752)

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber

Carolingian Kings (752-922)

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber

Capet Kings (987-1328)

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber

Valois Kings (1328-1589)

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber

Bourbon Kings (1589-1792)

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber