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

Madame De Maintenon

Thanks to Louis XIV's executive ability, and to his famous helpers, Colbert and Louvois, the period from 1674 to 1689 proved most prosperous for France. In fact, the country progressed more in those fifteen years than it did in the next hundred.

After Fouquet's disgrace, Colbert became minister of finances and was charged to watch over the commercial, agricultural, and industrial interests of the country. Although it was Colbert's office to supply money enough for the king's wars, buildings, and other extravagances, he earnestly tried to diminish and equalize the taxes, and to check a dangerous tendency to borrow money. He also encouraged the planting of flax and cotton, and of mulberry trees (for the silkworm industry), had roads built, and supplied funds for digging the great canal which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (Canal du Languedoc). He also founded factories for making cloth, silk, mirrors, tapestry, carpets, lace, etc, and encouraged and protected the French colonies, which until his day had been rather neglected.

Colbert faithfully served the king from Mazarin's death until his own in 1683, although his last days were saddened by the knowledge that Louvois had supplanted him in the royal favor. When a letter from the king was handed to him on his death bed, he refused to read it, saying bitterly, like Wolsey: "I will not hear the king spoken of again. Let me die in peace. It is to the King of Kings I now have to answer. Had I done for God what I have done for that man, I should have found salvation ten times over, and now I do not know what will become of me!" The people wrongly blamed Colbert for the heavy taxes, and hated him so intensely that they would have liked to insult his remains; he therefore had to be buried secretly at night. But he is now generally recognized as the creator of French industry, commerce, navy, and finances.

Louvois, of whom the dying Colbert was so jealous, not only reformed the army but established the famous naval ports of Brest and Toulon, and by diplomatic arts enabled France to take possession of the city of Strassburg in time of peace without striking a single blow (1681). For nearly two hundred years thereafter this fortified town belonged to France, and was one of the principal French strongholds on the northeast.

The defenses of Strassburg were greatly strengthened by Vauban,—Louis's great military engineer,—who is said to have created an "iron frontier" by repairing five hundred old forts and building fifty-five new ones. He is also said to have been present at fifty-three sieges, and to have taken part in one hundred and forty-three engagements. His talents were such that French people said, "A city besieged by Vauban is a taken city; a city fortified by Vauban is an impregnable city!" Although personally bold to the verge of foolhardiness, Vauban was always careful of his men's lives, and so loyal a Frenchman that he earned the title of "Patriot."

War having ceased at home after the treaty of Nimwegen, Louis turned his attention to the serious depredations of the Barbary pirates, and put an end to them by sending a fleet to bombard Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, and to liberate the Christian captives detained there in hard slavery. Then, having discovered that the people of Genoa had secretly supplied these pirates with ammunition, Louis next had that city bombarded also, and refused to make peace until the Doge (president of the republic) came in person to Versailles to apologize. The constitution of Genoa, however, strictly forbade the Doge's leaving this city while in office, so when a courtier asked him what surprised him most among all the wonders he beheld at Versailles, he simply and truthfully answered, "It is to see myself here!"

Maria Theresa, Louis's queen, died in 1683. Although Louis had not been a good husband, he had always treated her with outward courtesy, and when she had passed away, he said, "God has deprived me of a consort who never gave me any cause for grief except by her death." She had done her duty by giving her husband a son to inherit the crown; but the court made only a pretense of mourning her death.

Tired of favorites,—one of whom, Madame de Montespan, had much influence over him for many years,—Louis XIV at last secretly married the governess of his children, Madame de Maintenon, a lady whom the courtiers punningly called Madame de Maintenant—meaning the present madam. She was, however, never openly recognized as queen, although she was often present at the royal council, and the king frequently asked for her opinion, calling her playfully, "Your Solidity" and "Your Reason." Of noble birth, although extremely poor, Madame de Maintenon had been glad, when only sixteen, to marry a sickly, hunchbacked poet (Scarron), who lived only eight years after their marriage. In his house she proved such a witty and entertaining hostess that all the most noted people came to visit her. Sometimes, when the poor poet's modest table was insufficiently supplied to satisfy the appetites of so many guests, the waiter—knowing his mistress's fascinating arts—would whisper, "Another story, please, madam, for the roast is too small to-day!"

Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon


A woman whose brilliant conversation could make hungry people forget to eat was, of course, able to amuse the old king, who, having tired of everything, was apt to be capricious and easily bored. But as Madame de Maintenon was very devout, she insisted upon Louis being pious too, and encouraged the clergy to appear at court. She also helped to persuade the king that it was his duty to stamp out Protestantism in his realm.

You remember, do you not, that ever since the Edict of Nantes, granted by Henry IV, the Protestants had been permitted to hold their form of worship in France? They were still most numerous in the south, and had by this time increased in numbers to such an extent that there were more than a million Huguenots in France. Louis XIV tried to convert these people, at first by persuasion, and then by force, actually sending dragoons to live in their houses and annoy them until they renounced their religion,—a system of persecution which is known as the "Dragonnades."

Next, the king revoked the Edict of Nantes (1685), decreed that no more Huguenot worship should be permitted in France, ordered that all Protestant ministers should be forced to leave the country, and forbade any other Huguenots to follow them. The result of the Dragonnades, and of the harsh edict of revocation, was that many Protestants perished, about two hundred thousand escaped, and the rest feigned conversion for the sake of peace.

As the Huguenot emigrants were largely of the industrial class, France was greatly impoverished by their loss, while neighboring countries were correspondingly enriched. Lyons, for instance, which had boasted of 18,000 silk looms before the persecution began, had only 4000 in operation when it was over; moreover, Protestants everywhere resented the cruel treatment their brethren had suffered in France, so that Louis thus created many bitter enemies abroad.