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


Mazarin was dead! The strong hand which had guided affairs of state so long had dropped from the helm, and the subordinate ministers, not knowing what to do, turned in bewilderment to Louis XIV, asking, "To whom shall we apply, henceforth, for orders?" Louis XIV, then just twenty-two, mindful of Mazarin's last recommendations, drew himself up and quietly answered, "To me."

The king was ambitious and persevering, duly impressed by his important position, and determined to practice faithfully what he himself termed "his trade as king." He therefore set immediately to work, and for fifty-four years labored regularly eight hours a day at his self-imposed task, presiding over every council, deciding every matter in person, and not allowing any paper to leave the palace without his approval.

As Louis's natural abilities were far above the average, this close attention to business bore good fruit. People soon began to see the truth of Mazarin's statements: "There is in him stuff enough for four kings and for one honest man!" and, "He may start out late, but he will go farther than anyone else!" These predictions time was to verify, for the reign of Louis XIV proved the most glorious, as well as the longest, in French history.

From the death of Mazarin (1661) until his own death (1715) Louis had no prime minister, but personally exercised the chief authority in the country. Because everything centered thus in him, he too, as well as Francis I, is often considered the founder of absolute monarchy in France, or of the system generally known as the Old Regime; indeed, it is even said that Louis XIV once declared, "I am the state" (L'etat c'est moi).

His first speech on assuming the government was: "Gentlemen, I have called you together to tell you that up to the present day I have been willing to allow the deceased cardinal to regulate my affairs. Hereafter I intend to be my own prime minister. You will aid me by your counsels whenever I shall ask for them, and I beg and command you, Mr. Chancellor, not to seal any documents save by my orders, and you, my Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Finances, never to sign anything save by my orders."

Louis XIV was so arbitrary because he believed in "the divine right of kings," and because he was also firmly convinced "that it is the will of God that he who is born a subject should obey and make no question." His overweening opinion of his own position and intelligence helped to make him a great historical figure, but later on led also to disaster.



Because he had been frightened by the riots of the Fronde in his early childhood, Louis did not wish to settle in Paris; and, because the palaces in the neighborhood (Fontainebleau, St. Germain, etc.) bore too clearly the imprint of previous kings, he resolved to transform his father's modest hunting castle at Versailles into a dwelling worthy of himself. In 1661, therefore, the construction of the present palace was begun. The work was planned by famous architects, the ceilings and walls decorated by the best painters of the day, the gardens laid out by a famous landscape gardener, and adorned with statues by noted sculptors. Water in profusion, to feed the many fountains and artificial lakes, was brought from a distance, full-grown trees were transplanted from remote forests, and everything was done to create an abode which all the other sovereigns envied and sought to copy, and which served, in a way, as a model for the construction of countless other edifices in Europe. To accomplish all this in a barren plain, required a host of workmen as well as a mint of money, but the king considered nothing but his pleasure.

From 1661 to 1710 additions and extensions were constantly made to Versailles, until the palace became one of the show places of the world. The cost of all this magnificence has been estimated at about four hundred million dollars of our money to-day, so you can readily imagine that it is a place which must be seen if one wishes to have any conception of its extent and beauty. The creation of Louis XIV, it bears at every turn the imprint of his taste; but since 1837 it has been a national museum, open to all, and has been filled with priceless treasures of art in addition to those secured by its founder.

In this palace there were apartments for all the members of the royal family, with quarters for their suites, guards, and attendants, besides lodgings for the principal officers of the court, and for the guests and favorites of royalty. Nobles who were not lodged there built villas and palaces in the neighborhood, so as to be able to appear daily at court; for if nobles failed to pay frequent homage to the king, he was apt to remark coldly when their names were mentioned, "I do not know them."

The French court took up its abode in Versailles in 1682, and for the next century this palace was not only the home of the king, but also the center of government in France. It may interest you to hear how Louis XIV spent his days in this ideal residence, and to learn what etiquette ruled his court. The first thing in the morning the doors were flung wide open to admit the waiting crowd of courtiers. These were "the grand entries" (grandes entrees), when all who wished to see the king flocked into an antechamber, known as the Bull's Eye on account of its oval window.

Special favorites were thence admitted to the king's bedroom, to witness his morning toilet (petit lever). As soon as this was over, the king, richly clad, emerged to greet the waiting throng, and, attended by an obsequious court, proceeded to chapel to hear mass. After service he was escorted back in state to the room where he gave audience to those waiting to confer with him, before presiding over his council. Being very punctual himself, Louis always insisted upon great promptness, and once, when one of his ministers entered the council room by another door just as he appeared, he haughtily remarked, "Sir, I almost had to wait!"

It was customary for the king to eat his one o'clock dinner in state. He sat alone at a table under the royal canopy, while the various members of the royal family, the princes and invited guests, dined at other tables. During this meal, anyone—if clean and neatly dressed—was allowed to pass through the hall to gaze at the king; and the courtiers made it a point to be in attendance, for the king's brother, or in case of his absence, the next in rank, had the exalted privilege of handing Louis XIV his napkin!

After dinner the crowd followed the king down the great staircase to the beautiful grounds for an afternoon walk, the gentlemen being granted permission to don their hats—until then held in the hand or tucked under the arm—by a gracious gesture and the words, "Your hats, gentlemen!"

After a walk, drive, or hunt, for the sake of sociability and exercise, the king was again closeted with his ministers; and the busy day was followed by a concert, play, or ball. The sumptuous royal supper, to which the king invited any guest he pleased, was always served at ten o'clock. At bedtime, after taking ceremonious leave of the main part of his courtiers in the antechamber, the king was solemnly escorted to his room by a select few; and one courtier was finally allowed each evening to hold the royal candlestick while his Majesty said his prayers and climbed into bed!

All day long the Versailles courtiers vied with one another in attentions to the king and to the court ladies, conversing gaily and exchanging witty remarks. In fact life at court was so brilliant, that the worst disgrace which could befall a member of the aristocracy was to incur royal displeasure and to be banished from Versailles. There was, therefore, no extravagance that lords and ladies were not ready to commit to win the king's attention or favor, and no flattery too fulsome to be lavished upon him. One courtier, walking with the king in the gardens of Marly and overtaken there by a shower, was heard to assure his master, "Ah, Sire, Marly rain does not wet!" When Louis became old and complained that he had no teeth, a young lord, though himself well supplied with them, boldly exclaimed, "Ah, Sire, who is there, then, that has any teeth?" Even a cook committed suicide because the fish one day did not arrive in time for the king's dinner!