‘God knows I never liked life’
Louis XIII was born at Fontainebleau on 27 September 1602. It was a difficult birth, which may have been the original cause of his mother’s dislike. Through Marie, he was a quarter Italian and a quarter Habsburg. Certainly no son was ever more different from his father.
Louis had a miserable childhood. He was a timid, unattractive little boy, and Henri tried to beat his timidity out of him. (He none the less adored his father; years later his greatest compliment about anyone was the odd remark, ‘I’m near my father—I can smell his armpit.’) Queen Marie, who seems to have lacked any maternal feeling, had him whipped every morning. He grew up neurotic and distrustful, one of the strangest and most enigmatic of all French Kings.
The news of Henri IV’s assassination so shocked France that even the great princes rallied to the throne. The Parlement of Paris was summoned, in its capacity as first court of the realm, and the eight-year-old King presided over a lit de justice, a special Royal session of Parlement. The Duc d’Epernon, who commanded the infantry in Paris, entered the great hall of the Palais Royal where the Parlement sat. He was wearing his sword. ‘My sword is still in its scabbard,’ he shouted, ‘but if the Queen is not made Regent at once I shall draw it.’ The Parlement hastily declared that Marie’s regency was according to the wishes of both the late and the present King. Louis was crowned at Rheims on 17 October 1610. The ceremony must have been a frightening experience for a boy of eight. Four day later, at Saint-Marcoul, he touched no less than 900 persons for the Evil.
Marie de Medici, who was as stupid as she was heartless, was quite confident that she could govern France. Her favourites, the Concini, became all-powerful. Leonora slept next to the Queen’s bedchamber, being consulted on all matters of state; her advice was partly dictated by astrologers, but mainly by her husband’s insatiable thirst for money and titles. For the time being Marie and this ignoble pair had the sense to retain Henri’s old ministers, although Sully soon resigned (he lived on in obscurity until 1641). Abroad, Henri’s foreign policy was reversed—French troops were withdrawn from Cleves-Julich and an alliance was sought with Spain. At home, Concini had a programme of sorts; to keep the nobles in their place and to make Lorraine part of France. In the meantime he acquired a huge fortune by peddling favours—Leonora’s speciality was selling pardons. He bought the marquisate of Ancres and then, although he had never seen a battle, took the title of Marshal.
Rebellion was inevitable. First Bouillon tried to raise the Huguenots: Marie bought him off with an enormous bribe. But the Huguenots were not the only threat. ‘Les Grands’—the Great Ones—considered that with Henri’s IV’s death, ‘the day of Kings has passed and the day of great lords and princes has come.’ They remained almost as formidable as they had been during the Wars of Religion. Each had a large ‘household’—a retinue of armed noblemen amounting to a private army. Some had provincial governorships which provided them with fortresses—Epernon, Governor of Metz, seized its citadel as soon as Henri died, referring to his province as ‘my kingdom of Austrasia’. Condé, First Prince of the Blood, had secret hopes of the throne itself. Early in 1614 he left court, raised an army and seized the fortress of Mézières. He publicly accused the government of squandering the realm’s wealth, and inflicting hardship on the entire country. His manifesto concluded with an ultimatum that the States General (the representative body of the French nation) be summoned. He was joined by the Dukes of Mayenne, Longueville, Nevers and Vendôme, but as neither the bourgeois nor the Huguenots would support them, they allowed themselves to be bought off with the last of Sully’s treasure.
The States General—140 clergy, 132 nobles and 192 bourgeois—met in the old Hôtel de Bourbon (opposite the Louvre) in October 1614. It was to be their last formal meeting until the fateful year of 1789. King Louis, who was now twelve, presided, a sulky, pale-faced little figure in white satin. The three estates squabbled furiously. The clergy imperiously demanded the implementation of the Council of Trent. The bourgeois countered—by urging that the French Church be reformed; they also asked for an end to pensions paid to great lords, the suppression of high military offices and the prohibition of duelling. As for the nobles, they did not want ‘the children of cordwainers and soap-boilers to call them brother’, demanding that anyone who called a bourgeois ‘Monsieur’ should be fined. The assembly, having achieved nothing, dispersed in March 1615 when royal officials summarily closed the hall where it met. However preposterous Marie’s regime may have been, seventeenth-century France had no practicable alternative to absolute monarchy.
During the assembly, the loyal address by the spokesman of the clergy had been a brilliant analysis of the problems confronting the state, couched in graceful terms which complimented the Regent. The spokesman was the twenty-eight-year-old Bishop of Luçon, Armand du Plessis de Richelieu. Marie, delighted by such flattery, marked out the fascinating young prelate for preferment.
In autumn 1615, just as the Regent and her son were setting out for Bordeaux, Condé rose again. The Duc de Rohan formed an alliance with him, leading the Huguenots into revolt. It was a return to the bad days of the Valois; even worse, for now Catholics and Protestants were banding together against the Crown. Fortunately Condé lost his nerve, allowing himself to be bought off once more, in May 1616. He received a million and a half livres—he had already had four and a half million—while a further six million was divided among his followers.
In October 1615 Louis was married at Bordeaux to Anne of Austria, an ash-blonde, pink-faced Infanta of Spain. The new Spanish alliance was doubly cemented by the marriage of Madame Elisabeth, Enfant de France, to the Infante Don Philip (the future Philip IV). The new Queen of France was only thirteen. However, in November Louis consummated the marriage—probably his mother told him that it was his duty. The experience proved disastrous and gave the King a lifelong aversion to physical love.
Marie intended to remain Regent for as long as possible. When Louis was fifteen she slapped his face in front of the entire court; he tried to attend a meeting of the Royal Council, whereupon she took him by the shoulders and threw him out of the chamber. Saint-Simon says that according to his father, a friend of Louis, ‘The Regent wanted a son who was only King in name and who would not interfere with her favourites. He was therefore brought up in a way as harmful as possible for his character. He was left completely idle, receiving no education whatsoever. He frequently complained about it to my father, and in later years often referred to the fact that he had not even been taught to read.’ (Louis may have been indulging in a certain amount of self-pity; not only could he write elegant and economical French, but he spoke excellent Italian and Spanish.)
By now Louis was a very strange boy indeed, nervous and awkward, a King who stammered when he spoke, who was frequently tongue-tied. Yet he was not without kindly impulses. From an early age he disliked any derogatory remarks about his Huguenot subjects. As a boy of eleven he intervened passionately in a case where a girl was unjustly accused of murdering her baby.
His chief delight was falconry. His other favourite diversion was hunting—mainly stag, fox and wolf. He killed his first stag when he was only twelve. If possible he hawked or hunted every day and he is said to have ridden horses to death. He certainly achieved the notable feat of killing six wolves in one day. When it was too wet to go out, he flew hawks at tame finches which he kept in his room, chasing them all over the Louvre. Sometimes the solitary boy made teams of dogs run through the palace dragging cannon. At other times he cooked omelettes and made sweets in the palace kitchens. He had his own smithy. Another amusement was a little carriage—a kind of dog-cart—which he drove himself. He did not have a single friend, until the emergence of Charles d’Albert de Luynes, a rather dim falconer.
Voltaire says that Luynes ingratiated himself by teaching grey shrikes to fly at sparrows. In fact Luynes’s job was to fly falcons at red kites, the most prized of all quarry. He was a big tall man, goodlooking rather than handsome, with curly hair and a pleasant expression. In his late thirties, he was the son of a Provençal hedge squire who farmed with his own hands the family’s manor near Marseilles. A gentle, unselfconfident soul, he was far from aggressive—once when challenged to a duel he sent his brother.
While hunting he frequently found himself alone in the forest with the King. The lonely, stuttering boy began to confide in this big man with the reassuring manner. Luynes was a very limited personality but he had the gift of sympathy. For the first time in his life the young King had met a human being whom he trusted: he became so dependent on his falconer that in his sleep he was heard to mutter ‘Luynes! Luynes!’ Marie, informed, thought of dismissing the man; she decided on bribery instead, making him Captain of the Tuileries and then Governor of Amboise with its great château.
Ancres, who had dismissed all Henri IV’s old ministers, was only too aware of the hatred which his ignoble government inspired. Condé was cheered in the Paris taverns and in his cups spoke of seizing the throne. Everywhere obscene songs about the Regent were sung with enthusiasm. So frightened was Ancres that he and Leonora considered flying to Italy in disguise. But he would not leave his treasure. In September 1616 he managed to arrest Condé, besides sending troops into the provinces to cow les Grands. His regime acquired a most useful new servant when the Bishop of Luçon was given a post equivalent to Foreign Minister. The Marshal did not suspect that his greatest danger was the King whom he treated with the utmost contempt; he remained seated in his presence without doffing his hat; sometimes he even ignored him. The tongue-tied boy felt an overpowering sense of injustice—about this time he suffered a nervous fit of such violence that doctors suspected epilepsy.
It was Luynes of all people who organized the plot which brought Ancres down. When one of the conspirators asked the young King what they should do if the Marshal resisted arrest, Louis remained silent. Someone said, ‘The King wishes that he should be killed’—Louis still kept silence.
On the morning of 24 April 1617 the Marshal d’Ancres strutted across the drawbridge of the Louvre. He stopped in the courtyard to read a petition. Suddenly the captain of the royal guard, the Marquis de Vitry, accompanied by twenty-five guardsmen, pushed through the crowd and, seizing him by the arm, shouted ‘In the King’s name!’ Ancres shrieked in Italian ‘A me!’ and tried to draw his sword. Vitry’s men drew pistols from beneath their cloaks—the Marshal fell to the ground, shot three times in the face. Kicking the body, Vitry cried, ‘Vive le Roi!’
Louis was waiting for the news with a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. Climbing on to a billiard table he cried, ‘Merci! Grand merci à vous! A cette heure je suis roi!’
His mother was given the news by a lady-in-waiting. ‘All I can hope for is a crown in heaven,’ screamed the Regent, who ran up and down her chamber, wringing her hands. When asked who would tell Mme la Maréchale that her husband had been killed, Marie shrieked, ‘I have myself to think about, leave me alone! if you don’t want to tell her, sing it to her! Don’t speak to me about them—I warned them long ago that they ought to escape to Italy.’ Ignoring frantic appeals to see him, Louis sent word to his mother to stay in her chamber and not to meddle with affairs of state.
Ancres’s body was secretly buried in the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, but the mob dug it up, hung it on the Pont Neuf and then tore it to shreds. Royal guards burst into Leonora’s room. Pulling her out of bed they found that she had already hidden some of her treasures beneath her mattress—it was rumoured that Crown jewels were among them. She was imprisoned in the Bastille, accused of plotting against the state and of black magic. Torture did not break her spirit. Asked at her trial what spells she had used to bewitch the Queen, she replied, ‘Only the power of a strong mind over a weak one.’ She was burnt at the stake in the Place de Grève.
The new ruler of France was Luynes, however much Louis might proclaim himself King. His government was scarcely more effective than Ancres’s. The petty noble set about transforming himself into a great lord; he became the Duc de Luynes, Constable of France and Governor of Picardy. He also acquired a Rohan heiress for his bride. His two brothers, equally amiable and undistinguished, became Duc de Chaulnes and Duc de Piney-Luxemburg; they too were provided with heiresses.
What might be called the opposition was based on Blois, where the indignant Marie de Medici had been confined. In February 1619, aided by the Duc d’Epernon, she escaped from Blois after being lowered from the château by ropes. Dissatisfied nobles gathered round her at Angers and it looked as though the entire south would rise. Louis wanted to attack at once, but Luynes preferred to negotiate. In May 1619 Marie was given the government of Anjou, with three strongholds garrisoned by her supporters. There was a public reconciliation between mother and son—both wept, while continuing to loathe each other. But in the summer of 1620 rebel armies again began to gather, one at Rouen, the other at Poitiers. When the Royal Council met, Luynes had no idea how to deal with the crisis.
Louis intervened angrily. He had never spoken in public before. ‘With so many dangers to face, we march against the most serious and the nearest, which is Normandy. We march now.’ In a wet and windy July he led his little army to Rouen. The rebels were prepared to face Luynes but not the King—they fled. Louis’s advisers were nervous about marching on to Caen, also held by rebels, whereupon the eighteen-year-old monarch, newly courageous, cried, ‘Péril de ça, péril de là! Péril sur terre, péril sur mer. Allons droit à Caen!’ Caen surrendered. Louis then marched south to Anjou with 12,000 men. Marie’s 4,000 followers met him at Ponts-de-Cé, two bridges over the Loire near Angers. Louis behaved just as his father would have done, charging with his men. Seeing the enemy weaken, he led a charge which drove them back to the bridge. After losing 700 men, the rebels broke and the bridge was taken, cutting Marie off from any hope of escape. However, there was another reconciliation and the Queen Mother was allowed to keep Anjou. The settlement was ably negotiated by her adviser, Richelieu.
In 1617 an edict had re-established the Church’s right to its former lands in Protestant Béarn, but commissioners who attempted to enforce the edict were roughly handled. After his triumph at Ponts-de-Cé, Louis and his army paid a swift visit to Béarn and implemented the edict at gun-point before returning to Paris. As a result the Huguenot Assembly met at La Rochelle and swore to support their persecuted co-religionists. They began to raise troops and gather munitions. Condé, now a loyal subject, convinced Luynes that war was inevitable.
The royal army marched south again, occupying Saumur where Louis was cheered so enthusiastically that he shouted back, ‘Vive le peuple’, and waved his hat to the crowd. (Later he showed his less warm side. Seeing among the throng a certain M d’Arsilemont, who was a famous highwayman, the King cried, ‘Ah! Vous voilà!’ and had him arrested—within three days the man had been tried and broken on the wheel.) Montauban, an important Huguenot stronghold, was besieged in August 1621. A friar prophesied its speedy fall, but Montauban held out. Luynes showed himself to be hopelessly incompetent—in November the approach of a Protestant army under the Duc de Rohan forced him to raise the siege. Louis, by now completely disillusioned with his favourite, returned to Paris. Luynes continued the campaign despite terrible weather. He became depressed, then took to his bed. On 15 December 1621 he died of scarlet fever, abandoned even by his servants.
Louis had no intention of persecuting his Protestant subjects for their religion, but he was not going to tolerate separatism. For by now the Huguenots had set up something very like a republic on the Dutch model and a new state was emerging, which included most of the western seaboard together with a large area of southern France. In the Duc de Rohan and his brother, the Comte de Soubise, it had formidable leaders. The Royal Council tried to dissuade Louis from continuing the campaign but he knew how great was the danger.
He went to war again in April 1622, besieging the Ile de Riez, Soubise’s marshy stronghold on the west coast, which could only be reached at low tide. On 16 April the King rose from his straw pallet and led a midnight attack, riding through the water at the head of his men. Soubise was completely taken by surprise and routed, losing 4,000 troops. Louis spent the following months storming Huguenot towns and blowing up their fortifications; Nègrepelisse was burnt to the ground for having murdered 400 royal soldiers. In October Rohan sued for peace—Protestant France had become a land of famine and corpses, of abandoned villages and ruined châteaux. At the peace of Montpelier the Huguenots gave up all their strongholds save La Rochelle and Montauban.
It had been a gruelling campaign in an exceptionally hot summer. The King had many times spent whole days in the saddle, sleeping in his clothes and dining on bread and cheese. In June, at Toulouse he was struck down by a mysterious fever which attacked him several times, forcing him to travel in a litter. Eventually he recovered and enjoyed himself at Marseilles, attending bull fights and fishing for tuna fish. The fever had been tuberculosis which would eventually kill him. In addition he suffered from a chronic gastric disorder which never left him, and he was further weakened by the ministrations of his doctors (in one year alone he was bled forty-seven times, purged 212 times and endured 215 enemas).
None the less, Louis usually had sufficient energy to hunt, dance and campaign. At twenty, he was a thin young man of medium height, elegant and athletic in build, who sat a horse particularly well. He wore a moustache, but as yet his long, tanned face was beardless. He had mastered his earlier awkwardness, save for stammering when angry, and had acquired a most dignified presence—what Saint-Simon calls ‘l’allure royale’. He had an intense dislike of luxury. Although on state occasions he wore a white satin suit and a black hat and cloak, he liked best to dress as a soldier and was fond of wearing armour. Indeed, he thoroughly enjoyed military life and spent much time on parades and drilling his troops.
Hunting remained his great passion. He talked of little else and even took his hounds to bed with him. Of all the Bourbons, every one of whom was remarkable for an almost fanatical devotion to the chase, Louis XIII was the greatest huntsman.
In character he was upright to the point of harshness. He had an exalted concept of kingship—Joinville’s life of St Louis was a favourite book—and could be merciless to himself, always ready to sacrifice his own happiness. He once said, ‘I should not be King if I had the feelings of an ordinary man.’ His devotion to business was remarkable, considering that he detested reading and preferred carpentry and gardening (his peas were sold in the Paris market), let alone hunting, to administration. Yet he never missed a Council meeting and impressed ambassadors by his grasp of affairs. Extremely pious, he enjoyed the ceremonies of the Church and was scrupulous in confession. His religion verged on the puritanical; a characteristic remark was ‘Please God, adultery shall never enter into my house’.
In Paris Louis lived at the Louvre and the Tuileries, though he much preferred Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Summer and winter he rose at six am. His rising was divided into the Petit Lever and the Grand Lever, the latter being shortened, as Louis liked to take long baths. (Unlike most of his contemporaries he was extremely clean in his person; later he cropped his head and wore a long brown wig for the sake of cleanliness.) The day began with a Council meeting, after which the King went to Mass. There followed private and public audiences. Then he paid a formal visit to the Queen, before dining publicly. The afternoon was spent hunting or in military exercises. After supper there was sometimes a concert or a ballet. Louis composed some of these ballets himself and occasionally danced in them.
By 1619 Louis was deeply in love with Anne of Austria, but not physically. Both his confessor, Père Cotton, and Luynes tried to make him sleep with her; the Papal Nuncio urged that Heaven needed an heir to the throne of France; the Spanish ambassador considered the King’s failure to beget a child an insult to Spanish honour. Eventually Luynes forced him to lie with Anne—he was in tears when he went to her bed, but from then on he slept with her regularly for some years.
To govern France a stronger hand was needed than that of a nervous and unsure young man, and Louis knew it. In 1622, much against his will, his mother persuaded him to obtain a Cardinal’s hat for Richelieu. Marie, who had been reconciled yet again with her son after Luynes’s death, owed her return to Paris to Richelieu’s shrewd counsel. Unwillingly Louis recognized that here was a man who could save France, and in January 1624 he was admitted to the Council. La Vieuville, the aged mediocrity who was its President, tried to discredit him but was dismissed and arrested for his pains. On 13 August 1624 Cardinal Richelieu became head of the Council with the title ‘Secretary of State for Commerce and the Marine’. In 1629 the King named him ‘Principal Minister of State’.
Armand du Plessis had been born in 1585, the third son of a family of poor Poitevin nobles. Originally he had intended to become a soldier but his elder brother, for whom the Bishopric of Luçon had been reserved—the appointment was in the gift of the family—died, and Armand entered the Church. In 1608, only twenty-one, he was consecrated Bishop of Luçon where he proved himself an exemplary pastor. He was burningly ambitious but his first step towards power, when Ancres gave him a post, turned out to be a serious setback when the Marshal fell—the King shouted at him, ‘I have escaped your tyranny, Luçon!’ It took him years to vindicate himself, through the unlikely path of acting as adviser to Marie de Medici. His chief ally was the mysterious Capuchin friar, Père Joseph (better known as ‘the Grey Eminence’).
Richelieu’s masterful, fastidious face with its high nose and prominent cheekbones, was the mask of a man who lived on the verge of total nervous breakdown, racked by headaches and indigestion, weakened by bad circulation. The Cardinal was agonizingly prone to depression and discouragement, terrified by bad news and by threats of violence, even by loud noises; he was frequently in tears—on occasion he even hid under his bed from whence he had to be coaxed by his valet. Greedy, avaricious, he was also coldly arrogant and lacked charm. Women in particular disliked him. Yet he was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all Frenchmen; of seventeenth-century Englishmen, only Oliver Cromwell was of the same stature.
Of his aims he later wrote, ‘I promised Your Majesty to use all my industry and all the authority which it pleased you to give me to ruin the Huguenot party, to bring down the pride of the great lords, to bring back all your subjects to their duty, and to restore your name to its rightful place among foreign nations.’ Richelieu’s determination to make his country the leading power of Europe at the expense of the Catholic Habsburgs conflicted in no way with his Catholicism; he believed that a strong France was essential for the health of the Church; that Rome could not be allowed to remain a mere tool of Spain. He quickly made Protestant alliances, with England and the Dutch.
The English alliance was soon jeopardized by the Duke of Buckingham. This magnificent creature visited France in May 1625 to assist at the marriage (by proxy) of Mme Henriette Marie to King Charles at Nôtre-Dame. For a week’s visit he brought twenty-seven suits—one, of white velvet embroidered with diamonds and shedding loosely-sewn pearls as he walked, was valued at £24,000. His beauty and elegance took Paris by storm.
He was soon embroiled in a plot to seduce the Queen of France, by the Duchesse de Chevreuse, Luynes’s widow, who was the evil genius of Louis XIII’s marriage. In 1618 she had become Mistress of the Queen’s Household. Richelieu wrote of her, ‘She was the ruin of the Queen, whose wholesome outlook was corrupted by her example; she swayed the Queen’s heart, ruined her, set her against the King and her duties.’ It was her horseplay in the spring of 1622, when she persuaded the pregnant Queen to run down a gallery, which made Anne lose a Dauphin. Born in 1600, a tiny blonde with a delicate face and unforgettable eyes, Marie de Chevreuse was a woman of innumerable conquests. An enemy described her as the matchmaker behind every court love affair. Startlingly unconventional (in London she swam the Thames, to the horror of the English), she and her antics were a perennial scandal. Next to love affairs she enjoyed political intrigue, and nursed a real hatred of Louis, whom she referred to as ‘that idiot’.
‘La Chevrette’s’ latest lover was Lord Holland, one of Buckingham’s suite. She swiftly enchanted the Duke with the prospect of cuckolding a King. At Amiens, where the court took official leave of the English embassy, Buckingham climbed into a private garden where the Queen was taking an evening walk; he may even have tried to rape her. Anne’s shrieks summoned her attendants. Later, during less private interviews, he wept and spoke with such passion that he terrified her. Louis was so affronted that henceforward he refused to think seriously of an English alliance.
Despite his dealings with Protestant powers abroad, nothing could deflect Richelieu from his determination to break Messieurs les prétendus réformés. He wrote, ‘So long as the Protestants in France are a state within a state, the King cannot be master of his realm or achieve great things abroad.’ The capital of French Protestantism was still La Rochelle. In July 1627 an English fleet commanded by Buckingham put in at the Isle of Ré opposite the port. Immediately the Rochellois rose, while throughout the south Rohan raised the Huguenot squirearchy. Luckily the royal garrison on Ré prevented Buckingham from consolidating his position and when they were relieved by Louis in November, the English hastily evacuated the island. La Rochelle was besieged. However, it was still possible for the English to relieve it as the French King did not possess a navy.
Richelieu, who never left the siege and wore a gilded cuirass over his purple soutane, had a solution. A breakwater was built across the mouth of the port, consisting of sunken ships on top of which a stone dyke was constructed; there were forts at each end and floating batteries were moored along it. Frantically, soldiers and peasants worked waist deep in the water. Louis and the Cardinal never left the dyke—the King had to be prevented from taking up a pick himself. On the landward side, the city was isolated by three lines of royal fortifications including thirteen forts. But the Rochellois, commanded by the fiery Duchesse de Rohan and by its mayor, the brave Jean Guiton, supported by eight fanatic pastors, resisted heroically. It was a dreadful winter and the besiegers suffered accordingly. Louis grew bored and went off to hunt. The Cardinal had a nervous collapse, though in March he none the less led an abortive night attack through a sewer.
By the spring the Rochellois were starving. When the English fleet returned, it found the dyke impregnable and sailed home. A second English expedition in September 1628 also turned back. Mme de Rohan boiled her leather armchair to make soup—others ate their shoes. On a single day 400 Rochellois died of hunger. Those who tried to escape were hanged by the besiegers. (However, Louis spared a young lady who had written to an officer saying she would marry him and turn Catholic if he would save her—the royal army celebrated their wedding in splendid style.) On 28 October 1628 La Rochelle surrendered. The King, wearing an armour damascened with golden fleurs-de-lis, rode into the city on All Saints’ Day. He wept when he saw the misery caused by the siege—the unburied corpses and the scarcely less ghastly survivors. (Wagon-loads of food were brought in, whereupon a hundred Rochellois died of over-eating.) A triumphant Richelieu said Mass in the city’s principal church, giving Communion to Louis and his captains. La Rochelle’s fortifications were razed to the ground and every church had to be returned to the Catholics. The Rochellois kept only the right to worship as Protestants.
The Duc de Rohan still held out in Languedoc, so in the spring of 1629 Louis launched a final campaign. Whole towns were demolished—in some places the King’s officers hanged all males or sent them to the galleys. Eventually Rohan surrendered and was banished. The Huguenots were ordered to summon their Assembly for Louis to dictate his terms. Peace was signed at Alais in June 1629; the Protestants lost their places de sûretés but the Edict of Nantes was confirmed. Even though a Huguenot rising took place as late as 1752, Alais was the end of the Wars of Religion.
There was another focus of rebellion, in the person of the heir to the throne, ‘Monsieur’. Born in 1608, Gaston, Duc d’Anjou, was not quite so useless as he has been painted; his fat face and bulging eyes give a misleading impression. He was both kind-natured and intelligent, a patron of the arts who collected paintings and gem stones. But he was also weak, and easily influenced. When in 1626 Richelieu wanted him to marry a Bourbon cousin, Mlle de Montpensier who was the richest heiress in France, Mme de Chevreuse put it into Monsieur’s head that he did not want the marriage. A confused plot emerged in which the chief schemers were Gaston’s bastard half-brothers, the Duc de Vendôme and the Grand Prior, his tutor the Marshal d’Ornano, and of course Mme de Chevreuse and her latest lover, the Comte de Chalais. Undoubtedly there was talk of murdering Richelieu and possibly Louis too—Gaston was to be made King and married to Anne of Austria. (Louis always thought that Anne had been in the conspiracy and never quite forgave her, saying on his deathbed, ‘In my condition I have to forgive her but I don’t have to believe her.’) The plot came to light when Chalais lost his nerve and made a partial confession to Richelieu. The Vendôme brothers were sent to prison where the Grand Prior died. Chalais paid with his life; his execution was so bungled that it took thirty-four blows to sever his head. Mme de Chevreuse was banished to Poitou but escaped to Lorraine. Gaston confessed everything with gusto, implicating everybody, and then tamely married Mlle de Montpensier—the ceremony was performed by Richelieu. As a reward Gaston was made Duke of Orleans.
Henri IV in 1605
Louis XIII by Philippe de Champaigne
The Cardinal was determined to show the nobility that they were not above the law. A royal edict was therefore issued which forbade duelling under pain of death. In 1627 the Comte des Chapelles and the Comte de Bouteville fought a duel in the Place Royale, ignoring the edict. Bouteville had taken part in no less than twenty-two affairs of honour. Within a month they had been arrested, tried, condemned and beheaded in the Place de Grève. It was well known that the Cardinal persuaded Louis that the executions were necessary. Richelieu attacked the nobility in other ways too. In 1628 he was responsible for an edict ordering the demolition of fortified châteaux, and for another which abolished the offices of Constable and Grand Admiral. By 1634 a tribunal in Poitiers was condemning over 200 noblemen for robbery and other crimes. In 1635 he instituted the office ofIntendant—a royal representative in each province who kept an eye on the governor and on any other source of opposition. Such measures earned the Cardinal much hatred. One can only wonder at his courage; Gaston remained heir to the throne until 1638, and in the event of Louis’s death Richelieu would probably have lost not only his place but his life as well.
Sometimes even Louis found Richelieu irritating. There is a story that on one occasion the King growled at him, ‘You go first, since you are the real King.’ Richelieu replied smoothly, ‘Only to light the way,’ and, picking up a torch, preceded Louis like a lackey. In reality the King seems to have been fond of the Cardinal rather than otherwise. His letters to him were often almost excessively affectionate; he could write, ‘Be assured that I shall love you until my last breath’, signing himself ‘Louis de très bon coeur’. Richelieu took care to let the King know exactly what he was doing. Besides a daily correspondence, the two men spent long hours together, discussing plans and projects. Louis once said of Richelieu, ‘He is the greatest servant that France has ever had.’ The Cardinal wrote gratefully, ‘The capacity to permit his ministers to serve him is not the least of qualities in a great King.’
In the autumn of 1630 Louis fell so ill that he was not expected to live; he received the Last Sacraments, asking pardon for any wrong he might have done. The doctors thought he was suffering from dysentery but in fact he had an internal abscess: fortunately it burst, and he made a slow recovery, during which he was nursed by his wife and by his mother. The latter had now turned against the Cardinal. When Louis was at his weakest they insisted that he must dismiss Richelieu. Rumours of the Cardinal’s imminent disgrace circulated, and appeared to be confirmed by Louis’s curious coldness when Richelieu visited him. On his return to Paris, the King stayed with his mother at her new palace of the Luxembourg. On 10 November Marie took Louis into her chamber and again demanded that he dismiss the Cardinal. As she was speaking, Richelieu, who had been warned, burst into her room through a back door, to be met with a torrent of abuse from the Queen Mother. He knelt before the King begging for mercy, at which Marie screamed at Louis, ‘Do you prefer a lackey to your own mother?’ The King, who must have found the scene intolerable, told Richelieu to rise, bowed to his mother and left for his hunting-lodge at Versailles. Marie thought she had won: courtiers flocked to her, including the Marshal de Marillac and his brother, the Garde des Sceaux, as well as Bassompierre.
Richelieu made preparations for flight. Suddenly one of the King’s young cronies, Claude de Saint-Simon, appeared with a message from Louis summoning him to Versailles. There he again knelt before the King, and in an emotional scene Louis told him, ‘I have in you the most faithful, the most affectionate servant in the world. I have seen the respect and the attention which you have always paid the Queen my mother. If you had failed in your duty to her I would have cast you off. But she has no cause whatever to complain of you. She has let herself be prejudiced by a cabal whom I know very well how to destroy. Serve me as you have so far served me and I will defend you against every enemy.’ The Marshal de Marillac was arrested at the head of his troops, accused of embezzlement and beheaded; his brother, the Garde des Sceaux, died in prison; Bassompierre was sent to the Bastille, where he spent twelve years. Louis, not the Cardinal, was responsible for these measures. The Queen Mother was confined at Compiègne, from where in 1631 she fled to the Spanish Netherlands, dying in exile a decade later. Her attempt to overthrow Richelieu is known as ‘The Day of Dupes’.
Gaston too left France. From Lorraine he appealed to all Frenchmen to revolt against the Cardinal. He won a valuable recruit in the rich and popular Duc de Montmorency, who was angry at not being given the great office of Constable which his father and grandfather had held. In autumn 1632 Gaston invaded France and was joined by Montmorency, but their little army was easily defeated at Castelnaudry. Monsieur fled at the first charge. Poor Montmorency, a paragon of knightly virtue, was beheaded at Toulouse. Gaston swore to relinquish evil companions and be ‘especially fond of his cousin the Cardinal de Richelieu’. He soon fled again, to join his mother.
Louis was busy abroad, with the war of the Mantuan Succession, which broke out in 1629. (Mantua was important because it controlled one of the roads between Spanish Italy and the Empire.) The Duke of Mantua, a Gonzaga but also a Frenchman, defended his Ducal throne to the point of selling his Titians and Mantegnas. In the campaign’s early stages Richelieu took the King’s place, clad as a cavalier in clothes of ‘feuille morte’ edged with gold, wearing a cuirass of polished steel, white jackboots, a plumed hat and a rapier. In March 1630 Louis stormed the Savoyard fortress of Pignerolo, having first forced the pass of Susa where he smashed his way through three lines of fortifications. The old Duke of Savoy knelt in the snow to kiss Louis’s boots in token of submission, the war ending in April 1631 with the peace of Cherasco. Savoy ceded Pignerolo to France—with it went control of a pass over the Alps which guaranteed France access to Italy.
An incident during the campaign shows Louis’s fatalism. The mistress of the house where he lodged fell ill with the plague. His staff were terrified but Louis, dismissing them, said simply, ‘Withdraw and pray God that your own hostesses are not stricken, but first draw my bed curtains. I shall try to get some sleep and then we will leave to-morrow morning, early and without panic.’
During Gaston’s revolt, the Parlement of Paris had refused to ratify a royal edict condemning the rebellion. Louis soon forced them into a humiliating ratification. For the Parlement were not exempt from the revolution in government, their functions and privileges being constantly under attack. In 1641 Louis savagely told the senior President of the Paris Parlement, ‘You have been created only to judge between Maître Pierre and Maître Jean and if you continue your plots I will clip your claws so close that your flesh will suffer.’
Culturally, the later years of Louis XIII’s reign were a period of some distinction. In 1636 Corneille’s Le Cid was triumphantly performed for the first time. Next year Descartes’s Discours de la Méthode was published. The Academie Française was set up, charged with producing a dictionary which would preserve the purity of the French language. A natural history museum, the Jardin des Plantes, was founded for the instruction of medical students. In the chambre bleue of her hôtel near the Louvre, Mme de Rambouillet created the salon, holding receptions at which great lords and bourgeois intellectuals could meet on equal terms. Life was becoming altogether more graceful; the forerunners of the boulevardiers learnt to stroll through the elegant arcades of the Place Royale as well as to strut and bow at court. There were many new buildings in which they were able to parade, notably Louis’s extension of the west wing of the Louvre and Richelieu’s Palais Cardinal. Most of the hôtels of the Marais date from this period. At Fontainebleau and at Saint-Germain the King employed Simon Vouet, one of the best painters of the day; he also commissioned Philippe de Champaigne to paint an allegory of the royal triumph over heresy at La Rochelle. However, though Louis enjoyed plays, he had no deep interest in the arts and cancelled all literary pensions when Richelieu died.
A field in which Louis and Richelieu were less than successful was finance. Their government lived from hand to mouth, selling offices or confiscating the property of rebellious noblemen. The Cardinal increased taxes, but unlike Sully, relied on tax farmers. There were riots in Paris, peasant risings in Guyenne and Normandy—tax collectors were murdered and châteaux sacked until troops had to be sent in to restore order. One concrete achievement was a standard gold coinage, the famous Louis d’or, which made its appearance in 1640, bearing a most impressive portrait of the King.
In 1631 Théophraste Renaudot, a Paris doctor, published his Gazette, and was immediately given a royal pension. His journal, the first modern newspaper, was made to print royal edicts. It also published news bulletins which gave details of military campaigns—when they were successful—and of attempts to lighten taxes. Some of these bulletins were written by Louis himself, who had at once grasped their importance as a means of shaping public opinion.
Fully mature and bearded, the King had lost none of his neuroses. Scrupulously correct and owing something to fashionable Stoicism (he had probably read Epictetus), he still gave way to moods of hysterical depression during which he was quite unapproachable. Though an introvert, he was fond of such extrovert amusements as cards and parade grounds. His tastes were eccentric in their simplicity. When the axle of his carriage broke, the King, taking an axe, walked into the forest and returned with a sapling which he had trimmed. On campaign he could be found in a kitchen morosely cooking his supper. Like most Bourbons he had little time for intellectuals; Mme de Rambouillet’s précieuses were not much in evidence at the court of Louis XIII.
In any case he detested court life. Probably Louis’s ideal of paradise was the seventeenth century equivalent of a good London club. He tried to create his own world at Versailles—it is ironical that that monstrous edifice should have begun as a sanctuary of the simple life. The place was a small, lonely village outside Paris in a flat landscape of sandy soil and marshes. Its dreariness explained its isolation, an isolation which in turn explains its attraction for Louis. He had first visited Versailles-au-Val-de-Galie when he was a boy of six, on a hawking expedition in 1607. He began to hawk and hunt there again regularly in 1621. The long ride back to Paris irked him, so in 1624 he bought a little estate of hardly more than a hundred acres, and built a hunting-lodge. This first château of Versailles consisted of twenty-six rooms in a centre block with two wings, constructed in red brick and white stone, and roofed with blue slate. The bright colours are the reason for Saint-Simon’s description, ‘a card castle’. By 1636 it had been enlarged by the architect Philibert le Roy and consisted of three blocks around a courtyard, the fourth side being closed by an arcade; there was a small pavilion at each angle. The park and hunting grounds were also extended. None the less a contemporary described it as ‘a house fit for a gentleman with an income of only ten to twelve thousand livres’; Bassompierre even called it ‘the miserable little house of Versailles’.
Versailles was meant for relaxation. The food, like the furniture, was plain and uncomplicated. Besides hunting the King played cards, billiards, backgammon, chess and spillikins with his boon companions (and also such long forgotten games as renarde, moine, oie, tourniquet and trou-madame). He liked to drill a small company of musketeers in the courtyard. Sometimes in his little carriage he inspected young trees he had planted; at others he lounged in his bedroom in a green velvet dressing-gown lined with squirrel fur. Very occasionally the Queen or the Queen Mother visited Versailles with their ladies, but they never stayed the night. ‘Ce Prince si farouche pour les dames’, as Mme de Motteville terms him, gave it as his opinion that too many women would spoil everything. Versailles was essentially a bachelor paradise.
The King yearned for friendship. He sought ceaselessly a kindred spirit to whom he could unburden himself, someone who could dispel his overwhelming sense of isolation and desperate loneliness. The poor man was too suspicious and too inarticulate to have much chance of success. Mme de Motteville says of Louis, ‘Among so many sombre mists and weird fancies the tender passion could find no place in his heart. He did not love as other men do, to take pleasure in it. His spirit had grown accustomed to bitterness and he loved only to be hurt.’ Another person who knew the court of Louis XIII, M de Montglat, explains that, ‘The King’s love was not like that of other men, because he loved a girl without any thought of enjoying her favours, behaving to her as he would to a friend; even though it is perfectly possible for a man to have a mistress and a friend in one and the same person, that was not what he wanted, because his mistress was no more than his friend, a confidante to whom he could reveal the secrets of his heart.’
Louis had several mistresses, but as M de Montglat says, the relationship was invariably platonic. When Mlle de Hautefort coyly dropped a letter into her bosom, the King retrieved it with a pair of tongs. She lasted longest of all his loves, holding sway for nearly a decade. He first met her in 1631 when she was a seventeen-year-old Maid of Honour to the Queen. Nicknamed ‘Aurora’ by the court, Marie de Hautefort was a big, bouncing, Gascon blonde with an aquiline nose. High-spirited, imperious and a little hard, she inflicted upon Louis all the miseries which he expected; their affair was a business of jealous quarrels and grudging reconciliations. He suspected her of making fun of him to the Queen, but loved her in spite of himself. One day he confided his love to Saint-Simon, whereupon that earthy young man suggested that he act as Louis’s ambassador to Marie, hinting that if he did, the King would very soon find himself in bed with her. Louis was horrified. ‘It is quite true that I’m in love with her,’ he admitted, ‘that I look for her everywhere, that I enjoy talking about her and that I dream about her even more. But it is also true that this happens in spite of myself, as I’m a man and weak in that way. Being King makes it no easier for me than for anyone else to indulge my feelings, because I have to be always on my guard against sin and giving scandal.’ The astonished Saint-Simon concluded that Louis’s passion was real enough, but kept in check by religious scruples. Mlle de Hautefort’s influence was not altogether beneficial; as a loyal friend of Anne of Austria she disliked Richelieu and was pro-Spanish. On the other hand, she did her best to bring together the King and Queen, between whom there was now little love. Also, according to la Grande Mademoiselle (Gaston’s daughter), she made the court more agreeable. As a précieuse with literary tastes, Marie complained that the King only talked to her about hounds and hunting (though she occasionally hunted herself). No doubt she preferred the music parties which took place three times a week.
Louis’s other mistress, Mlle de La Fayette—who interrupted the Hautefort’s tyranny—also tried to reconcile the royal couple. The King first met this timid little Maid of Honour with brown ringlets and blue eyes in the autumn of 1635, when she was only sixteen. A deeply pious girl, she refused and made the Sign of the Cross when Louis paid her the unheard-of compliment of asking her to come and live with him at Versailles. She too hunted with the King and, entirely disinterested, seems to have genuinely loved him for himself. But she also detested Richelieu and his ‘wicked policies’. Ruthlessly, the Cardinal ordered her confessor to encourage her leaning towards the religious life, and in May 1637 Louise de La Fayette entered a Carmelite convent in Paris, in the rue Saint-Antoine. The King was in tears. So was Louise. ‘I shall never see him again,’ she wept. Her confessor told the King that her decision could be postponed, but Louis replied that if he kept her from her vocation he would regret it all his life. For a few months he visited her at her convent, though he was only able to speak to her through a grille (her somewhat worldly abbess said that the King ought to exercise his royal prerogative and come inside, but he was shocked by this suggestion). Marie de Hautefort soon returned, to make his life a torment again.
During her brief reign, Louise had formed a friendship with Louis’s confessor, a Jesuit called Nicolas Caussin. Potentially it was the most serious opposition which Richelieu ever encountered. Caussin held strict views on the nature of true repentance; he believed that absolution should only be given if the penitent felt real contrition, which included a strict resolve never to commit the sin again. (This was in contrast to the more normal view that attrition, a resolve to try not to sin again, was sufficient.) In addition Caussin believed that any alliance with a Protestant Prince was sacrilegious and a sin. He remonstrated in the confessional with Louis who, always scrupulous and fearful of damnation, began to have grim doubts about his eternal salvation. Finally Caussin actually dared to hector the King outside the confessional, vilifying Richelieu; he also made the terrible mistake of giving his penitent a letter from Marie de Medici. The Cardinal then managed to have Caussin dismissed and banished. He made sure that royal confessors were more tractable in future.
It is often said that Louis’s favourite companions were grooms. But these grooms were noblemen, even if not of very high rank. Admittedly, Baradas, his favourite of the mid-1620s, was an uncouth brute who grew insufferably arrogant and joined his betters in conspiring against the Cardinal. However, Claude de Rouvroy, Seigneur de Saint-Simon, was a very different type. Richelieu introduced him into the royal household as a page in 1626, when he was only nineteen. Saint-Simon speedily recommended himself by holding a second horse during the hunt in such a way that Louis was able to change mounts without touching the ground. Small, ugly, unlettered, Saint-Simon, apart from an ancient lineage, was not exactly distinguished; he had a wretched, mean appearance; Bassompierre called him ‘the little insect’. He was none the less shrewd and honourable and, during the ten years in which he was the King’s inseparable companion, had the sense to be grateful to Richelieu. So close were Louis and Saint-Simon that they could communicate without speaking—a mere glance between them was sufficient—while they had a secret language which only they could understand. The King appointed his friend Captain of Versailles, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Master of the Wolfhounds; in 1630 he made him Governor of Meulan and of Blaye, in 1635 a Duke and Peer of France. But in the end even Saint-Simon grew spoilt; by 1635 Louis was writing to Richelieu to complain of the new Duke’s ‘mauvaises humeurs’ and of how he always seems irritated with the King. Ironically, it was the loyalty and generosity which Louis so valued in him that brought about his downfall in 1636. The King decided to arrest and charge with treason an old friend of Saint-Simon, and Saint-Simon at once warned him. Louis would not tolerate such a betrayal of his confidence and, regardless of his own anguished feelings, banished Saint-Simon to Blaye.
Probably the Cardinal was Louis’s truest friend. The King’s letters to him are full of curiously intimate little details; how many times he has taken medicine, how many animals his hounds have killed, how cruel his favourites have been. He is also human enough to tell Richelieu not to be depressed because he knows how bad it is for his health.
The Cardinal did not waver in his determination to bring down the Habsburgs. Nevertheless, during the first decade of the Thirty Years War which convulsed Germany, it seemed that the Emperor Ferdinand II might impose his rule not only on Bohemia but upon all Germany. France was too weak to challenge him openly. The Imperial troops were formidable, while the allied army of Spain was considered to be the best in Europe. As yet French troops were neither sufficiently numerous nor sufficiently disciplined to take on such opponents. Richelieu therefore waged a kind of Cold War, subsidizing the Emperor’s Protestant enemies with French money. This policy proved almost too effective when King Gustav Adolf of Sweden all but destroyed the Imperial army; the ‘Lion of the North’ was a fanatic Lutheran, who aimed at establishing a great Protestant empire in place of that of the Habsburgs. Fortunately King Gustav was slain at Lutzen in 1632.
Throughout, Louis accepted the dangerous gamble of Richelieu’s brinkmanship. He took a keen interest in expanding his army and in improving its equipment. By the end of his reign Louis possessed a standing army of nearly 200,000 men, compared with 100,000 in 1622. Among new types of cavalry which he introduced were mounted infantry (the Black Musketeers and the Grey Musketeers, destined to be among the Ancien Régime’s most famous regiments). The principal corps remained those of Henri IV—the Guards, with the Regiments of Picardy, Navarre, Champagne and Piedmont. There were also regiments of Swiss, German and Italian mercenaries together with about a hundred small regiments raised by their colonels. The élite troops were excellent, but the rest were still too much of a feudal rabble.
A navy was also built up. Coastal rights were resumed by the Crown and a Conseil de la Marine was established. Bases were set up at Atlantic ports, and there was a regular programme of shipbuilding (the largest vessel, La Couronne, was 2,000 tons, 500 more than Charles I’s famous Royal Sovereign, and mounting 72 guns). By 1636 there was an Atlantic Fleet and a Mediterranean Fleet. The Archbishop of Bordeaux, Mgr Henri de Sourdis, proved a most capable Admiral of the Atlantic Fleet, who recruited officers from French Knights of Malta and from among merchant captains and privateers.
In 1635 Richelieu and Louis decided to bring the war into the open. A French herald, wearing his tabard and accompanied by a trumpeter, rode into Brussels to read out a formal declaration of war in the Grande Place. French troops were then sent to aid the Dutch and to invade Milan, but bad organization brought these operations to a halt. An attempt to overrun Franche Comté also failed. The French army seemed hardly adequate for a full-scale war on three fronts.
The Habsburgs retaliated swiftly. In the summer of 1636, Imperial troops invaded Burgundy while a Spanish army commanded by the Cardinal Infante, Philip IV’s viceroy in the Low Countries, invaded Picardy. He advanced across the Somme, to find only 10,000 French troops between him and Paris. The capital’s walls had been dismantled and there were no troops for its defence; thousands of Parisians had fled. Richelieu, whose bodyguard was being hissed in the street and who was suffering from migraine, lost his nerve badly. At a meeting of the Council he advised the King to abandon Paris. Everyone present agreed with the Cardinal, with the exception of Louis, who for once overruled his great servant. To leave Paris, said the King, would demoralize the entire country. After promulgating a series of edicts tantamount to a general mobilization, Louis rode out to Senlis to join what troops were available. As he rode out, he was cheered. Somehow reinforcements, untrained but sufficient, were brought up. Meanwhile the Cardinal Infante took Corbie, the last fortress before Paris, which was now only eighty miles away; his forward troops reached Pontoise. But the Parisians rose to the occasion in the same way that they did at the battle of the Marne in 1914. Soon Louis had an army of 40,000 men and the Cardinal Infante withdrew, the French regaining Corbie on 14 November. For long afterwards 1636 was known as the Year of Corbie.
In 1637 France began to win victories, capturing towns on the Flemish frontier. The new navy won a significant triumph in an action with the Spaniards off Lerins; the following year it won its first major battle, off Fuentarrabia, sinking twenty Spanish ships. Also in 1638, France’s Protestant ally, Duke Bernhardt of Saxe-Weimar, smashed the Imperial army at Rheinfelden and conquered most of Alsace; he died unexpectedly in 1639, whereupon the French took over his conquests. Ill-health prevented Louis from playing as active a part as he would have wished in military operations. In any case he had problems at home.
In 1636 Gaston d’Orléans was involved in yet another plot against Richelieu, who only just escaped assassination. The Comte de Soissons, a Prince of the Blood, who had been connected with the plot, hatched a further conspiracy in which Gaston also joined. Both plots were discovered, but no really harsh measures could be taken against members of the Blood Royal. Gaston was bought off with a large sum of money (part of which paid for the Mansard wing at Blois) and Soissons fled to Sedan.
Louis’s support for the Cardinal in the face of opposition from the entire nobility shows real moral courage. None the less Richelieu was always fearful of losing his favour—he considered the four square feet of the King’s cabinet ‘more difficult to conquer than all the battlefields of Europe’. During Louis’s reign, twenty-six persons were beheaded for plotting against the Cardinal, and more died in prison (they included four Dukes and a Marshal of France). The King gave his support at terrible personal cost. Estrangements with his mother and his brother were inevitable, but surely not with his Queen. When war was declared on Spain, Mme de Chevreuse persuaded Anne to send details of any French military operations which she could discover to her brother, the Cardinal Infante. For four years the Queen of France was a spy for Spain. Eventually in August 1637 one of her messengers, M de La Porte, was intercepted. Marie de Hautefort saved Anne by boldly entering the Bastille, disguised as a man, and smuggling a letter to La Porte so that he was able to make his story tally with that of the Queen. As for Mme de Chevreuse, still youthful and slightly-built, she disguised herself as a page and galloped down lanes and byways until she reached Spain. It is likely that Anne had convinced herself that she was aiding the enemies of the Cardinal and not those of France.
One day in December 1637 Louis left Versailles to stay with Condé at Saint Maur. Passing through Paris, he decided to visit Soeur Angélique (the former Louise de La Fayette) at her convent in the rue Saint-Antoine. Their conversation continued until nightfall, by which time heavy rain was falling; the wind was so violent that it blew out the candles in the lanterns of the royal escort. Their captain, M de Guitaut, who was on familiar terms with the King and who was also devoted to the Queen, said that it would be impossible to reach Saint Maur in such a violent storm; he advised the King to stay at the Louvre. Louis replied that his apartments were not ready, whereupon Guitaut suggested that he stay with the Queen. The night grew blacker than ever, the rain falling in torrents. Reluctantly, the King agreed. He had supper with the Queen and then spent the night in her bed. A little before midday on Sunday 5 September 1638, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Anne of Austria gave birth to a son, Louis Dieudonné—the God-given. Mlle de Hautefort persuaded Louis to go to the Queen’s bedside and kiss her. Te Deums were sung throughout France.
The news was not welcomed by everyone; Gaston was no longer heir to the throne—Richelieu was safe. The Cardinal’s enemies suggested that the King was not the father; indeed it was somewhat surprising that Anne should bear her first child in the twenty-third year of their marriage. But there was no doubt about the birth, which took place in poor Gaston’s presence; to console him the King gave him a large sum of money.
The King continued to sleep with Anne. In his grim way he considered it his duty, though he now neither liked nor trusted her. Flirtatious, still goodlooking if a little plump, with her fair hair in ringlets, Anne was very conscious of her looks. (Mme de Motteville says that her only imperfections were too big a nose and wearing too much rouge.) Her voice was not attractive, a shrill falsetto—she yapped like a terrier. In character she was scatter-brained, lazy, a glutton, everything that Louis was not. He knew very well that she corresponded with Mme de Chevreuse, who was now in England.
Marie de Hautefort—‘the creature’ as Louis calls her in his letters to Richelieu—was not much solace. She had a stinging wit and bullied him unmercifully, demanding places at court for her family. In 1638 he wrote pathetically to the Cardinal, ‘la créature est toujours en mauvaise humeur contre moi.’ He was driven to distraction by her love for a Captain in the Royal Guard, the Marquis de Gesvres, even writing to the young man’s father to tell him how angry he was with his son. In the end she made herself so disagreeable that the King was thoroughly disenchanted with allwomen. Mlle de Hautefort could not believe it when she was finally asked to leave the court in November 1639.
Richelieu was uneasy. He knew that in his loneliness, Louis might find some new favourite who might oppose the Cardinal. To protect himself, he had introduced the son of an old friend into the royal household—Henri d’ Effiat, Marquis de Cinq Mars, who was appointed Master of the King’s Wardrobe on 27 March 1638. It was the eighteenth birthday of this strikingly handsome young nobleman. The first thing he did was to add to his own wardrobe (which eventually included fifty-two suits). Louis soon took a passionate liking to him. Here was another long-sought friend. In the summer of 1639 he made him Grand Master of the Horse, and henceforward Cinq Mars was known as Monsieur le Grand. The King fawned on his new favourite, loading him with presents.
A thoroughly shallow creature, Cinq Mars, although intoxicated by his good fortune, was entirely without gratitude. He was bored by Louis, who spent more and more time hunting; digging out foxes and flying sparrowhawks at blackbirds were small consolation to a young man who loved Paris and had a beautiful mistress. He turned sulky and was continually slipping away. There were constant scenes in which Richelieu acted as peacemaker. Sometimes Monsieur le Grand’s hauteurs were so insufferable that the King was unable to sleep from rage. It is often said that the relationship was homosexual, and Louis’s behaviour was certainly abnormal. But there is no evidence whatsoever of homosexual behaviour on his part, even if he undoubtedly admired beauty in both sexes. The only hint of perversion is Tallemant des Réaux’s squalid gossip, which includes a story of the King, wearing a bride’s nightdress, sharing a bed with his favourite and kissing his hands. Tallemant is not noted for reliability. In fact, throughout the association with Cinq Mars, Louis continued to sleep with the Queen—in the late summer of 1640 she gave birth to another son, Philippe (the future ‘Monsieur’). Anne did not show the slightest jealousy of Cinq Mars, though she had resented Mlle de Hautefort. Nor was the King any less assiduous at his devotions. He would hardly have written his pitiful complaints to Richelieu about the favourite’s cruelty if he had thought the relationship a sin. What is particularly significant are the childish certificates which the pair signed after quarrels and sent to the Cardinal, stating that they were on good terms again. Basically the association was an adolescent friendship, even if Louis was twenty years older than Cinq Mars; the King was not perverted but retarded—he had the emotional age of a boy of fifteen.
While these puerile quarrels were taking place, France was winning victory after victory. In 1640 the French conquered Artois, while across the Alps the Comte d’Harcourt routed the Habsburg armies three times and captured Turin. The Duke of Savoy hastily negotiated for peace with France.
Yet the French nobility were determined to overthrow Richelieu. The Comte de Soissons gathered a Spanish army at Sedan and began to invade France; luckily he was killed by a stray pistol bullet during the first skirmish. Next year the Duc de Bouillon revived the plan; he intended to invade France with a French army from Italy and raise the Huguenots of the Cévennes, while Gaston was to attack from the north. They were joined by no less a personage than Cinq Mars who signed their treaty with Spain; he hoped that if the plot were successful he might marry Marie de Gonzaga and obtain her fabulous wealth. In his conceit he had come to resent the Cardinal’s admonitions; by now Louis was so irritated by his favourite that on one occasion he shouted ‘Je le vomis!’ But Richelieu’s spies soon discovered the plot.
In June 1642, at Narbonne, an agent of the Cardinal showed the King documents which gave irrefutable proof of Cinq Mars’s treachery. Louis at once gave orders for his arrest and, after a brief attempt to hide in the back streets of Narbonne, the former favourite was incarcerated in the fortress of Montpelier. In September he was tried at Lyons, hopelessly compromised by the confessions of Gaston and Bouillon. The wretched young man broke down and admitted his guilt; he also incriminated his best friend, François-Auguste de Thou. Arrogant to the last, he protested at sharing a scaffold with de Thou because the latter was a commoner. On the day of Cinq Mars’s execution, the King, who was playing chess, looked up at the clock and said, ‘Aha, this morning at this very moment our dear friend is having a bad time [un mauvais moment].’
Ill-health—gout, rheumatism and fever striking at a constitution which was now dangerously undermined by pneumo-intestinal tuberculosis—together with the miseries of his private life had brought Louis to the verge of collapse. Unable to hunt, he turned to music, being particularly soothed by the airs de cour composed and sung to the lute by Pierre de Nyert, whom he rewarded by appointing him Premier Valet de la Garde Robe. (He left him a considerable sum of money in his will.)
Spain was falling apart. In 1641 Portugal, which had been under Spanish rule since 1580, declared itself independent. Catalonia also rebelled, proclaiming Louis as sovereign Count of Barcelona. In 1642 the King added Roussillon and Cerdagne to France, whose frontier now extended along the entire length of the Pyrenees. Although Louis had personally directed the siege of Perpignan, his growing weakness had made it impossible to take much part in the campaign.
Meanwhile Richelieu lay dying. A skeleton, eaten by ulcers which paralysed him, he had to be carried in a litter; he was rowed up the Rhône in a gilded barge, his cabin hung with gold and crimson velvet. Although in agony as he lay on his bed of violet taffetas, the Cardinal’s mind retained its icy clarity. But by the end of 1642 he was spitting blood, and his physicians diagnosed pleurisy—he offered his resignation. However, Louis answered that Richelieu must die as he had lived, First Minister of France, and came to his bedside to feed him spoonfuls of egg yolk with his own hand. The ‘torment and ornament of his age’ died on 4 December 1642. He had made France the greatest country in Europe; his achievements are the measure of Louis XIII’s judgement. On his advice Louis appointed Mazarin to be his successor, with instructions to continue all the Cardinal’s policies.
Louis himself was dying. At the end of March 1643 he told his doctor, Bouvard, ‘I see from your silence that I am going to die.’ He added, ‘God knows I never liked life and that I shall be overjoyed to go to Him.’ They brought the Dauphin to see him. When the King asked him his name the little boy replied, ‘Louis XIV, mon Papa.’ His father smiled and answered, ‘Not yet, my son.’ After receiving the Last Sacraments at the end of April, Louis diverted himself by ordering his gentlemen to sing psalms and hymns in which he sometimes joined. He died on 14 May 1643. His last word was ‘Jesus’. He was only forty-one.
Acting on his instructions, an attendant removed the crucifix, which Louis wore on a cord round his neck, and took it to Soeur Angélique (Mlle de La Fayette) at her convent.
The day before he died the King had said to the old foe of his childhood, Condé, ‘Monsieur, I know that the enemy is advancing towards our frontiers with a great and powerful army.’ No one in Paris had heard of any enemy invasion. Louis added faintly, ‘Your son will rout it and win a great victory.’ They thought the dying man’s mind was wandering. A week later, a strong Spanish force laid siege to Rocroi, a French fortress in the Ardennes. Condé’s son, the Duc d’Enghien who was only twenty-two, led an army of 20,000 men to its relief. A brilliant, unorthodox commander, he marched straight at the Spaniards, positioning his troops too quickly for the enemy to manœuvre. Next day the Duke routed them with successive charges until only the famous Spanish infantry remained, commanded from a litter by the aged Count Fuentes. Enghien charged them three times until Fuentes was killed. Another final charge destroyed them; 8,000 Spaniards were killed and 7,000 taken prisoner, the cream of their army. It was the end of a military domination of Europe which had lasted since their victory at Pavia in 1525.
To his contemporaries, Louis XIII seemed a most effective monarch. James Howell,* writing in 1646, regarded him as an inspiration to English royalists: ‘A successful and triumphant King both at home and abroad throughout the whole course of his reign,’ wrote Howell, ‘and that in so constant degree as if Fortune herself had been his companion and Victory his handmaid.’
Saint-Simon outlived his friend and master by fifty years, dying in 1693. He had known Louis XIII better than anyone. It is worth remembering that he and his son—the diarist—never ceased to venerate Louis’s memory. To the end of his life the diarist wore on his finger a miniature of the King set in diamonds, while a lamp burnt perpetually before a bust of Louis in the family chapel. Father and son faithfully attended Mass at Saint-Denis on every anniversary of his death. Few Kings have inspired such gratitude and affection in their favourites.