Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The Grand Monarch at the Height of His Power
Louis XIV (Sun King) [1643-1715]

After the peace of Westphalia and the Peace of the Pyrenees Louis had no more to fear from any power in Europe. So for the first few years after he began to rule for himself there was peace in Europe. But all the time Louis was planning and scheming how to make France great, and chiefly how still more to lessen the power of Spain, in spite of the fact that the King of Spain was now his father-in-law.

So when in 1665 the King of Spain died leaving his throne to his little son Charles, Louis claimed Flanders, Franche-Comte, and all the Spanish possessions in the Netherlands for his wife Maria Theresa.

The new King of Spain reminded Louis that the Queen of France had given up all her rights to Spain or to any Spanish possessions when she married. But Louis replied that the Queen's dowry had never been paid, so that promise was of no account. And he marched into Flanders with an army and soon had possession of the chief towns. Franche-Comte too yielded to him almost at once.

But now the Dutch began to be alarmed for their own country. They had won their freedom from Spain and were now a republic. They had no wish to fall into the hands of France. So to prevent Louis becoming too powerful they made friends with Britain and with Sweden. Holland was at this time becoming very important. It had a fine navy and great colonies. Louis did not want to fight this Triple Alliance, so he made peace.

But he was very angry with the Dutch for having stopped him in his triumphal career. He made up his mind to punish them. So he plotted with Charles II of Britain to break up the Triple Alliance. Charles was in need of money, and when Louis offered him a large sum he easily consented to give up his new friends. Louis persuaded Sweden also to leave the Dutch alone. Then, with Conde and Turenne as leaders, he marched into Holland with a great army.

Although Holland had a splendid navy and great colonies it had a very poor army, and was in no way fit to stand against Louis. Added to this the Dutch were quarrelling amongst themselves. Now town after town fell before Louis until he believed himself master of the whole land. The Dutch were in despair. They thought of forsaking their country, of going aboard their ships, and sailing away to their colonies with their wives and children and all that they possessed, and leaving Holland to the French conquerors.

Then suddenly in Holland itself there was a revolution. The Dutch chose a grave young prince of twenty-two, William of Orange, to be their leader. It was a wasted and half-conquered country they offered him. But their new leader was a man of quiet, dogged determination. He had, it was said, no need of hope to make him dare, no need of success to make him persevere. He gave new courage to the Dutch, and their fortunes began to change.

Rather than yield to the French the Dutch now broke open the sluices and cut through the dykes which kept back the sea, and let it flow over their land.

Thus, although flocks and herds and crops were ruined, Holland was saved. The French could not besiege cities which rose like islands from the surrounding waters.

For two years Holland remained under water. The war, however, went on. But only in winter when the fresh water froze could the towns be attacked. Where the water was salt and did not freeze the towns were safe. But soon the war became, not one between Holland and France, but an European war.

Things, however, were changed. At the beginning of the war little Holland had stood alone against great France. Now it was France that stood alone against all Europe, for all the other kingdoms had joined with Holland. Even Spain, strange to say, now fought against France, and for her old and bitter enemy.

By land and sea the fight went on. At sea the French fought the Dutch and Spanish navies. On land they fought Dutch, German, Austrian, and Spanish armies. But in spite of the great combination against them the French were almost everywhere victorious.

All this time Charles II had helped Louis. But the British people had really been on the side of Holland, and William of Orange had married Princess Mary, the Duke of York's daughter, Now the British forced Charles to break with France and sign a treaty with Holland. Both Dutch and French were tired of the war. On the one side Holland was nearly ruined, on the other Turenne had been killed and Conde, too old and worn to fight any longer, had left the army and gone away to live quietly in the country.

Louis was not unwilling to make peace, but he made his own terms, and the other countries were powerless to do aught but submit to them. "My will alone," said Louis grandly, "concluded this peace, so much desired by those on whom it did not depend." It was called the Peace of Nimeguen and was signed in 1678. But the Dutch against whom the war had been begun did not lose an inch of land. It was Spain that was made to pay for all.

Louis now stood at the very height of his greatness and power. Alone he had fought against the powers of Europe and had been victorious. But France suffered for his greatness. Twenty years before many of the rulers in Europe had been the friends of France. At the Peace of Nimeguen France had only enemies among them.

Louis gloried in standing alone against all enemies. His pride knew no bounds, the court and the people of Paris bowed down to him, and worshipped him almost as a god. Louis received it as his right. The absolute King of France, the dictator of Europe, he was the Great Monarch. He made his court the most gorgeous in the world, and gathered to it all the wit and beauty of the kingdom. He built the splendid palace of Versailles, spending thousands and thousands of pounds upon it in order to make it a fitting home for so great a king. He built other palaces too; indeed, he must always be building, and the enormous sums he spent on these palaces helped in no small way to beggar the people. But what of that? Were they not there for his use?

Louis ruled his people as a despot. His will was law. Now he wanted to rule his people's conscience. He ordered that there should be only one religion in his land—the Roman Catholic religion. There must be no religion in the land but the King's religion. So in every sort of way Protestants were forced or persuaded to become Catholic. Some were bribed with money; those who would not take money were robbed, beaten, imprisoned, and ill-treated in many cruel ways.

Colbert did his best to protect the Protestants, for he knew that among them were the best workers and the cleverest merchants, who brought much wealth to the country. But Louis had long ceased to care for the advice of Colbert. For the great minister was anxious and troubled over the King's reckless waste of money. "A useless feast at the cost of a thousand crowns causes me more pain than you can think," he said. Yet he wanted France to be great, and Louis to be glorious. "The right thing to do, Sire," he said, "is to grudge five ha'pence for needless things, and to throw millions about when it is for your glory."

But now Colbert lay dying. He was followed to the grave by the hatred and the curses of the people. For they saw in him only the man who ground them down with taxes too heavy to be borne. They gloried in their magnificent King, and almost worshipped him. They forgot that it was to make him magnificent that they were ground down with taxes.

In the end Louis, who had treated his great adviser with gross ingratitude, sent him a kind letter. But Colbert would not even open it. "I want to hear no more of him," he said. "He might at least let me die in peace." Then in words very like those of our own great Cardinal he sighed, "If I had done for God all that I have done for that man I should be saved ten times over. But now I know not what will become of me."

The Queen too had died little more than a month before Colbert. She had never been more than a shade among the gay crowds who surrounded Louis. She had been meek and quiet without a shadow of power.

And now the King did a strange thing. He married a lady of the court named Madame de Maintenon. She was the poor widow of a poor poet some years older than the King. But Louis found her so beautiful and fascinating that he married her.

One night in the chapel at Versailles two priests waited. The great palace was silent, the long cold corridors were dark and still. But suddenly there was a flicker of light and the sound of quiet footsteps. And presently four people had gathered in the chapel. They were the King with a servant and one of his gentlemen, and a lady dressed in black. In the silence of night, beneath the trembling light of a few candles, the strange marriage took place, and the poor poet's widow became the wife of the King of France.