Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: LOUIS XIV. GOVERNS ALONE—HE OBLIGES THE SPANISH BRANCH OF THE HOUSE OF AUSTRIA TO YIELD HIM THE PRECEDENCY EVERYWHERE, AND THE COURT OF ROME TO GIVE HIM SATISFACTION—HE PURCHASES DUNKIRK, SENDS AID TO THE EMPEROR, THE DUTCH, AND THE PORTUGUES - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER VI.: LOUIS XIV. GOVERNS ALONE—HE OBLIGES THE SPANISH BRANCH OF THE HOUSE OF AUSTRIA TO YIELD HIM THE PRECEDENCY EVERYWHERE, AND THE COURT OF ROME TO GIVE HIM SATISFACTION—HE PURCHASES DUNKIRK, SENDS AID TO THE EMPEROR, THE DUTCH, AND THE PORTUGUES - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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LOUIS XIV. GOVERNS ALONE—HE OBLIGES THE SPANISH BRANCH OF THE HOUSE OF AUSTRIA TO YIELD HIM THE PRECEDENCY EVERYWHERE, AND THE COURT OF ROME TO GIVE HIM SATISFACTION—HE PURCHASES DUNKIRK, SENDS AID TO THE EMPEROR, THE DUTCH, AND THE PORTUGUESE, AND RENDERS HIS KINGDOM POWERFUL AND FLOURISHING.
Never was a court so full of intrigues and expectations as that of France, while Cardinal Mazarin lay dying. Those among the women who had any claim to beauty, flattered themselves with the hopes of governing a young prince, who was only twenty-two years old, and whom love had already influenced to make a tender of his crown to a favorite mistress. The young courtiers imagined that they should easily renew the reign of favorites. Every one of the officers of state thought that he should fill the first place in the ministry, not one of them suspecting that a king who had been brought up in such an ignorance of state affairs would venture to take the burden of government upon his own shoulders. Mazarin had kept the king in a state of nonage as long as he was able, and had not till very lately let him into the mystery of reigning, and then only because he had insisted upon being instructed.
They were so far from wishing to be governed by their sovereign that of all those who had been concerned with Mazarin in the administration, not one applied to the king to know when he would give them an audience; on the contrary, every one asked him to whom they were to apply, and were not a little surprised when Louis answered, “To me;” their astonishment was still increased, on finding him persevere. He had for some time consulted his own strength, and made a trial in secret of his capacity for reigning. His resolution once taken, he maintained it to the last moment of his life. He appointed every minister proper limits to his power, obliging them to give him an account of everything at certain hours, showing them as much confidence as was necessary to give a proper weight to their office, and carefully watching over them to prevent their abuse of it. He began by restoring order in the finances, which had been miserably mismanaged through a continuance of rapine.
He established proper discipline among the troops. His court was at once magnificent and decent; even the pleasures appeared there with a degree of lustre and greatness. The arts were all encouraged and employed, to the glory of the king and kingdom.
This is not the place for painting his character in private life, nor in the domestic government of his kingdom; we shall reserve this for a part by itself. It is sufficient to say that the people, who, since the death of Henry IV. had never seen a true king, and who detested the authority of a prime minister, were filled with admiration and hope, when they saw Louis XIV. do, at twenty-two years of age, what Henry did at fifty. Had Henry IV. had a prime minister, he would have been lost, because the hatred against a private man would have awakened twenty different factions, which would have become too powerful. If Louis XIII. had not had a minister, that prince, whose feeble and sickly constitution made his soul weak and enervated, would have sunk beneath the weight of government; Louis XIV. might or might not have had a prime minister without any danger. There were not the least traces left of the old factions which had distracted the state. There was now only a master and subjects in France; Louis, at the very beginning, showed that he aspired after glory, and that he was resolved to make himself respected at home and abroad.
The ancient kings of Europe had always pretended to an exact equality with each other; this was natural; but the kings of France always claimed that precedence which was due to the antiquity of their race and kingdom; and if they yielded place to the emperors, it was because mankind have hardly ever the courage to abolish a long-established custom. The head of the German republic, though an elective prince, with very little power of his own, has undoubtedly the precedence of all kings, in virtue of his title of Cæsar and heir to Charlemagne. His German chancery does not even give the title of majesty to any other crowned head. The kings of France might dispute the precedence with the emperors, as France had founded the real western empire, of which the name only subsists in Germany. They could plead not only the superiority of a hereditary crown over an elective dignity, but the advantage of being descended in an uninterrupted succession of sovereigns, who reigned over a great monarchy several centuries before any of those houses who are now in possession of crowns had attained to the least degree of dignity. However, they were determined to assert their right of precedence over all the other potentates of Europe. They alleged in support of their claim the title of “Most Christian,” to which the Spanish kings opposed theirs of “Most Catholic;” and since Charles V. had had a king of France prisoner at Madrid, the Spanish pride had made them more tenacious than ever of their rank. The English and Swedes, who pleaded none of these surnames at present, acknowledged as little as was possible this superiority.
Rome was the place where these pretensions were formerly canvassed; the popes, who disposed of kingdoms by a bull, imagined they had a much greater right to settle the rank among crowned heads. This court, where everything passes in ceremony, was the tribunal for trying these varieties of greatness. France had always had the superiority there when she was more powerful than Spain; but since the reign of Charles V. Spain had let slip no opportunity of maintaining an equality. The dispute was left undetermined; the precedence at a procession, or an elbow-chair placed near the altar, or opposite the pulpit, were matters of triumph, and established titles to that precedence. The chimerical point of honor in these articles was at that time carried to as great extremes among crowned heads as duels were among private persons.
It happened, in 1661, that at the entry of a Swedish ambassador at London, Count d’Estrade, ambassador from France, and Baron Watteville, ambassador from the court of Spain, disputed the way. The Spaniard, having more money and a greater train of servants, gained the English populace over to his interest, who began to kill the French ambassador’s coach horses, and soon afterward fell upon his people, who being wounded took to their heels, and left the Spaniards to proceed in triumph with their swords drawn.
Louis XIV. being informed of this insult offered to his ambassador, immediately recalled the minister he had at Madrid, and ordered the Spanish ambassador to leave France; broke off the conferences which were then in progress in Flanders, on the subject of the limits, and sent word to his father-in-law, Philip IV., that, unless he acknowledged the superiority of the French crown, and repaired the affront which had been offered its ambassador, by a public satisfaction, he would instantly renew the war. Philip IV. was not willing to plunge his kingdom into a fresh war for the sake of an ambassador’s precedence; he sent the count of Fuentes to declare to the king at Fontainebleau, in presence of all the foreign ministers who were then in France, that the Spanish ministers could no longer dispute the precedence with those of France. This was not clearly acknowledging the king’s pre-eminence, but it was a sufficient avowal of the weakness of the Spanish court. This court, which still preserved its haughtiness, murmured for a long time at its humiliation. Since then several Spanish ministers have renewed their old pretensions, and actually obtained an equality at Nimeguen; but Louis XIV. at that time acquired by his resolution a real superiority in Europe, by convincing all the powers how much he was to be feared.
He had scarcely concluded this small affair with so much dignity, when he showed still more on an occasion in which his glory seemed not so much interested. During the long wars carried on against the Spaniards in Italy, the behavior of the young French gentry had inspired the cautious and jealous Italians with the notion of their being a headstrong and impetuous people. The Italians looked upon all the nations by whom theirs was overrun as barbarians, and the French as barbarians more gay, but at the same time more dangerous, than the rest, as they introduced, into all families where they came, a taste for pleasures, with an air of contempt, and debauchery with outrage; in short, they were dreaded everywhere, and especially at Rome.
The duke de Créqui, the French ambassador at the pope’s court, had greatly displeased the people of Rome by his arrogant behavior; his servants, a set of people who always carry the faults of their masters to extremes, committed the same disorders in Rome as the unbridled youth of France did in Paris, who at that time prided themselves in attacking the city watch every night.
Some of this nobleman’s servants took it into their heads to fall, sword in hand, upon a party of the Corsi—who are the city guard at Rome—and put them to flight. The whole body of the Corsi, incensed at this ill usage, and cheered by Don Mario Chigi, brother of Alexander VII., the reigning pope, who hated the duke de Créqui, went with a multitude of his followers in arms, and besieged the duke in his own house. They even fired upon the ambassadress’s coach, as she was driving into her palace, killed one of her pages, and wounded several of her other servants. The duke de Créqui left Rome, loudly accusing the pope’s relatives, and even his holiness himself, of having countenanced this insult and murder. The pope deferred giving him satisfaction as long as he possibly could, in the belief that it requires only a little temporizing with the French, for everything to be forgotten. At the end of about four months he caused one of the Corsican guard, and a sbirro, to be hanged, and banished the governor of Rome, who was suspected of having authorized these violent proceedings: but he was in no small consternation when he learned that the French king threatened to lay siege to Rome; that he had already ordered troops to be transported into Italy for that purpose; and that Marshal du Plessis-Praslin was appointed general. This affair had become a national quarrel, and the king was determined to support the dignity of his crown. The pope, before he could be brought to make the concessions demanded of him, implored the mediation of all the Catholic princes, and at the same time did all in his power to stir them up against Louis XIV., but the situation of affairs was at that time unfavorable for the holy father. The emperor was attacked by the Turks; and Spain was engaged in an unsuccessful war against the Portuguese.
The court of Rome therefore only irritated the king, without being able to hurt him. The Parliament of Provence summoned the pope to appear, and seized upon his county of Avignon. At any other time such an insult upon the papal dignity would have been followed by a peal of excommunications from the Vatican, but those arms were now equally useless and ridiculous. The holy father found himself under the necessity of giving way, and was obliged to banish his own brother from Rome; to send his nephew, Cardinal Chigi, in character of legate a latere, to render the king satisfaction; to break the Corsican guard; and to erect a pillar in the city of Rome, with an inscription expressing the injury and reparation.
Cardinal Chigi was the first legate who had ever been sent from the papal court to ask pardon. Before that, the legates had always been sent to give laws, and impose the tax of the tenth penny. The king did not content himself with accepting these temporary ceremonies in return for an injury offered, nor yet with monuments which are equally so—for, some years afterward, he permitted this pyramid to be destroyed—but he obliged the court of Rome to restore Castro and Ronciglione to the duke of Parma; to indemnify the duke of Modena for his claims on Commachio; and thus, from an insult offered him, he derived the solid honor of being the protector of the Italian princes.
While he thus supported his dignity, he forgot not to increase his power. The good management of his finances, under Colbert, enabled him to purchase Dunkirk and Mardyke of the king of England, for five millions of livres, at twenty-six livres ten sous the mark. Charles II., who was a spendthrift and a beggar, to his eternal disgrace, sold this place, which his subjects had purchased with their blood. Lord-Chancellor Hyde, who was accused of having advised or connived at this meanness, was banished on Oct. 27, 1662, by the English Parliament, who frequently punish the crimes of favorites, and sometimes even pass sentence upon its kings.
In 1663, Louis set thirty thousand men to work to fortify Dunkirk both toward land and sea. A large basin was dug between the town and the citadel, capable of containing several men of war; so that the English had hardly sold this place, when it became the object of their terror. A short time afterward, in 1663, the king obliged the duke of Lorraine to give him up the stronghold of Marsal. This unfortunate prince, who, though he had a reputation as a soldier, was of a weak, fickle, and imprudent disposition, and had lately made a treaty, by which he gave the duchy of Lorraine to France after his death, on condition that the king should permit him to raise a million upon the territory; and the princes of the blood-royal of Lorraine should take rank as princes of the blood of France. This treaty, which was in vain registered by the Parliament of Paris, served only to produce new instances of levity on the side of the duke, who in the end thought himself very happy to give up Marsal, and throw himself upon the king’s clemency.
Louis increased his dominions even in peace, and always kept himself in readiness for war, fortifying the frontier towns, augmenting the number of his troops, keeping them well disciplined, and frequently reviewing them in person.
The Turks were then a very formidable people in Europe; they attacked the emperor and the Venetians at one and the same time. It has been a maxim in politics with the kings of France, ever since Francis I., to be in alliance with the Turkish emperors, not only on account of the advantage arising to their trade, but for the sake of preventing the house of Austria from becoming too powerful. However, a Christian king could not well refuse his assistance to the emperor, when so hard pressed. It was to the interest of France that the Turks should raise disturbances in Hungary, but not that they should get possession of it; and, lastly, the treaties in which Louis was engaged with the empire made this step as indispensable as it was honorable to him.
Louis then sent six thousand men into Hungary, under the command of the count of Coligny, the only remaining branch of the family of Coligny, formerly so famous in our civil wars, and who perhaps deserves to be as much renowned as the admiral for his valor and virtuous qualifications. He was strictly connected by friendship with the great Condé; and not all the offers of Cardinal Mazarin could ever make him fail in what he owed to his friend. He was accompanied by the flower of the French nobility; and, among others, by the young Feuillade, a man of enterprising disposition, and unquenchable thirst for riches and glory. These went together into Hungary, to serve under General Montecuculi, who was making head against the Turkish vizier, Kiuperli, and who afterward, when he served against France, counterbalanced the reputation of the great Turenne. A great battle was fought at Saint Gothard, on the banks of the Raab, between the Imperial and Turkish armies, in which the French performed such prodigies of valor that the Germans themselves, who were not fond of them, could not help doing them justice. The Germans, however, are not treated with the same justice by those writers who pretend to ascribe the honor of the victory wholly to the French.
The king, while he thus settled his greatness in openly assisting the emperor, and raising the glory of the French arms, made a point of politics in secretly aiding the Portuguese against the king of Spain. Cardinal Mazarin had solemnly given up the cause of Portugal by the Pyrenean treaty; but the Spanish court, having been guilty of several little tacit infractions of that treaty, the French, in their turn, made a more bold and decisive one. Marshal Schomberg, a foreigner, and a Huguenot, was sent over to Portugal with four thousand French soldiery, who, under pretence of being in the pay of the Portuguese, were in fact maintained by the French king’s money. These French troops, in conjunction with a body of Portuguese, gained a complete victory over the Spanish army at Villa Viciosa, in June, 1664, by which the house of Braganza was fixed on the throne of Portugal. Louis now began to be looked upon as a warlike and politic prince; and Europe stood in dread of him even before he had declared war.
By the same policy, he eluded the performance of the promises he had made, to join the few ships he had at that time with the Dutch fleet. He had entered into an alliance with the states-general, in the year 1662, about which time that republic had renewed a war with England, on the vain and idle subject of the honor of the flags, and its real claim to a trade in the Indies; Louis beheld with pleasure these two maritime powers sending fleets of a hundred sail every year to destroy each other, by the most obstinate fights that had ever been known, which only tended to the weakening of both sides. One of these engagements lasted for three days, and here it was that the Dutch admiral, de Ruyter, acquired the reputation of being the greatest seaman that had yet appeared. This was the man who burned the finest ships the English nation had, in their own harbors, not above four leagues distant from London. He made the Dutch flag triumphant at sea, where the English had hitherto always been the masters, and where Louis XIV. was as yet nothing.
The empire of the sea was for some time divided between these two nations. They were then the only people who rightly understood the art of building ships, and employing them either for trade or war. France, during Richelieu’s ministry, thought herself powerful at sea, because, out of about threescore vessels, which was then the whole of its marine, it had about thirty fit to send to sea, the largest of which mounted only seventy guns. In Mazarin’s administration, they purchased what few ships they had from the Dutch. They were in want of sailors, officers, and manufactories, both for building and fitting out ships. The king with incredible diligence set about repairing the ruined condition of the marine, and to supply his kingdom with all it wanted; but in 1664 and 1665, while the English and Dutch covered the ocean with nearly three hundred sail of large men of war, he had not above fifteen or sixteen and those of the smallest rates, which were employed under the duke of Beaufort against the Barbary corsairs; and when the states-general pressed Louis XIV. to join his fleet to theirs, there was only one fireship in Brest harbor, which it was shameful to send, till upon their repeated remonstrances it was at last sent. This was no small disgrace to the French nation; but Louis, by his extraordinary vigilance, speedily and effectually removed it.
But he furnished the states with much more essential and honorable assistance by land; he sent six thousand French to defend them against the bishop of Münster, a prelate of a warlike disposition, and implacable in his enmity, who was paid by England to distress the Dutch; but Louis made them pay dearly for this assistance, and behaved toward them like a great man in power, who sells his protection to a body of rich merchants. Colbert made them accountable, not only for the pay of these troops, but even for the charges of an embassy which was sent to England to conclude a peace for them with Charles II. Never was aid given with a worse grace, nor accepted with less thankfulness.
The king, having thus exercised his troops in martial discipline, formed a number of good officers by the campaigns in Hungary, Holland, and Portugal, and asserted the honor of his name, and made it respected at Rome, beheld not a single potentate of whom he had occasion to stand in awe. England, visited by a plague, which laid waste the whole kingdom, and London reduced to ashes by a fatal conflagration, which was falsely charged on the Roman Catholics; the prodigality and continual indigence of Charles II., which proved as fatal to his affairs as the scourges of pestilence and fire, made France perfectly easy with respect to that nation. The emperor had scarcely recovered the losses he had suffered in the war with the Turk. The Spanish king, Philip IV., being on the point of death, and his kingdom in as weak a condition as himself, Louis XIV. remained the only powerful and formidable sovereign in Europe. He was young, rich, well served, blindly obeyed, and impatient to signalize himself and to become a conqueror.