Louis XIV. demanded reparation, and the most humble apology. The proud Pope was not disposed to yield to his insolent demands. Affairs assumed so threatening an aspect, that the Pope ordered two of the guard, one an officer, to be hung, and the Mayor of Rome, who was accused of having instigated the outrage, to be banished. This concession, however, by no means satisfied the irascible Louis. He commenced landing troops in Italy, threatening to besiege Rome. The Pope appealed to the Roman Catholic princes of Germany for aid. They could not come to his rescue, for they were threatened with war by the Turks. The unhappy Pope was thus brought upon his knees. He was compelled to banish from Rome his own brother, Don Mario Chigi, and to send an embassador to Paris with the most humble apology.
These events were but slight episodes in the gay life of the pleasure-loving king. He was still reveling in an incessant round of feasting and dancing, flitting with his gay court from one to another of his metropolitan and rural palaces.
There are few so stern as not to feel emotions of sympathy rather than of condemnation for Louise de la Valliere. She was a child of seventeen, exposed to all the fascinations and temptations of the most luxurious court then upon the globe. But God has implanted in every bosom a sense of right and wrong. She wept bitterly over her fall. Her remorse was so great that she withdrew as far as possible from society, and the anguish of her repentance greatly embarrassed her royal lover.
Henrietta was greatly annoyed at the preference which the king had shown for Louise over herself. She determined to drive the unfortunate favorite from the court. Anne of Austria, with increasing years, was growing oblivious of her own youthful indiscretions, and was daily becoming more stern in her judgments. A cancer had commenced its secret ravages upon her person. Its progress no medical skill could arrest. She tried to conceal the terrible secret which was threatening her with the most loathsome and distressing of deaths. In this mood of mind the haughty queen sent for the weeping Louise to her room. Trembling in every nerve, the affrighted child attended the summons. She found Anne of Austria with Henrietta by her side. The queen, without assigning any cause, sternly informed her that she was banished from the court of France, and that suitable attendants would immediately convey her to a distant castle. Upon Louise attempting to make some inquiry why she was thus punished, the haughty queen sternly interrupted her with the reply "that France could not have two queens."
Louise staggered back to her room overwhelmed with despair. Both God and man will declare that, whatever fault there might have been in the relations then existing between the king and this unprotected girl, the censure should have rested a thousand fold more heavily upon the king than upon his victim. And yet Louise was to be driven in ignominy from the court, to enter into a desolated world utterly ruined. Through the remainder of the day no one entered her apartment. She spent the hours in tears and in the fever of despair. In the evening Louis himself came to her room and found her exhausted with weeping. He endeavored to ascertain the cause of her overwhelming distress. She, unwilling to be the occasion of an irreconcilable feud between the mother and the son, evaded all his inquiries. He resorted to entreaties, reproaches, threats, but in vain. Irritated by her pertinacious refusal, he suddenly left her without speaking a word of adieu.
Louise seemed now truly to be alone in the world, without a single friend left her. But she then recalled to mind that she had formerly entered into an agreement with the king that, in case of any misunderstanding arising between them, a night should not pass without an attempt at reconciliation. A new hope arose in her mind that the king would either return, or send her a note to inform her that his anger no longer continued.
"And so she waited and watched, and counted every hour as it was proclaimed from the belfry of the palace. But she waited and watched in vain. When at length, after this long and weary night, the daylight streamed through the silken curtains of her chamber, she threw herself upon her knees, and praying that God would not cast away the victim who was thus rejected by the world, she hastened, with a burning cheek and a tearless eye, to collect a few necessary articles of clothing, and throwing on her veil and mantle, rushed down a private staircase and escaped into the street. In this distracted state of mind she pursued her way to Chaillot,[J] and reached the convent of the Sisters of St. Mary, where she was detained some time in the parlor. At length the grating was opened and a portress appeared. On her request to be admitted to the abbess, she informed her that the community were all at their devotions, and could not see any one.
[Footnote J: Chaillot was a village on the banks of the Seine, about a mile and a half from the Tuileries, near the present bridge of Jena. The nuns of the order of St. Mary had a celebrated convent here, where persecuted grandeur often sought an asylum. Within the walls of this convent the widowed queen of Charles I. and daughter of Henry IV. died in the year 1669.]
"It was in vain that the poor fugitive entreated and asserted her intention of taking the vows. She could extort no other answer, and the portress withdrew, leaving her sitting on a wooden bench desolate, heart-sick. For two hours she remained motionless, with her eyes fixed upon the grating, but it continued closed. Even the dreary refuge of this poor and obscure convent was denied her. Even the house of religion had barred its doors against her. She could bear up no longer. From the previous evening she had not tasted food, and the fatigue of body and anguish of mind which she had undergone, combined with this unaccustomed fast, had exhausted her slight remains of strength. A sullen torpor gradually overcame her faculties, and eventually she fell upon the paved floor cold and insensible."[K]
[Footnote K: Louis XIV. and the Court of France, vol. ii., p. 125.]
The king had probably passed a very uncomfortable night. Early in the morning he learned that Louise had disappeared. Much alarmed, he hastened to the apartments of Madame Henrietta in the Tuileries. She unfeelingly expressed entire ignorance of the movements of Mademoiselle de la Valliere. He immediately repaired to the rooms of his mother. She was unable to give him any information respecting the lost favorite. Bitterly, however, she reproached her son with his want of self-control in allowing himself to cherish so strong an attachment to Mademoiselle de la Valliere. She accused him of having no mastery over himself.
The king's eyes flashed with indignation. He was fully convinced that his mother was in some way the cause of the departure of Louise. Angrily he replied,
"It may be so that I do not know how to control myself, but I will at least prove that I know how to control those who offend me."
Turning upon his heel, he left the apartment. By some means he obtained a clew to the retreat of Louise. Mounting his horse, accompanied by a single page, he galloped to the convent of Chaillot. As there had been no warning of his approach, the grating still remained closed. He arrived just after the poor girl had fallen from the wooden bench upon the tesselated floor of the cold and cheerless anteroom. Her beautiful form lay apparently lifeless before him. Tears fell profusely from his eyes. He chafed her hands and temples. In endearing terms he entreated her to awake. Gradually she revived. Frankly she related the cause of her departure, and entreated him to permit her to spend the remainder of her saddened life buried in the cloisters of the convent.
The king insisted, with all his authority as a monarch, and with all his persuasive influence as a man, that Louise should return with him to the Louvre. He was inspired with the double passion of love for her, and anger against those who had driven her from his court. Louise, saddened in heart and crushed in spirit, with great reluctance at last yielded to his pleadings. The page was dispatched for a carriage. Seated by the side of the king, Mademoiselle de la Valliere returned to the palace, from which she supposed a few hours before she had departed forever. Louis immediately repaired to the apartment of Madame Henrietta, and so imperiously insisted that Louise should be restored to her place as one of her maids of honor, that his sister-in-law dared not refuse. The influence of Anne of Austria was now nearly at an end. She was dying of slow disease, and, notwithstanding all her efforts to conceal the loathsome malady which was devouring her, she was compelled to spend most of her time in the seclusion of her own chamber.
Louis XIV., in the exercise of absolute power, with all the court bowing before him in the most abject homage, had gradually begun to regard himself almost as a God. He had never recovered from the mortification which he had experienced at the palace of Vaux, in finding a subject living in splendor which outvied that of the crown. He determined to rear a palace of such extraordinary magnificence that no subject, whatever might be his resources, could equal it. For some time he had been looking around for the site of the building, which he had resolved should, like the Pyramids, be a monument of his reign, and excite the wonder and admiration of future ages.
About twelve miles from Paris there was a little village of Versailles, surrounded by an immense forest, whose solemn depths frequently resounded with the baying of the hounds of hunting-parties, as the gayly dressed court swept through the glades.
On one occasion, Louis XIV., in the eagerness of the chase, became separated from most of the rest of the party. Night coming on, he was compelled, and the few companions with him, to take refuge in a windmill, where they remained till morning. The mill was erected upon the highest point of ground. The king caused a small pavilion to be erected there for his accommodation, should he again chance to be overtaken by night or a storm. Pleased with the position, the king ere long removed the pavilion, and ordered his architect, Lemercier, to erect upon the spot an elegant chateau according to his own taste. A landscape gardener was also employed to ornament the grounds. The region soon was embellished with such loveliness as to charm every beholder. It became the favorite rural resort of the king.
The chateau and its grounds soon witnessed a series of festivities, the fame of which resounded through all Europe. Republican America will ponder the fact, which the aristocratic courts of Europe ignored, that these entertainments of boundless extravagance were at the expense of the overtaxed and starving people. That king and courtiers might riot in luxury, the wives and daughters of peasants were harnessed by the side of donkeys to drag the plow.
Early in the spring of 1664, the king, accompanied by his court of six hundred individuals, gentlemen and ladies, with a throng of servants, repaired to Versailles. The personal expenses of all the guests were defrayed by the king with the money which he wrested from the people. With almost magical rapidity, the artificers reared cottages, stages, porticoes, for the exhibition of games, and the display of splendor scarcely equaled in the visions of Oriental romances.
The first entertainment was a tournament. The cavaliers were gorgeously dressed in the most glittering garb of the palmiest days of feudalism, magnificently mounted with wondrous trappings, with their shields and devices, with their attendant pages, equerries, heralds at arms. Among them all the king shone pre-eminent. His dress, and the housings of his charger, embellished with the crown jewels, glittered with a profusion of costly gems which no one else could equal.
The queen, with three hundred ladies of the court, brilliant in beauty, and in the most attractive dress, sat upon a platform, beneath triumphal arches, to view the procession as it passed. The gleaming armor of the cavaliers, their prancing steeds, the waving of silken banners, and the flourish of trumpets, presented a spectacle such as no one present had ever conceived of before.
The tilting did not cease till evening. Suddenly the blaze of four thousand torches illumined the scene with new brilliance. Tables were spread for a banquet, loaded with every delicacy.
"The tables were served by two hundred attendants, habited as dryads, wood deities, and fawns. Behind the tables, which were in the form of a vast crescent, an orchestra arose as if by magic. The tables were illuminated by five hundred girandoles. A gilt balustrade inclosed the whole of the immense area."
DEATH IN THE PALACE.
Continued festivities.—Moliere.—Cost of Versailles.—Lenotre.—Mansard.—Large sum squandered.—Magnificent room at Versailles.—Ill feeling toward La Valliere.—Anne of Austria becomes more ill.—Illness of Maria Theresa.—The king sick.—Abode of Madame Henrietta.—Sufferings of the queen-mother.—Death of Philip IV. of Spain.—Increasing ambition of Louis XIV.—Festivities at St. Cloud.—Dying scene.—Death of the queen-mother.—Funeral ceremonies.—The Abbey of St. Denis.—Duchess of Vaujours.—Madame de Montespan.—Daily developments.—Duke de Mazarin—his cynicism.—He is silenced by the king.—Sale of Dunkirk.—Inconsistencies in the character of Louis.—Treachery of Montespan.—Sorrows of Louise.—Letters of the Marquis de Montespan.—Alarm of the marchioness.—Cowardice of the Pope.—Sorrow of the marquis.—Vexation of Louis.—Petty jealousies.—Employments of the king.—Remarks of Louis upon court etiquette.—They are unanswerable.—Conquest of Holland determined on.—Henrietta embassadress to England.—Louise Renee.—The bribe.—Constant bickerings.—Alliance between France and England.—Festivities thereon.—Maria Theresa.—Vivacity of Henrietta.—Henrietta poisoned.—Intense suffering.—Arrival of the king.—Death scene of Henrietta.—Suspicion of Louis.—Development of facts.—Statements of M. Pernon.—Testimony of M. Pernon.—Return of Chevalier de Lorraine.—Marriage of Monsieur.—Portrait of Charlotte Elizabeth.—Her power of sarcasm.—Sharp reproof of Madame de Fienne.
The festivities to which we have alluded in the last chapter, the expenses of which were sufficient almost to exhaust the revenues of a kingdom, lasted seven days. The prizes awarded to the victors in the lists were very costly and magnificent. The renowned dramatist Moliere accompanied the court on this occasion, to contribute to its amusement by the exhibition of his mirth-moving farces on the stage.
It was during these scenes that Louis XIV. selected Versailles as the site of the stupendous pile of buildings which was to eclipse all other palaces that had ever been reared on this globe. This magnificent structure, alike the monument of munificence in its appointments, and of infamy in the distress it imposed upon the overtaxed people, eventually swallowed up the sum of one hundred and sixty-six million of francs—thirty-three million dollars. It is to be remembered that at that day money was far more valuable, and far more difficult of acquisition than at the present time.
For seven years an army of workmen was employed on the palace, parks, and gardens. No expense was spared to carry into effect the king's designs. The park and gardens were laid out by the celebrated landscape gardener Lenotre. The plans for the palace were furnished by the distinguished architect Mansard. Over thirty thousand soldiers were called from their garrisons to assist the swarms of ordinary workmen in digging the vast excavations and constructing the immense terraces. "It is estimated that not less than forty millions sterling—two hundred million dollars—were exhausted upon the laying out of these vast domains and the erection of this superb chateau. Such was the extraordinary vigor with which the works were pushed, that in 1685, hardly twenty-five years after its commencement, the whole was in readiness to receive its royal occupants. Here the royal family and the court resided until the Revolution of 1789. Every part of the interior as well as the exterior was ornamented with the works of the most eminent masters of the times."[L]
[Footnote L: Bradshaw's Guide through Paris and its Environs.]
The most magnificent room in the palace, called the grand gallery of Louis XIV., was two hundred and forty-two feet long, thirty-five feet broad, and forty-three feet high. The splendors of the court of Louis XIV. may be inferred from the fact that this vast apartment was daily crowded with courtiers. The characteristic vanity of the king is conspicuously developed in that he instituted an order of nobility as a reward for personal services. The one great and only privilege of its members was that they were permitted to wear a blue coat embroidered with gold and silver precisely like that worn by the king, and to follow the king in his hunting-parties and drives.
The position of Mademoiselle de la Valliere was a very painful one. Though the austere queen-mother was so ill in her chamber that she could do but little to harass Louise, Madame Henrietta, who had been constrained to receive her as one of her maids of honor, did every thing in her power to keep her in a state of perpetual anxiety. The courtiers generally were hostile to her, from the partiality with which she was openly regarded by the king. The poor child was alone and desolate in the court, and scarcely knew an hour of joy.
The queen-mother was rapidly sinking, devoured by a malady which not only caused her extreme bodily suffering, but, from its loathsome character, affected her sensitive nature with the most acute mental pangs. She retired to the convent of Val de Grace, where, with ever-increasing devotion as death drew near, she consecrated herself to works of piety and prayer.
This vast structure is situated upon the left bank of the Seine, and is now in the limits of the city of Paris.
"Anne of Austria had enjoyed the rare privilege, so seldom accorded to her sex, of growing old without in any very eminent degree losing her personal advantages. Her hands and arms, which had always been singularly beautiful, remained smooth and round, and delicately white. Not a wrinkle marred the dignity of her noble forehead. Her eyes, which were remarkably fine, lost neither their brightness nor their expression; and yet for years she had been suffering physical pangs only the more poignant from the resolution with which she concealed them."[M]
[Footnote M: Louis XIV. and the Court of France, vol. ii., p. 145.]
The queen-mother had made the most heroic exertions to assume in public the appearance of health and gayety. None but her physicians were made acquainted with the nature of her malady.
The young queen, Maria Theresa, who appears to have been an amiable, pensive woman, endowed with many quiet virtues, was devotedly attached to the queen-mother. She clung to her and followed her, while virtually abandoned by her royal spouse. She had no heart for those courtly festivities where she saw others with higher fascinations command the admiration and devotion of her husband. The queen was taken very ill with the measles. It speaks well for Louis XIV., and should be recorded to his honor, that he devoted himself to his sick wife, by day and by night, with the most unremitting attention. The disease was malignant in its form, and the king himself was soon stricken down by it. For several days it was feared that he would not live. As he began to recover, he was removed to the palace of St. Cloud. The annexed view represents the rear of the palace. The magnificent saloons in front open upon the city, and from the elevated site of the palace command a splendid view of the region for many leagues around.
This truly splendid chateau, but a few miles from the Tuileries, had been assigned to Madame Henrietta. Here she resided with her court, and here the king again found himself under the same roof with Mademoiselle de la Valliere.
In the mean time the health of the queen-mother rapidly declined. She was fast sinking into the arms of death. The young queen, Maria Theresa, having recovered, was unwilling to leave her suffering mother-in-law even for an hour.
"The sufferings of Anne of Austria," writes Miss Pardoe, "must indeed have been extreme, when, superadded to the physical agony of which she was so long the victim, her peculiar fastidiousness of scent and touch are remembered. Throughout the whole of her illness she had adopted every measure to conceal, even from herself, the effects of her infirmity. She constantly held in her hand a large fan of Spanish leather, and saturated her linen with the most powerful perfumes. Her sense of contact was so acute and irritable that it was with the utmost difficulty that cambric could be found sufficiently fine for her use. Upon one occasion, when Cardinal Mazarin was jesting with her upon this defect, he told her 'that if she were damned, her eternal punishment would be sleeping in linen sheets.'"
Louis XIV. was too much engrossed with his private pleasures, his buildings, and rapidly multiplying diplomatic intrigues to pay much attention to his dying mother. It was not pleasant to him to contemplate the scenes of suffering in a sick-chamber. The gloom which was gathering around Anne of Austria was somewhat deepened by the intelligence she received of the death of her brother, Philip IV. of Spain. It was another admonition to her that she too must die. Though Philip IV. was a reserved and stately man, allowing himself in but few expressions of tenderness toward his family, Maria Theresa, in her isolation, wept bitterly over her father's death.
The ties of relationship are feeble in courts. Louis XIV. was growing increasingly ambitious of enlarging his domains and aggrandizing his power. The news of the death of the King of Spain was but a source of exultation to him. Though scrupulous in the discharge of the ceremonies of the Church, he was a stranger to any high sense of integrity or honor. In the treaty upon his marriage with Maria Theresa he had agreed to resign every claim to any portion of the Spanish kingdom. The death of Philip IV. left Spain in the hands of a feeble woman. Louis XIV., upon the plea that the five hundred thousand crowns promised as the dower of his wife had not yet been paid, resolved immediately to seize upon the provinces of Flanders and Franche-Comte, which then belonged to the Spanish crown.
Notwithstanding the queen-mother had become so exhausted, from long-continued and agonizing bodily sufferings, that she could not be moved from one bed to another without fainting, still the festivities of the palace continued unintermitted. The moans of the dying queen in the darkened chamber could not be heard amidst the music and the revelry of the Louvre and the Tuileries. On the 5th of January, 1666, Philip, the Duke of Orleans, gave a magnificent ball in the palace of St. Cloud. Louis XIV. was then in deep mourning for his father-in-law. Decorously he wore the mourning dress of violet-colored velvet adopted by the court; he, however, took care so effectually to cover his mourning garments with glittering and costly gems that the color of the material could not be discerned.
While her children were engaged in these revels, the queen-mother passed a sleepless night of terrible suffering. It was apparent to her that her dying hour was near at hand. She was informed by her physician that her life could be continued but a few hours longer. She called for her confessor, and requested every one else to leave the room. What sins she confessed of heart or life are known only to him and to God. Having obtained such absolution as the priest could give, she prepared to partake of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Her son Philip, with Madame his wife, were admitted to her chamber, where the king soon joined them. The Archbishop of Auch, accompanied by quite a retinue of ecclesiastics, approached with the holy viaticum. The most scrupulous regard was paid to all the punctilious ceremonials of courtly etiquette.
When the bishop was about to administer the oil of extreme unction, the dying queen requested an attendant very carefully to raise the borders of her cap, lest the oil should touch them, and give them an unpleasant odor. It was one of the most melancholy and impressive of earthly scenes. The king, young, sensitive, and easily overcome by momentary emotion, could not refrain from seeing in that sad spectacle, as in a mirror, his own inevitable lot. He fainted entirely away, and was borne senseless from the apartment.
On the morning of the 7th or 8th of January, 1666, Anne of Austria died. Her will was immediately brought from the cabinet and read. She bequeathed her heart to the convent of Val de Grace. It was taken from her body, cased in a costly urn, and conveyed to the convent in a carriage. The Archbishop of Auch seated himself beside the senseless relic, while the Duchess of Montpensier occupied another seat in the coach.
At 7 o'clock of the next evening the remains of the queen left the Louvre for the royal sepulchre at St. Denis. It was a gloomy winter's night. Many torches illumined the path of the procession, exhibiting to the thousands of spectators the solemn pageant of the burial. The ecclesiastics and the monks, in their gorgeous or picturesque robes, the royal sarcophagus, the sombre light of the torches, the royal coaches in funereal drapery, and the wailing requiems, now swelling upon the breeze, and now dying away, blending with the voices of tolling bells, presented one of the most mournful and instructive of earthly spectacles. The queen had passed to that tribunal where no aristocratic privileges are recognized, and where all earthly wealth and rank are disregarded.
The funeral services were prolonged and imposing. It was not until two hours after midnight that the remains were deposited in the vaults of the venerable abbey, the oldest Christian church in France.
The death of the queen-mother does not seem to have produced much effect upon the conduct of her ambitious and pleasure-loving son. He had cruelly betrayed the young and guileless Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and she never ceased to weep over her sad fate. The king, however, conferred upon her the duchy of Vaujours, and the title of Madame. Her beauty began to fade. Younger and happier faces attracted the king. He became more and more arrogant and domineering.
There was at that time rising into notice in this voluptuous court a young lady who was not only magnificently beautiful, but extremely brilliant in her intellectual endowments. She was of illustrious birth, and was lady of the palace to the young queen. She deliberately fixed her affections upon Louis, and resolved to employ all the arts of personal loveliness and the fascinations of wit to win his exclusive favor. She had given her hand, constrained by her family, to the young Marquis de Montespan. She had, however, stated at the time that with her hand she did not give her heart.
The young marquis seems to have been a very worthy man. Disgusted with the folly and the dissipation of the court, he was anxious to withdraw with his beautiful bride to his ample estates in Provence. She, however, entirely devoted to pleasure, and absorbed in her ambitious designs, refused to accompany him, pleading the duty she owed her royal mistress. He went alone. Madame de Montespan was thus relieved of the embarrassment of his presence.
Louis XIV., while apparently immersed in frivolous and guilty pleasures, was developing very considerable ability as a sovereign. It daily became more clearly manifest that he was not a man of pleasure merely; that he had an imperial will, and that he was endowed with unusual administrative energies.
The Duke de Mazarin, a relative and rich heir of the deceased cardinal, and who assumed an austere and cynical character, ventured on one occasion, when displeased with some act of the king, to approach him in the presence of several persons and say,
"Sire, Saint Genevieve appeared to me last night. She is much offended by the conduct of your majesty, and has foretold to me that if you do not reform your morals the greatest misfortunes will fall upon your kingdom."
The whole circle stood aghast at his effrontery. But the king, without exhibiting the slightest emotion, in slow and measured accents, replied,
"And I, Monsieur de Mazarin, have recently had several visions, by which I have been warned that the late cardinal, your uncle, plundered my people, and that it is time to make his heirs disgorge the booty. Remember this, and be persuaded that the very next time you permit yourself to offer me unsolicited advice, I shall act upon the mysterious information I have received."
The duke attempted no reply. Such developments of character effectually warded off all approaches of familiarity.
The fugitive and needy Charles II. had sold to Louis XIV., for about one million of dollars, the important commercial town of Dunkirk, in French Flanders. The king, well aware of the importance of the position, had employed thirty thousand men to fortify the place.
Louis now sent an army of thirty-five thousand men, in the highest state of military discipline, to seize the coveted Spanish provinces of Flanders and Franche-Comte. At the same time, he sent a reserve of eight thousand troops to Dunkirk. The widowed Queen of Spain, acting as regent for her infant son, could make no effectual resistance. She had but eight thousand troops, in small garrisons, scattered over those provinces. The march of the French army was but as a holiday excursion. Fortress after fortress fell into their hands. Soon the banners of Louis floated proudly over the whole territory. The king displayed his sagacity by granting promotion for services rendered rather than to birth. This inspired the army with great ardor. He also boldly entered the trenches under fire, and exposed himself to the most imminent peril.
The opposite side of the king's character is displayed in the fact that he accompanied the camp with all the ladies of his court, eighteen in number. In each captured city, the king and court, in magnificent banqueting-halls and gorgeous saloons, indulged in the gayest revelry. Amidst the turmoil of the camp, these haughty men and high-born dames surrounded themselves with the magnificence of the Louvre and the Tuileries, and were served with every delicacy from gold and silver plate.
The king, by the advice of his renowned minister of war, Marshal Louvois, placed strong garrisons in the cities he had captured, while the celebrated engineer, M. Vauban, was intrusted with enlarging and strengthening the fortifications. From this victorious campaign Louis XIV. returned to Paris, receiving adulation from the courtiers as if he were more than mortal.
Madame de Montespan accompanied the court on this military pleasure tour. She availed herself of every opportunity to attract the attention of the king and ingratiate herself in his favor. She so far succeeded in exciting the jealousy of the queen against Madame de la Valliere, upon whom she was at the same time lavishing her most tender caresses, that her majesty treated the sensitive and desponding favorite with such rudeness that, with a crushed spirit, she decided to leave the court and retire to Versailles, there to await the conclusion of the campaign. The king, however, interposed to prevent her departure, while at the same time he was daily treating her with more marked neglect, as he turned his attention to the rival, now rapidly gaining the ascendency. The unfortunate Louise was doomed to daily martyrdom. She could not be blind to the fact that the king's love was fast waning. Conscience tortured her, and she wept bitterly. Before her there was opened only the vista of weary years of neglect and remorse.
But the Marchioness of Montespan was mingling for herself a cup of bitterness which she, in her turn, was to drain to its dregs. Her noble husband wrote most imploring letters, beseeching her to return to him with their infant child.
"Come," he wrote in one of his letters, "and take a near view, my dear Athenais, of these stupendous Pyrenees, whose every ravine is a landscape, and every valley an Eden. To all these beauties yours alone is wanting. You will be here like Diana, the divinity of these noble forests."
The excuses which the marchioness offered did by no means satisfy her husband. His heart was wounded and his suspicions aroused. At last he was apprised of her manifest endeavors to attract the attention of the king. He wrote severely; informed her of the extent of his knowledge. He threatened to expose her conduct to her own family, and to shut her up in a convent. At the same time, he commanded her to send to him, by the messenger who bore his letter, their little son, that he might not be contaminated by association with so unworthy a mother.
It was too late. The marchioness was involved in such guilty relations with the king that she could not easily be extricated. Still she was much alarmed by the angry letter of her husband. The king perceived her anxiety, and inquired the cause. She placed the letter in his hands. He read it, changing color as he read. He then coolly remarked,
"Our position is a difficult one. It requires much precaution. I will, however, take care that no violence shall be offered you. You had better, however, send him your son. The child is useless here, and perhaps inconvenient. The marquis, deprived of the child, may be driven to acts of severity."
A mother's love was strong in the bosom of the marchioness. She wept aloud, and declared that she would sooner die than part with her son. Her husband soon after came to Paris. He addressed the king in a very firm and reproachful letter, and for three months made earnest applications to the pope for a divorce. But the pope, afraid of offending Louis XIV., turned a deaf ear to his supplications. It was in vain for a noble, however exalted his rank, to contend against the king.
The injured marquis, finding all his efforts vain, returned wifeless and childless to his chateau. Announcing that to him his wife was dead, he assumed the deepest mourning, draped his house and the liveries of his servants in crape, and ordered a funeral service to take place in the parish church. A numerous concourse attended, and all the sad ceremonies of burial were solemnized.
The king was greatly annoyed. The scandal, which spread throughout the kingdom, placed him in a very unenviable position. The marquis would probably have passed the rest of his life in one of the oubliettes of the Bastile had he not escaped from France. Madame de Montespan, in her wonderfully frank Memoirs, records all these facts without any apparent consciousness of the infamy to which they consign her memory. She even claims the merit of protecting her injured husband from the dungeon, saying,
"Not being naturally of a bad disposition, I never would allow of his being sent to the Bastile."
There were continual antagonisms arising between Madame de la Valliere and Madame de Montespan. They were both ladies of honor in the household of the queen, who, silent and sad, and ever seeking retirement, endeavored to close her eyes to the guilty scenes transpiring around her. Sin invariably brings sorrow. The king, supremely selfish as he was, must have been a stranger to any peace of mind. He professed full faith in Christianity. Even lost spirits may believe and tremble. The precepts of Jesus were often faithfully proclaimed from the pulpit in his hearing. Remorse must have frequently tortured his soul.
From these domestic tribulations he sought relief in the vigorous prosecution of his plans for national aggrandizement. He plunged into diplomatic intrigues, marshaled armies, built ships, multiplied and enlarged his sea-ports, established colonies, reared magnificent edifices, encouraged letters, and with great sagacity pushed all enterprises which could add to the glory and power of France.
The king had never been on good terms with his brother Philip. Louis was arrogant and domineering. Philip was jealous, and not disposed obsequiously to bow the knee to his imperious brother. The king was unrelenting in the exactions of etiquette. There were three seats used in the presence of royalty: the arm-chair, for members of the royal family; the folded chair, something like a camp-stool, for the highest of the nobility; and the bench, for other dignitaries who were honored with a residence at court. Philip demanded of his brother that his wife, Henrietta, the daughter of Charles I. of England, and the sister of Louis XIII., being of royal blood, should be allowed the privilege of taking an arm-chair in the saloons of the queen. The king made the following remarkable reply:
"That can not be permitted. I beg of you not to persist in such a request. It was not I who established these distinctions. They existed long before you and I were born. It is for your interest that the dignity of the crown should neither be weakened or encroached upon. If from Duke of Orleans you should one day become King of France, I know you well enough to believe that this is a point on which you would be inexorable.
"In the presence of God, you and I are two beings precisely similar to our fellow-men; but in the eyes of men we appear as something extraordinary, superior, greater, and more perfect than others. The day on which the people cast off this respect and this voluntary veneration, by which alone monarchy is upheld, they will see us only their equals, suffering from the same evils, and subject to the same weaknesses as themselves. This once accomplished, all illusion will be over. The laws, no longer sustained by a controlling power, will become black lines upon white paper. Your chair without arms and my arm-chair will be simply two pieces of furniture of equal importance."
To these forcible remarks, indicating deep reflection, the Duke of Orleans, a nobleman rioting in boundless wealth, and enjoying amazing feudal privileges, could make no reply. The coronet of the noble and the crown of the absolute king would both fall to the ground so soon as the masses of the people should escape from the thrall of ignorance and deception. Philip left his brother silenced, yet exasperated. A petty warfare was carried on between them, by which they daily became more alienated from each other.
The king, elated by his easy conquest of Flanders, resolved to seize upon Holland, and then proceed to annex to France the whole of the Low Countries. The Dutch, a maritime people, though powerful at sea, had but a feeble land force. Holland was in alliance with England. The first object of Louis was to dissolve this alliance.
There were two influences, money and beauty, which were omnipotent with the contemptible Charles II. Henrietta, the wife of Philip, was sent as embassadress to the court of her brother. The whole French court escorted her to the coast. The pomp displayed on this occasion surpassed any thing which had heretofore been witnessed in France. The escort consisted of thirty thousand men in the van and the rear of the royal cortege. The most beautiful women of the court accompanied the queen. Maria Theresa, the queen, and Henrietta, occupied the same coach. The ladies of their households followed in their carriages.
The king's two favorites—Madame de la Valliere, whose beauty and power were on the wane, and Madame de Montespan, who was then in the zenith of her triumph—were often invited by the king to take a seat in the royal carriage by the side of the queen and Madame. The most beautiful woman then in the French court was Louise Renee, subsequently known in English annals as the Duchess of Portsmouth. She was to accompany her royal mistress to the court of Charles II., and had received secret instructions from the king in reference to the influence she was to exert. Louise Renee was to be the bribe and the motive power to control the king.
Brilliant as was this royal cortege, the journey, to its prominent actors, was a very sad one. The queen, pliant and submissive as she usually was, could not refrain from some expressions of bitterness in being forced to such intimate companionship with her rivals in the king's favor. There were also constant heart-burnings and bickerings, which etiquette could not restrain, between Philip and his spouse Henrietta. Madame was going to London as the confidential messenger of the king, and she refused to divulge to her husband the purpose of her visit. Louis XIV. was embarrassed by three ladies, each of whom claimed his exclusive attention, and each of whom was angry if he smiled upon either of the others. In such a party there could be no happiness.
As this gorgeous procession, crowding leagues of the road, swept along, few of the amazed peasants who gazed upon the glittering spectacle could have suspected the misery which was gnawing at the heart of these high-born men and proud dames. Upon arriving at the coast, Henrietta, with her magnificent suite, embarked for England. The negotiation was perfectly successful. The fascinating Louise Renee immediately made the entire conquest of the king. Her consent to remain a member of his court, and the offer of several millions of money to Charles II., secured his assent to whatever the French king desired. It is said that he the more readily abandoned his alliance with Holland, since he hated the Protestants there, whose religion so severely condemned his worthless character and wretched life. A treaty of alliance was speedily drawn up between Charles II. and Louis XIV.
His Britannic majesty then, with a splendid retinue, accompanied his sister Henrietta to the coast, where she embarked for Calais. The French court met her there with all honors. The return to Paris was slow. At every important town the court tarried for a season of festivities. Henrietta, or Madame, as the French invariably entitled her, established her court at St. Cloud. Her husband, Monsieur, was very much irritated against her. Neither of them took any pains to conceal from others their alienation.
Madame was in the ripeness of her rare beauty, and enjoyed great influence in the court. The poor queen, Maria Theresa, was but a cipher. She was heart-crushed, and devoted herself to the education of her children, and to the society of a few Spanish ladies whom she had assembled around her. The king, grateful for the services which Henrietta had rendered him in England, and alike fascinated by her loveliness and her vivacity, was lavishing upon her his constant and most marked attentions, not a little to the chagrin of her irritated and jealous husband.
On the 27th of June, 1669, Henrietta rose at an early hour, and, after some conversation with Madame de Lafayette, to whom she declared she was in admirable health, she attended mass, and then went to the room of her daughter, Mademoiselle d'Orleans. She was in glowing spirits, and enlivened the whole company by her vivacious conversation. After calling for a glass of succory water, which she drank, she dined. The party then repaired to the saloon of Monsieur. He was sitting for his portrait. Henrietta, reclining upon a lounge, apparently fell into a doze. Her friends were struck with the haggard and deathly expression which her countenance suddenly assumed, when she sprang up with cries of agony. All were greatly alarmed. Her husband appeared as much so as the rest. She called for another draught of succory water. It was brought to her in an enameled cup from which she was accustomed to drink.
She took the cup in one hand, and then, pressing her hand to her side in a spasm of pain, exclaimed, "I can scarcely breathe. Take me away—take me away! I can support myself no longer." With much difficulty she was led to her chamber by her terrified attendants. There she threw herself upon her bed in convulsions of agony, crying out that she was dying, and praying that her confessor might immediately be sent for. Three physicians were speedily in attendance. Her husband entered her chamber and kneeled at her bedside. She threw her arms around his neck, exclaiming,
"Alas! you have long ceased to love me; but you are unjust, for I have never wronged you." Suddenly she raised herself upon her elbow, and said to those weeping around her, "I have been poisoned by the succory water which I have drank. Probably there has been some mistake. I am sure, however, that I have been poisoned. Unless you wish to see me die, you must immediately administer some antidote."
Her husband did not seem at all agitated by this statement, but directed that some of the succory water should be given to a dog to ascertain its effects. Madame Desbordes, the first femme de chambre, who had prepared the beverage, declared that the experiment should be made upon herself. She immediately poured out a glass, and drank it.
Various antidotes for poisons were administered. They created the most deadly sickness, without changing the symptoms or alleviating the pain. It soon became evident that the princess was dying. The livid complexion, glassy eyes, and shrunken nose and lips, showed that some agent of terrific power was consuming her life. A chill perspiration oozed from her forehead, her pulse was imperceptible, and her extremities icy cold.
The king soon arrived, accompanied by the queen. Louis XIV. was greatly affected by the changed appearance and manifestly dying condition of Henrietta. He sat upon one side of the bed and Monsieur upon the other, both weeping bitterly. The agony of the princess was dreadful. In most imploring tones she begged that something might be done to mitigate her sufferings. The attendant physicians announced that she was dying. Extreme unction was administered, the crucifix fell from her hand, a convulsive shuddering shook her frame, and Henrietta was dead.
"Only nine hours previously, Henrietta of England had been full of life, and loveliness, and hope, the idol of a court, and the centre of the most brilliant circle in Europe. And now, as the tearful priest arose from his knees, the costly curtains of embroidered velvet were drawn around a cold, pale, motionless, and livid corpse."
A post-mortem examination revealed the presence of poison so virulent in its action that a portion of the stomach was destroyed. Dreadful suspicion rested upon her husband. The king, in a state of intense agitation, summoned his brother to his presence, and demanded that he should confess his share in the murder. Monsieur clasped in his hand the insignia of the Holy Ghost, which he wore about his neck, and took the most solemn oath that he was both directly and indirectly innocent of the death of his wife. Still the circumstantial evidence was so strong against him that he could not escape the terrible suspicion.
Notwithstanding the absolute proof that the death of the princess was caused by poison, still an official statement was soon made out, addressed to the British court, and widely promulgated, in which it was declared that the princess died of a malignant attack of bilious fever. Several physicians were bribed to sign this declaration.
Notwithstanding this statement, the king made vigorous exertions to discover the perpetrators of the crime. The following facts were soon brought to light. The king, some time before, much displeased with the Chevalier de Lorraine, a favorite and adviser of Monsieur, angrily arrested him, and imprisoned him in the Chateau d'If, a strong and renowned fortress on Marguerite Island, opposite Cannes. Here he was treated with great rigor. He was not allowed to correspond, or even to speak with any persons but those on duty within the fortress. Monsieur was exceedingly irritated by this despotic act. He ventured loudly to upbraid his brother, and bitterly accused Madame of having caused the arrest of his bosom friend, the chevalier.
Circumstances directed the very strong suspicions of the king to M. Pernon, controller of the household of the princess, as being implicated in the murder. The king ordered him to be secretly arrested, and brought by a back staircase to the royal cabinet. Every attendant was dismissed, and his majesty remained alone with the prisoner. Fixing his eyes sternly upon the countenance of M. Pernon, Louis said, "If you reveal every circumstance relative to the death of Madame, I promise you full pardon. If you are guilty of the slightest concealment or prevarication, your life shall be the forfeit."
The controller then confessed that the Chevalier de Lorraine had, through the hands of a country gentleman, M. Morel, who was not at all conscious of the nature of the commission he was fulfilling, sent the poison to two confederates at St. Cloud. This package was delivered to the Marquis d'Effiat and Count de Beuvron, intimate friends of the chevalier, and who had no hope that he would be permitted to return to Paris so long as Madame lived. The Marquis d'Effiat contrived to enter the closet of the princess, and rubbed the poison on the inside of the enameled cup from which Henrietta was invariably accustomed to drink her favorite beverage.
The king listened intently to this statement, pressed his forehead with his hand, and then inquired, in tones which indicated that he was almost afraid to put the question, "And Monsieur—was he aware of this foul plot?"
"No, sire," was the prompt reply. "Monsieur can not keep a secret; we did not venture to confide in him."
Louis appeared much relieved. After a moment's pause, he asked, with evident anxiety, "Will you swear to this?"
"On my soul, sire," was the reply.
The king asked no more. Summoning an officer of the household, he said, "Conduct M. Pernon to the gate of the palace, and set him at liberty."
Such events were so common in the courts of feudal despotism in those days of crime, that this atrocious murder seems to have produced but a momentary impression. Poor Henrietta was soon forgotten. The tides of gayety and fashion ebbed and flowed as ever through the saloons of the royal palaces. No one was punished. It would hardly have been decorous for the king to hang men for the murder of the princess, when he had solemnly announced that she had died of a bilious fever. The Chevalier de Lorraine was ere long recalled to court. There he lived in unbridled profligacy, enjoying an annual income of one hundred thousand crowns, till death summoned him to a tribunal where neither wealth nor rank can purchase exemption from crime.
Henrietta, who was but twenty-six years of age at the time of her death, left two daughters, but no son. Monsieur soon dried his tears. He sought a new marriage with his rich, renowned cousin, the Duchess of Montpensier. But she declined his offered hand. With inconceivable caprice, she was fixing her affections upon a worthless adventurer, a miserable coxcomb, the Duke de Lauzun, who was then disgracing by his presence the court of the Louvre. This singular freak, an additional evidence that there is no accounting for the vagaries of love, astonished all the courts of Europe. Monsieur then turned to the Princess Charlotte Elizabeth of Bavaria. The alliance was one dictated by state policy. Monsieur reluctantly assented to it under the moral compulsion of the king. The advent of this most eccentric of women at the French court created general astonishment and almost consternation. She despised etiquette, and dressed in the most outre fashion, while she displayed energies of mind and sharpness of tongue which brought all in awe of her. The following is the portrait which this princess, eighteen years of age, has drawn of herself:
"I was born in Heidelberg in 1652. I must necessarily be ugly, for I have no features, small eyes, a short, thick nose, and long, flat lips. Such a combination as this can not produce a physiognomy. I have heavy hanging cheeks and a large face, and nevertheless am short and thick. To sum up all, I am an ugly little object. If I had not a good heart, I should not be bearable any where. To ascertain if my eyes have any expression, it would be necessary to examine them with a microscope. There could not probably be found on earth hands more hideous than mine. The king has often remarked it to me, and made me laugh heartily. Not being able with any conscience to flatter myself that I possessed any thing good looking, I have made up my mind to laugh at my own ugliness. I have found the plan very successful, and frequently discover plenty to laugh at."
Notwithstanding the princess was ready to speak of herself in these terms of ridicule, she was by no means disposed to grant the same privilege to others. She was a woman of keen observation, and was ever ready to resent any offense with the most sarcastic retaliation. She perceived very clearly the sensation which her presence, and the manners which she had very deliberately chosen to adopt, had excited. Madame de Fienne was one of the most brilliant wits of the court. She ventured to make herself and others merry over the oddities of the newly-arrived Duchess of Orleans, in whose court both herself and her husband were pensioners. The duchess took her by the hand, led her aside, and, riveting upon her her unquailing eye, said, in slow and emphatic tones,
"Madame, you are very amiable and very witty. You possess a style of conversation which is endured by the king and by Monsieur because they are accustomed to it; but I, who am only a recent arrival at the court, am less familiar with its spirit. I forewarn you that I become incensed when I am made a subject of ridicule. For this reason, I was anxious to give you a slight warning. If you spare me, we shall get on very well together; but if, on the contrary, you treat me as you do others, I shall say nothing to yourself, but I shall complain to your husband, and if he does not correct you, I shall dismiss him."
The hint was sufficient. Neither Madame de Fienne nor any other lady of the court ventured after this to utter a word of witticism on the subject of the Duchess of Orleans.
THE WAR IN HOLLAND.
Louis's fondness for jewels.—Anecdote.—Superstitions of Louis.—His dread of the towers of St. Denis.—Ambition of Louis.—He abandons St. Germain.—Severity of Louis to Madame de la Valliere.—A second flitting to Chaillot.—Night in the convent.—Disappointment.—Return of Louise to the palace.—Madame de Montespan.—Louis reproved by the clergy.—Power of France.—Alarm in Holland.—Humble inquiry of the Dutch.—Haughty reply of Louis.—Body-guard of the king.—Reply of the Dutch merchant.—Forces of William, prince of Orange.—Louis's march unresisted.—The French cross the Rhine.—Death of the Duke of Longueville.—Passage of the Rhine.—Louis a bigoted Catholic.—Consternation.—Reception of the Dutch deputies.—Terms of Louis XIV.—Heroic conduct of the Dutch.—The dikes pierced.—Naval battle.—Efforts of the Prince of Orange.—Louis returns to Paris.—His extraordinary energy.—Arch of triumph.—Skill and strategy of Turenne.—Barbarities of Turenne.—Opinion of Voltaire.—Death of Turenne.—Peace of Nimeguen.—Penitence and anguish of Louise de la Valliere.—Takes leave of her children and the queen.—Again at the convent.—Faithfulness to duty.—Marriage of the Duchess of Orleans with the King of Spain.—The Countess de Soissons.—Character of the dauphin.—Monseigneur's indifference.—Francoise d'Aubigne.—Her apparent death and recovery.—Francoise a Protestant.—Persecutions in consequence.—Sufferings of Francoise.—Death of her mother.
Madame de Montespan was now the reigning favorite. The conscience-stricken king could not endure to think of death. He studiedly excluded from observation every thing which could remind him of that doom of mortals. All the badges of mourning were speedily laid aside, and efforts were made to banish from the court the memory of the young and beautiful Princess Henrietta, whose poisoned body was mouldering to dust in the tomb.
The king had a childish fondness for brilliant gems. In his cabinet he had a massive and costly secretary of elaborately carved rosewood. Upon its shelves he had arrayed the crown jewels, which he often handled and examined with the same delight with which a miser counts his gold.
Mademoiselle de Montpensier, in her interesting Memoirs, relates the following anecdote, which throws interesting light upon the character of the king at this time. It will be remembered that Louis XIV. was born in one of the palaces at St. Germain, about fifteen miles from Paris. The magnificent terrace on the left bank of the winding Seine commands perhaps as enchanting a view as can be found any where in this world. The domes and towers of Paris appear far away in the north. The wide, luxuriant valley of the Seine, studded with villages and imposing castles, lies spread out in beautiful panorama before the eye. The king had expended between one and two millions of dollars in embellishing the royal residences here. But as the conscience of the king became more sensitive, and repeated deaths forced upon him the conviction that he too must eventually die, St. Germain not only lost all its charms, but became a place obnoxious to him. From the terrace there could be distinctly seen, a few leagues to the east, the tower and spire of St. Denis, the burial-place of the kings of France. To Louis it suddenly became as torturing a sight as to have had his coffin ostentatiously displayed in his banqueting-hall.
When Anne of Austria was lying on her bed of suffering, the king was one day pacing alone the terrace of St. Germain. Dark clouds were drifting through the sky. One of these clouds seemed to gather over the towers of St. Denis. To the excited imagination of the king, the vapor wreathed itself into the form of a hearse, surmounted by the arms of Austria. In a few days the king followed the remains of his mother to the dark vaults of this their last resting-place. Just before the death of the hapless Henrietta, the same gloomy towers appeared to the king in a dream enveloped in flames, and in the midst of the fire there was a skeleton holding in his hand a lady's rich jewelry. But a few days after this the king was constrained to follow the remains of the beautiful Henrietta to this sepulchre. God seems to have sent warning upon warning upon this wicked king. Absorbed in ambitious plans and guilty passions, Louis had but little time or thought to give to his neglected wife or her children. In the same year his two daughters died, and with all the pageantry of royal woe they were also entombed at St. Denis.
It is not strange that, under these circumstances, the king, to whom the Gospel of Christ was often faithfully preached, and who was living in the most gross violation of the principles of the religion of Jesus, should have recoiled from a view of those towers, which were ever a reminder to him of death and the grave. He could no longer endure the palace at St. Germain. The magnificent panorama of the city, the winding Seine, the flowery meadows, the forest, the villages, and the battlemented chateaux lost all their charms, since the towers of St. Denis would resistlessly arrest his eye, forcing upon his soul reflections from which he instinctively recoiled. He therefore abandoned St. Germain entirely, and determined that the palace he was constructing at Versailles should be so magnificent as to throw every other abode of royalty into the shade.
Madame de la Valliere was daily becoming more wretched. Fully conscious of her sin and shame, deserted by the king, supplanted by a new favorite, and still passionately attached to her royal betrayer, she could not restrain that grief which rapidly marred her beauty. The waning of her charms, and the reproaches of her silent woe, increasingly repelled the king from seeking her society. One day Louis entered the apartment of Louise, and found her weeping bitterly. In cold, reproachful tones, he demanded the cause of her uncontrollable grief. The poor victim, upon the impulse of the moment, gave vent to all the gushing anguish of her soul—her sense of guilt in the sight of God—her misery in view of her ignominious position, and her brokenness of heart in the consciousness that she had lost the love of one for whom she had periled her very soul.
The king listened impatiently, and then haughtily replied, "Let there be an end to this. I love you, and you know it. But I am not to be constrained." He reproached her for her obstinacy in refusing the friendship of her rival, Madame de Montespan, and added the cutting words, "You have needed, as well as Madame de Montespan, the forbearance and countenance of your sex."
Poor Louise was utterly crushed. She had long been thinking of retiring to a convent. Her decision was now formed. She devoted a few sad days to the necessary arrangements, took an agonizing leave, as she supposed forever, of her children, to whom she was tenderly attached, and for whom the king had made ample provision, and, addressing a parting letter to him, entered her carriage, to seek, for a second time, a final retreat in the convent of Chaillot.
It was late in the evening when she entered those gloomy cells where broken hearts find a living burial. To the abbess she said, "I have no longer a home in the palace; may I hope to find one in the cloister?" The abbess received her with true Christian sympathy. After listening with a tearful eye to the recital of her sorrows, she conducted her to the cell in which she was to pass the night.
"She could not pray, although she cast herself upon her knees beside the narrow pallet, and strove to rejoice that she had at length escaped from the trials of a world which had wearied her, and of which she herself was weary. There was no peace, no joy in her rebel heart. She thought of the first days of her happiness; of her children, who on the morrow would ask for her in vain; and then, as memory swept over her throbbing brain, she remembered her former flight to Chaillot, and that it was the king himself who had led her back again into the world. Her brow burned as the question forced itself upon her, Would he do so a second time? would he once more hasten, as he had then done, to rescue her from the living death to which she had consigned herself as an atonement for her past errors?
"But hour after hour went by, and all was silent. Hope died within her. Daylight streamed dimly into the narrow casement of her cell. Soon the measured step of the abbess fell upon her ear as she advanced up the long gallery, striking upon the door of each cell as she approached, and uttering in a solemn voice, 'Let us bless the Lord.' To which appeal each of the sisters replied in turn, 'I give him thanks.'"
The deceptive heart of Louise led her to hope, notwithstanding she had voluntarily sought the cloister, that the king, yearning for her presence, would come himself, as soon as he heard of her departure, and affectionately force her back to the Louvre. Early in the morning she heard the sound of carriage-wheels entering the court-yard of the convent. Her heart throbbed with excitement. Soon she was summoned from her cell to the parlor. Much to her disappointment, the king was not there, but his minister, M. Colbert, presented to her a very affectionate letter from his majesty urging her return. As she hesitated, M. Colbert pleaded earnestly in behalf of his sovereign.
The feeble will of Louise yielded, while yet she blushed at her own weakness. Tears filled her eyes as she took leave of the abbess, grasping her hand, and saying, "This is not a farewell; I shall assuredly return, and perhaps very soon." The king was much moved in receiving her, and, with great apparent cordiality, thanked her for having complied with his entreaties. Even the heart of Madame de Montespan was touched. She received with words of love and sympathy the returned fugitive, whose rivalry she no longer feared, and in whose sad career she perhaps saw mirrored her own future doom.
Madame de Montespan was then in the zenith of her power. The king had assigned her the beautiful chateau of Clagny, but a short distance from Versailles. Here she lived in great splendor, entertaining foreign embassadors, receiving from them costly gifts, and introducing them to her children as if they were really princes of the blood.
Notwithstanding the corruptions of the papal Church, there were in that Church many faithful ministers of Jesus Christ. Some of them, in their preaching, inveighed very severely against the sinful practices in the court. Not only Madame de Montespan, but the king, often knew that they were directly referred to. But the guilty yet sagacious monarch carefully avoided any appropriation of the denunciations to himself. Still, he was so much annoyed that he seriously contemplated urging Madame de Montespan to retire to a convent. He even authorized the venerable Bossuet, then Bishop of Condom, to call upon Madame de Montespan, and suggest in his name that she should withdraw from the court and retire to the seclusion of the cloister. But the haughty favorite, conscious of the power of her charms, and knowing full well that the king had only submitted to the suggestion, peremptorily refused. She judged correctly. The king was well pleased to have her remain.
The preparations which the king was making for the invasion of Holland greatly alarmed the Dutch government. France had become powerful far beyond any other Continental kingdom. The king had the finest army in Europe. Turenne, Conde, Vauban, ranked among the ablest generals and engineers of any age. While Louis XIV. was apparently absorbed in his pleasures, Europe was surprised to see vast trains of artillery and ammunition wagons crowding the roads of his northern provinces. In his previous campaign, Louis had taken Flanders in three months, and Franche-Comte in three weeks. These rapid conquests had alarmed neighboring nations, and Holland, Switzerland, and England had entered into an alliance to resist farther encroachments, should they be attempted.
Louis affected to be very angry that such a feeble state as Holland should have the impudence to think of limiting his conquests. Having, as we have mentioned, detached England from the alliance by bribing with gold and female charms the miserable Charles II., Louis was ready, without any declaration of war, even without any openly avowed cause of grievance, to invade Holland, and annex the territory to his realms. The States-General, alarmed in view of the magnitude of the military operations which were being made upon their borders, sent embassadors to the French court humbly to inquire if these preparations were designed against Holland, the ancient and faithful ally of France, and, if so, in what respect Holland had offended.
Louis XIV. haughtily and insolently replied, "I shall make use of my troops as my own dignity renders advisable. I am not responsible for my conduct to any power whatever."
The real ability of the king was shown in the effectual measures he adopted to secure, without the chance of failure, the triumphant execution of his plans. Twenty millions of people had been robbed of their hard earnings to fill his army chests with gold. An army of a hundred and thirty thousand men, in the highest state of discipline, and abundantly supplied with all the munitions of war, were on the march for the northern frontiers of France. These troops were supported by a combined English and French fleet of one hundred and thirty vessels of war. It was the most resistless force, all things considered, Europe had then ever witnessed. We shall not enter into the details of this campaign, which are interesting only to military men. Twelve hundred of the sons of the nobles were organized into a body-guard, ever to surround the king. They were decorated with the most brilliant uniforms, glittering with embroideries of gold and silver, and were magnificently mounted. The terrible bayonet was then, for the first time, attached to the musket. Light pontoons of brass for crossing the rivers were carried on wagons. A celebrated writer, M. Pelisson, accompanied the king, to give a glowing narrative of his achievements.
As there had been no declaration of war and no commencement of hostilities, the king purchased a large amount of military stores even in the states of Holland, which, no one could doubt, he was preparing to invade. A Dutch merchant, being censured by Prince Maurice for entering into a traffic so unpatriotic, replied,
"My lord, if there could be opened to me by sea any advantageous commerce with the infernal regions, I should certainly go there, even at the risk of burning my sails."
Louis made arrangements that money should be liberally expended to bribe the commandants of the Dutch fortresses. To oppose all these moral and physical forces, Holland had but twenty-five thousand soldiers, poorly armed and disciplined. They were under the command of the Prince of Orange, who was in feeble health, and but twenty-two years of age. But this young prince proved to be one of the most extraordinary men of whom history gives any account; yet it was manifestly impossible for him now to arrest the torrent about to invade his courts.
Louis rapidly pushed his troops forward into the unprotected states of Holland which bordered the left banks of the Rhine. His march was unresisted. Liberally he paid for whatever he took, distributed presents to the nobles, and, preparing to cross the river, placed his troops in strong detachments in villages scattered along the banks of the stream. The king himself was at the head of a choice body of thirty thousand troops. Marshal Turenne commanded under him.
The whole country on the left bank of the Rhine was soon in possession of the French, as village after village fell into their hands. The main object of the Prince of Orange was to prevent the French from crossing the river. Louis intended to have crossed by his pontoons, suddenly moving upon some unexpected point. But there came just then a very severe drouth. The water fell so low that there was a portion of the stream which could be nearly forded. It would be necessary to swim the horses but about twenty feet. The current was slow, and the passage could be easily effected. By moving rapidly, the Prince of Orange would not be able to collect at that point sufficient troops seriously to embarrass the operation.
Fifteen thousand horsemen were here sent across, defended by artillery on the banks, and aided by boats of brass. But one man in the French army, the young Duke de Longueville, was killed. He lost his life through inebriation, and its consequent folly and crime. Half crazed with wine, he refused quarter to a Dutch officer who had thrown down his arms and surrendered. Reeling in his saddle, he shot down the officer, exclaiming, "No quarter for these rascals." Some of the Dutch infantry, who were just surrendering, in despair opened fire, and the drunken duke received the death-blow he merited.
This passage of the Rhine was considered a very brilliant achievement, and added much to the military reputation of Louis XIV., though it appears to have been exclusively the feat of the Prince of Conde. The cities of Holland fell in such rapid succession into the power of the French, that scarcely an hour of the day passed in which the king did not receive the news of some conquest. An officer named Mazel sent an aid to Marshal Turenne to say,
"If you will be kind enough to send me fifty horsemen, I shall with them be able to take two or three places."
It was on the 12th of June, 1672, that the passage of the Rhine was effected. On the 20th the French king made his triumphal entrance into the city of Utrecht. The king was a Catholic—a bigoted Catholic. Corrupt as he was in life, regardless as he was in his private conduct of the precepts of Jesus, he was extremely zealous to invest the Catholic Church with power and splendor. It was with him a prominent object to give the Catholic religion the supremacy.
Amsterdam was the capital of the republic. The capture of that city would complete the conquest. Not only the republic would perish, but Holland would, as it were, disappear from the earth, her territory being absorbed in that of France. The consternation in the metropolis was great. The most noble and wealthy families were preparing for a rapid flight to the north. Amsterdam was then the most opulent and influential commercial town in Europe. It contained a population of two hundred thousand sagacious, energetic, thrifty people. As is invariably the case in days of disaster, there were discordant counsels and angry divisions among the bewildered defenders of the imperiled realm. Some were for fiercely pressing the war, others for humbly imploring peace.
At length four deputies were sent to the French camp to intercede for the clemency of the conqueror. They were received with raillery and insult. After contemptuously compelling the deputation several times to come and go without any result, the king at last condescended to present the following as his terms:
He demanded that the States of Holland should surrender to him the whole of the territory on the left bank of the Rhine; that they should place in his hands, to be garrisoned by French troops, the most important forts and fortified towns of the republic; that they should pay him twenty millions of francs, a sum equal to several times that amount at the present day; that the French should be placed in command of all the important entrances to Holland, both by sea and land, and should be exempted from paying any duty upon the goods they should enter; that the Catholic religion should be established every where through the realm; and that every year the republic should send to Louis XIV. an embassador, with a golden medal, upon which there should be impressed the declaration that the republic held all its privileges through the favor of Louis XIV. To these conditions were to be added such as the States-General should be compelled to make with the other allies engaged in the war.
The nations of Europe have been guilty of many outrages, but perhaps it would be difficult to find one more atrocious than this. In reference to the cause of the war, Voltaire very truly remarks, "It is a singular fact, and worthy of record, that of all the enemies, there was not one that could allege any pretext whatever for the war." It was an enterprise very similar to that of the coalition of Louis XII., the Emperor Maximilian, and Spain, who conspired for the overthrow of the Venetian republic simply because that republic was rich and prosperous.
These terms, dictated by the insolence of the conqueror, were quite intolerable. They inspired the courage of despair. The resolution was at once formed to perish, if perish they must, with their arms in their hands. The Prince of Orange had always urged the vigorous prosecution of the war. Guided by his energetic counsel, they pierced the dikes, which alone protected their country from the waters of the sea. The flood rushed in through the opened barriers, converting hundreds of leagues of fertile fields into an ocean. The inundation flooded the houses, swept away the roads, destroyed the harvest, drowned the flocks; and yet no one uttered a murmur. Louis XIV., by his infamous demands, had united all hearts in the most determined resistance. Amsterdam appeared like a large fortress rising in the midst of the ocean, surrounded by ships of war, which found depth of water to float where ships had never floated before. The distress was dreadful. It was the briny ocean whose waves were now sweeping over the land. It was so difficult to obtain any fresh water that it was sold for six cents a pint.
Maritime Holland, though weak upon the land, was still powerful on the sea. The united fleet of the allies did not exceed that of the republic. The Dutch Admiral Ruyter, with a hundred vessels of war and fifty fire-ships, repaired to the coasts of England in search of his foes. He met the allied fleet on the 7th of June, 1672, and in the heroic naval battle of Solbaie disabled and dispersed it. This gave Holland the entire supremacy on the sea. Thus suddenly Louis XIV. found himself checked, and no farther progress was possible.
The Prince of Orange gave all his private revenues to the state, and entered into negotiations with other powers, who were already alarmed by the encroachments of the French king. The Emperor of Germany, the Spanish court, and Flanders, entered into an alliance with the heroic prince. He even compelled Charles II. to withdraw from that union with Louis XIV. which was opposed to the interests of England, and into which his court had been reluctantly dragged. Troops from all quarters were hurrying forward for the protection of Holland.
The villainy of Louis XIV. was thwarted. Chagrined at seeing his conquest at an end, but probably with no compunctions of conscience for the vast amount of misery his crime had caused, he left his discomfited army under the command of Turenne and the other generals, and returned to his palaces in France.
The troops which remained in Holland committed outrages which rendered the very name of the French detested. Louis, from the midst of the pomp and pleasure of his palaces, still displayed extraordinary energies. Agents were dispatched to all the courts of Europe with large sums of money for purposes of bribery. By his diplomatic cunning, Hungary was roused against Austria. Gold was lavished upon the King of England to induce him, notwithstanding the opposition of the British Parliament, to continue in alliance with France. Several of the petty states of Germany were bought over. Louis greatly increased his naval force. He soon had forty ships of war afloat, besides a large number of fire-ships.
But Europe had been so alarmed by his encroachments and his menaces that, notwithstanding his efforts at diplomacy and intrigue, he was compelled to abandon his enterprise, and withdraw his troops from the provinces he had overrun.
In the early part of his campaign, Louis, flushed with victory and assured of entire success, had commenced building, as a monument of his great achievement, the arch of triumph at the gate of St. Denis. The structure was scarcely completed ere he was compelled to withdraw his troops from Holland, to meet the foes who were crowding upon him from all directions.
Louis XIV. now found nearly all Europe against him. He sent twenty thousand men, under Marshal Turenne, to encounter the forces of the Emperor of Germany. The Prince de Conde was sent with forty thousand troops to assail the redoubtable Prince of Orange. Another strong detachment was dispatched to the frontiers of Spain, to arrest the advance of the Spanish troops. A fleet was also sent, conveying a large land force, to make a diversion by attacking the Spanish sea-ports.
Turenne, in defending the frontiers of the Rhine, acquired reputation which has made his name one of the most renowned in military annals. The emperor sent seventy thousand men against him. Turenne had but twenty thousand to meet them. By wonderful combinations, he defeated and dispersed the whole imperial army. It added not a little to the celebrity of Turenne that he had achieved his victory by following his own judgment, in direct opposition to reiterated orders from the minister of war, given in the name of the king.
Turenne, a merciless warrior, allowed no considerations of humanity to interfere with his military operations. The Palatinate, a country on both sides the Rhine, embracing a territory of about sixteen hundred square miles, and a population of over three hundred thousand, was laid in ashes by his command. It was a beautiful region, very fertile, and covered with villages and opulent cities. The Elector Palatine saw from the towers of his castle at Manheim two cities and twenty-five villages at the same time in flames. This awful destruction was perpetrated upon the defenseless inhabitants, that the armies of the emperor, encountering entire desolation, might be deprived of subsistence. It was nothing to Turenne that thousands of women and children should be cast houseless into the fields to starve.
Alsace, with nearly a million of inhabitants, encountered the same doom. Another province, Lorraine, which covered an area of about ten thousand square miles, and contained a population of one and a half millions, was swept of all its provisions by the cavalry of the French commander. In reference to these military operations, Voltaire writes,
"All the injuries he inflicted seemed to be necessary. Besides, the army of seventy thousand Germans, whom he thus prevented from entering France, would have inflicted much more injury than Turenne inflicted upon Lorraine, Alsace, and the Palatinate."
On the 27th of June, 1675, a cannon ball struck Turenne, and closed in an instant his earthly career. His renown filled Europe. He was a successful warrior, a dissolute man; and few who have ever lived have caused more wide-spread misery than could be charged to his account. Such is not the character which best prepares one to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
The war continued for two years with somewhat varying fortune, but with unvarying blood and misery. At last peace was made on the 14th of August, 1678—the peace of Nimeguen, as it is styled. Louis XIV. dictated the terms. He was now at the height of his grandeur. He had enlarged his domains by the addition of Franche-Comte, Dunkirk, and half of Flanders. His courtiers worshiped him as a demigod. The French court conferred upon him, with imposing solemnities, the title of Louis le Grand. The ambition of Louis was by no means satiated. He availed himself of the short peace which ensued to form plans and gather resources for new conquests.
Let us now return from fields of blood to life in the palace. Madame de la Valliere, upon her return from the convent, soon found herself utterly miserable. She had hoped that reviving affection had been the inducement which led Louis to recall her. Instead of this, his attentions daily diminished. Madame de Montespan had accompanied the king in his brief trip to Holland, and returned with him to Paris. She was all-powerful at court, and seemed to delight, by word and deed, to add to the anguish of her vanquished rival. After a dreary year of wretchedness, Louise could endure no longer a residence in the palace. Her mother, who had been exceedingly distressed in view of the ignominious position occupied by her daughter, entreated her to retire to the Duchy of Vaujours with her children. Her mother promised to accompany her to that quiet yet beautiful retreat. But the spirit of Louise was broken. She longed only to sever herself entirely from the world, and to seek a living burial in the glooms of the cloister. In those days of sorrow, penitence and the spirit of devotion sprang up in her weary heart.