Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Volume 1
by William Walton
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For all his craftiness, "he had not reigned four years when all the world was against him," says Duruy. "The people forced to provide, by paying a great many imposts, for the necessities of the government which they did not as yet comprehend, the bourgeoisie wounded in its particular interests, which it did not know how to sacrifice to the general interests, the clergy menaced in its property, the lesser nobility in its rights and in its dearest habits, the higher aristocracy in its pretensions to sovereignty,—all these classes, so widely diverse, so often hostile one to another, found themselves for the moment quite in accord upon one point,—the necessity of limiting the royal authority." The Ligue du Bien public was formed by the great nobles through compassion for the miseries of the kingdom "under the discord and piteous government of Louis XI." Thus threatened by the aristocracy, it was a question of the utmost importance for the king to retain his capital; he wrote to the Parisians in the most cajoling phrases before Montlhery, and after, hastened to arm the bourgeois and accepted, as an aid and support, a council of six bourgeois, six members of the Parliament, and six clerks of the University.

The festivals and processions in the streets of Paris were not so numerous in this reign as in many of the preceding ones, but some of them have remained memorable. On his entry into the city on the occasion of his accession to the throne, August 30, 1461, he was richly dressed in white satin, and rode between the old Duc de Bourgogne and the Comte de Charolais. Over the Porte Saint-Denis was the representation of a ship, "emblem of the arms of Paris (which are, gules, a ship equipe, argent, on a sea of the same; au chef cousu d'argent, sown with fleurs-de-lis d'or). From this ship descended two little angels, who placed a crown upon the head of the king. The fountain of Ponceau ran wine; and at this fountain three beautiful maids, quite nude, represented sirens; 'and this was a very pleasant thing,' adds the chronicler, Jean de Troyes; 'they discoursed little motets and bergerettes.'" Other demonstrations, in the fashion of the time, were given at other points of the route; all the streets through which the king passed were hung with rich tapestries, and when he arrived at the Pont-au-Change, the bird merchants of Paris launched in the air "more than two hundred dozen birds of all kinds."

A very good painter, M. Tattegrain, in one of his recent envois to the annual Salon, has represented with great detail and much historical accuracy the incident of the three pretty sirens, quite nude. According to his story, they were only bared to the waist, and the king, very gallantly, checked the procession and rode out from under his canopy to hear their motets and bergerettes.

On the 15th of May, 1468, there was a fine tilting at the Hotel des Tournelles between the gentlemen of Paris and those of Normandy; "they were valiant champions, superbly apparelled in hacquetons embossed with gold." Of the four Norman chevaliers who came expressly for this occasion, three were wounded, so that "all the honor of the jousts remained with those of Paris." On the 19th of November, the conclusion of the treaty of Peronne, between the king and the Duc de Bourgogne, was announced by trumpets in all the public squares of the city, and popular rejoicings ordered; as also for the birth of the dauphin, afterward Charles VIII, June 30, 1470, and the victory of Henry of Lancaster, King of England, over his competitor, Edward. These two events, the king directed, should be celebrated by a cessation of work of all kind for three days, and public prayers. Not long afterward, the queen of Henri VI arrived in Paris with her son, the Prince of Wales, and was received, by order of the king, with all the honors due her rank.

Amidst all these splendors it was Louis XI himself who frequently presented the reverse side of the medal. The registers of the Chambre des Comptes mention, about the time of the English queen's visit, a disbursement of twenty sols for the insertion of a pair of new sleeves in an old pourpoint of the king's wearing. He was considered to have gotten much the worse of the treaty of Peronne with Charles the Bold, and he had a mistress named Perrette, so that the Parisians trained their parrots, magpies, and other speaking birds to ask Perrette to give them a drink, among other ribald phrases. Consequently, the king issued a royal commission "to a young man of Paris named Henry Perdriel, in the said city of Paris" to take and seize "all magpies, jays, and chevrettes being in cages or otherwise, and being private property, in order to bring them all before the king, and have written down and registered the place where he had taken the aforesaid birds and also all that they knew how to say, as: larron; paillard; fils de p—— ; va hors, va; Perrette, donne-moi a boire, and several other words which the said birds know very well how to say and which have been taught them." In this same year, 1468, he caused to be confiscated in Paris and brought to him at Amboise all the deer, does, and cranes which the rich bourgeois were in the habit of keeping in their gardens. "This dispensed with the necessity of his buying them," adds the historian.

A Bohemian periodical, the Nation Czech, has recently published a condensation of the very curious journal kept by a certain Seigneur Leon de Rozmital, brother of the queen Joan, wife of Georges Podiebrad, King of Bohemia, during his travels in France in the year 1465. At Meung-sur-Loire he met Louis XI, who received him with much honor, though he appears to have quite declined to listen to the seigneur's proposals of a treaty of alliance between the two nations; he accompanied the king to Kand (perhaps the chateau of Candes, Indre-et-Loire), where he was presented to the queen and all her train. Her Majesty received him cordially, "and every one kissed him on the mouth. It was the king who had ordered it, and who wished it so. Afterward, the queen gave her hand to every chevalier and was very gracious with all." Louis invited his guest to come to visit him in Paris, but the latter fails to record his doing so.

In the year 1470, it may be mentioned, Ulric Gering, Michel Friburger, and Martin Krantz set up the first printing-press, in the college of the Sorbonne, and printed a book: Epistolae Gasparini Pargamensis (Letters of Gasparin de Bergamo). Other works appeared, the first of which was a Bible, offered to Louis XI in this same year.

The universal demoralization of manners resulting from the long wars against the English and between the Burgundians and Armagnacs, the English occupation of the city, the presence in the capital of a multitude of drunken and debauched soldiers, did not serve to check the extravagance and license among the wealthier bourgeois against which the clergy thundered in vain. One of the boldest of these preachers was a Cordelier named Olivier Maillard, who appealed to the multitude by the freedom of his language and his images too frequently borrowed from the vernacular, and who—although he bore the title of predicateur du roi—did not hesitate to denounce the monarch himself. He accordingly received an intimation that if these attacks did not cease very promptly, he would be tied up in a sack and thrown in the river. "The king is master," replied Maillard, "but go and say to him that I would go quicker to paradise by water than he with his post-horses." A species of crusade was organized by the mendicant friars against the extravagance of the costumes and the indecency of the manners; the evil had assumed such proportions that to be modestly and decently dressed was to be, in the language of the people as well as in that of the preachers, "clothed without sin." "To the ferocity, to the barbarity of feudal times had succeeded the vices of a semi-civilization, whilst waiting till manners and customs should refine themselves under the action of the Renaissance."

One of the first acts of the new king, Charles VIII, was to hang Olivier le Dain, valet de chambre, barber, counsellor, and, finally, ambassador of his father. His property was confiscated and given to the Duc d'Orleans. This act afforded a lively satisfaction to the Parisians and to the nation at large. Another favorite of the late monarch, Jean de Doyat, was somewhat more fortunate, though he was arrested, publicly whipped in the streets, pilloried at the Halles, where his tongue was pierced with a hot iron and one ear cut off, then sent down to Auvergne, his native province, flogged again, robbed of the other ear, and all his goods confiscated. Later, however, the king quashed the judgment and restored him his property, if not his severed members.

By his marriage with Anne de Bretagne, December 13, 1491, this monarch united the last of the great fiefs of France to the crown, and disappointed several powerful foreign suitors, English, German, and Spanish. On the 9th of the following February the royal couple entered the capital in state, and the stately and haughty carriage of the Breton princess was greatly admired by the populace. The bourgeois and merchants of various conditions who rode, two by two, to meet her had all "magnificent costumes, robes of satin cramoisi, of damask gris cendre, or of scarlet cloth on a violet ground. They had had made a dais the canopy of which was of cloth of gold, embossed, sown with lilies and roses. They carried it alternately from the Porte Saint-Denis as far as Notre-Dame."

When the king set off on his ill-advised expedition to conquer the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, he was very short of funds and wished to borrow a hundred thousand ecus from the Parisians, but met with a flat refusal. Consequently, when a deputation of the notables of the city took the liberty of remonstrating with him concerning this Italian war, he received them very badly and requested them to keep their advice for themselves, as he had no need of it. But, after having conquered the Milanais and lost it very soon afterward, he applied again to his city of Paris for a vessel of war; Jean de Ganay, president of the Parliament, presented to the prevot of the merchants and to the echevins at the Hotel de Ville the letter which the king had written on this subject. In order to deliberate on it weightily, they assembled all the councillors, and a resolution was adopted that the Messieurs of the Parliament and of the Chambre des Comptes and the Bishop of Paris meet in a general assembly at the Hotel de Ville. But the progress of political events having rendered this vessel unnecessary, nothing came of all these deliberations.

Louis XII, on his accession to the throne in 1498, resolved to cross the Alps in his turn, and on his solemn entry into Paris after his coronation an elaborate machine was contrived to delicately flatter his pretensions to Genoa and Milan, and appear in the royal procession. This consisted of an apparatus mounted on wheels, in the form of a terrace, on which was seen a porcupine, moving all his quills at once, and a young virgin, habited in Genoese fashion and throned on a seat of cloth-of-gold cramoisi. But unluckily the machine would not function, and after remaining immovable in one place, finally disappeared "in great mortification." The Parisians seem never to have lost their fondness for processions and displays, and were always ready to welcome a new king with the firm belief that all their griefs would speedily be remedied under the new regime. As there was a possibility of the widowed queen, Anne de Bretagne, carrying her rich dower, now returned to her, out of the kingdom, Louis XII secured a divorce from his wife Jeanne, third child of Louis XI, and so very plain in countenance that her royal father could not endure the sight of her. Thus it happened that la Bretonne made her second solemn entrance into Paris as a newly-wed queen of France, in 1504; and at her death, ten years later, the king "during a whole week did nothing but weep."

Her obsequies, at Saint-Denis and Notre-Dame, gave rise to a scandalous discussion over the possession of all the objects which had figured in them. The abbot and the monks of Saint-Denis demanded the restitution of the dais, of the effigy and of the garments of the queen, of the cloth of gold, of the velvet which had served to decorate the chapel, and of all the offerings made by the assistants. The nuns of La Saussaye-lez-Villejuif wished that there should be given them all the linen of the late queen, body linen and table linen, the ornaments of gold and of silver, and all the mules, palfreys, horses of state and others which had drawn the chariots, with all the harness and the collars. The grand equerry of the queen, Louis de Hangest, pretended, for his part, that the horses, the canopy, and the cloth of gold all pertained to him in virtue of his office, and, whilst awaiting the decision, he insisted that the horses, chariots, and harness should at least be turned over to him provisionally in order that he might conduct the ladies and the pages of the late queen. But it was feared that he would keep them under any conditions. The king-at-arms and the heralds wanted all the mouldings and all the stuffs of velvet and of silk which were on the walls of the chapelle ardente; and the chaplains of the cardinal, the sum of all the offerings made both at Notre-Dame and at Saint-Denis. The Parliament devoted a week to endeavoring to bring the disputants into accord, and in the meanwhile ordered an appraisement of all the horses, carriages, etc., which were confided to the grand equerry, and all the linen, ornaments, dais, etc., were sequestered and placed in the hands of Jean du Val, receiver of pledges, and of Ragerin Le Lieur, merchant bourgeois.

In addition to his grief over his wife's death, the king found himself very much embarrassed in his finances till his good city of Paris came to his relief with a donation of twenty thousand livres. He had even sold his vessels of gold and silver, for the sum of two hundred thousand livres. Being thus relieved, with the inconstancy of men, he began to think of another wife, and in September, 1514, the magistrates of the city went out in state to meet the ambassadors of England who had arrived to negotiate a match with the Princess Mary, daughter of their sovereign. For this fickleness (which, however, was partially dictated by political considerations) Louis XII was destined to pay dearly; he was fifty-three years of age and his bride was eighteen; to please her, he changed all his habits of life, and even the hours of his repasts. He had been in the habit of "dining" at eight o'clock, and he now dined at noon; he had been accustomed to go to bed at six o'clock in the evening, and now it was often midnight when he retired. So that he died at the Palais des Tournelles on the first of the following January, 1515, and the death-criers, sounding their bells, paraded the streets, calling aloud: "The good king Louis, father of the people, is dead!"

It was the States-General of the nation, speaking through the representative of Paris, which had given him this fine name, Pere du peuple, and which, by his care for their interests, his economy in the general administration, his suppression of abuses, he had well deserved. "The third part of the kingdom," says a contemporary, "was opened to cultivation in twelve years, and for one important merchant that had been known in Paris, in Lyons, or in Rouen, there could be found fifty under Louis XII, who made it more easy to go to Rome, to Naples, or to London than formerly to Lyons or Geneva." In this intelligent administration, he was greatly aided by the cardinal, Georges d'Amboises, who "for twenty-seven years remained less his minister than his friend," and who shared with him the well-earned approval of the people. "Laissez faire a Georges" (Let George alone and he'll do it) marked the general appreciation.

That curious custom of the Middle Ages, which testifies so strongly to the impotence and unjustness of the laws and the universal prevalence of sudden outbreaks of passion and crime, the right of asylum, was greatly modified in Paris by Louis XII. In the porches of the churches, or, if they had none, within the space of thirty feet of their walls on all sides, and in the cemeteries adjoining them, the hunted criminal was safe. The king suppressed this privilege for the churches and convents of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, Saint-Merri, Notre-Dame, l'Hotel-Dieu, the Abbaye Saint-Antoine, the Carmelites of the Place Maubert, and the Grands-Augustins. Francois I extended this reform still further; his ordinance of 1539 abolished all places of immunity for debts or other civil matters, and decreed that any person could be apprehended anywhere, provided that, if his place of refuge should be justified, he should be returned to it. This, however, never was done. In 1789, there were in Paris a few privileged localities remaining,—the royal residences, the hotels of the ambassadors, and the hotel of the grand prior of Malta, the Temple. By an article of the Code de procedure civile, it was forbidden to arrest debtors in the buildings consecrated to worship and during the religious exercises; and under the Second Empire a debtor could not be arrested in the garden of the Tuileries. With the abolishment of imprisonment for debt, these regulations repealed themselves.

In an almost equally important matter, that of the hours of the three meals of the day, a great change also took place during this reign. The courtiers did not generally follow the king in his transferral of le diner from eight o'clock in the morning (according to the custom established at the beginning of the reign) to noon, but the people seem to have adopted the new hour. The wars in Italy brought to the French table for the first time the pates of that country, vermicelli, macaroni, semoule, the lassagnes and others. For women in childbed and for consumptives were reserved the bouillons or "restaurants,"—these were composed of meat, of animals or of chickens, cut up very fine and distilled in an alembic with peeled barley, dried roses, cinnamon, coriander, and Damascus raisins. One of the most succulent of these bouillons was called restaurant divin.

Under Francois I, the dinner-hour was established at nine o'clock in the morning, and the supper-hour at five in the evening. It is true that the hour of rising was also most unreasonably early according to modern ideas. There was a popular rhyme:

"Lever a cinq, diner a neuf, Souper a cinq, coucher a neuf. Fait vivre d'ans nonante-neuf."

(To rise at five, to dine at nine, to sup at five, to go to bed at nine, will make you live to ninety-nine.)

The national menu was further increased by contributions from Italy and from domestic producers, pates, cheeses, and some new fruits, apricots and plums; the latter, still a great favorite with the French, was called la reine Claude after the daughter of Louis XII. With the good living came an increase in drunkenness among all, lower classes, bourgeois, courtiers, and soldiers,—the latter, indeed, to such an extent that the king felt constrained to issue edicts threatening this growing vice with the severest penalties: for the first offence, imprisonment; for the second, flogging in private; for the third, flogging in public; and the hardened offender ran a great risk of losing his ears and being banished from the kingdom.

With the reign of Francois I began the ancien regime,—"that is to say, a government in which the subjects have no guarantee against oppression, even the most iniquitous, and the prince, no obstacle to his will, even the most capricious." In 1527, the president of the Parliament of Paris declared openly that the king was above the law, though he added that his sovereign will should be regulated by equity and reason. The nobility, reduced to a state merely of revenues and titles, were no longer the great feudal powers of the Dark Ages, "and at the sumptuous court which Francois opened to them they learned to ruin themselves and to obey." In the middle of this century, there was only one great feudal house remaining, that of Bourbon-Navarre, the head of which, Antoine, was quite without influence. Below were the grand seigneurs, the Montmorencys, the Guises, the La Tremouilles, the Chatillons, and others, but deprived of all the rights of the powerful feudal vassals of the king of former times; the clergy had been reduced to a condition of dependence upon the king by the concordat of 1516, which made him the unique dispenser of benefices; the tiers etat—which included "the men of letters, who are called men of the long robe; the merchants, the artisans, the people, and the peasants"—had long been accustomed to obedience. "There had formerly been only manants (rustics, clowns), seigneurs, and fiefs; there is now a people, a king, and a France."

"If the accession of Francois I was a great occasion for the men," says M. de Lescure, "it was still more so for the ladies. In fact, it might be said that they ascended the throne with the new king. Admitted for the first time to the banquets, to the tourneys of the Hotel des Tournelles, this hardy innovation gave the measure of their new destinies and of the credit reserved by the most gallant of monarchs for the fairest half of the human species." Unfortunately, the king was not inclined to make any distinctions among these new ornaments to his court, and while his predecessors had made strenuous efforts to reduce the license of manners, we find him issuing such edicts as this:

"Francois, by the grace of God, King of France, to our friend and loyal treasurer of our exchequer, Maitre Jehan Duval, salutation and dilection. We desire, and we command you, that from the deniers of our aforesaid exchequer you pay, give, and deliver ready-money to Cecile de Viefville, dame des filles de joie, attending our court, the sum of forty-five livres tournois, making the value of twenty ecus of gold sol at forty-five sols apiece, of which we have made and do make by these presents donation, as much for her as for the other women and girls of her vocation, to divide among themselves as they may advise, and this for their right for the month of May passed...."

The court of the French kings itself is dated by their historians from this reign. Before Francois I, it did not exist. "Grave councillors only surrounded Louis XII, and the chaste Anne de Bretagne authorized around her only rare and tranquil pleasures. Francois I wished to be followed always by a troop so numerous that there were counted around the royal residence rarely less than six thousand and sometimes as many as eighteen thousand horses." By the brilliancy of its fetes, this court attracted to itself the chatelaines, up to this time forgotten in the depths of their feudal castles. "At the beginning," says Mezeray, "this had an excellent effect, this amiable sex having introduced into the court politeness and courtesy, and imparting lively impulses of generosity to those whose souls were more nobly constituted. But the manners and customs became speedily corrupted; the offices, the benefices, were distributed according to the whims of the women, and they were the cause of the adoption of very pernicious maxims by the government."

The revival of the arts brought about by the Renaissance, and which Francois I had the intelligence to appreciate and encourage, and the somewhat greater sense of security in the body politic, combined to give to this court, and to the wealthy citizens of the capital, such extravagant luxury of dress and ornament that even this pleasure-loving monarch felt constrained to promulgate sumptuary laws on various occasions, an example which was followed by his son and successor, Henry II. The edict of 1538 proscribed chains of gold of too great weight for financiers and men of affairs, and it was intimated to them that it would be better not "to make their daughters too handsome and too rich when they married them." In 1543, the tissues of gold and silver were forbidden for men, with the exception of the relatives of the monarch, and this edict was renewed, four years later, by Henri II, greatly amended and amplified and extended to all, high and low, excepting the ladies in the queen's suite and the king's sister. In 1549, it was renewed, with still greater detail concerning the costumes of the two sexes.

The abuse of masks was of long standing, Charles VI having been addicted to their use, and in 1514, under Louis XII, the Parlement directed that all these false visages in the city, wherever found, should be collected and burned, and that, by order of the king, no more should be worn. During the captivity of Francois I in Madrid, the members of the Parlement set the example of reducing their style of living, limiting the number of their horses, etc.; and so great was the suspicion and distrust at this time, that a special edict was directed against the mysterious strangers who were seen in the streets of the city, all with long beards and carrying heavy sticks. The use of the latter was strictly forbidden, and the wearing of the former, "which seemed to conceal some pernicious designs against the peace of the State." Among the minor social revolutions which this monarch effected, in consequence of a wound received on his head, was that in the manner of wearing the hair and beard, which had prevailed since the time of Louis VII; Francois I reversed the ancient custom, and cut his hair short, but not his beard.

Paris, which had celebrated his accession with even more than the usual ceremonial, jousts, and tourneys, was greatly alarmed at the threat of the Connetable de Bourbon to march upon it with the allied forces of the King of England and of Charles V. The king, to reassure them, sent them the Sire de Brion, who declared to them that their monarch "had so much consideration for the city of Paris that he would sacrifice himself rather than allow it to be taken, that he was willing to expose his life in order to defend it, to live and to die with the Parisians, and that, if he could not come to it in person, he would send to it his wife, his children, and his mother, and all that he had and possessed, persuaded as he was that when he had lost the rest of the kingdom, he would readily recover all his losses if he could preserve Paris; that he had the intention to bring to it ten thousand Swiss, that he was aware of the attachment which the Parlement and the city bore to his person, that he thanked them for it, and exhorted them to continue a fidelity which was so useful to him."

All these fine words gave great pleasure to the citizens, and they were thrown into corresponding consternation when the news was received, on the 7th of March, 1525, that he had been taken prisoner at Pavia. His mother, Louise de Savoie, subordinated the evil traits of her character to constitute herself an intelligent regent; and on the 14th of April, 1527, the king made a triumphal re-entry into his capital after his release. Some doubts seem to have been entertained as to the genuineness of the welcome, for, it is recorded, the prevot of the merchants, the echevins, and the school-masters were ordered to station, at a dozen points on the route of the procession, groups of eighty or a hundred children, who were to cry enthusiastically: "Vive le roi!" The quibbling by which Francois endeavored to justify his refusal to carry out the provisions of the treaty of Madrid, for which he had left his two sons as hostages, deceived no one; Charles V very justly proclaimed him a traitor and perjured, to which the king had no better answer than that the emperor "lied in his throat," and that he would meet him in the lists in single combat whenever he liked.

The ransom of the two young princes cost one million two hundred thousand ecus, a sum which both the king and his capital found it very difficult to raise. After the treaty of Cambrai, in 1529, Francois endeavored to strengthen his position by foreign alliances, without any regard for his standing as eldest son of the Church and persecutor of Protestants. He made terms with Henry VIII of England, who had just broken with the Holy See; and he acquired the friendship of the Pope by demanding for his son, afterward Henri II, the hand of Catherine de Medicis, niece of the pontiff. He renewed the ancient friendship with the Scotch by giving his eldest daughter, afterward Marie de Lorraine, to their king for wife. He even concluded a commercial treaty, and one of alliance, offensive and defensive, with the Sultan Soliman, who promised to aid, with all his power, his good friend, "the Padishah of France."

The first of the followers of Luther to be executed in Paris was burned alive on the Place de Greve in March, 1525, and from this beginning the persecution went on, by direction of the king, and even during his absence, with a cruelty only tempered by the occasional necessity of conciliating the Protestant allies of the nation. The Sorbonne ordered that all the writings of Luther should be publicly burned on the Place du Parvis Notre-Dame; and the king decreed that all persons having in their possession any of the aforesaid heretical books should deliver them up, under penalty of banishment and confiscation of all their property. For the dreary spectacle of a nation and a city divided into hostile factions, struggling through barbarism and crime to a political unity and a more beneficent civilization, we have now, just when these goals seemed to be on the point of being attained, the spectacle of the same city and nation rent by religious faction, and relapsing into an even crueller barbarism under all the specious glitter of the civilization of the Renaissance.

It seemed at first, however, as though the doctrines of the Reform might find as stable a footing in France as they did in Germany. Among the lettered and cultivated classes their conquests were rapid; even in the court, the king's mother, Louise de Savoie, was not apparently disposed to oppose them; his sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, and his dear friend the Duchesse d'Etampes, were more or less openly inclined in their favor; Clement Marot, the court poet, translated the Psalms of David into French, which the Reformers sang at the Pre-aux-Clercs. Two scholars greatly esteemed by Francois I, Lefebvre d'Etaples, who had begun six years before Luther, and Louis de Berquin, considered by his contemporaries as "the wisest of the nobility," publicly supported the Reform doctrines. But the king, fearing in them an organized movement against all authority, sacred or secular, soon withdrew his support; Berquin was burned at the stake in the Place de Greve, and the Sorbonne even ventured to pursue, with open prosecution and denunciation, and with hidden satire in a comedy represented at the College de Navarre, the king's sister for having caused her brother to adopt a book of prayers translated into French and for having caused to be printed a work of her own in verse: Le Miroir de l'Ame pecheresse. The Parlement formally forbade the scholars of the Universite to translate any of the sacred books in Hebrew or Greek into French, as being a work of heresy. In 1546, Etienne Dolet, the printer, was hanged and then burned, for impiety and atheism, on the Place Maubert where his statue now stands. There was even invented, for the benefit of the heretics, a refinement of cruelty on the ordinary horrors of the stake,—a pulley over the victim's head to which he was suspended by chains, so that he could alternately be raised out of the flames and lowered into them again. This was called l'estrapade.

This reign witnessed one of those unjust condemnations of the royal treasurer which had become so common in French history. Jacques de Beaune, Seigneur de Semblancay, had succeeded his father in this important post; Louis XII and Francois I alike had found every reason to repose the utmost confidence in their financial officer, but the latter monarch, and his mother, set no bounds to their lavish expenditure. In 1521, Lautrec, Francois's general in Italy, drew on the royal treasury for four hundred thousand ecus to pay his Swiss mercenaries. Semblancay was about to send him the money, when he was summoned, according to the generally received story, by Louise de Savoie, to hand it over to her, which he did. Owing to the defection of his unpaid Swiss, Lautrec was defeated at the Bicoque and lost the Milanaise; when bitterly reproached by the king for his ill-success, the facts in the case came out. The queen-mother admitted having received the money and applied it to her own use, but she declared that it was a portion of her private funds which she had previously deposited with the treasurer-general. Semblancay was accordingly brought to trial, but, though he demonstrated that the king was in his debt to the amount of three hundred thousand livres, he was condemned for peculation and hung on the gibbet at Montfaucon, notwithstanding his blameless life and his seventy-two years. "I have, indeed, deserved death," he said, "for having served men more faithfully than God." Clement Marot, the court poet, wrote an epigram on the juge d'enfer who had condemned this worthy servant of the king, and a popular tumult was averted with difficulty; two years later, the clerks whom the queen-mother had employed to steal her receipts from the treasurer's coffers confessed, he was declared innocent, and his confiscated property restored to his grandson.

Charles V, who more than once threatened Paris with his victorious arms,—in 1544 he was at Chateau-Thierry, twenty-four leagues from the capital, and the affrighted citizens had begun to transport themselves and their worldly goods to Orleans,—visited the city in peace, on the 1st of January, 1540, on his way to Flanders to subdue the revolted burghers of Ghent. Francois was strongly tempted to break his royal promises, as he had done once before, and retain so valuable a prisoner, but confined himself to hints as to what he might do, and displayed on the part of his court and his capital an ostentation of luxury almost equal to that of the Field of the Cloth of Gold twenty years before, when he had met Henry VIII of England—"that spot of blood and grease on the pages of history." The capital, indeed, was much embellished and made more healthful under Francois I; the municipality were enjoined to pave and to clean the streets, and the king caused to be drawn up minute regulations concerning the administration of the city, the fountains, markets, slaughter-houses, gutters, etc. Nevertheless, the pest prevailed throughout the whole of his reign.

This gay monarch, who aspired to excel in all the accomplishments of a chevalier, wrote verses in his lighter moments, but the celebrated "Souvent femme varie; bien fol est qui s'y fie," said to have been written with the diamond of his finger-ring on a window in the Chateau d'Amboise, has been resolved into the very commonplace phrase: "Toute femme varie," which Brantome saw written by the royal hand on the window-casing. In like manner, the pretty verses ascribed to Mary Queen of Scots, on leaving France,—

"Adieu, plaisant pays de France, O ma patrie, La plus cherie," etc.,

were really written by a journalist named Meunier de Querlon. What the young queen did say, as she saw the French coast sink below the horizon, was: "Adieu, chere France! je ne vous verrai jamais plus!"

The son of Francois I, who succeeded him, had all his father's defects and none of his good qualities; his short reign is made memorable chiefly by his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the unusual manner of his death. The former, whom he made Duchesse de Valentinois, and who exercised in the court an authority quite denied to the queen, maintained over her royal lover,—she had been the mistress of his father,—notwithstanding her forty-eight years of age, an ascendency, by her beauty and her intelligence, which her contemporaries ascribed to an enchanted ring. She was nearly sixty years of age, and the king was in his forty-first year when he wore her colors, the black and white of widows, in the fatal tourney which he had commanded to celebrate the wedding of his eldest daughter, Elisabeth de France, to Philippe II, King of Spain, already twice widowed. The lists were set up across the Rue Saint-Antoine, from the Palais des Tournelles almost to the Bastile, with great amphitheatres of seats on each side for the spectators. The king, who excelled in bodily exercises, had distinguished himself during the first two days; on the third, the jousting was completed, when he happened to see two lances still unbroken, and commanded the captain of his guards, Gabriel, Comte de Montgomery, to take one of them and tilt with him "for the love of the ladies." Montgomery protested, but the king insisted, and as they came together the former did not lower his arm quickly enough, and the broken shaft of his lance, glancing up from the king's breast-plate, lifted his visor and inflicted a mortal wound over the right eye. Eleven days afterward, he died, and Montgomery paid with his life for his inadvertence.

Henry "was not yet dead when Catherine de Medicis sent to Diane de Poitiers an order to restore the crown-jewels, and to retire to one of her chateaux. 'What!' she exclaimed, 'is the king dead?' 'No, madame, but he soon will be.' 'So long as he has a finger living,' she replied, 'I wish that my enemies should know that I do not fear them, and that I will not obey them whilst he is alive. My courage is still invincible. But when he is dead, I no longer wish to live after him.'

"She did live, however, but she made haste to leave Paris, and withdrew to her Chateau d'Anet."

The king's death occurred in the midst of his plans to resume the persecution of the heretics, plans which he had so much at heart that he had not hesitated to conclude the unfortunate treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, in the same year, in order to be at liberty to engage in this crusade against his own subjects. "Sire," said his generals, Guise and Brissac, as the treaty was signed, "you are giving away in one day what could not be taken from you in thirty years of reverses." But Henri "was more religious than the Pope," for, the sovereign pontiff having sent the Parisians a bull by which he granted them permission to eat butter, cheese, and eggs during the approaching Lent, the king was scandalized at this license; the Garde des Sceaux directed the Lieutenant Criminel to publish, by the public criers, a decree forbidding the printing and circulating of this bull, and the document was even publicly burned by order of the king and the Parlement.

Among the ceremonials of public rejoicing attending the wedding of Henri with Catherine de Medicis was the illuminating, by the royal hand, of the fire on the eve of Sainte-Jean, on the Place de Greve, in which the lamentable cries of the cats confined in a basket, and thus consumed, filled the populace with the wildest delight. Their appetite for cruelty was soon to be much more fully gratified, for arrangements were made, after high mass at Notre-Dame and the State banquet in the episcopal palace, to burn as many Protestants at the stake at once, at several places, as was possible. Among these unfortunates was a journeyman tailor, who had been summoned before the king, and reproached by him for listening to heretical doctrines; when Diane de Poitiers, who had been instrumental in causing his arrest, also began to harangue him, the tailor suddenly broke silence: "Madame," said he, "content yourself with having infested France, and do not bring your ordure to mingle with things as sacred as the truth of God." He was consequently given one of the posts of honor among the victims, his stake being erected in the Rue Saint-Antoine, nearest the window of the Hotel de la Roche-Pot, from which the king watched the executions, and it is related that, notwithstanding his atrocious sufferings, he fixed upon the monarch, from amidst the flames, so steadfast and terrible a look that Henri withdrew from the window, declaring that he would never be present at another auto-da-fe. This did not signify, however, that he would order no more.

Both Francois and Henri had formed, and partially carried out, various enlightened measures for the embellishment of the capital and its environs, the rebuilding of the Louvre, the completion of Fontainebleau, the improvement of the navigation of the Seine, etc. Henri ordered the demolition of the old royal residence, the Palais des Tournelles, and its pestiferous moats were filled up. He is represented as being inordinately fond of processions, and every event, of good or bad omen, was made a pretence for one of these public displays. Catherine de Medicis had brought with her from Tuscany a taste for luxury, letters, and the arts; Philibert Delorme, whom the French consider the second of their great architects, and who, under her orders, began, in 1564, the construction of the Tuileries, testifies to "the exceeding pleasure which she took in architecture, designing and sketching out the plans and profiles of the edifices she intended to erect."

Under the reign of Henri II began the rise in importance, and the frequent appearance in the national councils, of the great families afterward so prominent in the wars of the League. The Connetable de Montmorency, the Marechal de Saint-Andre, and the Guises, younger branch of the ducal house of Lorraine, who at this period claimed to be only the heirs of the house of Anjou, but who, later, asserted themselves to be descendants of Charlemagne, monopolized the royal favors and the royal authority. The eldest of Henri's sons, Francois II, during his brief reign of seventeen months, confided the military administration of his kingdom to Francois, Duc de Guise, who had retaken Calais from the English, and defended Metz against Charles V, and the "civil affairs" to his brother Charles, cardinal, and possessor of no less than a dozen benefices in the Church. The house of Bourbon, which might have disputed this ascendency with them, was temporarily in disgrace because of the treason of the Connetable, under Francois I, and the Duc de Montmorency had lost the important battle of Saint-Quentin against the Imperialists, in 1557, and was advanced in years. To these malcontents was added the Prince de Conde, and the higher nobility were all indignant at seeing the domination of France in the hands of foreigners,—the queen-mother, Italian; the young wife of Francois II, Scotch, and the Guises, Lorrainers. To add to their ill-humor, these foreigners, as foreigners, claimed the precedence in matters of etiquette, and the right to walk in procession immediately after the princes of the blood, before the chiefs of the most illustrious houses of France.

Catherine de Medicis had preserved, amidst the intrigues and debauchery of the court, but one wholesome moral sentiment,—a passionate love for her children. The long course of mortifications which she had had to endure at the hands of Diane de Poitiers "had effaced in her all distinctions between good and evil." To preserve the royal power in the hands of her sons, three of whom succeeded to the throne in somewhat rapid succession, she considered all means legitimate. For a brief space of time she saw herself excluded from her ascendency over the king by the young queen, Marie Stuart, daughter of James V of Scotland and Marie de Lorraine, whom Henri II had married to his son to assure the alliance of Scotland against England. The discontent against the Guises led to the "conspiracy of Amboise," in 1560, easily suppressed and punished with the utmost severity; the young king wept at the incessant executions, but the pretty young queen, as seems to be proven by her "Letters," secretly approved. The queen-mother, more intelligent, gave the keeping of the seals to the Chancellor Michel de l'Hopital, who opposed the proposition of the Guises to set up the Inquisition in France, and convoked the nobles at Fontainebleau to organize the opposition. The civil wars were inaugurated.

Francois II died on December 5, 1560; Mary of Scots went back to her native land, weeping bitterly, and the queen-mother assumed the regency, as her second son, Charles IX, was then only ten years and six months of age. He was not without good parts, he had an inclination for les belles lettres, fostered in him by his preceptor, Amyot, who had translated Plutarch, and one of his favorites was the poet, Pierre de Ronsard. The mutual outrages and exasperations, the changing fortunes of the incessant wars between Catholics and Huguenots, gradually led up to the calamity of the Saint-Bartholomew; in 1567, five years before, the young king was nearly captured by the chiefs of the Reformed religion, escaping with difficulty to his capital and to his palace of the Louvre. To cement the peace of Saint-Germain, signed in 1570, and which granted such favorable terms to the Protestants that the Catholic party protested fiercely, a marriage was arranged between the son of Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, Henri de Bearn, and the king's sister, Marguerite, the Reine Margot of the chroniclers. The Queen of Navarre and her son, followed by the Admiral Coligny and a host of the leaders among the Huguenots, came to Paris; the protestations of friendship with which they were received by the king inflamed still more the passions of the partisans of the Guises, and the sudden death of Jeanne d'Albret, attributed to poison, but probably caused by a pulmonary affection, only served to increase the universal apprehension and suspicion.

The marriage was postponed, but celebrated a week later, on the 17th of August, 1572, with great pomp; the bridegroom took up his lodgings in the Louvre, but, five days later, Coligny, returning to his little hotel in the Rue des Fosses-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was fired at by an assassin named Maurevert in the pay of the Guises, receiving one ball in the left arm and losing the index finger of his right hand by another. The excessive grief and concern manifested by the king seems to have disarmed his suspicions; but Catherine, aided by the leaders of the Catholic party, was incessantly urging her son to seize the opportunity thus within his grasp, and, by exterminating all the enemies of the true religion, at once avert from France the horrors of a fourth civil war. "The king resisted; his mother quoted to him the Italian proverb that mildness is often cruelty, and cruelty mildness; then she threatened to leave the court with her other son, the Duc d'Anjou, so as not to witness the ruin of her house, so as to no longer have before her eyes such cowardice and imbecility. She had well calculated the effect of this last taunt upon a violent spirit. Charles, until then motionless and sombre, suddenly exclaimed, that, if it were found advisable to kill the admiral, he wished that all the Huguenots in France might be killed, 'so that not one should be left to reproach him.'" It was agreed to exempt from the massacre the King of Navarre, the new brother-in-law of Charles, and the young Prince de Conde, but on the condition that both of them returned to the Catholic religion.

All the necessary measures had been taken by the Guises and by the municipality of the city; the signal was to be given from the Palais de Justice, by the first stroke of the tocsin after midnight, on the morning of Sunday, the 24th of August, the day of Saint-Barthelemy, and the Catholics were to be designated by white handkerchiefs on their arms and white crosses in their hats. But the killing began under the walls of the Louvre before the appointed hour, and Catherine sent hastily to the neighboring church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois with orders to give the signal. The Duc de Guise had reserved for himself the honor of superintending the murder of Coligny, then helpless from his wounds, and he immediately hastened to the Hotel de Ponthieu, where the admiral was lodged, burst in the doors, had the old man murdered and flung out of the window and his head struck off.

There are various authorities, among them D'Aubigne, for the story that the king fired with a long arquebus from one of the windows of the Louvre upon the fleeing Huguenots. "He took great pleasure," says Brantome, "in seeing from his windows more than four thousand corpses, killed or drowned, floating down the river." The same chronicler relates that when, on the 27th, in company with his mother and a number of seigneurs, he visited the gibbet of Montfaucon to inspect the corpse of the admiral, there hanging in chains, he did not, like all the others, stop his nose, but said: "I do not as you all do, for the smell of an enemy is always pleasant." He had, perhaps, borrowed the phrase from Aulus Vitellius, visiting the battle-field of Bedriac.

"Women who were enceinte were ripped open, that the little Huguenots might be snatched from their wombs, to be thrown, to be devoured, to pigs and dogs. In those houses in which none were left alive but children, these infants were piled into large baskets, and then thrown from the bridges into the river. There might be seen frightful little boys, ten years of age, strangling the babies in the cradles, or dragging them through the streets by a cord around their necks."

The number of slain in the city of Paris was variously estimated at from two thousand to ten. The murders did not cease entirely until the 17th of September, and, with the exception of some districts, in which the officials refused to carry out their orders, extended throughout France. The victims were by no means all Huguenots; the opportunities offered to private vengeance were too great, and rivals, debtors, thieves, and a horde of criminals covered their crimes with the cloak of religion. Two years later, the king died, at the age of twenty-four, tormented in his last moments by remorse, and cared for only by his old Huguenot nurse.

Even in this horrible business, there were not wanting reassuring touches of human nature. The fine story which Dumas pere tells with so much spirit in his Reine Margot, of the wounded gentleman, pursued by the assassins, seeking refuge in the very bed-chamber of this queen, and saved by her, is quite true, if we may believe the recital of the queen herself (Historic Memoirs: Margaret of Valois). His name was Monsieur de Nancay, and she was obliged to change her chemise, as he had bloodied it in clinging to her! In the conspiracy to prevent the return of the King of Poland, afterward Henri III, to France in the eventuality of the death of Charles, of which conspiracy the youngest royal brother, the Duc d'Alencon, was the head, there were two gentlemen, Joseph de Boniface, Sieur de la Mole, who was Queen Marguerite's lover, and the Comte de Coconas, an Italian, who was loved by the Duchesse de Nevers. The story of the trial and execution of these two, and even the ghastly incident of the preservation of the severed head of the lover, are also founded on facts.

The massacre of Saint-Bartholomew has found apologists, even at this late day,—an historical work issued by the house of Firmin-Didot, in 1898, purporting to give an impartial resume of the acts of the League during the reigns of Henri III and Henri IV, declares that the people took part in this tragedy because "their zeal had been misled," and they believed that they were going, not to massacre, but to battle "against enemies who menaced their faith and their liberty." The League, according to this champion of the Church, M. V. de Chalambert, "was at once legitimate in its principles, energetic and sagacious in its acts, in its faith;" ... "if the family of Lorraine had the signal honor of personifying, during a space of nearly fifty years, the Catholic cause in France, it owed this honor to the faith, to the sincere zeal, and to the great qualities of its princes, not to the schemes of ambition." A more important work, the History of the Princes of Conde, by the Duc d'Aumale, in seven volumes, is much more impartial, though the distinguished author's sympathies are naturally enlisted in this subject. He quotes with just appreciation the answer of the young Prince of Conde, Henri de Bourbon, to Charles IX after the massacre, when the king summoned him before him and curtly gave him his choice: "Messe, mort, ou Bastille?" (the mass, death, or the Bastile.) "God will not permit, my king and my seigneur, that I should select the first. As for the other two, they are at your discretion, which may God temper with His Providence."

"The intellectual life of the people," says the author of the Memoires du peuple francais, "had gained, rather than lost, amid the terrible emotions of public affairs. In the interiors of the houses, everything demonstrated that literature, the arts, the sciences, commerce, and industry were far from having succumbed during the long crises of the preceding reigns." It was during the reign of Charles IX that the beginning of the year was fixed at the first of January, by an edict issued in 1564. It had previously been considered as commencing at Easter.

Henri de Navarre and the young Duc d'Alencon were retained as prisoners in the Louvre, where they amused themselves by flying quails in their rooms and making love to the ladies. The young prince escaped first, on the evening of the 15th of September, 1575, but the king did not succeed in evading the vigilance of his keepers till the following February, when he took advantage of a hunt in the forest of Senlis, to ride to rejoin Monsieur, his young brother-in-law, and the Prince de Conde, thus abjuring the vows of the Church, which he had taken under compulsion. The Paix de Monsieur which followed, signed on the 17th of April, 1576, granted the followers of Luther and Calvin the free exercise of their religion everywhere, "as much as they would have acquired by gaining two battles against the court of France." To the zealous Catholics this peace seemed like a betrayal of their cause, and the Sainte Ligue, for the maintenance of the privileges of the Church and the king, was organized throughout the country under the auspices of Henri de Guise, who placed himself at the head of the movement.

Henri III, who had fled from his throne of Poland to take that of France as soon as he heard of the death of his brother, had not even the few good qualities of the latter. Depraved, prodigal, effeminate, capable only of the most puerile occupations, he excited the indignation of the Parisians by his dissolute manners, by his travesty of feminine apparel, his fine collars, his necklaces of pearls, his pourpoint opened to show his throat. D'Aubigne declared that he could not decide whether he saw "a woman-king or a man-queen." In his solemn entry into his capital he scandalized the grave citizens by his appearance, "having around him a great quantity of parakeets, monkeys, and little dogs." His courtiers and favorites naturally followed his example, and shared the popular disfavor; in 1576, the Parisians began to designate them as mignons du roi. Their worthy master, whenever it arrived to one of them to be killed in duel or ambuscade, contented himself with giving him a fine tomb and a marble statue in the church of Saint-Paul, hence called "the seraglio of the mignons," so that, says De Thou, "the usual threat against one of these favorites was: 'I will have him carved in marble like the others.'"

To thwart the schemes of the Guises, who had begun to plot for the succession to the throne, the king placed himself at the head of the League, and created his Order of the Saint-Esprit in hopes of winning partisans in both camps. His brother, now Duc d'Anjou, died in 1584, after an unsuccessful expedition into the Low Countries; the Duc de Guise concluded the treaty of Joinville with Philippe II of Spain, in the same year, in which the high contracting parties agreed to extirpate sects and heresies; to exclude from the throne of France heretic princes, or those who promised public impunity to heretics, and to assure the succession of the Valois to Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon. The cardinal was put forward as a stalking-horse, to be discarded at the right moment. And yet after the eighth civil war, that "of the three Henrys," the duke had the courage, or the assurance, to come to demand an audience of the king at Blois, and was poniarded by the Quarante-Cinq, the royal body-guard, in the antechamber. The next day, his brother, the cardinal, was killed with halberds, and the two bodies were burned that there might be no relics.

Catherine de Medicis, if we may believe the historians, had an undoubted talent for epigrams. When it was announced to her erroneously, as it afterward proved, that the battle of Dreux, in 1562, had been won by the Huguenots, she remarked, placidly: "Well, we shall have to pray God in French." When her son hastened to inform her after this notable assassination: "I have become, again, King of France, madame, having had killed the King of Paris," she replied: "It is not enough to cut out, my son; you must sew up." Henri did not know how to sew up; the League was far from being killed, the city of Paris, filled with fury and resentment at this murder, publicly disowned him and closed its gates against him. In one of the many nocturnal processions in its streets, a hundred thousand persons, it is said, carrying lighted torches, extinguished them all at once at a signal, crying, with one voice: "God extinguish thus the race of Valois!" He was obliged to seek an alliance with the Bearnais; the two kings laid siege to the capital, and a fanatical Dominican monk, Jacques Clement, having gained access to the tent of Henri III by forged letters, buried a knife in his bowels. He died in the night, having previously made his attendants swear to recognize the King of Navarre as King of France. His mother had died six months before, "despair in her soul."

Of Henri IV, "manly and humane by natural gifts, as well as by worldly experience," there are innumerable anecdotes related to illustrate his somewhat contradictory character. He is even found apologizing for Catherine de Medicis. One day, in 1600, the President de Groulard was recalling to the king the memory of the many ills that she had brought upon France. "But," said the Bearnais, "I should like to ask you, what could a poor woman do who had, by the death of her husband, been left with five small children on her hands and two families who were endeavoring to wrest the crown from them, ours and that of the Guises? Was she not obliged to make use of strange personages to outwit both of them, and yet to preserve, as she did, her children, who reigned successively, thanks to the discreet conduct of so sagacious a woman? I wonder that she did not do even worse!" His perpetual pecuniary difficulties, so common to kings of France, developed in him other qualities. L'Estoile relates that his fine horses were returned to him in Paris because there were no funds with which to provide for them. The king turned to M. d'O, the Governor of Paris, and asked him how this came to be. "Sire," replied the latter, "there is no money." "My condition," said the king, "is, indeed, deplorable! I shall presently be obliged to go naked and on foot." Then, turning to a valet de chambre, he asked him how many shirts he possessed. "A dozen, sire; some of them are torn." "And handkerchiefs, have I not eight?" "At present, there are only five." "One night, when D'Aubigne and La Force were sleeping near the King of Navarre, the former complained bitterly to the second of their master's stinginess. La Force, overwhelmed with fatigue, was not listening. 'Do you not hear what I am saying?' asked D'Aubigne. La Force, rousing himself, demanded the subject of his discourse. 'Eh! he is telling thee,' said the king, who had heard it all, 'that I am a skinflint [un ladre vert], and the most ungrateful mortal on the face of the earth.' 'He did not manifest any resentment toward me,' adds D'Aubigne; 'but neither did he give me a quarter of an ecu the more.'"

His second marriage, with Marie de Medicis, a niece of the Pope, was no more happy than royal marriages usually were. The pontiff had granted him a divorce from Marguerite de Valois, whose conduct was thought to be too frivolous even for those times; and the royal nuptials were solemnized at Florence in October, 1600, and greatly feted in Paris the following January. "A dull woman, who brought him neither heart nor beauty nor wit, but the largest dot that could then be found (six hundred thousand ecus of gold, equivalent to eighteen or twenty millions of francs to-day)." "His mistresses—less by their beauty than by gaiety and good humor—held an influence over him which probably she herself might have acquired, could she have curbed her violent temper. But not only did she rave and rage, and assail him with angry words, it was even necessary to restrain her from the too free use of her hands. And her blows were far from being light ones, for, as Henri once jestingly said, she was 'terribly robust.'" His conjugal inconstancy was, indeed, flagrant. La belle Gabrielle, Madame de Liancourt, afterward made Marquise de Mousseaux, the most celebrated of his mistresses, was declared by him to be the only woman he ever really loved, and, say the chronicles, "he used to caress her greatly and kiss her before everybody," but she had plenty of successors. One of them, the Marquise de Verneuil, was obliged to be present in the queen's train on the day of her coronation, as was, also, the divorced Marguerite de France; and on the very morning of his assassination, the king, now grizzled and bent, went to pay a visit to a newer beauty to whom he was paying court, Mlle. Angelique Paulet, daughter of the secretary of State who originated the celebrated financial measure named, after him, la paulette.

Nevertheless, it is related that on the day of her coronation, in 1610, when Marie de Medicis passed up the nave of the cathedral of Saint-Denis, flushed with pride and triumph, and wearing regally the royal mantle and jewels, Henri, who was present only as a spectator, turned to Sully, his minister and friend, and said, with animation: "Ventre-saint-gris! Qu'elle est belle!" It may be remarked that the king's favorite oath was said to have been invented for him by the churchmen, that he might not be guilty of blasphemy,—neither Saint-Gris nor his stomach being known to the calendar.

After having paid his visit to Mademoiselle Paulet, the king ordered his carriage, to go and see how the preparations for the 16th of May—the day of the public entrance into the capital of the newly-crowned Queen of France—were progressing. It is said that he had a superstitious presentiment concerning carriages, and but very seldom used them; there were not wanting other warnings, one from the astrologers, and his heart was unusually heavy. He had already escaped nineteen attempts at assassination. The coaches of those days had no glass windows, and were clumsy boxes, mounted on four immense wheels, and either set without springs or suspended on broad leathern bands. The king, who was accompanied by the ducs d'Epernon and de Montbazon and five other gentlemen, ordered the leathern curtains at the sides to be rolled up; at the corner of the Rue Saint-Honore and the narrow Rue de la Ferronnerie there was a temporary blockade caused by two wagons, one laden with wine and the other with hay,—Ravaillac took advantage of the halt to mount with one foot on one of the spokes of the hind wheel on the side where the king was sitting and stabbed him three times, though the second stroke was instantly mortal.

The consternation was general and overwhelming, and with reason. "There might be seen men, as if struck by lightning, suddenly fall unconscious in the middle of the streets; several persons died very suddenly."

Henri III was the first King of France who made use of a carriage, but horses and mules long remained the favorite means of transportation for those who did not go afoot. Sober personages, magistrates and burghers, rode mules, and the ladies were loath to give up their hackneys for the new machines. Sauval, in his Antiquites de Paris, relates that he had been informed by a certain ancient dame—Madame Pilon—that there were no coaches in Paris until after the time of the League, some sixteen years before the death of Henri IV, and that the first person to appear in one was a relative of her own, the daughter of a wealthy apothecary of the Rue Saint-Antoine. Glass windows for them were not used till the reign of Louis XIV, who sent a coach so furnished as a gift to Charles II of England. The usage of tobacco began to be general under Henri IV, and soon became so excessive that the strongest measures were taken against those addicted to this habit. The beard of this monarch was also considered an offensive innovation by his Catholic subjects, and is even said to be responsible for more than one of the fanatical attempts on his life. His Huguenot subjects, however, "drew a hope from his continuance to wear it that their renegade chief might yet be of the number of the predestined."

"A hundred virtues of a valet, and not one virtue of a master," said Tallemant des Reaux of Henri's son, Louis XIII, as he grew to manhood. In two very recent publications on this historical period, M. Berthold Zeller, drawing his details from the contemporary reports of the Florentine and Venetian ambassadors at the court of France, presents a striking picture of the feebleness and ineptitude of the young king, even after the date of the official ending of his minority, October 2, 1614, and of the subtlety, quite Italian, with which the queen-mother played her part amid the intrigues of her followers and her adversaries. M. Louis Batiffol, in an article in the Revue de Paris, December, 1896, comments on a collection of manuscripts which he has found in the Bibliotheque Nationale, communications furnished by Louis XIII to the Gazette, published by Renaudot, on various military transactions. The communications were all edited, and not printed from these originals, because, although he was very fond of writing for the new art of printing, the king was "absolutely destitute of orthography, and was ignorant of the simplest rules of grammar. He wrote stiffly and with great care, in letters thin and long, more than a centimetre in length, he re-read, erased, and corrected in pencil the most awkward phrases, but his style remained at the end that of a child." Before being sent to the printer, these royal communications were corrected by one of his secretaries, M. Lucas, and afterward went through the hands of Richelieu. Nevertheless, M. Batiffol finds that these articles give "a very favorable impression of a king who presents so unimportant a figure in history and yet who did not lack for real qualities,"—an impression of impassibility, of self-control under all circumstances, and of a very serious application to the details of the affairs that came before him. "He was a soldier devoted to his profession, a true soldier, who loved the whistling of bullets, and would remain all night on horseback under a beating rain if he expected an attack from the enemy."

He was also a superior market-gardener, and prided himself on having the earliest and finest spring vegetables, superintending all the details of their cultivation himself. None of these early crops, however, appeared on his own table, but were furnished, at fancy prices, to such luxurious consumers as the wealthy Pierre de Puget, Seigneur de Montauron, Conseiller du roi. One day, in 1628, being, as usual, at a loss for occupation, and having successfully concocted a fricandeau for dinner, he amused himself by shaving all his courtiers, leaving them only a little tuft on the chin. This, naturally, set the fashion for beards for some time.

It also became the custom for gentlemen to perfume themselves, to disguise the odor of the pipe, which was now coming into general use. In October, 1645, the King of Poland sent a magnificent embassy, with an escort of four hundred cavaliers, to Paris to demand in marriage the hand of Marie-Louise de Gonzague, daughter of Charles I, Duke of Mantua, and Catherine de Lorraine; a formal entry into the city was arranged, and the Parisians were much impressed with the grand costumes of the Polish nobility,—"their stuffs were embossed with gold and silver, and precious stones glittered from every portion of their adornment, whilst the French nobility, which came out to meet them, displayed only plumes and ribbons." Nevertheless, it appeared that the French nobles had shaved themselves and washed their hands, which the Poles had forgotten to do. This mediaeval lack of cleanliness continued down to the time of Louis XIV; Marguerite de Navarre, in a pretty, amorous dialogue of her composition, makes the fair lady admit that she had not washed her hands for a week.

The court of France was, at this period, the most depraved in morals, the grossest and most unpolished in manners, of any in Europe. The women of the bourgeoisie, envious of the great ladies, called them dames a gorge nue; and the latter retaliated by designating the women of the people as grisettes, because of their gray (grises) stockings,—a name retained almost down to the present day. In the sittings of the Etats Generaux, the President, Miron, complained bitterly of the excesses of the nobility, the contempt for justice, the open violences, the gambling, the extravagance, the constant duels, the "execrable oaths with which they thought it proper to ornament their usual discourse." It was from this general ignorance and corruption that the Marquise de Rambouillet withdrew in disgust, and established in her own hotel that famous society of arts and letters and refinement—somewhat stilted and artificial—which constituted it the true court of France. "Instituted certainly before 1620," says M. Victor Cousin, "it sparkled with the utmost brilliancy for thirty years."

In 1612, the queen-mother, Marie de Medicis, then regent, arranged a double Spanish marriage for two of her children: the Princess Elisabeth, a child of twelve, was sent to Spain to wed the Prince of the Asturias, afterward Philip IV, and Louis brought back to Paris "a fine tall girl, a Spanish blonde, wanting yet two or three summers for the full development of her beauty," Anne d'Autriche. Though he was as faithful to his marriage vows as Saint-Louis, it is said, he seems to have always maintained for his wife a profound contempt, and, when the little Louis XIV was born, refused to take the infant in his arms, or to kiss it, which wounded the mother more than all his previous neglect. His treatment of his own mother in her later days was even more reprehensible; she was banished, and left in indigence and humiliation till her death, at Cologne, July 3, 1642. Her sole piece of jewelry, a cross surrounded with diamonds, and containing a piece of the true cross, she bequeathed to her daughter Henrietta, wife of Charles I of England. It was through Marie de Medicis, whom he afterward opposed so consistently, that the Bishop of Lucon, afterward Cardinal Richelieu, first was called to court, and during the king's minority and tutelage the government was administered by "the three robes," the queen-mother, the Bishop of Lucon, and the wife of the Italian favorite Concini, the Marechal d'Ancre, killed on the drawbridge of the Louvre when he became too overbearing and obnoxious.

"The distinguishing characteristic of the Siecle de Louis XIV," says M. Maxime Petit, in his review of the important work by Emile Bourgeois, Le Grand Siecle, "that which Voltaire selected as the most important, is not the history of the negotiations and the battles, but that of the manners and customs, the ideas, the beliefs, the letters, and the arts.... Never, perhaps, more than in the time of Louis XIV was there a more complete harmony between the ideas and the life. The political forces are thoroughly disciplined, and the principle of authority, which Richelieu had developed to its fullest extent, reigns uncontested. Polite society—the only one to be considered—believes itself to be in possession of absolute rules, and, in the court as in the city, the heart abdicates in favor of reason." "When one speaks of the seventeenth century in France," says M. Louis Farges, "it appears, to those who are neither historians nor professional scholars, as one of those rare epochs in which all the forces of the nation concentrate and develop in a serene and majestic unity. France seems, then, to be at the summit of her political power, of her intellectual and artistic development, of her religious and philosophical unity. Taken altogether, and in a very general manner, this is a very just idea; ... it must be admitted that at no other epoch has the genius of France manifested itself in the divers branches of human activity in a manner so complete, so abundant, and so united." "France was really," says M. Duruy, "at the head of modern civilization, and, by the recognized superiority of her genius and of her taste, she caused to be accepted by the whole of Europe the pacific empire of her artists and of her writers."

Apparently, at least, the visible instrument that accomplished this great result was the dogma of absolute power, the monarchical regime; the king was the earthly image of God, divine, inviolable: loyalisme was a veritable religion, it had its symbols, its mysteries, and its rites. "If the king were not afraid of the devil," said Saint-Simon, "he would cause himself to be worshipped." This faith and this worship were already manifested "in their incomparable splendor by the ceremonies attending the opening of the Etats Generaux in 1614, dominated, not, as in 1789, by the august and abstract idea of the nation, but by the pale and melancholy figure of a boy of thirteen." For the tremendous and elaborate pomp of his court, the ceremonial ostentation which hedged around his own redoubtable figure, the tedious and suffocating etiquette which attended all approach to his person, Louis XIV himself had very definite reasons, which he expressed with an appreciable logic in his Memoires. "Those who deem that these are only matters of ceremony deceive themselves greatly. The people over whom we reign, not being able to penetrate to the depths of things, form their judgments usually on that which they see on the surface, and most frequently measure their respect and their obedience by precedence and rank. As it is important to the public to be governed by one only, it is also of importance to it that he who fills this function should be elevated in such a manner above the others that there should be no person who can be either confounded or compared with him, and it is not possible, without injury to the whole body of the State, to deprive its chief of the slightest marks of superiority which distinguish him from all the other members."

Hence, three conditions were imposed absolutely upon all those who sought in any way to find favor with the head of the State,—to ask and to obtain a residence at Versailles; to follow the court everywhere, even when sick, even when dying, and to approve of everything. Of the universal abasement of spirit which this regime brought about, the memoirs of the time are full. La Bruyere said: "Whoever considers how the happiness of the courtier lies wholly in the face of the prince, that he makes it the one occupation of his life to look on it, and to be seen by it, may, in some degree, comprehend how, in looking on the face of God, consists all the glory and happiness of the saint." The Duc de Richelieu wrote: "I pray the king on my knees that he will permit me to come sometimes to pay my court to him, for I had rather die than be two months without seeing him." A court-preacher, preaching one day before the king on the familiar topic, dwelt upon it: "We shall all die, all, all!" A sudden and involuntary movement of the monarch reminded him that he had touched upon a theme displeasing to royalty. In his dismay and confusion he hastened to qualify his assertion: "Yes, sire, almost all." Louis XIV, it is said, looked forward to continuing his role of Grand Monarque, even in the next world.

His education had been much neglected in his youth,—it was said, designedly, by Mazarin, who wished to perpetuate his own powder. One of the first of the royal preceptors, M. Le Vayer, discovered that Louis was less intelligent than his younger brother, Philippe, and proposed to devote himself to developing the character of the latter, but was speedily checked by the astute cardinal. Like his mother, Anne of Austria, the king had but little taste for literature. "Of what use is reading?" he said one day to the Marechal de Vivonne. His appetites, however, were fully developed. The Duchesse d'Orleans relates that she had very frequently seen him eat, at one sitting, four platefuls of different soups, an entire pheasant, a partridge, a great dish of salad, a dish of mutton with its gravy, garnished with garlic, two good pieces of ham, a large plateful of pastry, and end with fruit and preserves. However, he drank only water reddened with a little wine. The etat de maitresse en titre du roi was as formally recognized in his court as that of confessor or chamberlain. Frequently there were two at once. The "three queens" were legitimate objects of curiosity to all those who were permitted to bask in the royal sunshine. Madame de la Valliere, perceiving herself to be gradually superseded by Madame de Montespan, fled to a convent three times, and was finally permitted to remain there; M. de Montespan, having vainly attempted to remove his wife from court, was sent to the Bastile, and on his release was ordered to his estate. There he put on mourning, as though she were dead, which the king considered a great affront. His wife graciously made use of her influence at court to procure a renewal of the pension of the widow Scarron, only to see her ultimately appointed guardian of the king's children and succeed her in her position, as Madame de Maintenon.

"Violating all laws, civil and religious," says Duruy, "the king placed on a level with the princes of the blood the princes legitimized. He forced the court to respect the one as equal to the other; and the public morality received a blow from which it was very slow to recover." These lessons were not lost, and the annals of the nobility are full of scandalous examples. The ducs d'Orleans and Vendome were addicted to infamous debauchery; the Duc d'Antin was caught, flagrante delicto, in theft; drunkenness and gambling were prevalent at court, the Grand Prieur de Vendome boasted that he had not gone to bed sober one night in forty years. Pascal, discussing the privileges of the nobles and the kings, said to them boldly: "You are kings only of concupiscence." This great court, the most brilliant in Europe, "sweated hypocrisy," said Saint-Simon. It may be remarked, that, in addition to the very frequent disfigurement by small-pox, from which even the king was not entirely free, there was a remarkable prevalence of deformity among the families of the aristocracy. "There was scarcely one of which some member, male or female, had not a curved spine, a distorted limb, or other malformation; owing, most likely, to the common practice of closely swathing the limbs of infants, and of confiding young children to the charge of careless and ignorant nurses, for the first three or four years of their lives."

Two of the mysteries of this reign which have long furnished themes for discussion have lately been solved by the ingenuity of modern research. The "Man in the Iron Mask," guarded in the Bastile "for forty-two years," treated with the utmost consideration and buried under a false name, it now appears was confined there only five years, from September, 1698, to his death in November, 1703, shared his cell at different periods with other prisoners, a police spy and a lackey, and was buried without any attempt at mystery! The original register of his death, reproduced before its destruction among other archives of the city of Paris in 1871, gives his name as Marchioly, though it had been read Marchialy by all the commentators (the tail of the o being really a trifle too high for an a), and it is now considered settled that this signified Mattioli, in the uncertain orthography of the times, Count Hercule-Antoine Mattioli, secretary of the Duke of Mantua, whom Louis XIV had caused to be arrested on Italian soil, in defiance of international law, for having betrayed the secrets of the negotiations relative to the acquisition of Casal.

The sudden and tragic death of Madame, Henriette d'Angleterre, wife of the king's brother, Monsieur, le Duc d'Orleans, made famous by Bossuet's funeral oration, long ascribed to poison, has been elucidated by Littre in what has been designated as the finest example known of "a retrospective medical demonstration." She had just returned from England, bearing with her the treaty of Dover, signed by her brother, Charles II, in which that monarch agreed to abandon the alliance with Holland, and died suddenly in great agony after taking her usual glass of chicory-water in the evening. The autopsy, which was performed by the most celebrated surgeons of France, aided by two or three English physicians, revealed a small perforation in the walls of the stomach, which the doctors, knowing no other way of accounting for, agreed must have been made accidentally by the point of their scissors. Littre demonstrates that this accident was very improbable, and that the perforation was evidently caused by an ulcer of the stomach,—a disease unknown to the medical science of the time.

Louis XIV was preceded to the tomb by his only son, the dauphin, in April, 1711; by the Duc de Bourgogne, become dauphin in February, 1712, his wife having died six days before; by the Duc de Bretagne, eldest of the sons of the Duc de Bourgogne, three weeks after his parents; by the Duc de Berry, grandson of the king, on the 4th of May, 1714. Such a succession of calamities roused the gravest suspicions, and the Duc d'Orleans, afterward regent, openly accused of the use of poison, seriously contemplated demanding permission of the king to constitute himself prisoner till these calumnies should be silenced. There remained only a young prince, the Duc d'Anjou, son of the Duc de Bourgogne and Marie-Adelaide de Savoie, five years old at this date, and so delicate that his life was despaired of. He, however, lived to become Louis XV. Louis XIV, after having declared his sons by the Marquise de Montespan, the Duc du Maine and the Comte de Toulouse, heirs to the crown in default of princes of the blood, and making them members of the Council of the Regency, died September 1, 1715, at the age of seventy-seven.

His testament, as he had foreseen, was set aside, much as his father's had been. Philippe d'Orleans summoned the Parlement, which granted him full power as regent, with freedom to compose the council as he liked, and the government of the royal household was taken from the Duc du Maine after a most unseemly altercation. All the solemn and pompous traditions of the court were likewise abandoned. "What does it matter to the State," said the regent, "whether it is I or my lackey who rides in a carriage." He took for his minister and councillor the Abbe Dubois, "a little, thin man, like a weasel," said Saint-Simon, "in whom all the vices, perfidiousness, avarice, debauchery, ambition, and base flattery, struggled for the mastery." The general demoralization caused by the collapse of the great financial schemes of John Law was only a feature in the general abandonment of all restraint in the pursuit of pleasure. In the midst of this luxury of effrontery, there suddenly appeared the imposing and barbaric figure of Peter the Great of Russia, who visited Paris in the spring of 1717, and dismayed the court and the Parisians by the simplicity and directness of his character, his disregard for their voluptuous frivolity, and his appreciation of the things only that make for greatness in a State. He did not hesitate to prophesy, from what he saw and learned, the approaching decadence and ruin of the French monarchy and the French people.

At the age of thirteen, in February, 1723, Louis XV was declared to have attained his majority and assumed the reins of government, nominally at least, for the regent had taken care to give him Dubois for prime minister. Both these illustrious personages, however, died in the course of the year, and were succeeded by the Duc de Bourbon, "ugly and one-eyed, low, mediocre, hypocritical, a man of little led by a woman of nothing, Madame de Prie," and who renewed the persecution of the Protestants and the Jansenists. The young king contented himself with "showing at the council table his handsome and impassible countenance, which nothing ever animated. When not thus engaged, when he was neither gambling nor hunting, he occupied himself with tapestry-making, turning snuff-boxes in wood, or reading either the secret correspondence with his ambassadors, which he maintained unknown to his ministers, or the scandalous recitals which the lieutenant of police sent him regularly every day." In the latter part of his reign, these habits were succeeded by even more ignoble ones, drunkenness and nameless vices.

To maintain his own power, the Duc de Bourbon sent back to Spain the Infanta, who had been brought to Paris, at the age of four, to fit her for her future position as Queen of France, and married the king to Marie Leczinska, daughter of the dethroned King of Poland, then living at Wissembourg on the charity of the French government. One day, this Stanislas Leczinski entered the chamber in which his wife and daughter were sitting, and said to them in great excitement: "Let us get down on our knees and thank God!" "Are you recalled to the throne of Poland?" asked his daughter. "Much better; you are Queen of France." She was seven years older than the king, very poor, without beauty, but gentle and pious. The insult offered to the court of Spain was but one of the many blunders and failures of the foreign diplomacy, while the extravagance and debauchery at home kept pace with the growing disorder in the national finances. The sum total of the funds disbursed during "the nineteen years of the reign of Madame de Pompadour, drawn up by her orders, exceeds thirty-six millions of livres, equivalent to more than sixty millions at the present day." In 1780, under Louis XVI, the amount of pensions paid by the government reached the sum of twenty-eight millions, and soon after rose to thirty-two. "I doubt," said Necker, in his Compte rendu, "if all the sovereigns of Europe pay in pensions the half of this sum." At the same time, the officers of the household of Louis XV were frequently unpaid, and it was more than once necessary, as it had been in the reign of his illustrious predecessor, to appeal to bourgeois and nobles to bring their silverware to the treasury to be melted down, that the national administration might not be utterly bankrupt. "Never," said the Comte de Maistres, during the Terror, "did a great crime have so many accomplices: there are doubtless some innocent sufferers among the victims, but they are very much fewer than is generally supposed."

The marriage of the dauphin, afterward Louis XVI, with the Austrian archduchess, Marie-Antoinette, in May, 1770, was attended with a frightful catastrophe during the celebration of the event, on the evening of the 30th, on the Place Louis XV, now Place de la Concorde,—hundreds of persons being crushed to death, trampled under foot, killed with swords, or with the fireworks which burst in their midst. It was an ill omen for the future. The accession to the throne of this youthful pair, in 1774, was hailed with pleasing anticipations by the nation, wearied with the excesses of the late reign. "What joy," said Michelet, "to see seated at last on the purified throne of Louis XV this virtuous, this excellent young king and this charming queen! Who would not have hoped for everything? A grand movement of art adorned this coronation, illuminated the scene. And the queen was the centre of all. One woman only seemed to exist." The graceful, youthful figure of Marie-Antoinette, dauphine, has recently been made the subject of special research by M. Pierre de Molhac, and the intimate relations between court intrigues and the gravest measures of foreign diplomacy are exemplified in the pressure put upon her by her mother, Marie-Therese, to treat with more consideration the king's mistress, Madame du Barry, who, the dauphine wrote to her mother, "is the silliest and most impertinent creature imaginable." The consent of Louis XV to the partition of Poland was purchased by the promise of his daughter-in-law to assume the same attitude toward Madame du Barry that her mother had formerly condescended to with respect to Madame du Pompadour. "Louis XV was touched in the most sensitive part of his heart by the tact of his old friend; his silence concerning Poland was paid for in advance."

Amid the general extravagance and corruption of the upper classes of society some attempts were made to preserve the traditions of the famous Hotel de Rambouillet, le berceau de la societe polie, where talent, learning, and wit were the qualities that secured distinction, and not pride of birth. Under Louis XIV, this salon was renewed in the fine hotel of the Marquise de Lambert, in the Ile Saint-Louis,—in modern times restored by Prince Czartoriski,—and in the "Saturdays" of Mademoiselle de Scudery, one of the greatest literary celebrities that had frequented the receptions of the Marquise de Rambouillet. The Saturdays were a great success, and the example thus set of "having a day" was generally followed; the literary coteries of the precieuses—later satirized by Moliere—became numerous, and Mademoiselle de Scudery's receptions were maintained till 1695. Under Louis XVI, in 1780, appeared no less than three social organizations having widely different aims,—the Societe Philanthropique, the Societe Apollonienne, which soon changed its title to that of the Musee, and the more practical Societe des Mercredis, which existed for the purpose of encouraging good cooking. But the most distinguished of these reunions, frequented by the higher classes of society, was the Societe Dramatique de Madame de Montesson, the mistress of the Duc d'Orleans, who had ended by marrying her with his left hand. In her hotel in the Rue Chaussee d'Antin, this lady had mounted a theatre, on which she appeared with the prince, and which, from 1770 to 1780, quite maintained the lead in the social diversions of the capital.

With the approach of the Revolution, about the commencement of the year 1785, there was a new movement, in the direction of the organization of a great number of "clubs," a word then new to the Parisian ears, but which was received with great favor. There was already in existence a Club Politique, which the government tolerated on the express condition that no discussions of politics or religion were to be permitted,—a condition which was quite disregarded. The Duc d'Orleans, who was very proud of being a member of the Club Anglais, founded the Club de Boston or des Americains; then there was the Club des Arcades, the Club des Etrangers, the Club de la Societe Olympique, the Club des Artistes, and several others. The important part played in the bloody drama of the Revolution by the various political clubs, is matter of history. The earliest of these associations, of course, bore a general resemblance to the social institutions which the Parisians now know as Cercles; and it may be remarked that one of the most celebrated of the many recent pessimistic publications of the day, the Grandeur et Decadence des Francais, by M. Gaston Routier, finds one of the many signs of the social demoralization of his countrymen in the number and importance of the cercles in the cities, and especially in the high play that so many of them favor.

To the extravagances and pretended miracles of the sect of the convulsionnaires and those wrought on the tomb of the deacon Paris in the cemetery Saint-Medard in 1730 and 1731, succeeded the extraordinary alleged cures of the German doctor Mesmer, who came to Paris in 1778 with his theory of "animal magnetism,"—theory treated with more respect by many of the savants of the present day than by those of the eighteenth century. The invention of the brothers Montgolfier, practically tested in 1783, awakened an extraordinary interest both in the scientific world and among the populace; and it is related that the American, Benjamin Franklin, being asked what he thought of these new aerial machines, replied: "It is the coming child."

The times were ripe for change: Mademoiselle de Romans, walking in the Tuileries gardens with a little son whom she had born to Louis XV, and pressed by the crowd, exclaimed: "Eh! messieurs and mesdames, do not crush so, and let your king's child breathe!" The Comte d'Artois, who was devoted to the game of tennis, being one day in an ill humor, ordered the court to be cleared of all the spectators, using epithets which were habitual with him: "Drive them all out," he said, "tous ces b . . . et ces j . . . f . . . !" No one was left but one officer. "Well, did you not hear what I said?" demanded his Royal Highness. "Yes, monseigneur, but as I am neither a b . . . , nor a j . . . f... , I remained." "The respect for la noblesse was singularly diminished, and the whole audience, even the nobles themselves, applauded at the theatre, in 1784, the bold epigrams of the 'Figaro' of Beaumarchais: 'Because you are a great seigneur, you think yourself a great genius! You have given yourself the trouble to be born; that is all you have done!'"

On the 19th of June, 1789, the Assemblee Nationale, in a session which Marat qualified as "glorious," decreed "that hereditary nobility is forever abolished in France; that, consequently, the titles of marquis, chevalier, ecuyer, comte, vicomte, messire, prince, baron, vidame, noble, duc, and all other similar titles cannot be borne by any person whatsoever, nor given to any one; that no citizen shall bear other than his true family name; that no one shall cause his domestics to wear a livery nor have any coats-of-arms, and that incense shall be burned in the temples only in honor of the Divinity." The Assemblee Legislative held its first sitting on the 1st of October, 1792; on the 4th, the deputation of sixty members sent to announce to the king that the body was ready to begin its deliberations hesitated as to what phrases to employ, and finally decided upon Votre Majeste. When the deputation returned to give an account of its mission, much dissatisfaction was expressed: "Let there be no more use of this title of 'Majesty,'" exclaimed one member.

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