names in bold face.)
The Reign of Henri IV
Louis XIII’s father was a strong king who had strengthened the monarchy
considerably (at the expense of the rights of the nobles), but even the
nobles conceded that such concentration of power was necessary in order
to stem the tide of religious wars that gripped France in the 1500s. The
Reformation left France a country divided between Catholicism and
Protestantism. (The Protestants were known as Huguenots.) The royal
family was officially Catholic, and France was regarded as the second
greatest Catholic power after the empire of the Hapsburgs (Spain and the
Holy Roman Empire), but much of its population and many of its greatest
noble houses were Huguenots. Henri IV ended the Wars of Religion with a
document called the Edict of Nantes, which granted rights of worship and
political assembly to the Huguenots as long as they recognized and
fulfilled their duties to the Crown.
Henri’s second wife was Marie de Medici, a woman steeped in intrigue,
but she gave Henri what he wanted: offspring (three boys and three
girls). In 1610 Henri was assassinated, stabbed in the street. His
assassin, Ravaillac, insisted under the most strenuous tortures that he
acted alone, and though conspiracy theories were rampant, no one else
was ever brought to trial. Henri’s nine-year-old son was crowned Louis
XIII, and his mother was appointed Regent to rule until Louis reached
The Regency of the Queen Mother
1611: Young Prince Nicholas dies, leaving only Louis and Prince
Gaston as Henri’s sons. Their cousin, Henri II, Prince de Condé, is next
in line to the throne.
1614: In order to improve relations with Spain, the Queen Mother
(Marie de Medici) resolves to marry Louis to Anne of Austria, the
Infanta of Spain. The great nobles have been looking for an opportunity
to regain some of their power, so they form up behind the Prince de
Condé in opposing this marriage to the royal house of their greatest
enemy. They force an Estates-General, but the clergy and the commons
won’t play along and the marriage to Anne is endorsed. At this conclave
Richelieu first attracts national notice with his closing speech for the
1615: Louis marries Anne of Austria. It is a loveless marriage;
they have nothing whatsoever in common.
Meanwhile there is a
great scandal involving illegal sales of offices and several ministers
are thrown out. Unabashed by his failure to oppose the marriage, the
mighty Prince de Condé insists on a place on the King’s Council. He
moves to Paris to press his case, where he is received with open arms by
the rabble. He is becoming too popular; the Queen Mother suspects that
he aims for the Regency. She has Condé arrested and imprisoned for
treason [expending loads of Status Points].
1616: Richelieu comes into the new cabinet as Secretary of State
and Secretary of War. However, he is secondary to the Queen Mother’s
favorite, an Italian of modest birth named Concini, whose elevation to
the highest ranks is an open scandal. Upset over Condé’s arrest and
Concini’s excesses, the great nobles begin to agitate again, and arm
The Reign of Louis XIII
1617: Louis XIII, now seventeen, stages a coup d’etat against his
own mother and assumes the throne. Concini is executed, the Queen Mother
is placed in internal exile, and Richelieu is sent home to Luçon under a
cloud. The nobles quit agitating and fall in behind the King, hoping for
strong rule to replace the sloppy practices of the Regency.
Louis calls back his father’s old councillors, but they are old men now.
His main advisor is the man who had prodded him to assume the throne,
his friend and Master of Hounds, Charles d’Albert de Luynes. De Luynes
becomes in essence the new Concini, elevated far above his station, but
with the direct ear of the King. He makes a brilliant match and marries
the beautiful (and ambitious) Marie de Rohan-Montbazon (whom we will
hear from again as the Duchess de Chevreuse).
Meanwhile, Europe is
undergoing a great Catholic revival, and everywhere the Protestants are
getting nervous. A new Holy Roman Emperor must be elected, but it must
be someone who will maintain the balance of power in Europe, and the
balance between Catholics and Protestants in the Empire. Ferdinand of
Styria is the leading candidate for emperor, but he is a man the
1618: The Defenestration of Prague. The Protestants of Bohemia
refuse to accept Ferdinand as their king and rise in revolt, and
religious conflict breaks out all across the Holy Roman Empire. It is
the beginning of the terrible Thirty Years’ War.
The Huguenots begin a
sympathetic agitation in southern and western France.
1619: The Queen Mother escapes from house arrest and begins
massing troops. Louis calls on Richelieu to negotiate with her; she
comes to terms and the threat is removed. Meanwhile, the Prince de Condé
is restored to favor.
The Empire is a mess;
the Hapsburgs are clearly losing control. Turkey hovers on the
sidelines, ready to surge in at the first sign of a power vacuum.
1620: The Queen Mother again intrigues with the great nobles. She
demands more power and masses troops; this time blood is shed as the
King’s troops put down the insurrection.
The King decides that,
as long as he has an army together (with De Luynes in charge as
Constable), he will deal with the Huguenot troublemakers in the west. He
occupies Pau and Béarn. The Huguenots call to England for help.
1621: The Queen Mother is once again restored to royal favor.
The administration of
France under De Luynes is as bad as it was during the Regency. The
nobles are getting restless again. Louis’s campaign against the
Huguenots starts to turn sour when the siege of Montauban fails in the
face of a spirited defense by the Duke de Rohan and his brother the
Count de Soubise.
1622: Louis’s closest advisor, Duke de Luynes, dies of the
“purple fever.” De Luynes’s wife, Marie, marries the Duke de Chevreuse
of the house of Lorraine.
Louis XIII continues the war against the Huguenots. Just as it seems he
has them on the ropes, German mercenaries under the Protestant leader
Count Ernst von Mansfeld invade Champagne (in Eastern France). Louis
must react, so he makes peace with the Huguenots (the Treaty of
Montpellier) and restores their rights to almost the status quo.
Huguenot leader De Rohan is given a seat on the King’s Council as the
Richelieu becomes a
cardinal. He is still chief advisor to the Queen Mother, but has Father
Joseph and his propagandists working on Louis to accept him as a key
advisor to the King.
1623: James I, King of England, dies and is succeeded by Charles
I. A deal had been arranged for James to marry Louis’s sister, Henriette.
Now she must marry Charles.
Despite the dangers of a series of what appear to be Pirate attacks in
the vicinity of Paris, in which more than a dozen minor nobles murdered
and their households ransacked, Charles sends his friend and closest
advisor the Duke of Buckingham to Paris to escort Henriette back to
England. Buckingham has secret instructions to negotiate an alliance
against Spain, but this he fails to do, possibly because he pays open
court to Queen Anne. His behavior is a public scandal and a slap in the
face to Louis.
Richelieu tells Louis
that he is growing too close to Spain. The Queen Mother, who supports a
Spanish alliance, breaks with Richelieu at last.
1624: De Luynes is gone and Louis’s advisors are all weaklings;
he needs a strong man in the High Council. Richelieu is invited to join.
Foreign policy immediately starts to shape up, with alliances and
support for German Protestants and Holland to keep the Hapsburgs from
gaining complete control of the Empire and the Low Countries.
The only other strong man on the Council, the minister of finance, La
Vieuville, blunders into a scandal that is exacerbated by Richelieu’s
expert propagandists. He is forced out and Richelieu has no real rivals
left among the King’s close advisors.
Cardinal Bérulle and
Richelieu’s friend Father Joseph announce that they plan to form a new
(Catholic) order of knighthood to oppose the Turks and the Barbary
Corsairs: the “Christian Militia.”
1625: Richelieu begins consolidating the royal power, which has
been diluted by decades of office-selling.
The Huguenots and royal
troops again come to blows.
1626: At Richelieu’s behest, Louis issues an edict banning duels.
Richelieu realizes he
needs another year to strengthen the King’s hand and organize France’s
resources, so he makes peace (again) with the Huguenots and signs a
treaty with Spain.
Prince Gaston, Louis’s
brother, is now 18. Richelieu urges that he be married right away, but
everyone who believes Richelieu is becoming too powerful bands together
to oppose him on this: Condé, the Duke de Vendôme, the Duchess de
Chevreuse, even Queen Anne. Richelieu has Gaston’s pretentious
“governor” (guardian) arrested and imprisoned as a “bad influence” (and
as a warning to his opponents). To make sure he has control of the
Bastille, Richelieu appoints Father Joseph’s brother, the Sieur du
Tremblay, as the new Commandant.
plot to assassinate him and involve Gaston in the plan. There is even
talk that Louis will also have to go. The Count de Chalais, one of Mme.
de Chevreuse’s admirers, is persuaded to do in Richelieu, but he talks
while drunk and word of the plan reaches Richelieu’s ear. He appears at
the assassination site early with guards, arrests Chalais, then
confronts Gaston and privately humiliates him.
Since Gaston is the
heir, Louis makes up with him, but he has his illegitimate brother the
Duke de Vendôme arrested and imprisoned. Chalais, of course, is arrested
and arraigned. Realizing that his part in the plot must come out in
Chalais’s trial, Gaston spills his guts and turns in the other plotters.
The Duchess de Chevreuse
is implicated in Gaston’s testimony, so she flees to the court of the
Duke de Lorraine until the whole thing blows over. Everyone else
implicated is also of high Rank, so they manage to get off, especially
since Richelieu has Chalais to behead. However, on the day of his
execution Chalais’s friends kidnap the executioner and steal his axe.
Richelieu promises a condemned man a pardon if he’ll act as headsman, so
he gives it a try. He fails to do more than slash Chalais with a sword,
so he calls for a cooper’s adze. With this tool it takes him only
twenty-nine blows to remove Chalais’s head.
1627: The Count de Bouteville, a notably dashing cavalier, openly
defies the edict against dueling. On Richelieu’s advice he is arrested
and beheaded — just to show the nobility who is the boss in France.
With things in order at
court, Louis and Richelieu resume the war against the Huguenots. England
threatens to come to their aid, and in June Buckingham arrives with a
fleet offshore from La Rochelle, the key Huguenot stronghold. Buckingham
invades the island of Ré and invests the forts there. Some Rochellais
join Buckingham’s army, but some oppose him — after all, he’s a foreign
The King’s army marches
to La Rochelle, and some hotheads on the wall fire on them. The war is
After three months’
siege Ré is relieved by the French and Buckingham withdraws. Richelieu
knows he’ll be back, probably sailing right into La Rochelle to lift the
King’s siege of that city. How to keep him out?
1628: The siege of La Rochelle continues. Louis and his court
return to Paris for awhile to attend to affairs of state.
May, 1628: The
time of The King’s Musketeers...