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 his majority.
The Regency of the Queen Mother
1611: Young Prince Philippe 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 clergy.
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
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
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 Protestants fear.
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 Huguenot representative.
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
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.
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
Richelieu’s opponents 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 on!
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