But Louis’ mad career of triumph against the Dutch was gradually being brought to a close.
Continuing Louis XIV Establishes Absolute Monarchy in France,
our selection from an article in The Fortnightly Review, Volume 21 by James Cotter Morison published in 1866. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
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The Dutch envoys, headed by De Groot, son of the illustrious Grotius, came to the King’s camp to know on what terms he would make peace. They were refused audience by the theatrical warrior, and told not to return except armed with full powers to make any concessions he might dictate. Then the “hucksters” of Amsterdam resolved on a deed of daring which is one of the most exalted among “the high traditions of the world.” They opened the sluices and submerged the whole country under water. Still, their position was almost desperate, as the winter frosts were nearly certain to restore a firm foothold to the invader.
They came again suing for peace, offering Maestricht, the Rhine fortresses, the whole of Brabant, the whole of Dutch Flanders, and an indemnity of ten millions. This was proffering more than Henry IV, Richelieu, or Mazarin had ever hoped for. These terms were refused, and the refusal carried with it practically the rejection of Belgium, which could not fail to be soon absorbed when thus surrounded by French possessions. But Louis met these offers with the spirit of an Attila. He insisted on the concession of Southern Gueldres and the island of Bommel, twenty-four millions of indemnity, the endowment of the Catholic religion, and an extraordinary annual embassy charged to present his majesty with a gold medal, which should set forth how the Dutch owed to him the conservation of their liberties. Such vindictive cruelty makes the mind run forward and dwell with a glow of satisfied justice on the bitter days of retaliation and revenge which in a future, still thirty years off, will humble the proud and pitiless oppressor in the dust; when he shall be a suppliant, and a suppliant in vain, at the feet of the haughty victors of Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde.
But Louis’ mad career of triumph was gradually being brought to a close. He had before him not only the waste of waters, but the iron will and unconquerable tenacity of the young Prince of Orange, “who needed neither hope to made him dare nor success to make him persevere.” Gradually, the threatened neighbors of France gathered together and against her King. Charles II was forced to recede from the French alliance by his Parliament in 1674. The military massacre went on, indeed, for some years longer in Germany and the Netherlands; but the Dutch Republic was saved, and peace ratified by the treaty of Nimwegen.
After the conclusion of the Dutch War the reign of Louis XIV enters on a period of manifest decline. The cost of the war had been tremendous. In 1677 the expenditure had been one hundred ten millions, and Colbert had to meet this with a net revenue of eighty-one millions. The trade and commerce of the country had also suffered much during the war. With bitter grief the great minister saw himself compelled to reverse the beneficent policy of his earlier days, to add to the tax on salt, to increase the ever-crushing burden of the taille, to create new offices–hereditary employments in the government–to the extent of three hundred millions, augmenting the already monstrous army of superfluous officials, and, finally, simply to borrow money at high interest. The new exactions had produced widespread misery in the provinces before the war came to an end. In 1675 the Governor of Dauphiné had written to Colbert, saying that commerce had entirely ceased in his district, and that the larger part of the people had lived during the winter on bread made from acorns and roots, and that at the time of his writing they were seen to be eating the grass of the fields and the bark of trees. The long-continued anguish produced at last despair and rebellion.
In Bordeaux great excesses were committed by the mob, which were punished with severity. Six thousand soldiers were quartered in the town, and were guilty of such disorders that the best families emigrated, and trade was ruined for a long period. But Brittany witnessed still worse evils. There also riots and disturbances had been produced by the excessive pressure of the imposts. An army of five thousand men was poured into the province, and inflicted such terror on the population that the wretched peasants, at the mere sight of the soldiers, threw themselves on their knees in an attitude of supplication and exclaimed, “_Mea culpa_.” The lively Madame de Sévigné gives us some interesting details concerning these events in the intervals when court scandal ran low and the brave doings of Madame de Montespan suffered a temporary interruption. “Would you like,” says the tender-hearted lady to her daughter, “would you like to have news of Rennes? There are still five thousand soldiers here, as more have come from Nantes. A tax of one hundred thousand crowns has been laid upon the citizens, and if the money is not forthcoming in twenty-four hours the tax will be doubled and levied by the soldiers. All the inhabitants of a large street have already been driven out and banished, and no one may receive them under pain of death; so that all these poor wretches, old men, women recently delivered, and children, were seen wandering in tears as they left the town, not knowing whither to go or where to sleep or what to eat. The day before yesterday one of the leaders of the riot was broken alive on the wheel. Sixty citizens have been seized, and tomorrow the hanging will begin.” In other letters she writes that the tenth man had been broken on the wheel, and she thinks he will be the last, and that by dint of hanging it will soon be left off.
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