Every great noble now tried to grasp some strong fortress or rich city.
Continuing Cardinal Richelieu’s Administration,
our selection from Special Article to Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XI. by Andrew D. White published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Cardinal Richelieu’s Administration
Despite, then, the curb put upon many old pretensions of the nobles, the serf-owning spirit continued to spread a network of curses over every arm of the French government, over every acre of the French soil, and, worst of all, over the hearts and minds of the French people. Enterprise was deadened, invention crippled. Honesty was nothing, honor everything. Life was of little value. Labor was the badge of servility; laziness the very badge and passport of gentility. The serf-owning spirit was an iron wall between noble and not noble — the only unyielding wall between France and prosperous peace.
But the serf-owning spirit begat another evil far more terrible: it begat a substitute for patriotism — a substitute which crushed out patriotism just at the very emergencies when patriotism was most needed. For the first question which in any state emergency sprang into the mind of a French noble was not, How does this affect the welfare of the nation? but, How does this affect the position of my order? The serf-owning spirit developed in the French aristocracy an instinct which led them in national troubles to guard the serf-owning class first and the nation afterward, and to acknowledge fealty to the serf-owning interest first and to the national interest afterward.
So it proved in that emergency at the death of Henry. Instead of planting themselves as a firm bulwark between the state and harm, the Duke of Épernon, the Prince of Condé, the Count of Soissons, the Duke of Guise, the Duke of Bouillon, and many others, wheedled or threatened the Queen into granting pensions of such immense amounts that the great treasury filled by Henry and Sully with such noble sacrifices, and to such noble ends, was soon nearly empty.
But as soon as the treasury began to run low the nobles began a worse work. Mary had thought to buy their loyalty, but when they had gained such treasures their ideas mounted higher. A saying of one among them became their formula, and became noted: “The day of kings is past; now is come the day of the grandees.”
Every great noble now tried to grasp some strong fortress or rich city. One fact will show the spirit of many. The Duke of Épernon had served Henry as governor of Metz, and Metz was the most important fortified town in France; therefore Henry, while allowing D’Épernon the honor of governorship, had always kept a royal lieutenant in the citadel, who corresponded directly with the ministry. But on the very day of the King’s death D’Épernon dispatched commands to his own creatures at Metz to seize the citadel, and to hold it for him against all other orders.
But at last even Mary had to refuse to lavish more of the national treasure and to shred more of the national territory among these magnates. Then came their rebellion.
Immediately Condé and several great nobles issued a proclamation denouncing the tyranny and extravagance of the court — calling on the Catholics to rise against the Regent in behalf of their religion — calling on the Protestants to rise in behalf of theirs — summoning the whole people to rise against the waste of their state treasure.
It was all a glorious joke. To call on the Protestants was wondrous impudence, for Condé had left their faith and had persecuted them. To call on the Catholics was not less impudent, for he had betrayed their cause scores of times; but to call on the whole people to rise in defense of their treasury was impudence sublime, for no man had besieged the treasury more persistently, no man had dipped into it more deeply, than Condé himself.
The people saw this and would not stir. Condé could rally only a few great nobles and their retainers, and therefore, as a last tremendous blow to the court, he and his followers raised the cry that the Regent must convoke the States-General.
Any who have read much in the history of France, and especially in the history of the French Revolution, knows in part how terrible this cry was. By the court, and by the great privileged classes of France, this great assembly of the three estates of the realm was looked upon as the last resort amid direst calamities. For at its summons came stalking forth from the foul past the long train of Titanic abuses and satanic wrongs; and came surging up from the seething present the great hoarse cry of the people; then loomed up, dim in the distance, vast shadowy ideas of new truth and new right; and at the bare hint of these, all that was proud in France trembled.
This cry for the States-General, then, brought the Regent to terms at once, and, instead of acting vigorously, she betook herself to her old vicious fashion of compromising — buying off the rebels at prices more enormous than ever. By her treaty of Ste. Ménehould, Condé received a half a million of livres, and his followers received payments proportionate to the evil they had done.
But this compromise succeeded no better than the previous compromises. Even if the nobles had wished to remain quiet, they could not. Their lordship over a servile class made them independent of all ordinary labor and all care arising from labor; some exercise of mind and body they must have; Condé took this needed exercise by attempting to seize the city of Poitiers, and, when the burgesses were too strong for him, by ravaging the neighboring country. The other nobles broke the compromise in ways wonderfully numerous and ingenious. France was again filled with misery.
Dull as Regent Mary was, she now saw that she must call that dreaded States-General, or lose not only the nobles, but the people. Undecided as she was, she soon saw that she must do it at once; that if she delayed it, her great nobles would raise the cry for it again and again just as often as they wished to extort office or money. Accordingly, on October 14, 1614, she summoned the deputies of the three estates to Paris, and then the storm set in.
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