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France Becomes a Great Nation 1453-1631

WHEN MORE than a century of war between England and France ended in 1453, it was the French king, Charles VII, who was victorious. Although he had driven the English out of France, Charles found himself the king of a sad land. During the wars the great French nobles had fought among themselves as bitterly as they had fought the English and they had become so powerful that they no longer respected their king. France itself was devastated, the people poor and hungry. Paris had been half ruined. Wolves prowled the city by night and twenty-four thousand houses stood empty.

Charles worked hard to restore order, setting aside special hours each day for special problems. He organized a permanent army to make himself independent of the nobles, but he found the nobles had no intention of letting him be independent. Many of them rebelled and his own son Louis joined them. Charles died in 1461 and Louis became king — and before long Louis, too, had trouble with the nobles. One great duke, Charles the Bold of Burgundy, even imprisoned Louis in a castle until the king promised to satisfy all the nobles’ demands. After he was freed, however, Louis broke all his promises. He was astoundingly lucky; one by one his greatest rivals  died and he inherited their lands. As he gathered in more lands and more power, Frenchmen grew to fear him. They called him the Spider King.

Louis’ successors turned to fighting wars in Europe to win new glory for France. Francis I was so successful that he even hoped to be elected the next ruler of the great Holy Roman Empire. He did his best to buy up the votes of the princely electors, but all his gold could not match the riches of the powerful Hapsburg family. Francis lost the election and his enemy, King Charles of Spain, became Holy Roman Emperor. Now Francis had a truly strong enemy, for Emperor Charles V ruled wide lands that completely encircled France and he was the greatest ruler of Europe. Four times Francis tried to defeat Charles and four times his wars failed. Both men grew old and died, but wars between France and the Hapsburgs went on till 1559, when France admitted defeat. Almost immediately another quarrel flared up in France itself.


The new struggle was a fight over religion. Catholicism had always been the religion of France, but for some years French believers in a new faith had been attacking the Catholic Church. These men were the Huguenots, the French Protestants. They claimed that the Catholic Church was woefully corrupt, its bishops and abbots greedy, its priests ignorant and lazy. The Huguenots were followers of the Protestant John Calvin, who preached that neither pope nor king should rule religion. Calvin said that the truth was to be found in the Bible and not in the words of Roman churchmen, who might be as weak and sinful as ordinary men. Many upper class Frenchmen – lawyers, doctors, noblemen were Huguenots, but they were a minority and their worship was illegal. Catholics persecuted Huguenots, imprisoning them or even burning them alive and the Huguenots fought back. In 1562, civil war between Catholics and Huguenots began to tear France apart. The French king was caught in the middle.


On August 18, 1572, all the great princes and nobles of France gathered at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. They were there for the wedding of Henry of Bourbon, the young king of Navarre and Marguerite of Valois, sister of King Charles IX of France. While Marguerite, a faithful Catholic, knelt to hear her nuptial mass at the high altar, Henry and his nobles chatted and strolled back and forth in the great nave of the cathedral.

Head of the Bourbon family, one of the greatest of France, Henry was nineteen years old, with dark reddish hair and dancing eyes. He was always quick to enjoy a joke and ready to laugh at his own troubles. Perhaps he even smiled to see himself strolling up and down while his bride knelt to worship at the altar. At the same time, he knew that the reason for this odd scene was deeply serious.

Henry was walking in the nave because he was not a Catholic, but a Huguenot. In fact, as head of the Bourbon family, he was the leader of the Huguenots. For ten years now Huguenots and Catholics had been at each others’ throats in France. Henry must have remembered all the years of struggle and the bloodshed of the Huguenots, when he agreed to marry Marguerite. Perhaps his marriage to the Catholic sister of the king might help bring back religious peace to France.

After the wedding mass, Henry and his bride left the cathedral. There now began a series of gay feasts and celebrations in which the royal family and the nobles of both parties joined. Even so, people were uneasy and one man wrote that “as before a storm, the ocean is seen to heave and mutter, so men’s minds appeared to be moved by a prophetic horror . . .”

Four days later, as Admiral Coligny, a leading Huguenot, returned from advising King Charles at court, he was shot in the street. Coligny was only wounded in the arm and hand, but the Huguenot nobles were furious. For, as a German ruler put it, Coligny was “the most virtuous man and the wisest and the greatest captain of Europe.” ‘The Huguenots knew that the murder had been planned by the Catholic leader, Henry, duke of Guise. They swore that if the king would not punish Guise they would take their own revenge.

The king promised to see that justice was done. To the king’s mother, Catherine de’ Medici, justice was a dangerous threat. Catherine was strong, her son the king was weak and she held much of the ruling power in France. She herself had secretly plotted with the Catholic leader to murder Coligny, for she was jealous of Coligny’s influence over her son and afraid that her own power was weakening. Now Catherine seized on a plan to save herself from being discovered. She plotted to weaken the Huguenots and prevent more civil war, which might further reduce her power. Arguing and pleading with King Charles, she finally persuaded him to consent.

Before dawn on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, a signal pealed out from the bells of the church near the Louvre palace. Pistol shots rang through the dark streets. Admiral Coligny, hearing the commotion and fearing another attack, urged his men to flee by the roof. As his door burst open, Coligny saw armed men at the threshold. One of them stepped forward and knocked him down and the others attacked with their swords. Waiting in the courtyard below was the Catholic chief, Henry of Guise. He shouted, “Have you finished? Throw him out of the window for us to see with our own eyes!”

Coligny’s body, thrown from the window, was dragged through the streets and then cut to pieces; his head was sent as a present to the pope. Guise’s men went on to slaughter the Huguenots in the neighborhood. In the Louvre as guests of the king were Huguenot nobles who had attended the wedding; they were dragged from their beds and killed.


At dawn the great bell of the Hötel de Ville rang out another signal and the night of slaughter was followed by an even more terrible day. In the streets the Catholic citizens of Paris murdered Huguenots — young and old, men and women. One Paris butcher boasted that he killed four hundred persons on St. Bartholomew’s Day. The mobs tore women apart and threw babies into the river. Catholic shopkeepers murdered their Huguenot competitors, debtors their creditors –and many men seized the chance to kill their old enemies, Huguenot or not.

For three days the massacre went on. When it was over, only one or two Huguenot leaders had escaped alive and some four thousand were dead in Paris. The frenzy had spread to the provinces, too and there many more had been killed. The result of the massacre was not what Catherine had planned. The Huguenots who remained alive rose in rebellion and the civil wars began again.

On the night of the massacre, Henry of Navarre had been sleeping with his wife in chambers in the Louvre, ignorant of what was going on. Still he was worried and neither he nor his wife slept well. At dawn he dressed and went to play tennis, but the king’s men stopped him and took him before King Charles. Charles told Henry that he might live only if he would swear loyalty to the Catholic Church.

Kept under close guard in the Louvre, Henry had more than enough time to think over his decision. The eight hundred Huguenot nobles who had accompanied him to his wedding were dead or in hiding and he knew no one could help him. If he angered the king, his followers would suffer. Besides, Henry wanted to live. He swore to obey King Charles and he attended Catholic muss in the palace. On October 30 he wrote a letter to the pope. “Encouraged by the Very Christian King, and by the . . . Queen, my mother-in-law,” he wrote, . . “I am at last persuaded that Your Holiness will recognize me as one of your children . .”

A few weeks later, Henry was forced to restore -the Catholic religion in his province, Béarn and & to expel the Huguenots. He was still kept prisoner and in the spring of 1573 the king ordered  him to fight against the rebelling Huguenots in the city of La Rochelle. Henry had to obey. A man who watched him go off to battle later wrote that Henry “appeared most cheerful and concealed his discontent . . . artfully. . . . Indeed, since he was a little boy he has made the best of everything . . . poking fun at all without exception . . . and yet without ever offending, for he follows it up with so much familiarity, friendliness and charm, that he wipes out any ill feeling. . . .” Henry was as clever as he was charming. When his soldiers were about to attack, he had them shout so loudly that the Huguenots were warned in time to successfully defend themselves. At count, Henry enjoyed himself even as he carefully protected himself. To a close friend he wrote, “This court is the strangest place you have ever seen. We are almost always ready to cut one another’s throats. We carry daggers, wear steel shirts and often a little cuirass under the cape.” Although Henry might carry a dagger, he flirted, hunted, played tennis and made many friends  at court. All the time he planned to escape.

One day in February of 1576, Henry visited the Duke of Guise at daybreak, greeting him gaily and inviting him to join a hunt. Then, riding ahead, Henry and his compamons made a dash for freedom, galloping through the cold night to safety beyond the Loire. On the way they were joined by friends, until finally Henry was leading a good-sized force.

Henry once more became a Protestant but he treated Catholics fairly. Religion, he said, a personal matter, “planted in the heart by teaching and argument. . . We Frenchmen. . . ought to come to agreement by gentle means, not by cruel deeds. All that the civil wars have done is to fill France with blood.”


Still, the wars continued. King Charles died and his feeble brother became King Henry III. In 1584 the king’s younger brother died leaving Henry of Navarre the heir to the throne of France. To the Catholic Holy League, the idea of a Protestant king of France was monstrous and a new civil war began. The Holy League under Henry of Guise fought the Huguenots under Henry of Navarre, while the blundering king of France, Henry III, sided first with one side and then with the other.


The Duke of Guise, brilliant and bold, was the darling of Paris, and he schemed to use the support of Paris to become king. In May, 1588, he entered Paris against the king’s orders‚ receiving a wild welcome from the Catholics there. The king sent regiments into the city to drive Guise out but the Parisians barricaded the streets, imprisoned the king in his palace and even talked of deposing or murdering him. The king and his courtiers, many still unbooted and dressed in their court robes, escaped and fled.

Henry III was determined to save the throne for himself and the glory of his family, the Valais. He invited Guise to a friendly conference and had him murdered in the royal chamber. As Guise lay dead at his feet, Henry III kicked at the body, muttering, “He seems even bigger dead than alive.”

The Catholics raged at Guise‘s death and in Paris a procession of 100.000 persons snuffed out their candies and shouted, “Thus does God extinguish the race of Valois!” The Catholics attacked the king and he desperately turned for help to Henry of Navarre. Together they laid siege to Paris. During the siege a Catholic monk caught the king by surprise as he was dressing and stabbed him to death. Of the three Henrys who had struggled for power, there was now only Henry of Navarre — the new and rightful king of France.

Henry might rightfully be king but he did not hold Paris and as he said, “France is a man, Paris is his heart.” For five more years the war went on and at last even Paris was weary of the  fighting. One observer wrote that “the merchants will have nothing to do with war,” and another complained that even the wealthy men of Paris had only “enough to live on for three weeks.” When the Catholic League accepted money and troops from Philip II of Spain, France’s old enemy, many Frenchmen were disgusted.

Although they longed for peace, the French were afraid to have a Protestant as king. Henry realized this. After much thought, he declared himself ready to become a Catholic again. On July 25, 1595, in the church of St. Denis outside Paris, he was received back into the Catholic church; in February of 1594, he was crowned at Chartres as King Henry IV of France. The old royal crown had been melted down for gold to fight the wars, so a new one was made. Henry had to order it on credit. He had hardly enough money to feed his horses and he complained to his treasurer, “My plight is indeed wretched — I shall soon have to go on foot and naked.” His coronation was as splendid as though his coffers were overflowing. The great nobles of France bowed before him and the shouts of joy from the spectators drowned out the heralds’ trumpets.

Although the Catholic League still held Paris, each day new losses discouraged their leaders. At dawn on March 22, 1594, the gates of Paris opened to Henry, who had paid a good price to unlock them. As he rode through Paris, the crowds welcomed him as if they had never tried to keep him out. He proclaimed a general pardon and treated the former rebels so generously that even his oldest enemies praised him. Other towns followed the example set by Paris, declaring allegiance to Henry for a price.


In 1598 Henry settled the questions that had led to the thirty-five years of religious war. By a royal edict declared at Nantes, he ordained that the Huguenots were entitled to choose their own religion, to worship in private as they pleased and to worship publicly in many places. They were assured political equality with Catholics and special courts with Protestant as well as Catholic judges were set up to judge their cases. Henry also allowed the Huguenots to hold some two hundred cities as a guarantee that their rights would be respected.

Henry then turned to his other problems. He was poor, the government was poor, the country itself was poor from decades of war. Even the king’s clothes were tagged. “All my shirts are torn,” Henry wrote. “My doublet is worn through at the elbow, I often can entertain no one. . .” The government was 25,000‚000 livres in debt, while corrupt officials and tax collectors were making themselves richer. “Destruction is everywhere,” the Venetian ambassador wrote home. “A great part of the cattle has disappeared, so that ploughing is no longer possible. . . . The people are not what they used to be . . . war and the sight of blood have made them sly, coarse, and barbarous.” Trade and manufacturing had completely stopped in many places and in the fighting even the roads had been destroyed. In some towns citizens starved while crops rotted in fields not far off.

Henry bent all his skill to make France prosperous again. He cut the expenses of his household, reduced the size of the army and got rid of many unnecessary officials. To restore order in the countryside, he outlawed the carrying of guns. He forgave back taxes and saw to it that taxes were collected more fairly. He built new roads, shaded by trees planted along the way. He also built new bridges and ordered canals dug from river to river. He introduced better sanitation in the cities and he had the streets of Paris washed.

Henry encouraged trade and helped to make Marseilles a great port. He chartered a trading company to sail to the East Indies, and he sent ships sailing west to Canada. In 1608 two Frenchmen founded a settlement at Quebec and from there explorers, traders and missionaries sailed up the St. Lawrence river, claiming new lands for France.

In everything he did, Henry was aided by his hard-working minister of finance, the Duke of Sully. Rising at four o’clock each morning, working until ten each night, Sully was as loyal as he was stubborn. He argued with Henry, but often his arguments were valuable. “That hour when you no longer contradict me, I shall believe that you no longer love me,” Henry told him.

Sully laboured to make French agriculture flourish again. When Henry decided that silkworms should be raised in France, Sully argued that to make silk Frenchmen would have to work indoors and the “impure atmosphere . . . would soon dampen the Spirits.” Henry went ahead with his plans and soon the silks of Lyons and Tours were famous throughout the world.

Henry and Sully encouraged the arts, helping writers, architects and musicians. They reformed the University of Paris, hiring great scholars, introducing the study of the classics and encouraging the teaching of new subjects such as anatomy. They improved the efficiency of the army. They widened and straightened some of the narrow streets of Paris, raised the river banks to guard against flood and built splendid new public buildings.


By 1605, Henry, with Sully’s help, had changed the face of France. He had cleared state debts, lowered peasants’ taxes and raised the royal revenues. Merchants and traders were counting growing profits and nobles were directing the improvement of their lands. Henry had given France not only peace but prosperity.


Henry was still a defender of Protestants, in France and in Europe. He was an enemy of France’s old rivals, the Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain. Sworn to destroy Protestantism, the Hapsburgs planned to bring back Catholic rule to all Europe. Secretly Henry planned a “Great Design” for Europe — a league of princes who would work for the freedom of their lands and fight to keep the Hapsburgs confined to their realms in Austin and Spain.

In 1610, as he and Sully were making ready for war against the Hapsburgs, a fanatic Catholic leaped on the wheel of Henry’s coach and stabbed him in the heart. “It’s nothing,” Henry said reassuringly to his nobles — but‚ even as he spoke he died.

Frenchmen wept at the loss of their king and in Paris men were heard saying to their children, “What will become of you now? You have lost your father!” One provincial governor was so grieved that he took to his bed and died, from sorrow, it was said. The devoted Sully wrote sadly, “At court we are passing through a time of change. Nothing else could be expected after the loss of so great a monarch. . . . Therefore to all mishaps which may arise, I have no other reply that there is nothing strange in all this, since our great king is truly dead.”

Henry’s heir, his son Louis XIII, was only nine years old and Henry’s will named his wife, Marie de’ Medici, as regent. Stout, peevish and greedy, Marie was hardly able to continue Henry’s work of making France great. “She always agrees with the last person who has spoken to her,” a papal nuncio said. She dropped the plans for a war against the Hapsburgs. Instead, to insure peace, she planned to marry her son Louis to a Spanish princess.

All the old quarrels that had died down during Henry’s rule sprang up again. Many great nobles disliked Marie’s plans and intrigued for power. The Huguenots were angered at news of the Spanish marriage and their ministers preached vengeance on the Catholic party. At the insistence of the nobles, the States-General, the legislature of France, was called to meet in 1614. Many Frenchmen hoped that it would reach agreement on how France should be ruled.

The representatives of each of the three estates — the nobles, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie, which included the gentry and the merchants — thought each of the others too powerful. They even quarreled and brawled among themselves. The bourgeoisie demanded that the nobles’ pensions be stopped; the nobles asked that the bourgeoisie not be allowed to buy offices. The clergy wanted the king to admit his obedience to the pope; the commoners demanded a law proclaiming that the king was responsible only to God.

More than a year passed, and still there was no agreement. One day the representatives arrived at their meeting hall to find doors locked against them. They went home, their work a complete failure. A few weeks later Marie de’ Medici had her way; Louis XIII was married to Anne of Austria, the daughter of Philip III of Spain.

Louis was now fifteen‚ old enough to take on the kingship himself. Instead, his mother continued to rule, listening mostly to the advice of her Florentine lady-in-waiting, Leonora Galigai and Leonora’s greedy husband, Concini. The Venetian ambassador wrote home, “The King is kept as much as possible out of affairs. . . . The Queen Mother completely governs his company and chooses them for their dullness and stupidity so that there may be no one to rouse a manly Spirit in the King. . . Yet the King is not without virtue . . . he might promise much if his education were a better one.”

Sly and given to stuttering, Louis was happy only when he could hunt. If the weather was poor, he had birds released inside the palace and practiced shooting them there. He found his only friend in his falcon-keeper who rode with him through the forests and listened sympathetically to his problems. It happened that the falcon- keeper Luynes, was a clever man. He helped Louis plan revenge on his mother and her friends who kept him powerless.


In April of 1617 acting on Louis’ orders, the commander of the guard made his way through the throng of nobles in the inner courtyard of the palace. He forced his way to the side of the Queen mother‘s adviser, Concini, seized him by the arm and shouted. “In the king’s name!” Concini turned, the commander signaled the guards and they drew their pistols and fired at Concini until he fell. Kicking his dead body, they cried, “Long live the king!”


When Marie de’ Medici heard the noise below, she she asked a lady-in-waiting what had happened. The woman soon whispered fearfully that Concini was dead. The queen mother cried, “This is the end. For seven years I have been a ruler; now all I am hope for is a crown in heaven.” She rushed back and forth in her room. On a billiard table in a hall below, Louis acknowledged the homage of the nobles. “Now,” he said, “I am really King.”

One of Louis’ first actions was to exile his mother from court. Like a solemn funeral procession‚ her party drove through Paris, while the citizens shouted und cursed her. Riding in the last carriage well behind the weeping queen mother, was one of her leading advisers. Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, bishop of Lucon. Proud, brilliant and elegant, Richelieu was thirty-two and had been secretary of state for foreign affairs for one year. Overnight his fortunes had changed; and now he was going into exile, his only refuge the cold and dismal bishop’s palace at Lucon.

From exile, Richelieu watched the doings of Louis XIII and Luynes, first with bitterness and jealousy but then with renewed ambition. In power, Luynes proved much less clever than he had been as a scheming falcon-keeper. He used his influence to enrich all his relatives from brothers to distant cousins. Nothing was going well. The great nobles still considered their own interests before the king’s and the Huguenots did the same. Meanwhile, Hamburg Spain was becoming stronger and stronger. France had lost its influence in Europe and Richelieu knew it.

Discontented nobles began to rally about the queen mother and Richelieu cleverly stepped in to make peace between the king and his mother. The rebellion was stopped and Richelieu’s reputation began to rise again. As King Louis began to grow tired of the greedy Luynes, the queen mother was recalled to court. She used her influence with the pope and the king to bring Richelieu back to power. In 1622 he became a cardinal and in 1624, on August 24, he was a appointed head of the royal council — first minister of France.


Richelieu was no longer young. He knew that the king did not really trust him and that the nobles were waiting for him to fall from power as others had done. He was wholly devoted to three causes — his career, the Catholic faith and the glory of France — and he set to work to further these and prove himself to the king.


Richelieu had never been healthy and now he was almost always in great pain. His narrow face was drawn and pale from fever, headaches and sleepless nights; sometimes the pain was so bad he could not sit down for days at a time. His mind was more brilliant than ever and his will was unbreakable. “There is something more than human in that man,” one Frenchman wrote. Richelieu believed that France could be great only if the king were all powerful and he planned to make Louis the unquestioned “master in his own house.”

Richelieu made alliances against the Hapsburgs, signing treaties with England, the Netherlands, Denmark. Although these countries were Protestant and France was Catholic, the Hapsburgs were their common enemy. While French troops were fighting the Hapsburgs in Italy, the Huguenots in France rebelled. In July, 1627, the English took up the cause of the French Huguenots and led by the duke of Buckingham, seized the island of Ré off the French port of La Rochelle. La Rochelle was a strong Huguenot city and encouraged by English support, the towns people rose up against the king.

On Ré, the soldiers in the French fort held out against the English. Richelieu turned all his will to taking the city. “On the capture of La Rochelle.” he said. “depends the good of the State.” The Huguenots must learn they could not rebel against their king. Louis led his army to besiege La Rochelle from the land, while Richelieu frantically worked to get food to the starving soldiers in the island fort. To raise money, he sold treasures and melted down precious metals, even pouring his own private income into the state treasuries. He offered great prizes to anyone who slipped through the English blockade and brought food and ammunition to the fort.

Richelieu laid careful plans to expel the English from Ré. The king rallied the spirits of his royal troops and he and Richelieu chose 6,000 volunteers to attack the English soldiers. The king gave the horses from his own carriage to carry the supplies and the nobles followed his example; soon they had gathered 3,000 horses in reinforcement.

When the French embarked for Ré, the nobles, itching to fight, pushed and jostled to get into the first beat. Moving through the black night, the French easily evaded the patrols and by early morning 4,000 French troops were landed on Ré.

Realizing that they were outnumbered, the English dropped their ammunition, abandoned their wounded and fled toward an inlet from which they could sail back to England. The French waited until half the English army was squeezed into a narrow pass between the swamps and then ordered their cavalry to charge. The English rear was crushed and the troops on the bridge beyond the soldiers were in unbelievable confusion. Eighteen hundred Englishmen, most of them officers, died in the charge and all their artillery was captured. Their decks packed with sick and wounded, the English ships fled from France.

Richelieu now turned to taking La Rochelle itself. The city was protected by a great semicircle of bastions, trenches and fortified gates, stretching around La Rochelle to the sea. To cut off the city from outside aid, Richelieu had a second, larger, semicircle of fortifications built outside the first. He also had an impassable stone breakwater constructed across the harbour entrance. The work was tiring and difficult, but all through the stormy winter Richelieu and the king went daily to the works, encouraging the builders. Once, to urge on the men working in ice-cold water, the king himself lent a hand, while Richelieu strode up and down in buffcoat and boots giving directions. Richelieu was tortured by high fevers, but, pale and shivering, he kept at his task.

Before spring, the dam was finished. When a small English convoy arrived to reinforce the people of La Rochelle, their ships could get nowhere near the city. For eight months the Huguenots had held out against the king’s blockade. There had been as many as 25,000 persons in the city; now scarcely 5,000 remained. Many were dying from famine and those who lived ate boiled Shoe leather, for they had long since eaten all the grass in the town. Still the Huguenots fought on. They feared the king’s revenge if they surrendered and they prayed for more English aid to save them.

Late in September, 1628, after thirteen months of blockade, a larger English fleet appeared and on October 3 it attacked the harbour wall. Richelieu and Louis themselves mounted the French cannon, fighting in the line with the bravest of the French soldiers. Only night brought a stop to the battle and at four the next morning both sides were at it again. Before the morning ended, the English sued for terms. Inside the city, the Huguenots who had held out so long saw their last hope shattered.


Three weeks later, six councilmen of La Rochelle came out to surrender their city. Receiving them, Richelieu found them “but the shadows of living men,” broken and pale beyond recognition. In La Rochelle there was now not even shoe leather to eat. Richelieu laid down severe terms; each church was to be given back to the Catholic faith and the Huguenots were to lose all their special privileges. They might still worship as they pleased, but never again could they act as an independent state.

Richelieu had broken the rebelliousness of the Huguenots and he broke some of the defiance of the nobles as well. Early in the war, the nobles had tried to take advantage of the king’s troubles to get power, but Richelieu had checked them. He had the king outlaw dueling. When a proud noble disobeyed the law, he was put to death and the other nobles no longer dared to defy the king.

By now, too, Richelieu and Louis XIII were trusted friends. The jealous queen mother tried to destroy Richelieu’s influence, imploring her son and making scenes. Louis knew he could believe Richelieu’s words when Richelieu wrote to him, “I desire your honour more than ever any servant did that of his master. . . . I am the most devoted subject and the most zealous servant that ever king or master had in this world.”

Proving his loyalty with more than words, Richelieu continued strengthening the king’s power in France. He brought all but three of the French provinces directly under the authority of the king, giving the king’s appointed officials the power to rule and supervise taxes. The lawyers of one city traveled to Paris to protest to the king, but Louis would have none of their arguments. “Get on your knees, little man, before your master,” Louis told their spokesman.


With no more to fear from enemies within France, Richelieu could deal with France’s old enemies, the Hapsburgs. To the south of France was the Hapsburg kingdom of Spain; in the west a Hapsburg sat on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Looking to the empire’s lands in the west, Richelieu saw an opportunity to extend France’s borders. The empire was divided into hundreds of rather small, weak states and it was even more torn by religious quarrels than France had been. While the lands of the empire squabbled and fought, France under Richelieu had become one of the strongest nations of Europe.

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