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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
Louis XIII., Cardinal Richelieu, And The Provinces.
by Guizot, M.


The story has been told of the conspiracies at court and the repeated checks suffered by the great lords in their attempts against Cardinal Richelieu. With the exception of Languedoc, under the influence of its governor the Duke of Montmorency, the provinces took no part in these enterprises; their opposition was of another sort; and it is amongst the parliaments chiefly that we must look for it.

"The king's cabinet and his bed-time business (petit coucher) cause me more embarrassment than the whole of Europe causes me," said the cardinal in the days of the great storms at court; he would often have had less trouble in managing the parliaments and the Parliament of Paris in particular, if the latter had not felt itself supported by a party at court. For a long time past a pretension had been put forward by that great body to give the king advice, and to replace towards him the vanished states-general. "We hold the place in council of the princes and barons, who from time immemorial were near the person of the kings," was the language used, in 1615, in the representations of the Parliament, which had dared, without the royal order, to summon the princes, dukes, peers, and officers of the crown to deliberate upon what was to be done for the service of the king, the good of the state, and the relief of the people.

This pretension on the part of the parliaments was what Cardinal Richelieu was continually fighting against. He would not allow the intervention of the magistrates in the government of the state. When he took the power into his hands, nine parliaments sat in France—Paris, Toulouse, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Dijon, Rouen, Aix, Rennes, and Pau: he created but one, that of Metz, in 1633, to severe in a definitive manner the bonds which still attached the three bishoprics to the Germanic empire. Trials at that time were carried in the last resort to Spires.

Throughout the history of France we find the Parliament of Paris bolder and more enterprising than all the rest: and it did not belie its character in the very teeth of Richelieu. When, after Dupes' Day was over, Louis XIII. declared all the companions of his brother's escape guilty of high treason, the Parliament of Dijon, to which the decree was presented by the king himself, enregistered it without making any difficulty. All the other parliaments followed the example; that of Paris alone resisted, and its decision on the 25th of April contained a bitter censure upon the cardinal's administration. On the 12th of May, the decision of that Parliament was quashed by a decree of the royal council, and all its members were summoned to the Louvre; on their knees they had to hear the severe reprimand delivered by Chateauneuf, keeper of the seals; and one president and three counsellors were at the same time dismissed. When the Parliament, still indomitable, would have had those magistrates sit in defiance of the royal order, they were not to be found in their houses; the soldiery had carried them off.

The trial of Marshal Marillac, before a commission, twice modified during the course of proceedings, of the Parliament of Dijon, was the occasion of a fresh reclamation on the part of the Parliament of Paris; and the king's ill-humor against the magistrates burst forth on the occasion of a commission constituted at the Arsenal to take cognizance of the crime of coining. The Parliament made some formal objections the king, who was at that time at Metz with his troops, summoned President Seguier and several counsellors. He quashed the decree of the Parliament. "You are only constituted," said he, "to judge between Master Peter and Master John (between John Doe and Richard Roe); if you go on as at present, I will pare your nails so close that you'll be sorry for it." Five counsellors were interdicted, and had great trouble in obtaining authority to sit again. So many and such frequent squabbles, whether about points of jurisdiction or about the registration of edicts respecting finances, which the Parliament claimed to have the right of looking into, caused between the king, inspired by his minister, and the Parliament of Paris an irritation which reached its height during the trial of the Duke of La Valette, third son of the Duke of Epernon, accused, not without grounds, of having caused the failure of the siege of Fontarabia from jealousy towards the Prince of Conde. The affair was called on before a commission composed of dukes and peers, some councillors of state and some members of the Parliament, which demanded that the duke should be removed to its jurisdiction. "I will not have it," answered the king; "you are always making difficulties; it seems as if you wanted to keep me in leading-strings; but I am master, and shall know how to make myself obeyed: It is a gross error to suppose that I have not a right to bring to judgment whom I think proper and where I please." The king himself asked the judges for their opinion. [Isambert, Recueil des anciennes Lois Francaises, t. xvi.] "Sir," replied Counsellor Pinon, dean of the grand chamber, "for fifty years I have been in the Parliament, and I never saw anything of this sort; M. de La Valette had the honor of wedding a natural sister of your Majesty, and he is, besides, a peer of France; I implore you to remove him to the jurisdiction of the Parliament." "Your opinion!" said the king, curtly. "I am of opinion that the Duke of La Valette be removed to be tried before the Parliament." "I will not have that; it is no opinion." "Sir, removal is a legitimate opinion." "Your opinion on the case!" rejoined the king, who was beginning to be angry; "if not, I know what I must do." President Bellievre was even bolder. "It is a strange thing," said he to Louis XIII.'s face, "to see a king giving his vote at the criminal trial of one of his subjects; hitherto kings have reserved to themselves the rights of grace, and have removed to their officers' province the sentencing of culprits. Could your Majesty bear to see in the dock a nobleman, who might leave your presence only for the scaffold? It is incompatible with kingly majesty." "Your opinion on the case!" bade the king. "Sir, I have no other opinion." The Duke of La Valette had taken refuge in England: he was condemned and executed in effigy. The attorney-general, Matthew Mold, "did not consider it his business to carry out an execution of that sort: "and recourse was obliged to be had to the lieutenant-governor of convicts at the Chatelet of Paris.

The cup had overflowed, and the cardinal resolved to put an end to an opposition which was the more irritating inasmuch as it was sometimes legitimate. A notification of the king's, published in 1641, prohibited the Parliament from any interference in affairs of state and administration. The whole of Richelieu's home-policy is summed up in the preamble to that instrument, a formal declaration of absolute power concentrated in the hands of the king. "It seemeth that, the institution of monarchies having its foundation in the government of a single one, that rank is as it were the soul which animates them and inspires them with as much force and vigor as they can have short of perfection. But as this absolute authority raises states to the highest pinnacle of their glory, so, when it happens to be enfeebled, they are observed, in a short time, to fall from their high estate. There is no need to go out of France to find instances of truth. . . . The fatal disorders and divisions of the League, which ought to be buried in eternal oblivion, owed their origin and growth to disregard of the kingly authority Henry the Great, in whom God had put the most excellent virtues of a great prince, on succeeding to the crown of Henry III., restored by his valor the kingly authority which had been as it were cast down and trampled under foot. France recovered her pristine vigor, and let all Europe see that power concentrated in the person of the sovereign is the source of the glory and greatness of monarchies, and the foundation upon which their preservation rests. . . . We, then, have thought it necessary to regulate the administration of justice, and to make known to our parliaments what is the legitimate usage of the authority which the kings, our predecessors, and we have deposited with them, in order that a thing which was established for the good of the people may not produce contrary effects, as would happen if the officers, instead of contenting themselves with that power which makes them judges in matters of life and death and touching the fortunes of our subjects, would fain meddle in the government of the state which appertains to the prince only."

The cardinal had gained the victory. Parliament bowed the head; its attempts at independence during the Fronde were but a flash, and the yoke of Louis XIV. became the more heavy for it. The pretensions of the magistrates were often foundationless, the restless and meddlesome character of their assemblies did harm to their remonstrances; but for a long while they maintained, in the teeth of more and more absolute kingly power, the country's rights in the government, and they had perceived the dangers of that sovereign monarchy which certainly sometimes raises states to the highest pinnacle of their glory, but only to let them sink before long to a condition of the most grievous abasement.

Though always first in the breach, the Parliament of Paris was not alone in its opposition to the cardinal. The Parliament of Dijon protested against the sentence of Marshal Marillac, and refused, to its shame, to bear its share of the expenses for the defence of Burgundy against the Duke of Lorraine, in 1636, a refusal which cost it the suspension of its premier president.

The Parliament of Brittany, in defence of its jurisdictional privileges, refused to enregister the decree which had for object the foundation of a company trading with the Indies, "for the general trade between the West and the East," a grand idea of Richelieu's, the seat of which was to be in the roads of Morbihan; the company, already formed, was disheartened, thanks to the delays caused by the Parliament, and the enterprise failed. The Parliament of Grenoble, fearing a dearth of corn in Dauphiny, quashed the treaties of supply for the army of Italy, at the time of the second expedition to Mantua; it went so far as to have the dealers' granaries thrown open, and the superintendent of finance, D'Emery, was obliged to come to terms with the deputies of Dauphiny, "in order that they of the Parliament of Grenoble, who said they had no interests but those of the province, might have no reason to prevent for the future the transport of corn," says Richelieu himself in his Memoires.

The Parliament of Rouen had always passed for one of the most recalcitrant. The province of Normandy was rich, and, consequently, overwhelmed with imposts; and several times the Parliament refused to enregister financial edicts which still further aggravated the distress of the people. In 1637 the king threatened to go in person to Rouen and bring the Parliament to submission, whereat it took fright and enregistered decrees for twenty-two millions. It was, no doubt, this augmentation of imposts that brought about the revolt of the Nu-pieds (Barefoots) in 1639. Before now, in 1624 and in 1637, in Perigord and Rouergue, two popular risings of the same sort, under the name of Croquants (Paupers), had disquieted the authorities, and the governor of the province had found some trouble in putting them down. The Nu-pieds were more numerous and more violent still; from Rouen to Avranches all the country was a-blaze. At Coutances and at Vire, several monopoliers and gabeleurs, as the fiscal officers were called, were massacred; a great number of houses were burned, and most of the receiving-offices were pulled down or pillaged. Everywhere the army of suffering (armee de souffrance), the name given by the revolters to themselves, made, appeal to violent passions; popular rhymes were circulated from hand to hand, in the name of General Nu-pieds (Barefoot), an imaginary personage whom nobody ever saw. Some of these verses are fair enough.
                         TO NORMANDY.

               "Dear land of mine, thou canst no more
               What boots it to have served so well?
               For see! thy faithful service bore
               This bitter fruit—the cursed gabelle.
               Is that the guerdon earned by those
               Who succored France against her foes,
               Who saved her kings, upheld her crown,
               And raised the lilies trodden down,
               In spite of all the foe could do,
               In spite of Spain and England too?

               "Recall thy generous blood, and show
               That all posterity may know—
               Duke William's breed still lives at need:
               Show that thou hast a heavier hand
               Than erst came forth from Northern land;
               A hand so strong, a heart so high,
               These tyrants all shall beaten cry,
               'From Normans and the Norman race
               Deliver us, O God of grace!'"


The tumult was more violent at Rouen than anywhere else, and the Parliament energetically resisted the mob. It had sent two counsellors as a deputation to Paris to inform the king about the state of affairs. "You may signify to the gentlemen of the Parliament of Rouen," said Chancellor Seguier, in answer to the delegates, "that I thank them for the trouble they have taken on this occasion; I will let the king know how they have behaved in this affair. I beg them to go on as they have begun. I know that the Parliament did very good service there."

In fact, several counsellors, on foot in the street and in the very midst of the revolters, had, at the peril of their lives, defended Le Tellier de Tourneville, receiver-general of gabels, and his officers, whilst the whole Parliament, in their robes, with the premier president at their head, perambulated Rouen, amidst the angry mob, repairing at once to the points most threatened, insomuch that the presidents and counsellors were "in great danger and fear for their skins." [Histoire du Parlement de Normandy, by M. Floquet, t. iv.] It was this terror, born of tumults and the sight of an infuriated populace, which, at a later period, retarded the Parliament in dealing out justice, and brought down upon it the wrath of the king and of the cardinal.

Meanwhile the insurrection was gaining ground, and the local authorities were powerless to repress it. There was hesitation at the king's council in choosing between Marshal Rantzau and M. de Gassion to command the forces ordered to march into Normandy. "That country yields no wine," said the king "that will not do for Rantzau, or be good quarters for him." And they sent Colonel Gession, not so heavy a drinker as Rantzau, a good soldier and an inflexible character. First at Caen, then at Avranches, where there was fighting to be done, at Coutances and at Elbeuf, Gassion's soldiery everywhere left the country behind them in subjection, in ruin, and in despair. They entered Rouen on the 31st of December, 1639, and on the 2d of January, 1640, the chancellor himself arrived to do justice on the rebels heaped up in the prisons, whom the Parliament dared not bring up for judgment. "I come to Rouen," he said, on entering the town, "not to deliberate, but to declare and execute the matters on which my mind is made up." And he forbade all intervention on the part of the archbishop, Francis de Harlay, who was disposed, in accordance with his office of love as well as the parliamentary name he bore, to implore pity for the culprits, and to excuse the backward judges. The chancellor did not give himself the trouble to draw up sentences. "The decree is at the tip of my staff," replied Picot, captain of his guards, when he was asked to show his orders. The executions were numerous in Higher and Lower Normandy, and the Parliament received the wages of its tardiness. All the members of the body, even the most aged and infirm, were obliged to leave Rouen. A commission of fifteen councillors of the Parliament of Paris came to replace provisionally the interdicted Parliament of Normandy; and, when the magistrates were empowered at last to resume their sitting, it was only a six months' term: that is, the Parliament henceforth found itself divided into two fragments, perfect strangers one to the other, which were to sit alternately for six months. "A veritable thunderbolt for that sovereign court, for by the six months' term," says M. Floquet, "there was no longer any Parliament, properly speaking, but two phantoms of Parliament, making war on each other, whilst the government had the field open to carve and cut without control."

"All obedience is now from fear," wrote Grotius to Oxenstiern, chancellor of Sweden; "the idea is to exorcise and annihilate hatred by means of terror." "This year," wrote an inhabitant of Rouen, "there have been no New Year's presents [etrennes], no singing of 'the king's drinking-song [le roi boit], in any house. Little children will be able to tell tales of it when they have attained to man's estate; for never, these fifty years past, so far as I can learn, has it been so." [Journal de l'Abbe de la Rue.] The heaviest imposts weighed upon the whole province, which thus expiated the crime of an insignificant portion of its inhabitants. "The king shall not lose the value of this handkerchief that I hold," said the superintendent Bullion, on arriving at Rouen. And he kept his word: Rouen alone had to pay more than three millions. The province and its Parliament were henceforth reduced to submission.

It was not only the Parliaments that resisted the efforts of Cardinal Richelieu to concentrate all the power of the government in the hands of the king. From the time that the sovereigns had given up convoking the states-general, the states-provincial had alone preserved the right of bringing to the foot of the throne the plaints and petitions of subjects. Unhappily few provinces enjoyed this privilege; Languedoc, Brittany, Burgundy, Provence, Dauphiny, and the countship of Pau alone were states-districts, that is to say, allowed to tax themselves independently and govern themselves to a certain extent. Normandy, though an elections-district, and, as such, subject to the royal agents in respect of finance, had states which continued to meet even in 1666. The states-provincial were always convoked by the king, who fixed the place and duration of assembly.

The composition of the states-provincial varied a great deal, according to the districts. In Brittany all noblemen settled in the province had the right of sitting, whilst the third estate were represented by only forty deputies. In Languedoc, on the contrary, the nobility had but twenty-three representatives, and the class of the third estate numbered sixty-eight deputies. Hence, no doubt, the divergences of conduct to be remarked in those two provinces between the Parliament and the states-provincial. In Languedoc, even during Montmorency's insurrection, the Parliament remained faithful to the king and submissive to the cardinal, whilst the states declared in favor of the revolt: in Brittany, the Parliament thwarted Richelieu's efforts in favor of trade, which had been enthusiastically welcomed by the states.

In Languedoc as well as in Dauphiny the cardinal's energy was constantly directed towards reducing the privileges which put the imposts, and, consequently, the royal revenues, at the discretion of the states. Montmorency's insurrection cost Languedoc a great portion of its liberties, which had already been jeoparded, in 1629, on the occasion of the Huguenots' rising; and those of Dauphiny were completely lost; the states were suppressed in 1628.

The states of Burgundy ordinarily assembled every three years, but they were accustomed, on separating, to appoint "a chamber of states-general," whereat the nobility, clergy, and third estate were represented, and which was charged to watch over the interests of the province in the interval between the sessions. When, in 1629, Richelieu proposed to create, as in Languedoc, a body of "elect" to arrange with the fiscal agents for the rating of imposts without the concurrence of the states, the assembly proclaimed that "it was all over with the liberties of the province if the edict passed," and, in the chamber of the nobility, two gentlemen were observed to draw their swords. But, spite of the disturbance which took place at Dijon, in 1630, on occasion of an impost on wines, and which was called, from the title of a popular ditty, la Sedition de Lanturlu, the province preserved its liberties, and remained a states-district.

It was the same subject that excited in Provence the revolt of the Cascaveous, or bell-bearers. Whenever there was any question of elections or "elect," the conspirators sounded their bells as a rallying signal, and so numerous was the body of adherents that the bells were heard tinkling everywhere. The Prince of Conde was obliged to march against the revolters, and the states assembled at Tarascon found themselves forced to vote a subsidy of one million five hundred thousand livres. At this cost the privileges of Provence were respected.

The states of Brittany, on the contrary, lent the cardinal faithful support, when he repaired thither with the king, in 1626, at the time of the conspiracy of Chalais; the Duke of Vendome, governor of Brittany, had just been arrested; the states requested the king "never to give them a governor issue of the old dukes, and to destroy the fortifications of the towns and castles which were of no use for the defence of the country." The petty noblemen, a majority in the states, thus delivered over the province to the kingly power, from jealousy of the great lords. The ordinance, dated from Nantes on the 31st of July, 1626, rendered the measure general throughout France. The battlements of the castles fell beneath the axe of the demolishers, and the masses of the district welcomed enthusiastically the downfall of those old reminiscences of feudal oppression.

As a sequel to the systematic humiliation of the great lords, even when provincial governors, and to the gradual enfeeblement of provincial institutions, Richelieu had to create in all parts of France, still so diverse in organization as well as in manners, representatives of the kingly power, of too modest and feeble a type to do without him, but capable of applying his measures and making his wishes respected. Before now the kings of France had several times over perceived the necessity of keeping up a supervision over the conduct of their officers in the provinces. The inquisitors (enquesteurs) of St. Louis, the ridings of the revising-masters (chevauehees des maitres des requetes), the departmental commissioners (commissaires departis) of Charles IX., were so many temporary and travelling inspectors, whose duty it was to inform the king of the state of affairs throughout the kingdom. Richelieu substituted for these shifting commissions a fixed and regular institution, and in 1637 he established in all the provinces overseers of justice, police, and finance, who were chosen for the most part from amongst the burgesses, and who before long concentrated in their hands the whole administration, and maintained the struggle of the kingly power against the governors, the sovereign courts, and the states-provincial.

At the time when the overseers of provinces were instituted, the battle of pure monarchy was gained; Richelieu had no further need of allies, he wanted mere subjects; but at the beginning of his ministry he had felt the need of throwing himself sometimes for support on the nation, and this great foe of the states-general had twice convoked the Assembly of Notables. The first took place at Fontainebleau, in 1625-6. The cardinal was at that time at loggerheads with the court of Rome: "If the Most Christian King," said he, "is bound to watch over the interests of the Catholic church, he has first of all to maintain his own reputation in the world. What use would it be for a state to have power, riches, and popular government, if it had not character enough to bring other people to form alliance with it?" These few words summed up the great minister's foreign policy, to protect the Catholic church whilst keeping up Protestant alliances. The Notables understood the wisdom of this conduct, and Richelieu received their adhesion. It was just the same the following year, the day after the conspiracy of Chalais; the cardinal convoked the Assembly of Notables. "We do protest before the living God," said the letters of convocation, "that we have no other aim and intention but His honor and the welfare of our subjects; that is why we do conjure in His name those whom we convoke, and do most expressly command them, without fear or desire of displeasing or pleasing any, to give us, in all frankness and sincerity, the counsels they shall judge on their consciences to be the most salutary and convenient for the welfare of the commonwealth." The assembly so solemnly convoked opened its sittings at the palace of the Tuileries on the 2d of December, 1626. The state of the finances was what chiefly occupied those present; and the cardinal himself pointed out the general principles of the reform he calculated upon establishing. "It is impossible," he said, "to meddle with the expenses necessary for the preservation of the state; it were a crime to think of such a thing. The retrenchment, therefore, must be in the case of useless expenses. The most stringent rules are and appear to be, even to the most ill-regulated minds, comparatively mild, when they have, in deed as well as in appearance, no object but the public good and the safety of the state. To restore the state to its pristine splendor, we need not many ordinances, but a great deal of practical performance."

The performance appertained to Richelieu, and he readily dispensed with many ordinances. The Assembly was favorable to his measures; but amongst those that it rejected was the proposal to substitute loss of offices and confiscation for the penalty of death in matters of rebellion and conspiracy. "Better a moderate but certain penalty," said the cardinal, "than a punishment too severe to be always inflicted." It was the notables who preserved in the hands of the inflexible minister the terrible weapon of which he availed himself so often. The Assembly separated on the 24th of February, 1627, the last that was convoked before the revolution of 1789. It was in answer to its demands, as well as to those of the states of 1614, that the keeper of the seals, Michael Marillac, drew up, in 1629, the important administrative ordinance which has preserved from its author's name the title of Code Michau.

The cardinal had propounded to the Notables a question which he had greatly at heart—the foundation of a navy. Already, when disposing, some weeks previously, of the government of Brittany, which had been taken away from the Duke of Vendome, he had separated from the office that of admiral of Brittany; already he was in a position to purchase from M. de Montmorency his office of grand admiral of France, so as to suppress it and substitute for it that of grand master of navigation, which was personally conferred upon Richelieu by an edict enregistered on the 18th of March, 1627.

"Of the power which it has seemed agreeable to his Majesty that I should hold," he wrote on the 20th of January, 1627, "I can say with truth, that it is so moderate that it could not be more so to be an appreciable service, seeing that I have desired no wage or salary so as not to be a charge to the state, and I can add without vanity that the proposal to take no wage came from me, and that his Majesty made a difficulty about letting it be so."

The Notables had thanked the king, for the intention he had "of being pleased to give the kingdom the treasures of the sea which nature had so liberally proffered it, for without [keeping] the sea one cannot profit by the sea nor maintain war." Harbors repaired and fortified, arsenals established at various points on the coast, organization of marine regiments, foundation of pilot-schools, in fact, the creation of a powerful marine which, in 1642, numbered sixty-three vessels and twenty-two galleys, that left the roads of Barcelona after the rejoicings for the capture of Perpignan and arrived the same evening at Toulon—such were the fruits of Richelieu's administration of naval affairs. "Instead," said the bailiff of Forbin, "of having a handful of rebels forcing us, as of late, to compose our naval forces of foreigners and implore succor from Spain, England, Malta, and Holland, we are at present in a condition to do as much for them if they continue in alliance with us, or to beat them when they fall off from us."

So much progress on every point, so many efforts in all directions, eighty-five vessels afloat, a hundred regiments of infantry, and three hundred troops of cavalry, almost constantly on a war footing, naturally entailed enormous expenses and terrible burdens on the people. It was Richelieu's great fault to be more concerned about his object than scrupulous as to the means he employed for arriving at it. His principles were as harsh as his conduct. "Reason does not admit of exempting the people from all burdens," said he, "because in such case, on losing the mark of their subjection, they would also lose remembrance of their condition, and, if they were free from tribute, would think that they were from obedience also." Cruel words those, and singularly destitute of regard for Christian charity and human dignity, beside which, however, must be placed these: "If the subsidies imposed on the people were not to be kept within moderate bounds, even when they were needed for the service of the country, they would not cease to be unjust." The strong common sense of this great mind did not allow him to depart for long from a certain hard equity. Posterity has preserved the memory of his equity less than of his hardness: men want sympathy more than justice.

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