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Of king of France louis XIII, Alexandre Dumas will paint an unflattering portrait: “Vain sovereign, capricious and unfaithful, capable of the coldest cruelty, weak heart lacking in generosity…”. Beyond the image conveyed by the swashbuckling novels, Louis XIII was against him to see his glory eclipsed by that of his father Henri IV and his son Louis XIV. And yet during his reign of 33 years, what changes in the Kingdom of France! Reinforcement of royal authority, affirmation of the role of France in Europe, development of trade and the navy. In many ways it is the " Great Century »Which begins.
The Dauphin, future louis XIII
Louis is the son ofHenry IV, King of France and Navarre and Marie de Medici. He is not, however, the first born of the "Vert Galant", famous for his numerous illegitimate descendants. The marriage of Henri IV and the Florentine princess responds to diplomatic imperatives: preservation of French influence in Italy, dynastics: giving the Bourbon line an heir, and financiers: cancellation of the kingdom's debt to the bankers from Florence. In comparison with these calculations feelings are only secondary data and Henri remains infatuated with his various mistresses.
The young Queen who came from Florence with a furnished suite (and in particular her confidante and lady-in-waiting, the famous Leonora Dori, woman of Concino Concini which we will discuss again), is none the less up to the King's dynastic hopes. She gave him six children, two of whom would reach adulthood: Louis and Gaston (the Duke of Orleans says Mr.).
The childhood of the Dauphin is very well described to us by the diary left by his doctor and friend Jean Héroard. Raised at the castle of Saint Germain en Laye, Louis shares the daily life of his brothers and sisters, both legitimate and illegitimate! The child shows a strong taste for outdoor trips, hunting and the arts (especially dancing and drawing).
The young Louis greatly admires his father, who had always stood out for his love of children. The relationship between mother and son, however, is much more distant. Marie, pleasurable and frivolous, made little effort to adapt to France and remained under the influence of her Italian favorites: the Concini couple. On the other hand to Louis, whom she considers unsightly and slow-witted, she clearly prefers her younger brother Gaston ...
Fascinated by military life, Louis was not the most assiduous student but displayed a certain intelligence. Despite his infirmity (he stutters) and his shyness he asserts himself as aware of his status and intends to be respected. No doubt the example of his father, the authoritarian King, greatly impressed him.
May 1610: France is on the brink of war. For both diplomatic reasons (case of the succession of Cleves and Juliers) and interior (flight of the Prince from Condé in Brussels), Henri IV intends to confront once again the Habsburg. He will never complete his project since he died assassinated on May 14, 1610, by Ravaillac a deranged fanatic can be manipulated by the ultra Catholic party opposed to war.
Louis, who was still only a child, then suffered a trauma that would haunt him all his life. Her mother, who had been officially crowned the day before, becomes the regent of the Kingdom.
The Regency, Marie de Médicis and Concini
Until then little interested in the conduct of business, Marie de Medici quickly developed a taste for the exercise of power. Rather favorable to the pro Spanish and ultra Catholic party, the regent plays appeasement on the international scene. Thus she manages to marry the Infanta of Spain, the beautiful Anne of Austria to his son Louis, union guaranteeing peace between Bourbons and Habsbourg. Marie is nevertheless very little prepared to manage a kingdom still divided.
If the opposition between Protestants and Catholics is still present, the main threat to the stability of the kingdom remains the Great, that is to say, the representatives of the most powerful aristocratic lineages: whether it is the Condé, the Guise, the Nevers or the Duke of Montmorency. In times of regency, synonymous with the weakness of royal authority, their influence is only greater. On the other hand, the Greats feel they have revenge to take on a royalty that relies on the nobility of the dress and the upper middle class.
Indeed, this booming class, endowed with significant financial means, has more and more access to high functions (offices, and offices) which at the time were cashable. It is the principle of the venality of offices that Henry IV knew how to use to fill the state coffers. Faced with this growing power of the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy manages to make itself unavoidable by knowingly maintaining instability in the provinces, even if it means revolting. The regent Marie de Médicis is therefore confronted with a real blackmail on the part of the Great and resolves to buy peace with generous pensions.
The financial situation of the kingdom also suffers from the enormous expenses of the regent, fond of entertainment, but also from the greed of the couple Concini, become quite unpopular. Concino Concini, a small Italian nobleman, shows disproportionate ambition, arrogating to himself thanks to his wife's influence over the queen, titles and the most prestigious honors. Here he is soon, Marquis d'Ancre and Maréchal, at the head of an immense fortune, making and undoing ministerial careers.
Concini is nevertheless a royal favorite, not only the object of the affection and the confidence of the queen but above all an upstart whose loyalty is complete to him. He is in his own way the instrument of the absolutist tendencies of the monarch and this fact is not lost on the Greats. The latter soon denounced the influence of the Italian on the queen and once again withdrew to their provinces, sowing the seeds of revolt.
They will find on their way an unexpected ally in the person of the young King. Although very attached, like his father, to the prestige of the monarchy and hardly enduring the pretensions of the great, Louis has a fierce hatred for Concini. The Italian favorite, has nothing but contempt for the King, who he does not hesitate to pique his adolescent pride. Louis, who first tried to appeal to his mother, found only further humiliation from her. It is a dark period for the young King who suffers the first manifestations of the disease which will torment him for life and will eventually kill him: an acute intestinal pain, probably cronh's disease.
Despite the pain, which was at times unbearable, Louis did not give up on asserting himself as King. In the greatest secrecy, this 15-year-old, shy and touchy, prepares the fall of Concini. He can count on the help of several characters who are acquired to him and in particular Charles d´Albert, future Duke of Luynes. This nobliau then great falconer of France became his best friend, thanks to their common passion for hunting. No doubt we can see in this relationship Louis's penchant for male friendships and father figures ...
On April 24, 1617, Concini was apprehended at Louvres and assassinated by the conspirators on the pretext that he had tried to resist. Louis, who had not explicitly opposed the physical elimination of the favorite, soberly said: " At this hour I am King. "
From Luynes to Richelieu
This coup, this stroke of majesty according to the expression of the time, is indicative of the firmness of character of one who takes in hand the destinies of the kingdom of France. Louis XIII intends to be a king who reigns supreme ... Nevertheless, with the elimination of Concini, it is time for Luynes to triumph. This new favorite, without great talent but charismatic, is the first beneficiary of the fall of the Italian couple and knows how to profit from the inexperience of the king.
Louis, blinded by his friendship for the great falconer, soon made him a duke and peer, then a marshal (while the man was a poor soldier). Such a success can only lead to the jealousy and discontent of the Greats but also of the queen mother Marie de Medici, who experienced the elimination of Concini and especially his wife, as a personal affront. She considers the king incapable of governing France without his " good advice "And can hardly bear being sidelined in Blois.
She will thus take the head of the party of the malcontents, federating behind her person the Great, who had caused her so much concern during her regency. After escaping from Blois Marie de Medici unleashes two short civil wars which she will eventually lose.
At the heart of the talks which made it possible to put an end to these " mother and son wars »(From 1619 to 1620), a character stands out. It is about the Bishop of Luçon, Armand du Plessis, future Cardinal of Richelieu. Originally one of the Secretaries of State of Marie de Medici, the ambitious prelate knew how to maneuver with skill to bring peace back to the Kingdom. Louis, who is wary of it, nevertheless notices that the character shares his vision of royal authority and hardly carries religious or noble dissent in his heart. He will remember ...
1620-1621 the young king, who proved to be a good captain during his later campaigns, asserted his character and made himself popular with his people. In particular, he put an end to the religious exception in Béarn (then a Protestant state) and worked to make his trips to the provinces real political communication operations. His entries into cities are an opportunity for him to show himself as a sovereign both warrior and peacemaker, but above all as a vigilante, a role he enjoys. Of course, he does not miss an opportunity to make himself the bulwark of the people against the greed of the Great ...
Louis asserted himself all the more during this period as his favorite, the Duke of Luynes, died in 1621, before becoming as unpopular as Concini. The King is now free from this awkward friendship, a vestige of adolescence. However, the situation remains difficult for the son of Henri IV. Despite a certain tenderness for Anne of Austria, Louis maintains only distant relations with her. He hardly shows any taste for the pleasures of the flesh, certainly baffled by his inconclusive wedding night ...
As a result, the King still does not have an heir, which is an open door to various conspiracies. Especially since the Protestants have entered into rebellion and can count on the support of great aristocrats and foreign powers (England in particular). In view of this internal turmoil, the King cannot take advantage of the Thirty Years' War which began within the Holy Empire. The King is handicapped by the hesitant conduct of his principal ministers. Their incompetence will benefit Cardinal Richelieu who patiently knew how to advance his pawns and form a coherent political program.
Louis XIII and Richelieu, absolutism on the move
The cardinal joined the council of King Louis XIII in April 1624. Like the monarch, he was a supporter of firmness against the Great but also the Protestants. Both share the vision of a Catholicism regenerated by the Counter-Reformation, imbued with lively spirituality and combined with strong royal authority. Jealous of the independence of the kingdom, the king and the cardinal believe that they should not bear the cost of too much dependence on Rome and intend to compete with the Habsburgs. They both place themselves in the continuity of the last Valois and Henri IV! The implementation of this program will not be without difficulties. The internal war against the Protestants is fueled both by the insubordination of some Greats, but also by the support they receive from England. It was not until 1628 to see the citadel of La Rochelle capitulate.
The resulting peace treaty (Peace of Alès of 1629) although confirming the freedom of worship, suppresses the Protestant places of security, inheritance of the wars of religion. This is the first questioning of the Edict of Nantes, which will gradually be emptied of its substance. It is also the assertion of royal power, which tends to arrogate to itself control of military infrastructure.
Along with the clash with the Protestants Louis XIII and Richelieu had to face numerous plots and noble revolts. At the heart of these multiple conspiracies: the younger brother of King Gaston d'Orléans said Monsieur, and the Duchess of Chevreuse. Sir, do not miss an opportunity to cause trouble for his brother in order to further his cause heir apparent to the throne. The magnificent Duchess of Chevreuse, the first marriage wife of Luynes, then of a Duke of Lorraine, succeeds in setting Anne of Austria against the king. It must be said that the relations between the spouses have deteriorated. Louis does not know how to show his affection for his wife and the latter opposes her husband's anti-Spanish policy, going so far as to divulge military secrets to the Spanish court.
From 1626 to 1638 (date of the birth of the heir to the throne, the future Louis XIV), there were no less than half a dozen major plots that frequently led to armed revolts. They are indicative of a tense context fueled by the assertion of the authority of the royal state. Because during this period of 12 years what reforms for France! The king and the cardinal will rationalize and strengthen the administration, put an end to certain feudal survivals (including duels), develop the navy, trade and colonies, supervise cultural development ... This period prefigures the work in many ways. of Louis XIV and the emergence of a modern state.
In the exercise of power, the two men prove to be complementary. Where the King shows boldness and firmness, the cardinal uses prudence and flexibility. Richelieu knows better than anyone how to put the King's wishes into practice, giving them the substance and realism necessary for their success. The two men respect each other, respect each other, but a certain distance will persist between them, the result of their differences in character.
However, their association is a success amply demonstrated by the return of France to the European scene. Louis XIII, king of war, could not stay long away from the conflict ravaging the Holy Empire. The Thirty Years War is an opportunity for France to lower the power of the Habsburgs around it. Initially, the French were content to support the enemies of Vienna and Madrid, in particular Sweden.
In 1635 this "Cold War" ended when war broke out between France and Spain. It is a cruel and costly conflict. By virtue of their possessions of Franche-Comté, the Milanese and the Netherlands (present-day Belgium and part of present-day northern France) the Spaniards were able to strike on all French borders. The Habsburg troops can count on the support of many allies and on various betrayals. The first years are therefore difficult for the French arms. The King, who commands in person, spares no effort and thus worsens his already fragile state of health.
It was in this difficult context that Louis became a father. The birth of Louis Dieudonné (revealing first name) appears to be a miracle. In one of his great bouts of piety, so characteristic of his ardent faith, Louis even consecrated his kingdom to the Virgin Mary.
The following years saw the fate of the war turn to France's advantage, but neither Richelieu nor the King saw the end of it ...
Armand du Plessis died in December 1642, not without having taken care to find a successor in the person of another cardinal: Mazarin. As for Louis XIII, exhausted by warlike efforts, overwhelmed by illness, he passed away on May 14, 1643; 33 years to the day after the disappearance of his father ...
The reign of Louis XIII: what results?
France in 1643 paid heavily for the king's ambitious policy. The countryside, towns, commerce and productive activities have suffered from war and incessant revolts. Taxation is struggling to shoulder the military burden and just as much that of a still embryonic administration.
And yet the France of 1643 is well on its way to becoming the first European power of the Grand Siècle.
The kingdom was able to preserve its independence from the Habsburgs and even rid itself of the encirclement they placed on it. Spain and Austria are exhausted, declining ... Strategic territories (Artois, Roussillon, part of Alsace) have been conquered by French troops.
Inside, royal authority gradually came to the fore against the Greats, Protestants and various troublemakers. The unity of the kingdom has finally never been so advanced. Key development infrastructure and administrations have been strengthened. In the end, it is a modern monarchical state that emerges under Louis XIII.
It is true that this dark-looking, miserly, brooding king never attracted sympathy like his father, or shone as brightly as his son. Yet he was the last of the kings of France to be mourned by his people, who considered him worthy of his nickname: the Just.
- - M. Foisil, The child Louis XIII: the education of a king (1601-1617), Paris, 1996
- - C. Bouyer, The scepter and the purple, 2001
- - Hubert Méthivier and Pierre Thibault, Le Siècle de Louis XIII, 1994
- - Robert Merle, Fortune de France (volumes 8 to 12 of the cycle retrace the life of Louis XIII)
- - Jean-Christian Petitfils, Louis XIII, Perrin, 2008.