The death of Louis XIII (May 14, 1643)

The death of Louis XIII (May 14, 1643)

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On May 14, 1643, the famous formula " The king is dead, long live the king »Is pronounced in front of the remains of Louis XIII. But the king's last weeks were busy, because he had to think about his succession and baptize his heir. Already very ill, he left for the last time on February 15, 1643 in Versailles, during a supper offered to his brother Gaston after their reconciliation. He then returned to Saint Germain, to the Château Vieux to take to bed on the 21st, he hardly ever got up.

The succession of Louis XIII

Cardinal Mazarin is there, trying to consolidate his position in the Council, in order to promote Anne of Austria's accession to the Regency. The king, for his part, judged "the queen incapable of all her affairs and very passionate about her country, but he had little inclination for Monsieur". Parties formed around her, led by the Bishop of Beauvais and Loménie de Brienne against Gaston's party. We have to go as quickly as possible, time is running out ...

The king generally went to confession on March 19 and then was transported to Château Neuf, where the air was more breathable; on the 24th, he even resumed the rising ceremony, suspended in recent weeks because of serious illness.

On April 3, Louis XIII wanted to take a last walk in the corridors of the castle, supported on each side by M. Souvré, First gentleman of the room and by Charost, captain of the bodyguards, Dubois the valet de chambre follows with a chair. After a few steps the king is forced to sit down, far too tired.

On April 20, Louis XIII officially gathered around him his wife, his brother, Henri de Condé, the dukes and peers, the members of the Council as well as the great officers of the kingdom. He reads his decisions taken a few days earlier: Anne is Regent, but under supervision; Gaston appointed lieutenant of the kingdom and president of the Council of Regency, Mazarin obtains power over the Church; the decisions of the Council of Regency will be taken by a majority of the seven members, with the cardinal acting as arbiter.

The baptism of his heir

Recall that little Louis was only wrecked when he was born. The king awaiting a response from Pope Urban VIII that he wanted his godfather must now do without, he must change his views, because he does not really feel very well.

On April 21 the baptism takes place in the Gothic chapel of the Château Vieux. It is a short and simple ceremony due to the state of health of the king who is absent by the way. Little Louis wears a silver gauze dress, just passed over his ordinary clothes. The Bishop of Meaux officiates, in front of a large number of people from the royal family and the Court, accompanied by the godmother Charlotte de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, the last passion of Henri IV and of the godfather Cardinal Jules Mazarin. For this man, it is an incredible mark of honor because he "must serve as a father to the child if his natural father passes away."

The child baptized Louis Dieudonné shows great seriousness. Then accompanied by his godfather, he goes to his father to kiss him, who welcomes him in the queen's study, on the first floor of the Château Neuf. From his bed, he sees the towers of the Saint Denis basilica and says "here is where I will stay for a long time".

He awaits his end, the days passing interspersed with suffering and numerous visits, such as that of the Grande Mademoiselle or of Saint Vincent de Paul who both note the great piety of the king "the pious and generous sentiments of his soul gave edification; he spoke of death with a very Christian resolution… during his illness, I heard that he had set De Profundis to music which was sung in his death and he ordered with the same peace of mind what would be done for the sake of the administration of his kingdom when he died ”.

On April 22, the king who is seized with syncope calls for the queen and her children for a final blessing. The three of them have a hard time moving forward, it is so crowded. After her second syncope the next day, extreme unction was administered to her in front of the whole family: Gaston, Condé and Anne who wanted to stay with her husband, but who did not know to whom to entrust her children. The overexcited atmosphere disturbing Marshal de La Meilleraye, he summons additional guards; in turn, Gaston and Condé appeal to their supporters. Rumor has it that the royal children will be kidnapped on behalf of Gaston. Anne therefore entrusts their care to the Duke of Beaufort, a royal bastard who cannot claim any place in the Regency system. With his thin wit, he had the castle surrounded by soldiers: soon there were only armed people and the clatter of weapons ...

Fortunately the king comes to himself and immediately approves his wife for her instinct to protect children. Better, he gets up the next day and dines in public. But from that day on, the Queen moved into a room adjoining her husband's, watching over him, keeping night guards and warding off unwelcome visitors. Everything seems calm ...

The last days of the king

The king’s days were numbered, however: he coughed more and more, was subject to severe diarrhea and numerous ulcers. Despite the unbearable smells, the queen remains, and shows great dignity. The king with all his head, always very lucid, is "happy" with the presence of Anne, while continuing to rail against his doctors "who overwhelmed me with remedies which ruined my health", because these people there they wake him up with a great noise to administer an ineffective pharmacopoeia, composed among other things of ferruginous water from Forges.

On May 10, the king was at its worst "with his mouth open and his eyes completely turned", as little Louis Dieudonné observed.

On the 12th, he received Extreme Unction, Gaston was urgently recalled and with a burst of life, the king gathered his brother and his wife, asking them to always come to an understanding for the sake of the children and that of the kingdom. Condé, called to the king's bedside, thinks he is rambling when he tells him he sensed his son's victory in the army. During the day, he dictates his personal will, bequeathing his heart to the Jesuits' house, not wishing any ceremony for his funeral, distributing alms to the poor and asking for masses for the rest of his soul.

On the 13th, the king spends his day with his confessor, becomes worried, asks him about the judgment of the soul, saying "I have thoughts that torment me". During this night, the king is constantly asking what time it is.

On May 14, 1643, after mass, he called his doctor and inquired about his condition "I believe, Sire, that it will soon be that God will deliver Your Majesty from the penalties of this world". No more noise was heard, despite the crowd that filled the room. The king blesses his wife and children for the last time, he drinks a little milk for the last time, recites the prayer for the dying and pronounces the name of "Jesus" for the last time: he dies at a quarter past two, victim of Crohn's disease.

The king is dead, long live the king

The Queen did not attend the last moments and on hearing of the death of her husband, she feels as if her heart is being torn out, she is deeply saddened.

She joins her son and kneels first in front of her new king, but takes care to evacuate all the courtiers who have come running: as a mother, she wants to take advantage of this moment, alone facing Louis, her son!

On May 15, the queen left for Paris, followed by a procession of carriages and coaches, carrying the furniture and the royal family, surrounded by the soldiers of the king's household, the musketeers, the Hundred Suisses and an empty coach, the one of Louis XIII, pulled by his six favorite horses. After seven hours, the convoy arrives at the Louvre.

During this time, there is only one guest in Saint Germain: the king dressed in a camisole and wearing a nightcap, covered with a simple white sheet, without scepter or crown, watched over by a few officers. His body remained exposed for three days in the anteroom until an autopsy performed on May 18 by eighteen doctors and surgeons who noted complete deterioration of the viscera. The a posteriori diagnosis of the doctors is a "purulent peritonitis by perforation of the colon, after a severe inflammatory enterocolitis of the Crohn type".

On the 19th, after the embalming and the early morning De Profundis, the coffin was closed and placed on a large weapons cart, covered with a "pan of black velvet crossed with white satin". The convoy arrives in Saint Denis around ten o'clock in the evening, Louis XIII will be placed between the graves of Henri IV and Marie de Medici.


- Anne of Austria, by Claude Dulong. Folio history, 1985.

- Louis XIII, by Jean Christian Petitfils. Perrin, 2008.

- For the love of the child king, by Alain Gilles Minella. Perrin 2008.

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