Showing posts with label french. Show all posts
Showing posts with label french. Show all posts

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was one of the most eloquent 20th-century voices for religion in an increasingly secular world. As a distinguished paleontologist and a Jesuit priest, he tried to synthesize evolutionary science with the incarnation of Christ.

His ideas were new, speculative, and bold enough to figure into deliberations as diverse as the founding of the United Nations and the formulation of several Vatican Council documents. Even today his name is cited for a spiritual perspective on the convergence of human communication due to the Internet.

He was born in France into a devout Catholic family of 11 children in 1881. His father was an intellectual and a farmer, and his mother was a great-grand-niece of Voltaire. Teilhard’s father provided his son a keen interest in science, and his mother an inclination toward mysticism.

He received a top-notch Jesuit education and entered their novitiate aktivitas by 1899. By 1911 he was ordained a priest after doing assignments in England and Egypt. World War I interrupted further studies in geology, and he saw action on the front lines. His close calls with death prompted him to consider a more speculative approach to science.


After the war he brilliantly defended his doctorate at the Sorbonne in 1922. Soon thereafter he accepted the chair of the geology department at the Institut Catholique. From this platform he now began to publicize ideas about the synthesis of science and religion, and the resulting controversy cost him his license at the Institut and forced him abroad to do his research and study.

For almost the rest of his career he lived abroad, almost as in a self-imposed exile. Most of that time he spent in China (1926–46), and there he collaborated with the Chinese Geological Survey and helped to discover the Peking Man skull. He wrote his important books, The Divine Milieu and The Human Phenomenon, during these years.

For one brief time after World War II he returned to France, but the Jesuits refused to allow him to take an academic position lest he receive more critical scrutiny. He was banned from lecturing in public or publishing his writings. He decided to go to New York in 1951. Lonely and suffering, he died on Easter Sunday, 1955, and is buried in a Jesuit cemetery there.

From a scientific point of view it is difficult to establish the methodology and provability of Teilhard’s ideas. He has clearly advanced the fields of geology, stratigraphy, and paleontology, with a supreme competence in the areas of China and the Far East. However, his dominant interest and the source of his infamy was in "anthropogenesis", a new study focusing on the evolutionary position of humanity.

He proposed that evolution had entered a new phase with the emergence of humanity, whereby complexity and consciousness converged and spiritualized evolution. The selesai development of humanity he termed the "Omega Point", and he connected this perfection with Christ.

In 1962 the Catholic Church issued a warning against the uncritical acceptance of Teilhard’s theories, though it did not question his scientific contributions or his integrity of faith. The best way of categorizing his unsystematized though eloquent speculation is as process theology, or perhaps even as a form of Christian pantheism.

New France

New France
New France

Although arriving late to the European scramble for North America, France for a time claimed the largest portion of today’s United States and Canada, stretching from Newfoundland to Louisiana and including the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley. However, New France failed to attract a large population and, by 1750, France was near losing much of its territory to an ascendant British North America.

In 1524, Italian explorer Giovanni di Verrazano was hired by France’s King Francis I to find a passage through North America to Asia, a route that, after many nations failed to find this “Northwest Passage,” was eventually confirmed to be mythical.

However, Verrazano did bring back information about Atlantic coastal regions from Carolina to Nova Scotia. A decade later, seeking gold and the elusive sea passage to the Orient, Jacques Cartier, who may have been part of Verrazano’s expedition, commanded three voyages.

He sailed into the St. Lawrence River, planting a cross bearing the king’s coat of arms to claim a region that included sites that became Québec and Montreal. Returning in 1541, Cartier and his crew established the tiny and short-lived colony of Charlesbourg-Royal, near Montreal, causing tension with the Iroquois and other local tribes.

Scurvy and fierce winter weather soon ended the colonial experiment. After a series of exploratory trips, Cartier returned to France carrying what he believed were gold and diamonds; his booty proved to be iron pyrite (fools’ gold) and common quartz.

Although Crown-sanctioned explorations faded after Cartiers’s inauspicious akibat voyage, fishermen from France (and many other European countries) maintained a robust presence in North America as did traders in furs who dealt with local native tribes. It was these opportunities that reawakened French interest in North America.

New France Beginnings

Samuel de Champlain was a map maker employed by a fur-trading company, not a military man, but his leadership abilities during renewed French explorations in the early 1600s made him New France’s “father” and its first governor. In 1608, Champlain and his associates chose a location on the St. Lawrence River at Québec as their fur-trading settlement.

Champlain forged alliances with many Indian tribes, including the Huron of the Great Lakes, and also championed the idea of more permanent French settlement along the St. Lawrence. In 1633, two years before his death, Champlain was appointed New France’s governor by Cardinal Richelieu, top minister to King Louis XIII.

Eastern Canada was not the only focus of French interest in North America. As fur traders penetrated deeper into the continent in search of the best pelts and cooperative native suppliers, their efforts led to further exploration and land claims.

In 1673, Canadian-born Louis Jolliet and French Jesuit missionary Père Jacques Marquette used information from natives to trace the oceanward course of the Mississippi River in hopes, soon dashed, that it flowed into the Pacific Ocean.

Father Marquette, who was a missionary to tribes in what is now Michigan, died soon after this exhausting expedition on the banks of a river later named the Père Marquette in his honor. Jolliet, who had early on given up the priesthood for fur trading, later explored Hudson Bay and mapped the Labrador coast.

Four years after this Mississippi expedition, French-born René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de LaSalle, who had relocated to New France in 1667, pushed French territorial claims yet further. Arriving at the huge river’s mouth in 1682, LaSalle claimed the vast Mississippi Valley for France, naming this territory Louisiana, for King Louis XIV.

LaSalle’s ambitions, fueled by greed and possible mental illness, did not stop there. Promising to claim Spanish Mexico for France, the adventurer ran out of supplies and was murdered in 1687 by his own hungry men.

Born into a wealthy Montreal family, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville in 1701 became acting governor of France’s new southern claims and for 40 years fought to keep his small French colony safe amid Indian, Spanish, and British hostility. In 1718, Bienville spearheaded the creation of New Orleans as an administrative center and port.

Unlike the British in their early colonial years, France did not have excess population at home and provided little incentive for its citizens to brave a stormy Atlantic and face a harsh climate and often-hostile Native population in the New World.

Early on, the tiny French presence in Canada was 80 percent male and consisted mainly of fishermen, fur traders, and Franciscan and Jesuits priests. Known by the Indians as the “Black Robes,” the priests intended to convert Indians to Catholicism.

An early religious mission, called Sainte-Marie, among the Hurons, was built in 1615. Located on Ontario’s Wye River, by 1639, it was home base for 13 priests. When fighting broke out in 1648 between the Huron and their Iroquois enemies, the priests set fire to their mission, fearing its desecration.

From 1627 to 1663, a centralized commercial company created by Cardinal Richelieu struggled to squeeze profits out of New France, succeeding only with furs. There were barely 3,000 colonists in 1663, when King Louis XIV intervened, making New France an official French province.

Troops were sent to protect settlements with fortifications, and to project French power to native tribes and European rivals. A royal shipment of 850 prospective brides, known as filles du roi, or “the king’s young women,” helped to stabilize the colony and assure natural increase in its population. By 1700, New France had 19,000 white inhabitants.

Under this new regime, St. Lawrence River estates were set aside for nobles and military officers. A near-feudal setup, it was called the seigneurial system. New France’s habitants, or ordinary settlers, mostly farmed land owned by some two hundred seigneuries granted by the Crown. This tenant farming system of rents and allotments outlasted French control (and the French monarchy), surviving into the 19th century.

Although agriculture would occupy the energies of the great majority of French Canadians, the voyageurs—fur traders who traveled to French outposts like Detroit (founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac) and Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin)—had a more romantic image.

Generally, voyageurs were licensed by the authorities; their rivals were the socalled coureurs de bois, unlicensed traders who aggressively explored the farthest reaches of French America, including New Orleans, in pursuit of valuable furs, especially beaver pelts, and markets for their animal skins and other goods.

Challenges to French

Compared to the British and Spanish in this era, French colonists treated Native Americans with great respect. Friendly relations with local Indian tribes were crucial to French success in the fur trade; colonists were also well aware that their numbers were too small to deter major attacks. From the Indian viewpoint, the fact that Frenchmen were not arriving in huge numbers assured some tribal leaders that they could coexist with these interlopers.

On the other hand, good intentions on both sides did little to spare the Indians from deadly smallpox and other European diseases. Jesuit pressure on Indians to adopt Catholicism, along with European clothing and behavior, although attracting quite a few converts, was generally met with suspicion. There was a significant level of intermarriage, mostly between French men and Indian women, creating a group known as Métis.

The Huron and other Great Lakes and eastern tribes began forging strong alliances with the French in 1615, but wars with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, allies of Britain, punctuated the history of New France.

New France’s huge landholdings were a noose that encircled Britain’s Atlantic Seaboard colonies, leading to a number of altercations between the two European superpowers, both at home and in North America.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that ended the 12-year-long War of the Spanish Succession gave Britain dominion over a large sector of eastern French Canada including the rich agricultural lands of Acadia and destroyed much of France’s overseas trade.

By the time war again broke out in 1754, the population of British North America was 20 times larger than New France’s and France’s grip on North America was near its end. When French emperor Napoleon I sold Louisiana to the new United States in 1803, New France was a memory, although its French Canadian and Cajun cultures would survive and flourish.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne - French Philosopher

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

The French nobleman Michel de Montaigne was the inventor of the modern form of the personal essay and the greatest exponent of philosophical skepticism in the 16th century. His father was a rural landowner and his mother a descendant of Spanish Jews who had converted to Christianity.

His father ensured that Montaigne received a good humanist education; his tutor was directed to speak nothing but Latin to him until he reached the age of six. Montaigne was educated in the law and as an adult served in the parlement, or law court, of Bordeaux and was mayor of Bordeaux from 1581 to 1585.

The first two volumes of his essays were published in 1580, followed by a complete revised edition of three books in 1588. A third, posthumous edition with further revisions was published in 1595, and his personal journal of a trip through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy in 1580 and 1581 was published in 1774.

Montaigne is responsible for introducing the word essay, originally essai, meaning “attempt.” Unlike Sir Francis Bacon, who was greatly influenced by Montaigne as an essayist, Montaigne saw self-knowledge as a goal and dwelled on his personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences in addition to drawing from his extensive reading. Montaigne was utterly at home in the classics but wrote his essays in French. (His work has also influenced the development of the French philosophical vocabulary.)

As a skeptic, Montaigne’s motto was Que sais-je? (What do I know?). He followed the tradition of classical skeptics like the ancient Greek philosopher Roman philosophers.

As a skeptic, he held that people should be even-tempered, tolerant, and not overly invested in their opinions. Montaigne’s skepticism was also informed by the growing knowledge of foreign cultures in 16th century Europe. This knowledge led him to doubt the intrinsic superiority of his own culture.

One of his most famous essays, “On Cannibals,” is about the contrast between some Native Americans who had been brought to France and French society and suggests that the “savage” custom of eating a man after he is dead is not worse, and perhaps better, than the European practices of torturing or burning people alive for their religious opinions.

Montaigne’s longest essay, “Apology for Raymond Sebond,” is devoted to a 15th_century Spanish theologian, the author of Natural Theology, which Montaigne had read on the advice of his father. Montaigne published a translation of Sebond’s work from Latin to French in 1569.

Sebond believed that, with a proper attitude toward the Catholic faith, the knowledge of God was attainable through reason. Montaigne doubted this thesis and suggested that there are many things about the world that the human intellect is simply inadequate to understand.

Montaigne’s travels were inspired by curiosity and the pain he suffered from kidney stones and hoped to relieve in foreign spas. The journal focuses on the six months he spent in Rome. Montaigne wrote the account of his Roman stay in Italian, as he believed that one of the best ways of understanding a foreign culture was learning and using its language.

Montaigne was particularly interested in ancient monuments and other reminders of the classical Romans including place names and festivals. He was less interested in the art and culture of the contemporary Italian Renaissance.

A Catholic, Montaigne took a politique stand in the French Wars of Religion, emphasizing the importance of civil peace and national unity over religious uniformity. He was a friend and correspondent of Henri of Navarre, the leader of the Protestant faction who after Montaigne’s death converted to Catholicism and became the tolerant Henry IV, king of France and Navarre.

Despite Montaigne’s skepticism, moderation, and occasional sympathy with Protestantism, he had little trouble with the Catholic Church, perhaps because his skepticism could be turned to Catholic ends by suggesting that faith in the authority of the church was the only source of certainty. His writings were not put on the Church’s Index of Forbidden Books until 1676, and he was invited to write Catholic polemic.

Montaigne’s works were extraordinarily popular and influential, both in the original French and in the English translation by John Florio, published in 1603. William Shakespeare was among those who read Montaigne in Florio’s translation, and signs of the Frenchman’s influence can be found in Shakespeare’s later plays.

Although Montaigne’s use of French rather than Latin and of the new essay form rather than traditional philosophical genres such as the treatise or dialogue limited his effect on the community of the learned, his friend and disciple the priest Pierre Charron put forth Montaigne’s skepticism in a more systematic form aimed at refuting Protestants and atheists.

Mary Tudor (Mary of France)

Mary Tudor was born in 1496, nine years after her father, Henry VII, had become king of England by defeating Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Mary Tudor is often confused with Mary I, who was queen of England from 1553 to 1558, and with Mary, Queen of Scots. However, Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, would be queen in her own right.

Mary was born in the age of great dynastic marriages when a king contracted for marriage of his daughter to benefit his kingdom. Mary was at first intended to wed Charles of Anjou, who would later become Charles V, the most powerful European monarch of his time.

The contract, originally made by Henry VII, was renewed on the October 17, 1513, by Henry VIII at a meeting with Margaret of Savoy at Lille, with the wedding being set for the following year.

But the Emperor Maximilian I, to whom Louis XII had proposed his daughter Renée as wife for Charles, with Brittany as a dowry, postponed the match with the English princess in a way that left no doubt of his intention to withdraw from the contract altogether.

Henry VIII succeeded to the throne when Henry VII died in April 1509. When it came time to renew the marriage agreement with Charles of Anjou, it was King Henry VIII who did so. With the customary determination of his younger years, Henry decided to invade France in June 1513 as a forceful demonstration of English might.

Henry joined the Holy League against France and went to war. While he was involved in France, his brother-in-law James IV of Scotland, who was married to his sister, Margaret Tudor, invaded the north of England. However, Henry had left the capable Thomas Howard to face any threat from Scotland. James IV was defeated and killed at Flodden on September 9, 1513.

The victories at the Spurs and Flodden made both France and the Holy Roman Emperor reconsider the marriage plans of Mary Tudor. Obviously, Henry had proved it was not wise to have him as an enemy. A diplomatic settlement was reached.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey contracted for Mary to wed King Louis XII. His queen, Anne of Brittany, had died in 1514, making him a desirable spouse for Mary. The two were wed on January 1, 1515, but Louis XII died three months later.

Mary had developed an intense love for Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. His marriage to Margaret Neville Mortimer had been annulled, and his second wife, Anne Browne, died in 1512. At the time of the Battle of the Spurs, he was engaged to an orphan girl.

Henry VIII knew about the love between Charles and Mary. Moreover, Francis I learned of it when Mary told him of her true feelings when he attempted to marry her off to one of his relatives. As Louis XII’s widow, Mary had become a valuable diplomatic asset to Henry again, and she feared that he might try to marry her to another royal suitor.

Mary was determined she and Charles would not be parted. In February 1515, they were married in Cluny Chapel in France. In May 1515, as a mark of royal favor, the couple was wed a second time in England; Henry VIII and his queen, Catherine of Aragon, were the guests of honor. For the time, peace between France and England was maintained. Mary Tudor died on June 26, 1533.

Marie-Thérèse of Austria

Marie-Thérèse’s role as the queen of France and the wife of King Louis XIV was a precarious one, as she was used by the Spanish branch of the Habsburg dynasty to secure peace with France in the 17th century.

King Philip IV of Spain and Elisabeth of France welcomed the birth of their daughter Marie on September 10, 1638. The ambitions of Cardinal Jules Mazarin and Anne of Austria, the mother of King Louis XIV, to link the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family extend back to 1646.

These two individuals wanted to create a marriage union between Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse to stabilize relations between the French and Spanish governments as these two countries had been at war since 1635.

There were complications with the proposed marriage between the two families because the Spanish Habsburg family did not want to give the Bourbon dynasty an opportunity to inherit any part of the Spanish Empire.

The Spanish court was also reluctant to allow the proposed marriage for it feared that the offspring of this union would create instability within the Spanish empire for rival claimants might seek to acquire various parts of the empire.

The anxiety of the Spanish court over this proposed marriage was relieved by the fact that Mariana of Austria, Philip IV’s second wife, gave birth to a son named Philip Prospero in 1657. Despite the fact that infant mortality rates were high in the 17th century, the birth of this son made Philip IV more agreeable to the marriage between Marie and Louis XIV. The marriage contract between Marie and Louis XIV was completed when the Treaty of the Pyrenees was finalized in 1659, and the two were married in June 1660.

In accordance with the marriage contract, Marie abandoned any territorial claim she possessed to the Spanish Empire, and the Habsburg family had to provide 500,000 gold escudos for Marie’s dowry. Because of the financial weakness of the Spanish Empire, the Habsburg family could not pull together enough funds for the dowry. Despite the fact that Marie renounced her claims to the Spanish Empire, she was unable to do this on the part of her offspring, which Mazarin knew at the time of the wedding.

Mazarin also intended to use the inability of the Spanish government to pay the dowry as an excuse to ignore the fact that Marie renounced her inheritance to parts of the Spanish Empire. The French government used the failure of the Spanish government to pay the dowry as a justification to attack the Spanish Netherlands in 1667, resulting in the War of Devolution.

Marie was a devout woman who believed it was her responsibility to marry Louis XIV and to provide him with offspring to succeed him. Marie fulfilled these obligations to Louis XIV by providing him with a number of children, but only their son Louis survived into adulthood. She often prayed and had great admiration for priests but was also concerned for the Catholic religious community.

Despite this extreme faith in her religion, she failed to possess a strong influence in the French government, probably as a result of her lack of education and her poor relationship with her husband. Marie’s relationship with Louis XIV was a strenuous one, but she continued to be loyal to him and fulfilled her obligations as a wife and queen.

Marie did exercise some influence over the French court as regent in 1672 when Louis XIV was fighting in Holland, but this was for a short period. Louis XIV had several mistresses, a well-known fact in the French court. Marie learned of many of these relationships, but it usually took time before she was made privy to this information.

Despite the fact that Marie had no major influence at the French court, her death on July 30, 1683, was properly mourned in France as she was given a state funeral. There is some degree of speculation that Marie might have been poisoned, but there is no firm evidence to support this claim.

Marie’s funerary rites possessed similarities to the funerary rites observed by Egyptian pharaohs, as her heart was removed from her body, placed in a silver box, and deposited in a chapel situated at Val-de-Grâce, while her intestines were also removed from her body and deposited in an urn.

Louis XV

Louis XV
Louis XV
When Louis XIV died in 1715, his great-grandson and heir Louis XV was five years old. The child king’s regent was Philippe II, duc d’Orléans, related to the royal Bourbon dynasty. Philippe II, in the period of French history often called “the Regency,” became known for a sensational lifestyle.

The duke, famous for his sensual appetite, resigned his regency in 1723 largely because of the adverse publicity brought about by his lifestyle that was in effect funded by the French people. He died later that year.

Philippe II’s downfall was followed by that of the financial network set up in France by the Scottish economist John Law. Philippe II had employed Law to help the French economy, which had suffered severely from the almost incessant wars of Louis XIV.

Law’s note-issuing bank was a spectacular success, until it collapsed after a bank run in 1720, plunging France and Europe into a severe economic crisis that contributed to the French Revolution. John Law was exiled from France.

Had Louis XV followed a more conservative fiscal policy, the revolution might have been delayed, or averted. However, with dire consequences, Louis XV’s reign was marked by the same disastrous spending on maintaining France’s position in Europe as the reign of Louis XIV.

With the resignation of Orléans, catastrophe was averted by the appointment of Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, who essentially served as the king’s first minister. Louis XV left most of the government of France to Cardinal Fleury.

Fleury stabilized France’s currency, built roads, expanded the reach of the merchant marine, and stimulated the economy. He set his sights on peace, although the War of the Polish Succession was unavoidable because of Louis XV’s marriage to Marie Leszcynska, a member of Polish royalty.

Although Cardinal Fleury attempted to make the kingdom more fiscally responsible, the dynastic wars of Europe continued to drain the French treasury, as they had during the reign of King Louis XIV. Indeed, during the reign of King Louis XV, two of the largest wars in French history, the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War, took place.

These wars would be global conflicts, because not only were France and England combatants in Europe, but the fighting spread to overseas colonies. The War of the Austrian Succession highlighted the rise of Maurice de Saxe to French command; he had joined the French army in 1720. De Saxe was a son of King Augustus II of Poland.

The kala of Maurice de Saxe marked the apogee of the reign of King Louis XV. With the death of Cardinal Fleury during the war in 1743, Louis XV lost his most important minister. He sought to govern on his own but lacked the abilities to do so.

Too much influence was given to his mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. At the same time, unchecked by the king, corruption worked to sap the strength and morale of the army.

In 1756, in a move at least partly attributed to Madame de Pompadour’s influence, Louis XV embarked on what has become known as the diplomatic revolution of the 18th century. Orchestrated by Maria Theresa’s foreign minister von Kaunitz, the diplomatic revolution saw the alliance of France, the Holy Roman Empire (of which Austria-Hungary was the most important part), and Russia.

With Frederick the Great of Prussia occupied with the Russians and Austrians, in the fall of 1757, Louis XV sent a French army under Marshal Soubise to attack Frederick from the rear. Unfortunately, Soubise, a product of the favoritism now governing France, proved no match for Frederick.

Then on August 1, 1759, a French army commanded by the marquis de Contades suffered a serious defeat at the hands of a British, Hanoverian, and Prussian army led by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Contades was only saved a near-rout like Soubise’s because Sir George Sackville, through cowardice or incompetence, refused to charge the enemy with his cavalry squadrons.

While the war was going badly for Louis XV in Europe, it was worse overseas. British prime minister William Pitt had set as his goal the destruction of France’s colonies. The war began in 1754 with a skirmish in North America where George Washington made his first appearance in command against forces from New France (Canada). In North America, the conflict became known as the French and Indian wars.

In 1760 the French finally surrendered to Jeffrey, Lord Amherst at Montreal. In India, the British East India Company, supported by regular British troops, fought its own struggle with the French Compangnie des Indes, buttressed by French troops sent from France to support it. Yet, in India too, the balance of power tipped in favor of the British.

In February 1763, the Seven Years’ War was brought to an end for England and France by the Treaty of Paris, by which France relinquished its claims on New France. France, however, retained its islands in the French West Indies which, because of their great production of sugar, the French government valued more than New France. The end of the war found the reputation of French arms, raised to new heights by Maurice de Saxe, at its lowest point in the century. Financially, the years of war were a calamity for France.

Efforts to reform the financial system of France proved frustrated by opposition, and Louis XV lacked the personal determination to force them through opposition. Although the last decade of Louis XV’s reign passed in relative peace, it was only the quiet before the storm. Only 15 years after his death, the French Revolution destroyed the monarchy.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV
Louis XIV
Louis XIV was born in 1638, the son of King Louis XIII and his wife, Anne of Austria, from the Habsburg dynasty. Anne served as regent until Louis XIV began to govern in his own name in 1651.

However, he was carefully guided by Cardinal Jules Mazarin, who had been the protégé of Cardinal Richelieu. Anne’s loveless marriage to Louis XIII fueled the rumor that Louis XIV’s father was actually Jules Mazarin, with whom the love-starved Anne shared a romance.

As he settled into his reign, he increased the size of his bureaucracy. To fill expanding government positions, Louis XIV turned toward the middle class. These men, rather than owing their positions to ancestral power, were truly “the king’s men”; everything they gained was from the king, and they knew the king could take it away if he became displeased with their service.

Louis XIV began construction outside Paris of his Palace of Versailles, which earned him the name “Sun King.” This not only was a reflection of his wealth and power, but also served to provide distance from the danger of rebellious Paris mobs.

The palace itself and its grounds are huge. Under the scepter of the Sun King, Versailles became the cultural capital of Europe. Among many creative personalities stimulated by the cultural atmosphere was the playwright Molière, who, in October 1658, staged his first royal performance before the king.

Absolutist Policies

Louis XIV continued pursuing the absolutist policies of Richelieu and Mazarin. In domestic affairs, Jean-Baptiste Colbert assured a steady and reliable system of finance for the king, while overseeing spending by the various departments of the French government’s budgets.

Colbert also became the father of the French navy, establishing a fleet of the best-designed warships in the world, a distinction they would hold until the Napoleonic Wars. What Colbert did for the French navy, Michel Le Tellier, and his son Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois, did for the French army. The combined efforts of these men gave France military might.

In one of the last state acts before he died, Mazarin negotiated peace between France and Habsburg Spain. However, eight years later, Louis XIV began a series of wars that consumed most of the rest of his reign, and the royal treasury.

When Philip IV of Spain died, territory in the Spanish Netherlands was ceded to Charles II of Spain and not to Louis XIV’s wife, Marie-Thérèse, who was Charles’s half sister. Louis XIV went to war in 1667 under a claim for the territory in the Spanish Netherlands. Once again, Spain and France were at war.

The Dutch feared that Louis XIV could easily lay claim to Holland, because it too had once been ruled by Spain. In 1668, the Dutch formed the defensive Triple Alliance with England and Sweden against Louis XIV. But Charles II of England signed a separate peace with Louis XIV in 1670 guaranteeing Charles a secret subsidy, which freed him from dependence on the money annually voted him by the British parliament.

In 1672, Louis XIV and Charles smashed into the Dutch United Provinces in one of the most devastating invasions in European history. Although Charles left the war in 1674, Louis XIV continued until 1678. He gained more territory in Spanish Netherlands and the strategic border region of the Franche-Comte but was still not satisfied with his territorial enlargement.

Edict of Nantes Revoked

A decade of peace followed, in which Louis continued to assert his royal power both in France and in its colonies. In 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted religious toleration to the Huguenots; this caused thousands of them to flee.

Consequently, the Huguenots and their children became some of France’s most bitter enemies during the wars of the 18th century. Since Jansenist (a sect of the Roman Catholic Church) ideas bore some resemblance to Calvinism, Louis waged war against the Jansenists, even closing their spiritual center, the Abbey of Port-Royal.

In 1688, the diplomatic balance of power in Europe suddenly shifted against Louis XIV. His ally, Charles II of England, had died in 1685 to be succeeded by his Catholic brother, James II. James’s religious stance brought on the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

James was forced to flee, to be supplanted by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, the stadtholder of the Dutch Netherlands, who had come to power as a result of Louis’s Dutch War.

William in the same year brought England into the League of Augsburg with the Dutch Netherlands, then known as the United Provinces, the Holy Roman Empire, and other European powers. With England now part of the coalition to frustrate Louis XIV’s European ambitions, the War of the Grand Alliance broke out in 1688; it would continue until 1697.

A major series of battles was fought in Europe, but Louis XIV neglected to support James II fully when James II attempted to regain his English throne in 1688. A victory by James could have removed William from the throne, thus taking the most relentless adversary out of the coalition. However, the death of Charles II of Spain led Louis XIV to pursue seeing his grandson become King Philip V of Spain.

Louis succeeded, only to wreck his diplomatic triumph by decreeing in 1701 that the future rights of Philip and his line were to go to the French Crown. The prospect of a French-Spanish union was something the other powers in Europe could never accept, and the War of the Spanish Succession broke out.

The war devastated both Europe and the European colonies until 1713. Two years later, in September 1715, Louis XIV died. Although he had lived to see his ultimate diplomatic triumph, his Bourbon grandson Philip on the throne of Spain, the cost of his wars had inflicted such a toll that the royal treasury never really could recover before the French Revolution swept the monarchy away entirely in 1789.

Louis XI

Louis XI
Louis XI
Louis XI, son of Charles VII, was a king of France from the Valois dynasty that had replaced the Capetian dynasty a century earlier. A schemer whose reputation in history was solidified when Sir Walter Scott condemned him a century later, Louis was nicknamed “the Spider King” for his weaving of webs of intrigue. At age 16, he tried to overthrow his father, Charles VII.

The so-called Praguerie—Prague had been the site of similar uprisings—was the second such led by the duke of Bourbon, as the nobility sought to remove Charles from power and replace him with Louis, in response to Charles’s limits on noble power and reforms increasing the power of the monarchy. When the revolt failed, the major participants, including Louis, were forgiven after their surrender and submission.

Six years later, Louis was sent to the province of Dauphine to govern and never saw his father again. They continued to plot against each other, and Charles even sent soldiers to retrieve Louis in 1456, but the prince was given shelter by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. Charles died five years later, and Louis succeeded him at the age of 38.

Two Charleses—Louis’s brother the duke of Berry and Normandy, and Philip’s son Charles the Bold—led a revolution against Louis, each motivated by the desire to expedite his inheritances and seeking Louis’s removal in the name of breaking down the centralized authority of the French monarchy. Like Louis’s rebellion against his father, it was unsuccessful—and like the aftermath of that rebellion, the participants were forgiven after submitting to the king’s authority.

Louis was the king of France during England’s Wars of the Roses, and since the rebel Charles the Bold was an ally of the Yorkists, Louis supported the Lancastrians, even manipulating events in order to force France’s Yorkist king Edward IV into exile.

When Edward was restored to power, Louis prevented his planned retaliatory invasion of France by relinquishing any French claim to the English throne—which became another bone of contention between the king and the nobility. When Louis finally decisively defeated Charles, there were no pardons this time—the rebel was killed in battle and many of his noble supporters executed.

Louis strengthened the monarchy, further limiting the powers of the nobility even as he granted more power to common-born merchants. Though he was poorly remembered, France prospered under him—prosperity it lost under the reign of his son, Charles VIII, a pleasant-natured man called Charles the Affable whose bumbling led to mounting debts, ill-considered wars, and treaties that put the kingdom at severe disadvantage as the Middle Ages waned.

The Fronde

Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine (1652) by the walls of the Bastille, Paris
Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine (1652) by the walls of the Bastille, Paris

The Fronde (1648–53) was a civil war that took place in France during the abad of Louis XIV. Although not a particularly unified movement, the Fronde was nevertheless a protest against both the power of the Crown and the perceived loss of privilege.

The term fronde came from the word signifying a child’s slingshot, and a game whereby children would fling stones at the nobility. The term frondeur soon meant a person who believed in limiting monarchial power, or one who simply speaks out against the current government.

Louis XIV was barely 10 years old when the revolt erupted. The Fronde itself was not directed against the boy king; rather, it was directed mostly against the policies of Cardinal Mazarin and Louis’s mother, Anne of Austria, who were at the time ruling France until Louis would come of age to rule on his own.

By the time Louis XIV was born, France was in serious financial difficulties. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) placed extreme demands upon the French treasury. Mazarin resorted to several tactics to raise money, including increasing taxes, selling government offices, and forcing creditors to make government loans.

The Three Estates

Society in prerevolutionary France was divided up into the Three Estates. In the first estate was the clergy, followed by the nobility in the second. Whoever was not in the first two was clearly in the third, which was the bulk of the population. While the struggle for power and authority may have caused the first two estates to hate each other intensely, they would always band together to block any attempts by the third to assert themselves.

But the third estate was beginning to make strides toward improving their lot. With the discovery of the New World, and improved methods of sea travel, international trade improved the economy of Europe. Many people who were not part of the third estate tapped into the opportunities and often amassed personal fortunes greater than that of the nobility, and thus a new middle class was born.

Cardinal Mazarin
Cardinal Mazarin

This new middle class often loaned money to kings and nobles alike, often to finance wars or expeditions. But with that came another demand from the middle classes—political power. Mazarin was happy to provide these offices, much to the chagrin of the nobility, who believed such power was reserved to them.

In May 1648, judicial officers of the parlement, a high court, were taxed. The officers met with Mazarin, refusing to pay. The officers presented Mazarin with a list of demands, which were constitutional reforms, including giving them the power to approve any new taxes. Not to be bullied, Mazarin had the leaders of the parlements arrested.

Open revolt broke out in Paris in August. Since the army was engaged elsewhere, there was little choice but to release those arrested, along with an empty promise to enact reforms. As soon as this was done, Mazarin and the court fled Paris in October, taking the young Louis with them.

Upon the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, ending the Thirty Years’ War, the army returned to Paris and began to fight the insurgents. Both the middle and lower classes joined in the struggle, also unhappy with the rate of taxation. But the movement was anything but unified.

Throughout France, various armies were formed by local city government units, such as parlements and councils, and by social groups such as the nobility. Many of these armies fought against the Crown, while other armies fought against each other.

The army began a siege of Paris by January 1649, but the number of casualties was small. By March, the Peace of Rueil was signed, which would last only until the end of the year. The battles and intrigue, however, did not cease. Princes and nobles alike still conspired to unseat Mazarin and gain more power for themselves.

In January 1650, Mazarin arrested three such leaders and then turned to the army to suppress any remaining rebellion throughout the kingdom. In 1651, the prisoners were released, and the royal army managed to quell the rest of the minor revolts.

Eventually, the royal court returned to Paris. Frondeurs continued to fight, although against each other, and with the royal army. Some frondeurs fashioned their own government in Paris in 1652, and Mazarin, feeling pressure from outside, once again left France.

Constant infighting among the frondeurs doomed the movement, and Louis XIV was allowed to reenter Paris in October 1652. By the next year, Mazarin returned to France, and with that, the Fronde was officially over. But long term Louis XIV never trusted nobility, and upon ascending the throne, he ruled as an absolute monarch.

While he may have utilized the skills of advisers, he ruled without a minister or the Estates General. Furthermore, remembering Paris as a place of violent revolt, he built the palace of Versailles, at tremendous cost to the country, and moved the seat of government there.