The Age of Louis XIV - Richelieu and Mazarin

The first part of the reign of the weak Louis XIII, who only numbered nine years at the time of his father's murder, was full of mischief for France. During the time the queen-mother, Mary of Medicis, conducted the government, Italian favorites exerted a great influence upon affairs, enriched themselves at the expense of the French, and irritated the pride of the nation by their insolence. Enraged at this, the nobility took up arms, and filled the country with rebellion and the tumult of war. When at length Louis XIII himself, upon coming of age, assumed the government, he indeed consented that the foreign favorites should be removed by murder and execution, and banished his mother from the court; but the people gained little by it. The new favorites in whom the king, who possessed no self-reliance, reposed his confidence, were not distinguished from the former either by virtue or talents; for this reason, both the nobles of the kingdom and the Huguenots, who felt themselves injured in their rights, again rose against the 'government, and threw the land into fresh confusion. This melancholy condition of affairs was only put an end to when Cardinal Richelieu was admitted into the state council, and introduced a complete change of system, (A. D. 1624.)

This great statesman maintained an almost absolute sway in the court and in the kingdom for nearly eighteen years, though the king never loved him, the queen and the nobility were constantly attempting his overthrow, and a succession of cabals and conspiracies were plotted against him. The greatness of his mind triumphed over all obstacles. Richelieu's efforts were directed towards the extension and rounding of the French territory without, and the increasing and strengthening of the royal power within. In furtherance of the former of these objects, he sought to weaken the house of Hapsburg, and for this purpose entered into alliances with the enemies of the emperor not only in Germany, in the time of the Thirty Years' War, but in Italy and other places; and, to attain his aims in regard to the latter object, he neglected to call together the estates of the kingdom, broke the power of the nobility and of the independent officials and judges in the parliament, and attacked the Huguenots, who had formed an almost independent alliance in the south and west of France, with their own fortresses, and an effective militia, and great privileges. After conquering the most important of the Huguenot towns (Nismes, Montauban, Montpellier), and destroying their fortifications, in three wars, and when he had at length taken Rochelle, the bulwark of the Calvinists, after a siege of fourteen months, he proceeded to deprive the Protestants of their political privileges and of their independent position, but granted them, by the Edict of Nismes, liberty of conscience and equal rights with Catholic subjects. The turbulent nobles had been deprived of their greatest support by the disarming of the Huguenots, and the war could now be prosecuted against them with success. The most daring were got rid of by banishment and the executioner. Even the queen-mother and her second son, and the duke of Orleans, who attempted to procure the fall of Richelieu, were compelled to leave the country, and the confidential friend of the latter, Henry, duke of Montmorency, a scion of one of the most renowned families of France, died at Toulouse by the hand of the executioner. A similar fate awaited the count of Cinq-Mars and his friend, De Thou, a few years later, when in conjunction with the queen and some of the nobles, they formed a conspiracy against the mighty cardinal. The parliament, the upper tax-offices and courts of justice, which, like the kin g , claimed an independent authority on account of their offices being hereditary, were weakened by the establishment of extraordinary courts and higher officers, who were dependent upon the minister.