The Italian Favourite
Louis xiii. was only nine years old when his father was so cruelly murdered. As he was too young to rule, his mother, Mary de Medici, became regent.
Sully, who had served Henry iv. so well, soon found that the regent did not wish his help to govern the kingdom.
Her favourites were two Italians, Concini and his wife Leonora. Concini the regent made Marquis of Ancre as well as a Marshal of France, and, proud of his title and position, Concini grew more and more insolent to the French nobles.
Sully watched the regent and her favourites wasting the treasures he had stored up in the Bastille for time of war, and showed his disapproval. But Concini resented his presence at court, and was so rude to the former minister that at length the duke went away and lived quietly in the country for the rest of his life.
But the nobles, led by the Prince of Condé, soon rebelled against the tyranny of Mary de Medici and her favourites.
Concini thought it was an easy matter to pacify these nobles by bribing them with large sums of money, and they, sad to tell, fell before the temptation, and were soon ready to agree to anything the regent cared to propose.
The nobles had, however, wrung from the marshal a promise that the States-General should meet. But this assembly, when it did meet in 1614, did little to help the troubles of the people, and is only famous because it was the last time the States-General met for one hundred and seventy-five years, and because among its members sat Armand du Plessis of Richelieu. This Annand du Plessis became in time Cardinal Richelieu, and was, in reality, king in all but name during the larger part of the reign of Louis xiii.
Two years after the meeting of the States-General the young king married Anne of Austria. This marriage had been arranged through the influence of Concini and was disliked by the nobles, who again rose in rebellion. The favourite was forced to buy peace this time with larger bribes than before. He also promised to reform his council, and into the new council Armand du Plessis was admitted. He was at this time Bishop of Lucon.
The young prelate had been trained as a soldier. But while he was still quite young he was offered a living if he would become a priest. Armand accepted the offer, and studied so diligently that when he was only twenty-one years of age he was made a bishop.
Armand was fond of splendour and display now, as well as when in after-years he became Cardinal Richelieu.
Unfortunately his see was in a small village, which he himself tells us was "the poorest and the nastiest in France."
Nevertheless the young bishop determined to enter Lucon in what he considered fitting style. He had no money to buy a coach, so he borrowed one, and a coachman and horses as well. Thus he was able to drive to his see as he thought a bishop should.
Poor as he was, he also made up his mind to buy a velvet bed. It was not new, but it cost less money for that reason, and being grand it satisfied Armand du Plessis.
In those early days, too, the bishop would not be content without silver dishes in his house, no fewer indeed than two dozen of "fair size" he must possess.
"I am a beggar, as you know," he wrote to a friend, "but at any rate when I have silver dishes my nobility will be considerably enhanced."
While Richelieu was settled at Lucon he often went to court, and month by month his influence over Mary de Medici increased, until by degrees it was the young bishop's strong hand that upheld her Italian favourites against the anger of the nobles and the hatred of the people.
Meanwhile the king was growing up. When he was sixteen he was no longer willing to be ruled by Concini. Yet the marshal, wishing to increase his influence with the lad, began to arrange his games and his walks. He even wished to choose Louis's companions, but to this the boy-king would not submit.
As Concini perhaps feared, Albert de Luynes, the king's falconer as well as his favourite, had no love for the marshal, and did all he could to encourage the king's dislike.
One day matters came to a crisis. Concini so far forgot himself that he kept on his hat in the king's presence as they played a game of billiards together, saying:
"I hope your Majesty will allow me to be covered." De Luynes, who was present, scowled at the man's insolence.
Louis pretended not to notice Concini's rudeness, but his anger was great, and de Luynes carefully fanned it, until the king was ready for anything that would rid him of the Italian.
So one day, with the king's consent, the captain of the guard, taking with him several of his officers, each with a pistol in his pocket, went to the Louvre, and, finding the marshal, took hold of him, saying, "Marquis, I have the king's orders to arrest you."
"Me," said the marquis, utterly unprepared for such a blow, and trying to shake himself free from the captain's grasp; but even as he struggled he was shot dead by the officers.
When de Luynes heard what had happened he hastened to the king and said, "Now are you truly King of France, Marshal de l'Ancre is dead."
Louis xiii. was too glad to be his own master to blame those who had killed Concini. Without delay he announced that now he would himself govern his kingdom, and the regent and her adviser Richelieu were sent away from court.
Albert de Luynes at once became the king's chief adviser. Louis bestowed upon his favourite the title of duke, and from this time until his death he was all-powerful, and did almost as he wished with the monarch.
It was not long before the duke was as bitterly disliked as Concini had been. In their hatred of de Luynes the nobles rallied round the queen-mother, and it seemed as though there would be civil war in the country. But the duke recalled Richelieu, who acted so wisely that he reconciled the regent and the nobles with the king, and for the time war was averted.
This reconciliation was not lasting. Before long the queen-mother's court was again the centre of plots against the king and his favourite.
Then Louis roused himself. With something of the spirit of his father, he marched at the head of his army against his mother and those who supported her.
Mary de Medici also assembled an army, and marched with it to meet her son. Her soldiers were untrained, and the king might easily have crushed the revolt had Luynes not persuaded him to treat with the rebels.
Again Richelieu was asked to make peace between Mary de Medici and her royal son, and again he was successful; so successful, indeed, that the mother and son who so lately had been in arms against each other, met and embraced.
"God bless me, my boy, how you are grown," said the queen.
"In order to be of more service to you, mother," gallantly answered the king.
But after this meeting Louis went back to Paris, the queen to Anjou, and thus there were still two courts. Some of the nobles were on the king's side, others on the side of the queen-mother.
Richelieu had long seen that while the king and his mother held separate courts the country would never be at peace, and he urged Mary de Medici to go to Paris. As for Louis, he was willing to receive his mother if she would forsake the nobles who were continually plotting against his throne.
So, owing largely to Richelieu's influence, in August 1620 Mary de Medici went to Paris, and the revolts of the nobles came to an end.
Luynes was now made Constable of France, although he was quite unfit to lead an army. Richelieu at the same time hoped to be rewarded for the help he had given to the king and the queen-mother.
His heart was set on becoming a cardinal, and the Pope was even now choosing ten of his clergy for this honour. Surely Mary de Medici and de Luynes would speak on his behalf.
The queen-mother did indeed write to the Pope, and so also did the duke, begging that the Bishop of Lucon should be one of the successful candidates.
But at the same time as the Pope received these letters, he also received one from the king, saying that he wished Richelieu still to remain a bishop.
This was the doing of the duke, who, afraid to refuse to use his influence on the bishop's behalf, was yet determined that Richelieu should not become too powerful. It was he who had persuaded the king to write to the Pope.
Louis himself was not anxious that the Bishop of Lucon should be promoted. He believed he understood Richelieu better than the queen-mother.
"I know him better than you, madame," he said to his mother, "he is a man of unbounded ambition," and in that the king was right.