Louis XIV Persecutes the Huguenots
General Tubenne was dead; the Prince of Condé had retired from the army. Yet although Louis had lost his two great generals, he determined again to make war on Holland.
The new commander of the French army was the Duke of Luxemburg, who defeated William of Orange on land, while at sea the French were also victorious over the Dutch fleet. Then in 1678 Louis took Ghent and Ypres, when the Dutch in despair begged for peace. So the Treaty of Nimeguen was signed by France and Holland, while a little later Spain also agreed to the treaty, giving up to the French king Franche Comté, as well as eleven Flemish towns. Two years later the Emperor of Austria also made peace with Louis, who then went back to Paris to receive the adoring worship of his subjects.
They, pleased with their king's victories, called him Louis the Great, not staying to think if he had any real right to the title. Whether he was generous or unselfish, pitiful or just, did not trouble them at all.
The glory he had won in battle brought glory to their country, and so they worshipped Louis the Great, and erected a statue of him in the great square of Paris. There he was to be seen, seated upon his throne, the peoples he had conquered in chains around his feet.
A few years after the Peace of Nimeguen, Louis's wife, Maria Theresa, died. The poor queen had never been very happy, as the king had often neglected her or treated her with scorn. For many years he had admired Madame de Maintenon, one of his children's governesses, and he now married her. Her conversation was so charming, her wit so sparkling, that she gained great influence over the king. Though she was never called the Queen of France, yet she was queen in all but name, and through Louis she ruled the country.
Madame de Maintenon was a strict Catholic, and gave the king no rest until, in 1685, he promised to revoke the Edict of Nantes. She had no idea of the terrible outbreak of persecution that this would cause. The Edict, you remember, had been granted to the Huguenots by Henry iv. , and allowed them almost all the rights enjoyed by Catholics.
Now, however, Louis xiv. revoked the Edict, ordering all Protestant ministers to leave France, and forbidding any worship save that of the Catholic Church.
The Huguenots themselves were not allowed to leave the country, but dreading the persecutions which they knew awaited them, numbers managed to escape to Holland or England.
Linen weavers, woollen weavers, silk weavers, all the industrious folk of France settled down to their looms and trades in the new homes to which they had been forced to flee. England and Holland were the richer for their presence, France the poorer for their loss.
That it was difficult to escape, that if they were captured they would become galley slaves, kept few from trying to leave the country. For even their homes were now no longer their own. The king's cruel soldiers entered them when they chose, and were often encouraged by their captains to behave as rudely as they pleased.
Let me tell you of one woman who, driven to desperation, determined to escape. Every gate was guarded, every road watched. How could it be done? At last she had an idea. Going to an ironmonger, she begged him to pack her inside a load of iron rods.
It was done, and the rods were taken to the customhouse to be weighed, the merchant paying for the unwieldy package in the usual way. In this strange manner the woman escaped from France, the rods not being unpacked until she was six miles from the frontier.
Many slipped out of the country by travelling at night, while others made their way to the coast, bribing rough sailors to take them away in their boats, anywhere on the rough seas, so only that they might escape the cruel soldiers. Louis, with all his titles to greatness, was really very foolish, because he lost many of his most industrious citizens, who worked hard and paid their taxes with good grace.
The princes of Europe were indignant with Louis xiv. for his persecution of so many simple, industrious folk, and in 1686 the German princes, with Austria, Sweden, and even Spain, joined together in the League of Augsburg to punish the French king.
Louis speedily assembled an army, and before his enemies could prevent it, he sent it, under General Luxemburg, into the beautiful country of the Palatinate, which Turenne had once before destroyed. Again the farms were pulled down, the fields and the vineyards trampled on and ruined, while the peasants were left to wander homeless and hungry.
The Germans were thoroughly roused, for this was the second time the French had overrun the Palatinate. So they made a Grand Alliance with William of Orange, who was now King of England, and he came with a large army to help the Germans in their war against France.
Again and again Luxemburg defeated the English, but William iii. was too skilful a general to let the French gain much good from their victories.
For three years the war lasted, then, the misery in both France and England being great, peace was made at Ryswick in 1697. Louis xiv. was forced to acknowledge William iii. as King of England, and to give up all the towns he had won in the Netherlands and beyond the Rhine.
You may wonder why the French monarch agreed to such hard terms. It was because a new ambition had taken hold of Louis, and he cared for little save only this new desire, which was to wear the crown of Spain.
Charles ii., who was King of Spain, was dying without an heir to succeed to his great kingdom. Louis, having married the eldest sister of the Spanish king, thought that he had a right to the crown, in spite of having promised that the same king should never rule at the same time over France and Spain.
The Emperor of Austria had married the Spanish king's youngest sister, and he also thought he had a right to the throne that would so soon be empty.
But when the Spanish king died in 1700, it was found that he had made a will, leaving his kingdom to the Duke of Anjou, the grandson of Louis xiv.
The French king's heart had been set on wearing the crown of Spain himself. But he saw that his family and his country would reap the glory if his grandson ruled, so the Duke of Anjou was sent to Madrid to claim his inheritance.
But although Louis might be content, the princes of Europe were not. They had no wish to see Spain under the French king's control. William iii., too, had cause for anger with Louis, who, instead of acknowledging his claims as he had promised to do, declared that the Pretender, the son of James ii., was King of England.
So another Grand Alliance was formed against Louis xiv. by William and the princes of Europe. This was the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession.
William iii. died in 1702, while preparations for war against Louis were still going on. England kept true to the Grand Alliance, and sent the Duke of Marlborough with an army to carry on the war in Flanders.
Of all the great victories won by Marlborough you can read in your English history. Perhaps the most terrible battle in the long War of the Spanish Succession was Malplaquet in 1709 when, although the French were defeated, they fought so bravely that more English than French were left slain upon the battlefield.
Twice Louis xiv. bent his pride to ask for peace, so terrible was the distress in France, caused by war and famine. But as each time the condition of the Allies was that his grandson should not be allowed to keep the Spanish throne, Louis determined to go on fighting.
From this time—1708—the fortune of war changed, and the French army gained many victories. Marlborough's enemies at once began to clamour for the return of the English general, and before long he was ordered home.
Still the war went on, until 1713, when the Peace of Utrecht at length brought it to an end, and Louis xiv. was forced to promise that no King of France should ever sit on the Spainish throne.
Two years before the Peace of Utrecht great trouble befell the French king. His son, the dauphin, died in 1711. Then his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy, became dauphin, but the following year he, his wife and their eldest child, all died of fever. There was now left as heir to the throne only their younger son Louis, a delicate child of five years old.
Louis xiv. was nearly seventy-seven years old when these sorrows overtook him. The shock brought on an illness from which he knew that he would not recover.
His servants wept, seeing their master so ill, but Louis turning to them said, "Why do you weep; did you think I would live for ever?"
Sending then for his little great-grandson, he said, "My child, you are going to be a great king! Try to preserve peace with your neighbours. I have been too fond of war—do not imitate me in that, any more than in the too great expenses I have incurred. Try to relieve your people, which I have been so unfortunate as not to be able to do."
Thus, after a long reign of seventy-two years, Louis xiv. died.