The first mention in the Commons of the deaths of those associated with “The Great Escape.”  Hansard is such a great resource.


Scottish Independence II

A very clever piece on how Scotland became part of a union with England, etc.

Scottish Independence

As I’m staying home due to a stomach bug, and it is interfering with my desire to read, I’m casting about the internets looking for interesting videos.  I quite liked the debate I found in the clip below, in particular I was intrigued by the comment toward the end concerning supra-national states.

Sir John “Jack” Goody

“Once committed to writing, ‘customs’ cannot just fade away.  So while writing greatly increases the amount of information held in store and in this sense enhances the potentialities of the human mind, it also makes the problem of erasure much more difficult; in other words, deletion represents the other side of the storage coin.” – The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, p. 136

E.P. Thompson

Just discovered this recording of Thompson at a SSRC seminar.  I am reminded again why he is one of the my favorite historians of the past one hundred years.


“I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘Utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not.” – E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class


The more I read about the Habsburgs the more they fascinate me.

I believe there has been something of an unwarranted prejudice against the dynasty (and against the polities they ran or were involved in generally – think Holy Roman Empire) that stems in part from the continuing effectiveness of English propaganda from the reigns of Elizabeth I onward.

Dryden As Political Poet

John Dryden (1631-1700), as a political poet, was at the center of the debate concerning religion, society, and the political order of England during the Restoration regimes of Charles II and James II.  In this function, Dryden was, as Phillip Harth explains, an integral part of a series of coordinated Tory propaganda campaigns during the 1670s and 1680s designed to gain public favor for the monarchy and its political decisions.[1]  It was in this context that Dryden wrote the derisive mock-heroic epic Mac Flecknoe, which was meant as an attack upon the future Whig poet Thomas Shadwell, as well as those poets and writers with whom he was allied.  In the poem Shadwell is presented as the heir to the throne of bad taste and middle-class vulgarity[2] (lines 96-101), who, because of his arguments, and especially because of his plays,[3] has persuaded those of good taste “That for anointed dullness he was made” (lines 62-63).

However, Dryden was more than just the creator of agitprop plays and poems for the Stuarts, he played a far larger political and social role of his own choosing.  In fact, “he had an important political purpose,” which can best be described as an opposition to the so-called fanaticism[4] of the country party (the Whigs)[5] – with its attendant poets and writers, and the intellectual and aesthetic chaos they wrought – that to Dryden threatened to engulf England once again in civil war.  Importantly, this fear of a “return to barbarism” seemed justified to Dryden (and to many of his contemporaries), because the “political events in Restoration England,” especially after the Popish plot of 1678,[6] appeared to be repeating the “events of the 1640s with ominous fidelity.”[7]  Of course, the restoration of the Stuarts had from its earliest days been fraught with plots to oust the monarchy.  For example, exiled dissenters and parliamentarians like Algernon Sidney had preached from the continent from as early as 1660 the need to overthrow the “monster” and enemy of  “reason and justice” known as Charles II.[8]  However, this campaign was intensified, through the publication of pamphlets and other written material by Whig writers, to such a degree after the Popish Plot that real concerns for Charles II’s crown arose for the first time during his reign.  From this point onward, many a royalist felt that without Charles II in power, social chaos and anarchy were sure to follow.  Dryden used this popular impression about the historical currents of his time to inform and bring value to his poetry.

Thus it is Dryden’s opposition to this turn of events that is played out in Mac Flecknoe, along with his personal animosity toward Shadwell as a poet who slandered him.[9]  Specifically, Dryden builds a link between bad art, to which Shadwell and his followers have created a “monument of vanished minds” (line 82), and the decline of moral and political culture in England after the 1670s.  This focus on the decline of art is emphasized in lines 73-86 by describing the geography of the literary world, where an actors’ “Nursery” sits near an old “watch Tower” from which has risen a brothel.  Here, next to this site of corruption, “Queens are form’d and future hero’s bred; Where unfledg’d actors learn to laugh and cry, Where infant Punks their tender Voices try” (lines 75-79).  Further, as if anyone were left in doubt, in the lines following those directly above, “Dryden makes his intention for describing this acting school absolutely clear,” by depicting the school as no place for true dramatic tragedies and comedies such as Ben Johnson’s and John Fletcher’s.[10]  Accordingly, no one of taste or culture, those fit to rule or to write, would be found here.

But how does bad art lead to a political and moral decline that presages civil war?  Simply put, if the public prefers colorless, corrupt, and aesthetically flawed poets like Shadwell, this will demoralize and lead astray the body politic itself, thus causing chaos.  Shadwell, as the “hoary prince” of the kingdom of bad taste (line 106), is therefore only one of a multitude of poets who threaten to bring about intellectual and artistic chaos.  Shadwell’s proclamation in the poem reinforces this view, when he declares “That he till death true dullness would maintain; … Ne’er to have peace with wit, or truce with sense” (lines 115-117).  Thus, according to Dryden, popular culture was the real threat to the social order, because it could not recognize good from bad art due to its obsession with transitory fads.  Full of “fools” that stand in Shadwell’s defense, who “justify their authors want of sense,” popular culture cannot be but corrupted by its poor judgement in the art and artists it praises (lines 132-133, 144, 155-156).  In other words, popular culture cannot be trusted as an independent source of cultural criticism, nor could it be trusted as a political force.

What other events than the chaos of the 1640s, could the spectacle described in Mac Flecknoe remind its audience of?  Clearly, Dryden claims that there is some connection between the social chaos of the 1640s and that of the late Restoration era.  By describing a kingdom ruled by dullness, filled with a lack of wit and reason, and overrun by bad poets who have overthrown their betters, Dryden is in fact creating a historical bridge between the current turmoil he is involved in, and the social chaos that preceded the Restoration.  He is competing for the symbols of the past, in order to create a new future.

Thus while Dryden is concerned about the proliferation of bad literature, he is even more gravely concerned with the political activism of the masses, who, to him, seem to hitch their passions to the brightest cultural (as well as political) star, depending on their mood.  Of course, what is described above is a viewpoint that is highly suspicious of the masses (who were flexing their political muscle in the streets during the Exclusion Crisis), as well as largely the reverse of the Whig’s viewpoint on the period’s troubles.  For the country party, events like the Popish Plot brought “into the open the issues raised by the James’s conversion”[11] to Catholicism, and his succession.  This condition dovetailed with the common English vision of Catholicism (since the Marian terror) as a religion of despots and tyrants.[12]  Accordingly, during the Exclusion Crisis, the Whigs sought to profit by “the fears aroused by the revelations of the Popish Plot in order” to gain support for the Whig-dominated Parliament, and to, of course, force the king to withdraw the duke of Buckingham from the line of succession. [13]  They too attempted to capture the symbols of the past.

Dryden’s primary response was to meet these efforts with an appeal to another set of fears that concerned 1640s-style anarchy, while warning his readers that the proliferation of the new media and literature epitomized by Shadwell could get out of control.[14]  Therefore, Dryden was a political poet who, because of his “sustained use sense of history,” displayed “a continuous impulse to see in the figures and events of past ages [political or social] models with which he might praise, evaluate, and [compare with] his own time.”[15]  Dryden imported value and meaning to his poems by placing them within a historical context, in this case, covertly comparing the political and moral culture of the late Restoration with that of the 1640s.

But does this value and meaning have a universal context?  Yes, by using history as a touchstone upon which to ground his work, Dryden forged a link between the past, the present, and a possible future.  Specifically, his poem Mac Flecknoe, and perhaps his poetry in general, displayed a predictive quality that bridged time.  His thoughts in Mac Flecknoe are clear.  He asks his readers to beware the tumults of the period, for they may bring back the terrorism and barbarism thought left behind in 1660.  His warning is especially poignant given the royal succession that marks the end of his poem.  Though Flecknoe is dead, his heir lives, and thus so does bad art, and its ability to corrupt those least able to withstand its corruptive force.  Further, Shadwell is blessed “With double portion of his father’s art,” illustrating not only how critical a period Dryden felt his nation and king were in, but also the expanded extent of the threat of social anarchy (lines 216-217).

[1] Phillip Harth, Pen for a Party: Dryden’s Tory Propaganda in its Contexts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. ix-x, 269-271.

[2] A position which, as the poem says, had been held by execrable Irish poet Richard Flecknoe until his death 1678.

[3] Shadwell’s plays had done exceedingly well in the 1770s; in fact, they had outdrawn Dryden’s plays, who was financially pressed at the time.  Shivaji Sengupta, A Critical Edition of John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel (New Delhi: Konark Publishers LTD, 1990), pp. 14-15.

[4] Or at least the perceived fanaticism he saw in Whigs like the earl of Shaftsbury and Sir Nicholas Crew.

[5] While the terms Whig and Tory were not in common use until the 1680s, there were specific country and court factions that dueled over the future of the English polity during the whole period of the Restoration.  While each faction was hardly monolithic, the country party (Whigs) can typically be described as Protestant and parliamentarian, while the court party was largely made up of members who were Anglican and Monarchical.

[6] In August of 1678, Israel Tonge and Titus Oates revealed a plot to kill Charles II and eradicate Protestantism from the kingdom.  London was reputedly to be put to the torch, and the throats of Protestants in the city were to be slit by a mass of secret Catholics.  Also, it was insinuated that James, Charles II’s brother, and heir to the throne, was involved in the plot.  This insinuation, and the duke of Buckingham’s conversion, eroded support for his succession, and for the monarchy as a whole.  Thus the Popish Plot, which was largely a ruse, was born.   Miller, John, Popery and Politics in England 1660-1688 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 154.

[7] George McFadden, Dryden: The Public Writer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 12-13.

[8] Blair Wordon, “The Commonwealth Kidney of Algernon Sidney,” The Historical Journal (1985), p. 11.

[9] Dryden was also angry about the parody of him as a rich poet in Shadwell’s The Virtuoso.

[10] Shivaji Sengupta, A Critical Edition of John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel, p. 13.

[11] John Miller, Popery and Politics in England 1660-1688, p. 154.

[12] Richard L. Greaves, British Radicals from the Popish Plot to the Revolution of 1688-1689 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 9-10.

[13] James R. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis 1678-1683 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 129.

[14] Phillip Harth, Pen for a Party, pp. 62-137.

[15] Steven N. Zwicker, Dryden’s Political Poetry: The Typology of King and Nation (Providence: Brown University Press, 1972), p. IX.

How effective a king was Louis XIII of France?

In order to answer this query, one must first unpack the various prejudices which have arisen against Louis XIII since his reign (1610-1643).  Additionally, one must also answer the very critical accusations which spring out of these prejudices.  However, more importantly, beyond answering the king’s critics, one must be willing to ask two further questions in order to truly define how effective a king Louis XIII was.  First, how much of Louis does one see in the decisions carried out under his name?  Second, how effective were these decisions once they were implemented?

First, amongst the prejudices mentioned above is the notion popularized by Alexandre Dumas that Louis was a monarch almost wholly devoid of will, intelligence, and integrity.  To Dumas, he was the creature of his omnipotent chief minister Cardinal Richelieu.  For example, in The Three Musketeers, when the Captain of the guards (de Tréville) is able to dissuade the king from punishing the heroic musketeers[1] for dueling with the Cardinal’s guards, de Tréville is beside himself for his ability to persuade, “this royal infant to revolt against his master.”[2]  Louis himself proclaims in the novel – in an extreme fit of narcissism and pettiness – that he does not have enough time for hunting, since the Cardinal’s always after him, “pestering me about Spain, England, or Austria,” with never a moment’s peace for his supposed true concerns – Louis XIII’s royal pleasures.[3]  Accordingly, Dumas’s Louis XIII was a king mastered by his chief minister, the Cardinal, who, “had a hypnotic hold on him, like a snake on a helpless bird.”[4]  To Dumas, “Louis the Just” was an improper sobriquet for the king, one which should be replaced by “Louis the Idiot.”[5]

Of course Dumas was not the first or last historian (amateur or otherwise) to cast aspersions at Louis XIII.  For instance, not long after the king’s death, Tallemant des Réaux commented that his sire, “at times … reasoned passably well in council meeting, and even appeared to have the advantage over the Cardinal.  Perhaps the latter was shrewdly giving him this little satisfaction.”  “‘Do-nothingness’ was his [the king’s] undoing,” according to des Réaux.[6]   Writing in the 20th century Victor Tapié describes Louis as a king, “who gave no evidence of outstanding qualities,” grew to be “neurotic,” and was, “suspicious,” by nature.[7]  Further, to Tapié, his need for the companionship and love of men as favorites (and perhaps sexually) underscored potentially damaging emotional rifts in the king’s personality, which were only heightened by his “repressed sensitive instincts” and deep “suspicion” of anyone he grew to love.[8]  These character flaws arose from a tormented childhood according to Tapié, and they were what allowed favorites such as Charles d’Albert de Luynes to manipulate and control Louis XIII.  Thus, Luynes is characterized as the, “man responsible for the young king’s decision,” to assassinate his mother’s favorite Concino Concini (the marquis of Ancre), and to his exile his mother soon afterwards. Important acts which earned Louis the sobriquet Louis the Just.[9]

How are these very damning criticisms to be answered?  First, it must but be acknowledged that Louis XIII was in many ways a flawed man from an emotional standpoint.  The consensus amongst historians, “is that his family, attendants, and education scarred him for life.”[10]   Further, Louis was the victim of the period’s medical methodology, which subjected him to continual purges, foul (and perhaps harmful) medicines, and occasional bleedings, all of which effected his health as an adult, and most certainly caused at least a minimal amount of psychological damage.  Also as a child, Louis was often in ambiguous (and sometimes humiliating) social situations with the half-brothers his father had sired with various mistresses, and Louis was never able to fully fill the dual roles of regal heir and deferential son at the same time.  This latter condition caused many flare-ups between Louis and his father Henry IV, including several almost absurd stand-offs over who owed whom a kiss and proper hat etiquette.[11]

The king’s desire for courtesy continued throughout his life.  Thus, after his father’s death in 1610, Louis was to remain jealous of those courtesies which a king could demand of his subjects, and he often used this insecurity over courtesy to his advantage.  In many ways, Louis made the art of courtesy a device of coercion around those subjects who had offended him or had committed acts of political violence against the state.  Accordingly, Louis often, “delighted in forcing everyone to defer to him.”[12]   Further, as one author notes, the king’s  respect for Richelieu derived to a large extent, “from the latter’s ability to pay Louis proper respect,” and to force the king’s subjects to do the same.[13]

Thus perhaps it is no coincidence that the man he was to later to have executed, the marquis of Ancre, often angered Louis by the lack of courtesy (e.g., hat doffing, tone of speech, proper acknowledgment, etc.)  he showed the monarch.  “Public opinion,” also ran against the too proud marquis, which viewed him as a “foreign adventurer” in league with “low-born lackeys” and parvenus who were corrupting the state and the crown, and upsetting the nation’s natural order through their vice, political favoritism, and haughtiness.[14]

Given all this it should also come as no surprise that as the king’s reign progressed, his intendants and officials often stretched the rules of formal courtesy as much as possible to gain the king’s wishes.  Further, it should also not be surprising that breaches of politeness often entailed serious consequences for those local elites or citizenry who dared to insult an official of the crown.  Thus the burning of a royal ordinance might quickly be followed up by the arrival of royal troops, or the suspension of a local town government or a parlemant.[15]

Importantly, the response to this so-called weakness of the king’s for courtesy brings up a very crucial point.[16]  If, as we have seen, Louis XIII’s need for courtesy was a flaw which had been turned to his own advantage, could he not have also used his other weaknesses in the same fashion?  If he were a king who required emotional support and the hand of a good minister, could not these weaknesses have manifested themselves in the form favorites and ministers who would do his bidding and pursued his various agendas?  Such a king would have been radically different from those kings we typify as great (e.g., Richard I, Henry V, Louis XIV, etc.), but he would have been competent nonetheless.  This seems to be the path which Louis took in forming an effective government after coming into his own by ousting the Concini in 1617.  That it took him sometime to find a council he could live with is not surprising.  That he made mistakes along the way is also not surprising.

For instance, if Louis can be criticized for depending too much on Luynes and Louis de l’Hôpital de Vitry[17] after his personal rule began, he learned not to do so after the death of Luynes in 1621 and Vitro’s fall from favor in 1618-1619.  In other words, as he found himself prisoner to his desire to please[18] and depend upon his favorite Luynes, he learned not to repeat this error in the future.  Accordingly, Louis, “vowed never again to let a personal favorite exercise political power,” while at the same time he began to divide his favors, “equally among … [his new] courtiers Bassompierre, Esplan, and Torias.”[19]   By way of contrast, look at the career of Charles of England – whose downfall was in significant part due to his too high investment in favorites to the exclusion of other members of the political-social elite.

Returning to Tapié, he views this period between Luynes and Richelieu (1621-1624) with “alarm,” since it was characterized by, “the absence of a guiding hand to direct the affairs of the realm as a whole.”[20]  I argue though that Tapié in this instance has overemphasized the king’s weaknesses.  This was in fact a period of growth for the king.  He was able to take a hands on approach to the great matters of the day – pursuing and defeating the rebellious Huguenots in 1628, negotiating with and fighting the dangerous Hapsburgs, and reforming the antiquated and debilitated tax structure – and by the knowledge he gained from this experience come to some understanding of what he wanted in a government.  This explains the, “ups and downs of successive leaders of the king’s council,” between 1621 and 1627, and the rise of the formerly distrusted Richelieu, who had earlier been banned from Paris because of his involvement in the government of Concini and Marie.[21]

Given this framework one can more clearly see that Louis was in fact experimenting with the make-up of the council, sending down Schomberg here, allowing for the rise of the Brûlart family there, and eventually settling on a council that included not only Richelieu and the Cardinal’s ally Marie, but Richelieu’s competitor Louis de Marillac as well.[22]  Given this perspective, the fact that Louis eventually picked Richelieu to guide the running of his state only shows the wisdom of a king who had gained an appreciation for his limitations and knew who was most likely to carry out his agenda.  Instead of the weak king we see in the Dumas tale, we find a king who understands his needs and who becomes a master of his own fate.  However, if one needs further evidence of Louis XIII’s will, one should look no further than his treatment of his mother when she threatened his sovereignty.  In 1617 he was strong enough to send her into exile, and able to defeat her army at Ponts-de-Cé in 1620, and he was further able in 1630 to choose Richelieu[23] over her opposing counsel on the so-called Day of the Dupes.

If one concedes that Louis XIII was strongly involved in the administration of his government, one might ask what the king most wished to pursue from a standpoint of policy.  In answering this question, three basic areas of policy interest unfold: (1) internal state reform, (2) curbing Huguenot political and armed power, and (3) responding to growing concerns over Hapsburg power on the Italian peninsula and on France’s borders.  What was the driving force behind the king’s policy decisions?  Justice, or at least his notion of it.  As one author notes, “from the moment of Concini’s demise to the appointment of Richelieu, Louis XIII was forever ready to fight for what he considered a just cause.”[24]

What did justice mean to Louis?  During this period it typically revolved around three specific qualities.  (1) Punishment for wrongdoing.  (2) Royal justice – or the, “fairminded treatment of subjects’ grievances.”And  (3) forgiveness of the repented wrongdoer.  Louis throughout his life would use a mixture of these three forms of justice to inform and launch his policy initiatives. [25]

Outside of theory, how did these notions of justice play out in the day to day decisions of Louis and his council?  One example that comes readily to the fore are the Huguenots, who despite their rebellions against the king in the 1620s, were guaranteed the “religious and judicial provisions of the Edict of Nates” in the king’s Edict of Grace in 1628.  However, the Huguenots at the same time lost their “state within a state,” under this same royal justice.  Even the most recalcitrant rebels, like those at La Rochelle, were, once they begged for mercy and forgiveness treated with a light hand.  Thus upon their capitulation, the king who had been so angered by the La Rochelle’s will to hang on against all odds, was given immediate relief in the form of free bread and provisions supplied by the Crown.[26]

Beyond his campaigns against the rebellious Huguenots, Louis also pursued a haphazard (and sometimes detrimental) policy of reforming the tax structure of his state.  For example, in the region known as Dauphiné, the Crown called for “extending the base of taxation in the province” under a system called the taille réelle.  Such a policy, if the state could have overcome local political resistance by the nobles of the region, would have both reduced the, “weight of taxes upon rural communities and the poorest sector of the third estate and at the same time increased the general levy demand of  Dauphiné.”  The alliance which the crown drew together in the region to carry through its agenda is also telling, since it included those who had been traditionally out of power, namely, rural communities, new officials, etc.  Accordingly this alliance drew together those most harmed by the prevailing taille system, and those who were hindered by it in their quest for social and economic advancement.[27]

This does not mean that the king had a systematic agenda for the entire state of France.  Instead, as was common throughout the early modern period for most “states,”  ad hoc moral proclamations by the king created specific royal concerns as events arose.  Later, these proclamations spawned into specific state policies that ranged from, “traditional royal bans on noble dueling to new laws curbing subjects’ excessive expenditures for luxury garments.”[28]

What then can be said about Louis’s performance within the three broad policy goals listed above?  In the realm of tax reform, while his regime was not a complete failure, it did suffer from the structural weaknesses that all French monarchs had to labor under since the fourteenth century.  Further, these structural weakness, most specifically the wide ranging particularism of  taxation in France, and the various rights accorded those regions of the pays d’Etat, burdened those areas without privileges, and often lead to high degrees of non-payment amongst the most heavily taxed.  That the Crown attempted to level the playing field between the pays d’Etat and the pays d’élection, speaks to Louis XIII’s sense of fairness as much as his desire to increase revenues in the fight against the Hapsburgs during France’s involvement in the Thirty Years’ War.  That Louis and his regime were unable to level this playing field illustrates the strength of local elites and custom.  In the end, the, “king of France neither taxed nor spent at will, and local elites retained a great deal of control over the practical workings of the system,” despite the advent of such royal offices as the intendant in 1634.[29]  As a further sign of the Crown’s failure, the regime went – like many early modern European “states” – bankrupt in 1634, which was neither good for the Crown nor the nation.       

Then again, efforts to change the tax system also spurred peasant revolts throughout much of France in the 1630s, which further added to the financial problems of the regime. (What caused these revolts may be the subject of another posting.) These reactions are part of the very, “painful collision of cultures,” between traditional society and an arising centralized state which Bercé speaks of in his opus on the peasant revolts in the seventeenth century.[30]  Further, the financial woes of the heavily indebted Crown also lead to political struggles within the kingdom, the most notable example coming after the reign of Louis XIII in the form of the three related Frondes.  Since the government, “could not raise enough money to pay for itself,” and thus constantly encroached upon the power of local elites in order to gain revenue, it was natural for “political agitation” to occur.  In many ways, the Fronde is a legacy of Louis’s failure to increase revenues in a manner which would not cause social eruption.[31]

However, if one turns to the case of the Huguenots, Louis’s success over the long run is a bright and shining example of how successful he could be as a king.  Over a period of eight years he was able to do what even his father (Henry IV) had not achieved.  Crush the state within a state.    While assiduously respecting the right of Huguenot worship, he would not stand for the injustice heaped upon him by those Huguenot subjects who chose to rebel against him or his state.  The king equally expected that the Edict of Nates’s provisions concerning Catholic church property and worship be obeyed.  For example, he took a personal interest in the Huguenot territory of Béarn’s circumvention of his decree in 1617 for the Béarnais to respect the provisions of the Edict of Nates.  After three years of frustration, in 1620, he personally forced, with his army behind him, the Béarnais to restore property to the local Catholic authorities, while at the same time he replaced local officers with loyal Catholic subjects.[32]

By 1628, Louis XIII had subdued the Huguenot throughout France, and had humiliated those great noble subjects (including his mother and the Condé) who had attempted to circumvent his sovereignty since the advent of his personal rule.  He had achieved this by learning from his past mistakes, never repeating the folly of the siege of Montauban, nor the carnage witnessed at Négrepelisse.  Much like his growth as a master of his servitors, Louis also grew as a warrior.  In the end, this success should underline how determined and intelligent a ruler Louis could be.

What then of Louis’s foreign policy?  Unfortunately, for Louis, his early years in the realm of foreign affairs were filled with growing pains.  His most painful, and damaging decision came in 1619 when he decided to aid his fellow Catholics by defending Vienna, and by his negotiation of the treaty of Ulm in 1620.  Both of these actions had increased his rival the emperor’s secular power, which was wholly against French interests in the larger game of European statecraft.  Thanks to the treaty which brought about a German truce, Catholic League troops were able to march to White Mountain (which is near Prague), join up with the forces of Ferdinand, crush the Bohemian rebels which the treaty was supposed to aid them, and thus increase the power of the Louis’s greatest European rival.  However, these events set a trend in foreign policy that Louis followed for the rest of his life, and that Richelieu aided.  In fact, Louis became a king who pursued a highly aggressive foreign policy.  He justified this policy by calling it defensive, that is in defense of traditional French interests and the interests of his allies the Protestant Dutch and German states, and eventually the runaway Portuguese state.  These interests of course  naturally collided with the gargantuan Hapsburg empire.[33]

Of course such a policy meant that France was leaning towards open war with the Austrian and Spanish Hapsburgs.  This war, as was seen above, placed a heavy burden on the populace, especially in the area of taxes.  Also, since France was often on the losing end of such affairs – as in the intervention into Valtellina – or offered a mixed-bag of results – as in the Mantuan succession – aggressive warfare itself could also not have been popular amongst much of the peasantry.  This must have been particularly true after France joined the Thirty Years’ War.  Louis’s armies met repeated reverses before the tides of war changed in 1640, and this may have lead to the last noble revolt of his regime – that of the Count of Soissons in 1641.  However, from 1640 to 1642 the kingdom of France swelled with the addition of, “two vital territories, Artois and Roussillon,” and the threat of Hapsburg hegemony seemed to have been checked.  That a strong Spanish army entered the Ardennes just days after Louis’s death in 1643 and was soundly thrashed, underscores the change in fortune which France had underwent since 1618.  In that year, it was literally unable (due to the youth of the king and his unstable monarchy) to fight in the Thirty Years’ War, however, by 1643, it could master the very strong armies of the Hapsburgs.[34]

In summary, Louis XIII was not the weak king Dumas and others have branded him as, but a king who was able to us his weaknesses and his sense of justice to mold a sometimes very effective royal council and agenda.  That he failed to reform the tax system says more about the strength of the Renaissance tax structure, than about his own weaknesses.  Further, as a military commander, both in the field and otherwise, he was very effective at marshaling his troops to his cause and defeating his enemies, especially the recalcitrant Huguenots.  Louis also pursued an aggressive foreign policy which in the end gained territory for France and checked the growth of France’s greatest enemy.

[1]These musketeers are of course Porthos, Athos, Aramis, and the future musketeer and fortune seeker d’Artagnan.

[2]Dumas, Alexandre, The Three Musketeers (New York: Penguin Books, 1952), p. 88.

[3]Ibid., p. 98.

[4]Ibid., p. 709.

[5]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII – The Just (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 6.

[6]Ibid., pp. 6-7.

[7]Tapié, Victor L., France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 89.

[8]If this were a mark against Louis XIII, one wonders why these same tendencies were not also a debilitating factor in the reign of James I, who has seen an increase in his stock amongst historians in recent decades.

[9]Tapié, Victor L., France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu, pp. 92-93.

[10]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, p. 23.

[11]Ibid., pp. 25-26.

[12]Ranum, Orest, “Courtesy, Absolutism, and the Rise of the French State, 1630-1660,” Journal of Modern History 52 (1980), p. 434.

[13]Ibid., p. 432.

[14]Berce, Yves-Marie, The Birth of Absolutism: A History of France, 1598-1661 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), pp 69-72.

[15]Ranum, Orest, “Courtesy, Absolutism, and the Rise of the French State, 1630-1660,” p. 440-442.

[16]The king often flew into a rage (which often made him physically ill) when he felt slighted.

[17]The captain of Louis XIII’s guards and co-conspirator in the assassination of Ancre.

[18]Louis was notorious for showering Luynes with gifts and offices, much to the chagrin of those who might wish to compete with Luynes.  In many ways, Louis had created a Concini or Buckingham of his own.

[19]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, pp. 106-107.

[20]Tapié, Victor L., France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu, p. 126.

[21]Berce, Yves-Marie, The Birth of Absolutism, p. 81.

[22]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, pp. 107-115.

[23]In many ways, Richelieu was favored because of his steadfast desire to follow the king’s policy in Italy – that is aggressively pursuing Hapsburg power there.  Marie de Medeci was opposed to this policy, and thus eventually lost her son’s favor. Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, 213-219.

[24]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, p. 116.

[25]Ibid., pp. 56-57.

[26]Berce, Yves-Marie, The Birth of Absolutism, p. 101-102.

[27]Hickey, Daniel, The Coming of French Absolutism: The Struggle for Tax Reform in the Province of Dauphiné, 1540-1640 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), p. 178.

[28]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, p. 116.

[29]Collins, James B., The Fiscal Limits of Absolutism: Direct Taxation in Early Seventeenth-Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 2-4, 8, 68-69.

[30]Bercé, Yves Marie, History of Peasant Revolts: the Social Origins of Rebellion in Early Modern France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 19.

[31]Collins, James B., The Fiscal Limits of Absolutism, pp. 220-221.

[32]Moote, A. Lloyd, Louis XIII, pp. 121-123.

[33]Ibid., pp. 132-133.

[34]Berce, Yves-Marie, The Birth of Absolutism, p. 156.


I wish Hume had thought of less amorphous names for some of the titles of his works.

How To Approach The History Of Rome

Let me inform anyone who may not know already that I am a classics geek. I love the study of ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as the communities of people that were never part of these civilizations, but did have intercourse with them – namely the Celts, the various tribes of Germans, etc. I find this world inherently fascinating – and a bit frightening.

With that out of the way, I can get to the point of my post, namely that I’m in the midst of creating a series of teaching tools for my daughter once she gets a bit older – the first of these will concern the history of Rome. Following that I’ll deal perhaps with a course on rhetoric, then a topic related to the history of science – probably biological evolution, then late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and so on. Since Chloe will be home schooled it is important to tackle this stuff early.

As a side note I will offer this as an example of my bona fides as a classics geek: early on I had thought of simply creating a series of courses based on the Roman model of the litterator, grammaticus and rhetor, but on further reflection I thought better of it.

So with that bit of introduction, the question is, how do you teach the history of Rome?

Well, you have to admit that for a modern American it is difficult to understand the length of Roman history, which, if you consider the eastern portion of the empire and its demise in 1453 CE (we normally call these people the Byzantines), stretches well over two thousand years (if you take as a starting point 753 BCE). That’s partly why you cut Roman history off at 476 CE (when Romulus Augustilus is dethroned as Western Emperor) – simply to make the topic manageable. Further, late antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Byzantine Empire are significantly different from the Roman world so as justify an entirely different course on the matter.

So clearly, even if you cut off Roman history at 476 CE, you have to figure out a way to organize the subject matter so as to make it intelligible and manageable (particularly for a young person). Otherwise anyone dealing with the topic is simply going to be swamped by the enormity of the subject matter. And this is true of most areas of study – an overall skeleton or plan of attack has to be created in order to get your arms around the subject matter. I think of it as creating a “hook” by which to grab onto a subject; a base by which to build greater understanding. That’s how I have learned everything I know at least; taking a kernal of knowledge and connecting it to lots of other dispersed bits of knowledge.

So here is what I plan to do in a nutshell. First, separate Roman history into three master-topics. Namely, politico-military history, social-cultural history and the history of art/science/literature in the Roman world. Then create outlines relating to each master-topic and attach primary and secondary documents to those outlines. Importantly you start with politico-military history for obvious reasons – it provides a sufficient way to attack the chronology involved here. The other master-topics are amorphous enough that it would be more difficult to do that with them. And of course the fact is with history periodization and chronology are important concerns.

So, how far have I gotten? Well, tonight I just finished the bones of the first master-topic, namely the chronology itself. From there I will fill in the blanks so to speak; I imagine it will take me roughly a month or two to create a workable first draft of the politico-military history of Rome. I will follow that with the second master topic, where I will discuss Roman attitudes, mores, folkways, practices, beliefs, etc. on a number of topics – everything from adoption to apartment living to religious worship to burial practices to parties to common recipes (on recipes one can think of Worcestershire sauce as being essentially a creation of the classical world). The third master-topic is self-explanatory.

Wish me luck.

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