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THE "GABELLE" OR SALT TAX
 HENRY II., who now in 1547 became king, had none of his
father's gracious ways. He
was ruled by his favourite, Diana of Poitiers, for
whose sake he paid little
attention to his young wife, Catherine de Medici.
But Diana was not all-powerful. The king was also
greatly influenced by the
Constable Montmorency and the Duke of Guise, and he
gave to them and their families
all the most important positions in the kingdom.
To show you how little Henry II. tried to win his people's heart, and how ungracious
he was compared to his father, Francis I., I will tell you of the trouble that
befell the province of Guienne.
Francis I., when he died, had left the hated Gabelle,
or salt tax, in force. Yet
about five years before his death, when an insurrection
broke out in Rochelle over
the Gabelle, Francis had treated the rebels with royal
The Rochellese had refused to pay the tax, and driven
away the tax-collectors.
On hearing this Francis I. had himself gone with troops
The people being warned that the king was coming
determined to submit, and assembled
in the Town Hall to await him.
No sooner had Francis entered and sat down than the
magistrates of the town, falling
on their knees before the king, besought him to pardon
the people, for they had
repented, and would never again refuse to pay their
 Then Francis stood up and said, "Speak no more of
the revolt. I desire neither
to destroy your persons, nor to seize your goods. I
long more for the hearts of my
subjects than for their lives and their riches. I will
never at any time of my life
think again of your offence, and I pardon you without
excepting a single thing. I
desire that the keys of your city and your arms be
given back to you."
The people's hearts were won by the king's kindness,
and the fine, which was the
only punishment imposed on them, was paid with right
But now, a year after Henry II. had become king, the
people of Guienne revolted
against this same salt tax. Furious with the collector
of the Gabelle, they killed
him. Two of his officers also they beat to death,
throwing their bodies into the
river Charente, crying the while, "Go, wicked
Gabellers, salt the fish of the
When Henry II. heard what the peasants had done, he was
very angry. The Constable
Montmorency was sent to punish the rebels, and marched
toward Bordeaux, the chief
city of the revolt.
Hearing of the constable's approach, and knowing it was
useless to resist, the poor
people determined that they would do all they could to
appease his wrath.
They therefore sent their chief citizens to meet him
with the keys of the city, and
begged him to come to Bordeaux in a boat, which they
had fitted up for him with
every comfort and luxury.
Montmorency was not the man to have pity. "Away, away
with your boat and your keys,"he cried. "I have other keys here with which I mean to
enter your city," and he
grimly pointed to his guns.
Then, making a breach in the walls, the constable and
his army entered the city.
More than a hundred persons were put to death, and many
others were publicly
whipped. Heavy fines were laid upon the citizens, and
disgrace the bells were taken from the belfries, the
clocks from the towers.
The miserable people fell on their knees in the street,
and begged the constable to
have pity on them. Only then did Montmorency, satisfied
that he had done the king's
will, withdraw his troops.
In 1552 Henry, through the influence of the Guises,
declared war on Charles V., who
was now more powerful than ever. Many of the German
princes were jealous of the
emperor's power, and eager to make a league with Henry
II. against Charles.
So, confident of success, the French king marched into
Germany, where three cities
at once opened their gates to their new ally.
One of these cities, Metz, Charles V. determined to
besiege, and if possible to retake.
For two months the emperor's cannon battered on the
walls of Metz; he even made
several efforts to take the city by assault. But all
his attempts were vain, so
gallantly was the city defended by the constable and
the Duke of Guise.
Winter came, and the emperor's army suffered from cold
and famine. The day after
Christmas 1552, Charles in despair decided to raise the
It was seldom that he had been baffled, and as his army
marched away from Metz in
the middle of the night, Charles, who was an old man,
said, "I see very well that
Fortune resembles women; she prefers a young king to an
Old age, and perhaps fear of further defeat, made
Charles now resolve to resign his
great possessions to his son, Philip II. of Spain,
while he himself went into a
monastery for the rest of his life.
Philip II. continued the war with France after his
father had retired, and in this
he was helped by his wife, Mary Tudor, Queen of
England, who sent both money and men
to his aid.