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Historical Tales: French by  Charles Morris


 

 

THE PARLIAMENT OF PARIS

[233] IN the streets of Paris all was tumult and fiery indignation. Never had there been a more sudden or violent outbreak. The whole city seemed to have turned into the streets. Not until the era of the Revolution, a century and a half later, was the capital of France again to see such an uprising of the people against the court. Broussel had been arrested, Councillor Broussel, a favorite of the populace, who sustained him in his opposition to the court party, and at once the city was ablaze; for the first time in the history of France had the people risen in support of their representatives.

It was by no means the first time that royalty had ended its disputes with the Parliament in this summary manner. Four years previously, Anne of Austria, the queen-regent, had done the same thing, and scarce a voice had been raised in protest. But in the ensuing four years public opinion had changed. The king, Louis XIV., was but ten years old; his mother, aided by her favorite minister, Cardinal Mazarin, ruled the kingdom,—misruled it, as the people thought; the country was crushed under its weight of taxes; the finances were in utter disorder; France was successful abroad, but her successes had been dearly bought, and the people groaned under the burden of their victories. Parliament made itself the mouth-piece of the public [234] discontent. It no longer felt upon it the iron hand of Richelieu. Mazarin was able, but he was not a master, and the Parliament began once more to claim that authority in affairs of state from which it had been deposed by the great cardinal. A conflict arose between the members and the court which soon led to acts of open hostility.

An edict laying a tax upon all provisions which entered Paris irritated the citizens, and the Parliament refused to register it. Other steps towards independence were taken by the members. Gradually they resumed their old rights, and the court party was forced to yield. But courage returned to the queen-regent with the news that the army of France had gained a great victory. No sooner had the tidings reached Paris than the city was electrified by hearing that President Brancmesnil and Councillor Broussel had been arrested.

It was the arrest of Broussel that stirred the popular heart. Mazarin and the queen had made the dangerous mistake of not taking into account the state of the public mind. "There was a blaze at once, a sensation, a rush, an outcry, and a shutting up of shops." The excitement of the people was intense. Moment by moment the tumult grew greater. "Broussel! Broussel!" they shouted. That perilous populace had arisen which was afterwards to show what frightful deeds it could do under the impulse of oppression and misgovernment.

Paul de Gondi, afterwards known as Cardinal De [235] Retz, then coadjutor of the Archbishop of Paris, and the leading spirit with the populace, hurried to the palace, accompanied by Marshal de la Meilleraie.

"The city is in a frightful state," they told the queen. "The people are furious and may soon grow unmanageable. The air is full of revolt."

Anne of Austria listened to them with set lips and angry eyes.

"There is revolt in imagining there can be revolt," she sternly replied. "These are the ridiculous stories of those who favor trouble; the king's authority will soon restore order."

M. de Guitant, an old courtier, who entered as she was speaking, declared that the coadjutor had barely represented the facts, and said that he did not see how anybody could sleep with things in such a state.

"Well, M. de Guitant, and what is your advice?" asked De Retz.

"My advice is to give up that old rascal of a Broussel, dead or alive."

"To give him up dead," said the coadjutor, "would not accord with either the piety or the prudence of the queen; to yield him alive might quiet the people."

The queen turned to him a face hot with anger, and exclaimed,—

"I understand you, Mr. Coadjutor; you would have me set Broussel at liberty. I would strangle him with these hands first!" As she finished these [236] words she put her hands close to the coadjutor's face, and added, in a threatening tone, "And those who—" Her voice ceased; he was left to infer the rest.

Yet, despite this infatuation of the queen, it was evident that something must be done, if Paris was to be saved. The people grew more tumultuous. Fresh tidings continued to come in, each more threatening than the last. The queen at length yielded so far as to promise that Broussel should be set free if the people would first disperse and cease their tumultuous behavior.

The coadjutor was bidden to proclaim this in the streets. He asked for an order to sustain him, but the queen refused to give it, and withdrew "to her little gray room," angry at herself for yielding so far as she had.

De Retz did not find the situation a very pleasant one for himself. Mazarin pushed him gently towards the door, saying, "Restore the peace of the realm." Marshal Meilleraie drew him onward. He went into the street, wearing his robe of office, and bestowing benedictions right and left, though while doing so his mind was busy in considering how he was going to get out of the difficulty which lay before him.

It grew worse instead of better. Marshal Meilleraie, losing his head through excitement, advanced waving his sword in the air, and shouting at the top of his voice,—

"Hurrah for the king! Liberation for Broussel!"

[237] This did very well for those within hearing; but his sword provoked far more than his voice quieted; those at a distance looked on his action as a menace, and their fury was augmented. On all sides there was a rush for arms. Stones were flung by the rioters, one of which struck De Retz and felled him to the earth. As he picked himself up an excited youth rushed at him and put a musket to his head. Only the wit and readiness of the coadjutor saved him from imminent peril.

"Though I did not know him a bit," says De Retz, in his "Memoirs," "I thought it would not be well to let him suppose so at such a moment; on the contrary, I said to him, 'Ah, wretch, if thy father saw thee!' He thought I was the best friend of his father, on whom, however, I had never set eyes."

The fellow withdrew, ashamed of his violence, and before any further attack could be made upon De Retz he was recognized by the people and dragged to the market-place, constantly crying out as he went, "The queen has promised to restore Broussel."

The good news by this time had spread through the multitude, whose cries of anger were giving place to shouts of joy. Their arms were hastily disposed of, and a great throng, thirty or forty thousand in number, followed the coadjutor to the Palais-Royal. When he entered, Marshal Meilleraie turned to the queen and said,—

"Madame, [238] here is he to whom I owe my life, and your Majesty the safety of the Palais-Royal."

The queen's answer was an incredulous smile. On seeing it, the hasty temper of the marshal broke out in an oath.

"Madame," he said, hotly, "no proper man can venture to flatter you in the state in which things are; and if you do not this very day set Broussel at liberty, to-morrow there will not be left one stone upon another in Paris."

Anne of Austria, carried away by her pride and superciliousness, could not be brought to believe that the populace would dare attempt an actual revolt against the king. De Retz would have spoken in support of the marshal's words, but she cut him short, saying in a tone of mockery,—

"Go and rest yourself, sir; you have worked very hard."

He left the palace in a rage. It was increased when word was brought to him that he had been ridiculed at the supper-table of the queen. She had gone so far as to blame him for increasing the tumult, and threatened to make an example of him and to interdict the Parliament. In short, the exercise of power had made the woman mad. De Retz reflected. If the queen designed to punish him, she should have something to punish him for. He was not the man to be made a cat's-paw of.

"We are not in such bad case as you suppose, gentlemen," he said to his friends. "There is an intention of crushing the public; it is for me to [239] defend it from oppression; to-morrow before mid-day I shall be master of Paris."

Anne of Austria had made an enemy of one who had been her strong friend, a bold and restless man, capable of great deeds. He had long taken pains to make himself popular in Paris. During that night he and his emissaries worked in secret upon the people. Early the next day the mob was out again, arms in hand, and ripe for mischief. The chancellor, on his way to the Palace of Justice, suddenly found his carriage surrounded by these rioters. He hastily sought refuge in the Hôtel de Luynes. The mob followed him, pillaging as they went, destroying the furniture, seeking the fugitive. He had taken refuge in a small chamber, where, thinking that his last hour had come, he knelt in confession before his brother, the Bishop of Meaux. Fortunately for him the rioters failed to discover him, and were led away by another fancy.

"It was like a sudden and violent conflagration lighted up from the Pont Neuf over the whole city," says De Retz. "Everybody without exception took up arms. Children of five and six years of age were seen dagger in hand, and the mothers themselves carried them. In less than two hours there were in Paris more than two hundred barricades, bordered with flags and all the arms that the League had left entire. Everybody cried 'Hurrah, for the king!' but echo answered, 'None of your Mazarin!'"

It was an incipient revolution, but it was the [240] minister and the regent, not the king, against whom the people had risen, its object being the support of the Parliament of Paris, not the States General of the kingdom. France was not yet ready for the radical work reserved for a later day. The turbulent Parisians were in the street, arms in hand, but they had not yet lost the sentiment of loyalty to the king. A century and a half more of misrule were needed to complete this transformation in the national idea.

While all this was going on, the coadjutor, the soul of the outbreak, kept at home, vowing that he was powerless to control the people. At an early hour the Parliament assembled at the Palace of Justice, but its deliberations were interrupted by shouts of "Broussel! Broussel!" from the immense multitude which filled every adjoining avenue. Only the release of the arrested members could appease the mob. The Parliament determined to go in a body and demand this of the queen.

Their journey was an eventful one. Paris was in insurrection. Everywhere they found the people in arms, while barricades were thrown up at every hundred paces. Through the shouting and howling mob they made their way to the queen's palace, the ushers in front, with their square caps, the members following in their robes, at their head M. Molé, their premier president.

The conference with the queen was a passionate one. M. Molé spoke for the Parliament, representing to the queen the extreme danger Paris was [241] in, the peril to all France, unless the prisoners were released and the sedition allayed. He spoke to a woman "who feared nothing because she knew but little," and who was just then controlled by pride and passion instead of reason.

"I am quite aware that there is a disturbance in the city," she answered, furiously; "but you shall answer to me for it, gentlemen of the Parliament, you, your wives, and your children."

With further threats that the king would remember the cause of these evils, when he reached his majority, the incensed woman flouted from the chamber of audience, slamming the door violently behind her. To deal with her, in her present mood, was evidently impracticable. The members left the palace to return. They quickly found themselves surrounded by an angry mob, furious at their non-success, disposed to hold them responsible for the failure. On their arrival at the Rue St. Honoré, just as they were about to turn on to the Pont Neuf, a band of about two hundred men advanced threateningly upon them, headed by a cook-shop lad, armed with a halberd, which he thrust against M. Molé's body, crying,—

"Turn, traitor, and if thou wouldst not thyself be slain, give up to us Broussel, or Mazarin and the chancellor as hostages."

Molé quietly put the weapon aside.

"You forget yourself," he said, with calm dignity, "and are oblivious of the respect you owe to my office."

[242] The mob, however, was past the point of paying respect to dignitaries. They hustled the members, threatened the president with swords and pistols, and several times tried to drag him into a private house. But he resisted, and was aided by members and friends who surrounded him. Slowly the parliamentary body made its way back to the Palais-Royal, whither they had resolved to return, M. Molé preserving his dignity of mien and movement, despite the "running fire of insults, threats, execrations, and blasphemies," that arose from every side. They reached the palace, at length, in diminished numbers, many of the members having dropped out of the procession.

The whole court was assembled in the gallery. Molé spoke first. He was a man of great natural eloquence, who was at his best as an orator when surrounded by peril, and he depicted the situation so graphically that all present, except the queen, were in terror. "Monsieur made as if he would throw himself upon his knees before the queen, who remained inflexible," says De Retz; "four or five princesses, who were trembling with fear, did throw themselves at her feet; the queen of England, who had come that day from St. Germain, represented that the troubles had never been so serious at their commencement in England, nor the feelings so heated or united."

Paris, in short, was on the eve of a revolution, and the queen could not be made to see it. Cardinal Mazarin, who was present, and who had been [243] severely dealt with in the speeches, some of the orators telling him, in mockery, that if he would only go as far as the Pont Neuf he would learn for himself how things were, now joined the others in entreating Anne of Austria to give way. She did so at length, consenting to the release of Broussel, though "not without a deep sigh, which showed what violence she did her feelings in the struggle."


[Illustration]

CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME. PARIS.

It is an interesting spectacle to see this woman, moved by sheer pride and obstinacy, conjoined with ignorance of the actual situation, seeking to set her single will against that of a city in revolt, and endangering the very existence of the monarchy by her sheer lack of reason. Her consent, for the time being, settled the difficulty, though the passions which had been aroused were not easily to be set at rest. Broussel was released and took his seat again in the Parliament, and the people returned to their homes, satisfied, for the time, with their victory over the queen and the cardinal.

In truth, a contest had arisen which was yet to yield important consequences. The Prince of Condé had arrived in Paris during these events. He had the prestige of a successful general; he did not like the cardinal, and he looked on the Parliament as imprudent and insolent.

"If I should join hands with them," he said to De Retz, "it might be best for my interests, but my name is Louis de Bourbon, and I do not wish to shake the throne. These devils of square-caps, are they mad about bringing me either to commence a [244] civil war, or to put a rope round their own necks? I will let them see that they are not the potentates they think themselves, and that they may easily be brought to reason."

"The cardinal may possibly be mistaken in his measures," answered De Retz. "He will find Paris a hard nut to crack."

"It will not be taken, like Dunkerque, by mining and assaults," retorted the prince, angrily; "but if the bread of Gonesse were to fail them for a week—" He left the coadjutor to imagine the consequences.

The contest continued. In January, 1649, the queen, the boy king, and the whole court set out by night for the castle of St. Germain. It was unfurnished, with scarcely a bundle of straw to lie upon, but the queen could not have been more gay "had she won a battle, taken Paris, and had all who had displeased her hanged, and nevertheless she was very far from all that."

Far enough, indeed. Paris was in the hands of her enemies, who were as gay as the queen. On the 8th of January the Parliament of Paris decreed Cardinal Mazarin an enemy to the king and the state, and bade all subjects of the king to hunt him down. War was declared against the queen regent and her favorite, the cardinal. Had it been the States-General in place of the Parliament, the French Revolution might have then and there begun.

Many of the greatest lords joined the side of the [245] people. Troops were levied in the city, their command being offered to the Prince of Conti. The Parliaments of Aix and Rouen voted to support that of Paris. It was decreed that all the royal funds, in the exchequers of the kingdom, should be seized and used for the defence of the people. All was festivity in the city. The versatile people seemed to imagine that to declare war was to decree victory. There was dancing everywhere within the walls. There was the rumble of war without. The Prince of Condé, at the head of the king's troops, had taken the post of Charentin from the Frondeurs, as the malcontents called themselves, and had carried out his threat of checking the flow of bread to the city. The gay Parisians were beginning to feel the inconvenience of hunger.

What followed is too long a story to be told here, except in bare epitome. A truce was patched up between the contending parties. Bread flowed again into Paris. The seared and hungry people grew courageous and violent again when their appetites were satisfied. When M. Molé and his fellows returned to Paris with a treaty of peace which they had signed, the populace gathered round them in fury.

"None of your peace! None of your Mazarin!" they angrily shouted. "We must go to St. Germain to seek our good king! We must fling into the river all the Mazarins."

One of them laid his hand threateningly on President Molé's arm. The latter looked him in the face calmly.

[246] "When you have killed me," he said, quietly, "I shall only need six feet of earth."

"You can get back to your house secretly by way of the record offices," whispered one of his companions.

"The court never hides itself," he composedly replied. "If I were certain to perish, I would not commit this poltroonery, which, moreover, would but give courage to the rioters. They would seek me in my house if they thought I shrank from them here."

M. Molé was a man of courage. To face a mob is at times more dangerous than to face an army.

Paris was in disorder. The agitation was spreading all over France. But the army was faithful to the king, and without it the Fronde was powerless. The outbreak had ended in a treaty of peace and amnesty in which the Parliament had in a measure won, as it had preserved all its rights and privileges.

It was to be a short peace. Condé, elated by having beaten the Fronde, claimed a lion's share in the government. His brother, the Prince of Conti, and his sister, the Duchess of Longueville, joined him in these pretensions. The affair ended in a bold step on the part of Mazarin and the queen. The two princes and M. de Longueville were arrested and conveyed to the castle of Vincennes, while the princesses were ordered to retire to their estates, and the Duchess of Longueville, fearing arrest, fled in haste to Normandy.

For the present the star of the cardinal was in [247] the ascendant. But his master-stroke set war on foot again. The Parliament of Paris supported the princes. Their partisans rallied. Bordeaux broke into insurrection. Elsewhere hot blood declared itself. The Duke of Orleans joined the party of the prisoners. The Parliament enjoined all the officers of the crown to obey none but the duke, the lieutenant-general of the kingdom. On the night of February 6, 1651, Mazarin set out again for St. Germain. Paris had become far too hot to hold him.

The tidings of his flight brought the people into the streets again. The Duke of Orleans informed Cardinal de Retz that the queen proposed to follow her flying minister, with the boy king.

"What is to be done?" he asked, somewhat helplessly. "It is a bad business; but how are we to stop it?"

"How?" cried the more practical De Retz; "why, by shutting the gates of Paris, to begin with. The king must not go."

Within an hour the emissaries of the ready coadjutor were rousing up the people right and left with the tidings of the projected flight of the queen with her son. Soon the city swarmed again with armed and angry men, the gates were seized, mounted guards patrolled the streets, the crowd surged towards the Palais-Royal.

Within the palace all was alarm and confusion. Anne of Austria had indeed been on the point of flight. Her son was in his travelling-dress. But [248] the people were at the door, clamoring to see the king, threatening dire consequences if the doors were not opened to them. They could not long be kept out; some immediate action must be taken. The boy's travelling-attire was quickly replaced by his night dress, and he was laid in bed, his mother cautioning him to lie quiet and feign sleep.

"The king! we must see the king!" came the vociferous cry from the street. "Open! the people demand to see their king."

The doors were forced; the mob was in the palace; clamor and tumult reigned below the royal chambers. The queen sent word to the people that the king was asleep in his bed. They might enter and see him if they would promise to tread softly and keep strict silence. This message at once stopped the tumult; the noise subsided; the people began to file into the room, stepping as noiselessly as though shod with down, gazing with awed eyes on the seemingly sleeping face of the boy king.

The queen stood at the pillow of her son, a graceful and beautiful woman, her outstretched arm holding back the heavy folds of the drapery, her face schooled to quiet repose. Louis lay with closed eyes and regular breathing, playing his part well. For hours a stream of the men and women of Paris flowed through the chamber, moving in reverential silence, gazing on the boy's face as on a sacred treasure of their own. Till three o'clock in the morning the movement continued, the queen standing all this time like a beautiful statue, her son [249] still feigning slumber. It was a scene of remarkable and picturesque character.

That night of strain and excitement passed. The king was with them still, of that the people were assured; he must remain with them, there must be an end of midnight flights. The patrol was kept up, the gates watched, the king was a prisoner in the hands of the Parisians.

"The king, our master, is a captive," said M. Molé, voicing to the Parliament the queen's complaint.

"He was a captive, in the hands of Mazarin," replied the Duke of Orleans; "but, thank God, he is so no longer."

The people had won. Mazarin was beaten. He hastened to La Havre, where the princes were then confined, and set them at liberty himself. His power in France, for the time, was at an end. He made his way to the frontier, which he crossed on the 12th of March. He was just in time: the Parliament of Paris had issued orders for his arrest, wherever found in France.

We must end here, with this closing of the contest between Mazarin and the Fronde. History goes on to tell that the contest was reopened, Mazarin returned, there was battle in Paris, the Fronde failed, and Mazarin died in office.

The popular outbreak here briefly chronicled is of interest from the fact that it immediately followed the success of the insurrection in England and the execution of Charles I. The provocation was the [250] same in the two nations; the result highly different. In both cases it was a revolt against the tyranny of the court and the attempt to establish absolutism. But the difference in results lay in the fact that England had a single parliament, composed of politicians, while France had ten parliaments, composed of magistrates, and unaccustomed to handle great questions of public policy. Richelieu had taken from the civic parliaments of France what little power they possessed, and they were but shadowy prototypes of the English representative assembly. "Without any unity of action or aim, and by turns excited and dismayed by the examples that came to them from England, the Frondeurs had to guide them no Hampden or Cromwell; they had at their backs neither people nor army; the English had been able to accomplish a revolution; the Fronde failed before the dexterous prudence of Mazarin and the queen's fidelity to her minister."

There lay before France a century and a half of autocratic rule and popular suffering; then was to come the convening of the States-General, the rise of the people, and the final downfall of absolute royalty and feudal privileges in the red tide of the Revolution.


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