Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1658/Mazarin

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From Temple Bar.



There are not two biographers that agree as to the parentage of Cardinal Mazarin: a Jew, a fisherman, a banker, a Sicilian gentleman, have in turns been accredited with his progenitorship. It is generally understood, however, that his father was an artisan of Sicily, who, coming to Rome to seek his fortune, attracted the notice of the constable Colonna. This nobleman appointed him to be his steward, and held him in such high favour that he gave him his niece and god-daughter Ortensia Bufalini in marriage.

Giulio Mazarini — such is the correct form of his name, and the one in which he always wrote it until his naturalization in France — was born in the year 1602, while his mother was journeying in the Abruzzi. He was educated in the Roman college, which was under the control of the Jesuits, and rendered himself so remarkable by his talents that, when he was only sixteen, Grassi, the astronomer of the college, selected him to sustain public theses, in the presence of the cardinals and the most eminent literati, upon the great comet which appeared in that year; and he acquitted himself with an eloquence and strength of argument which won universal applause. The sons of Colonna were the companions of his studies and his intimate associates. Strikingly handsome, gifted with a marvellous power of insinuation, and a natural aptitude for intrigue, received on terms of equality in the palace of his patron, he acquired at the same time the distinguished manners and the vices of the great. While yet a youth, he was a confirmed gambler; fortune — some say finesse — usually favoured him, and filled his pockets with gold; but sometimes a reverse turn of the wheel left him without a sou: "The free-handed has Heaven for his treasurer," was a favourite saying of his.

The young Colonnas being sent to Spain to complete their education, his parents, hoping to divert him from such evil courses and evil associates, solicited that he might accompany them; which he did, ostensibly in the capacity of a valet de chambre, but in reality as a companion; no menial offices were ever performed by him, he had separate apartments, and studied in the same college. In all learning and accomplishments he made rapid progress, and won the heart of every person with whom he associated. Upon his return to Rome he took the degree of doctor of laws.

But in 1624 we find him a captain in the pontifical army stationed in the Valtelline, and employed in several political negotiations, his skill and address in the conduct of which won him the favour of Pope Urban.

He was [says his biographer, Bendetti] a veritable Proteus, speaking Spanish with the Spaniards, French with the French, and agreeable to all by his politeness and engaging manners; he seemed gifted with ubiquity; he was everywhere, according to the need of the service, at Turin, Venice, Milan, in the Valtelline.

But always observant, always studying the situation, always, as it were, instinctively divining the proper course; under the patronage of the powerful Cardinal Barberini, he played an important part in Italian politics.

In 1629 he was attached to the legation sent by Rome to mediate between France and Spain. The conference took place at Lyons, and it was here that he came to the turning-point of his career, his introduction to Cardinal Richelieu. "I have just been speaking to the greatest statesman I have ever seen!" Such was the great minister's emphatic declaration after his first interview with Giulio Mazarin. These words were probably a sincere tribute to an intellect whose subtle power he could peculiarly appreciate; but at the same time they expressed the satisfaction of the speaker in having found a valuable instrument for future use. There seems to have been an immediate rapprochement between these two men, who had some thing in common. Mazarin saw in Richelieu a patron who beyond all others could advance his fortunes, and by skilful flattery, to which no man was ever more susceptible than the cardinal, at once won his favour; while Richelieu discovered in the young diplomatist a clever unscrupulous adventurer, whose services might prove of incalculable value to him.

From that time Mazarin's French sympathies were gradually manifested. The treaty between France and Savoy (1630), which detached the latter from Spain, was the first result of these proclivities; after this he cajoled the Spaniards into restoring Pignerol on conditions, not fulfilled, of corresponding value on the other side. Upon his return to Rome he was accused of having betrayed the cause of Spain; but Cardinal Barberini defended him from all attacks, and Richelieu wrote the pontiff a letter teeming with his praises, and soliciting that he should be appointed nuncio to the court of France. This recommendation was not complied with until 1634, although he was named vice-legate of Avignon two years prievously. His mission was to demand the re-instalment of the Duc de Lorraine in his possessions.[1] Soon after his arrival in Paris he was attacked by a severe illness; Richelieu overwhelmed him with benefits and attentions, installed him in his own château at Ruel, solicited for him a cardinal's hat, and sent him as his own representative to the baptism of the dauphin. The hat was refused, and Spain, which could not be blind to this diplomatic comedy, was so loud in her complaints that the pope determined upon his recall.

Although his family now held a distinguished position in Rome — he himself had been created Monsignore — his mother being dead, his father had re-married into the noble house of Ursins, and his sisters had formed alliances almost equally distinguished — he resolved to renounce the service of the papal court, return to France, and place himself at the disposal of Richelieu. It was doubtless a prearranged affair; at all events, he was quite certain of being received with open arms; and it so happened that the cardinal's alter ego, Père Joseph, died about this time, thus leaving the field entirely clear for the new favourite. In 1639 he was naturalized a French citizen, "on account of the praiseworthy and important services he had rendered in divers negotiations." From that time he was employed in various diplomatic affairs, and in 1642 was created cardinal, the hat being placed upon his head by the king's own hands.

In the last month of that year died the great Richelieu. On his death-bed he strongly commended his protégé to the king; his commendation was not neglected — a circumstance as much owing to Mazarin's having already secured the royal favour as to respect for the dead servant's request, — he was at once admitted to the council; and as a further honour was selected to stand godfather to the dauphin, whose christening took place about this period.

The sinking state of Louis' health, and the extreme youth of his successor, turned all men's thoughts toward the inevitable regency, which lay between the queen and the Duc d'Orléans: the respective claims of the two candidates divided the court into opposing parties. Although the servant of Richelieu, Mazarin had never taken part either against Anne of Austria or any of her favourites, and too wise to lean upon the arch-traitor Gaston, he now turned toward her, and used every means to win her confidence. This he compassed through her most trusted councillor, the Bishop of Beauvais, an imbecile old man, whom it cost him little pains to overreach. About the expiring monarch gathered the two cabals, with fluctuating hopes. Louis had never truly pardoned the queen her supposed share in Chalais' conspiracy — never fully exonerated her from the dishonouring suspicions of the Buckingham affair; yet, whatever might have been his prejudices, he could scarcely have decided in favour of his infamous brother; and besides which, since the birth of her two sons, Anne had become highly popular. So at length, after long hesitation, he finally determined to appoint her regent after his death; but the opposite faction obtained for Orléans the presidency of the council, with the Prince de Condé for deputy; upon which Mazarin prevailed upon the king to appoint him second deputy. These restrictions upon her absolute authority were viewed by the Parlement, which was wholly devoted to her, with great disfayour, and from the moment that the decree was recorded upon its registers, it busied itself with the consideration of how it could be formally annulled. For some time the king fluctuated between life and death — one day he was seemingly in extremis, the next he was playing the guitar, and apparently in a fair way to recovery. News of his approaching end brought the exiles flocking into Paris; news of the favourable change drove them out again faster than they came. At length, on the 14th of May 1643, the long-expected, hoped-for event came to pass. Under the protection of the Due de Beaufort, the young king and his mother started immediately from Saint-Germain, and proceeded to Paris, where they were received with the utmost enthusiasm. So overawed was the poltroon Orléans by these demonstrations, and by the attitude of the Parlement, that he voluntarily resigned all power into her hands. Mazarin, finding himself in the background, resorted to a ruse; he begged permission of the queen to return to Italy, but mingled his request with the strongest protestations of devotion to her person. Greatly concerned, and taking his request in a literal sense, the queen laid the matter before the Count de Brienne, who, having a better understanding of the cardinal's motives, replied that if she offered to restore to his Eminence what he had lost by the annulling of the late king's will — namely, the deputy-deputy presidentship of the council, there was no doubt that he would gladly remain in her service. She followed this counsel with the result foretold.

From that day, Mazarin's star rose rapidly; he was appointed superintendent of the king's education, and began to gain that absolute ascendancy over the mind of Anne of Austria which terminated only with his life.

His wit and gentleness [says Madame de Motteville] pleased her from the first conversations she had with him, and frequently, speaking to those in whom she confided, she had testified that she was not displeased to see him in order that he might instruct her upon foreign affairs, of which he had a complete knowledge, and in which the late king employed him. [After he had obtained an authority] when those who were believed to possess it entirely did not imagine that he dared even to think of, he became in a little time master of the council, and the Bishop of Beauvais diminished in power as his competitor augmented; this new minister from that time used to come to the queen in the evenings and have great conferences with her.[2]

Mazarin was now in the prime of life, strikingly handsome in person, graceful in demeanour, insinuating in manners, and court and city were soon rife with scandals upon this close intimacy.

Were we to implicitly accept the testimonies of Madame de Motteville and La Porte, we should content ourselves by ascribing every doubtful passage of the queen's life to that excess of gallantry, which still stopped short of crime, that distinguished the Spanish manners of the period. But, valuable and authentic as are the memoirs bequeathed to us by those faithful servants, we must regard them where their mistress is concerned, as partisan; they were both her devoted friends, and would certainly, even if they had had proofs of her guilt, which is by no means probable, have declined blackening to posterity the name of one whom they regarded as the most amiable and injured of women. Yet, notwithstanding, they have recorded many suspicious facts, and much indirect evidence, against her. Whether she merited the cruel doubts and persecutions with which the king her husband harassed her throughout his life, is a problem that it is not the object of this paper to solve. If we are to believe a certain passage in De Retz's "Memoirs," suppressed in the first editions, her guilt with Buckingham is beyond dispute. But if she were guilty, few could ever plead more excuses. Young, beautiful, reared in the most gallant and romantic court of Europe; married to a man whom, if half the scandals of the time be true, she could not but loathe as well as despise, and who from the first treated her with profound indifference; licentiousness all around her; tyrannized over by an imperious mother-in-law; her every action spied upon by the malignant eyes of Richelieu or his creatures, and subjected at times to indignities that would have debased the meanest scullion of her palace — strong, indeed, must have been the rectitude or pride of her nature did it pass immaculate through such circumstances and temptations. But these things belong to a period anterior to the events with which this article is concerned — it is simply the question of her relations with Mazarin that I propose to examine, and I will begin with an extract from De Brienne's "Memoirs," in reading which it must be borne in mind that he was a believer in the queen's innocence. His mother, in a private interview, has informed her of the scandalous rumours which are rife in Paris: —

When she had finished, the queen, her eyes suffused with tears, replied to her: "Why, my dear, hast thou not told me this sooner. I confess to thee I love him, and, I may say, tenderly. But the affection I bear him does not go so far as love, or if it does it is without my knowing it, my senses have no part in it; my mind alone is charmed by the beauty of his. Would that be criminal? If there is even, in this love the shadow of a sin, I renounce it now before God and before the saints whose relics are in that oratory. I will speak to him

henceforth, I assure thee, only of affairs of State, and I will break off the conversation when he speaks to me of anything else." My mother, who was on her knees, took her hand and kissed it, and placed it near a reliquary which she had just taken from the altar. "Swear to me, madame," said she, "I beseech you, swear to me upon these holy relics, to keep forever that which you have just promised God." "I swear it," said the queen, placing her hand upon the reliquary, "and I pray God to punish me if I am conscious of the least evil."

"This is very strong," says Victor Cousin, in commenting upon this passage, "and would altogether persuade us if we did not remember that in 1637, leaving the communion-table, Anne swore upon the holy Eucharist, which she had just received, and upon the salvation of her soul, that she had not once written to Spain, while later she made confessions quite contrary to her first oaths." Here, at all events, we have a distinct confession of her love, and an admission that Mazarin did not always confine the conversation to State affairs. It was impossible for so acute an intellect as his to be ignorant of her disposition towards him, and it is almost equally impossible that so unscrupulous an adventurer, and one notorious for gallantry, should not have availed himself of her weakness to enhance his influence. Those who believe in the possibility of a platonic affection under such circumstances are beyond the reach of argument.

The deaths of Richelieu and Louis the Thirteenth had opened the prisons and frontiers of France to all the great cardinal's enemies and to all the queen's old adherents, who now swarmed upon the court like locusts, greedy to devour all favour. Chief among these was the Duc de Beaufort, son of the Duc de Vendôme, and grandson of Henry the Fourth, le roi des halles, as he was called, from his popularity among the market-women, whose manners and language it was his pleasure to imitate; the Duchesse de Chevreuse, the re-married widow of Albert de Luynes, the most intriguing and licentious woman of her age; Madame de Hauteville, whom Richelieu had banished because his royal master had looked upon her with eyes of favour; these, and many others, who called themselves the queen's party, formed a cabal, which was nicknamed the Importants. Upon their arrival at court they had believed that hatred of her old enemy the cardinal and the memory of old friendships would give them the first place in the regent's confidence and counsels. At first there seemed every probability that their expectations would be realized; they were received with open arms, and Mazarin, who, unlike his predecessor, always temporized with an enemy, while secretly undermining their influence, openly courted their friendship. To Madame de Chevreuse he was most profuse in his offers of service; but she, over-confident in her power, treated his advances with mockery and contempt, and resolved upon his destruction. One of the means adopted for this end was to repeat to the queen the sayings of every scandalous tongue in Paris, hoping thereby to force her pride to his dismissal. This course produced the very opposite effect to what they had intended it only strengthened the ties which united Anne and her minister, and as their insolence increased so did her friendship for them cool. The arrogance of Beaufort exceeded all bounds, he abused and threatened the cardinal and grossly insulted the queen, and to bring affairs to a crisis, the cabal formed a plot for the minister's assassination. The conspiracy was detected, and on the 2nd of September 1643 Beaufort was arrested, and Madame de Chevreuse and the other leaders of the Importants banished from the court and capital.

It is in the last days of the month of August [says Cousin] that we must place the certain date of the declared ascendancy, public and without rivals, of Mazarin over Anne of Austria. ... Those attacks to which the minister had just been exposed precipitated the victory of the happy cardinal, and the day after the last nocturnal ambuscade in which he was to have perished, Mazarin was the absolute master of the heart of the queen, and more powerful than Richelieu had been after the Day of Dupes.
On the 19th of November she represented in council that in consequence of the indisposition of M. le Cardinal Mazarin, and of his being obliged, with great pain, to pass daily across the garden of the Palais Royal, and seeing that at all hours he had new affairs to communicate to her, she found it necessary to give him accommodation in the Palais Royal in order that she might conveniently converse with him upon affairs.[3]

From that time he was only an occasional visitor to his own magnificent residence.

The National Library [to again quote Victor Cousin] contains, enclosed in a chest, called the chest of St.-Esprit, numbered upon the back 117,826, divers papers relative to Mazarin, among which are some letters under this title, "Lettres originales de la propre main de la Reyne Anne, mère du Roy Louis XIV., au Cardinal Mazarin." The authenticity of these letters cannot be for a moment contested; we undoubtedly recognize in them the hand of Anne of Austria, her bad writing and bad orthography. There are eleven letters, all autograph. It seems that formerly there must have been more, from the great space of time over which these letters extend, from 1653 to 1658, and we know that during those five years the queen and, the minister were several times separated, and would have much to write about. The first of these letters is at the end of 1652 or the commencement of 1653, when Mazarin with Louis the Fourteenth was with the army, and Anne of Austria remained in the centre of the government, at Paris, Fontainebleau, or Compiègne. The intimate connection, commenced in the middle of the year 1643, had already existed ten years at the commencement of this correspondence; it had then lost its early vivacity. On the other hand, Mazarin was all but victorious over all his enemies both within and without; his dangers, which had animated and sustained the queen, were dissipated. She was also obliged to express herself with a certain circumspection, her couriers running the risk of being intercepted. In fine, according to the fashion of the age, she employed a jargon only intelligible to Mazarin and herself, and of which the key has not been found, so that all which related to private affairs escapes us entirely, as there are also lines which cannot be read. Notwithstanding, however, the time, which would have deadened them, notwithstanding the circumstances which restrain expression, notwithstanding the mysterious cyphers in which they are veiled, the sentiments of Anne of Austria yet appear impressed with a profound tenderness. She sighs for Mazarin's return, and impatiently endures his absence. There are words which betray the trouble of her mind and almost of her senses. It seems, too, almost impossible to misunderstand the language of an affection very different to simple friendship and an attachment purely political.

I have not space to present extracts from these eleven letters, which the reader may consult himself in the appendix, pp. 471–482, of Victor Cousin's "Madame de Hautefort;" but will give instead a letter that speaks volumes, and which M. Valckenaer has subjoined to his "Mémoires sur Madame de Sévigné," the original of which he asserts to be in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Saintes, June 1660.

Your letter has given me great joy. I do not know if I shall be happy enough to make you believe it, and if I could believe that one of my letters would have pleased you as much I would have written it with a good heart, and it is true that to see the transports with which they were received and read brought strongly to mind another time of which I am almost always thinking. Although you may believe or doubt, I assure you that all my life shall be employed to testify to you that there never was a friendship more true than mine, and if you do not believe it, I hope in justice that you will some day repent of having doubted it; and if I could as easily make you see my heart as what I write upon this paper, I am assured you would be content, or you would be the most ungrateful man in the world, and that I do not believe.

The licentious press of the Fronde period teemed with scandals against the queen and her favourite; several pamphlets more than hint that there had been a marriage between them, and one or two even go so far as to name the priest who performed the ceremony.[4] Michelet favours this supposition; nor does it appear at all improbable that Anne of Austria, who was much of a devotee, should have resorted to such a means of quieting her conscience, more especially as, according to all the memoirs of the period, she had more than once been taken to task by the religious sisterhoods whom she was constantly in the habit of visiting. It will be objected that Mazarin, being a churchman, could not marry, but it is extremely doubtful whether he was ever ordained a priest, at least he never officiated as one.

Whatever might have been the relations which subsisted between queen and minister, it is certain that his control over her, the young king, and the government of the nation, was, throughout his life, absolute. While he lived in the pomp and luxury of an eastern potentate, Louis was kept in a state of absolute penury; he was suffered to grow out of his clothes, even the sheets upon his bed were in rags, and his carriages were mouldering with age. The civil wars which desolated the capital and many of the provinces for years were wholly directed against Mazarin, and these, together with all the odium which throughout that time the nation cast upon her, might have been suppressed by dismissing him from her councils. Of his brutal rudeness towards her during the latter years of his life, and even upon his death-bed, where a scene was enacted[5] which can bear but one explanation, all contemporaries bear witness, and, to conclude with a most significant fact, although previously notorious as a man of intrigue, from the commencement of his close relations with Anne of Austria, not even the most scandalous pamphlet ever accused him of an amour.

With the overthrow of the Importants commenced that period which is known in French history as "the fair days of the regency." Never, even during the reign of Richelieu, had France held so dominant a position in Europe. At Rocroi the young Condé had crushed the power of Spain, and, together with Turenne, marched from victory to victory, until the culmination at Lens and the peace of Münster. But while war raged without, all within was peace and tranquillity, taxes were repealed, largesses bestowed with a liberal hand, and the popularity of the regent attained such a height, that a courtier one day remarked that the whole French language was reduced to five words, "The queen is so good!"

In the days of his advancement, Mazarin had sought by clemency and a humility of demeanour to win popular approbation, and the change from the stern and pompous Richelieu was so striking that the very contrast secured his success. But from the fall of the Importants and the consolidation of his power all this was altered. He sent for his nephews and nieces from Rome and placed them in high positions about the court; he raised a guard for the protection of his person, and began to assume a style of regal splendour; he reduced the council of state to two persons beside himself, the Prince de Condé, father of the great general, and the Duc d'Orléans, and between these he craftily sowed the seeds of dissension by opposing their interests; by the aid of cajolery, large promises, and small fulfilments, and a fostering of selfish jealousies, he contrived, for a time, to preserve perfect tranquillity, and hold the balance between all parties. De Retz gives an admirable description of this state of things in the following paragraph: —

Monsieur (Orléans) thought himself above taking warning; the Prince de Condé, attached to the court by his avarice, was willing to believe so likewise; the Duc d'Enghien was just at the age to fall asleep under the shadow of his laurels; the Duc de Longueville opened his eyes, but it was only to shut them again; the Duc de Vendôme considered himself too happy only to have been exiled; the Duc de Nemours was but a child; the Duc de Guise, newly come back from Brussels, was ruled by Madame de Pons, and believed that he ruled all the court; the Duc de Bouillon fancied every day that they would give him back Sedan; Turenne was more than satisfied to command the army in Germany; the Duc d'Epernon was enchanted to have got into his post and his government; Schomberg had been all his life inseparable from everything that was well with the court; Grammont was its slave, and Messieurs de Retz, de Vitri, and de Bassompierre, believed themselves to be absolutely in favour, because they were no longer either prisoners or exiles. The Parlement, delivered from the Cardinal de Richelieu, who had kept it at a very low ebb, imagined that the age of gold must be that of a minister who told them every day that the queen would be guided only by their counsels.

But this contemptible and temporizing policy could not succeed forever. Posts promised to doubtful friends were treacherously bestowed to mollify certain enemies; no favour was granted without some pecuniary equivalent being wrung from the recipient; every man's pride was outraged by the sense of being befooled, and sullen murmurs swelled into howls of execration from every class of the community. There was no lion's hide beneath the fox's skin. Mazarin was a coward; when cunning failed him, he was lost and had to yield; he never dared to boldly dare his foes, and, conscious of his impotence, foes soon began to swarm around him in ever increasing numbers.

During "the fair days" Anne had emptied the treasure in bestowing largesses upon her friends; the effects of an empty exchequer soon began to be felt: magistrates, governors of towns and fortresses, officers, and even soldiers were unpaid, and but for loans from the commanders of the army it would have been impossible to have sustained the war then raging. The finances were under the superintendence of Emery, a name which his contemporaries have sent down to posterity loaded with execrations. Bussy Rabutin describes him as "harsh, proud, clever, intelligent in matters of business, ingenious in the creation of new subsidies to provide for the expenses of the war; he exercised a rigorous inquisition upon property of all kinds, and was never tired of trampling upon the subjects of the king." He had a difficult task to perform, and he performed it iniquitously; he created new offices of the, most extraordinary character, such as the comptroller of faggots, the criers of wine of the king's counsellors, and sold them to the highest bidders; he plundered the public funds, and granted the most infamous monopolies of public food. In 1548 there had been passed a law for limiting the growth of the capital within certain bounds, and this toisé, as it was called, he now revived, exacting from those who had built beyond the prescribed limits a heavy fine to redeem their property from demolition; the people rose in riot against the surveyors, who could carry out their orders only under the protection of a body of troops. This oppression was succeeded by another still worse — a new and exorbitant tariff upon all articles of food brought into Paris. The outcry of the people aroused the spirit of the Parlement, which had been crushed by Richelieu and cajoled by Mazarin, and it refused to verify the edict without certain modifications. Too timid to force an open rupture, Mazarin withdrew the tariff, but through his agent Emery revived a number of ancient imposts, which, although obsolete, having been sanctioned by former Parlements, could not be rejected. Six new edicts, however, which the king placed before Parlement at the opening of the year 1648 were so violently opposed that Mazarin, in an access of cowardly fear, yielded everything. Perceiving its own power and the weakness of the minister, the legislative assembly from that time took the upper hand, disputing even the just and reasonable demands of the government; the provincial Parlements followed the example of the metropolitan; De Retz was stirring the people to revolt, and, to culminate the confusion, the leader of the Importants, De Beaufort, was suffered to make his escape from Vincennes. Ere the disturbances assumed dangerous proportions, Mazarin, the queen, together with the young king, contrived to get out of Paris and take shelter at Saint-Germain. As I have described the Fronde period in a previous article,[6] I shall pass it over here with brief notice; indeed, throughout that memorable struggle Mazarin was a passive rather than an active person, a quintain at which all parties tilted; De Retz was the real hero of the civil war, and after him Condé and Beaufort, Madame de Chevreuse and Madame de Longueville, played the principal parts. A full description of the innumerable and tortuous intrigues of this extraordinary revolt would fill a whole number of the magazine, would prove exceedingly dull to the general reader, and would throw very little additional light upon Mazarin's character; his policy throughout was but a repetition of that which had gone before — it was false, temporizing, and cowardly. Three times was he obliged to quit Paris, and twice the kingdom, to save his life; once the Parlement declared him guilty of high treason, placed him beyond the pale of the law, and commanded all persons to put him to death wherever he might be found, offering one hundred and fifty thousand livres for his capture alive or dead. And yet, notwithstanding, upon his return from his third and last exile, on the 29th of March 1653, he was received with every mark of enthusiastic affection; the great nobles, many of whom had been his most virulent enemies, cast themselves at his feet, and jostled each other for the distinction of being first to crouch there; a grand festival was given in his honour at the Hôtel de Ville, and the multitude gathered about the building in crowds, and rent the air with acclamations whenever he appeared at the windows.

Such is the value of popular hate — and popular favour.

De Retz was in prison, Condé and Beaufort were in exile, the party of the Fronde was shattered, the populace were weary of civil strife, and Mazarin still remained master of queen and king. There is something marvellous in the tenacity with which through years of discord, hatred, rebellion, and exile, this man clung to power; France could no more shake him off than could Sinbad the old man of the sea. "I and time," was a favourite expression of his, and the two certainly wrought wonders for him. He lived down all hate and all enemies, and that with little or no assistance from the headman's axe, and passed the latter years of life in tranquillity, absolute authority, and a general toleration almost amounting to popularity. This it is which has given to posterity an exaggerated estimate of his talents. His rule from first to last was a vicious and unhappy one for France, the success which attended her arms was due to her great commanders, Condé and Turenne, and these were her only offsets against the oppression, exaction, and the wretched condition of her people which marked the whole period of his administration. Nothing could be more deplorable than the management of the finances. What it was under Emery has been already referred to; Fouquet appropriated and squandered the national money with a magnificent generosity that half blinds us to his faults; it was reserved for the great Colbert to redeem the crimes and errors of his predecessors. While commerce was almost extinct, the people famishing, and justice dead, Mazarin had but one thought, the aggrandisement of his power, and the increase of his enormous wealth. "Sire," said Fouquet to the king, "the exchequer is empty; but his Eminence the cardinal will lend you what you want." The magnificence of his state far surpassed that of royalty itself. When he left Paris for Spain to arrange the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the king's marriage, he took in his train sixty churchmen and nobles of the first rank, accompanied by their retinues; his household attendants were three hundred in number, besides a guard of three hundred foot and one hundred horse; his baggage was conveyed in eight waggons, each drawn by six horses; in addition to these were twenty-four mules, and a great number of led horses. His re-entrance into the capital with Louis and his bride is thus described in one of Madame Scarron's letters

The household of Cardinal Mazarin was not the ugliest. It began with seventy-two baggage-mules, of which the first twenty-four had housings, simple enough; the others had more beautiful, finer, and more brilliant housings than the finest tapestries you have ever seen. The last were of red velvet with gold and silver embroidery, and silver bits and bells, all of such magnificence as caused great exclamations. Then passed twenty-four pages, and all the gentlemen and officers of his household; after that, twelve carriages with six horses each, and his guards. In short, his household was more than an hour in passing.

Although usually grasping and avaricious, Mazarin could be magnificent at times. It is related that at one of his great fêtes he led his guests through a suite of apartments, in which they were shown furniture, mirrors, cabinets, candelabras, plate, jewels, and other costly articles worth five hundred thousand francs, and that when they had done admiring these riches, he informed them that he intended to put them all into a lottery for which each person should be presented with a ticket.

The means by which he had accumulated his riches were various, and mostly base: sales of offices, fines, peculations, gambling, plunder of all kinds. Gambling was the all-pervading vice of the age, and the especial favourite of the minister, who, probably, to draw men's minds from State affairs, carefully fostered and encouraged it at court. The king was early initiated into the custom, and staked and lost the little money he was allowed most royally in the cardinal's or Madame de Soisson's salons. Every mansion was a gaming-house, where scores of thousands of francs were lost and won every few minutes. From the court the passion descended to the city, and spread universal corruption.

Nevertheless, Mazarin did much to soften and polish the manners of the nobility, rendered rude and savage by generations of civil war. He introduced a taste for music, and brought singers and operas from Italy. Until his time the royal orchestra was limited to violins; he brought into use various other instruments till then unknown in France. Dancing was also greatly cultivated, and the ballet, which assumed such magnificent proportions during Louis the Fourteenth's reign, became a principal entertainment in all the court festivities. In fine, he initiated all the luxury, splendour, and refinement which ultimately degenerated into the sybaritism that distinguished the second half of the seventeenth century.

In the mean time he carefully excluded the young king from all State affairs, inclining him to frivolous and vicious pursuits, keeping from him all good books, and diverting his mind from all studies of an ennobling character, or which would instruct him in the art of government. In consequence of this training, the future Augustus grew up very ill-educated. La Porte, who was the king's personal attendant during his boyhood, has, in addition to this, brought an accusation against the cardinal too terrible to be repeated in these pages, the veracity of which is seemingly confirmed by the fact that, although banished on account of the assertion during Mazarin's lifetime, he was afterwards recalled and taken into favour, which would scarcely have come to pass had his story been false. After all, there must have been something truly great in Louis' nature that it could emerge so well from such a training.

Mazarin had married one niece to the Prince de Conti, and a second to the Duc de Mercœur; two others, Marie and Olympia Mancini, were unmarried; these the cardinal kept at court, and threw constantly into the young monarch's society. Madame de Motteville tells us, when Olympia first arrived in France, she was remarkably plain, but as she grew to womanhood a great improvement took place in her personal appearance. He eyes were always fine, but from being exceedingly thin, she became plump; her colour was high, but delicate; her cheeks were dimpled; her hands and feet small and exceedingly beautiful, and she possessed wit, talents, and grace. Such charms, thrown constantly in his way, could not fail to make some impression upon the heart of a boy of seventeen. They read, sat, talked, danced together, and Louis studied Italian for the express purpose of conversing with her in her own language. But the impression was not lasting; a rival, her own sister, Marie, who has been described as being positively ugly, after a time usurped her place in the king's affections; and took a far firmer hold upon them than Olympia had ever possessed. She reciprocated his tenderness with an all-absorbing passion. Madame de Motteville relates that Mazarin actually entertained the idea of raising his niece to the throne. "I very much fear," he said to the queen one day, "that the king too greatly desires to espouse my niece." The queen, who knew her minister, comprehending that he desired what he feigned to fear, replied haughtily, "If the king were capable of such an indignity, I would put my second son at the head of the whole nation against the king and against you."

Mazarin [writes Voltaire] never pardoned, it is said, that response of the queen, but he adopted the wise plan of thinking with her; he assumed honour and merit in opposing the passion of Louis the Fourteenth. His power had no need of a queen of the blood for its support; he feared even the character of his niece; and he believed that he strengthened the power of his ministry by avoiding the dangerous glory of elevating his house to too great a height.

Mazarin now resolved to at once remove Marie from the court; upon his declaring this intention, and forbidding any further intercourse between her and the king, her grief and despair was so heart-rending that Louis offered to break off the marriage then negotiating with the Infanta, and make her his queen. How admirably the wily cardinal could act a noble and self-denying part, is manifest in the reply he made to this offer: "Having been chosen by the late king, your father, and since then by the queen, your mother, to assist you by my councils, and having served you up to this moment with inviolable fidelity, far be it from me to misemploy the knowledge of your weakness, which you have given me, and the authority in your dominions, which you have bestowed upon me, and suffer you to do a thing so contrary to your dignity! I am the master of my niece, and would sooner stab her with my own hand than elevate her by so great a treachery." In two of his letters he threatened the king with resigning his office, and quitting France forever, unless he relinquished all thoughts of his niece. There are historical writers who have held these heroic effusions to be the expression of his real sentiments, and have praised them accordingly; but such a judgment is in direct contradiction of the whole life of the man. He who could systematically endeavour to debase a boy's mind, and to unfit a young monarch for all the duties of good government, must have been destitute of the nobility of character pretended to in that speech and those epistles. Besides which, the concluding gasconade about stabbing his niece with his own hand is so opposed to his cold and timid nature, that it would alone suffice to throw discredit upon the whole. It all meant what Voltaire says it did — he found it wise to think with the queen.

Orders were given that Marie should be placed in the convent to which poor Olympia had been already consigned. With tearful eyes the young Louis conducted her with his own hand to the carriage which was to take her away. "You weep, and yet you might command," were her parting words.

There had been several brides proposed for the young monarch — Henrietta of England, Marguerite of Savoy; but as both countries were desirous of cementing a peace, policy determined the Spanish alliance, and at the end of February 1660, after several months of negotiations, the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed, which gave France Alsace, Roussillon, and a large part of Flanders. "Mazarin has one fault," remarked Don Louis de Haro, the Spanish ambassador; "he suffers his design to cheat to be constantly apparent."

Although Louis was now twenty-two years of age, Mazarin still held absolute power over the State; the king presided over his councils, but his was but the shadow of authority; and those who would obtain favours from him must solicit them through the cardinal. The queen-mother was a mere cypher, who could obtain nothing for herself or her adherents without his permission. A painful and fatal disease, however, was hurrying him fast to the grave; anxious to conceal its ravages from strangers, when he received foreign ministers he had his cheeks covered with rouge. Death found him seated in his chair, dressed in his full cardinal's robes, and his beard carefully trimmed, as if for a levée; he continued to sign dispatches while his hand could grasp a pen; power passed away only with life. To the last he was consistent with his old hypocrisy; a few hours before his decease he sent a message to the Parlement, in which he declared that he died its very humble servant. The event took place on the 9th of March 1661.

The character of Mazarin is fully pourtrayed in the events of his life: how poor it appears beside the Satanic grandeur of his predecessor! it is all mean and wholly mediocre. "Eight years of absolute and tranquil power from his return until his death were marked by no establishment, either glorious or useful," remarks Voltaire. With all his cunning and subtlety, his knowledge of human nature was very shallow. Judging from himself, he believed interest to be the ruling passion of all men, and seldom or never in his calculations made allowance for vanity, pride, self-love, and woman-love, which determine more than the half of human actions. Self-interest is the usual goal we propose upon starting, but we so often wander out of the straight road into enticing-looking bypaths, in the mazes of which we sometimes lose ourselves, and never find the way back. It is said that Mazarin completed Richelieu's work; truly he followed up the policy of his great predecessor as far as his own dissimilar nature would permit him; but the one was an oak that braved every tempest unflinchingly, the other a reed that bent before the storm, and, when it was past, rose up straight and supple as before. Richelieu was half lion, half fox; Mazarin was all fox and no lion. Richelieu had given an impetus to his work that carried it resistlessly on to its appointed end; he would have crushed the Fronde in fewer weeks than it existed years, and but for what he had done it would have assumed proportions terrible as the League, but he had crippled the hands which would have made it so, and his mighty genius asserted itself even in the grave.

Mazarin possessed one amiable virtue — clemency. His whole career is unmarked by one vindictive or sanguinary act; never had minister caused so little blood to flow by the axe, and never had minister enemies more numerous and bloodthirsty. This is rare and unique praise for a man of that age. But we must remember that the Italians were at least a century in advance of the French in civilization. Let us not, however, begrudge him this virtue, for he had few others.

  1. Orléans had, without the king's consent, secretly married his sister; for which an army was sent against him, and Nancy seized.
  2. La Porte also speaks of these long tête-à-têtes.
  3. The Princess Palatine, many years afterwards, used to point out the secret passage by which Mazarin gained access to the queen's chamber.
  4. In "La Suite de Silence au bout des Doights" occurs this passage: "Why so much blame the queen for loving the cardinal? Is she not obliged to do so if they are married, and Père Vincent has ratified and approved their marriage?"
  5. "Quelques jours avant sa mort elle (la reine), elle l'alla visiter pendant qu'il était au lit, et lui demanda comment il se trouvait. 'Très-mal,' repondit-il, et, sans dire autre chose, il jéta ses convertures, sortit sa jambe et sa cuisse nues hors du lit, et les montrant à la reine, qui en fut fort étonné, aussi bien que tous les spectateurs: 'Voyez, madame,' lui dit-il, 'ces jambes qui ont perdu le répos en le donnant à la France!' En effet, sa jambe et sa coisse étaient si décharnées, si livides et si couvertes de taches, que cela faisait pitié. La reine jeta un grand cri et se prit à pleurer." — "Mémoires de Brienne."
  6. See "De Retz and the Fronde," Living Age, No. 1523