The Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 12

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Famous Historians








_With a staff of specialists VOLUME XII_

%The National Alumni% 1905



_An Outline Narrative of the Great Events_ CHARLES F. HORNE

_Louis XIV Establishes Absolute Monarchy (A.D. 1661)_ JAMES COTTER MORISON

_New York Taken by the English (A.D. 1664)_ JOHN R. BRODHEAD

_Great Plague in London (A.D. 1665)_

_Great Fire in London (A.D. 1666)_

_Discovery of Gravitation (A.D. 1666)_ SIR DAVID BREWSTER

_Morgan, the Buccaneer, Sacks Panama (A.D. 1671)_ JOHANN W. VON ARCHENHOLZ

_Struggle of the Dutch against France and England (A.D. 1672)_ C.M. DAVIES.

_Discovery of the Mississippi
La Salle Names Louisiana (A.D. 1673-1682)_ FRANÇOIS XAVIER GARNEAU

_King Philip’s War (A.D. 1675)_

_Growth of Prussia under the Great Elector His Victory at Fehrbellin (A.D. 1675)_

_William Penn Receives the Grant of Pennsylvania Founding of Philadelphia (A.D. 1681)_

_Last Turkish Invasion of Europe Sobieski Saves Vienna (A.D. 1683)_ SUTHERLAND MENZIES

_Monmouth’s Rebellion (A.D. 1685)_

_Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (A.D. 1685)_ BON LOUIS HENRI MARTIN

_The English Revolution
Flight of James II (A.D. 1688)_

_Peter the Great Modernizes Russia
Suppression of the Streltsi (A.D. 1689)_ ALFRED RAMBAUD

_Tyranny of Andros in New England
The Bloodless Revolution (A.D. 1689)_ CHARLES WYLLYS ELLIOTT

_Massacre of Lachine (A.D. 1689)_

_Siege of Londonderry and Battle of the Boyne (A.D. 1689-1690)_ TOBIAS GEORGE SMOLLETT

_Salem Witchcraft Trials (A.D. 1692)_ RICHARD HILDRETH

_Establishment of the Bank of England (A.D. 1694)_ JOHN FRANCIS

_Colonization of Louisiana (A.D. 1699)_ CHARLES E.T. GAYARRÉ

_Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom (A.D. 1701)_ LEOPOLD VON RANKE

_Founding of St. Petersburg (A.D. 1703)_ K. WALISZEWSKI

_Battle of Blenheim (A.D. 1704)
Curbing of Louis XIV_,

_Union of England and Scotland (A.D. 1707)_ JOHN HILL BURTON

_Downfall of Charles XII at Poltava (A.D. 1709) Triumph of Russia_

_Capture of Port Royal (A.D. 1710)
France Surrenders Nova Scotia to England_ DUNCAN CAMPBELL

_Universal Chronology (A.D. 1661-1715)_ JOHN RUDD



_Surrender of Marshal Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim_, Painting by R. Caton Woodville.

_The Duke of Monmouth humiliates himself before King James II_, Painting by J. Pettie, A.R.A.

_Charles XII carried on a litter during the Battle of Poltava_, Painting by W. Hauschild.


Tracing Briefly The Causes, Connections, And Consequencies Of


(Age Of Louis XIV)


It is related that in 1661, on the day following the death of the great Cardinal Mazarin, the various officials of the State approached their young King, Louis XIV. “To whom shall we go now for orders, Your Majesty?” “To me,” answered Louis, and from that date until his death in 1715 they had no other master. Whether we accept the tale as literal fact or only as the vivid French way of visualizing a truth, we find here the central point of over fifty years of European history. The two celebrated cardinals, Richelieu and Mazarin, had, by their strength and wisdom, made France by far the most powerful state in Europe. Moreover, they had so reduced the authority of the French nobility, the clergy, and the courts of law as to have become practically absolute and untrammelled in their control of the entire government. Now, all this enormous power, both at home and abroad, over France and over Europe, was assumed by a young man of twenty-three. “I am the state,” said Louis at a later period of his career. He might almost have said, “I am Europe,” looking as he did only to the Europe that dominated, and took pleasure in itself, and made life one continued glittering revel of splendor. Independent Europe, that claimed the right of thinking for itself, the suffering Europe of the peasants, who starved and shed their blood in helpless agony–these were against Louis almost from the beginning, and ever increasingly against him.

At first the young monarch found life very bright around him. His courtiers called him “the rising sun,” and his ambition was to justify the title, to be what with his enormous wealth and authority was scarcely difficult, the Grand Monarch. He rushed into causeless war and snatched provinces from his feeble neighbors, exhausted Germany and decaying Spain. He built huge fortresses along his frontiers, and military roads from end to end of his domains. His court was one continuous round of splendid entertainments. He encouraged literature, or at least pensioned authors and had them clustered around him in what Frenchmen call the Augustan Age of their development.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Louis XIV Establishes Absolute Monarchy_, page 1.]

The little German princes of the Rhine, each of them practically independent ruler of a tiny state, could not of course compete with Louis or defy him. Nor for a time did they attempt it. His splendor dazzled them. They were content to imitate, and each little prince became a patron of literature, or giver of entertainments, or builder of huge fortresses absurdly disproportioned to his territory and his revenues. Germany, it has been aptly said, became a mere tail to the French kite, its leaders feebly draggling after where Louis soared. Never had the common people of Europe or even the nobility had less voice in their own affairs. It was an age of absolute kingly power, an age of despotism.

England, which under Cromwell had bid fair to take a foremost place in Europe, sank under Charles II into unimportance. Its people wearied with tumult, desired peace more than aught else; its King, experienced in adversity, and long a homeless wanderer in France and Holland, seemed to have but one firm principle in life. Whatever happened he did not intend, as he himself phrased it, to go on his “travels” again. He dreaded and hated the English Parliament as all the Stuarts had; and, like his father, he avoided calling it together. To obtain money without its aid, he accepted a pension from the French King. Thus England also became a servitor of Louis. Its policy, so far as Charles could mould it, was France’s policy. If we look for events in the English history of the time we must find them in internal incidents, the terrible plague that devastated London in 1665,[1] the fire of the following year, that checked the plague but almost swept the city out of existence.[2] We must note the founding of the Royal Society in 1660 for the advancement of science, or look to Newton, its most celebrated member, beginning to puzzle out his theory of gravitation in his Woolsthorpe garden.[3]

[Footnote 1: See _Great Plague in London_, page 29.]

[Footnote 2: See _Great Fire in London_, page 45.]

[Footnote 3: See _Discovery of Gravitation_, page 51.]


Louis’s first real opponent he found in sturdy Holland. Her fleets and those of England had learned to fight each other in Cromwell’s time, and they continued to struggle for the mastery of the seas. There were many desperate naval battles. In 1664 an English fleet crossed the ocean to seize the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, and it became New York.[4] In 1667 a Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and burned the shipping, almost reaching London itself.

[Footnote 4: See _New York Taken by the English_, page 19.]

Yet full as her hands might seem with strife like this, Holland did not hesitate to stand forth against the aggression of Louis’s “rising sun.” When in his first burst of kingship, he seized the Spanish provinces of the Netherlands and so extended his authority to the border of Holland, its people, frightened at his advance, made peace with England and joined an alliance against him. Louis drew back; and the Dutch authorized a medal which depicted Holland checking the rising sun. Louis never forgave them, and in 1672, having secured German neutrality and an English alliance, he suddenly attacked Holland with all his forces.[5]

[Footnote 5: See _Struggle of the Dutch against France and England_, page 86.]

For a moment the little republic seemed helpless. Her navy indeed withstood ably the combined assaults of the French and English ships, but the French armies overran almost her entire territory. It was then that her people talked of entering their ships and sailing away together, transporting their nation bodily to some colony beyond Louis’s reach. It was then that Amsterdam set the example which other districts heroically followed, of opening her dykes and letting the ocean flood the land to drive out the French. The leaders of the republic were murdered in a factional strife, and the young Prince William III of Orange, descended from that William the Silent who had led the Dutch against Philip II, was made practically dictator of the land. This young Prince William, afterward King William III of England, was the antagonist who sprang up against Louis, and in the end united all Europe against him and annihilated his power.

Seeing the wonderful resistance that little Holland made against her apparently overwhelming antagonists, the rest of Germany took heart; allies came to the Dutch. Brandenburg and Austria and Spain forced Louis to fall back upon his own frontier, though with much resolute battling by his great general, Turenne.

Next to young William, Louis found his most persistent opponent in Frederick William, the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg and Prussia, undoubtedly the ablest German sovereign of the age, and the founder of Prussia’s modern importance. He had succeeded to his hereditary domains in 1640, when they lay utterly waste and exhausted in the Thirty Years’ War; and he reigned until 1688, nearly half a century, during which he was ever and vigorously the champion of Germany against all outside enemies. He alone, in the feeble Germany of the day, resisted French influence, French manners, and French aggression.

In this first general war of the Germans and their allies against Louis, Frederick William proved the only one of their leaders seriously to be feared. Louis made an alliance with Sweden and persuaded the Swedes to overrun Brandenburg during its ruler’s absence with his forces on the Rhine. But so firmly had the Great Elector established himself at home, so was he loved, that the very peasantry rose to his assistance. “We are only peasants,” said their banners, “but we can die for our lord.” Pitiful cry! Pitiful proof of how unused the commons were to even a little kindness, how eagerly responsive! Frederick William came riding like a whirlwind from the Rhine, his army straggling along behind in a vain effort to keep up. He hurled himself with his foremost troops upon the Swedes, and won the celebrated battle of Fehrbellin. He swept his astonished foes back into their northern peninsula. Brandenburg became the chief power of northern Germany.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Growth of Prussia under the Great Elector: His Victory at Fehrbellin_, page 138.]

In 1679 the Peace of Ryswick ended the general war, and left Holland unconquered, but with the French frontier extended to the Rhine, and Louis at the height of his power, the acknowledged head of European affairs. Austria was under the rule of Leopold I, Emperor of Germany from 1657 to 1705, whose pride and incompetence wholly prevented him from being what his position as chief of the Hapsburgs would naturally have made him, the leader of the opposition, the centre around whom all Europe could rally to withstand Louis’s territorial greed. Leopold hated Louis, but he hated also the rising Protestant “Brandenburger,” he hated the “merchant” Dutch, hated everybody in short who dared intrude upon the ancient order of his superiority, who refused to recognize his impotent authority. So he would gladly have seen Louis crush every opponent except himself, would have found it a pleasant vengeance indeed to see all these upstart powers destroying one another.

Moreover, Austria was again engaged in desperate strife with the Turks. These were in the last burst of their effort at European conquest. No longer content with Hungary, twice in Leopold’s reign did they advance to attack Vienna. Twice were they repulsed by Hungarian and Austrian valor. The final siege was in 1683. A vast horde estimated as high as two hundred thousand men marched against the devoted city. Leopold and most of the aristocracy fled, in despair of its defence. Only the common people who could not flee, remained, and with the resolution of despair beat off the repeated assaults of the Mahometans.[2]

[Footnote 2: See _Last Turkish Invasion of Europe: Sobieski Saves Vienna_, page 164.]

They were saved by John Sobieski, a king who had raised Poland to one of her rare outflashing periods of splendor. With his small but gallant Polish army he came to the rescue of Christendom, charged furiously upon the huge Turkish horde, and swept it from the field in utter flight. The tide of Turkish power receded forever; that was its last great wave which broke before the walls of Vienna. All Hungary was regained, mainly through the efforts of Austria’s greatest general, Prince Eugene of Savoy. The centre of the centuries of strife shifted back where it had been in Hunyady’s time, from Vienna to the mighty frontier fortress of Belgrad, which was taken and retaken by opposing forces.


The earlier career of Louis XIV seems to have been mainly influenced by his passion for personal renown; but he had always been a serious Catholic, and in his later life his interest in religion became a most important factor in his world. The Protestants of France had for wellnigh a century held their faith unmolested, safeguarded by that Edict of Nantes, which had been granted by Henry IV, a Catholic at least in name, and confirmed by Cardinal Richelieu, a Catholic by profession. Persuasive measures had indeed been frequently employed to win the deserters back to the ancient Church; but now under Louis’s direction, a harsher course was attempted. The celebrated “dragonades” quartered a wild and licentious soldiery in Protestant localities, in the homes of Protestant house-owners, with special orders to make themselves offensive to their hosts. Under this grim discouragement Protestantism seemed dying out of France, and at last, in 1685, Louis, encouraged by success, took the final step and revoked the Edict of Nantes, commanding all his subjects to accept Catholicism, while at the same time forbidding any to leave the country. Huguenots who attempted flight were seized; many were slain. Externally at least, the reformed religion disappeared from France.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Revocation of the Edict of Nantes_, page 180.]

Of course, despite the edict restraining them, many Huguenots, the most earnest and vigorous of the sect, did escape by flight; and some hundred thousands of France’s ablest citizens were thus lost to her forever. Large numbers found a welcome in neighboring Holland; the Great Elector stood forward and gave homes to a wandering host of the exiles. England received colonies of them; and even distant America was benefited by the numbers who sought her freer shores. No enemy to France in all the world but received a welcome accession to its strength against her.

In the same year that Protestant Europe was thus assailed and terrified by the reviving spectre of religious persecution, Charles II of England died and his brother James II succeeded him. Charles may have been Catholic at heart, but in name at least he had retained the English religion. James was openly Catholic. A hasty rebellion raised against him by his nephew, Monmouth, fell to pieces;[1] and James, having executed Monmouth and approved a cruel persecution of his followers, began to take serious steps toward forcing the whole land back to the ancient faith.

[Footnote 1: See _Monmouth’s Rebellion_, page 172.]

So here was kingly absolutism coming to the aid of the old religious intolerance. The English people, however, had already killed one king in defence of their liberties; and their resolute opposition to James began to suggest that they might kill another. Many of the leading nobles appealed secretly to William of Orange for help. William was, as we have said, the centre of opposition to Louis, and that began to mean to Catholicism as well. Also, William had married a daughter of King James and had thus some claim to interfere in the family domains. And, most important of all, as chief ruler of Holland, William had an army at command. With a portion of that army he set sail late in 1688 and landed in England. Englishmen of all ranks flocked to join him. King James fled to France, and a Parliament, hastily assembled in 1689, declared him no longer king and placed William and his wife Mary on the throne as joint rulers.[2] Thus William had two countries instead of one to aid him in his life-long effort against Louis.

[Footnote 2: See _The English Revolution: Flight of James II_, page 200.]

Louis, indeed, accepted the accession of his enemy as a threat of war and, taking up the cause of the fugitive James, despatched him with French troops to Ireland, where his Catholic faith made the mass of the people his devoted adherents. There were, however, Protestant Irish as well, and these defied James and held his troops at bay in the siege of Londonderry, while King William hurried over to Ireland with an army. Father-in-law and son-in-law met in the battle of the Boyne, and James was defeated in war as he had been in diplomacy. He fled back to France, leaving his Catholic adherents to withstand William as best they might. Limerick, the Catholic stronghold, was twice besieged and only yielded when full religious freedom had been guaranteed. Irishmen to this day call it with bitterness “the city of the violated treaty.”[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Siege of Londonderry and the Battle of the Boyne_, page 258.]

Meanwhile the strife between Louis and William had spread into another general European war. William had difficulties to encounter in his new kingdom. Its people cared little for his Continental aims and gave him little loyalty of service. In fact, peculation among public officials was so widespread that, despite large expenditures of money, England had only a most feeble, inefficient army in the field, and William was in black disgust against his new subjects. It was partly to aid the Government in its financial straits that the Bank of England was formed in 1694.[2]

[Footnote 2: See _Establishment of the Bank of England_, page 286.]

Yet Louis’s troubles were greater and of deeper root. Catholic Austria and even the Pope himself, unable to submit to the arrogance of the “Grand Monarch,” took part against him in this war. It can therefore no longer be regarded as a religious struggle. It marks the turning-point in Louis’s fortunes. His boundless extravagance had exhausted France at last. Both in wealth and population she began to feel the drain. The French generals won repeated victories, yet they had to give slowly back before their more numerous foes; and in 1697 Louis purchased peace by making concessions of territory as well as courtesy.

This peace proved little more than a truce. For almost half a century the European sovereigns had been waiting for Charles II of Spain to die. He was the last of his race, last of the Spanish Hapsburgs descended from the Emperor Charles V, and so infirm and feeble was he that it seemed the flickering candle of his life must puff out with each passing wind. Who should succeed him? In Mazarin’s time, that crafty minister had schemed that the prize should go to France, and had wedded young Louis XIV to a Spanish princess. The Austrian Hapsburgs of course wanted the place for themselves, though to establish a common ancestry with their Spanish kin they must turn back over a century and a half to Ferdinand and Isabella.

But strong men grew old and died, while the invalid Charles II still clung to his tottering throne. Louis ceased hoping to occupy it himself and claimed it for his son, then for his grandson, Philip. Not until 1700, after a reign of nearly forty years, did Charles give up the worthless game and expire. He declared Philip his heir, and the aged Louis sent the youth to Spain with an eager boast, “Go; there are no longer any Pyrenees.” That is, France and Spain were to be one, a mighty Bourbon empire.

That was just what Europe, experienced in Louis’s unscrupulous aggression, dared not allow. So another general alliance was formed, with William of Holland and England at its head, to drive Philip from his new throne in favor of a Hapsburg. William died before the war was well under way, but the British people understood his purposes now and upheld them. Once more they felt themselves the champions of Protestantism in Europe. Anne, the second daughter of the deposed King James, was chosen as queen; and under her the two realms of England and Scotland were finally joined in one by the Act of Union (1707), with but a single Parliament.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Union of England and Scotland_, page 341.]

Meanwhile Marlborough was sent to the Rhine with a strong British army. Prince Eugene paused in fighting the Turks and joined him with Austrian and German troops. Together they defeated the French in the celebrated battle of Blenheim (1704),[2] and followed it in later years with Oudenarde and Malplaquet. Louis was beaten. France was exhausted. The Grand Monarch pleaded for peace on almost any terms.

[Footnote 2: See _Battle of Blenheim: Curbing of Louis XIV_, page 327.]

Yet his grandson remained on the Spanish throne. For one reason, the Spaniards themselves upheld him and fought for him. For another, the allies’ Austrian candidate became Emperor of Germany, and to make him ruler of Spain as well would only have been to consolidate the Hapsburg power instead of that of the Bourbons. Made dubious by this balance between evils, Europe abandoned the war. So there were two Bourbon kingdoms after all–but both too exhausted to be dangerous.

Louis had indeed outlived his fame. He had roused the opposition of all his neighbors, and ruined France in the effort to extend her greatness. The praises and flattery of his earlier years reached him now only from the lips of a few determined courtiers. His people hated him, and in 1715 celebrated his death as a release. Frenchmen high and low had begun the career which ended in their terrific Revolution. Lying on his dreary death-bed, the Grand Monarch apologized that he should “take so long in dying.” Perhaps he, also, felt that he delayed the coming of the new age. What his career had done was to spread over all Europe a new culture and refinement, to rouse a new splendor and recklessness among the upper classes, and to widen almost irretrievably the gap between rich and poor, between kings and commons. In the very years that parliamentary government was becoming supreme in England, absolutism established itself upon the Continent.


Toward the close of this age the balance of power in Northern Europe shifted quite as markedly as it had farther south. Three of the German electoral princes became kings. The Elector of Saxony was chosen King of Poland, thereby adding greatly to his power. George, Elector of Hanover, became King of England on the death of Queen Anne. And the Elector of Brandenburg, son of the Great Elector, when the war of 1701 against France and Spain broke out, only lent his aid to the European coalition on condition that the German Emperor should authorize him also to assume the title of king, not of Brandenburg but of his other and smaller domain of Prussia, which lay outside the empire. Most of the European sovereigns smiled at this empty change of title without a change of dominions; but Brandenburg or Prussia was thus made more united, more consolidated, and it soon rose to be the leader of Northern Germany. A new family, the Hohenzollerns, contested European supremacy with the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Prussia Proclaimed a Kingdom_, page 310.]

More important still was the strife between Sweden and Russia. Sweden had been raised by Gustavus Adolphus to be the chief power of the North, the chosen ally of Richelieu and Mazarin. Her soldiers were esteemed the best of the time. The prestige of the Swedes had, to be sure, suffered somewhat in the days when the Great Elector defeated them so completely at Fehrbellin and elsewhere. But Louis XIV had stood by them as his allies, and saved them from any loss of territory, so that in 1700 Sweden still held not only the Scandinavian peninsula but all the lands east of the Baltic as far as where St. Petersburg now stands, and much of the German coast to southward. The Baltic was thus almost a Swedish lake, when in 1697 a new warrior king, Charles XII, rose to reassert the warlike supremacy of his race. He was but fifteen when he reached the throne; and Denmark, Poland, and Russia all sought to snatch away his territories. He fought the Danes and defeated them. He fought the Saxon Elector who had become king of Poland. Soon both Poland and Saxony lay crushed at the feet of the “Lion of the North,” as they called him then–“Madman of the North,” after his great designs had failed. Only Russia remained to oppose him–Russia, as yet almost unknown to Europe, a semi-barbaric frontier land, supposedly helpless against the strength and resources of civilization.

Russia was in the pangs of a most sudden revolution. Against her will she was being suddenly and sharply modernized by Peter the Great, most famous of her czars. He had overthrown the turbulent militia who really ruled the land, and had waded through a sea of bloody executions to establish his own absolute power.[1] He had travelled abroad in disguise, studied shipbuilding in Holland, the art of government in England, and fortification and war wheresoever he could find a teacher. Removing from the ancient, conservative capital of Moscow, he planted his government, in defiance of Sweden, upon her very frontier, causing the city of St. Petersburg to arise as if by magic from a desolate, icy swamp in the far north.[2]

[Footnote 1: See _Peter the Great Modernizes Russia: Suppression of the Streltsi_, page 223.]

[Footnote 2: See _Founding of St. Petersburg_, page 319.]

Charles of Sweden scorned and defied him. At Narva in 1700, Charles with a small force of his famous troops drove Peter with a huge horde of his Russians to shameful flight. “They will teach us to beat them,” said Peter philosophically; and so in truth he gathered knowledge from defeat after defeat, until at length at Poltava in 1709 he completely turned the tables upon Charles, overthrew him and so crushed his power that Russia succeeded Sweden as ruler of the extreme North, a rank she has ever since retained.[1]

[Footnote 1: See _Downfall of Charles XII at Poltava: Triumph of Russia_, page 352.]


The vast political and social changes of Europe in this age found their echo in the New World. The decay of Spain left her American colonies to feebleness and decay. The islands of the Caribbean Sea became the haunt of the buccaneers, pirates, desperadoes of all nations who preyed upon Spanish ships, and, as their power grew, extended their depredations northward along the American coast. So important did these buccaneers become that they formed regular governments among themselves. The most famed of their leaders was knighted by England as Sir Henry Morgan; and the most renowned of his achievements was the storm and capture of the Spanish treasure city, Panama.[2]

[Footnote 2: See _Morgan, the Buccaneer, Sacks Panama_, page 66.]

As Spain grew weak in America, France grew strong. From her Canadian colonies she sent out daring missionaries and traders, who explored the great lakes and the Mississippi valley.[3] They made friends with the Indians; they founded Louisiana.[4] All the north and west of the continent fell into their hands.

[Footnote 3: See _Discovery of the Mississippi_, page 108.]

[Footnote 4: See _Colonization of Louisiana_, page 297.]

Never, however, did their numbers approach those of the English colonists along the Atlantic coast. Both Massachusetts and Virginia were grown into important commonwealths, almost independent of England, and well able to support the weaker settlements rising around them. After the great Puritan exodus to New England to escape the oppression of Charles I, there had come a Royalist exodus to Virginia to escape the Puritanic tyranny of Cromwell’s time. Large numbers of Catholics fled to Maryland. Huguenots established themselves in the Carolinas and elsewhere. Then came Penn to build a great Quaker state among the scattered Dutch settlements along the Delaware.[1] The American seaboard became the refuge of each man who refused to bow his neck to despotism of whatever type.

[Footnote 1: See _William Penn Receives the Grant of Pennsylvania: Founding of Philadelphia_, page 153.]

Under such settlers English America soon ceased to be a mere offshoot of Europe. It became a world of its own; its people developed into a new race. They had their own springs of action, their own ways of thought, different from those of Europe, more simple and intense as was shown in the Salem witchcraft excitement, or more resolute and advanced as was revealed in Bacon’s Virginia rebellion.[2]

[Footnote 2: See _Salem Witchcraft Trials_, page 268.]

The aboriginal inhabitants, the Indians, found themselves pressed ever backward from the coast. They resisted, and in 1675 there arose in New England, King Philip’s war, which for that section at least settled the Indian question forever. The red men of New England were practically exterminated.[3] Those of New York, the Iroquois, were more fortunate or more crafty. They dwelt deeper in the wilderness, and formed a buffer state between the French in Canada and the English to the south, drawing aid now from one, now from the other.

[Footnote 3: See _King Philip’s War_, page 125.]

Each war between England and Louis XIV was echoed by strife between their rival colonies. When King William supplanted James in 1688 there followed in America also a “bloodless revolution.”[4] Governor Andros, whom James had sent to imitate his own harsh tyranny in the colonies, was seized and shipped back to England. William was proclaimed king. The ensuing strife with France was marked by the most bloody of all America’s Indian massacres. The Iroquois descended suddenly on Canada; the very suburbs of its capital, Montreal, were burned, and more than a thousand of the unsuspecting settlers were tortured, or more mercifully slain outright.[5]

[Footnote 4: See _Tyranny of Andros in New England: The Bloodless Revolution_, page 241.]

[Footnote 5: See _Massacre of Lachine_, page 248.]

In the later war about the Spanish throne, England captured Nova Scotia, the southern extremity of the French Canadian seaboard; and part of the price Louis XIV paid for peace was to leave this colony in England’s hands.[1] The scale of American power began to swing markedly in her favor. Everywhere over the world, as the eighteenth century progressed, England with her parliamentary government was rising into power at the expense of France and absolutism.

[Footnote 1: See _Capture of Port Royal: France Surrenders Nova Scotia to England_, page 373.]



A.D. 1661


Not only was the reign of Louis XIV one of the longest in the world’s history, but it also marked among Western nations the highest development of the purely monarchical principle. Including the time that Louis ruled under the guardianship of his mother and the control of his minister, Cardinal Mazarin, the reign covered more than seventy years (1643-1715).

The sovereign who could say, “I am the state” (“_l’État c’est moi_”), and see his subjects acquiesce with almost Asiatic humility, while Europe looked on in admiration and fear, may be said to have embodied for modern times the essence of absolutism.

That all things, domestic and foreign, seemed to be in concurrence for giving practical effect to the Grand Monarque’s assumption of supremacy is shown by the fact that his name dominates the whole history of his time. His reign was not only “the Augustan Age of France”; it marked the ascendency of France in Europe.

Of such a reign no adequate impression is to be derived from reading even the most faithful narrative of its thronging events. But the reign as well as the personality of Louis is set in clear perspective for us by Morison’s picturesque and discriminating treatment.

The reign of Louis XIV was the culminating epoch in the history of the French monarchy. What the age of Pericles was in the history of the Athenian democracy, what the age of the Scipios was in the history of the Roman Republic, that was the reign of Louis XIV in the history of the old monarchy of France. The type of polity which that monarchy embodied, the principles of government on which it reposed or brought into play, in this reign attain their supreme expression and development. Before Louis XIV the French monarchy has evidently not attained its full stature; it is thwarted and limited by other forces in the state. After him, though unresisted from without, it manifests symptoms of decay from within. It rapidly declines, and totally disappears seventy-seven years after his death.

But it is not only the most conspicuous reign in the history of France–it is the most conspicuous reign in the history of monarchy in general. Of the very many kings whom history mentions, who have striven to exalt the monarchical principle, none of them achieved a success remotely comparable to his. His two great predecessors in kingly ambition, Charles V and Philip II, remained far behind him in this respect. They may have ruled over wider dominions, but they never attained the exceptional position of power and prestige which he enjoyed for more than half a century. They never were obeyed so submissively at home nor so dreaded and even respected abroad. For Louis XIV carried off that last reward of complete success, that he for a time silenced even envy, and turned it into admiration. We who can examine with cold scrutiny the make and composition of this colossus of a French monarchy; who can perceive how much the brass and clay in it exceeded the gold; who know how it afterward fell with a resounding ruin, the last echoes of which have scarcely died away, have difficulty in realizing the fascination it exercised upon contemporaries who witnessed its first setting up.

Louis XIV’s reign was the very triumph of commonplace greatness, of external magnificence and success, such as the vulgar among mankind can best and most sincerely appreciate. Had he been a great and profound ruler, had he considered with unselfish meditation the real interests of France, had he with wise insight discerned and followed the remote lines of progress along which the future of Europe was destined to move, it is lamentably probable that he would have been misunderstood in his lifetime and calumniated after his death.

Louis XIV was exposed to no such misconception. His qualities were on the surface, visible and comprehensible to all; and although none of them was brilliant, he had several which have a peculiarly impressive effect when displayed in an exalted station. He was indefatigably industrious; worked on an average eight hours a day for fifty-four years; had great tenacity of will; that kind of solid judgment which comes of slowness of brain, and withal a most majestic port and great dignity of manners. He had also as much kindliness of nature as the very great can be expected to have; his temper was under severe control; and, in his earlier years at least, he had a moral apprehensiveness greater than the limitations of his intellect would have led one to expect.

His conduct toward Molière was throughout truly noble, and the more so that he never intellectually appreciated Molière’s real greatness. But he must have had great original fineness of tact, though it was in the end nearly extinguished by adulation and incense. His court was an extraordinary creation, and the greatest thing he achieved. He made it the microcosm of all that was the most brilliant and prominent in France. Every order of merit was invited there and received courteous welcome. To no circumstance did he so much owe his enduring popularity. By its means he impressed into his service that galaxy of great writers, the first and the last classic authors of France, whose calm and serene lustre will forever illumine the epoch of his existence. It may even be admitted that his share in that lustre was not so accidental and undeserved as certain king-haters have supposed.

That subtle critic, M. Sainte-Beuve, thinks he can trace a marked rise even in Bossuet’s style from the moment he became a courtier of Louis XIV. The King brought men together, placed them in a position where they were induced and urged to bring their talents to a focus. His court was alternately a high-bred gala and a stately university. If we contrast his life with those of his predecessor and successor, with the dreary existence of Louis XIII and the crapulous lifelong debauch of Louis XV, we become sensible that Louis XIV was distinguished in no common degree; and when we further reflect that much of his home and all of his foreign policy was precisely adapted to flatter, in its deepest self-love, the national spirit of France, it will not be quite impossible to understand the long-continued reverberation of his fame.

But Louis XIV’s reign has better titles than the adulations of courtiers and the eulogies of wits and poets to the attention of posterity. It marks one of the most memorable epochs in the annals of mankind. It stretches across history like a great mountain range, separating ancient France from the France of modern times. On the further slope are Catholicism and feudalism in their various stages of splendor and decay–the France of crusade and chivalry, of St. Louis and Bayard. On the hither side are freethought, industry, and centralization–the France of Voltaire, Turgot, and Condorcet.

When Louis came to the throne the Thirty Years’ War still wanted six years of its end, and the heat of theological strife was at its intensest glow. When he died the religious temperature had cooled nearly to freezing-point, and a new vegetation of science and positive inquiry was overspreading the world. This amounts to saying that his reign covers the greatest epoch of mental transition through which the human mind has hitherto passed, excepting the transition we are witnessing in the day which now is. We need but recall the names of the writers and thinkers who arose during Louis XIV’s reign, and shed their seminal ideas broadcast upon the air, to realize how full a period it was, both of birth and decay; of the passing away of the old and the uprising of the new forms of thought.

To mention only the greatest; the following are among the chiefs who helped to transform the mental fabric of Europe in the age of Louis XIV: Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Locke, Boyle. Under these leaders the first firm irreversible advance was made out of the dim twilight of theology into the clear dawn of positive and demonstrative science.

Inferior to these founders of modern knowledge, but holding a high rank as contributors to the mental activity of the age, were Pascal, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Bayle. The result of their efforts was such a stride forward as has no parallel in the history of the human mind. One of the most curious and significant proofs of it was the spontaneous extinction of the belief in witchcraft among the cultivated classes of Europe, as the English historian of rationalism has so judiciously pointed out. The superstition was not much attacked, and it was vigorously defended, yet it died a natural and quiet death from the changed moral climate of the world.

But the chief interest which the reign of Louis XIV offers to the student of history has yet to be mentioned. It was the great turning-point in the history of the French people. The triumph of the monarchical principle was so complete under him, independence and self-reliance were so effectually crushed, both in localities and individuals, that a permanent bent was given to the national mind–a habit of looking to the government for all action and initiative permanently established.

Before the reign of Louis XIV it was a question which might fairly be considered undecided: whether the country would be able or not, willing or not, to coöperate with its rulers in the work of the government and the reform of abuses. On more than one occasion such coöperation did not seem entirely impossible or improbable. The admirable wisdom and moderation shown by the Tiers-État in the States-General of 1614, the divers efforts of the Parliament of Paris to check extravagant expenditure, the vigorous struggles of the provincial assemblies to preserve some relic of their local liberties, seemed to promise that France would continue to advance under the leadership indeed of the monarchy, yet still retaining in large measure the bright, free, independent spirit of old Gaul, the Gaul of Rabelais, Montaigne, and Joinville.

After the reign of Louis XIV such coöperation of the ruler and the ruled became impossible. The government of France had become a machine depending upon the action of a single spring. Spontaneity in the population at large was extinct, and whatever there was to do must be done by the central authority. As long as the government could correct abuses it was well; if it ceased to be equal to this task, they must go uncorrected. When at last the reform of secular and gigantic abuses presented itself with imperious urgency, the alternative before the monarchy was either to carry the reform with a high hand or perish in the failure to do so. We know how signal the failure was, and could not help being, under the circumstances; and through having placed the monarchy between these alternatives, it is no paradox to say that Louis XIV was one of the most direct ancestors of the “Great Revolution.”

Nothing but special conditions in the politics both of Europe and of France can explain this singular importance and prominence of Louis XIV’s reign. And we find that both France and Europe were indeed in an exceptional position when he ascended the throne. The Continent of Europe, from one end to the other, was still bleeding and prostrate from the effect of the Thirty Years’ War when the young Louis, in the sixteenth year of his age, was anointed king at Rheims. Although France had suffered terribly in that awful struggle, she had probably suffered less than any of the combatants, unless it be Sweden.

It happened by a remarkable coincidence that precisely at this moment, when the condition of Europe was such that an aggressive policy on the part of France could be only with difficulty resisted by her neighbors, the power and prerogatives of the French crown attained an expansion and preeminence which they had never enjoyed in the previous history of the country. The schemes and hopes of Philip the Fair, of Louis XI, of Henry IV, and of Richelieu had been realized at last; and their efforts to throw off the insolent coercion of the great feudal lords had been crowned with complete success. The monarchy could hardly have conjectured how strong it had become but for the abortive resistance and hostility it met with in the Fronde.

The flames of insurrection which had shot up, forked and menacing, fell back underground, where they smouldered for four generations yet to come. The kingly power soared, single and supreme, over its prostrate foes. Long before Louis XIV had shown any aptitude or disposition for authority, he was the object of adulation as cringing as was ever offered to a Roman emperor. When he returned from his consecration at Rheims, the rector of the University of Paris, at the head of his professorial staff, addressed the young King in these words: “We are so dazzled by the new splendor which surrounds your majesty that we are not ashamed to appear dumfounded at the aspect of a light so brilliant and so extraordinary”; and at the foot of an engraving at the same date he is in so many words called a demigod.

It is evident that ample materials had been prepared for what the vulgar consider a great reign. Abundant opportunity for an insolent and aggressive foreign policy, owing to the condition of Europe. Security from remonstrance or check at home, owing to the condition of France. The temple is prepared for the deity; the priests stand by, ready to offer victims on the smoking altar; the incense is burning in anticipation of his advent. On the death of Mazarin, in 1661, he entered into his own.

Louis XIV never forgot the trials and humiliations to which he and his mother had been subjected during the troubles of the Fronde. It has often been remarked that rulers born in the purple have seldom shown much efficiency unless they have been exposed to exceptional and, as it were, artificial probations during their youth. During the first eleven years of Louis’ reign–incomparably the most creditable to him–we can trace unmistakably the influence of the wisdom and experience acquired in that period of anxiety and defeat. He then learned the value of money and the supreme benefits of a full exchequer. He also acquired a thorough dread of subjection to ministers and favorites–a dread so deep that it implied a consciousness of probable weakness on that side. As he went on in life he to a great extent forgot both these valuable lessons, but their influence was never entirely effaced. To the astonishment of the courtiers and even of his mother he announced his intention of governing independently, and of looking after everything himself. They openly doubted his perseverance. “You do not know him,” said Mazarin. “He will begin rather late, but he will go further than most. There is enough stuff in him to make four kings and an honest man besides.”

His first measures were dictated less by great energy of initiative than by absolute necessity. The finances had fallen into such a chaos of jobbery and confusion that the very existence of the government depended upon a prompt and trenchant reform. It was Louis’ rare good-fortune to find beside him one of the most able and vigorous administrators who have ever lived–Colbert. He had the merit–not a small one in that age–of letting this great minister invent and carry out the most daring and beneficial measures of reform, of which he assumed all the credit to himself. The first step was a vigorous attack on the gang of financial plunderers, who, with Fouquet at their head, simply embezzled the bulk of the state revenues. The money-lenders not only obtained the most usurious interest for their loans, but actually held in mortgage the most productive sources of the national taxation: and, not content with that, they bought up, at 10 per cent. of their nominal value, an enormous amount of discredited bills, issued by the government in the time of the Fronde, which they forced the treasury to pay off at par; and this was done with the very money they had just before advanced to the government.

Such barefaced plunder could not be endured, and Colbert was the last man to endure it. He not only repressed peculation, but introduced a number of practical improvements in the distribution, and especially in the mode of levying the taxes. So imperfect were the arrangements connected with the latter that it was estimated that of eighty-four millions paid by the people, only thirty-two millions entered into the coffers of the state. The almost instantaneous effects of Colbert’s measures–the yawning deficit was changed into a surplus of forty-five millions in less than two years–showed how gross and flagrant had been the malversation preceding.

Far more difficult, and far nobler in the order of constructive statesmanship, were his vast schemes to endow France with manufactures, with a commercial and belligerent navy, with colonies, besides his manifold reforms in the internal administration–tariffs and customs between neighboring provinces of France; the great work of the Languedoc canal; in fact, in every part and province of government. His success was various, but in some cases really stupendous. His creation of a navy almost surpasses belief. In 1661, when he first became free to act, France possessed only thirty vessels-of-war of all sizes. At the peace of Nimwegen, in 1678, she had acquired a fleet of one hundred twenty ships, and in 1683 she had got a fleet of one hundred seventy-six vessels; and the increase was quite as great in the size and armament of the individual ships as in their number.

A perfect giant of administration, Colbert found no labor too great for his energies, and worked with unflagging energy sixteen hours a day for twenty-two years. It is melancholy to be forced to add that all this toil was as good as thrown away, and that the strong man went broken-hearted to the grave, through seeing too clearly that he had labored in vain for an ungrateful egotist. His great visions of a prosperous France, increasing in wealth and contentment, were blighted; and he closed his eyes upon scenes of improvidence and waste more injurious to the country than the financial robbery which he had combated in his early days. The government was not plundered as it had been, but itself was exhausting the very springs of wealth by its impoverishment of the people.

Boisguillebert, writing in 1698, only fifteen years after Colbert’s death, estimated the productive powers of France to have diminished by one-half in the previous thirty years. It seems, indeed, probable that the almost magical rapidity and effect of Colbert’s early reforms turned Louis XIV’s head, and that he was convinced that it only depended on his good pleasure to renew them to obtain the same result. He never found, as he never deserved to find, another Colbert; and he stumbled onward in ever deeper ruin to his disastrous end.

His first breach of public faith was his attack on the Spanish Netherlands, under color of certain pretended rights of the Queen, his wife–the Infanta Marie Thérèse; although he had renounced all claims in her name at his marriage. This aggression was followed by his famous campaign in the Low Countries, when Franche-Comté was overrun and conquered in fifteen days. He was stopped by the celebrated triple alliance in mid career. He had not yet been intoxicated by success and vanity; Colbert’s influence, always exerted on the side of peace, was at its height, the menacing attitude of Holland, England, and Sweden awed him, and he drew back. His pride was deeply wounded, and he revolved deep and savage schemes of revenge. Not on England, whose abject sovereign he knew could be had whenever he chose to buy him, but on the heroic little republic which had dared to cross his victorious path. His mingled contempt and rage against Holland were indeed instinctive, spontaneous, and in the nature of things. Holland was the living, triumphant incarnation of the two things he hated most–the principle of liberty in politics and the principle of free inquiry in religion.

With a passion too deep for hurry or carelessness he made his preparations. The army was submitted to a complete reorganization. A change in the weapons of the infantry was effected, which was as momentous in its day as the introduction of the breech-loading rifle in ours. The old inefficient firelock was replaced by the flint musket, and the rapidity and certainty of fire vastly increased. The undisciplined independence of the officers commanding regiments and companies was suppressed by the rigorous and methodical Colonel Martinet, whose name has remained in other armies besides that of France as a synonyme of punctilious exactitude.

The means of offence being thus secured, the next step was to remove the political difficulties which stood in the way of Louis’ schemes; that is, to dissolve Sir W. Temple’s diplomatic masterpiece, the triple alliance. The effeminate Charles II was bought over by a large sum of money and the present of a pretty French mistress. Sweden also received a subsidy, and her schemes of aggrandizement on continental Germany were encouraged. Meanwhile the illustrious man who ruled Holland showed that kind of weakness which good men often do in the presence of the unscrupulous and wicked. John de Witt could not be convinced of the reality of Louis’ nefarious designs. France had ever been Holland’s best friend, and he could not believe that the policy of Henry IV, of Richelieu and Mazarin, would be suddenly reversed by the young King of France. He tried negotiations in which he was amused by Louis so long as it suited the latter’s purpose. At last, when the King’s preparations were complete, he threw off the mask, and insultingly told the Dutch that it was not for hucksters like them, and usurpers of authority not theirs, to meddle with such high matters.

Then commenced one of the brightest pages in the history of national heroism. At first the Dutch were overwhelmed; town after town capitulated without a blow. It seemed as if the United Provinces were going to be subdued, as Franche-Comté had been five years before. But Louis XIV had been too much intoxicated by that pride which goes before a fall to retain any clearness of head, if indeed he ever had any, in military matters. The great Condé, with his keen eye for attack, at once suggested one of those tiger-springs for which he was unequalled among commanders. Seeing the dismay of the Dutch, he advised a rapid dash with six thousand horse on Amsterdam. It is nearly certain, if this advice had been followed, that the little commonwealth, so precious to Europe, would have been extinguished; and that that scheme, born of heroic despair, of transferring to Batavia, “under new stars and amid a strange vegetation,” the treasure of freedom and valor ruined in its old home by the Sardanapalus of Versailles, might have been put in execution. But it was not to be.

Vigilant as Louis had been in preparation, he now seemed to be as careless or incompetent in execution. Not only he neglected the advice of his best general, and wasted time, but he did his best to drive his adversaries to despair and the resistance which comes of despair. They were told by proclamation that “the towns which should try to resist the forces of his majesty by opening the dikes or by any other means would be punished with the utmost rigor; and when the frost should have opened roads in all directions, his majesty would give no sort of quarter to the inhabitants of the said towns, but would give orders that their goods should be plundered and their houses burned.”

The Dutch envoys, headed by De Groot, son of the illustrious Grotius, came to the King’s camp to know on what terms he would make peace. They were refused audience by the theatrical warrior, and told not to return except armed with full powers to make any concessions he might dictate. Then the “hucksters” of Amsterdam resolved on a deed of daring which is one of the most exalted among “the high traditions of the world.” They opened the sluices and submerged the whole country under water. Still, their position was almost desperate, as the winter frosts were nearly certain to restore a firm foothold to the invader.

They came again suing for peace, offering Maestricht, the Rhine fortresses, the whole of Brabant, the whole of Dutch Flanders, and an indemnity of ten millions. This was proffering more than Henry IV, Richelieu, or Mazarin had ever hoped for. These terms were refused, and the refusal carried with it practically the rejection of Belgium, which could not fail to be soon absorbed when thus surrounded by French possessions. But Louis met these offers with the spirit of an Attila. He insisted on the concession of Southern Gueldres and the island of Bommel, twenty-four millions of indemnity, the endowment of the Catholic religion, and an extraordinary annual embassy charged to present his majesty with a gold medal, which should set forth how the Dutch owed to him the conservation of their liberties. Such vindictive cruelty makes the mind run forward and dwell with a glow of satisfied justice on the bitter days of retaliation and revenge which in a future, still thirty years off, will humble the proud and pitiless oppressor in the dust; when he shall be a suppliant, and a suppliant in vain, at the feet of the haughty victors of Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde.

But Louis’ mad career of triumph was gradually being brought to a close. He had before him not only the waste of waters, but the iron will and unconquerable tenacity of the young Prince of Orange, “who needed neither hope to made him dare nor success to make him persevere.” Gradually, the threatened neighbors of France gathered together and against her King. Charles II was forced to recede from the French alliance by his Parliament in 1674. The military massacre went on, indeed, for some years longer in Germany and the Netherlands; but the Dutch Republic was saved, and peace ratified by the treaty of Nimwegen.

After the conclusion of the Dutch War the reign of Louis XIV enters on a period of manifest decline. The cost of the war had been tremendous. In 1677 the expenditure had been one hundred ten millions, and Colbert had to meet this with a net revenue of eighty-one millions. The trade and commerce of the country had also suffered much during the war. With bitter grief the great minister saw himself compelled to reverse the beneficent policy of his earlier days, to add to the tax on salt, to increase the ever-crushing burden of the _taille_, to create new offices–hereditary employments in the government–to the extent of three hundred millions, augmenting the already monstrous army of superfluous officials, and, finally, simply to borrow money at high interest. The new exactions had produced widespread misery in the provinces before the war came to an end. In 1675 the Governor of Dauphiné had written to Colbert, saying that commerce had entirely ceased in his district, and that the larger part of the people had lived during the winter on bread made from acorns and roots, and that at the time of his writing they were seen to be eating the grass of the fields and the bark of trees. The long-continued anguish produced at last despair and rebellion.

In Bordeaux great excesses were committed by the mob, which were punished with severity. Six thousand soldiers were quartered in the town, and were guilty of such disorders that the best families emigrated, and trade was ruined for a long period. But Brittany witnessed still worse evils. There also riots and disturbances had been produced by the excessive pressure of the imposts. An army of five thousand men was poured into the province, and inflicted such terror on the population that the wretched peasants, at the mere sight of the soldiers, threw themselves on their knees in an attitude of supplication and exclaimed, “_Mea culpa_.” The lively Madame de Sévigné gives us some interesting details concerning these events in the intervals when court scandal ran low and the brave doings of Madame de Montespan suffered a temporary interruption. “Would you like,” says the tender-hearted lady to her daughter, “would you like to have news of Rennes? There are still five thousand soldiers here, as more have come from Nantes. A tax of one hundred thousand crowns has been laid upon the citizens, and if the money is not forthcoming in twenty-four hours the tax will be doubled and levied by the soldiers. All the inhabitants of a large street have already been driven out and banished, and no one may receive them under pain of death; so that all these poor wretches, old men, women recently delivered, and children, were seen wandering in tears as they left the town, not knowing whither to go or where to sleep or what to eat. The day before yesterday one of the leaders of the riot was broken alive on the wheel. Sixty citizens have been seized, and to-morrow the hanging will begin.” In other letters she writes that the tenth man had been broken on the wheel, and she thinks he will be the last, and that by dint of hanging it will soon be left off.

Such was the emaciated France which Louis the Great picked systematically to the bone for the next thirty-five years. He had long ceased to be guided by the patriotic wisdom of the great Colbert. His evil genius now was the haughty and reckless Louvois, who carefully abstained from imitating the noble and daring remonstrances against excessive expenditure which Colbert addressed to his master, and through which he lost his influence at court. Still, with a self-abnegation really heroic, Colbert begged, urged, supplicated the King to reduce his outlay. He represented the misery of the people. “All letters that come from the provinces, whether from the intendants, the receivers-general, and even the bishops, speak of it,” he wrote to the King. He insisted on a reduction of the taille by five or six millions; and surely it was time, when its collection gave rise to such scenes as have just been described. It was in vain. The King shut his eyes to mercy and reason. His gigantic war expenditure, when peace came, was only partially reduced. For, indeed, he was still at war, but with nature and self-created difficulties of his own making.

He was building Versailles: transplanting to its arid sands whole groves of full-grown trees from the depths of distant forests, and erecting the costly and fantastic marvel of Marli to afford a supply of water. Louis’ buildings cost, first and last, a sum which would be represented by about twenty million pounds. The amount squandered on pensions was also very great. The great Colbert’s days were drawing to a close, and he was very sad. It is related that a friend on one occasion surprised him looking out of a window in his château of Sceau, lost in thought and apparently gazing on the well-tilled fields of his own manor. When he came out of his reverie his friend asked him his thoughts. “As I look,” he said, “on these fertile fields, I cannot help remembering what I have seen elsewhere. What a rich country is France! If the King’s enemies would let him enjoy peace it would be possible to procure the people that relief and comfort which the great Henry promised them. I could wish that my projects had a happy issue, that abundance reigned in the kingdom, that everyone were content in it, and that without employment or dignities, far from the court and business, I saw the grass grow in my home farm.”

The faithful, indefatigable worker was breaking down, losing strength, losing heart, but still struggling on manfully to the last. It was noticed that he sat down to his work with a sorrowful, despondent look, and not, as had been his wont, rubbing his hands with the prospect of toil, and exulting in his almost superhuman capacity for labor. The ingratitude of the King, whom he had served only too well, gave him the final blow. Louis, with truculent insolence, reproached him with the “frightful expenses” of Versailles. As if they were Colbert’s fault. Colbert, who had always urged the completion of the Louvre and the suppression of Versailles.

At last the foregone giant lay down to die. A tardy touch of feeling induced Louis to write him a letter. He would not read it. “I will hear no more about the King,” he said; “let him at least allow me to die in peace. My business now is with the King of kings. If,” he continued, unconsciously, we may be sure, plagiarizing Wolsey, “if I had done for God what I have done for that man, my salvation would be secure ten times over; and now I know not what will become of me.”

Surely a tender and touching evidence of sweetness in the strong man who had been so readily accused of harshness by grasping courtiers. The ignorant ingratitude of the people was even perhaps more melancholy than the wilful ingratitude of the King. The great Colbert had to be buried by night, lest his remains should be insulted by the mob. He, whose heart had bled for the people’s sore anguish, was rashly supposed to be the cause of that anguish. It was a sad conclusion to a great life. But he would have seen still sadder days if he had lived.

The health of the luxurious, self-indulgent Louis sensibly declined after he had passed his fortieth year. In spite of his robust appearance he had never been really strong. His loose, lymphatic constitution required much support and management. But he habitually over-ate himself. He was indeed a gross and greedy glutton. “I have often seen the King,” says the Duchess of Orleans, “eat four platefuls of various soups, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a large dish of salad, stewed mutton with garlic, two good slices of ham, a plate of pastry, and then fruit and sweetmeats.” A most unwholesome habit of body was the result.

An abscess formed in his upper jaw, and caused a perforation of the palate, which obliged him to be very careful in drinking, as the liquid was apt to pass through the aperture and come out by the nostrils. He felt weak and depressed, and began to think seriously about “making his salvation.” His courtly priests and confessors had never inculcated any duties but two–that of chastity and that of religious intolerance–and he had been very remiss in both. He now resolved to make hasty reparation. The ample charms of the haughty Montespan fascinated him no more. He tried a new mistress, but she did not turn out well. Madame de Fontanges was young and exquisitely pretty, but a giddy, presuming fool. She moreover died shortly. He was more than ever disposed to make his salvation–that is, to renounce the sins of the flesh, and to persecute his God-fearing subjects, the Protestants.

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, one of the greatest crimes and follies which history records, was too colossal a misdeed for the guilt of its perpetration to be charged upon one man, however wicked or however powerful he may have been. In this case, as in so many others, Louis was the exponent of conditions, the visible representative of circumstances which he had done nothing to create. Just as he was the strongest king France ever had, without having contributed himself to the predominance of the monarchy, so, in the blind and cruel policy of intolerance which led to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, he was the delegate and instrument of forces which existed independently of him. A willing instrument, no doubt; a representative of sinister forces; a chooser of the evil part when mere inaction would have been equivalent to a choice of the good. Still, it is due to historic accuracy to point out that, had he not been seconded by the existing condition of France, he would not have been able to effect the evil he ultimately brought about.

Louis’ reign continued thirty years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, years crowded with events, particularly for the military historian, but over the details of which we shall not linger on this occasion. The brilliant reign becomes unbearably wearisome in its final period. The monotonous repetition of the same faults and the same crimes–profligate extravagance, revolting cruelty, and tottering incapacity–is as fatiguing as it is uninstructive. Louis became a mere mummy embalmed in etiquette, the puppet of his women and shavelings. The misery in the provinces grew apace, but there was no disturbance: France was too prostrate even to groan.

In 1712 the expenditure amounted to two hundred forty millions, and the revenue to one hundred thirteen millions; but from this no less than seventy-six millions had to be deducted for various liabilities the government had incurred, leaving only a net income of thirty-seven millions–that is to say, the outlay was more than six times the income.

The armies were neither paid nor fed, the officers received “food-tickets” (_billets de subsistance_), which they got cashed at a discount of 80 per cent. The government had anticipated by ten years its revenues from the towns. Still, this pale corpse of France must needs be bled anew to gratify the inexorable Jesuits, who had again made themselves complete masters of Louis XIV’s mind. He had lost his confessor, Père la Chaise (who died in 1709), and had replaced him by the hideous Letellier, a blind and fierce fanatic, with a horrible squint and a countenance fit for the gallows. He would have frightened anyone, says Saint-Simon, who met him at the corner of a wood. This repulsive personage revived the persecution of the Protestants into a fiercer heat than ever, and obtained from the moribund King the edict of March 8,1715, considered by competent judges the clear masterpiece of clerical injustice and cruelty. Five months later Louis XIV died, forsaken by his intriguing wife, his beloved bastard (the Due de Maine), and his dreaded priest.

The French monarchy never recovered from the strain to which it had been subjected during the long and exhausting reign of Louis XIV. Whether it could have recovered in the hands of a great statesman summoned in time is a curious question. Could Frederick the Great have saved it had he been _par impossible_ Louis XIV’s successor? We can hardly doubt that he would have adjourned, if not have averted, the great catastrophe of 1789. But it is one of the inseparable accidents of such a despotism as France had fallen under, that nothing but consummate genius can save it from ruin; and the accession of genius to the throne in such circumstances is a physiological impossibility.

The house of Bourbon had become as effete as the house of Valois in the sixteenth century; as effete as the Merovingians and Carlovingians had become in a previous age; but the strong chain of hereditary right bound up the fortunes of a great empire with the feeble brain and bestial instincts of a Louis XV. This was the result of concentrating all the active force of the state in one predestined irremovable human being. This was the logical and necessary outcome of the labors of Philip Augustus, Philip the Fair, of Louis XI, of Henry IV, and Richelieu. They had reared the monarchy like a solitary obelisk in the midst of a desert; but it had to stand or fall alone; no one was there to help it, as no one was there to pull it down. This consideration enables us to pass into a higher and more reposing order of reflection, to leave the sterile impeachment of individual incapacity, and rise to the broader question, and ask why and how that incapacity was endowed with such fatal potency for evil. As it has been well remarked, the loss of a battle may lead to the loss of a state; but then, what are the deeper reasons which explain why the loss of a battle should lead to the loss of a state? It is not enough to say that Louis XIV was an improvident and passionate ruler, that Louis XV was a dreary and revolting voluptuary. The problem is rather this: Why were improvidence, passion, and debauchery in two men able to bring down in utter ruin one of the greatest monarchies the world has ever seen? In other words, what was the cause of the consummate failure, the unexampled collapse, of the French monarchy?

No personal insufficiency of individual rulers will explain it; and, besides, the French monarchy repeatedly disposed of the services of admirable rulers. History has recorded few more able kings than Louis le Gros, Philip Augustus, Philip le Bel, Louis XI, and Henry IV; few abler ministers than Sully, Richelieu, Colbert, and Turgot. Yet the efforts of all these distinguished men resulted in leading the nation straight into the most astounding catastrophe in human annals. Whatever view we take of the Revolution, whether we regard it as a blessing or as a curse, we must needs admit it was a reaction of the most violent kind–a reaction contrary to the preceding action.

The old monarchy can only claim to have produced the Revolution in the sense of having provoked it; as intemperance has been known to produce sobriety, and extravagance parsimony. If the _ancien régime_ led in the result to an abrupt transition to the modern era, it was only because it had rendered the old era so utterly execrable to mankind that escape in any direction seemed a relief, were it over a precipice.


A.D. 1664


For half a century the Dutch colony in New York, then called New Netherlands, had developed under various administrations, when British conquest brought it under another dominion. This transfer of the government affected the whole future of the colony and of the great State into which it grew, although the original Dutch influence has never disappeared from its character and history.

Under Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Governor (1647-1664), the colony made great progress. He conciliated the Indians, agreed upon a boundary line with the English colonists at Hartford, Connecticut, and took possession of the colony of New Sweden, in Delaware.

Meanwhile the English colonists in different parts of North America were carrying on illicit trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam (New York city). The English government, already jealous of the growing commerce of Holland, was irritated by the loss of revenue, and resolved in 1663 upon the conquest of New Netherlands. Brodhead, the historian of New York, recounts the steps of this conquest in a manner which brings the rival powers and their agents distinctly before us.

England now determined boldly to rob Holland of her American province. King Charles II accordingly sealed a patent granting to the Duke of York and Albany a large territory in America, comprehending Long Island and the islands in its neighborhood–his title to which Lord Stirling had released–and all the lands and rivers from the west side of the Connecticut River to the east side of Delaware Bay. This sweeping grant included the whole of New Netherlands and a part of the territory of Connecticut, which, two years before, Charles had confirmed to Winthrop and his associates.

The Duke of York lost no time in giving effect to his patent. As lord high admiral he directed the fleet. Four ships, the Guinea, of thirty-six guns; the Elias, of thirty; the Martin, of sixteen; and the William and Nicholas, of ten, were detached for service against New Netherlands, and about four hundred fifty regular soldiers, with their officers, were embarked. The command of the expedition was intrusted to Colonel Richard Nicolls, a faithful Royalist, who had served under Turenne with James, and had been made one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber. Nicolls was also appointed to be the Duke’s deputy-governor, after the Dutch possessions should have been reduced.

With Nicolls were associated Sir Robert Carr, Colonel George Cartwright, and Samuel Maverick, as royal commissioners to visit the several colonies in New England. These commissioners were furnished with detailed instructions; and the New England governments were required by royal letters to “join and assist them vigorously” in reducing the Dutch to subjection. A month after the departure of the squadron the Duke of York conveyed to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret all the territory between the Hudson and Delaware rivers, from Cape May north to 41° 40′ latitude, and thence to the Hudson, in 41° latitude, “hereafter to be called by the name or names of Nova Caesarea or New Jersey.”

Intelligence from Boston that an English expedition against New Netherlands had sailed from Portsmouth was soon communicated to Stuyvesant by Captain Thomas Willett; and the burgomasters and _schepens_ of New Amsterdam were summoned to assist the council with their advice. The capital was ordered to be put in a state of defence, guards to be maintained, and _schippers_ to be warned. As there was very little powder at Fort Amsterdam a supply was demanded from New Amstel, and a loan of five or six thousand guilders was asked from Rensselaerswyck. The ships about to sail for Curaçao were stopped; agents were sent to purchase provisions at New Haven; and as the enemy was expected to approach through Long Island Sound, spies were sent to obtain intelligence at West Chester and Milford.

But at the moment when no precaution should have been relaxed, a despatch from the West India directors, who appear to have been misled by advices from London, announced that no danger need be apprehended from the English expedition, as it was sent out by the King only to settle the affairs of his colonies and establish episcopacy, which would rather benefit the company’s interests in New Netherlands. Willett now retracting his previous statements, a perilous confidence returned. The Curaçao ships were allowed to sail; and Stuyvesant, yielded to the solicitation of his council, went up the river to look after affairs at Fort Orange.

The English squadron had been ordered to assemble at Gardiner’s Island. But, parting company in a fog, the Guinea, with Nicolls and Cartwright on board, made Cape Cod, and went on to Boston, while the other ships put in at Piscataway. The commissioners immediately demanded the assistance of Massachusetts, but the people of the Bay, who feared, perhaps, that the King’s success in reducing the Dutch would enable him the better to put down his enemies in New England, were full of excuses. Connecticut, however, showed sufficient alacrity; and Winthrop was desired to meet the squadron at the west end of Long Island, whither it would sail with the first fair wind.

When the truth of Willett’s intelligence became confirmed, the council sent an express to recall Stuyvesant from Fort Orange. Hurrying back to the capital, the anxious director endeavored to redeem the time which had been lost. The municipal authorities ordered one-third of inhabitants, without exception, to labor every third day at the fortifications; organized a permanent guard; forbade the brewers to malt any grain; and called on the provincial government for artillery and ammunition. Six pieces, besides the fourteen previously allotted, and a thousand pounds of powder were accordingly granted to the city. The colonists around Fort Orange, pleading their own danger from the savages, could afford no help; but the soldiers of Esopus were ordered to come down, after leaving a small garrison at Ronduit.

In the mean time the English squadron had anchored just below the Narrows, in Nyack Bay, between New Utrecht and Coney Island. The mouth of the river was shut up; communication between Long Island and Manhattan, Bergen and Achter Cul, interrupted; several yachts on their way to the South River captured; and the blockhouse on the opposite shore of Staten Island seized. Stuyvesant now despatched Counsellor de Decker, Burgomaster Van der Grist, and the two domines Megapolensis with a letter to the English commanders inquiring why they had come, and why they continued at Nyack without giving notice. The next morning, which was Saturday, Nicolls sent Colonel Cartwright, Captain Needham, Captain Groves, and Mr. Thomas Delavall up to Fort Amsterdam with a summons for the surrender of “the town situate on the island and commonly known by the name of Manhatoes, with all the forts thereunto belonging.”

This summons was accompanied by a proclamation declaring that all who would submit to his majesty’s government should be protected “in his majesty’s laws and justice,” and peaceably enjoy their property. Stuyvesant immediately called together the council and the burgomasters, but would not allow the terms offered by Nicolls to be communicated to the people, lest they might insist on capitulating. In a short time several of the burghers and city officers assembled at the Stadt-Huys. It was determined to prevent the enemy from surprising the town; but, as opinion was generally against protracted resistance, a copy of the English communication was asked from the director. On the following Monday the burgomasters explained to a meeting of the citizens the terms offered by Nicolls. But this would not suffice; a copy of the paper itself must be exhibited. Stuyvesant then went in person to the meeting. “Such a course,” said he, “would be disapproved of in the Fatherland–it would discourage the people.” All his efforts, however, were in vain; and the director, protesting that he should not be held answerable for the “calamitous consequences,” was obliged to yield to the popular will.

Nicolls now addressed a letter to Winthrop, who with other commissioners from New England had joined the squadron, authorizing him to assure Stuyvesant that, if Manhattan should be delivered up to the King, “any people from the Netherlands may freely come and plant there or thereabouts; and such vessels of their own country may freely come thither, and any of them may as freely return home in vessels of their own country.” Visiting the city under a flag of truce Winthrop delivered this to Stuyvesant outside the fort and urged him to surrender. The director declined; and, returning to the fort, he opened Nicolls’ letter before the council and the burgomasters, who desired that it should be communicated, as “all which regarded the public welfare ought to be made public.” Against this Stuyvesant earnestly remonstrated, and, finding that the burgomasters continued firm, in a fit of passion he “tore the letter in pieces.” The citizens, suddenly ceasing their work at the palisades, hurried to the Stadt-Huys, and sent three of their numbers to the fort to demand the letter.

In vain the director hastened to pacify the burghers and urge them to go on with the fortifications. “Complaints and curses” were uttered on all sides against the company’s misgovernment; resistance was declared to be idle; “The letter! the letter!” was the general cry. To avoid a mutiny Stuyvesant yielded, and a copy, made out from the collected fragments, was handed to the burgomasters. In answer, however, to Nicolls’ summons he submitted a long justification of the Dutch title; yet while protesting against any breach of the peace between the King and the States-General, “for the hinderance and prevention of all differences and the spilling of innocent blood, not only in these parts, but also in Europe,” he offered to treat. “Long Island is gone and lost;” the capital “cannot hold out long,” was the last despatch to the “Lord Majors” of New Netherlands, which its director sent off that night “in silence through Hell Gate.”

Observing Stuyvesant’s reluctance to surrender, Nicolls directed Captain Hyde, who commanded the squadron, to reduce the fort. Two of the ships accordingly landed their troops just below Breuckelen (Brooklyn), where volunteers from New England and the Long Island villages had already encamped. The other two, coming up with full sail, passed in front of Fort Amsterdam and anchored between it and Nutten Island. Standing on one of the angles of the fortress–an artilleryman with a lighted match at his side–the director watched their approach. At this moment the two domines Megapolensis, imploring him not to begin hostilities, led Stuyvesant from the rampart, who then, with a hundred of the garrison, went into the city to resist the landing of the English. Hoping on against hope, the director now sent Counsellor de Decker, Secretary Van Ruyven, Burgomaster Steenwyck, and “Schepen” Cousseau with a letter to Nicolls stating that, as he felt bound “to stand the storm,” he desired if possible to arrange on accommodation. But the English commander merely declared, “To-morrow I will speak with you at Manhattan.”

“Friends,” was the answer, “will be welcome if they come in a friendly manner.”

“I shall come with ships and soldiers,” replied Nicolls; “raise the white flag of peace at the fort, and then something may be considered.”

When this imperious message became known, men, women, and children flocked to the director, beseeching him to submit. His only answer was, “I would rather be carried out dead.” The next day the city authorities, the clergymen, and the officers of the burgher guard, assembling at the Stadt-Huys, at the suggestion of Domine Megapolensis adopted a remonstrance to the director, exhibiting the hopeless situation of New Amsterdam, on all sides “encompassed and hemmed in by enemies,” and protesting against any further opposition to the will of God. Besides the _schout_, burgomasters, and schepens, the remonstrance was signed by Wilmerdonck and eighty-five of the principal inhabitants, among whom was Stuyvesant’s own son, Balthazar.

At last the director was obliged to yield. Although there were now fifteen hundred souls in New Amsterdam, there were not more than two hundred fifty men able to bear arms, besides the one hundred fifty regular soldiers. The people had at length refused to be called out, and the regular troops were already heard talking of “where booty is to be found, and where the young women live who wear gold chains.” The city, entirely open along both rivers, was shut on the northern side by a breastwork and palisades, which, though sufficient to keep out the savages, afforded no defence against a military siege. There were scarcely six hundred pounds of serviceable powder in store.

A council of war had reported Fort Amsterdam untenable for though it mounted twenty-four guns, its single wall of earth not more than ten feet high and four thick, was almost touches by the private dwellings clustered around, and was commanded, within a pistol-shot, by hills on the north, over which ran the “Heereweg” or Broadway.

Upon the faith of Nicolls’ promise to deliver back the city and fort “in case the difference of the limits of this province be agreed upon betwixt his majesty of England and the high and mighty States-General,” Stuyvesant now commissioned Counsellor John de Decker, Captain Nicholas Varlett, Dr. Samuel Megapolensis, Burgomaster Cornelius Steenwyck, old Burgomaster Oloff Stevenson van Cortlandt, and old Schepen Jacques Cousseau to agree upon articles with the English commander or his representatives. Nicolls, on his part, appointed Sir Robert Carr and Colonel George Cartwright, John Winthrop, and Samuel Willys, of Connecticut, and Thomas Clarke and John Pynchon, of Massachusetts. “The reason why those of Boston and Connecticut were joined,” afterward explained the royal commander, “was because those two colonies should hold themselves the more engaged with us if the Dutch had been overconfident of their strength.”

At eight o’clock the next morning, which was Saturday, the Commissioners on both sides met at Stuyvesant’s “bouwery” and arranged the terms of capitulation. The only difference which arose was respecting the Dutch soldiers, whom the English refused to convey back to Holland. The articles of capitulation promised the Dutch security in their property, customs of inheritance, liberty of conscience and church discipline. The municipal officers of Manhattan were to continue for the present unchanged, and the town was to be allowed to choose deputies, with “free voices in all public affairs.” Owners of property in Fort Orange might, if they pleased, “slight the fortifications there,” and enjoy their houses “as people do where there is no fort.”

For six months there was to be free intercourse with Holland. Public records were to be respected. The articles, consented to by Nicolls, were to be ratified by Stuyvesant the next Monday morning at eight o’clock, and within two hours afterward, the “fort and town called New Amsterdam, upon the Isle of Manhatoes,” were to be delivered up, and the military officers and soldiers were to “march out with their arms, drums beating, and colors flying, and lighted matches.”

On the following Monday morning at eight o’clock Stuyvesant, at the head of the garrison, marched out of Fort Amsterdam with all the honors of war, and led his soldiers down the Beaver Lane to the water-side, whence they were embarked for Holland. An English corporal’s guard at the same time took possession of the fort; and Nicolls and Carr, with their two companies, about a hundred seventy strong, entered the city, while Cartwright took possession of the gates and the Stadt-Huys. The New England and Long Island volunteers, however, were prudently kept at the Breuckelen ferry, as the citizens dreaded most being plundered by them. The English flag was hoisted on Fort Amsterdam, the name of which was immediately changed to “Fort James.” Nicolls was now proclaimed by the burgomasters deputy-governor for the Duke of York, in compliment to whom he directed that the city of New Amsterdam should thenceforth be known as “New York.”

To Nicolls’ European eye the Dutch metropolis, with its earthen fort enclosing a windmill and high flag-staff, a prison and a governor’s house, and a double-roofed church, above which loomed a square tower, its gallows and whipping-post at the river’s side, and its rows of houses which hugged the citadel, presented but a mean appearance. Yet before long he described it to the Duke as “the best of all his majesty’s towns in America,” and assured his royal highness that, with proper management, “within five years the staple of America will be drawn hither, of which the brethren of Boston are very sensible.”

The Dutch frontier posts were thought of next. Colonel Cartwright, with Captains Thomas Willett, John Manning, Thomas Breedon, and Daniel Brodhead, were sent to Fort Orange, as soon as possible, with a letter from Nicolls requiring La Montagne and the magistrates and inhabitants to aid in prosecuting his majesty’s interest against all who should oppose a peaceable surrender. At the same time Van Rensselaer was desired to bring down his patent and papers to the new governor and likewise to observe Cartwright’s directions.

Counsellor de Decker, however, travelling up to Fort George ahead of the English commissioners, endeavored, without avail, to excite the inhabitants to opposition; and his conduct being judged contrary to the spirit of the capitulation which he had signed, he was soon afterward ordered out of Nicolls’ government. The garrison quietly surrendered, and the name of Fort Orange was changed to that of “Fort Albany,” after the second title of the Duke of York. A treaty was immediately signed between Cartwright and the sachems of the Iroquois, who were promised the same advantages “as heretofore they had from the Dutch”; and the alliance which was thus renewed continued unbroken until the beginning of the American Revolution.

It only remained to reduce the South River; whither Sir Robert Carr was sent with the Guinea, the William and Nicholas, and “all the soldiers which are not in the fort.” To the Dutch he was instructed to promise all their privileges, “only that they change their masters.” To the Swedes he was to “remonstrate their happy return under a monarchical government.” To Lord Baltimore’s officers in Maryland he was to say that, their pretended rights being a doubtful case, “possession would be kept until his majesty is informed and satisfied otherwise.”

A tedious voyage brought the expedition before New Amstel. The burghers and planters, “after almost three days’ parley,” agreed to Carr’s demands, and Ffob Oothout with five others signed articles of capitulation which promised large privileges. But the Governor and soldiery refusing the English propositions, the fort was stormed and plundered, three of the Dutch being killed and ten wounded. In violation of his promises, Carr now exhibited the most disgraceful rapacity; appropriated farms to himself, his brother, and Captains Hyde and Morely, stripped bare the inhabitants, and sent the Dutch soldiers to be sold as slaves in Virginia. To complete the work, a boat was despatched to the city’s colony at the Horekill, which was seized and plundered of all its effects, and the marauding party even took “what belonged to the Quacking Society of Plockhoy, to a very naile.”

The reduction of New Netherlands was now accomplished. All that could be further done was to change its name; and, to glorify one of the most bigoted princes in English history, the royal province was ordered to be called “New York.” Ignorant of James’ grant of New Jersey to Berkeley and Carteret, Nicolls gave to the region west of the Hudson the name of “Albania,” and to Long Island that of “Yorkshire,” so as to comprehend all the titles of the Duke of York. The flag of England was at length triumphantly displayed, where, for half a century, that of Holland had rightfully waved; and from Virginia to Canada, the King of Great Britain was acknowledged as sovereign.

Viewed in all its aspects, the event which gave to the whole of that country a unity in allegiance, and to which a misgoverned people complacently submitted, was as inevitable as it was momentous. But whatever may have been its ultimate consequences, this treacherous and violent seizure of the territory and possessions of an unsuspecting ally was no less a breach of private justice than of public faith.

It may, indeed, be affirmed that, among all the acts of selfish perfidy which royal ingratitude conceived and executed, there have been few more characteristic and none more base.


A.D. 1665


None of the great visitations of disease that have afflicted Europe within historic times has wholly spared England. But from the time of the “Black Death” (1349) the country experienced no such suffering from any epidemic as that which fell upon London in 1665. That year the “Great Plague” is said to have destroyed the lives of nearly one hundred thousand people in England’s capital. The plague had previously cropped up there every few years, from lack of proper sanitation. At the time of this outbreak the water-supply of the city was notoriously impure. In 1665 the heat was uncommonly severe. Pepys said that June 7th of that year was the hottest day that he had ever known.

The plague of 1665 is said, however, to have been brought in merchandise directly from Holland, where it had been smouldering for several years. Its ravages in London have often been described, and Defoe found in the calamity a subject for a special story on history. Probably he was not more than six years old when the plague appeared; but he assumes throughout the pose of a respectable and religious householder of the period. All his own recollections, all the legends of the time, and the parish records are grouped in masterly fashion to form a single picture. The account has been described as a “masterpiece of verisimilitude.”

In the first place a blazing star or comet appeared for several months before the plague, as there did the year after, a little before the great fire; the old women and the weak-minded portion of the other sex, whom I could almost call old women too, remarked–especially afterward, though not till both those judgments were over–that those two comets passed directly over the city, and that so very near the houses that it was plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone; that the comet before the pestilence was of a faint, dull, languid color, and its motion very heavy, solemn, and slow; but that the comet before the fire was bright and sparkling, or, as others said, flaming, and its motion swift and furious; and that, accordingly, one foretold a heavy judgment, slow, but severe, terrible, and frightful, as the plague was; but the other foretold a stroke, sudden, swift, and fiery, like the conflagration. Nay, so particular some people were that, as they looked upon that comet preceding the fire, they fancied that they not only saw it pass swiftly and fiercely, and could perceive the motion with the eye, but they even heard it; that it made a rushing, mighty noise, fierce and terrible, though at a distance and but just perceivable.

I saw both these stars, and I must confess, had so much of the common notion of such things in my head that I was apt to look upon them as the forerunners and warnings of God’s judgments; and especially, when after the plague had followed the first, I yet saw another of the like kind, I could not but say, God had not yet sufficiently scourged the city.

But I could not at the same time carry these things to the height that others did, knowing, too, that natural causes are assigned by the astronomers for such things; and that their motions, and even their evolutions, are calculated, or pretended to be calculated; so that they cannot be so perfectly called the forerunners or foretellers, much less the procurers of such events as pestilence, war, fire, and the like.

But let my thoughts, and the thoughts of the philosophers, be or have been what they will, these things had a more than ordinary influence upon the minds of the common people, and they had, almost universally, melancholy apprehensions of some dreadful calamity and judgment coming upon the city; and this principally from the sight of this comet, and the little alarm that was given in December by two people dying in St. Giles.

The apprehensions of the people were likewise strangely increased by the error of the times; in which, I think the people, from what principles I cannot imagine, were more addicted to prophecies, and astrological conjurations, dreams, and old wives’ tales, than ever they were before or since. Whether this unhappy temper was originally raised by the follies of some people who got money by it–that is to say, by printing predictions and prognostications–I know not; but certain it is books frightened them terribly; such as _Lilly’s Almanack, Gadbury’s Allogical Predictions, Poor Robin’s Almanack_, and the like; also several pretended religious books–one entitled _Come out of her, my people, lest you be partaker of her plagues_; another, called _Fair Warning_; another, _Britain’s Remembrancer_; and many such, all or most part of which foretold directly or covertly the ruin of the city: nay, some were so enthusiastically bold as to run about the streets with their oral predictions, pretending they were sent to preach to the city; and one in particular, who like Jonah to Nineveh, cried in the streets, “Yet forty days, and London shall be destroyed.” I will not be positive whether he said “yet forty days” or “yet a few days.”

Another ran about naked, except a pair of drawers about his waist, crying day and night. As a man that Josephus mentions, who cried, “Woe to Jerusalem!” a little before the destruction of that city, so this poor naked creature cried, “O the great and the dreadful God!” and said no more, but repeated these words continually, with a voice and countenance full of horror, a swift pace; and nobody could ever find him to stop or rest or take any sustenance, at least that ever I could hear of. I met this poor creature several times in the streets, and would have spoken to him, but he would not enter into conversation with me, or anyone else, but held on his dismal cries continually. These things terrified the people to the last degree; and especially when two or three times, as I have mentioned already, they found one or two in the bills dead of the plague at St. Giles.

The justices of peace for Middlesex, by direction of the secretary of state, had begun to shut up houses in the parishes of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, St. Martin’s, St. Clement Danes, etc., and it was with good success; for in several streets where the plague broke out, after strictly guarding the houses that were infected, and taking care to bury those that died immediately after they were known to be dead, the plague ceased in those streets. It was also observed that the plague decreased sooner in those parishes, after they had been visited in detail, than it did in the parishes of Bishopsgate, Shoreditch, Aldgate, Whitechapel, Stepney, and others; the early care taken in that manner being a great check to it.

This shutting up of houses was a method first taken, as I understand, in the plague which happened in 1603, on the accession of King James I to the crown; and the power of shutting people up in their own houses was granted by an act of Parliament entitled “An act for the charitable relief and ordering of persons infected with the plague.” On which act of Parliament the lord mayor and aldermen of the city of London founded the order they made at this time, viz., June, 1665; when the numbers infected within the city were but few, the last bill for the ninety-two parishes being but four. By these means, when there died about one thousand a week in the whole, the number in the city was but twenty-eight; and the city was more healthy in proportion than any other place all the time of the infection.

These orders of my lord mayor were published, as I have said, toward the end of June. They came into operation from July ist, and were as follows:

“_Orders conceived and published by the lord mayor and aldermen of the city of London, concerning the infection of the plague_, 1665.

“Whereas, in the reign of our late sovereign, King James, of happy memory, an act was made for the charitable relief and ordering of persons infected with the plague; whereby authority was given to justices of the peace, mayors, bailiffs, and other head officers, to appoint within their several limits, examiners, searchers, watchmen, surgeons, and nurse-keepers, and buriers, for the persons and places infected, and to minister unto them oaths for the performance of their offices. And the same statute did also authorize the giving of other directions, as unto them for the present necessity should seem good in their discretions. It is now upon special consideration thought very expedient for preventing and avoiding of infection of sickness (if it shall so please Almighty God) that these officers be appointed, and these orders hereafter duly observed.”

Then follow the orders giving these officers instructions in detail and prescribing the extent and limits of their several duties. Next, “_Orders concerning infected houses and persons sick of the plague._” These had reference to the “notice to be given of the sickness,” “sequestration of the sick,” “airing the stuff,” “shutting up of the house,” “burial of the dead,” “forbidding infected stuff to be sold, and of persons leaving infected houses,” “marking of infected houses,” and “regulating hackney coaches that have been used to convey infected persons.”

Lastly there followed “_Orders for cleansing and keeping the streets and houses sweet_” and “_Orders concerning loose persons and idle assemblies_” such as “beggars,” “plays,” “feasts,” and “tippling-houses.”


I need not say that these orders extended only to such places as were within the lord mayor’s jurisdiction; so it is requisite to observe that the justices of the peace, within those parishes, and those places called the hamlets and out-parts, took the same method: as I remember, the orders for shutting up of houses did not take place so soon on our side, because, as I said before, the plague did not reach the eastern parts of the town, at least not begin to be very violent, till the beginning of August.

Now, indeed, it was coming on amain; for the burials that same week were in the next adjoining parishes thus:

The next week To the prodigiously 1st of
increased, as Aug. thus

St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch … 64 84 110 St. Botolph, Bishopsgate …. 65 105 116 St. Giles, Cripplegate…….213 421 554 — — —
342 610 780

The shutting up of houses was at first considered a very cruel and unchristian thing, and the poor people so confined made bitter lamentations; complaints were also daily brought to my lord mayor, of houses causelessly–and some maliciously–shut up. I cannot say, but, upon inquiry, many that complained so loudly were found in a condition to be continued; and others again, inspection being made upon the sick person, on his being content to be carried to the pesthouse, were released.

Indeed, many people perished in these miserable confinements, which it is reasonable to believe would not have been distempered if they had had liberty, though the plague was in the house; at which the people were at first very clamorous and uneasy, and several acts of violence were committed on the men who were set to watch the houses so shut up; also several people broke out by force, in many places, as I shall observe by and by; still it was a public good that justified the private mischief; and there was no obtaining the least mitigation by any application to magistrates. This put the people upon all manner of stratagems, in order, if possible, to get out; and it would fill a little volume to set down the arts used by the people of such houses to shut the eyes of the watchmen who were employed, to deceive them, and to escape or break out from them. A few incidents on this head may prove not uninteresting.

As I went along Houndsditch one morning, about eight o’clock, there was a great noise; it is true, indeed, there was not much crowd, because people were not very free to gather or to stay long together; but the outcry was loud enough to prompt my curiosity, and I called to one that looked out of a window, and asked what was the matter.

A watchman, it seems, had been employed to keep his post at the door of a house which was infected, or said to be infected, and was shut up; he had been there all night for two nights together, as he told his story, and the day watchman had been there one day, and had now come to relieve him; all this while no noise had been heard in the house, no light had been seen; they called for nothing, sent him no errands, which was the chief business of the watchman; neither had they given him any disturbance, as he said, from the Monday afternoon, when he heard great crying and screaming in the house, which, as he supposed, was occasioned by some of the family dying just at that time. It seems the night before, the dead-cart, as it was called, had been stopped there, and a servant-maid had been brought down to the door dead, and the buriers or bearers, as they were called, put her into the cart, wrapped only in a green rug, and carried her away.

The watchman had knocked at the door, it seems, when he heard that noise and crying, as above, and nobody answered a great while; but at last one looked out, and said, with an angry, quick tone, “What do ye want, that ye make such a knocking?” He answered: “I am the watchman! how do you do? what is the matter?” The person answered: “What is that to you? Stop the dead-cart.” This, it seems, was about one o’clock; soon after, as the fellow said, he stopped the dead-cart, and then knocked again, but nobody answered: he continued knocking, and the bellman called out several times, “Bring out your dead!” but nobody answered, till the man that drove the cart, being called to other houses, would stay no longer, and drove away.

The watchman knew not what to make of all this, so he let them alone till the day watchman came to relieve him, giving him an account of the particulars. They knocked at the door a great while, but nobody answered; and they observed that the window or casement at which the person had looked out continued open, being up two pair of stairs. Upon this the two men, to satisfy their curiosity, got a long ladder, and one of them went up to the window and looked into the room, where he saw a woman lying dead upon the floor in a dismal manner, having no clothes on her but her shift. Although he called aloud, and knocked hard on the floor with his long staff, yet nobody stirred or answered; neither could he hear any noise in the house.

Upon this he came down again and acquainted his fellow, who went up also, and, finding the case as above, they resolved either to acquaint the lord mayor or some other magistrate with it. The magistrate, it seems, upon the information of the two men, ordered the house to be broken open, a constable and other persons being appointed to be present, that nothing might be plundered; and accordingly it was so done, when nobody was found in the house but that young woman, who, having been infected, and past recovery, the rest had left her to die by herself. Everyone was gone, having found some way to delude the watchman and to get open the door or get out at some back door or over the tops of the houses, so that he knew nothing of it; and as to those cries and shrieks which the watchman had heard, it was supposed they were the passionate cries of the family at the bitter parting, which, to be sure, it was to them all, this being the sister to the mistress of the house.

Many such escapes were made out of infected houses, as particularly when the watchman was sent some errand, that is to say, for necessaries, such as food and physic, to fetch physicians if they would come, or surgeons, or nurses, or to order the dead-cart, and the like. Now, when he went it was his duty to lock up the outer door of the house and take the key away with him; but to evade this and cheat the watchman, people got two or three keys made to their locks, or they found means to unscrew the locks, open the door, and go out as they pleased. This way of escape being found out, the officers afterward had orders to padlock up the doors on the outside and place bolts on them, as they thought fit.

At another house, as I was informed, in the street near Aldgate, a whole family was shut up and locked in because the maidservant was ill: the master of the house had complained, by his friends, to the next alderman and to the lord mayor, and had consented to have the maid carried to the pesthouse, but was refused, so the door was marked with a red cross, a padlock on the outside, as above, and a watchman set to keep the door according to public order.

After the master of the house found there was no remedy, but that he, his wife, and his children were to be locked up with this poor distempered servant, he called to the watchman and told him he must go then and fetch a nurse for them to attend this poor girl, for that it would be certain death to them all to oblige them to nurse her; and that if he would not do this the maid must perish, either of the distemper, or be starved for want of food, for he was resolved none of his family should go near her, and she lay in the garret, four-story high, where she could not cry out or call to anybody for help.

The watchman went and fetched a nurse as he was appointed, and brought her to them the same evening; during this interval the master of the house took the opportunity of breaking a large hole through his shop into a stall where formerly a cobbler had sat, before or under his shop window, but the tenant, as may be supposed, at such a dismal time as that, was dead or removed, and so he had the key in his own keeping. Having made his way into this stall, which he could not have done if the man had been at the door–the noise he was obliged to make being such as would have alarmed the watchman–I say, having made his way into this stall, he sat still till the watchman returned with the nurse, and all the next day also. But the night following, having contrived to send the watchman another trifling errand, he conveyed himself and all his family out of the house, and left the nurse and the watchman to bury the poor woman, that is, to throw her into the cart and take care of the house.

I could give a great many such stories as these which in the long course of that dismal year I met with, that is, heard of, and which are very certain to be true or very near the truth; that is to say, true in general, for no man could at such a time learn all the particulars. There was, likewise, violence used with the watchmen, as was reported, in abundance of places; and I believe that, from the beginning of the visitation to the end, not