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Louis XIII of France

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King Louis XIII of France was a Catholic monarch who came to the throne at the age of nine after his father was assassinated in Paris on 14 May, 1610. His father, Henri IV, was the first monarch from the House of Bourbon.

If someone were to write a CV of the life of Louis XIII, his reign could simply be summarised as:

  • Born: 27 September, 1601
  • Place of Birth: Château de Fontainebleau
  • Mother: Marie de' Medici
  • Father: Henri IV
  • Occupation: Absolute Monarch
  • House: Bourbon
  • Religion: Catholic
  • Became King: Following assassination of his father on 14 May, 1610
  • Regency: Reluctant to part with power, his mother continued ruling after his majority in 1614 until 1617.
  • Key Influence: Cardinal Richelieu
  • Wife: Anne of Austria
  • Children: Two
    1. Louis XIV
    2. Phillippe I, Duc d'Orléans
  • Wars: Nine1
  • Death: 14 May, 1643

There is, however, a lot more to Louis than that. Between them, Louis and Richelieu, who controlled the government, rebuilt France and forged a powerful European state. Yet to understand Louis it is vital to first understand his father, King Henri IV, and some aspects of his reign.

Henri of Navarre

Born in 1553, Henri IV was destined a place in history as a direct male descendant of King Louis IX and cousin of Henri III, ergo a potential heir to the thrones of France and Navarre. Henri had been originally baptised into the Catholic faith, however Henri's mother Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, brought him up as a member of the Huguenot Calvinist Protestant faith and as leader of the Protestant cause. He became the King of Navarre in 1572 when his mother Jeanne d'Albret died. As King of Navarre he fought in the French Wars of Religion, a series of religious conflicts in France between 1562-1592.

In 1589 Henri III died, with Henri of Navarre his heir. As a Protestant, Henri of Navarre could not succeed the throne so in effect he was forced to change his faith. He renounced the Protestant faith, becoming King Henri IV. As King of Catholic France he could not remain a leader of a Protestant Huguenot army and then fought a series of wars from 1589 to 1593 against the armies of rival Protestant states, his former allies, to keep his throne. The conflict was only settled in 1598, when Henri signed the Edict of Nantes that granted the Huguenots substantial legal rights in the nation.

This change of faith was not without cost; he became regarded by many as a man who abandoned his faith for his own advancement. He became widely distrusted. This may have been one of the reasons that led to his assassination in 1610 by François Ravaillac.

François Ravaillac: Catholic Patriot and Assassin

Ravaillac, a teacher and Catholic fanatic, had made repeated attempts to have an audience with the king to explain his vision for the conversion of the Huguenots to the Catholic faith. He regarded Henri's decision to invade the Spanish Netherlands as a direct attack on the Catholicism. On May 14, 1610, Henri travelled through Paris to visit his friend and advisor the Duke of Sully. It is not recorded how, but Ravaillac become aware of the king's journey and waited in the street for his coach to pass. The streets were busy and the coach was halted by traffic; Ravaillac simply climbed onto the coach and stabbed the king.

Obviously guilty, he was condemned to death. It is recorded that the official punishment for regicides was that they were to be pulled apart by horses, however Ravaillac's sentence included torture then hanging. He was then drawn2 and quartered3. The final spark of life was extinguished by disembowelment4.

Henri was succeed by his son, nine-year-old Louis. A consequence of this was it allowed Henri's widow, Queen Marie de' Medici5, to establish herself as regent while Minister of France, Cardinal de Richelieu, was able to expand his power and influence beyond his office.

Louis of France and Anne of Austria

Henri had secured the succession with two children; Louis, destined to be King Louis XIII of France, and Henrietta Maria who was to become the wife of Charles I of England.

Louis had a difficult childhood. There is evidence that he was the victim of his father's sexual attentions. Henri beat and abused his son; this treatment rendered Louis impotent and indifferent to women. He also allowed his mother and others to manipulate him. In November 1615, at the age of 14, Louis married the 14-year-old daughter of Philip III of Spain, Anna María Mauricia, known to history as Anne of Austria6. Although a Spanish princess, Anne held the title Archduchess of Austria from birth, as her mother was an Austrian princess.

The wedding day was a torment for Louis. He was so terrified that he needed to be carried to the altar and, during the ceremony, could hardly speak through fear. From the inspection of the bedsheets the following morning, the couple's first night as man and wife was proved a farce.

After the wedding night it was customary to inspect the sheets of a newly married couple, with any stains found on the sheets regarded as proof of consummation. When the sheets were displayed by Marie, no-one in the court regarded them as genuine. Louis found the whole ordeal so distasteful that the royal couple did not take meals together for months. All this was seen as a blow to Cardinal Richelieu's plans to secure a Catholic successor for the French throne.

Though Louis ignored his new bride, his mother Marie de' Medici now put great pressure on the couple to consummate the marriage; Marie's parents could use a legal precedent and force an annulment of the marriage if it remained unconsummated.

It was during this period of the young king's life that he began to fall increasingly under the influence of the first minister of France, Cardinal de Richelieu.

The Children of Louis and Anne

The marriage of Louis XIII and Anna María Maurici continued unhappily. Royal duties kept them separated for long periods. In the little time they spent together they tried to discharge their royal duty to provide an heir. It took nearly 24 years, and sadly several stillbirths, but eventually the couple finally produced an heir on 5 September, 1638. Named Louis Dieudonné or Given by God, the birth of the future Louis XIV was seen as a miracle. In gratitude to God the devout Queen Anne decided to build the Benedictine abbey of the Val-de-Grâce in thanks for the birth. Though Louis XIII was not sure of the miracle, despite his doubts he laid the cornerstone of the new building.

Despite the royal couple's stillbirths, they eventually had two surviving children:

  • Louis XIV of France, 5 September, 1638 – 1 September, 1715.
  • Philippe I, Duc d'Orléans, 21 September, 1640 – 8 June, 1701.

Louis' Character

What do we know about Louis' character, his likes and dislikes? In 1619 Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury was ambassador in Paris for King James I, negotiating Charles' marriage to Louis' sister, Henrietta Maria. He described Louis' appearance in his autobiography with the words:

His words were never many, as being so extream a stutterer that he would sometimes hold his tongue out of his mouth a good while before he could speak so much as one word. He had besides a double row of teeth, and was observed seldom or never to spit or blow his nose, or to sweat much, 'tho he were very laborious, and almost indefatigable in his exercises of hunting and hawking, to which he was much addicted.

It is perhaps Herbert's description of his character that reveals the most not only about Louis as a person, but also his upbringing under his dominating mother:

His understanding and natural parts were as good as could be expected in one that was brought up in so much ignorance, which was on purpose so done that he might be the longer governed; howbeit, he acquired in time a great knowledge in affairs, as conversing for the most part with wise and active persons. He was noted to have two qualities incidental to all who were ignorantly brought up - suspicion and dissimulation; for as ignorant persons walk so much in the dark, they cannot be exempt from fear of stumbling; and as they are likewise deprived of, or deficient in those true principles by which they should govern both public and private actions in a wise, solid, and demonstrative way, they strive commonly to supply these imperfections with covert arts, which, though it may be sometimes excusable in necessitous persons, and be indeed frequent among those who negotiate in small matters, yet condemnable in princes, who, proceeding upon foundations of reason and strength, ought not to submit themselves to such poor helps. Howbeit, I must observe, that neither his fears did take away his courage, when there was occasion to use it, nor his dissimulation extend itself to the doing of private mischiefs to his subjects, either of one or the other religion... but as, when the king came to a riper age, the government of public affairs was drawn chiefly from his counsels, not a few errors were committed.

Louis, Anne and Marie

Owing to Louis' age at accession, his mother Marie de' Medici was declared regent until Louis was 16. Marie acted to secure her power, dismissing her husband's chief minister the Duke of Sully and adopting a pro-Spanish foreign policy. Even after Louis became of age in 1614, Marie continued to rule until 1617. She continued to regard herself as Queen of France and ignored Anne, refusing to show the Queen Consort any deference. Anne responded by creating a Spanish court at the palace and surrounded herself with high-born Spanish ladies-in-waiting.

Feeling isolated, increasingly Anne turned to the one close friend she had made in the court; Marie de Rohan-Montbazon, the Duchesse de Chevreuse. The Duchesse de Chevreuse was artful in both the ways of the court and the bedroom. She was to prove to have a great influence over Anne.

In 1617 Louis assumed control of the court and sent his mother into exile in Blois. He then ruled with strong guidance and support from his closest advisers. Louis eventually realised how useful Armand Jean du Plessis, later Cardinal Richelieu7 could be, and had proved this by appointing him as his chief minister in 1624. Richelieu was able to exert an extraordinary amount of influence on foreign and domestic policies.

Cuckholded King? Anne and George Villiers

George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham is remembered today as a favourite of King James and his son Charles, later King Charles I, and also for his swift elevation to a position of wealth and power. More than that, he was an outrageous and notorious lover and schemer.

When in May 1624 the Duke of Buckingham returned to France on official court business, he lodged at the mansion of the Duchesse de Chevreuse. The Duke was so attracted to Anne it has been said that he was determined to become her lover. Whether Anne reciprocated is unclear as the detail of what occurred has not been recorded, but George and Anne met at first during banquets. As the relationship progressed they began to meet in private, aided by Anne's close friend, Marie Duchesse de Chevreuse, who allowed the couple the use of her home as a 'safe venue' for clandestine meetings. Royal courts by today's standards had fairly loose morals, the French court was more liberal than England's and corruption was endemic.

After a week in which he failed to achieve a conclusion to the state business, Buckingham left Paris. Buckingham arranged to meet Anne later in Amiens, 90 miles north of Paris and about halfway along Buckingham's route to Calais. This meeting was reported to have been of an intimate nature. Later reports indicate that Anne afterwards inquired amongst her ladies about childbirth. Anne also had a pet name for George, 'My king dog', that she used in private notes to him.

Cardinal de Richelieu

Political intrigue worsened when Louis became reliant upon Richelieu, who was appointed a cardinal in 1622 and was Chief Minister from 1624 to 1642. Richelieu wanted to isolate Anne and prevent her from having any effect on any of Louis' political decisions while centralising power to make France a much stronger nation. Fortunately for the future of France the Cardinal succeeded to hold on to his master's favour and while Louis merely tolerated Anne, the Cardinal was the virtual ruler of France.

One of Louis XIII's great challenges was managing the country's continuing religious discord. This threat reduced after he managed to score an important victory against the Huguenots in 1628 at La Rochelle. Another challenge was the political intrigue throughout the court.

'The Day of Dupes'

The Duchesse de Chevreuse may have been instrumental in persuading Anne and Marie de' Medici to unite to demand the dismissal of Cardinal de Richelieu. When in November 1630 the two women confronted Louis with this demand, Louis retreated to his hunting lodge in Versailles.

The Cardinal immediately followed Louis to Versailles and gained Louis' continued support, which was to continue until Richelieu's death in 1642. This failed attempt by Marie de' Medici to replace Richelieu has since been recorded in history as the 'Day of Dupes'. After thus battling his own mother, Louis chose to send her back into exile.

Louis' Later Life

In 1635 Louis went to war with Spain. His victories in the Spanish Wars increased his popularity throughout France. This was not, unfortunately, without family problems, for Louis had married a Spanish princess. Queen Anne's passionate objection to the conflict caused Cardinal Richelieu to attempt to bring a charge of treason against her, based upon her support of her homeland and allegedly attempting to convince Louis to end the war. Despite the suspicion no proof was published, although rumours proliferated.

Louis was only 40 when he was taken ill with what turned out to be tuberculosis; he passed away on 14 May, 1643 aged 41. He was succeeded by his son, who became King Louis XIV.

Louis' reign had been good for France. Though France had been bitterly divided and plagued by civil wars on his accession, he left his country in a stronger position to assume a leading place in Europe. With Richelieu's help and guidance, under Louis France had become more influential internationally, stronger centrally, much more militarily powerful and had a stronger economy.


There is a famous novel by Alexandre Dumas set in this period, entitled The Three Musketeers8. Like many authors of classic novels, Alexandre Dumas used some historical fact as inspiration.

For example, there is some evidence that Lady de Winter actually existed, inspired by Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle (1599–1660). She is mentioned in the diaries of François de La Rochefoucauld, written while in the service of Queen Anne of Austria. Various aliases are mentioned; Lady Clarick de Winter, Lady de Clarick, Lucy Percy and Lucy Hay the Countess of Carlisle9. Though most modern readers, influenced by the media, think that The Three Musketeers is just a good yarn and none of it happened, the evidence that the novel had a grounding in fact shows there were factions in Louis' court trying to cause disruption for their own ends. There were indeed those who planned to disrupt Louis XIII's life to make him easy to control, giving them the opportunity to seize power without going to war. All this court intrigue was all part of what made Louis who he was.

Image courtesy of archive.org

1War of the Jülich Succession (1609-1614), Thirty Years War (1618-1648), First Béarnese Revolt (1621-2), Second Béarnese Revolt (1625-6), Third Béarnese Revolt (1627-9), 14th Anglo-French War (1627-8), War of the Mantuan Succession (1628-31), Franco-Spanish War of 1635-48, Iroquois-French Wars (1642-1696).2Cut down just before death.3Basically cutting off of arms and legs.4Opening up the victim from throat to groin and pulling out the body's internal organs, often throwing them onto a brazier of red hot coals to burn.5Marie de' Medici: 26 April, 1575 – 4 July, 1642.6Anna María Mauricia: 22 September, 1601 – 20 January, 1666.7Cardinal Richelieu, 9 September, 1585 – 4 December, 1642.8Sequels include Twenty Years After and The Man in the Iron Mask, although these are set after Louis XIII's death.9Lucy Percy's activities, however, were more involved in the intrigues of the English Civil War. Working for the Royalist cause as the Queen's messenger, she passed news between bands of Royalists until she was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London from 21 March, 1649, to 25 September, 1650. Royalist handbills state she was almost put to the rack to gain information about her activities.

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