Louis XIII (France) (1601–1643; Ruled 1610–1643)

views updated May 29 2018

LOUIS XIII (FRANCE) (16011643; ruled 16101643)

LOUIS XIII (FRANCE) (16011643; ruled 16101643), king of France. The historical reputation of Louis XIII has been overshadowed by two figures close to himhis chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (15851642), and his son and successor, Louis XIV (ruled 16431715). Cardinal Richelieu stands as the personification of seventeenth-century statecraft, and his steely brilliance is generally credited for bringing France from its sorry state following the Wars of Religion to the verge of greatness. And history has enshrined Louis XIV as the French king par excellence, the very embodiment of royalty in all its grandeur and power. In comparison, the stammering Louis XIIIsickly, dependent on a series of favorites, beleaguered by a quarrelsome family and a factious courtseems a ruler of diminished stature indeed. This second of the Bourbon kings, however, deserves a more exalted place in history, if only because his reign witnessed the decisive consolidation of monarchical power and France's rise to European prominence.


Louis's reign formally began upon the assassination of his father Henry IV (ruled 15891610) in 1610, but the government remained in the hands of his mother, Marie de Médicis (15731642), who ruled as regent until 1617. The regency was a turbulent time, marred by noble conspiracies and revolts, the ascendancy of Concino Concini, Marie's Italian favorite, over the court, and the calling of the Estates-General in 1614. In 1617 Louis took power in a veritable coup d'état that ended with the ignominious execution of Concini and his wife. Historians looking to credit Louis with more initiative and political savvy than he is usually accorded have pointed to this decisive act by a fifteen-year-old. And in general it should be noted that Louis faced a series of daunting challenges, both at home and abroad, including near-permanent opposition, often rebellion, from his mother and brother and the growing crisis of the Thirty Years' War (16181648), while still a teenager and a young man in his twenties.


The coup d'état of 1617 was the first in a series of acts that served as turning points in Louis's reign, demonstrating his deep and precocious appreciation of the craft of kingship. In fact, despite his sometime obsessive predilection for the hunt, Louis was, like his son, a dutiful ruler, fully cognizant of the demands of his position. His initiative was next displayed in 1624, when he appointed Richelieu to the royal council. This was a move fraught with potential difficulties, for Richelieu was his mother's man, a figure of formidable and widely recognized talents yet still identified with the dévot ('devout') position that saw alliance with the Habsburgs as France's proper course. The choice, however, turned out to be a brilliant stroke of talent spotting. Richelieu brought discipline, intellectual rigor, and an enormous capacity for work to the royal cabinet. He also made himself a student of Louis's personality, taking pains to learn how to balance the delicate task of both coaxing and respecting his king's will. Together they managed to concentrate royal power in a partnership that many great noblemen and especially the queen mother and the king's brother Gaston (duc d'Orléans; 16081660) deeply resented. But it was a partnership that soon bore fruit in the successful siege of the Huguenot stronghold La Rochelle in 16271628, which not only demonstrated the royal resolve in the face of a Calvinist threat but also freed France to pursue an anti-Habsburg policy in Europe.

Despite the success of La Rochelle, the partnership of Louis and Richelieu and the foreign policy course they had set upon nearly foundered the following year. The so-called Day of Dupes was another crisis that illustrated Louis's ability to act on his own. On the night of 1011 November 1630 the queen mother demanded that Louis dismiss his minister, a move that would have altered both the king's authority and France's European alignments. To everyone's surprise, including Marie's, the king chose to keep Richelieu as his chief minister. Soon Marie de Médicis was in exile in Brussels, not to return to the realm for the rest of her life. Louis and Richelieu were free to pursue their anti-Habsburg foreign policy. In 1635 France formally entered the Thirty Years' War.

Even before that, Louis was preoccupied with martial matters. He had to face down a series of revolts, rebellions, and conspiraciesfrom his mother, brother, great noblemen like Henry II de Montmorency, Huguenots, peasants, and even court favorites. Backed by Richelieu, he responded in most cases with what many considered as shocking severity: his reign was the most costly in terms of noble heads lost to the executioner's axe. The notorious duelist François-Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville ended up on the block in 1627, as did his rebellious cousin Henri II de Montmorency in 1632, despite their family's long history of royal service, their personal popularity and charm, and the pleas for clemency from the highest ranks of society. Louis's last favorite, Henri Coeffier-Ruzé d'Effiat, marquis de Cinq-Mars, along with his supposed coconspirator François-Auguste de Thou, also died on the scaffold in 1642 for plotting with the Spanish. In war Louis displayed the same resolve. Well before France's formal entry into the Thirty Years' War, he engaged the Spanish and Habsburgs on several fronts, especially in northern Italy. He saw himself as a warrior-king, frequently exposing himself to great danger by personally leading his armies into battle.

Louis's martial bent contrasted with other aspects of his personality. He was constantly ill and several times at death's door. He abhorred ceremony and indeed cut a poor figure in public. He suffered from neglect, even abuse, as a child and received a poor education at court. (His childhood and youth were documented in extraordinary detail in a journal kept by his personal physician Jean Héroard, providing a remarkable, unequaled view of the upbringing of an early modern ruler.) Unlike his mother and Richelieu, Louis displayed little interest in the arts outside of the dance. He was a sincere Catholic, modeling himself on his saintly predecessor Louis IX (ruled 12261270), and in 1638 he placed himself under the personal protection of the Virgin. His marriage to Anne of Austria in 1615 took four years to consummate, and their married life was marked by long periods of estrangement. Louis, however, seems to have remained faithful to his wife, despite a series of attachments to male and female courtiers alike. The birth of the dauphin in 1638, after years of inactivity in the marriage bed, was considered a minor miracle. Only five years laterand a year after the death of his cardinal-ministerLouis died at the age of forty-two. His legacy was a mixed one: on the one hand, a stronger France and a refurbished monarchy; on the other, deepening involvement in a costly European war that only fueled discontent at home.

See also Absolutism ; Anne of Austria ; France ; La Rochelle ; Louis XIV (France) ; Marie de Médicis ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Chevallier, Pierre. Louis XIII, roi cornélien. Paris, 1979.

Marvick, Elizabeth Wirth. Louis XIII: The Making of a King. New Haven, 1986.

Moote, A. Lloyd. Louis XIII, the Just. Berkeley, 1989.

Robert A. Schneider

Louis XIII

views updated May 09 2018

Louis XIII

Louis XIII (1601-1643) was king of France from 1610 to 1643. A soldier and an austere, active Catholic, he was intent on securing the majesty of his crown, rendering justice, and protecting his subjects.

Born in Fontainebleau on Sept. 16, 1601, Louis XIII was the eldest of the six children of Henry IV and Marie de Médicis. He spent his early years with his brothers, sisters, and the children of the royal mistresses, as well as a governess, doctor, and tutor. But, deprived of maternal tenderness, frequently whipped, and usually in bad health, he was a solitary child, melancholy and fearful but at times suspicious, irritable, haughty, and stubborn. These traits were important in the politics of his reign.

Louis was not yet 9 years old when his father was stabbed to death. His mother was regent until 1614 and ruled in fact until 1617 amidst a continuing political crisis. She planned marriages to unite Louis with Anna of Hapsburg (Anne of Austria), daughter of Philip III of Spain, and Louis's sister Elizabeth with the future Philip IV of Spain. This aroused strong opposition from Catholic defenders of the independence of the Gallican Church as well as from Protestants. Another cause of discontent was Marie's favor for two greedy foreigners, Leonora Galigai and her husband, Concino Concini. The great magnates, led by Louis's second cousin, the Prince of Condé, opposed the Spanish marriages, but above all they resented their exclusion from the regency government; they took up arms. The queen regent convoked the representatives of the clergy, nobility, and Third Estate in the Estates General of 1614. Sharp divergences between the three orders, and royalist sentiment in the clergy and in the Third Estate, enabled her to exercise control. The Spanish marriages were celebrated in 1615. After some further difficulties with the Prince of Condé, she returned to her dependence on Concini.

Conflict with the Queen Mother

Louis entered political life suddenly in April 1617 as the head of a plot against his mother. A captain of the guards shot and killed Concini on the steps of the Louvre; the judges in the Parlement of Paris condemned Leonora as a witch, and she was beheaded. The King exiled his mother to the château of Blois. Relying for advice on his former falconer, Charles d'Albert, whom he named Duke of Luynes, he sent troops to help the Duke of Savoy against an invading Spanish army and reestablished Catholic worship and property in Béarn in 1620. It required 2 years to come to terms with the resulting Protestant rebellion.

Without consulting his mother, Louis had agreed to the marriage of his sister Chrétienne to a son of the Duke of Savoy. Infuriated, the queen entered into a plot and, having climbed down a rope ladder on a winter night in 1619 to escape from Blois, joined in armed risings against Louis. He mastered them easily. Through the mediation of her adviser, Richelieu, she was sufficiently reconciled with her son in 1620 to reside in Paris. After Luynes's death, she entered the King's council in 1622. Richelieu was made a cardinal, and finally, acceding to his mother's advice, the King appointed Richelieu to his council in April 1624.

King and Cardinal

Louis never became the helpless instrument of a tyrannical ecclesiastic that various 19th-century novelists depicted. The relations between the King and his minister were complex, based on growing trust and constant communication between them and supported by the collaboration of a group of councilors assembled gradually by Richelieu.

The King pursued the policy of reducing the military and political independence of the Protestants, although continuing to allow protestant worship. The principal events were the siege of La Rochelle, lasting more than a year and ending in October 1628, and the King's descent on Languedoc, where his troops razed Privas in blood and flames, leading other Protestant towns to surrender. He issued the pacification edict of Alès in June 1629.

Louis's most consequential decision was to persist in intervening in northern Italy in 1630 in order to maintain a French garrison in Pinerolo at the foot of the Alps. This entailed the active hostility of the Hapsburgs in Madrid and Vienna and the likelihood of war against them for the sake of the international role that Richelieu suggested. It involved renouncing the program of reform at home and peace with all Catholic powers abroad urged by the keeper of the seals, Michel de Marillac, and supported by the queen mother. It led directly to the "great storm" in the Luxembourg palace on Nov. 10, 1630: a conversation between Louis and his mother, interrupted by Richelieu's entrance, became a scene in which she screamed and sobbed imprecations against the cardinal, who fell to his knees, weeping, until Louis, silent and pale, left for Versailles. To the surprise of courtiers, the King sent for Richelieu next day ("the day of the dupes"). Louis dismissed Marillac and ordered Marillac's brother, a general, arrested, tried, and finally beheaded. Marie de Médicis fled to Brussels, where she spent the rest of her life.

The King's feckless brother Gaston long remained the heir apparent, a source of hope for highly placed conspirators and hence the center of plots smashed by the implacable king. The Queen, after three miscarriages during the 1620s, finally gave birth to a son in 1638 and another son in 1640.

Throughout the reign, especially during the war against Spain which began in 1635 and brought increasing taxation and popular distress, there were revolts in various provinces. The misery of the populace troubled Louis. But he gave a higher priority to warfare, and on horseback he accompanied his soldiers to invade Lorraine (1635), to recover the French town of Corbie (1636), and to be present at sieges in Spanish territories along the frontier, Artois (1639, 1640) and Roussillon (1642).

Five months after Richelieu's death, Louis died, apparently of complications of intestinal tuberculosis, on May 14, 1643, in the Louvre.

Further Reading

The best history of the reign is by Victor L. Tapié but has not yet been translated from French. Louis's personal life is well presented in three books by Louis Batiffol, only one of which is in English, Marie de Médicis and the French Court in the XVIIth Century, translated by Mary King and edited by H. W. Carless Davis (1908). See also Hester W. Chapman, Privileged Persons: Four Seventeenth-century Studies (1966). □

Louis XIII

views updated May 14 2018

Louis XIII (1601–43) King of France (1610–43). Son of Henry IV and Marie de Médicis, he forcibly ended his mother's regency in 1617 and exiled her. He relied on Cardinal Richelieu, who exercised total authority from 1624. Louis approved the policy of crushing the Huguenots at home while making alliances with Protestant powers abroad, in opposition to the Habsburgs, during the Thirty Years' War.

Louis XIII

views updated May 18 2018

Louis XIII

Louis XIII, King of France from 1610 to 1643; b. Paris, Sept. 27, 1601; d. there, May 14, 1643. He was an amateur musician. Among his works are a couple of airs de cour and some motets; he also wrote the words and music for Le Ballet de la Merlaison (Chantilly, March 15, 1635). The well-known Amaryllis, arranged by Henri Ghis and widely publ, as Air of Louis XIII, is a misattribution; the melody first appears in print as La Clochette in the Ballet-Comique de la Reine by Balthazar de Beau-joyeux, produced in 1582. A gavotte, also entitled Amaryllis, with a elody totally different from the apocryphal Air of Louis XIII and dated 1620, may be an authentic composition of Louis XIII.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire