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 on Louis XIII

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).