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House of Bourbon

Above the feudal aristocracy there was another aristocracy, that of the princes, whom the crown had itself exalted by making vast appanages for the "royaux de France," as the sons, brothers, and relatives of the king were termed. Thus arose the great houses of Burgundy, Orleans, Anjou, and Bourbon, which, combined a spirit of independence, such as was found in the old feudalism, with the pride and pretensions of a royal family, and one of the members of which remarked that he so loved the kingdom of France that in place of one king he would have six.

In 1440 the Dukes of Bourbon and Alencon put themselves at the head of the rebellion. It was a rising of all the nobility against the monarchy, the Praguerie. In the Bourbonnais, Auvergne, and Poitou the burghers sided with the crown against the nobles. The Dukes of Bourbon and Alencon and the dauphin saw that it was necessary not only to submit but also to implore pardon. They came to Charles VII., knelt before him, and prayed for forgiveness. This speedy submission of the rebels and this alliance between the burghers and the crown was a warning for the whole aristocracy. The king, to show that he was ready for all events, advanced to the north and exhibited royal justice on that frontier. He captured and handed over to the provost the bastard of Bourbon, the boldest of the professional soldiers, who, despite his birth, was sewn in a sack and hurled into the river.

When Louis XI became king in 1461, he was faced by many difficulties ; feudalism was still powerful. At the head of thrf feudal party stood an aristocracy of appanaged princes, relations, more or less near, of the king; powerful families, rich from their vast demesnes, proud from their origin, and dangerous owing to their claims to independence. They formed, as it were, a collection, of small states placed on the flanks of the kingdom. The house of Brittany had its old traditions of liberty and its friendly relations with England. The house of Anjou held Anjou, Maine, and Provence, but was, fortunately for the French crown, weakened by the dispersion of its lands and by its ambition which led it to aim at nothing less than the crowns of Spain, Sicily, Italy, and Jerusalem. The house of Orleans held Paris blockaded by its possessions of Dreux, Ham. Coucy, La Fere, Crespi, Verberie, and Orleans. The house of Alencon held Alencon and Perche, that of Artois held Eu. The house of Burgundy, with all its possessions and dependencies, the county and duchy of Burgundy, counties of Rethel and Nevers, Artois, Flanders, Hainault, Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, the counties of Macon and Auxerre, the castles of Roye, Peronne and Montdidier, and the Somme towns, St. Quentin, Amiens, Abbeville, and St. Valery, and lastly exemption from all homage, appeal, and sovereignty, the concession made by the Treaty of Arras. Finally, the house of Bourbon held five or six great provinces in the heart of Frarice, the Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Forez, Beaujolais, Dombes, Roannais, Montpensier, Vendome, and other districts.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, there remained only one great feudal family, that of Bourbon-Navarre, whose head, Anthony of Bourbon [Antoine de Bourbon], had neither consideration nor influence. In addition, there were still great nobles to be found, the families of Montmorency, Guise, La Tremoille, Chatillon, and so forth, but no great vassals. Feudalism had lost authority even more than possessions. Where the lords had preserved their lands, they were jealously watched by the bailiffs and seneschals of the king, who in the name of public order repressed violence, as the parliaments in the name of the law punished crimes.

The question of religious reform arrayed against each other two powerful parties, the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter of whom had been persecuted in the preceding reign and were determined to assert by force their religious liberty. Margaret, the sister of Francis I, was a Protestant. She had married Henry d'Albret, and their only daughter, Jean d'Albret, was a sincere and devoted Christian. Jean married Anthony Bourbon. She was Queen of Navarre, in title, bat the Spaniards had seized on Navarre in 1512, and obliged her father to flee into France. Thus she seemed robbed of her crown. Anthony Bourbon, with his gallant brother, Louis Prince of Conde, were leaders among the Hugnenots. Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, the Prince of Condi, and other nobles, jealous of the influence and impatient of the domination of the Guises, formed a coalition with the Protestants, who were then objects of a violent persecution. In 1560 a conspiracy was discovered by the Guises, which was the prelude of the civil wars that afterwards raged in the kingdom.

It was a long civil war, with short intervals of peace, and the Huguenots sought and obtained some help from Elizabeth of England. During these wars the King of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, and the Duke of Guise lost their lives. On the Feast of St. Bartholomew, August 24, 1572, armed men rushed into every house where Huguenots lived. The King of Navarre and the young Prince of Conde were the only two Huguenots who were intentionally saved by the Government. Before a week had passed, 5,000 Huguenots had been massacred in Paris alone. Orders were sent to the other towns of France, to follow the example of Paris, and the command was in many places too well obeyed.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:31 ZULU