HISTORY: THE WARS OF RELIGION AND THE EDICT OF NANTES
After him, the last representative of the direct line of the Valois, the crown passed to a representative of the branch of the Valois-Orléans, a nephew of Charles V, who ascended the throne of France with the name of Louis XII. The latter continued the policy of his predecessor; grandson of Valentina Visconti, he claimed the Duchy of Milan and conquered it easily, he then turned, with the alliance of the King of Spain Ferdinand the Catholic, to the Kingdom of Naples. The enterprise failed due to conflicts with the Spaniards, who expelled the French from Italy, Louis XII had to cross the entire peninsula to return to his homeland where he was forced to face the invasion of the Swiss, the Spaniards, the English and the Emperor Maximilian; only the election of Leo X to the papal throne allowed him to reach a peace with his adversaries. After him the crown passed to his son-in-law, Francis of Valois-Angoulême (Francis I). During his thirty-two years of reign, Francesco I clashed several times, precisely in Italian territory, with the power of Charles V. The reconquest, by Francesco I, of the Duchy of Milan (1515), whose possession was confirmed to him in 1516 by the Treaty of Noyon, had to have a decisive weight for the subsequent clash with the Habsburg interested in those territories that would have allowed him to unite the Germanic and Spanish dominions. The result was four wars from 1521 to 1544 – during the first of which Francis I himself was taken prisoner in Pavia on 24 February 1525 – which ended without determining any European hegemony despite the superiority of the Spaniards. In the interior of the country, the reign of Francis I was marked by the advent of the Reformation. Under the influence of his sister Margherita, an intelligent and cultured woman, at first he did not show himself hostile to the new current. In his absence, however, the Parliament organized a special and hasty jurisdiction against the “ill-thinkers of the faith”, and the fires were ignited. Returning from captivity, Francis I tolerated the persecution and did not oppose the massacre of the inoffensive Waldensians. His son, Henry II, succeeded him in 1547. He tried to follow his father’s war policy, hoping to take advantage of the difficulties that the Protestants created for Charles V in Germany. But the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) saw the Spanish pre-eminence reconfirmed in Italy. The period of regency or indirect influence of Caterina de ‘Medici followed, who for thirty years ruled the country in the name of his sons Francesco II (1559-60), Charles IX (1560-74) and Henry III (1574-89), while in France the wars of religion were unleashed (from 1562). Protestants and Catholics faced each other, often shielding the ambitions of the nobles behind religious reasons, made more intense by the weakening of the monarchical power; both, using brutal soldiers, ruthlessly devastated the kingdom. Eight wars followed one another, interrupted by short truces and exasperated by moments of merciless cruelty, such as the massacre of the Huguenots on the night of San Bartolomeo (24 August 1572). In 1589, on the death of Henry III assassinated by Jacques Clément, a fanatic monk, the throne was to pass de jure to Henry of Bourbon Navarre, descendant of the younger son of St. Louis and a Protestant. Hindered by Catholics who refused to recognize him, fought by Philip II of Spain who tried to take advantage of the situation to enslave the country, proposing the candidacy of his own daughter to the throne of France, Henry managed with military and diplomatic skill to remove the obstacles, especially after having abjured Protestantism. Officially recognized as the only king of France by the States General in 1593, he held out his hand to the Catholics; granting honors, he bought their devotion and knew how to make peace in the country. On 13 April 1598 he signed the Edict of Nantes, which ensured the Huguenots freedom of worship and recognized them equal civil rights with Catholics. Admirably supported by his minister Sully, who knew how to rearrange the administration and finances of the kingdom, Henry IV devoted himself with fervor to his task as peacemaker and mediator; he was a man of broad views and dreamed of giving Europe a new balance.
HISTORY: THE AGE OF RICHELIEU AND MAZARIN
In 1610, while he was again setting up an anti-Austrian policy, Enrico was assassinated by F. Ravaillac and his widow, Maria de ‘Medici, assumed the regency for his son Louis XIII, then ten years old. With the help of her favorite and compatriot C. Concini, she again had to face the attempts of insurrection of the aristocracy, while the country was falling into a difficult economic situation and the religious conflicts resumed (the regent was increasingly clearly linked to the Catholic party). Having come of age, Louis XIII remained under the dominion of his first mother and Charles de Luynes for a long time then, while in the country war broke out between the great favorite and the queen mother who, exiled, returned to Paris only after the death of de Luynes (1621), taking with her his chaplain, the bishop of Luçon, Armand de Richelieu. A fine politician and diplomat, Richelieu knew how to seduce his son as much as his mother. Authoritarian and energetic, as head of the Council he pursued with relentless firmness his policy, the main objectives of which were the ruin of the Protestant political party, the destruction of the power of the nobility for the benefit of the consolidation of the monarchy and, on the international level, the weakening of the house of Austria. For about twenty years (1624-42) Richelieu exercised an almost dictatorial power. After the death of Louis XIII, who survived his minister by just five months (May 14, 1643), the succession still fell to a minor king and, under the regency of Anne of Austria, the country was actually led by Cardinal Mazarin, continuer of Richelieu’s policy. Skilled diplomat, after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and after having repressed the parliamentary frond (1648-49) and that of the princes (1650-53), he was able to find for France an advantageous solution to the two conflicts which, on the margins of Thirty Years’ War, still committed the country against Spain (Treaty of the Pyrenees, 1659) and indirectly for hegemony in the Baltic (peaces of Oliva and Copenhagen, 1660).
HISTORY: THE SUN KING AND THE HEYDAY OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
After Mazarin’s death, Louis XIV directly assumed the government of the country, tending to exercise a power that, according to his conception, had to be without limits (“the state is me” sums up his inspiring concept). Consequently he isolated the nobility in Versailles where in a splendid setting he attributed decorative functions to them, depriving them of the powers that the feudal system had granted them, while the functions of government were reserved to the king who exercised them with the collaboration of ministers (essentially technical) drawn from the bourgeoisie and from the robed nobility (Colbert, Le Tellier, de Louvois, Vauban). The religious policy of Louis XIV also responded to the same principles: that is, he tended to subject the Church to the crown, reaffirming at the same time the principle of the absolute independence of the power of the sovereign (such by divine right) from the authority of the pope (declaration of the Gallican clergy, 1682) and setting up a policy of fighting the Huguenots (dragonnades and revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685) to restore religious unity in the country. In the international field, the War of Devolution (1667-68), that of Holland (1672-78) and the establishment of the meeting rooms are stages of an expansionist policy which, on the one hand, brought French power to its apogee. at the same time the country so much as to force Louis XIV to face, Grand Alliance (1688-97) and that of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), a coalition formed by almost all European states; France obtained very limited advantages (Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, and of Rastadt, 1714) and was economically destroyed by the last two conflicts. For the third time in a row, on the death of Louis XIV, a minor king, Louis XV, great-grandson of the Sun King, ascended to the throne under the regency of Duke Philippe d’Orléans.