Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Her story is given at length in the commonest French Histories; still it is difficult for any one not familiarised with the brutal callousness of the cotemporary memoirs, to credit or conceive it in the fulness of its splendid infamy. Henry, Marquis de Nesle, the head of an ancient House whose honours dated from the Crusades, was the father of five daughters, -all of them the mistresses of Louis XV.! Louise, the eldest, in whom observers loved afterwards to trace something of the gentleheartedness and humility which had often redeemed the parallel frailties of La Vallière, was married at the age of sixteen to her cousin, M. de Mailly, and placed as a lady in waiting at the court of Queen Maria Leckzinska. Selected by Cardinal Fleury to be the King's mistress, she bore her scandalous honours so meekly, as to retain her position for several years, without exciting envy or dislike. But she seems to have been an exception to the genius of her kindred. One of her sisters,

-the future Madame de Vintimille, had formed in her convent of Port Royal, the daring vision of governing France as Madame de Maintenon had governed it before her. The French annals afforded inexhaustible precedents for ambition of this kind; and after Fleury, as we said above, had stooped to arbitrate in these quarrels, which revolt us in the mere allusion, we find Agnes Sorel presented as the chosen model of Madame de Chateauroux, the third daughter of this family. There is a terrible, Semiramislike grandeur in what we read of her; treading public opinion under her audacious feet, negotiating on equal terms with the King, sweeping aside in her stately march all the weaker, and at least less insolently guilty, appendages of the court. Incredible as it appears, it is certain that she demanded the public disgrace of her sister, Madame de Mailly, and her own recognised installation as Maitresse en titre. But it was her boast that she had not yielded to Louis, only to the King of France. She was bent on accompanying, like Madame de Montespan, her royal lover to the scenes of his victories; and on rousing into some show of energy the life which he had dragged on till the

age of thirty-four, in aimless, tedious apathy.

The dissolving coalition soon felt her influence. A league with Spain had already been concluded at Fontainebleau in 1743, which was, in fact, an approach to the family compact of 1761. Providing ostensibly for the mutual guarantee of the Bourbon Houses, it in fact enrolled their younger branches as subordinate members of a great French Empire. The king now announced his intention of taking the field in person; and Fleury's financial successors were severely tasked to provide for the due splendour of the campaign. The Pretender was brought from Rome; and, to the disgust of the Protestant states of Germany, preparations were set on foot for the Scotch expedition of 1745. Again the eyes of the French ministers were turned to Frederic of Prussia, -- faithless as they knew him, and publicly discredited by his last desertion of their cause. It was remarked, that the Treaty of Breslau, by which he held Silesia, was the only recent convention not ratified by the late Treaty of Worms, between Maria Theresa and Charles Emmanuel of Savoy. On this occasion the French ministers made their well-known choice of Voltaire for ambassador to Berlin. a professional diplomatist, his failure was of course inevitable; but it is not clear that the choice was absolutely unwise or fruitless. Voltaire's enmity was never to be despised; and his appointment was an easy salve for the affront he had just received in being rejected at the Academy, through the influence of Maurepas. On the other hand, if any conceivable bribe could have induced Frederic to forget his sole and paramount idea of self-aggrandisement, it would have been his public recognition as the royal patron of French literature and infidelity. Voltaire, however, returned from Berlin in six weeks; and could only report at Versailles that Frederic made a declaration of war by France against England, a necessary condition of his alliance. But early in the next year, through another and a more secret agent, the King of Prussia offered, by a descent on Bohemia, to divert the Austrians from the defence of the Low Countries. Chavigny was at once despatched to the Diet on a mission similar to that of Belleisle in 1741, to represent the French cause as a guarantee of German liberty; and early in 1744, by a treaty known as the Union of Francfort, Prussia and Bavaria were again united with France against Austria.

The personal presence of a King of France never failed to swell the royal army with the strength of the provincial gentry, in addition to the courtly and official aristocracy. Escorting Madame de Chateauroux, Louis XV. set out at the head of a train as brilliant as that which had followed the great Condé in forcing the Rhine under the eyes of Louis XIV., or that more devoted noblesse which numbered no less than eight future Marshals of France, in supporting Villars at the desperate struggle of Malplaquet. The fortresses on the Belgian frontier, which the Barrier Treaties authorised the Dutch to garrison, yielded to the advancing troops; when the news that Prince Charles of Lorraine had invaded Alsace, checked the King's progress, and concentrated all the forces then in France on the town of Metz. That well known illness of Louis XV. followed; and called out the last hearty enthusiasm France ever showed for her old Bourbon Kings. The thrill of panic and sympathy which crowded the French churches and the very streets of Paris, with a throng as anxious for reports from Metz as their descendants were for the tremendous tidings of Jemappes or Waterloo, must have seemed to the next generation a singular instance of epidemic madness; and even to us, authentic and full as are the details that make up the picture, it has the look of some strange scene, erroneously transported into real history from a romance. While the King's danger lasted, Madame de Chateauroux fulfilled the severest duties, as she had most publicly usurped the privileges, of a Queen of France. But the imminence of a new reign combined all the waiters upon Providence with the graver circle, which, in sorrow and indignation at the abasement of royalty, had adhered to Maria Leckzinska and the Dauphin. The latter (father to Louis XVI.) had been studiously kept at a distance from the revelling and triumphant profligacies of the King's march. But he was now joined at Metz by the Duc de Chartres, grandson of the Regent, and son to the Jansenist Duke of Orleans. The same feeling of superstitious Catholicism which, while English emissaries were at this very time tampering with the Protestants of the South, prevented the restoration of the Edict of Nantes, would have been outraged, if Louis XV.'s death-bed had not been hallowed by public sacraments. But the expulsion of Madame de Chateauroux was a necessary condition of their administration. The Duc de Chartres and Richelieu drew their swords in the very bed-chamber; meanwhile, the horror which Louis XV. always showed at the approach of death, weakened the party of the favourite. She was ordered to leave the court; and d'Argenson, the Foreign Minister, prepared his own future disgrace by the upmanly harshness with which he delivered the royal orders. The King recovered; and Madame de Chateauroux was recalled. Her enemies were, in their turn, dismissed ; d'Argenson was exiled, and laid down his office; she was herself named to a high position in the Dauphin's household. But the revulsion of her feelings had been too strong. She was taken ill, with a suddenness that roused suspicions of poison; and in twenty-four hours she had died, imploring the pardon of Maria Leckzinska! By her side, at the death-bed, re-appeared Louise de Mailly, -that true and loving sister, whose tenderness her own guilt could never harden, nor her rival's insults alienate.

With Madame de Chateauroux passed away the animating principle of the revived coalition. The year after her death the energy she had communicated to Louis XV. still carried him on to Fontenoy. But after that, the ends proposed by war seemed farther off than ever; and were brought no nearer even by Rocoux and Lawfeldt. Early in 1745 the Emperor Charles VII. closed his wretched career.

The first act of his successor, the Elector Maximilian, was to make peace with Austria, and to acquiesce in the elevation of Maria Theresa's husband, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to the imperial throne. An attempt at an Italian confederation, of which the King of Sardinia would have been the most prominent member, and which would have largely recompensed France for her losses in the war, was broken off in the same year, by the obstinate folly of the Spanish court. But in 1746 Philip V.died; and at once Elizabeth of Parma lost all her influence. The new king, Ferdinand VI., immediately recalled the Spanish troops; not choosing that they should be sacrificed in Italy to provide an appanage for his half-brothers. Frederic again failed the French cause, and, in setting Austria free to act after the Peace of Dresden, verified the saying, that he hurt his allies as much by making peace, as he hurt his enemies by making war. In India the quarrels of Dupleix and Labourdonnaye favoured the English establishments, and consigned the latter great soldier and administrator to the Bastille. At sea, Anson's victories were destroying the French navy. Still France toiled on; and, deserted and exhausted as she was, in 1747 she declared formal war with Holland. But the Maritime Powers and the House of Austria had yet another card to play, and by producing it decided this protracted game.

The position of Russia with regard to the older monarchies of Europe is one of the most curious features in the diplomatic history of the last century. Long before the reign of Peter the Great, in the days of the Livonian and Polish wars, her colossal power had been propelled with convulsive movements towards the South and West. Since his death, in each of the three European wars that followed the Peace of Utrecht -- in the war of the Polish Succession, in that of the Austrian Succession, and in the Seven Years' War - Russia attempted to take part in the contest; she was, however, invariably and systematically excluded from a share in the final treaties which reunited the recognised members of the international commonwealth. Her assistance, indeed, was eagerly desired by all parties: but our ancestors regarded it with much the same jealousy and discredit which they would have attached to a league with the Turk against Christian powers, or with which an English government would have sought help from Abdel-Kader against France. It was not till the wars of the Bavarian Succession, in 1779, that Frederic the Great, sinning grievously against German interests, introduced Russian diplomatists as guarantees of the Peace of Teschen— treaties, renewing those of Westphalia, with the guarantee of which, Russia has in consequence considered herself charged. In the present. instance, ever since the death of Charles VI., the French and English ambassadors at Petersburgh had been struggling against each other's influence. At last, through the help of the Grand Chancellor Bestufcheff, the latter prevailed; and agreeably to the Subsidy Treaties of 1747, 67,000 Russians were ready to act against France upon the Rhine. It would have been impossible for the latter power to resist the accession of strength which this contingent would have given to Maria Theresa. But the presence of these dangerous allies quickened, perhaps on both sides, the negotiations of Aix la Chapelle; and this tedious war finally closed in 1748- without the accomplishment of any one of the objects for which it had been begun!

England, indeed, lost little in this contest; except by the waste of troops and money, and from the discredit of having originally engaged in the Spanish War in obedience to an ignorant and interested clamour. Against our support of Maria Theresa nothing can be said. When no single continental court was found honest enough to refuse a share in the plunder of the House of Austria, England alone acted honourably up to her engagements. But the party which precipitated the original war with Spain is not therefore absolved from legitimate blame. It is impossible to doubt that our subsisting broil with that country was an important element in the decision by which the court of France was allowed to head the coalition of 1741. When the one object of expelling Walpole was attained, the very pretence of any public interest had been so completely thrown aside, that the treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle never once made mention of the Right of Search, nor contained any provision for regulating the contraband trade -though these alone had been the assigned causes of the war. It was not till Sir Benjamin Keene's Convention of 1750 that the chance of future embarrassments was obviated, by the abrogation of their fruitful -and, we may well add, shameless-parent, the Assiento Contract of 1713.

France was, if possible, still more entirely without excuse for her share in the struggle; and she never recovered the wounds she received in it. By the party which supported Belleisle in clamouring for war, the attack on Maria Theresa had been proclaimed the natural consummation of the policy of Henry IV. and Richelieu. But there was never a more signal instance of the short-sighted haste which is incapable of distinguishing between the letter of a principle and its spirit and application. When the

« AnteriorContinuar »