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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Brienne appealed to the clergy


was now more than a year since Brienne had become chief minister. MM. de Segur and de Castries had retired, refusing to serve under a man whom they did not esteem. Alone, shut up in his closet, the archbishop listened without emotion to the low murmur of legal protests, the noisy tumult of insurrections. "I have foreseen all, even civil war. The king shall be obeyed, the king knows how to make himself obeyed," he kept repeating in the assured tones of an oracle. Resolved not to share the responsibility of the reverse he foresaw, Baron de Breteuil sent in his resignation.

Meanwhile the treasury was found to be empty; Brienne appealed to the clergy, hoping to obtain from ecclesiastical wealth one of those gratuitous gifts which had often come in aid of the State's necessities. The Church herself was feeling the influence of the times. Without relaxing in her pretensions to the maintenance of privileges, the ecclesiastical assembly thought itself bound to plead the cause of that magistracy which it had so, often fought. "Our silence," said the remonstrances, "would be a crime, of which the nation and posterity would never absolve us. Your Majesty has just effected at the bed of justice of May 8, a great movement as regards things and persons. Such ought to be a consequence rather than a preliminary of the States-general; the will of a prince which has not been enlightened by his courts may be regarded as a momentary will. Your Majesty has

issued an edict carrying the restoration of the plenary court, but that court has recalled an ancient reign without recalling ancient ideas. Even if it had been once the supreme tribunal of our kings, it now presents no longer that numerous assemblage of prelates, barons, and lieges united together. The nation sees nothing in it but a court-tribunal whose complaisance it would be afraid of, and whose movements and intrigues it would dread in times of minority and regency. . . . Our functions are sacred, when, from the height of the altars, we pray heaven to send down blessings on kings and on their subjects; they are still so, when, after teaching people their duties, we represent their rights and make solicitations on behalf of the afflicted, on behalf of the absent despoiled of their position and their liberty. The clergy of France, Sir, stretch forth to you their suppliant hands; it is so beautiful to see might and puissance yielding to prayer! The glory of your Majesty is not in being King of France, but in being King of the French, and the heart of your subjects in the fairest of your domains." The assembly of the clergy granted to the treasury only a poor gift of eighteen hundred thousand livres.

All the resources were exhausted, disgraceful tricks had despoiled the hospitals and the poor; credit was used up, the payments of the State were backward; the discount-bank (_caisse d'escompte_) was authorized to refuse to give coin. To divert the public mind from this painful situation, Brienne proposed to the king to yield to the requests of the members of Parliament, of the clergy, and of the noblesse themselves. A decree of August 8, 1788, announced that the States-general would be convoked May 1, 1789: the re-establishment of the plenary court was suspended to that date. Concessions wrested from the weakness and irresolution of governments do not strengthen their failing powers. Brienne had exhausted his boldness as well as his basenesses; he succumbed beneath the outcry of public wrath and mistrust. He offered the comptroller-generalship to M. Necker, who refused. "He told XVI. "Mercy," is the expression in Brienne's own account, "that under a minister who, like me, had lost the favor of the public, he could not do any good." A court-intrigue at last decided the minister's fall. The Count of Artois, egged on by Madame de Polignac, made urgent entreaties to the queen; she was attached to Brienne; she, however, resigned herself to giving him up, but with so many favors and such an exhibition of kindness towards all his family, that the public did not feel at all grateful to Marie Antoinette. Already Brienne had exchanged the archbishopric of Toulouse for that of Sens, a much richer one. "The queen offered me the hat and anything I might desire," writes the prelate, "telling me that she parted from me with regret, weeping at being obliged to do so, and permitting me to kiss her (_l'embrasser_) in token of her sorrow and her interest." "After having made the mistake of bringing him into the ministry," says Madame Campan [_Memoires,_ t. i. p. 33], "the queen unfortunately made an equally grave one in supporting him at the time of a disgrace brought upon him by the despair of the whole nation. She considered it only consistent with her dignity to give him, at his departure, ostensible proofs of her esteem, and, her very sensibility misleading her, she sent him her portrait adorned with precious stones and the patent of lady of the palace for his niece, Madame de Courcy, saying that it was necessary to indemnify a minister sacrificed by the trickery of courts and the factious spirit of the nation. I have since seen the queen shed bitter tears over the errors she committed at this period."

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