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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Mortemart proposed to go and fetch Fleury


The

king was sorry and put out; the Duke of Mortemart, who was his gentleman of the bed-chamber, handed him a letter from Fleury. The latter had retired to Issy, to the countryhouse of the Sulpicians; he bade the king farewell, assuring him that he had for a long while been resolved, according to the usage of his youth, to put some space between the world and death. Louis began to shed tears; Mortemart proposed to go and fetch Fleury, and got the order given him to do so. The duke had to write the letter of recall. Next morning the bishop was at Versailles, gentle and modest as ever, and exhibiting neither resentment nor surprise. Six months later, however, the king set out from Versailles to go and visit the Count and Countess of Toulouse at Rambouillet. The duke was in attendance at his departure. "Do not make us wait supper, cousin," said the young monarch, graciously. Scarcely had his equipages disappeared, when a letter was brought: the duke was ordered to quit the court and retire provisionally to Chantilly. Madame de Prie was exiled to her estates in Normandy, where she soon died of spite and anger. The head of the House of Conde came forth no more from the political obscurity which befitted his talents. At length Fleury remained sole master.

He took possession of it without fuss or any external manifestation; caring only for real authority, he advised Louis XV. not to create any premier minister, and to govern by himself, like

his great-grandfather. The king took this advice, as every other, and left Fleury to govern. This was just what the bishop intended; a sleepy calm succeeded the commotions which had been caused by the inconsistent and spasmodic government of the duke; galas and silly expenses gave place to a wise economy, the real and important blessing of Fleury's administration. Commerce and industry recovered confidence; business was developed; the increase of the revenues justified a diminution of taxation; war, which was imminent at the moment of the duke's fall, seemed to be escaped; the Bishop of Frejus became Cardinal Fleury; the court of Rome paid on the nail for the service rendered it by the new minister in freeing the clergy from the tax of the fiftieth (_impot du cinquantieme_). "Consecrated to God, and kept aloof from the commerce of men," had been Fleury's expression, "the dues of the church are irrevocable, and cannot be subject to any tax, whether of ratification or any other." The clergy responded to this pleasant exposition of principles by a gratuitous gift of five millions. Strife ceased in every quarter; France found herself at rest, without lustre as well as without prospect.

It was not, henceforth, at Versailles that the destinies of Europe were discussed and decided. The dismissal of the Infanta had struck a deadly blow at the frail edifice of the quadruple alliance, fruit of the intrigues and diplomatic ability of Cardinal Dubois. Philip V. and Elizabeth Farnese, deeply wounded by the affront put upon them, had hasted to give the Infanta to the Prince of Brazil, heir to the throne of Portugal, at the same time that the Prince of the Asturias espoused a daughter of John V. Under cover of this alliance, agreeable as it was to England, the faithful patron of Portugal, the King of Spain was negotiating elsewhere, with the Emperor Charles VI., the most ancient and hitherto the most implacable of his enemies. This prince had no son, and wished to secure the succession to his eldest daughter, the Arch-duchess Maria Theresa. The Pragmatic-Sanction which declared this wish awaited the assent of Europe; that of Spain was of great value; she offered, besides, to open her ports to the Ostend Company, lately established by the emperor to compete against the Dutch trade.


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