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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Of Cardinal Fleury had sufficed for the purpose

of continuing our functions?"

Abbe Pernelle was carried off in the night, and confined in the abbey of Corbigny, in Nivernais, of which he was titular head. Other councillors were arrested; a hundred and fifty magistrates immediately gave in their resignation. Rising in the middle of the assembly, they went out two and two, dressed in their long scarlet robes, and threaded the crowd in silence. There was a shout as they went, "There go true Romans, and fathers of their country!" "All those who saw this procession," says the advocate Barbier, "declare that it was something august and overpowering." The government did not accept the resignations; the struggle continued. A hundred and thirty-nine members received letters under the king's seal (_lettres de cachet_), exiling them to the four quarters of France. The Grand Chamber had been spared; the old councillors, alone remaining, enregistered purely and simply the declarations of the keeper of the seals. Once more the Parliament was subdued; it had testified its complete political impotence. The iron hand of Richelieu, the perfect address of Mazarin, were no longer necessary to silence it; the prudent moderation, the reserved frigidity, of Cardinal Fleury had sufficed for the purpose. "The minister, victorious over the Parliament, had become the arbiter of Europe," said Frederick II., in his _History of my Time_. The standard of intelligences and of wills had everywhere sunk down to the level of the government of France. Unhappily, the day was coming
when the thrones of Europe were about to be occupied by stronger and more expanded minds, whilst France was passing slowly from the hands of a more than octogenarian minister into those of a voluptuous monarch, governed by his courtiers and his favorites. Frederick II., Maria Theresa, Lord Chatham, Catherine II., were about to appear upon the scene; the French had none to oppose them but Cardinal Fleury with one foot in the grave, and, after him, King Louis XV. and Madame de Pompadour.

It was amidst this state of things that the death of the Emperor Charles VI., on the 20th of October, 1740, occurred, to throw Europe into a new ferment of discord and war. Maria Theresa, the emperor's eldest daughter, was twenty-three years old, beautiful, virtuous, and of a lofty and resolute character; her rights to the paternal heritage had been guaranteed by all Europe. Europe, however, soon rose, almost in its entirety, to oppose them. The Elector of Bavaria claimed the domains of the house of Austria, by virtue of a will of Ferdinand I., father of Charles V. The King of Poland urged the rights of his wife, daughter of the Emperor Joseph I. Spain put forth her claims to Hungary and Bohemia, appanage of the elder branch of the house of Austria. Sardinia desired her share in Italy. Prussia had a new sovereign, who spoke but little, but was the first to act.

Kept for a long while by his father in cruel captivity, always carefully held aloof from affairs, and, to pass the time, obliged to engage in literature and science, Frederick II. had ascended the throne in August, 1740, with the reputation of a mind cultivated, liberal, and accessible to noble ideas. Voltaire, with whom he had become connected, had trumpeted his praises everywhere. The first act of the new king revealed qualities of which Voltaire had no conception. On the 23d of December, after leaving a masked ball, he started post-haste for the frontier of Silesia, where he had collected thirty thousand men. Without preliminary notice, without declaration of war, he at once entered the Austrian territory, which was scantily defended by three thousand men and a few garrisons. Before the end of January, 1741, the Prussians were masters of Silesia. "I am going, I fancy, to play your game," Frederick had said, as he set off, to the French ambassador: "if the aces come to me we will share."

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