1902 Encyclopedia > Paris > History - Early Modern Paris

(Part 21)

History - Early Modern Paris

When, after the murder of the duke of guise at Blois at the close of 1588, Henry III. desired to return to Paris, he was not yet master of the city, and was obliged to besiege it in concert with his presumptive her the king of Navarre. The operations were suddenly interrupted on August 1, 1589, by the assassination of the king, and Henry IV. carried his arms elsewhere. He returned with his victorious forces in 1590. This second siege lasted more than four years, and was marked by terrible suffering, produced by famine and the tyranny of The Sixteen, who were supported by the intrigues of the king of Spain and the violent harangues of the preachers. Even the conversion of the king did not allay the spirit of fanaticism, for the king’s sincerity was suspected, and the words (which history, however, fails to substantiate), "Paris is surely worth a mass," were attributed to him. But after the coronation of the king at Chartres the commonalty of Paris, weary of intriguing with strangers and Leagues, gave such decided expression to its feelings that those of its leaders who had kept aloof or broken off from the faction of The Sixteen attached themselves to the parlement, which had already evaded the ambitious designs of the king of Spain; and after various negotiations the provost of the merchants, L’Huillier, offered the keys of the city of Henry IV. on March 22, 1594. The king met no resistance except on the part of a company of German landsknechts, which was cut in pieces, and the students of the university, who, steeped in the doctrines of the League, tried to hold their quarter against the royal troops, but were dispersed. The Spanish soldiers who had remained in the town decamped next day.

Henry IV., who carried on the building of the Louvre, was the last monarch who occupied it as a regular residence. Attempts on his life were made from time to time, and at last on May 14, 1610, he fell under Ravaillac’s knife near the market-house in Rue de la Ferronnerie.

Whether royalty gave it the benefit of its presence or not, Paris continued all the same to increase in political importance and in population. Here is the picture of the city presented about 1560 by Michel de Castelnau, one of the most celebrated chroniclers of the 16th century:-

"Paris is the capital of all the kingdom, and one of the most famous in the world, as well for the splendor of its parlement (which is an illustrious company of thirty judgesattended by three hundred advocates and more, who have reputation in all Christendom of being the best seen in human laws and acquainted with justice) as for its faculty of theology and for the other tongues and sciences, which shine more in this town than in any other in the world, besides the mechanic arts and the marvelous traffic which render it very populous, rich, and opulent; in such sort that the other towns of France and all the magistrates and subjects have their eyes directed thither as to the model of their decisions and their political administrations."

Castelnau spoke rather as a statesman and a magistrate, and he did not look close enough to see that the university was beginning to decline. The progress of the sciences somewhat lessened the importance of its classes, too specially devoted to theology and literature; the eyes of men were turned towards Italy, which was then considered the great center of intellectual advance; the colleges of the Jesuits were formidable rivals; the triumphs of Protestantism deprived it of most of the students who used to flock to it from England, Germany, and Scandinavia; and finally the unfortunate part it played in political affairs weakened its influence so much that, after the reign of Henry IV., it no longer sent its deputies to the states-general.

If the city on the left side of the river neither extended its circuit nor increased its population, it began in the 16th century to be filled with large mansions (hotels), and its communications with the right bank were rendered easier and more direct when Henry IV. constructed across the lower end of the island of La Cite the Pont Neuf, which, though retaining its original name, is now the oldest bridge in Paris. On the right side of the river commerce and the progress of centralization continued to attract new inhabitants, and old villages become suburbs were enclosed within the line of a bastioned first enceinte, the ramparts of Etinne Marcel being, however, still left untouched. Although Louis XIII., except during his minority, rarely stayed much in Paris, he was seldom long absent from it. His mother, Mary de’ Medici, built the palace of the Luxembourg, which, after being extended under Louis Philippe, became the seat of the senate.

Louis XIII. finished, with the exception of the eastern front, the buildings enclosing the square court of the Louvre, and carried on the wing which was to join the palace to the Tuileries. Queen Anne of Austria founded the Val de Grace, the dome of which, afterwards painted on the interior by Mignard, remains one of the finest in Paris. Richelieu built for himself the Palais Royal since restored, and rebuilt the Sorbonne, where now stands his magnificent tomb by Girardon. The island of St Louis above La Cite, till then occupied by gardens and meadows, became a populous parish, whose streets were laid out in straight lines, and whose finest houses still date from the 17th century. Building also went on in the Quartier du Marais (quarter of the marsh); and the whole of Place Royale (now Place des Vosges), with its curious arcaded galleries, belongs to this period. The church of St Paul and St Louis was built by the Jesuits beside the ruins of the old Hotel St Paul; the church of St Gervais received a façade which has become in our time too famous. St Etinne du Mont and St Eustache were completed (in the latter case with the exception of the front). The beautiful Salle des Pas-Perdus (Hall of Lost Footsteps) was added to the Palais de Justice. Besides these buildings and extensions Paris was indebted to Louis XIII and his minister Richelieu for three important institutions- the royal printing press in 1620, the Jardin des Plantes in 1626, and the French Academy in 1635. The bishopric of Paris was separated from that of Sens and erected into an archbishopric in 1623.

As memorials of Mazarin Paris still possesses the College des Quatre-nations, erected with one of his legacies immediately after his death, and since appropriated to the Institute, and the palace which, enlarged in our own time, now accommodates the national library.

The stormy minority of Louis XIV. was spent at St Germain and Paris, where the court was held at the Palais Royal. The intrigues of the prince of Conde, Cardinal de Retz, and (for a brief space) Turenne resulted in a siege of Paris, during which more epigrams than balls were fired off; but the cannon of the Bastille, discharged by order of Madeomoiselle de Montpensier, enabled Conde to enter the city. Bloody riots followed, and came to an end only with the exhaustion of the populace and its voluntary submission to the king. Though Louis XIV. ceased to stay in Paris after he grew up, he did not neglect the work of embellishment. On the site of the fortifications of Etienne Marcel, which during the previous hundred years had been gradually disappearing, he laid out the line of boulevard connecting the quarter of the Bastille with that of the Madeleine. Though he no longer inhabited the Louvre (and it never was again the seat of royalty), he caused the great colonnade to be constructed after the plans of Claude Perrault. This immense and imposing façade, 548 feet long, has the defect of being quite out of harmony with the rest of the building, which it hides instead of introducing. The same desire for effect, altogether irrespective of congruity, appears again in the observatory erected by the same Perrault, without the smallest consideration of the wise suggestions made by Cassini. The Place Vendome, the Place des Victoires, the triumphed gates of St Denis and St Martin, and several fountains, are also productions of the reign of Louis XIV. The hospital of La Salpetriere, with its majestically simple dome, was finished by Liberal Bruant. The Hotel des Invaldes, one of the finest institutions of the Grand Monarque, was also erected, with its chapel, between 1671 and 1675, by Bruant; but it was reserved for the architect Hardouin Mansart to give to this imposing edifice a complement worthy of itself; it was he who raised the done, admirable alike for it proportions, for the excellent distribution of its ornaments, and for its gilded lantern, which rises 344 feet above the ground. "Private persons," says Voltaire, "in imitation of their king, raised a thousand splendid edifices. The number increased so greatly that from the neighborhood of the Palais Royal and of St Sulpice there were formed in Paris two new towns much finer than the old one." All the aristocracy had not thought fit to take up their residence at Versailles, and the great geniuses of the century, Corneille, Racine, La Fontaine, Moliere, Madame de Sevigne, had their houses in Paris; there also was the Hotel de Rambouillet, so famous in the literary history of the 17th century.

The halls of the Palais Royal during the minority of Louis XV. were the scene of the excesses of the regency; later on the king from time to time resided at the Tuileries, which henceforward came to be customarily regarded as the official seat of monarchy. To the reign of Louis XV. are due the rebuilding of the Palais Royal, the "Place" now called De la Concorde, the military school, the greater part of the church of Ste Genevieve or pantheon (a masterpiece of the architect Soufflot), the church of St Roch, the palace of the Elysee (now the residence of the president of the republic), the Palais Bourbon (with the exception of the faced) now occupied by the chamber of deputies, and the mint, a majestic and scholarly work by the architect Antoine, as well as the rebuilding of the College de France.

Louis XVI. finished or vigorously carried on the works begun by his grandfather. He did not come to live in Paris till compelled by the Revolution.

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