Anyone who’s read Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (read it, it’s great!) or seen one of the many film adaptations will have a passing familiarity with this French king. Often portrayed as a benign nincompoop, the real guy was in fact considerably more interesting.
Louis XIII became king at the age of eight, with his mother Marie de Medici as his regent. Powerful in her own right, Marie was reluctant to give up any of it and refused to let Louis rule when he turned thirteen as was the custom. By the age of sixteen, Louis had had enough of her intrigues and general mismanagement of affairs and overthrew her in a palace coup. Though he eventually reconciled with his mother, their relationship remained strained and caused plenty of upheaval throughout his reign.
Louis was also challenged by his brother Gaston, the Duke of Orleans. Gaston tried to overthrow him twice and ended up spending much of Louis’ reign in exile in Flanders. Nice family, eh?
The trouble didn’t end there. As a teenager, Louis was married to Anne of Austria, daughter of Phillip II of Spain. For the most part, the marriage was unhappy, with Anne engaging in intrigues of her own, though to everyone’s surprise, she finally did produce an heir, the future Louis XIV. I was surprised to find that there really was considerable gossip around her relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, so it seems Dumas based his story on some real events. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.
Hampered by a severe stutter, Louis preferred action to talk. He was obsessed with hunting and the outdoors and loved nothing better than being on military campaign. Since his reign was full of trouble, he got to spend a lot of time at the head of his armies. He had to put down a rebellion by the nobility and spent a lot of time dealing with the restive Huguenots, French Protestants. He participated in the famous siege at La Rochelle, and in less successful engagements at Montauban and Montpellier. He then went on to confront the Spanish in Italy and Savoy.
The Thirty Years War broke out early in Louis’ reign, and France’s interests in the conflict weren’t initially clear. A devout Catholic, Louis was naturally in favor of supporting the imperial side, but political requirements led to France eventually supporting Sweden in its bid to fight on behalf of the Protestants. In time, France entered the conflict directly in a bid to contain the Habsburg empire which practically encircled France.
Though generally stubborn and sure of his beliefs, Louis is perhaps best-known for being swayed by stronger personalities. His most famous and effective adviser was Cardinal Richelieu, and with his guidance, Louis laid the foundation for the most powerful absolute monarchy in Europe, fully realized by his son, Louis XIV.
In a country known for its womanizers, Louis broke the mold, never keeping mistresses and instead favoring various handsome young men such as the Duc de Luyns and Marquis de Cinq-Mars, which gave rise to rumors of homosexuality. He several times found himself in political trouble because of the power he gave these favorites, and in the case of Cinq-Mars, was forced to agree to his execution when it became clear he had conspired to murder Cardinal Richelieu.
He died at the age of 41, just a few days before the decisive French victory against Spain in the Battle of Rocroi in the Thirty Years War. He left a four-year-old heir, entrusted to a regency council, which was quickly overturned by Queen Anne, who then ruled as regent with the help of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin (Richelieu’s successor) until Louis XIV came of age.
Possessing considerable interest in the arts, Louis was known to be a competent musician and enjoyed participating in ballet and theatrical productions. He was an avid patron of the arts, working hard to keep French talent from going to Italy and reintroduced the wig as a fashion item for men. His life wasn’t particularly long, but it was interesting, probably more so than he would have liked.by