Read CHAPTER II - LOUIS XIV.  AND DEATH. 1711-1715. of A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume VI., free online book, by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot, on

“One has no more luck at our age,” Louis XIV. had said to his old friend Marshal Villars, returning from his most disastrous campaign.  It was a bitter reflection upon himself which had put these words into the king’s mouth.  After the most brilliant, the most continually and invariably triumphant of reigns, he began to see Fortune slipping away from him, and the grievous consequences of his errors successively overwhelming the state.  “God is punishing me; I have richly deserved it,” he said to Marshal Villars, who was on the point of setting out for the battle of Denain.  The aged king, dispirited and beaten, could not set down to men his misfortunes and his reverses; the hand of God Himself was raised against his house.  Death was knocking double knocks all round him.  The grand-dauphin had for some days past been ill of small-pox.  The king had gone to be with him at Meudon, forbidding the court to come near the castle.  The small court of Monseigneur were huddled together in the lofts.  The king was amused with delusive hopes; his chief physician, Fagon, would answer for the invalid.  The king continued to hold his councils as usual, and the deputation of market-women (dames de la Halle), come from Paris to have news of Monseigneur, went away, declaring that they would go and sing a Te Deum, as he was nearly well.  “It is not time yet, my good women,” said Monseigneur, who had given them a reception.  That very evening he was dead, without there having been time to send for his confessor in ordinary.  “The parish priest of Meudon, who used to look in every evening before he went home, had found all the doors open, the valets distracted, Fagon heaping remedy upon remedy without waiting for them to take effect.  He entered the room, and hurrying to Monseigneur’s bedside, took his hand and spoke to him of God.  The poor prince was fully conscious, but almost speechless.  He repeated distinctly a few words, others inarticulately, smote his breast, pressed the priest’s hand, appeared to have the most excellent sentiments, and received absolution with an air of contrition and wistfulness.” [Mémoires de St. Simon, ix.] Meanwhile word had been sent to the king, who arrived quite distracted.  The Princess of Conti, his daughter, who was deeply attached to Monseigneur, repulsed him gently:  “You must think only of yourself now, Sir,” she said.  The king let himself sink down upon a sofa, asking news of all that came out of the room, without any one’s daring to give him an answer.  Madame de Maintenon, who had hurried to the king, and was agitated without being affected, tried to get him away; she did not succeed, however, until Monseigneur had breathed his last.  He passed along to his carriage between two rows of officers and valets, all kneeling, and conjuring him to have pity upon them who had lost all and were like to starve.

The excitement and confusion at Versailles were tremendous.  From the moment that small-pox was declared, the princes had not been admitted to Meudon.  The Duchess of Burgundy alone had occasionally seen the king.  All were living in confident expectation of a speedy convalescence; the news of the death came upon them like a thunderclap.  All the courtiers thronged together at once, the women half dressed, the men anxious and concerned, some to conceal their extreme sorrow, others their joy, according as they were mixed up in the different cabals of the court.  “It was all, however, nothing but a transparent veil,” says St. Simon, “which did not prevent good eyes from observing and discerning all the features.  The two princes and the two princesses, seated beside them, taking care of them, were most exposed to view.  The Duke of Burgundy wept, from feeling and in good faith, with an air of gentleness, tears of nature, of piety, and of patience.  The Duke of Berry, in quite as good faith, shed abundance, but tears, so to speak, of blood, so great appeared to be their bitterness; he gave forth not sobs, but shrieks, howls.  The Duchess of Berry (daughter of the Duke of Orleans) was beside herself.  The bitterest despair was depicted on her face.  She saw her sister-in-law, who was so hateful to her, all at once raised to that title, that rank of dauphiness, which were about to place so great a distance between them.  Her frenzy of grief was not from affection, but from interest; she would wrench herself from it to sustain her husband, to embrace him, to console him, then she would become absorbed in herself again with a torrent of tears, which helped her to stifle her shrieks.  The Duke of Orleans wept in his own corner, actually sobbing, a thing which, had I not seen it, I should never have believed,” adds St. Simon, who detested Monseigneur, and had as great a dread of his reigning as the Duke of Orleans had.  “Madame, re-dressed in full dress, in the middle of the night, arrived regularly howling, not quite knowing why either one or the other; inundating them all with her tears as she embraced them, and making the castle resound with a renewal of shrieks, when the king’s carriages were announced, on his return to Marly.”  The Duchess of Burgundy was awaiting him on the road.  She stepped down and went to the carriage window.  “What are you about, Madame?” exclaimed Madame de Maintenon; “do not come near us, we are infectious.”  The king did not embrace her, and she went back to the palace, but only to be at Marly next morning before the king was awake.

The king’s tears were as short as they had been abundant.  He lost a son who was fifty years old, the most submissive and most respectful creature in the world, ever in awe of him and obedient to him, gentle and good-natured, a proper man amid all his indolence and stupidity, brave and even brilliant at head of an army.  In 1688, in front of Philipsburg, the soldiers had given him the name of “Louis the Bold.”  He was full of spirits and always ready, “revelling in the trenches,” says Vauban.  The Duke of Montausier, his boyhood’s strict governor, had written to him, “Monseigneur, I do not make you my compliments on the capture of Philipsburg; you had a fine army, shells, cannon, and Vauban.  I do not make them to you either on your bravery; it is an hereditary virtue in your house; but I congratulate you on being open-handed, humane, generous, and appreciative of the services of those who do well; that is what I make you my compliments upon.”  “Did not I tell you so?” proudly exclaimed the Chevalier de Grignan, formerly attached (as menin) to the person of Monseigneur, on hearing his master’s exploits lauded; “for my part, I am not surprised.”  Racine had exaggerated the virtues of Monseigneur in the charming verses of the prologue of Esther: 

          “Thou givest him a son, an ever ready aid,
          Apt or to woo or fight, obey or be obeyed;
          A son who, like his sire, drags victory in his train,
          Yet boasts but one desire, that father’s heart to gain;
          A son, who to his will submits with loving air,
          Who brings upon his foes perpetual despair. 
          As the swift spirit flies, stern Equity’s envoy,
          So, when the king says, ‘Go,’ down rusheth he in joy,
          With vengeful thunderbolt red ruin doth complete,
          Then tranquilly returns to lay it at his feet.”

In 1690 and in 1691 he had gained distinction as well as in 1688.  “The dauphin has begun as others would think it an honor to leave off,” the Prince of Orange had said, “and, for my part, I should consider that I had worthily capped anything great I may have done in war if, under similar circumstances, I had made so fine a march.”  Whether it were owing to indolence or court cabal, Monseigneur had no more commands; he had no taste for politics, and always sat in silence at the council, to which the king had formally admitted him at thirty years of age, “instructing him,” says the Marquis of Sourches, “with so much vigor and affection, that Monseigneur could not help falling at his feet to testify his respect and gratitude.”  Twice, at grave conjunctures, the grand-dauphin allowed his voice to be heard; in 1685, to offer a timid opposition to the Edict of Nantes, and, in 1700, to urge very vigorously the acceptance of the King of Spain’s will.  “I should be enchanted,” he cried, as if with a prophetic instinct of his own destiny, “to be able to say all my life, ‘The king my father, and the king my son.’” Heavy in body as well as mind, living on terms of familiarity with a petty court, probably married to Mdlle.  Choin, who had been for a long time installed in his establishment at Meudon, Monseigneur, often embarrassed and made uncomfortable by the austere virtue of the Duke of Burgundy, and finding more attraction in the Duke of Berry’s frank geniality, had surrendered himself, without intending it, to the plots which were woven about him.  “His eldest son behaved to him rather as a courtier than as a son, gliding over the coldness shown him with a respect and a gentleness which, together, would have won over any father less a victim to intrigue.  The Duchess of Burgundy, in spite of her address and her winning grace, shared her husband’s disfavor.”  The Duchess of Berry had counted upon this to establish her sway in a reign which the king’s great age seemed to render imminent; already, it was said, the chief amusement at Monseigneur’s was to examine engravings of the coronation ceremony, when death carried him off suddenly on the 14th of April, 1711, to the consternation of the lower orders, who loved him because of his reputation for geniality.  The severity of the new dauphin caused some little dread.

“Here is a prince who will succeed me before long,” said the king on presenting his grandson to the assembly of the clergy; “by his virtue and piety he will render the church still more flourishing, and the kingdom more happy.”  That was the hope of all good men.  Fenelon, in his exile in Cambrai, and the Dukes of Beauvilliers and Chevreuse, at court, began to feel themselves all at once transported to the heights with the prince whom they had educated, and who had constantly remained faithful to them.  The delicate foresight and prudent sagacity of Fenelon had a long while ago sought to prepare his pupil for the part which he was about to play.  It was piety alone that had been able to triumph over the dangerous tendencies of a violent and impassioned temperament.  Fenelon, who had felt this, saw also the danger of devoutness carried too far.  “Religion does not consist in a scrupulous observance of petty formalities,” he wrote to the Duke of Burgundy; “it consists, for everybody, in the virtues proper to one’s condition.  A great prince ought not to serve God in the same way as a hermit or a simple individual.”

“The prince thinks too much and acts too little,” he said to the Duke of Chevreuse; “his most solid occupations are confined to vague applications of his mind and barren resolutions; he must see society, study it, mix in it, without becoming a slave to it, learn to express himself forcibly, and acquire a gentle authority.  If he do not feel the need of possessing firmness and nerve, he will not make any real progress; it is time for him to be a man.  The life of the region in which he lives is a life of effeminacy, indolence, timidity, and amusement.  He will never be so true a servant to the king and to Monseigneur as when he makes them see that they have in him a man matured, full of application, firm, impressed with their true interests, and fitted to aid them by the wisdom of his counsels and the vigor of his conduct.  Let him be more and more little in the hands of God, but let him become great in the eyes of men; it is his duty to make virtue, combined with authority, loved, feared, and respected.”

Court-perfidy dogged the Duke of Burgundy to the very head of the army over which the king had set him; Fenelon, always correctly informed, had often warned him of it.  The duke wrote to him, in 1708, on the occasion of his dissensions with VendOme:  “It is true that I have experienced a trial within the last fortnight, and I am far from having taken it as I ought, allowing myself to give way to an oppression of the heart caused by the blackenings, the contradictions, and the pains of irresolution, and the fear of doing something untoward in a matter of extreme importance to the State.  As for what you say to me about my indecision, it is true that I myself reproach myself for it, and I pray God every day to give me, together with wisdom and prudence, strength and courage to carry out what I believe to be my duty.”  He had no more commands, in spite of his entreaties to obtain, in 1709, permission to march against the enemy.  “If money is short, I will go without any train,” he said; “I will live like a simple officer; I will eat, if need be, the bread of a common soldier, and none will complain of lacking superfluities when I have scarcely necessaries.”  It was at the very time when the Archbishop of Cambrai was urgent for peace to be made at any price.  “The people no longer live like human beings,” he said, in a memorial sent to the Duke of Beauvilliers; “there is no counting any longer on their patience, they are reduced to such outrageous trials.  As they have nothing more to hope, they have nothing more to fear.  The king has no right to risk France in order to save Spain; he received his kingdom from God, not that he should expose it to invasion by the enemy, as if it were a thing with which he can do anything he pleases, but that he should rule it as a father, and transmit it as a precious heirloom to his posterity.”  He demanded at the same time the convocation of the assembly of notables.

It was this kingdom, harassed on all sides by its enemies, bleeding, exhausted, but stronger, nevertheless, and more bravely faithful than was made out by Fenelon, that the new dauphin found himself suddenly called upon to govern by the death of Monseigneur, and by the unexpected confidence testified in him before long by the king.  “The prince should try more than ever to appear open, winning, accessible, and sociable,” wrote Fenelon; “he must undeceive the public about the scruples imputed to him; keep his strictness to himself, and not set the court apprehending a severe reform of which society is not capable, and which would have to be introduced imperceptibly, even if it were possible.  He cannot be too careful to please the king, avoid giving him the slightest umbrage, make him feel a dependence founded on confidence and affection, relieve him in his work, and speak to him with a gentle and respectful force which will grow by little and little.  He should say no more than can be borne; it requires to have the heart prepared for the utterance of painful truths which are not wont to be heard.  For the rest, no puerilities or pettinesses in the practice of devotion; government is learned better from studying men than from studying books.”

The young dauphin was wise enough to profit by these sage and able counsels.  “Seconded to his heart’s content by his adroit young wife, herself in complete possession of the king’s private ear and of the heart of Madame de Maintenon, he redoubled his attentions to the latter, who, in her transport at finding a dauphin on whom she might rely securely instead of one who did not like her, put herself in his hands, and, by that very act, put the king in his hands.  The first fortnight made perceptible to all at Marly this extraordinary change in the king, who was so reserved towards his legitimate children, so very much the king with them.  Breathing more freely after so great a step had been made, the dauphin showed a bold front to society, which he dreaded during the lifetime of Monseigneur, because, great as he was, he was often the victim of its best received jests.  The king having come round to him; the insolent cabal having been dispersed by the death of a father, almost an enemy, whose place he took; society in a state of respect, attention, alacrity; the most prominent personages with an air of slavishness; the gay and frivolous, no insignificant portion of a large court, at his feet through his wife, ­it was observed that this timid, shy, self-concentrated prince, this precise (piece of) virtue, this (bit of) misplaced learning, this gawky man, a stranger in his own house, constrained in everything, ­it was observed, I say, that he was showing himself by degrees, unfolding himself little by little, presenting himself to society in moderation, and that he was unembarrassed, majestic, gay, and agreeable in it.  A style of conversation, easy but instructive, and happily and aptly directed, charmed the sensible courtier and made the rest wonder.  There was all at once an opening of eyes, and ears, and hearts.  There was a taste of the consolation, which was so necessary and so longed for, of seeing one’s future master so well fitted to be from his capacity and from the use that he showed he could make of it.”

The king had ordered ministers to go and do their work at the prince’s.  The latter conversed modestly and discreetly with the men he thought capable of enlightening him; the Duke of St. Simon had this honor, which he owed to the friendship of the Duke of Beauvilliers, and of which he showed himself sensible in his Mémoires.  Fenelon was still at Cambrai, “which all at once turned out to be the only road from all the different parts of Flanders.  The archbishop had such and so eager a court there, that for all his delight he was pained by it, from apprehension of the noise it would make, and the bad effect he feared it might have on the king’s mind.”  He, however, kept writing to the dauphin, sending him plans of government prepared long before; some wise, bold, liberal, worthy of a mind that was broad and without prejudices; others chimerical and impossible of application.  The prince examined them with care.  “He had comprehended what it is to leave God for God’s sake, and had set about applying himself almost entirely to things which might make him acquainted with government, having a sort of foretaste already of reigning, and being more and more the hope of the nation, which was at last beginning to appreciate him.”

God had in former times given France a St. Louis.  He did not deem her worthy of possessing such an ornament a second time.  The comfort and hope which were just appearing in the midst of so many troubles vanished suddenly like lightning; the dauphiness fell ill on the 5th of February; she had a burning fever, and suffered from violent pains in the head; it was believed to be scarlet-fever (rougeole), with whispers, at the same time, of ugly symptoms; the malady went on increasing; the dauphin was attacked in his turn; sacraments were mentioned; the princess, taken by surprise, hesitated without daring to speak.  Her Jesuit confessor, Father La Rue, himself proposed to go and fetch another priest.  A Récollet (Raptionist) was brought; when he arrived she was dying.  A few hours later she expired, at the age of twenty-six, on the 12th of February, 1712.  “With her there was a total eclipse of joys, pleasures, amusements even, and every sort of grace; darkness covered the whole face of the court; she was the soul of it all, she filled it all, she pervaded all the interior of it.”  The king loved her as much as he was capable of loving; she amused him and charmed him in the sombre moments of his life; he, like the dauphin, had always been ignorant of the giddiness of which she had been guilty; Madame de Maintenon, who knew of them, and who held them as a rod over her, was only concerned to keep them secret; all the court, with the exception of a few perfidious intriguers, made common cause to serve her and please her.  “Regularly ugly, pendent cheeks, forehead too prominent, a nose that said nothing; of eyes the most speaking and most beautiful in the world; a carriage of the head gallant, majestic, graceful, and a look the same; smile the most expressive, waist long, rounded, slight, supple; the gait of a goddess on the clouds; her youthful, vivacious, energetic gayety, carried all before it, and her nymph-like agility wafted her everywhere, like a whirlwind that fills many places at once, and gives to them movement and life.  If the court existed after her it was but to languish away.” [Mémoires de St. Simon, xi.] There was only one blow more fatal for death to deal; and there was not long to wait for it.

“I have prayed, and I will pray,” writes F6nelon.  “God knows whether the prince is for one instant forgotten.  I fancy I see him in the state in which St. Augustin depicts himself:  ’My heart is obscured by grief.  All that I see reflects for me but the image of death.  All that was sweet to me, when I could share it with her whom I loved, becomes a torment to me since I lost her.  My eyes seek for her everywhere and find her nowhere.  When she was alive, wherever I might be without her, everything said to me, You are going to see her.  Nothing says so now.  I find no solace but in my tears.  I cannot bear the weight of my wounded and bleeding heart, and yet I know not where to rest it.  I am wretched; for so it is when the heart is set on the love of things that pass away.’” “The days of this affliction were soon shortened,” says St. Simon; “from the first moment I saw him, I was scared at his fixed, haggard look, with a something of ferocity, at the change in his countenance and the livid marks I noticed upon it.  He was waiting at Marly for the king to awake; they came to tell him he could go in; he turned without speaking a word, without replying to his gentlemen (menins) who pressed him to go; I went up to him, taking the liberty of giving him a gentle push; he gave me a look, that pierced right to the heart, and went away.  I never looked on him again.  Please God in His mercy I may look on him forever there where his goodness, no doubt, has placed him!”

It was a desperate but a short struggle.  Disease and grief were victorious over the most sublime courage.  “It was the spectacle of a man beside himself, who was forcing himself to keep the surface smooth, and who succumbed in the attempt.”  The dauphin took to his bed on the 14th of February; he believed himself to be poisoned, and said, from the first, that he should never recover.  His piety alone, through the most prodigious efforts, still kept up; he spoke no more, save to God, continually lifting up his soul to him in fervent aspirations.  “What tender, but tranquil views!  What lively motions towards thanksgiving for being preserved from the sceptre and the account that must be rendered thereof!  What submission, and how complete!  What ardent love of God!  What a magnificent idea of infinite mercy!  What pious and humble awe!  What invincible patience!  What sweetness!  What constant kindness towards all that approached him!  What pure charity which urged him forward to God!  France at length succumbed beneath this last chastisement; God gave her a glimpse of a prince whom she did not deserve.  Earth was not worthy of him; he was already ripe for a blessed eternity!”

“For some time past I have feared that a fatality hung over the dauphin,” Fenelon had written at the first news of his illness; “I have at the bottom of my heart a lurking apprehension that God is not yet appeased towards France.  For a long while He has been striking, as the prophet says, and His anger is not yet worn out.  God has taken from us all our hope for the Church and for the State.”

Fenelon and his friends had expected too much and hoped for too much; they relied upon the dauphin to accomplish a work above human strength; he might have checked the evil, retarded for a while the march of events, but France carried simultaneously in her womb germs of decay and hopes of progress, both as yet concealed and confused, but too potent and too intimately connected with the very sources of her history and her existence for the hand of the most virtuous and most capable of princes to have the power of plucking them out or keeping them down.

There was universal and sincere mourning in France and in Europe.  The death of the little Duke of Brittany, which took place a few days after that of his parents, completed the consternation into which the court was thrown.  The most sinister rumors circulated darkly; a base intrigue caused the Duke of Orleans to be accused; people called to mind his taste for chemistry and even magic, his flagrant impiety, his scandalous debauchery; beside himself with grief and anger, he demanded of the king to be sent to the Bastille; the king refused curtly, coldly, not unmoved in his secret heart by the perfidious insinuations which made their way even to him, but too just and too sensible to entertain a hateful lie, which, nevertheless, lay heavy on the Duke of Orleans to the end of his days.

Darkly, but to more effect, the same rumors were renewed before long.  The Duke of Berry died at the age of twenty-seven on the 4th of May, 1714, of a disease which presented the same features as the scarlet fever (rougeole vourpree) to which his brother and sister-in-law had succumbed.  The king was old and sad; the state of his kingdom preyed upon his mind; he was surrounded by influences hostile to his nephew, whom he himself called “a vaunter of crimes.”  A child who was not five years old remained sole heir to the throne.  Madame de Maintenon, as sad as the king, “naturally mistrustful, addicted to jealousies, susceptibilities, suspicions, aversions, spites, and woman’s wiles " [Lettres de Fenelon au duc de Chevreuse], being, moreover, sincerely attached to the king’s natural children, was constantly active on their behalf.  On the 19th of July, 1714, the king announced to the premier president and the attorney-general of the Parliament of Paris that it was his pleasure to grant to the Duke of Maine and to the Count of Toulouse, for themselves and their descendants, the rank of princes of the blood, in its full extent, and that he desired that the deeds should be enregistered in the Parliament.  Soon after, still under the same influence, he made a will which was kept a profound secret, and which he sent to be deposited in the strong-room (greffe) of the Parliament, committing the guardianship of the future king to the Duke of Maine, and placing him, as well his brother, on the council of regency, with close restrictions as to the Duke of Orleans, who would he naturally called to the government of the kingdom during the minority.  The will was darkly talked about; the effect of the elevation of bastards to the rank of princes of the blood had been terrible.  “There was no longer any son of France; the Spanish branch had renounced; the Duke of Orleans had been carefully placed in such a position as not to dare say a word or show the least dissatisfaction; his only son was a child; neither the Duke (of Berry), his brothers, nor the Prince of Conti, were of an age or of standing, in the king’s eyes, to make the least trouble in the world about it.  The bombshell dropped all at once when nobody could have expected it, and everybody fell on his stomach as is done when a shell drops; everybody was gloomy and almost wild; the king himself appeared as if exhausted by so great an effort of will and power.  He had only just signed his will, when he met, at Madame de Maintenon’s, the Ex-Queen of England.  “I have made my will, Madame,” said he.  “I have purchased repose; I know the impotence and uselessness of it; we can do all we please as long as we are here; after we are gone, we can do less than private persons; we have only to look at what became of my father’s, and immediately after his death too, and of those of so many other kings.  I am quite aware of that; but, in spite of all that, it was desired; and so, Madame, you see it has been done; come of it what may, at any rate I shall not be worried about it any more.”  It was the old man yielding to the entreaties and intrigues of his domestic circle; the judgment of the king remained steady and true, without illusions and without prejudices.

Death was coming, however, after a reign which had been so long and had occupied so much room in the world that it caused mistakes as to the very age of the king.  He was seventy-seven; he continued to work with his ministers; the order so long and so firmly established was, not disturbed by illness any more than it had been by the reverses and sorrows of late; meanwhile the appetite was diminishing, the thinness went on increasing, a sore on the leg appeared, the king suffered a great deal.  On the 24th of August he dined in bed, surrounded as usual by his courtiers; he had a difficulty in swallowing; for the first time, publicity was burdensome to him; he could not get on, and said to those who were there that he begged them to withdraw.  Meanwhile the drums and hautboys still went on playing beneath his window, and the twenty-four violins at his dinner.  In the evening, he was so ill that he asked for the sacraments.  There had been wrung from him a codicil which made the will still worse.  He, nevertheless, received the Duke of Orleans, to whom he commended the young king.  On the 26th he called to his bedside all those of the court who had the entry.  “Gentlemen,” he said to them, “I ask your pardon for the bad example I have set you.  I have to thank you much for the way in which you have served me, and for the attachment and fidelity you have always shown me.  I am very sorry not to have done for you what I should have liked to do.  The bad times are the cause of that.  I request of you, on my great-grandson’s behalf, the same attention and fidelity that you have shown me.  It is a child who will possibly have many crosses to bear.  Follow the instructions my nephew gives you; he is about to govern the kingdom, and I hope that he will do it well; I hope also that you will all contribute to preserve unity.  I feel that I am becoming unmanned, and that I am unmanning you also; I ask your pardon.  Farewell, gentlemen; I feel sure that you will think of me sometimes.”

The princesses had entered the king’s closet; they were weeping and making a noise.  “You must not cry so,” said the king, who asked for them to bid them farewell.  He sent for the little dauphin.  His governess, the Duchess of Ventadour, brought him on to the bed.  “My child,” said the king to him, “you are going to be a great king.  Render to God that which you owe to Him; recognize the obligations you have towards Him; cause Him to be honored by your subjects.  Try to preserve peace with your neighbors.  I have been too fond of war; do not imitate me in that, any more than in the too great expenses I have incurred.  Take counsel in all matters, and seek to discern which is the best in order to follow it.  Try to relieve your people, which I have been so unfortunate as not to have been able to do.”  He kissed the child, and said, “Darling, I give you my blessing with all my heart.”  He was taken away; the king asked for him once more and kissed him again, lifting hands and eyes to Heaven in blessings upon him.  Everybody wept.  The king caught sight in a glass of two grooms of the chamber who were sobbing.  “What are you crying for?” he said to them; “did you think that I was immortal?” He was left alone with Madame de Maintenon.  “I have always heard say that it was difficult to make up one’s mind to die,” said he; “I do not find it so hard.”  “Ah, Sir,” she replied, “it may be very much so, when there are earthly attachments, hatred in the heart, or restitutions to make!” “Ah!” replied the king, “as for restitutions to make, I owe nobody any individually; as for those that I owe the kingdom, I have hope in the mercy of God.”

The Duke of Orleans came back again; the king had sent for him.  “When I am dead,” he said, “you will have the young king taken to Vincennes; the air there is good; he will remain there until all the ceremonies are over at Versailles, and the castle well cleaned afterwards; you will then bring him back again.”  He at the same time gave orders for going and furnishing Vincennes, and directed a casket to be opened in which the plan of the castle was kept, because, as the court had not been there for fifty years, Cavoye, grand chamberlain of his household, had never prepared apartments there.  “When I was king . . . ,” he said several times.

A quack had brought a remedy which would cure gangrene, he said.  The sore on the leg was hopeless, but they gave the king a dose of the elixir in a glass of Alicante.  “To life and to death,” said he as he took the glass; “just as it shall please God.”  The remedy appeared to act; the king recovered a little strength.  The throng of courtiers, which, the day before, had been crowding to suffocation in the rooms of the Duke of Orleans, withdrew at once.  Louis XIV. did not delude himself about this apparent rally.  “Prayers are offered in all the churches for your Majesty’s life,” said the parish priest of Versailles.  “That is not the question,” said the king “it is my salvation that much needs praying for.”

Madame de Maintenon had hitherto remained in the back rooms, though constantly in the king’s chamber when he was alone.  He said to her once, “What consoles me for leaving you, is that it will not be long before we meet again.”  She made no reply.  “What will become of you?” he added; “you have nothing.”  “Do not think of me,” said she; “I am nobody; think only of God.”  He said farewell to her; she still remained a little while in his room, and went out when he was no longer conscious.  She had given away here and there the few movables that belonged to her, and now took the road to St. Cyr.  On the steps she met Marshal Villeroy.  “Good by, marshal,” she said curtly, and covered up her face in her coifs.  He! it was who sent her news of the king to the last moment.  The Duke of Orleans, on becoming regent, went to see her, and took her the patent (brevet) for a pension of sixty thousand livres, “which her disinterestedness had made necessary for her,” said the preamble.  It was paid her up to the last day of her life.  History makes no further mention of her name; she never left St. Cyr.  Thither the czar Peter the Great, when he visited Paris and France, went to see her; she was confined to her bed; he sat a little while beside her.  “What is your malady?” he asked her through his interpreter.  “A great age,” answered Madame de Maintenon, smiling.  He looked at her a moment longer in silence; then, closing the curtains, he went out abruptly.  The memory he would have called up had vanished.  The woman on whom the great king had, for thirty years, heaped confidence and affection, was old, forgotten, dying; she expired at St. Cyr on the 15th of April, 1719, at the age of eighty-three.

She had left the king to die alone.  He was in the agonies; the prayers in extremity were being repeated around him; the ceremonial recalled him to consciousness.  He joined his voice with the voices of those present, repeating the prayers with them.  Already the court was hurrying to the Duke of Orleans; some of the more confident had repaired to the Duke of Maine’s; the king’s servants were left almost alone around his bed; the tones of the dying man were distinctly heard above the great number of priests.  He several times repeated, Nunc et in hora mortis.  Then he said, quite loud, “O, my God, come Thou to help me, haste Thee to succor me.”  Those were his last words.  He expired on Sunday, the 1st of September, 1715, at eight A. M. Next day, he would have been seventy-seven years of age, and he had reigned seventy-two of them.

In spite of his faults and his numerous and culpable errors, Louis XIV. had lived and died like a king.  The slow and grievous agony of olden France was about to begin.