The Palais Royal

Nowadays the gardens of the Palais-Royal are generally deserted and not a little depressing. They suggest the used-to-be though they provide a restful relief from the crowds and the noise of the streets round the Magasins du Louvre. In 1629 Richelieu bought the site occupied by the Hotel de Mercoeur and the Hotel Rambouillet in the neighbourhood of the Louvre and commenced the building of the Palais-Cardinal which from his death has been known as the Palais-Royal. In the first half of the seventeenth century the Hotel Rambouillet had been the meeting place of aristocrats and men of letters, much in the same way as Holland House was in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

It was from the Palais-Cardinal that Richelieu ruled France, sleeping little, working with indomitable energy, and finding occasionally relaxation in the private perform ance of plays and ballets. Corneille’s Cid was acted twice in Richelieu’s palace, and for a time the poet was attached to his household. The Cardinal was always eager to play Maecenas to the literary men of his age, a noble army that included Moliere, Pascal and Descartes, and it was in the Palais-Cardinal that the French Academy was founded.

Thanks mainly to Dumas, Richelieu has become one of the villains of historical melodrama. He is remembered as the employer of Miladi, and the enemy of d’Artagnan, and to be the foe of that matchless hero is naturally and properly to be numbered with the infamous. But the real Richelieu, as Dumas himself thoroughly realised, was a very great man and no more a villain than great men, when they are unchecked, are apt to be. There is a contemporary description of him in the Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz :

” Richelieu was a man who kept his word whenever no great interest forced him to do otherwise, and in that case he neglected nothing that was calculated to save his appear ance of good faith. He was not liberal, but he gave more than he promised, and his way of adding zest to the benefits he conferred was admirable. He cared for glory far more than morality permits ; but it must be acknowledged that his abuse of the dispensation he had granted himself touching the excess of his ambition was no greater than his merit warranted. . . . He was a good friend ; he would even have desired the love of the people : but though he possessed the civility, the appearance, and many other qualities necessary to this result, he never had that indescribable something which is more indispensable in this matter than in any other. . . . No man could distinguish better than he between bad and worse, between good and better, and that is a very great quality in a minister. He was too apt to grow impatient over the small things that lead up to the great ; but this fault, which is peculiar to lofty minds, is always accompanied by a sagacity which makes amends for it. He had sufficient religion for the purposes of this world. He inclined towards that which is good, whether by preference or by good sense, whenever his interests did not lead him towards evil, which he recognised perfectly well, even when he did it. . . . To conclude, it must be acknowledged that all his vices were of a kind which a high fortune easily renders illustrious, for they were of those which can only use great virtues as their instruments.”

Richelieu loved luxury and was vulgarly ostentatious. He was proud and often insolent. He was a shameless nepotist. He was incapable of pity and he had no friends. He was nearly always ill, suffering agonies from headaches and subject to half a dozen chronic complaints, but his will was unbreakable and his energy tireless. A fierce assured figure of a man of whom even d’Artagnan was reasonably afraid-and a great servant of France.

Since the well-being of a nation depends on the creation of an all-powerful central authority, in finally establishing the unchallengeable authority of the sovereign, Richelieu was serving his country as well as serving his king. He finished the task that Louis XI. had begun and that Catherine de Medicis, in face of infinite difficulties, and Henri IV. and Sully had continued. The power of the feudal princes and nobles and of the Huguenots had to be destroyed before France could be assured of internal peace. That was Richelieu’s achievement, and it was not calculated to make him popular in his own time. In foreign affairs his policy was to make France dominant in Europe by humbling the Hapsburgs, and in this Louis XIV. reaped where he had sowed.

The relations between Louis XIII. and his great minister have been often discussed. Louis was a sickly man who, nevertheless, managed to live to middle age despite the ruthless energy of his doctors who, in one year, bled him fifty-seven times, dosed him with two hundred and twelve purgatives and gave him two hundred and fifteen injections ! He was modest, fastidious and self – distrustful, a sad sombrely clothed man in a gay Court. He was in appearance a typical Bourbon, with the family characteristics exaggerated to the point of caricature. The large Bourbon nose was far too large. The under lip was almost grotesquely pendulous. His head was too big and his legs pitifully thin. But Louis was no fool. He never forgot that he was the son of Henri IV., and in a very real sense he was King of France. He listened to Richelieu. But he decided for himself, and not always in accord with the Cardinal’s wishes. As M. Jacques Boulenger says :

” It was never either feebleness or indolence that led Louis XIII. to follow the counsels of his great minister. He followed them because he was too sensible not to recognise the Cardinal’s superior gifts, and that being so, too honest not to submit to them.”

This is not, I fear, the Louis of Les Trois Mousquetaires, but it is the Louis of history.

In his will Richelieu left the Palais-Cardinal to Louis XIII., ” the intention of the Cardinal being that it will serve as a residence for his Majesty and his successors or for heirs of the Crown, having built this palace at such expense with that design.” The King only lived for a few months after his great minister, and at his death, Anne of Austria, who became Regent for her son Louis XIV., moved from the uncomfortable Louvre to the new palace, fitted, as the house agents would say, with all modern conveniences.

Anne of Austria has been made familiar by the romances of Alexandre Dumas. When she took up her residence at the Palais-Royal she was a good-looking, healthy woman of forty-two, very devout, even-tempered, with moments of petulant passion, and, despite Dumas, virtuous and scrupu lous. Like most of the men and women of her time Anne had a prodigious appetite. Louis XIV. regularly ate through an appalling menu, and this capacity was inherited from his mother. ” She always breakfasted before she heard mass. She was served after her broth with cutlets, sausages and bread porridge. She generally ate a little of everything and did not dine the less heartily.”

They were happy days for Anne when she first moved to the Palais-Royal. Richelieu was dead, the Queen’s goodness was everywhere acclaimed, and Mazarin, the new Prime Minister, the smooth Sicilian to whom the Queen had given apartments in the Palace, ” so as to be able to confer with him on her business more conveniently,” was not yet unpopular. His strength, it was said, ” lay in soft words, hinting, giving reason to hope.” But Anne’s peace was short – lived. The war with Spain was successful enough but costly, and the people, in the common manner of the French, clamoured loudly against the necessary taxes. Women threw themselves at the Queen’s feet when she went to Notre-Dame, warning her that ” she had a man about her who took everything.” The Cardinal became unpopular at Court because he prevented corruption, and the fantastic conspiracy of the Fronde began, peers and great ladies conspiring with the Parliament, that resented the loss of its privileges, and the people who hated paying their taxes.

Alexandre Dumas has nothing but scorn for Mazarin. He describes him as ” that mean fellow who tries to put on his head a crown which he has stolen under a pillow; that puppy who calls his party that of the king, and who bethought himself of putting the princes of the blood into prison, not daring to kill them, as did the great cardinal ; a skinflint who weighs his golden crowns and keeps the clipped ones from fear that although he cheats he may lose them at his next day’s game.”

Angry scenes took place in the Palais-Royal after Mazarin had ordered the arrest of two of the Paris councillors who had been particularly outspoken in their criticisms. Paris is always terrifying when she grows angry, and prudence dictated the flight of the Queen Mother, the King and Mazarin from the Palace, on Twelfth Night, 1649. The child King and his little brother were taken out of their beds at three in the morning and driven through the darkness to St. Germain-en-Laye. But Paris, ever fickle, grew tired of the Frondeurs and Frondeuses-of the posing of great ladies like Mme. de Longueville, always imitating the heroines of romance, and protesting, ” I do not care for innocent pleasures “-and by August, Anne was back again in the Palais-Royal, arriving amidst a scene of great popular enthusiasm. The new mood passed and troubles began again, fomented by the truculent Cardinal de Retz, of whom it was said : ” His whole life from one end to the other was ruled by his will. His immorality was sublime and his greatness of soul never failed him.’ There was indeed no tranquillity for Anne until Louis XIV. attained his majority and the Regency came to an end. ” At her son’s Court,” says M. Jacques Boulenger, ” Anne’s one great aim was to play the part of an old lady tastefully, and right well did she succeed.”

In 1652 the King took up his residence in the Louvre, and this meant that Queen Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I., had to move from the Louvre, where she had been given shelter after her escape from England, to the Palais-Royal. She and her children had suffered not a little from France’s civil troubles. Cardinal de Retz records that they had been left without a faggot for a fire and that the Queen had been obliged to keep her daughter in bed because of the cold. Charles was with his mother when she was established at the Palais-Royal, and with him was Wilmot, afterwards the Earl of Rochester, already his evil influence, ready to make trouble between mother and son. But before many months France recognised the government of Cromwell, and the next year Charles went back to Holland. Henrietta Maria, mourning her dead husband and woefully disappointed in her son, remained at the PalaisRoyal until the Restoration and until after the marriage of her daughter with the Duc d’Orleans, the King’s brother.

It was on March 31, 1661, that Henriette Anne, the only daughter of Charles I. and Henrietta Maria, was married in the chapel of the Palais-Royal to Philippe d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIV. Henriette Anne was sixteen, charming, gentle, deliciously attractive. It was said of her : ” When she speaks to you she seems to ask for your heart at once.” Philippe d’Orleans was a hopeless decadent, ” as foppish as two or three women.” He minced and simpered and painted his face, was beringed and curled and indolent, and was always attended by favourites as offensive as himself. Louis XIV. was himself greatly attracted by his charming sister-in-law, and it was in order to prevent scandalous talk at Court that he began the intrigue with Louise de la Valliere, who was one of Henriette’s maids of honour, and with whom he had the most idyllic of his love affairs. Henriette’s daughter was born at the Palais-Royal in 1662, and eight years afterwards, after a visit to England in which she had negotiated the disgraceful Treaty by which her brother sold his country to the French, she died suddenly at St. Cloud after drinking a glass of chicory water. It was suspected that she was poisoned by one of her husband’s favourites whom she had caused to be banished, but she actually died of peritonitis.

The year after her death there was another mistress at the Palais-Royal. The Duc d’Orleans’ second wife, Elizabeth Charlotte, daughter of the Elector Palatine, was a very ugly lady who must have had an immense sense of humour, since she has left us a candid portrait of herself : ” My figure is monstrously fat ; I am as square as a cube ; my skin is red with yellow patches on it ; my hair is getting quite grey ; my nose and my two cheeks as well have been horribly scarred by smallpox ; I have a large mouth and bad teeth, and there you have a portrait of my pretty face.” Elizabeth Charlotte had no accomplishments. French cooking turned her honest German stomach, and she spent her days abusing Mme. de Maintenon as an old horror, and longing for a good dish of sauerkraut with smoked sausages. That she was not without intelligence is shown by her remark concerning her august brother-in-law: ” The King imagines he is pious when every one else is bored.” She was deeply attached to her son, afterwards the notorious Regent, and was furiously angry when, at his uncle’s order, he agreed to marry Mlle. de Blois, the daughter of Louise de la Valliere. The morning after he had given the promise, when her son approached his mother, ” Madame gave him such a sounding box on the ears that it was heard some paces off, covering the poor Prince with confusion in the presence of the whole Court, and filling the numerous spectators with prodigious amazement.”

Philippe d’Orleans died in 1701, and the Palais-Roval passed to his son, who became Regent of France after the death of Louis XIV., and until Louis XV. attained his majority. The Regent is an historical enigma. SaintSimon, who had sincere affection for him, confesses that he never understood him. He was a man of inconsistence and contradiction, in many respects, as it seems to me, resembling Louis Napoleon. When Louis XIV. died he was the only legitimate prince of adult age and, as the King’s nephew, the obvious regent during the childhood of Louis XV. But Louis XIV. mistrusted him and Mme. de Maintenon hated him. D’Orleans had great parts. He had proved himself a gallant soldier. He was generous, courteous and exceedingly intelligent. But his debaucheries were notorious and were particularly offensive in the Puritan atmosphere of de Maintenon’s Versailles, and his liberal sympathies made it probable that if he became Regent he would insist on toleration for the Protestants. Louis XIV., therefore, on the advice of his wife, provided in his will for a Council of Regency of which d’Orleans should only be one member, but at the King’s death the Duc applied to the Parliament of Paris and he became sole Regent, as was his right.

Politically he succeeded-and failed. He stopped religious persecution. He cut down further expenditure, but he countenanced John Law’s financial schemes which ended in disaster. By his alliance with England and Holland he ensured peace at least for a season. All this is forgotten, while the orgies of the Palais-Royal of which the Regent was the central figure with Dubois as his chief minister and pander, are remembered. Dubois was an astute politician and a most evil man. Saint-Simon, who hated him, says :

“He was a little, pitiful, wizened, herring-gutted man, in a flaxen wig, with a weasel’s face, brightened by some intellect. All the vices-perfidy, avarice, debauchery, ambi tion, flattery-fought within him for the mastery. He was so consummate a liar that, when taken in the fact, he could brazenly deny it. Even his wit and knowledge of the world were spoiled, and his affected gaiety was touched with sadness by the odour of falsehood which escaped through every pore of his body.”

The cynicism of d’Orleans-and again I think of Louis Napoleon-was shown when he made Dubois Archbishop of Cambrai, although he was married and not in holy orders. One of his courtiers protested : ” What ! That man Archbishop of Cambrai ! Why, you told me yourself that he was a miserable, worthless, unbelieving dog.” ” So he is,” said the Regent, ” and that’s just the reason why I have made the appointment ; when he’s an archbishop he will have to go to communion.”

The principal political event of the Regency was the conspiracy to supplant d’Orleans by Philip V. of Spain, the grandson of Louis XIV., a morose sovereign who had to be kept under lock and key by his masterful Italian wife to prevent him from abdicating. D’Orleans showed characteristic mercy to the conspirators, whom he never seems to have taken very seriously. In the quarrels between France and Spain during the Regency, Dubois had as an opponent another strange churchman, Cardinal Alberoni, who began life as a bell-ringer and owed his first advancement to his skill in making soupe au fromage.

The Palais-Royal remained in the Orleans family until the Revolution. Philippe’s son, Louis, was a harmless person who spent most of his time translating the Psalms and the Epistles of St. Paul into French. Carlyle tells us that he honestly believed that there was no death. On one occasion he was vastly indignant with his secretary who used the phrase feu roi d’Espagne. His son, Louis Philippe, fought at Fontenoy, and is remembered for nothing much else than that he was the father of the Philippe Egalite of the Revolution, and the grandfather of Louis Philippe, the Citizen King, who lost his throne because he preferred an umbrella to a sceptre. Philippe Egalite inherited the Palais-Royal in 1785, but during his father’s lifetime he had built three large galleries which still surround the palace, letting them out in shops, so that the Palais became un bazar europeen et un rendez-vous d’affaires et des galanteries. Two years before the Revolution he built and opened the Theatre du Palais – Royal which, when I was a youth, was famous for the production of farces, the one constant quality of which was their impropriety. Carlyle declares that Philippe Egalite made of the Palais-Royal ” the sorcerer’s Sabbath and Satan-athome of our planet.”

Among the buildings of the Palais-Royal was the Cafe de Foy, before which, on July 12, 1789, Camille Desmoulins, for once losing his stammer, delivered to the people of Paris the great speech that really began the Revolution : ” Citoyens, j’arrive de Versailles, the time for talking has gone, the time for action has come. The people must take up arms, they must show by their cockades to which party they are pledged. Quelle couleur voulez-vous ? ” The next day the Bastille fell. Today there is a statue of Camille in the dull, quiet Palais-Royal gardens.

After the Revolution the Palais-Royal became Le Palais et Jardins de la R6volution. Napoleon established the Tribune in the Palace, and then at the beginning of a com mercial century it became the home of the Bourse de Commerce. Lucien Bonaparte, the one of Napoleon’s brothers who refused to be a king and spent the days of Napoleonic glory in Italy and England, lived there during the Hundred Days-the ancient Jacobin who had been intended for the priesthood, thinking perhaps how much happier he would have been if his mother’s intention had been carried out. After the restoration the Palace was given back to the Orleans family and Louis, Philippe Egalite’s son, was living there at the time of the 1830 Revolution, which carried him to the Tuileries as the Citizen King. Louis Philippe lives in history as a dull figure compared with the histrionic Bonapartes who preceded and followed him, but he was not without a touch of wit. When he was told of Talleyrand’s death he asked if it was certain that he was really dead. ” Quite certain, sire,” was the reply; ” did not your Majesty notice yesterday that he was dying ? ” ” I did,” said the King, ” but there is no judging from appearances with Talleyrand, and I have been asking myself for the last four-and-twenty hours what interest he could possibly have in departing at this moment.”

During the Second Empire the Palais-Royal was handed over to Jerome Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon’s uncle, whom his great brother had made King of Westphalia, and who was the most vicious and the most incompetent of the Bonaparte family. He and his son, Prince Napoleon, aptly described as the most prodigiously intelligent and prodigiously vicious man who ever lived, were sore trials to the man of Sedan, difficult even for his cynical forbearance to endure. Jerome once sneered because his nephew had nothing of the great Napoleon about him. ” Pardon me, my uncle,” said the Emperor, ” I have his family.” Old man as he was, he scandalised even the Paris of Offenbach by living at the Palais-Royal with a red-headed enchantress who had him completely under her thumb. And his looks belied him. No one could think ill of the old gentleman always dressed in neat black with the Legion of Honour, the Iron Crown and-the inevitable touch of burlesquehis own crown of Westphalia, in his button-hole, coming to a fete in the Palais-Royal in honour of the Empress Eugenie, and leading her round the rooms, giving her, not his arm, but his hand, after the custom of his youth, and preceding her slightly with an antiquated but most chivalrous grace. Farce followed Jerome almost to the grave. When he was dying a telegram was delivered to the Emperor at the Tuileries which read, ” Le vieux persiste,” which was a telegraphist’s error for ” Le mieux persiste.”

There is history in the adjoining streets, particularly in the Rue de Valois, where Charles Lamb stayed during his visit to Paris, ordering an egg in bad French and being given a glass of brandy, which he received, it is said, with much pleasure, and where one can still dine excellently at the famous restaurant Boeuf h la Mode.

Near by is the first Duval restaurant that Paris ever knew, a spot of real historic interest, since Duval did for Paris what Sir Joseph Lyons did for London. And not far away is a draper’s shop where the founder of the Bon Marche was once a shop-boy. It is odd to me that we do not pay greater attention to the lives of captains of commerce. It is curious that we know so little of Mr. Marshall or Mr. Snelgrove, and practically nothing of Mr. Swan and Mr. Edgar. But there is one exception. Dufayel, who was a sort of Parisian Whiteley, built himself a most monstrous villa in the Champs-Elysees, which was used during the Paris Peace Conference as a Press Club. This gave Dufayel an international reputation, for he taught journalists from all over the world something, at least, of the extreme vulgarity of riches.