At this very moment Louis XIV was beginning the reign that was to mark out for France the great position she held in the Europe of the last two centuries. The age of feudalism was fast passing. The last great feudatories had worn out their strength in the wars of religion. The monarchy had gained what they had lost, and now set to work in the splendor and pageantry of Versailles to reduce the once semi-independent feudal soldier into a mincing courtier. The Bourbons succeeded in large part. They remained the autocrats of France, with the privileged orders of the clergy and aristocracy at a low level beneath them, and in unchecked control of the machinery of government. That machinery they soon began to abuse. Its complete breakdown came with the French Revolution in 1789.

This dramatic event resulted from a large number of convergent and slow-acting causes. Among them we may note the fearful mismanagement of the Bourbon finances, inadequate food supply, and the unrest of a highly educated middle class deprived of all influence and opportunity in matters of government. That class got control of the States General which became a national assembly, and set to work to destroy Bourbonism in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Between the inexperience of this assembly and the impotence of the Court, rose the wild force of the Parisian mob, which eventually drove France into war with outraged Europe, and brought the Bourbons, with thousands of the noblest and best as well as a few of the worst people of France, to the guillotine.

War which became successful, and the feebleness of the republican government that succeeded the Reign of Terror, inevitably made for a military dictatorship and a restoration of the monarchy. Napoleon Bonaparte, the greatest upstart in history, held France by his magnetic gaze and iron grasp for fifteen years, while he organized her as no European country had ever been organized, and with her might in his control darted from torrid Egypt to arctic Russia in a megalomaniac frenzy of conquest. He fell, leaving France so exhausted that, for a brief spell, the Bourbons returned.

It had taken all Europe to pull down France and Napoleon, and in the end distant Russia had dealt the most fatal wound. Yet it was England that had proved the most constant, the most stubborn, and the most triumphant enemy. And the quarrel between these two countries, France and England, was that which went furthest back in history.

For a while, during the dark epoch that followed Charlemagne, the Normans had held by conquest a sort of middle country between France and England. Under their duke, William, they conquered England itself in 1066, and there set up a strong insular monarchy. Their foothold in France, however, brought the Anglo-Norman kings in conflict with their neighbor, and wars were to rage between the two countries with only rare intermissions until 1815. At first their object was largely territorial possession; later economic factors grew more apparent, until in the eighteenth century and under Napoleon the struggle had become one for over-sea colonial empire.

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