Louis XIII (1601-1643) has not gone down in history as one of France’s outstanding kings. He was not a popular swashbuckler like his father, Henri IV, nor was he an awesome long-lived Sun King like his son Louis XIV.
At age eight-and-a-half Louis XIII became king when his father was assassinated, but until he grew up his mother, Marie de’ Medici, ruled on his behalf. As an adult he first had to get out from under his mother’s thumb, which he eventually did with the help of his prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu.
As a young king he also had to establish his authority over the aristocracy. In the early seventeenth century the Place Royale (now Place des Vosges) was a fashionable meeting place for the aristocracy for the fighting of duels, often for trivial reasons and typically ending with the death of one of the combatants. One of the country’s most prominent noblemen, François de Montmorency-Bouteville, openly boasted that he had killed twenty-one men in duels.
Louis XIII was concerned about this because he needed these men as military officers, and they were killing each other off right and left. In 1626 the king outlawed dueling, which infuriated the aristocracy, since they considered it their legal right to kill each other with impunity (de s’entretuer librement).
On May 12, 1626, a group of six high-ranking aristocrats including Montmorency-Bouteville openly defied the king and met at the Place Royale at two in the afternoon. In the ensuing swordfight one of the men was killed and another gravely injured. The two victorious duelists fled but were soon captured, arrested, tried and convicted of murder. Despite the tearful pleading of their aristocratic wives and a ten-page memorandum by his prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu, the king refused to pardon them and they were publicly beheaded on June 22.
Appropriately, there is an equestrian statue of Louis XIII in the middle of the Square Louis XIII at Place des Vosges.
This painting in the Louvre by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) depicts the scene on that fateful day, just one day before his assassination, when Henri IV conferred the Regency on his wife Marie de’ Medici, with their son the future Louis XIII gazing up at her (not at him!) in admiration. The painting was commissioned years later by Marie de’ Medici, so this is her version of the scene.
My photos in this post are from 2008 and 2011. I revised the text in 2019.
See also: Ruebens and Marie de’ Medici in the Louvre.