(Essentials of European Literature)

When the powerful Richelieu had died and Cardinal Mazarin, whose name gossip coupled with that of Queen Anne, had seized control of the French government; and while Oliver Cromwell was overthrowing Charles I of England, D’Artagnan, a lieutenant in the Musketeers, pined for intrigue and adventure.

France was in political turmoil, with revolt impending. High taxes, coupled with the evident avarice and extravagance of the rulers who levied them, had aroused the people. Some of the powerful nobles were also stirred but were motivated by loyalty to the throne.

Queen Anne was under Mazarin’s thumb. She, in turn, acted as protector for her son, King Louis XIV, then only ten years old. The boy despised Mazarin.

Mazarin, beset on all sides by enemies and harassed by fears for his personal safety, summoned D’Artagnan, whose earlier fame with the King’s Musketeers had been obscured by time.

Twenty years had passed since D’Artagnan, the Gascon adventurer, and the other three musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, had performed doughty deeds for their country and their king. Now, separated by time and interests, they had lost touch with one another. Ordered by Mazarin to recruit the three musketeers, D’Artagnan found himself confronted by mystery in the conduct of his former comrades in arms.

First he found Aramis, the dandy, a monk who lived in luxury. The former musketeer declined D’Artagnan’s proposal on the pretense that such activity would interfere with his monastic vows. Porthos was a more willing adventurer. Living on a large estate with a sufficient income, Porthos was unhappy because of his lack of a title. He wished to be a baron. This D’Artagnan promised him. Athos, who had adopted a son, Raoul, lived on another luxurious estate. He also refused to ally himself with D’Artagnan. The adopted son of Athos was in reality his true son, begotten illegitimately, but Athos did not want to acknowledge the boy as his own and reveal the circumstances of his birth.

When the Duke de Beaufort, a political prisoner, escaped from his prison at Vincennes, Mazarin ordered the faithful adventurers, D’Artagnan and Porthos, to recapture the duke and the man who had helped him to escape. D’Artagnan and Porthos, attempting to overtake the fugitives, found themselves confronted by Aramis and Athos. The four comrades dropped their weapons, exchanged vows of eternal friendship and love, and then parted, both pairs to carry on according to their own alliances.

Athos and Aramis were members of the Fronde, a political force composed of two factions: the rebellious commoners of Paris, who hoped to overthrow the king, and the nobility, who wished to replace the king. D’Artagnan and Porthos had sworn allegiance to Mazarin, who represented the king.

The first...

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