Riza Bey The Persian Envoy To Louis Xiv

The most gorgeous, and with one sole exception the most glorious reign

that France has known, so far as military success is concerned, was that

of Louis XIV, the Grand Monarque. His was the age of lavish expenditure,

of magnificent structures, grand festivals, superb dress and equipage,

aristocratic arrogance, brilliant campaigns, and great victories. It

was, moreover, particularly distinguished for the number and high

character of the various special embassies sent to the court of France

by foreign powers. Among these, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain,

and Venice rivaled each other in extravagant display and pomp. The

singular and really tangible imposture I am about to describe, practiced

at such a period and on such a man as Louis of France, was indeed a bold

and dashing affair.

"L'Etat c'est moi"--"I am the State," was Louis' celebrated and very

significant motto; for in his own hands he had really concentrated all

the powers of the realm, and woe to him who trifled with a majesty so

real and so imperial!

However, notwithstanding all this imposing strength, this mighty

domineering will, and this keen intelligence, a man was found bold

enough to brave them all in the arena of pure humbug. It was toward the

close of the year 1667, when Louis, in the plenitude of military

success, returned from his campaign in Flanders, where his invincible

troops had proven too much for the broad breeched but gallant Dutchmen.

In the short space of three months he had added whole provinces,

including some forty or fifty cities and towns, to his dominions; and

his fame was ringing throughout Christendom. It had even penetrated to

the farthest East; and the King of Siam sent a costly embassy from his

remote kingdom, to offer his congratulations and fraternal greeting to

the most eminent potentate of Europe.

Louis had already removed the pageantries of his royal household to his

magnificent new palace of Versailles, on which the wealth of conquered

kingdoms had been lavished, and there, in the Great Hall of Mirrors,

received the homage of his own nobles and the ambassadors of foreign

powers. The utmost splendor of which human life was susceptible seemed

so common and familiar in those days, that the train was dazzling indeed

that could excite any very particular attention. What would have seemed

stupendous elsewhere was only in conformity with all the rest of the

scene at Versailles. But, at length, there came something that made even

the pampered courtiers of the new Babylon stare--a Persian embassy. Yes,

a genuine, actual, living envoy from that wonderful Empire in the East,

which in her time had ruled the whole Oriental world, and still retained

almost fabulous wealth and splendor.

It was announced formally, one morning, to Louis, that His Most Serene

Excellency, Riza Bey, with an interminable tail of titles, hangers-on

and equipages, had reached the port of Marseilles, having journeyed by

way of Trebizond and Constantinople, to lay before the great "King of

the Franks" brotherly congratulations and gorgeous presents from his own

illustrious master, the Shah of Persia. This was something entirely to

the taste of the vain French ruler, whom unlimited good fortune had

inflated beyond all reasonable proportions. He firmly believed that he

was by far the greatest man who had ever lived; and had an embassy from

the moon or the planet Jupiter been announced to him, would have deemed

it not only natural enough, but absolutely due to his preeminence above

all other human beings. Nevertheless, he was, secretly, immensely

pleased with the Persian demonstration, and gave orders that no expense

should be spared in giving the strangers a reception worthy of himself

and France.

It would be needless for me to detail the events of the progress of Riza

Bey from Marseilles to Paris, by way of Avignon and Lyons. It was

certainly in keeping with the pretensions of the Ambassador. From town

to town the progress was a continued ovation. Triumphal arches,

bonfires, chimes of bells, and hurrahing crowds in their best bibs and

tuckers, military parades and civic ceremonies, everywhere awaited the

children of the farthest East, who were stared at, shouted at--and by

some wretched cynics sneered and laughed at--to their hearts' content.

All modern glory very largely consists in being nearly stunned with

every species of noise, choked with dust, and dragged about through the

streets, until you are well nigh dead. Witness the Japanese Embassy and

their visit to this country, where, in some cases, the poor creatures,

after hours of unmitigated boring with all sorts of mummery, actually

had their pigtails pulled by Young America in the rear, and--as at the

windows of Willard's Hotel in Washington--were stirred up with long

canes, like the Polar Bear or the Learned Seal.

Still Riza Bey and his dozen or two of dusky companions did not, by any

means, cut so splendid a figure as had been expected. They had with them

some camels, antelopes, bulbuls, and monkeys--like any travelling

caravan, and were dressed in the most outrageous and outlandish attire.

They jabbered, too, a gibberish utterly incomprehensible to the crowd,

and did everything that had never been seen or done before. All this,

however, delighted the populace. Had they been similarly transmogrified,

or played such queer pranks themselves, it would only have been food for

mockery; but the foreign air and fame of the thing made it all

wonderful, and, as the chief rogue in the plot had foreseen, blinded the

popular eye and made his "embassy" a complete success.

At length, after some four weeks of slow progress, the "Persians"

arrived at Paris, where they were received, as had been expected, with

tremendous eclat. They entered by Barriere du Trone, so styled because

it was there that Louis Quatorze himself had been received upon a

temporary throne, set up, with splendid decorations and triumphal

arches, in the open air, when he returned from his Flanders campaign.

Riza Bey was upon this occasion a little more splendid than he had been

on his way from the sea-coast, and really loomed up in startling style

in his tall, black, rimless hat of wool, shaped precisely like an

elongated flower-pot, and his silk robes dangling to his heels and

covered with huge painted figures and bright metal decorations of every

shape and size unknown, to European man-millinery. A circlet or collar,

apparently of gold, set with precious stones (California diamonds!)

surrounded his neck, and monstrous glittering rings covered all the

fingers, and even the thumbs of both his hands. His train, consisting of

sword, cup, and pipe bearers, doctors, chief cooks, and bottle-washers,

cork extractors and chiropodists (literally so, for it seems that

sharing the common lot of humanity, great men have corns even in

Persia,) were similarly arrayed as to fashion, but less stupendously in


Well, after the throng had scampered, crowded, and shouted themselves

hoarse, and had straggled to their homes, sufficiently tired and

pocket-picked, the Ambassador and his suite were lodged in sumptuous

apartments in the old royal residence of the Tuileries, under the care

and charge of King Louis' own assistant Major-Domo and a guard of

courtiers and regiments of Royal Swiss. Banqueting and music filled up

the first evening; and upon the ensuing day His Majesty, who thus did

his visitors especial honor, sent the Duc de Richelieu, the most

polished courtier and diplomatist in France, to announce that he would

graciously receive them on the third evening at Versailles.

Meanwhile the most extensive preparations were made for the grand

audience thus accorded; and when the appointed occasion had arrived, the

entire Gallery of Mirrors with all the adjacent spaces and corridors,

were crowded with the beauty, the chivalry, the wit, taste, and

intellect of France at that dazzling period. The gallery, which is three

hundred and eighty feet in length by fifty in height, derives its name

from the priceless mirrors which adorn its walls, reaching from floor to

ceiling, opposite the long row of equally tall and richly mullioned

windows that look into the great court and gardens. These windows, hung

with the costliest silk curtains and adorned with superb historical

statuary, give to the hall a light and aerial appearance indescribably

enchanting; while the mirrors reflect in ten thousand variations the

hall itself and its moving pageantry, rendering both apparently

interminable. Huge marble vases filled with odorous exotics lined the

stairways, and twelve thousand wax lights in gilded brackets, and

chandeliers of the richest workmanship, shone upon three thousand titled


Louis the Great himself never appeared to finer advantage. His truly

royal countenance was lighted up with pride and satisfaction as the

Envoy of the haughty Oriental king approached the splendid throne on

which he sat, and as he descended a step to meet him and stood there in

his magnificent robes of state, the Persian envoy bent the knee, and

with uncovered head presented the credentials of his mission. Of the

crowd that immediately surrounded the throne, it is something to say

that the Grand Colbert, the famous Minister, and the Admiral Duquesne

were by no means the most eminent, nor the lovely Duchess of Orleans and

her companion, the bewitching Mademoiselle de Kerouaille, who afterward

changed the policy of Charles II, of England, by no means the most

beautiful personages in the galaxy.

A grand ball and supper concluded this night of splendor, and Riza Bey

was fairly launched at the French court; every member of which, to

please the King, tried to outvie his compeers in the assiduity of his

attentions, and the value of the books, pictures, gems, equipages, arms,

&c., which they heaped upon the illustrious Persian. The latter

gentleman very quietly smoked his pipe and lounged on his divan before

company, and diligently packed up the goods when he and his "jolly

companions" were left alone. The presents of the Shah had not yet

arrived, but were daily expected via Marseilles, and from time to time

the olive-colored suite was diminished by the departure of one of the

number with his chest on a special mission (so stated) to England,

Austria, Portugal, Spain, and other European powers.

In the meantime, the Bey was feted in all directions, with every species

of entertainment, and it was whispered that the fair ones of that

dissolute court were, from the first, eager in the bestowal of their

smiles. The King favored his Persian pet with numerous personal

interviews, at which, in broken French, the Envoy unfolded the most

imposing schemes of Oriental conquest and commerce that his master was

cordially willing to share with his great brother of France. At one of

these chatty tete-a-tetes, the munificent Riza Bey, upon whom the King

had already conferred his own portrait set in diamonds, and other gifts

worth several millions of francs, placed in the Royal hand several

superb fragments of opal and turquoise said to have been found in a

district of country bordering on the Caspian sea, which teemed with

limitless treasures of the same kind, and which the Shah of Persia

proposed to divide with France for the honor of her alliance. The king

was enchanted; for these mere specimens, as they were deemed, must, if

genuine, be worth in themselves a mint of money; and a province full of

such--why, the thought was charming!

Thus the great King-fish was fairly hooked, and Riza Bey could take his

time. The golden tide that flowed in to him did not slacken, and his own

expenses were all provided for at the Tuileries. The only thing

remaining to be done was a grand foray on the tradesmen of Paris, and

this was splendidly executed. The most exquisite wares of all

descriptions were gathered in, without mention of payment; and one by

one the Persian phalanx distributed itself through Europe until only two

or three were left with the Ambassador.

At length, word was sent to Versailles that the gifts from the Shah had

come, and a day was appointed for their presentation. The day arrived,

and the Hall of Audience was again thrown open. All was jubilee; the

King and the court waited, but no Persian--no Riza Bey--no presents from

the Shah!

That morning three men, without either caftans or robes, but very much

resembling the blacklegs of the day in their attire and deportment, had

left the Tuileries at daylight with a bag and a bundle, and returned no

more. They were Riza Bey and his last body-guard; the bag and the

bundle were the smallest in bulk but the most precious in value of a

month's successful plunder. The turquoises and opals left with the King

turned out, upon close inspection, to be a new and very ingenious

variety of colored glass, now common enough, and then worth, if

anything, about thirty cents in cash.

Of course, a hue and cry was raised in all directions, but totally in

vain. Riza Bey, the Persian Shah, and the gentlemen in flower-pots, had

"gone glimmering through the dream of things that were." L'etat c'est

moi had been sold for thirty cents! It was afterward believed that a

noted barber and suspected bandit at Leghorn, who had once really

traveled in Persia, and there picked up the knowledge and the ready

money that served his turn, was the perpetrator of this pretty joke and

speculation, as he disappeared from his native city about the time of

the embassy in France, and did not return.

All Europe laughed heartily at the Grand Monarque and his fair

court-dames, and "An Embassy from Persia" was for many years thereafter

an expression similar to "Walker!" in English, or "Buncombe!" in

American conversation, when the party using it seeks to intimate that

the color of his optics is not a distinct pea-green!