FRONDE. The civil wars that divided France from 1648 to 1653 are known as the Fronde (from the French for 'sling' or 'slingshot'). They erupted when Anne of Austria (1601–1666) was governing the kingdom as regent for her minor son, Louis XIV (ruled 1643–1715). Although the various movements that formed the Fronde lacked clear unity, they had in common a defiance of the government of a foreign queen—Anne was Spanish by birth—and her principal minister, the Italian Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602–1661). The Fronde was also a last attempt by some of France's leading political actors to bend the absolute rule established over their realm by previous monarchs.
The Fronde began, as did many revolts in the early modern period, for fiscal reasons. Louis XIII's death in May 1643 left France in a precarious financial situation. Since 1635 the kingdom had been involved in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), in which its principal enemy was Spain. This translated into the doubling of expenditures between 1630 and 1640, chiefly because of the exigencies of warfare, which, by the early 1640s, was consuming about 70 percent of revenue. To meet the military needs, Louis XIII and his principal minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642), had borrowed money on the national and international money markets and dramatically increased taxes. The regent showed no intention whatsoever of adopting a different policy. Not only did her government continue to collect the usual direct impositions from the peasantry, it targeted some privileged groups by creating new indirect taxes. Unfortunately, the kingdom's financial apparatus was not able to raise the money needed by the government, which had to adopt exceptional measures in order to continue functioning. Many of the realm's future revenues were mortgaged far in advance: to give one example, in 1646 the receiver general of Poitou was asked by the king's council to forward 962,850 livres from the receipts of 1651! Moreover, the political situation after the deaths of both Louis XIII and Richelieu made governing the kingdom more difficult. First, the infant Louis XIV was not yet able to establish personal ties with members of the aristocracy, which were an essential part of the personal nature of power in France. Second, the patronage network constructed by Richelieu, in which the provincial governors played an essential role, simply disappeared after his passing. Third, many provincial institutions hoped that the centralization of power orchestrated by the late king and his predecessors would come to a halt. In short, the government had to be reconstructed in the middle of a war, at a time when the population was exhausted by the fiscal demands of the crown. And two foreigners, one of them a Spanish woman and the other an Italian ecclesiastic, inherited this enormous task.
Between 1643 and 1648, the situation in France worsened slowly but surely. In the provinces, local officers were fighting representatives of the central government—the intendants—for power. Nobles who asked for more personal benefits had to be silenced in 1643 by the arrest of their leader, the duke of Beaufort. Municipal revolts broke out over fiscal demands, and peasants took arms regularly to protest against taxes. Amid this chaos Paris was spared any discontent for several years. Anne had managed to gain the support of the principal institutions of the capital, especially the four sovereign courts, by adopting edicts in favor of their members. Everything changed in January 1648 when the regency held a lit de justice in front of the Parlement of Paris in an effort to force the adoption of new fiscal devices. The Parisian parlementaires thought of themselves as the people's representatives and their protectors from a—sometimes—arbitrary royal power. They rejected the fiscal edicts, arguing that the population was simply not able to produce the effort demanded by the government. In doing so, they also refused to adopt some new taxes that targeted them specifically.
The magistrates did not do anything revolutionary. In early modern France, everybody expected to see the parlement resist any new fiscal innovation more or less strongly in the name of the people. The magistrates never dreamed of establishing a limited monarchy instead of an absolute one, and they had no desire to change the way France had been governed for centuries. As such, it seems exaggerated to speak, as some historians have, of a revolutionary attempt or climate. But in 1648 the Parisians noticed and appreciated the magistrates' opposition to a new tariff on goods entering the capital. When the parlementaires voiced their opposition to the government's policies more loudly, they were able to count on the support of the population. In mid-May, the four Parisian courts established what became known as the Chambre Saint-Louis. The regent's opposition did not prevent them from writing twenty-seven articles to be submitted to the king, aimed at controlling Anne's regency, particularly her financial administration. The government had no other choice but to temporize, negotiate, and agree to some of these measures. But the pill was impossible to swallow for the queen and Mazarin, who waited for an occasion to humble the magistrates. It came in late August when Louis II de Bourbon, the prince of Condé, won a decisive battle at Lens over the Spaniards.
During the Te Deum celebrated in honor of this victory, some of the leaders of the parliamentary movement were arrested. When the crowd learned that Pierre Broussel, a senior judge respected for his honesty, was in jail, some 1,200 barricades were erected throughout the capital during the night of 26–27 August. The magistrates could not control the movement they had helped to nurture. Sent by Anne to pacify the city, the chancellor of the realm, Louis Séguier, narrowly escaped death at the hands of the populace. The parlementaires then asked the queen to free Broussel. When their delegation came back empty-handed, it had to face the Parisians' anger as well and was forced to go back to the Louvre and plead with the regent. Shaken by the people's reaction, the magistrates engaged in negotiations with the regent that led to an accord in which most of the parlementaires' grievances were met. The peace did not last long. On 5 January 1649, the royal family and Mazarin fled the capital. Troops led by Condé besieged Paris. Unexpectedly, some grandees sided with the Parisians. The peace of Rueil (March 1649) restored the situation to the status of October 1648, and those who had joined the revolt received a full pardon.
If the peace of Rueil settled the Parisian scene for some months, it did nothing to pacify the kingdom as a whole. In many provinces the situation was completely chaotic. For instance, in Provence a provincial civil war erupted between the parlement and the governor, the count d'Alais. Troops were raised, and murders were committed. It all ended with the arrest by the parlement's troops of d'Alais, the intendant and the commander of the royal Mediterranean Navy. In other parts of the kingdom the climate was not as explosive, but tensions were growing rapidly, fueled by the quarrels that were plaguing the king's council. Condé believed that he had saved the regent when his troops besieged Paris in the first months of 1649, and he expected to receive the fruits of his actions. His clients were also asking for more benefits. He started to threaten the authority of the regency by attacking Mazarin's hold on power more and more loudly. But his attitude did not serve him well. Not only did it isolate him at first from the other members of the king's council, it also led to his arrest in January 1650.
The Parisian events of 1648 were known as the Fronde of the parlement. The Fronde of the princes started with the jailing of Condé, his brother, the prince of Conti, and his brother-in-law, the duke of Longueville. The arrested nobles had many clients in the provinces. This was particularly true in Condé's governorship of Burgundy, where, according to the king's attorney general at the Parlement of Burgundy, every important officer and ecclesiastic was a client of the Condé family. Not surprisingly, a revolt started there as soon as the news of the prince's arrest reached Dijon. In Normandy it was Condé's sister, the duchess of Longueville, who raised the locality in defense of her brother. In other parts of France, in Guyenne for example, local feuds were incorporated into national ones. The governor there, the duke d'Epernon, was a loyal client of Mazarin. But as no one in his province loved him, he was quickly expelled from the region when the princely Fronde broke out. The patronage network of the aristocrats was instrumental in the spreading of the revolt.
Rebellions were quite frequent in seventeenth-century France. Nobles took arms in the name of their "right to revolt," arguing that it was their duty to protect the population against a government that gave the impression of becoming more and more authoritarian. Never was the king personally attacked. Their fury was directed against his ministers, who were accused of lying to him and of hiding from him his people's true situation. Many aristocrats who took part in the Fronde wrote their memoirs—which were not published until long after the events they describe—in which they reflected on their actions. The Cardinal de Retz, for instance, tried to explain that the princely frondeurs were attempting to restore the kingdom to its "authentic" sociocultural conditions after decades of ministerial absolutism. But the consequences of a rebellion could be dramatic. Louis XIII did not hesitate to send to the scaffold important members of the aristocracy who had plotted against Richelieu. The princely frondeurs therefore had to convince the population of the corrupt nature of Cardinal Mazarin. Thousands of pamphlets were written in which he was depicted as the sole source of France's misery. But Mazarin never lost Anne of Austria's confidence, and the young Louis XIV always trusted his mother. The king was the most powerful weapon in the government's arsenal. Louis was sent to many provinces between 1650 and 1652: Normandy, Champagne, Burgundy, Guyenne. Garrisons surrendered, and towns opened their gates. The effect of the king's presence in the provinces can be measured by what happened in Bordeaux. This city was governed by a coalition formed by the enemies of d'Epernon and his patron Mazarin, but this group collapsed when the royal army reached the region. The officers of the parlement could not envisage the consequences of refusing the king's entry into one of his towns. The common people were more willing to stay firmly behind the party of the princes, but the city finally opened its gate to the king on 1 October.
Bordeaux did distinguish itself the next summer when a group of merchants, lawyers, petty judges, and artisans took control of the city in the name of Condé. Their assembly was called the Ormée, after the elm grove in which it held its first meeting. To many, and especially to Mazarin, these radicals were republicans influenced by the recent events that had shaken England. While it is true that some pamphlets produced in Bordeaux presented vague democratic and republican sentiments, the Ormée's principal demand, voiced in its program (Les articles de l'union de l'Ormée en la ville de Bordeaux), was that its members receive a deliberative voice in the city's general assemblies. Once again, we are far from a revolutionary attempt. But the movement went too far for many and when the royal army came to besiege the city, many of its inhabitants helped its liberators. The leaders of the Ormée were executed. For having openly resisted the king, Bordeaux lost several of its privileges, and its parlement was sent into exile at Agen for many years.
The divisions that we have seen in Bordeaux plagued the Fronde all over France, even when it seemed that the movement was winning. In February 1651, pressed from all sides, Mazarin fled Paris for Germany. The frondeurs' many chiefs started to fight one another to see who would be acting as principal minister. Condé thought naturally that the place was his. But others, such as the coadjutor archbishop of Paris, the future Cardinal de Retz, had ambitions. Condé, whose character had not changed, slowly but surely lost many of his supporters. The proclamation of Louis XIV's majority on 5 September 1651 dramatically altered the political scene. The ending of the regency made the complaints against Anne of Austria superfluous, and Mazarin had been in self-imposed exile since earlier that year. Condé fled Paris for Bordeaux. Mazarin returned to France three months later and was reinstated in his former post as principal minister. This turn of events did not satisfy the Parlement of Paris and Cardinal Retz, who continued to plot against Mazarin. Moreover, it led to an alliance between the parlementary and princely Frondes.
The first half of 1652 was dramatic for the kingdom. The civil war caused extensive physical destruction and economic distress. The loathing of Mazarin, who, according to the pamphlets, had concentrated immense political power in his own hands, conducted a costly foreign policy that failed to secure peace with Spain, and amassed a fortune, was cementing the Fronde. But other elements were still dividing the frondeurs, the most important being the military and economic supports given to their party by the Spaniards. To resist the king or his minister was more and more perceived as fighting against France. There was only one way to end the crisis, and it was to send Mazarin out the kingdom again, which he reluctantly agreed to in August 1652. Now that the evil minister was gone, the rebels had no more credible reason to remain in arms. It took only a few weeks for the Fronde to collapse. Members of the parlement sought reconciliation with the king, Condé fled the country, and the princely Fronde disintegrated. Its members understood that they had to once again identify their own interests with those of the crown. Louis XIV made his entry into Paris on 21 October 1652. On 22 October, he issued a general amnesty in which he pardoned all but the most notorious frondeurs : Beaufort, Retz, La Rochefoucauld, Condé, and some other leading figures were excluded though the majority of them later received royal pardons. Condé himself, deprived in November 1652 of his governorships and other offices and proclaimed guilty of lèse-majesté in March 1654 by the Parlement of Paris, was allowed to reenter France after the Peace of the Pyrenees was signed with Spain in 1659.
Louis XIV's reign was deeply marked by the events that shook his youth. A conscious policy of reconciliation and stabilization had to be undertaken after 1652. As the religious and political practices of the time asked him to do, the king took the opportunity to humiliate publicly some of his former enemies in order to impress on them his greatness and his authority. Many aristocrats were not invited to his coronation, which took place on 7 June 1654, and Paris was deprived of the accustomed royal entry that followed every coronation; Louis did not formally enter the city until his wedding celebration in 1660. But the Sun King was to develop policies that were to show that the nobles, the parlement, and even the capital city were still major players on the political scene. Louis was able to adopt such policies, for it was now clear that the crown was the only possible focus for national unity in France.
See also Anne of Austria ; Condé Family ; France ; Louis XIII (France) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Mazarin, Jules ; Popular Protest and Rebellions ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal .
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Michel De Waele