WHY is it that from 1643 France exercised an almost hypnotic dominance over Western Europe, in politics till 1763, in language, literature, and art till 1815? Not since Augustus had any monarchy been so adorned with great writers, painters, sculptors, and architects, or so widely admired and imitated in manners, fashions, ideas, and arts, as the government of Louis XIV from 1643 to 1715. Foreigners came to Paris as to a finishing school for all graces of body and mind. Thousands of Italians, Germans, even Englishmen, preferred Paris to their native lands.
One reason for French domination was manpower. France had a population of 20,000,000 in 1660, while Spain and England had 5,000,000 each, Italy 6,000,000, the Dutch Republic 2,000,000. The Holy Roman Empire, which included Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary, had some 21,000,000; but it was an empire only in name, recently impoverished by the Thirty Years’ War, and divided into over four hundred jealously “sovereign” states, nearly all small and weak, each with its own ruler, army, currency, and laws, and none with more than 2,000,000 inhabitants. France, after 1660, was a geographically compact nation, united under one strong central government; so Richelieu’s painful midwifery had helped the birth of le grand siècle.
In the long duel between the Hapsburgs and the French kings the Bourbons won where the Valois had lost. Decade after decade some portion of the Empire fell to France, and Hapsburg Spain surrendered her pride and leadership at Rocroi (1643) and the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659). Thereafter the French state was the strongest in Christendom, confident in its natural resources, the skills and loyalty of its people, the strategy of its generals, the destiny of its King. It was of some moment, too, that this youth was to reign for almost three quarters of a century, adding unity of government and policy to unity of race and soil. Now for fifty years France would support and import geniuses in science and letters, build colossal palaces, equip immense armies, frighten and inspire half the world. It was to be a picture of almost unprecedented glory, painted in all the forms and colors of art, and in the blood of men.
When Louis XIV, aged five, came to the throne (1643), France was not yet unified, and another cardinal had to complete the work of Richelieu. In Italy Jules Mazarin had been Guilio Mazarini, born in the Abruzzi of poor Sicilian parentage, educated by the Jesuits in Rome, serving the popes as a diplomatic agent, and suddenly catching the eye of Europe by negotiating, at a critical moment, an end to the Mantuan War (1630). Sent as papal nuncio to Paris, he tied his fortunes to the commanding genius of Richelieu, who rewarded his fidelity with a cardinal’s hat. When Richelieu heard the summons of death, he “assured the King that he knew of no one more capable than Mazarin of filling his place.” 1 Louis XIII took the advice.
On the death of this obedient sovereign (1643), Mazarin remained in the background while the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, took the regency for her son, and Louis de Condé and Gaston d’Orléans, princes of the blood, maneuvered to be the power behind the throne. They never forgave her for passing them by and calling the handsome Italian, now forty-one, to be her chief minister. On the day after his appointment Paris hailed the news of the epochal victory at Rocroi; Mazarin’s rule began auspiciously, and was buttressed by many successes in diplomacy and war. His choice of policies, generals, and negotiators proved his intelligence. It was under his guidance that the Peace of Westphalia (1648) confirmed to France the supremacy that her arms had won.
Not dowered with Richelieu’s unity and strength of will, Mazarin had to rely on patience, craft, and charm. He had the disadvantage of foreign birth. He assured France that though his tongue was Italian his heart was French, but he was never quite believed; his head was Italian, and his heart was his own. We do not know how much of it he gave to the Queen; he served her and his ambition zealously, and won her affection, perhaps her love. He knew that his safety and hers lay in continuing Richelieu’s policy of building up the power of the monarchy against the feudal lords. To feather his nest in the event of a fall, he accumulated wealth with all the greed of poverty remembered or feared; and France, which was beginning to admire measure, condemned him as a parvenu. It resented his Italian accent, his costly relatives, especially his nieces, whose beauty demanded a lavish equipage. Cardinal de Retz, himself no Grandison of virtue, scorned him as “a sordid soul . . . a complete trickster . . . a villainous heart”; 2 but de Retz; defeated by Mazarin, was in no condition to be just. If the wily minister gathered riches without dignity, he spent them with taste, filling his rooms with books and art that he later bequeathed to France. He had a gay and courtly way that pleased the ladies and baffled the men. The judicious Mme. de Motteville described him as “full of gentleness, and far removed from the severity of” Richelieu. 3 He readily pardoned opposition, and readily forgot benefits. All agreed that he labored tirelessly in the government of France, but even his industry could offend, for sometimes he left titled visitors waiting fretfully in his anterooms. He thought everybody corruptible, and was insensitive to integrity. His personal morals were proper enough if we set aside the gossip that he made a mistress of his Queen. Many persons at the court were shocked by his skeptical wit about religion, 4 for such irreverence was not yet fashionable; they attributed his religious toleration to lack of religious belief. 5 One of his first acts was to confirm the Edict of Nantes. He allowed the Huguenots to hold their synods in peace; and during his ministry no Frenchman suffered religious persecution by the central government.
It is astonishing how long he held his power despite his unpopularity. The peasants hated him because they were bitterly burdened by the taxes with which he waged war. The merchants hated him because his imposts injured commerce. The nobles hated him because he did not agree with them about the virtues of feudalism. The parlements hated him because he set himself and the King above the law. The Queen heightened his unpopularity by forbidding criticism of his rule. She supported him because she found herself challenged by two groups that saw in the infancy of the King and the supposed weakness of the woman an opening to power: the nobles who hoped to restore their former feudal privileges at the expense of the monarchy, and the parlements that aspired to make the government an oligarchy of lawyers. Against these two forces—the old aristocracy of the sword (noblesse d’épée) and the younger aristocracy of magistrates (noblesse de robe)—Anne sought a shield in the subtle, flexible pertinacity of Mazarin. His enemies made two violent attempts to unseat him and govern her; and these constitute the Fronde.
The Parlement of Paris launched the first Fronde (1648–49), seeking to duplicate in France the movement that in England had just raised Parliament above the king as the source and judge of law. The Paris Parlement was, below the king, the supreme court of France; and by tradition no law or tax received public acceptance until these magistrates (nearly all lawyers) had registered the law or the tax. Richelieu had reduced or ignored these powers; now the Parlement was resolved to assert them. It felt that the time had come to make the French monarchy constitutional, subject to the national will as expressed by some representative assembly. The twelve parlements of France, however, were not legislative chambers chosen by the nation, like the Parliament of England; they were judiciary and administrative bodies whose members inherited their seats or magistracies from their fathers, or were appointed by the king. The success of the first Fronde would have made the French government an aristocracy of lawyers. The States-General, composed of delegates from the three états (states or classes)—nobles, clergy, and the remainder of the people—could have been developed into a representative assembly checking the monarchy; but the States-General could be summoned only by the king; no king had summoned it since 1614, none would summon it till 1789; hence the Revolution.
The Parlement of Paris became indirectly and momentarily representative when its members dared to speak for the nation. So Omer Talon, early in 1648, denounced the taxes that under Richelieu and Mazarin had impoverished the people:
For ten years France has been reduced to ruin. The peasantry must sleep upon straw, for their effects have been sold to pay taxes. To enable certain people to live in luxury in Paris, countless innocent persons must survive on the meanest bread . . . owning nothing but their souls—and that merely because nobody has devised a means to put them up for sale. 6
On July 12 the Parlement, meeting in the Palais de Justice with other courts of Paris, addressed to the King and his mother several demands that must have seemed to them revolutionary. All personal taxes were to be reduced by one quarter; no new taxes were to be levied without the freely voted consent of the Parlement; the royal commissioners (intendants), who had been ruling the provinces over the heads of local governors and magistrates, were to be dismissed; and no person was to be kept in prison beyond twenty-four hours without being brought before the proper judges. If these demands had been met they would have made the French government a constitutional monarchy, and would have put France abreast of England in political development.
The Queen Mother had stronger roots in the past than vision of the future. She had never experienced any other form of government than absolute monarchy; such a surrender of royal power as was now proposed must, she felt, irreparably crack the established mold of rule, undermine its psychological support in tradition and custom, and bring it down, sooner or later, into the chaos of the sovereign crowd. And what a disgrace it would be to transmit to her son anything less than the power that his father (or Richelieu) had enjoyed! This would be a dereliction of duty, and condemn her at the bar of history. Mazarin agreed with her, seeing his own evaporation in these insolent demands from the pedants of the law. On August 26 he ordered the arrest of Pierre Broussel and other leaders of Parlement. But the aged Broussel had become popular with his motto, Pas d’impostes—“No taxes.” A mob gathered before the Palais-Royal and clamored for his release. The slings or catapults that many in the crowd carried earned them the namefrondeurs, throwers, and gave a name to the revolt. Jean François Paul de Gondi—later de Retz—coadjutor and prospective successor to the Archbishop of Paris, advised the Queen to release Broussel. When she refused he retired in anger and helped to rouse the people against the government. Meanwhile he pulled wires in an effort to obtain a cardinal’s hat, and attended to three mistresses.
On August 27 the members of Parlement, 160 in number, made their way to the royal palace through crowds and barricades. They were spurred on by cries of “Vive le roi! À mort Mazarin!” The cautious minister thought it time for discretion rather than valor; he advised the Queen to order Broussel’s release. She consented; then, furious at this concession to the crowd, she withdrew with the boy King to the suburb Rueil. Mazarin provisionally granted the demands of the Parlement, but dallied in their enforcement. The barricades remained in the streets; when the Queen ventured to return to Paris the crowd shouted its scorn at her, and she Heard its jokes about her relations with Mazarin. On January 6, 1649, she again fled from the city, this time with the royal family and the court to St.-Germain, where silk slept on straw and the Queen pawned her jewels to buy food. The young King never forgave that crowd, never loved his capital.
On January 8 the Parlement, in full rebellion, issued a decree outlawing Mazarin, and urging all good Frenchmen to hunt him down as a criminal. Another decree ordered the seizure of all royal funds, and their use in the common defense. Many nobles saw in the revolt a chance to win the Parlement to the restoration of feudal privileges; perhaps also they feared that the uprising would get out of hand without pedigreed leadership. Great lords like the Ducs de Longueville, de Beaufort, and de Bouillon, even the Prince de Conti of royal Bourbon blood, joined the rebellion, and brought to it soldiers, funds, and romance. The Duchesse de Bouillon and the Duchesse de Longueville—beautiful despite smallpox—came with their children to live in the Hôtel de Ville as voluntary hostages guaranteeing the fidelity of their husbands to the Parlement and the people. While Paris became an armed camp, titled ladies danced in the City Hall, and the Duchesse de Longueville carried on a liaison with the Prince de Marsillac, who was not yet the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, and not yet cynical. On January 28 the Duchesse raised the morale of the revolt by giving birth to Marsillac’s son. 7 Many Frondeurs bound themselves as chivalric servitors to highborn ladies, who bought their blood with a condescending smile.
The situation was saved for the Queen by a feud between the Prince de Conti and his older brother Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé—the “Great Condé” who had led French arms to victory at Rocroi and Lens. Turning up his powerful nose at the insurgence of lawyers and populace, he offered his services to Queen and King. Gladly she commissioned him to lead an army against rebellious Paris—against his brother, against his sister the Duchesse de Longueville—and take the royal family back in safety to the Palais-Royal. Condé gathered troops, laid siege to Paris, captured the fortified outpost of Charenton. The rebel nobles appealed for aid to Spain and the Empire. It was a mistake; the sentiment of patriotism was stronger in Parlement and people than the feeling of class. Most members of Parlement refused to annul the work and victories of Richelieu by restoring the Hapsburg ascendancy over France; and they began to see that they themselves were being used as pawns in an attempt to restore a feudalism that would again divide France into regions individually independent and collectively impotent. In a revulsion of humility they sent a deputation to the approaching Queen; they offered their submission, and protested that they had always loved her. She granted a general amnesty to all who would lay down their arms. Parlement dismissed its troops, and informed the people that obedience to the King was the order of the day. The barricades were removed; Anne, Louis, and Mazarin returned to the royal seat (August 28, 1649); the court reassembled, and the rebel nobles joined it as if nothing but a trifling unpleasantness had occurred. All was forgiven, nothing was forgotten. The first Fronde was ended.
There was a second. Condé felt that his services entitled him to subordinate Mazarin. They quarreled; Condé flirted with the discontented nobles; Mazarin, in his boldest moment, had Condé, Conti, and Longueville imprisoned at Vincennes (January 18, 1650). Mme. de Longueville rushed up to Normandy, raised rebellion there, passed on to the Spanish Netherlands, and charmed Turenne into treason; the great general agreed to lead a Spanish army against Mazarin. “All parties,” said Voltaire, “came into collision with each other, made treaties, and betrayed each other in turn. . . . There was not a man who did not frequently change sides.” 8 “We were ready to cut one another’s throats ten times every morning,” recalled de Retz; 9 he himself was nearly killed by La Rochefoucauld. Everybody, however, professed loyalty to the King, who must have wondered what kind of monarchy this was that had fallen into pieces in his hands.
A royal force maneuvered Bordeaux into surrender; and Mazarin, playing Mars, led an army toward Flanders and defeated the invincible Turenne. Meanwhile de Retz, eager to replace the Queen’s minister and lover, persuaded the Parlement to renew its demand for the exile of Mazarin. Losing his nerve, the Cardinal ordered the release of the imprisoned princes (February 13, 1651), and then, fearing for his life, he fled to Brühl, near Cologne. Condé, hot for revenge against minister and Queen, brought his brother Conti, his sister Longueville, and the Ducs de Nemours and de La Rochefoucauld into a new alliance. In September they declared war, captured Bordeaux, and made it again a citadel of revolt. Condé signed an alliance with Spain, negotiated with Cromwell, and promised to establish a republic in France.
On September 8 Louis XIV, aged thirteen, announced that he was ending the regency of his mother, and was taking the government into his own hands. To appease the Parlement he confirmed Mazarin’s banishment; but in November, gaining courage, he recalled the minister, who came back to France at the head of an army. Gaston d’Orléans now played neutral, but Turenne came over to the royal cause. In March, 1652, Louis sent Molé, keeper of the seals, to demand the allegiance of the city of Orléans. Its magistrates dispatched a message to Gaston that unless he or his daughter came to inspire the citizens to resist, they would deliver the city to the King.
At this point one of the most famous of France’s many famous women rode upon the scene, like another Joan rescuing Orléans. Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans had become a rebel in her childhood, when Richelieu exiled her father. Gaston, as brother of Louis XIII, was officially “Monsieur”; his wife, Marie de Bourbon, Duchesse de Montpensier, was the current “Madame”; their daughter was thereby “Mademoiselle”; and because she was strong and tall, she came to be called La Grande Mademoiselle de Montpensier. As the Montpensier fortune was immense, she grew up with the double pride of money and ancestry. “I am of a birth,” she said, “that does nothing that is not great and noble.” 10 She aspired to marry Louis XIV, though he was her cousin; when she received no encouragement she nursed revolt. Hearing the appeal of her city, and seeing her father loath to commit himself, she won his consent to go in his place. She had long resented the limitations put upon her sex by custom; especially she recognized no reason why women should not be warriors. Now she arrayed herself in armor and helmet, gathered about her some highborn Amazons and a small force of soldiery, and led them gaily to Orléans. The magistrates refused to admit her, fearing the wrath of the King. She ordered some of her men to break a hole in the walls; through this she and two countesses entered, while the guardians napped or winked. Once within, her flaming oratory captured the citizens; Molé was sent away without his prize, and Orléans vowed fidelity to its new Maid.
The second Fronde reached its climax at the gates of Paris. Condé marched up from the south, defeated a royal army, and came within an ace of capturing King, Queen, and Cardinal, which would have been checkmate indeed. As his army neared Paris the populace, again Frondeurs, carried a shrine of the city’s patron St. Geneviève through the streets in processional prayer for the victory of Condé and the overthrow of Mazarin. La Grande Mademoiselle, hurrying up from Orléans to the Luxembourg Palace, where her father was still playing with pros and cons, begged him to support Condé; he refused. Turenne and the King’s army now approached, and met Condé’s forces outside the walls, near the Porte St.-Antoine (now the Place de la Bastille). Turenne was winning when Mademoiselle rushed into the Bastille and prodded its governor to turn its cannon upon the royal troops. Then, in the name of her absent father, she commanded the people within the walls to open the gates just long enough to let Condé’s army in and shut out the King’s (July 2, 1652). Mademoiselle was the heroine of the day.
Condé was master of Paris, but level heads were turning against him. He could not pay his troops; they began to desert, and the populace ran riot. On July 4 a mob attacked the City Hall, demanding that all supporters of Mazarin be given up to them; to indicate their temper they set fire to the building, and killed thirty citizens. Economic operations were disrupted; the food supply fell into chaos; every second family in Paris feared starvation. The propertied classes began to wonder whether royal autocracy, or even government by Mazarin, was not better than mob rule. Mazarin helped by going into voluntary exile, leaving the Frondeurs without a unifying cause. De Retz, having obtained his coveted red hat, thought it time to consolidate his gains, and now used his influence to encourage loyalty to the King.
On October 21 the royal family re-entered Paris peacefully. The sight of the young monarch, fourteen, handsome, and brave, charmed the Parisians; the streets resounded with “Vive le roi!” Almost overnight public agitation subsided, and order was restored, not by force but by the aura of royalty, the prestige of legitimacy, the half-unconscious belief of the people in the divine right of kings. By February 6, 1653, Louis felt strong enough to recall Mazarin again, and to re-establish him in all his former powers. The second Fronde was over.
Condé fled to Bordeaux, Parlement submitted gravely, the rebel nobles retired to their châteaux. Mme. de Longueville, no longer lovely, sought solace among the nuns of Port-Royal. La Grande Mademoiselle was banished to one of her estates, where she ate her heart out recalling the remark ascribed to Mazarin, that her cannonade from the Bastille had killed her husband—i.e., ended her chance of marrying the King. At the age of forty she fell in love with Antoine de Caumont, Comte de Lauzun, who was much younger and shorter; the King refused permission for the marriage; when they proposed to marry nevertheless, Louis imprisoned him for ten years (1670–80). Mademoiselle remained bravely loyal to him through all that time; when he was released she married him, and she lived in turmoil with him till her death (1693). De Retz was arrested, escaped, was pardoned, served the King as a diplomat in Rome, retired to a corner in Lorraine, and composed his memoirs, remarkable for their objective analysis of character, including his own:
I did not act the devotee, because I could not be sure how long I should be able to play the counterfeit. . . . Finding I could not live without some amorous intrigue, I managed an amour with Mme. de Pommereux, a young coquette, who had so many sparks, not only in her house but at her devotions, that the apparent business of others was a cover for mine. . . . I came to a resolve to go on in my sins . . . but I was fully determined to discharge all the duties of my [religious] profession faithfully, and exert my utmost to save other souls, though I took no care of my own. 11
As for Mazarin, he had landed safely on his feet, and was again master of the realm, under a King still willing to learn. To the scandal of France, the minister arranged a treaty with Protestant England and regicide Cromwell (1657), who sent six thousand troops to help fight Condé and the Spanish; together the French and the English won the “Battle of the Dunes” (June 13, 1658). Ten days later the Spanish surrendered Dunkirk; Louis entered it in state, and then, pursuant to the treaty, gave it to England. Exhausted in money and men, Spain signed with France the Peace of the Pyrenees (November 7, 1659), ending twenty-three years of one war and establishing the basis of another. Spain ceded Roussillon, Artois, Gravelines, and Thionville to France, and abandoned all claim to Alsace. Philip IV gave his daughter María Teresa in marriage to Louis XIV, on terms that later involved all Western Europe in the War of the Spanish Succession: he promised to send her a dowry of 500,000 crowns within eighteen months, but exacted from her and Louis a renunciation of her rights to succeed to the Spanish throne. The Spanish King made the pardon of Condé a condition of the Peace. Louis did not merely forgive the impetuous Prince, he restored him to all his titles and estates, and welcomed him to his court.
The Peace of the Pyrenees marked the fulfillment of Richelieu’s program—the reduction of the Hapsburg power, and the replacement of Spain by France as the dominant nation in Europe. Mazarin was given the credit for carrying this policy through triumphantly; though few men liked him, they recognized him as one of the ablest ministers in French history. But France, which so soon forgave Condé’s treason, never forgave Mazarin’s greed. Amid the destitution of the people he amassed a fortune reckoned by Voltaire at 200,000,000 francs. 12 He deflected military appropriations into his personal coffers, sold crown offices for his own benefit, lent money to the King at a high rate of interest, and gave one of his nieces a necklace which is still among the most costly pieces of jewelry in the world. 13
Dying, he advised Louis to be his own chief minister, and never to leave major matters of policy to any of his aides. 14 After his death (March 9, 1661), the hiding place of his hoard was revealed to the King by Colbert. Louis confiscated it to the general satisfaction, and became the richest monarch of his time. The wits of Paris acclaimed as a public benefactor Mazarin’s physician Guénot: “Make way for his honor! It is the good doctor who killed the Cardinal.”15