Sunday, May 19, 2019

What was the Fronde?

Battle of Faubourg Saint-Antoine
A civil war (1648 – 1652) in France that pitted feudal rights and absolute monarchy of King Louis XIV.

Causes of the Fronde

Before the reign of King Louis XIV, feudalism dominated the society of France. Nobles held power over their holdings and had the freedom to levy troops and collect taxes provided they accept the King as their overlord. Hence, countless times some dukes, counts, or any lord held more power that Kings and Queens. Such as the case of France during the 17th century.

Situation, however, changed during the reign of King Louis XIII (r. 1610 – 1643) and his chief minister the cunning Cardinal Richelieu (1624 - 1642). Together they curtailed the powers of the nobility by appointing intendants to provinces to serve as agents of the King. The appointment symbolized the King’s presence expanding throughout the realm. The King and Richelieu’s policies strengthened the monarchy and began to centralize the country.
Louis XIII
The Parlement also felt the growing power of the monarchy threatening its influence. Since the 13th century, the Parlement served as the prime judicial body of the kingdom. Composed mostly of professionals specifically lawyers, Kings went to the Parlement for its advice on legality of their edicts. Overtime, the Parlement developed into an influential and powerful institution until Richelieu and Louis intervened and began to stifle on the body’s functions.

In 1642 Richelieu passed away then followed by King Louis XIII in 1643. The King left France to his 4 years old son Louis XIV. Queen Anne of Austria, the neglected wife of Louis XIII and critic of Richelieu, maneuvered through the Parlement to attain the position of Regent for his son. He then appointed as his chief minister another Machiavellian and loyal counselor, the Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin.
Cardinal Mazarin
The regency ruled for the first 5 years making effort to end the devastating Thirty Years War and achieve peace. The war driven by religion and geopolitics sapped the might of France both militarily and economically. Paying subsidies to allies, salaries to soldiers, and fees to mercenaries tremendously strained the government’s finance. In 1648, the need for money brought the monarchy clash head to head with the Parlement.

Parlement expected favors and return of their power and influence during the time of regency. After all, their decision placed Anne as regent. Yet the regent disappointed them and slapped them with new charges of taxes in their position called the Paulette.

The Paulette imposed a tax for holders of position in the Parlement. Annually renewed, it allowed the members to retain their position and hand it over to their children in exchange for paying a tax equivalent to the 1/6 of the position’s value. In May 1648, Mazarin attempted to renew the tax.

Cardinal Jules Mazarin, however, had a hard time in enacting policies. Though the Queen and King trusted him, the Parlement and nobility loathed the foreign born Chief Minister. Like Richelieu, his desire to strengthen the monarchy and weaken feudalism in the country, in addition being a foreigner, garnered him many enemies.

In May 1648, Mazarin failed to renew the Paullete. Parlement met in the Chambre Saint-Louis and submitted the so-called 27 articles. The Articles aimed to control the powers of the monarchy by demanding the abolition of the Paulette and of the appointment of intendents. They demanded the return of the rights of Parlement to approve and disapprove royal edicts as well as reduction in land taxes. Finally, they demanded protection of civil liberties by putting an end in arbitrary arrests.
Queen Anne of Austria, Louis XIV,
and Philippe, Duc of Orleans
Queen Anne and Mazarin wanted to prevent domestic conflict that that France’s enemies, especially Spain, might exploit and undermine French war efforts. Thus, they decided to concede with many of the Parlement’s demands, hence they reduced taxes and recalled the Intendants. They conceded, but they delayed to implement so as to make time for necessary measures to take their revenge on the emboldened Parlement for their brazen attack.

Fronde of the Parlement

Pierre Broussel
The victory in the Battle of Lens on August 20, 1648 brought jubilation to the French people. It gave France advantages in negotiations with the Spain to bring the war to end. Paris celebrated, but Mazarin plotted to silence the monarchies opponent. He had 3 members of the Parlement, Pierre Broussel, Henri Charton, and Rene de Blancmesnil arrested silently hoping the celebration to overshadow the act. It failed, Broussel himself created a popular image with his famous populist slogan Pas d’impostes – “No taxes.” Hence, their disappearance went highly noticed and the Parisians rose up in protest.

Parisian erected more than a thousand barricades across the city and fend off royal attacks. Supporters of Mazarin had their windows shattered by stones thrown with a sling which in French called Fronde. The sling, which David used to kill Goliath, inspired the members of the Parlement to take it as their name. Hence, the Fronde of the Parlement began.

The Fronde of the Parlement or Frondeurs demanded the removal of Mazarin, but the Queen feared for the safety of the monarchy. Unlike the Revolution of 1789, the Fronde targeted a minister – Mazarin – whom the people saw as a corrupt figure lingering in the side of the king whispering lies that turned their sovereign against his people. Yet, fear lasted in the Queen’s heart as a revolution and civil war in England brought a King in captivity and threatened with execution.
Louis XIV (1643)

The Royal party for the meantime bought time by releasing the 3 Parlement members on August 28, 1648. Surrounded by hostile Parisian mobs, the court lived in relative anxiety fearing each day for an attack that might end with their heads on spikes or their bodies torn into pieces. On the night of January 6, 1649, the royal court along with the young Louis XIV fled Paris for the safety of Saint-Germain.

Louis XIV experiences for a brief moment a life of hardship that scarred him for his life. They slept in straws - away from the comfortable beds and heating of the royal palace. Situation seemed extremely desperate as the Queen pawned her jewelry to purchase necessities. Their hope of salvation laid in the French army under the command of the Prince de Conde, who won the victory in the Battle of Lens, marching to retake the capital Paris.

Siege of Paris did came by the end of January. French royal forces under the Prince arrived in Paris and began a siege. The pressure of starvation and death forced the Parlement to surrender. Ultimately, both sides agreed to a peace on April 1, 1649 signed in Rueil.

The Peace of Rueil granted concessions to the Parlement. This included tax reduction and powers handed over to the judicial body. Finally, they sealed the peace with a general amnesty for all Frondeurs and rebels.

Rise of the Prince de Conde

Louis, Prince de Conde
The Prince de Conde, a member of the Bourbon line, in the aftermath rose further in stature in court. He led the Royalist forces besieging the Frondeurs and he expected positions and titles for him and his allies as a reward. This arrogance, however, threatened the power of the monarchy and Mazarin’s.

The Prince de Conde desired to elevate many of his client nobles which include Gaston of Orleans, the Duke of Logueville, and his own brother the Prince de Conti. The Prince also loathed Mazarin and ambitioned to topple the Cardinal down. He also embodied the privileges of the feudal system. As a Prince, he wished to keep much of his privileges and that of his allies. As a result, another confrontation between the feudalistic Prince and centralist cardinal seemed inevitable.

The Great Conde, as he was called, grew in arrogance in court and the Cardinal made his move to put an end to it. On January 18, 1850, the Prince of Conde, along with the Prince of Conti and the Duke of Longueville found themselves under arrest by Mazarin. The arrest sparked a chain of betrayal and allegiances that made the Fronde of Princes into a French 16th century Game of Thrones.

Fronde of the Princes

The Conde’s allies rose up in revolt as news of his arrest spread. Madame de Chevreuse and the Princess of Conde raise cries of rebellion in Normandy, Burgandy, and Bordeaux. Marshal Turenne led army of nobility and began to receive support from Spain. France once against descended into civil war.

The alliances during the Fronde of the Princes switched as quickly as they forged. Nobility, bourgeoisie, clerics, and peasants had their own vested interests. Enemies of France like the Holy Roman Empire and Spain did exploited the situation and supported factions in the Fronde. Sometimes, many of this interests clashed and each wanted to curtail the power of each other. Hence, a faction switched sides as soon as they felt their objective met or their ally grew to become a threat.

Royal forces, eventually overcame the challenges. On December 15, 1650, royalist forces under Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (later Duke of Choiseul) won in the Battle of Rethel against the rebel forces of Marshal Turenne. Revolts in Normandy and Burgundy subsided and eventually dealt with. By February 1651, most of the revolts had been quelled.
Jean Fran├žois Paul de Gondi
Talks of peace began in February 1651. However, tensions began to flare up once more when Jean Francois Paul de Gondi once more agitated against the Mazarin government. Gondi had been among the most vocal critics of Mazarin during the Fronde of the Parlement. However, promises of a position of Cardinals bought his silence and remained so during the Fronde of the Princes. However, when the promise of Cardinalship remained words, he switched sides. He called for the release of the Prince de Conde and dismissal of Mazarin.

The Fronde of the Princes appeared to have ended when the Prince de Conde came out of prison. Better for the Prince’s allies and the Parlement, Mazarin went into exile to Cologne.

The Great Conde, however, continued to fight against the government. For months, revolts continued. Situation changed, however, on September 7, 1651. On that day, King Louis XIV came of age and the regency dissolved. Thus, the narrative of fighting for the King and his liberation from a corrupt and foreign regency loss steam. Frondeurs, nobles, and rebel factions began to defect. This included Marshal Turenne who led the Frodeurs force in the Battle of Rethel.

The Conde, however, continued to fight. By the end of September, he took control of Bordeux and accepted assistance from Spain and English Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell proposing the establishment of Commonwealth of France – a blatant act of treason.
Mazarin returned to France in 1652 at a head of a small force of mercenaries and to link up with the royalist. The return of Mazarin infuriated once again the Parlement who rose up in revolt again. They declared Mazarin a criminal and offered a reward for his head.
An anti-Mazarin Cartoon
Despite Mazarin, the frondeurs assure the safety of the state.
Nobles also joined the fray. Revolts once again brought the country into internal strife. From February to March 1652, rebel forces won in the Battle of Guyenne. Their Spanish and Holy Roman Imperial allies advance in Northern France. Archduke Leopold William pushed from Flanders with the assistance of Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine.

The Battle of Bleneau of April 7, 1652 resulted to a defeat for Royalist forces. Royalist army under the command of former Frondeur Marshal Turenne face off against Prince de Conde’s. The defeat exposed the position of the King who settled in the nearby Gien. Conde marched to the town with the objective of capturing the King and ending the civil war and Mazarin once and for all. Turenne, however, mustered as many men as he can to prevent this. Luck went to Turenne who successfully rescued the King into safety from the Prince of Conde. De Conde loss an opportunity that could have change French history. The Conde, after his botched attempt to capture the King, took Paris instead.

With the King safe, Royalist attempted to recapture Paris. However, in the Battle of Faubourg Saint Antoine on July 2, 1652, they failed to capture the city.

The Parlement, the Prince, and other nobles continued to hold the city with the Hotel de Ville as their headquarters. Their alliance, however, marred by diverse interest, sometimes against each other. The arrogance of the Prince of Conde antagonized many nobles and Parlement members. The alliance further fractured when on August 1652, with the hope of ending the Fronde, Mazarin once again agreed to leave the country. Gradually, many defected and offered their loyalty to King Louis XIV.

On October 13, 1652, Prince de Conde fled Paris and sought refuge in the Spanish Netherlands. On October 21, 1652, Louis XIV returned to Paris in triumph. He offered pardon to rebels as a form of reconciliation and unite the Kingdom once again. With the King ruling the country firmly, no major revolt of the Parlement or nobility hindered the return of Cardinal Mazarin to Paris on February 3, 1653.


The King consolidated his power in the aftermath of the Fronde. In 1654, Parlement declared the Prince de Conde a traitor and sentenced him to death. Nobles opposed to the centralization of power to the monarchy also went into exile, leaving Louis without any challenger of his power. Louis, on the other, moved to weaken the Parlement as an influential and powerful body by forbidding their meeting without his consent and gradually weakened their authority in state affairs.

In 1661, Mazarin passed away. Louis took the bold step to abolish the position of chief minister and to solely rule France. With the Parlement weak and noble degraded into impotency, absolutist monarchy reigned over France for more than a century.

See also:

"Fronde." Accessed May 11, 2019. URL: 

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "The Fronde." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on May 11, 2019. URL: 

Durant, Will & Ariel. The Age of Louis XIV, A History of European Civilization in the Period of Pascal, Moliere, Cromwell, Milton, Peter the Great, Newton, and Spinoza: 1648 -1715. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Voltaire. Translated by Martin Pollack. The Age of King Louis XIV. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1922.

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