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The Fronde (1648–1653) was a civil war in France, occurring in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War, which had begun in 1635. The word fronde means sling, which Parisian mob used to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin.

The Fronde was divided into two campaigns, the Fronde of the parlements and the Fronde of the nobles. The timing of the outbreak of the Fronde des parlements, directly after the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War, was significant. The nucleus of armed bands under aristocratic leaders, which would soon terrorize parts of France, had been hardened in a generation of war in Germany, where the traditional latitude in decisions, and autonomy in troop movements and operations, characteristic of seventeenth-century warfare were still prevalent. Louis XIV, with the experience of the Fronde still fresh, would reorganize French fighting forces under a stricter hierarchy, whose leaders were ultimately made and unmade by the King. Thus the Fronde finally resulted in the disempowerment of the territorial aristocracy and the emergence of absolute monarchy.

Jules Cardinal Mazarin, French diplomat and statesman, by Pierre-Louis Bouchart.


The original goal of the insurrection was not revolutionary; its aim was to protect the ancient liberties from encroachments by the royal power, to defend the established right of the parlements, which were courts of appeals rather than legislative bodies like the English parliaments, and especially the right of the Parlement of Paris to limit the king's power by refusing to register decrees that ran counter to custom. The liberties under attack were feudal, not of individuals, but of chartered towns, the rights of corporations or the prerogatives accorded to offices, the rights of provincial parlements to defend custom against legal encroachment, in the legal patchwork of local interests and provincial identities that was France. The Fronde provided additional incentive in France for the establishment of absolutism, since the disorders eventually discredited the older, feudal concept of liberty in France.

The pressure to erode these liberties came from the Crown's need to recoup expenditures in the recent wars, by extending and increasing taxation. The immediate cause for resistance was the imposition of added taxes amongst various grievances. The costs of the Thirty Years War constrained Mazarin's government to raise funds by traditional means, the impĂ´ts, the taille, and the occasional aides. The nobility refused to be so taxed, based on their old liberties, or privileges, and the brunt fell upon the bourgeoisie.

The movement soon degenerated into factions, some of which were attempting to overthrow Mazarin and reverse the policies of Cardinal de Richelieu that took power from the great territorial nobles, among whom were leaders of the Fronde, to concentrate it in the royal prerogative. When Louis XIV became king in 1643, he was only a child, and though Richelieu had died the year before, his policies continued to dictate French policy, under his successor Jules Cardinal Mazarin. It is probable that Louis's later insistence on absolutist rule and depriving the nobility of actual power was a result of these events in his childhood. The term frondeur was later used to refer to anyone who suggested that the power of the king should be limited, and has now passed into conservative French usage to refer to anyone who will show insubordination or engage in criticism of the powers in place.

Episode of the Fronde at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine by the Walls of the Bastille

The First Fronde, the Fronde Parlementaire (1648–1649)

In May 1648 a tax levied on judicial officers of the Parlement of Paris was met by that body not merely with a refusal to pay, but with a condemnation of earlier financial edicts, and a demand for the acceptance of a scheme of constitutional reforms framed by a united committee of the parlement (the Chambre Saint-Louis), composed of members of all the sovereign courts of Paris.

The military record of the first Fronde (the Fronde Parlementaire) is almost blank. In August 1648, strengthened by the news of the Prince of Condé's victory at Lens, Mazarin suddenly arrested the leaders of the parlement, whereupon Paris broke into insurrection and barricaded the streets. The noble faction demanded the calling of an États-généraux, which had not been convoked since 1615. The nobles were certain that in an États-général they could continue to control the bourgeois element as they had in the past. The royal faction, having no army at its immediate disposal, had to release the prisoners and to promise reforms, and fled from Paris on the night of October 22. But the signing of the Peace of Westphalia set free Condé's army, and by January 1649 Paris was under siege. The peace of Rueil was signed in March, after little blood had been shed. The Parisians, though still and always anti-cardinalist, refused to ask for Spanish aid, as proposed by their princely and noble adherents, and having no prospect of military success without such aid, the noble party submitted and received concessions.

The Second Fronde, the Fronde des nobles (1650–1653)

Thenceforward the Fronde becomes a story of sordid intrigues and half-hearted warfare, losing all trace of its first constitutional phase in a scramble for power and the control of patronage.

The leaders were discontented princes and nobles: Gaston of Orleans (the king's uncle); the great Louis II, Prince de Condé and his brother Armand, Prince of Conti; Frédéric, the Duke of Bouillon, and his brother Henri, Viscount of Turenne. To these must be added Gaston's daughter, Mademoiselle de Montpensier ; Condé's sister, Madame de Longueville; Madame de Chevreuse; and the astute intriguer Paul de Gondi, the future Cardinal de Retz. The military operations fell into the hands of war-experienced mercenaries, led by two great, and many lesser, generals.

January 1650–December 1651

The peace of Rueil lasted until the end of 1649. The princes, received at court once more, renewed their intrigues against Mazarin. On January 14, 1650, Cardinal Mazarin, having come to an understanding with Monsieur Gondi and Madame de Chevreuse, suddenly arrested Condé, Conti, and Longueville. The war which followed this coup is called the "Princes' Fronde". This time it was Turenne, before and afterwards the most loyal soldier of his day, who headed the armed rebellion. Listening to the promptings of Madame de Longueville, he resolved to rescue her brother Condé, his old comrade of Freiburg and the Nördlingen.

It was with Spanish assistance that he hoped to do so; and a powerful Spanish army assembled in Artoismarker under the archduke Leopold Wilhelm, governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands. But the peasants of the countryside rose against the invaders; the royal army in Champagne was in the capable hands of Caesar de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin, who counted fifty-two years of age and thirty-six of war experience; and the little fortress of Guisemarker successfully resisted the archduke's attack.

However, Mazarin at this point drew upon Plessis-Praslin's army for reinforcements to be sent to subdue the rebellion in the south, and the royal general had to retire. Then Archduke Leopold Wilhelm decided that he had spent enough of the king of Spain's money and men in the French quarrel. His regular army withdrew into winter quarters, and left Turenne to deliver the princes with a motley host of Frondeurs and Lorrainers. Plessis-Praslin by force and bribery secured the surrender of Rethel on December 13, 1650, and Turenne, who had advanced to relieve the place, fell back hurriedly. But he was a terrible opponent, and Plessis-Praslin and Mazarin himself, who accompanied the army, had many misgivings as to the result of a lost battle. The marshal chose nevertheless to force Turenne to a decision, and the Battle of Blanc-Champ (near Somme-Py) or Rethel was the consequence.

Both sides were at a standstill in strong positions, Plessis-Praslin doubtful of the trustworthiness of his cavalry, Turenne too weak to attack, when a dispute for precedence arose between the Gardes Françaises and the Picardie regiment. The royal infantry had to be rearranged in order of regimental seniority, and Turenne, seeing and desiring to profit by the attendant disorder, came out of his stronghold and attacked with the greatest vigor. The battle (December 15, 1650) was severe and for a time doubtful, but Turenne's Frondeurs gave way in the end, and his army, as an army, ceased to exist. Turenne himself, undeceived as to the part he was playing in the drama, asked and received the young king's pardon, and meantime the court, with the maison du roi and other loyal troops, had subdued the minor risings without difficulty (March–April 1651).

Condé, Conti, and Longueville were released, and by April 1651 the rebellion had everywhere collapsed. Then followed a few months of hollow peace and the court returned to Paris. Mazarin, an object of hatred to all the princes, had already retired into exile. His absence left the field free for mutual jealousies, and for the remainder of the year anarchy reigned in France.

December 1651–February 1653

In December 1651 Cardinal Mazarin returned to France with a small army. The war began again, and this time Turenne and Condé were pitted against one another.

After this campaign the civil war ceased, but in the several other campaigns of the Franco-Spanish War that followed, the two great soldiers were opposed to one another, Turenne as the defender of France, Condé as a Spanish invader.

The début of the new Frondeurs took place in Guyenne (February–March 1652), while their Spanish ally, the archduke Leopold Wilhelm, captured various northern fortresses. On the Loiremarker, where the centre of gravity was soon transferred, the Frondeurs were commanded by intriguers and quarrelsome lords, until Condé's arrival from Guyenne. His bold leadership made itself felt in the Bléneau (April 7, 1652), in which a portion of the royal army was destroyed; but fresh troops came up to oppose him. From the skillful dispositions made by his opponents, Condé felt the presence of Turenne and broke off the action. The royal army did likewise. Condé invited the commander of Turenne's rearguard to supper, chaffed him unmercifully for allowing the prince's men to surprise him in the morning, and by way of farewell remarked to his guest, "Quel dommage que de braves gens comme nous se coupent la gorge pour un faquin" ("It's too bad decent people like us are cutting our throats for a scoundrel")—an incident and a remark that displayed the feudal arrogance which ironically led to the iron-handed absolutism of Louis XIV.

After Bléneau, both armies marched to Paris to negotiate with the parlement, de Retz and Mlle de Montpensier, while the archduke took more fortresses in Flanders, and Charles, duke of Lorraine, with an army of plundering mercenaries, marched through Champagne to join Condé. As to the latter, Turenne manoeuvred past Condé and planted himself in front of the mercenaries, and their leader, not wishing to expend his men against the old French regiments, consented to depart with a money payment and the promise of two tiny Lorraine fortresses.

A few more maneuvers, and the royal army was able to hem in the Frondeurs in the Faubourg St. Antoine (July 2, 1652) with their backs to the closed gates of Paris. The royalists attacked all along the line and won a signal victory in spite of the knightly prowess of the prince and his great lords, but at the critical moment Gaston's daughter persuaded the Parisians to open the gates and to admit Condé's army. She herself turned the guns of the Bastillemarker on the pursuers. An insurrectional government was organised in the capital and proclaimed Monsieur lieutenant-general of the realm. Mazarin, feeling that public opinion was solidly against him, left France again, and the bourgeois of Paris, quarrelling with the princes, permitted the king to enter the city on October 21, 1652. Mazarin returned unopposed in February 1653.

The Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659)

The Fronde as a civil war was now over. The whole country, wearied of anarchy and disgusted with the princes, came to look to the king's party as the party of order and settled government, and thus the Fronde prepared the way for the absolutism of Louis XIV. The general war continued in Flanders, Cataloniamarker, and Italy wherever a Spanish and a French garrison were face to face, and Condé, with the wreck of his army, openly and definitely entered the service of the king of Spain. This "Spanish Fronde" was almost purely a military affair.

Louis XIV (1638–1715) by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701

In 1653 France was so exhausted that neither invaders nor defenders were able to gather supplies to enable them to take the field till July. At one moment, near Péronne, Condé had Turenne at a serious disadvantage, but he could not galvanize the Spanish general Count Fuensaldana, who was more solicitous to preserve his master's soldiers than to establish Condé as mayor of the palace to the king of France, and the armies drew apart again without fighting. In 1654 the principal incident was the siege and relief of Arras. On the night of August 24–August 25 the lines of circumvallation drawn round that place by the prince were brilliantly stormed by Turenne's army, and Condé won equal credit for his safe withdrawal of the besieging corps under cover of a series of bold cavalry charges led by himself as usual, sword in hand.

In 1655 Turenne captured the fortresses of Landreciesmarker, Condé and St Ghislainmarker. In 1656 the prince of Condé avenged the defeat of Arras by storming Turenne's circumvallation around Valenciennesmarker (July 16), but Turenne drew off his forces in good order. The campaign of 1657 was uneventful, and is only to be remembered because a body of 6,000 British infantry, sent by Cromwell in pursuance of his treaty of alliance with Mazarin, took part in it. The presence of the English contingent and its very definite purpose of making Dunkirkmarker a new Calaismarker, to be held by England forever, gave the next campaign a character of certainty and decision which was entirely wanting in the rest of the war.

Dunkirk was besieged promptly and in great force, and when Don Juan of Austria and Condé appeared with the relieving army from Fumes, Turenne advanced boldly to meet them. The Battle of the Dunes, fought on June 14, 1658, was the first real trial of strength since the battle of the Faubourg St Antoine. Successes on one wing were compromised by failure on the other, but in the end Condé drew off with heavy losses, the success of his own cavalry charges having entirely failed to make good the defeat of the Spanish right wing amongst the Dunes.

Here the "red-coats" made their first appearance on a continental battlefield, under the leadership of Sir W. Lockhart, Cromwell's ambassador at Paris, and astonished both armies by the stubborn fierceness of their assaults, for they were the products of the English Civil War, where passions ran higher and the determination to win rested on deeper foundations than in the deterioration of the feudal spirit in which they now figured after decades of war had sapped the main parties of all belief. Dunkirk fell, and was handed over to England, as promised, so flying the St George's Cross until Charles II sold it to the king of France in 1662.

A last desultory campaign followed in 1659—the twenty-fifth year of a conflict between France and Spain which had begun during the Thirty Years' War—and the peace of the Pyrenees was signed on November 5. On January 27, 1660 the prince asked and obtained at Aix-en-Provencemarker the forgiveness of Louis XIV. The later careers of Turenne and Condé were as obedient subjects of their sovereign.




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