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Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
Prehistory to Roman
French kingdoms
Normans and Capetians
The Valois dynasty
16th century
Louis XIII
     Anne of Austria and Mazarin
     The Fronde
     Condé and Turenne

Louis XIV
18th century
Political turmoil
Third Republic
Fifth republic
To be completed

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Anne of Austria and Mazarin: 1643-1651

Louis XIII's wife, whom he treats with cold disdain during twenty-eight years of marriage, is the Spanish princess Anne, daughter of Philip III. She is known as Anne of Austria (Austria being broadly used for any of the Habsburg dynasties). Late in her marriage she conceives and bears a son, the future Louis XIV.

The child is only four when Louis XIII dies in 1643. Anne is appointed regent and immediately selects as her principal minister a brilliant protégé of Cardinal Richelieu. He is the Italian Giulio Mazzarini (known as Jules Mazarin to the French), a diplomat and cardinal who has become closely involved in the French government - originally as a papal delegate to Paris.


Anne and Mazarin are immediately confronted by demands from princes and nobles whose privileges have been reduced by Richelieu during the previous reign and who now want them restored. What a French cardinal has been able to take away with the full support of an adult king, it will prove very much harder for a foreign cardinal to withhold during a regency.

The central theme of Mazarin's government becomes the need to maintain order against the demands of a fractious nobility. But for the moment France is at war (since 1635) with the Habsburg dynasties of Spain and Austria. There are practical tasks to keep the nobles busy.


The war begun by Richelieu is continued with great success by Mazarin, thanks largely to a young prince and a nobleman, the prince de Condé and and the vicomte de Turenne, who prove to be brilliant generals. Condé wins a sensational victory over a Spanish army in 1643 at Rocroi, on France's border with the Spanish Netherlands. In the next five years he and Turenne together harry the imperial armies throughout southern Germany.

1648 brings peace (with Austria, though not yet with Spain) and peace brings trouble at home. The discontent of the grandees, and their resentment of Mazarin in person, erupts into rebellion and civil war - in the sequence of events known as the Fronde.


The Fronde: 1648-1653

The Fronde is the name given to the many interconnecting disturbances affecting France for five years from 1648. The word means "sling", and the target at which brickbats are metaphorically slung is the principal minister, Mazarin. The grievances of the rebels are complex, ranging from loss of privileges by the nobility, through loss of rights by the traditional institutions of Paris such as the parlement, to a more widespread sense of grievance over too much tax ruthlessly extracted to pay for the recent war.

But the underlying theme is a rejection of the absolute and centralized rule achieved by Richelieu on behalf of Louis XIII.


In this respect the Fronde has something in common with another great struggle against royal power being carried on across the English channel. The Frondeurs in Paris are excited by the success of parliament in the English civil war (though the execution of the English king in 1649 is seen as a step decidedly too far).

The English war succeeds in asserting the rights of parliament, and in particular the commons. By contrast the Fronde fails completely to recover the lost priviliges of the nobility. Instead it leads to even greater absolutism in the reign of Louis XIV. But at times it seems a close-run thing.


Mazarin, Condé and Turenne: 1648-1653

During the five years of the Fronde there are three periods of active civil war interspersed with two of uneasy calm. The relative positions of Mazarin, Condé and Turenne at each stage indicate how volatile the situation is.

During the first brief period of war (January to March 1649) the parlement in Paris are the rebels. The queen regent and Mazarin flee with the young king. Condé besieges Paris on their behalf. Turenne sides with the rebels, offering his services to Spain to lead an army from the Rhine against France.


Mazarin is in control again after the capitulation of Paris in March 1649. But Condé, saviour of the situation, behaves with increasing arrogance - prompting Mazarin to arrest him and other princes in January 1650.

The supporters of the imprisoned princes resort to arms, beginning another thirteen months of civil war. Turenne, now acting in Condé's interest, again serves with a Spanish army. By February 1651 all Mazarin's enemies are united against him. He escapes to Cologne. For much of the next six months Condé dominates Anne, the queen regent. But his brief spell in power is brought to an end by the calendar. In September 1651 Louis XIV comes officially of age, at thirteen. The regency is over.


With the support of the young king, Anne is now stronger than Condé - who flees from Paris to organize a new rebellion with Spanish help. Mazarin returns to France. This time Turenne sides with the court against Condé, his old companion in arms. The two meet in July 1652 in the battle of the Faubourg St Antoine, fought in the streets just outside the walls of Paris. It is a resounding victory for Turenne.

By the following spring all is calm. The Fronde has ended. Mazarin can continue to lay the foundations for an absolutist reign which the rebels have signally failed to prevent. He does so with tact and skill. A few of the prominent leaders are exiled. There are no executions.


A measure of Mazarin's success is a remarkable scene twenty years later. Both Turenne and Condé have been traitors at some point during the Fronde, fighting at the head of Spanish armies. Yet they remain welcome, in a subordinate role, in royal France.

When Louis XIV goes to war against the United Provinces in 1672, he rides north in person at the head of a magnificent army. Beside him, as his lieutenants, are the two greatest French generals of the era, Turenne and Condé, now aged sixty-one and fifty-one respectively. They have been visibly brought to heel.


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