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The Fronde (1648–1653) was a civil war in France, followed by the Franco-Spanish War with Spain (1653–1659). The word "Fronde" means "sling" and referred to the pelting of windows (belonging to supporters of Cardinal Mazarin), with stones, by Paris mobs. The original goal of the "revolutionaries" was to limit the king's power and discuss various grievances; however, the movement soon degenerated into factions, some of which were attempting to overthrow Mazarin and reverse the policies of Cardinal Richelieu. At this time, Louis XIV was king; however, he was only a child and it's probable that his later insistence on absolutist rule and depriving the high nobility of actual power was a result of these childhood events. 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 normal French usage to refer to anyone who will show insubordination or engage in criticism of the powers in place.
Course of events
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 even with a demand for the acceptance of a scheme of constitutional reforms framed by a committee of the parliament. This charter was somewhat influenced by contemporary events in England. But there is no real likeness between the two revolutions, the French parliament being no more representative of the people than the Inns of Court were in England.
The military record of the first or "parliamentary" Fronde is almost blank. In August 1648, strengthened by the news of Condé's victory at Lens, Mazarin suddenly arrested the leaders of the parliament, whereupon Paris broke into insurrection and barricaded the streets. The court, 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 it was besieging Paris. 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, submitted and received concessions. Thenceforward the Fronde becomes a story of sordid intrigues and half-hearted warfare, losing all trace of its first constitutional phase.
The leaders were discontented princes and nobles. Monsieur (Gaston of Orleans, the king's uncle), the great Condé and his brother Conti, the duc de Bouillon and his brother Turenne. To these must be added Gaston's daughter, Mademoiselle de Montpensier (La grande Mademoiselle), Condé's sister, Madame de Longueville, Madame de Chevreuse, and the astute intriguer Paul de Gondi, later Cardinal de Retz. The military operations fell into the hands of war-experienced mercenaries, led by two great, and many second-rate, generals, and of nobles to whom war was a polite pastime. The feelings of the people at large were not enlisted from either side.
This peace of Rueil lasted until the end of 1649. The princes, received at court once more, renewed their intrigues against Mazarin, who, having come to an understanding with Monsieur Gondi and Madame de Chevreuse, suddenly arrested Condé, Conti and Longueville (January 14, 1650). 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 his Egeria, Madame de Longueville, he resolved to rescue her brother, his old comrade of the Freiburg and the Nördlingen. It was with Spanish assistance that he hoped to do so; and a powerful army of that nation assembled in Artois under the archduke Leopold, 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 Guise successfully resisted the archduke's attack.
Thereupon however, Mazarin 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, happily for France, the archduke decided that he had spent sufficient of the king of Spain's money and men in the French quarrel. The magnificent 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 vigour. 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. "Le temps est un galant homme," he remarked, "laissons le faire!" and so it proved. His absence left the field free for mutual jealousies, and for the remainder of the year anarchy reigned in France. In December 1651 Mazarin returned with a small army. The war began again, and this time Turenne and Condé were pitted against one another.
After the first campaign, as we shall see, the civil war ceased, but for several other campaigns the two great soldiers were opposed to one another, Turenne as the defender of France, Condé as a Spanish invader. Their personalities alone give threads of continuity to these seven years of wearisome manoeuvres, sieges and combats, though for a right understanding of the causes which were to produce the standing armies of the age of Louis XIV and Frederick the Great the military student should search deeply into the material and moral factors that here decided the issue.
The début of the new Frondeurs took place in Guyenne (February-March 1652), while their Spanish ally, the archduke Leopold William, captured various northern fortresses. On the Loire, whither the centre of gravity was soon transferred, the Frondeurs were commanded by intriguers and quarrelsome lords, until Condé's arrival from Guyenne. His bold trenchant leadership made itself felt in the action of Bléneau (April 7, 1652), in which a portion of the royal army was destroyed, but fresh troops came up to oppose him, and from the skilful 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 des braves gens comme nous se coupent la gorge pour un faquin"--an incident and a remark that thoroughly justified the iron-handed absolutism of Louis XIV.
There was no hope for France while tournaments on a large scale and at the public's expense were fashionable amongst the grands seigneurs. 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 manoeuvres, 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 Bastille on the pursuers. An insurrectional government was organized 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 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, Catalonia 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. The "Spanish Fronde" was almost purely a military affair and, except for a few outstanding incidents, dull to boot.
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 the 24th-25th August 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 Landrecies, Condé and St Ghislain . In 1656 the prince of Condé revenged himself for the defeat of Arras by storming Turenne's circumvallation around Valenciennes (16th July), 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 6000 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 Dunkirk a new Calais, to be held by England for ever, gave the next campaign a character of certainty and decision. which is 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 a war where passions ran higher and the determination to win rested on deeper foundations than in the digringolade of the feudal spirit in which they now figured. Dunkirk fell, as a result of the victory, and flew the St George's cross till Charles II sold it to the king of France.
A last desultory campaign followed in 1659--the twenty-fifth year of the Franco-Spanish War--and the peace of the Pyrenees was signed on November 5. On January 27 1660 the prince asked and obtained at Aix the forgiveness of Louis XIV. The later careers of Turenne and Condé as the great generals were as obedient subjects of their sovereign.
For the many memoirs and letters of the time see the list in Gabriel Monod's Bibliographie de l'histoire de France (Paris, 1888). The Lettres du cardinal Mazarin have been collected in nine volumes (Paris, 1878-1906). See Pierre Adolphe Chéruel, Histoire de France pendant la minorité de Louis XIV (4 vols., 1879-1880), and his Histoire de France sous le ministère de Mazarin (3 vols, 1883); LC de Beaupoil de Sainte-Aulaire, Histoire de la Fronde (2nd ed, 2 vols., 1860); "Arvède Barine" (Mme Charles Vincens), La Jeunesse de la grande mademoiselle (Paris, 1902); Duc d'Aumale, Histoire des princes de Condé (Paris, 1889-1896,7 vols.). The most interesting account of the military operations is in General Hardy de Fermi's Turenne et Condi (Batailles françaises, vol. iv.).
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