Richelieu and Louis left behind a monarchy more imposing than it had ever been. But they also left behind a heavy burden, particularly since the new king, Louis XIV, who reigned from 1643 to 1715, was only four years old at his accession, and France once again fell under a regency.
Regency government almost always meant weak royal authority. This regency also suffered from the fact that it was headed by two foreigners—the king’s Spanish mother, Anne of Austria, and Jules Cardinal Mazarin, an Italian-born protégé of Richelieu. Although Mazarin was a wily strategist, he and Anne faced awesome tasks. They had to prosecute the as-yet-unconcluded wars with the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. They also had to deal with spreading resistance to rising taxes imposed to pay for war. During Richelieu’s administration, direct taxes had nearly tripled. Refusal to pay taxes and peasant revolts directed against the state’s fiscal policies had become commonplace by the 1630s. Despite rising revenues, Mazarin and Anne had to cope with an impending state bankruptcy. At the same time, they had to handle a growing conflict between venal officeholders and the intendants. Finally, they had to deal with the legacy of Richelieu’s heavy-handed policies and uneven distribution of state patronage, which had alienated powerful members of the nobility. The nobility now sought to cash in on the government’s apparent weakness.
At virtually the same time that France was concluding its involvement in the Thirty Years’ War, the revolt known as the Fronde erupted in Paris.
The crisis began when the monarchy ordered the Parlement of Paris to register a package of fiscal measures, including tax hikes. If the parlement failed to register the package, the monarchy threatened to suppress payments on the parlement’s venal offices and revoke the paulette,the tax that allowed venal offices to be inherited. The parlement not only protested against the package, it also demanded the reduction of the intendants’ powers and the approval of the parlements to new taxes. When the monarchy arrested one leading member of parlement, mass demonstrations broke out in Paris, forcing Anne and her family to leave the city. A compromise that favored the parlement was reached in March 1649.
But disorders that had festered for years in the countryside now exploded, as the return of plague and hunger revived memories of the not-so-distant Wars of Religion. Leading nobles, including Gaston, Louis de Bourbon prince de Condé, and Armand de Bourbon prince de Conti, joined the conflict and struggled for position. In the chaos, thousands of pamphlets, the Mazarinades, were circulated in Paris, attacking the cardinal and foreigners in general. Mazarin withdrew to Cologne in 1651, from where he continued to direct Anne until he returned the next year. Condé assumed leadership of anti-Mazarin forces and made an alliance with Spain.
At this point, the parlement withdrew to a more moderate position, and Paris turned against Condé. Condé’s internally divided faction failed to develop a coherent alternative to royal absolutism and lost ground on the battlefield. The Fronde slowly collapsed in 1652, allowing Louis XIV to return to Paris. Louis had celebrated his 13th birthday a year earlier and could thereby legally assume responsibility for the state. Although the Fronde petered out, resistance continued for some years. This resistance took the form of tax strikes and religious opposition to Mazarin. This opposition was based in Paris and led by Jean Francois Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, and a dissident Catholic movement, the Jansenists. Despite his travails, Mazarin, who died in 1661, had proved a worthy successor to his patron, Richelieu.
The Fronde clearly illuminated fault lines in the structure of the French monarchy that made it more brittle than it sometimes seemed. Yet it had little permanent effect on the state. If anything, the Fronde, like the far more devastating religious wars, gave further impetus to the growth of state power by demonstrating the need for a strong monarchy to maintain order. Louis XIV was fortunate to come of age just as the armed insurrection of the Fronde was crumbling and France’s principal foreign enemies since the early 16th century—Spain and the Holy Roman Empire—were in sharp decline. Historians debate whether Louis took full advantage of these opportunities. But it is clear that during his long reign, France assumed a leading position in Europe, both politically and culturally. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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