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The English Civil War and the French Fronde | 17th century 

The English Civil War and the French Fronde | 17th century 

The English Civil War

The English Civil War was as much the response to the effects of the Reformation as it was a response to the needs of the rising middle classes, the landed gentry. The war itself involved the king, Parliament, the aristocracy, the middle classes, the commoners, and the army. The War tested the prerogative of the king and challenged the theory of divine right. War raged between Parliamentarians, Royalists, Cavaliers and Roundheads and every religious sect in England. The transition from Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603, r.1558-1603) of the Tudor House to that of James I (1566-1625, r.1603-1625) and the Stuarts was quite dramatic. Elizabeth refused to marry and so the successor to the throne remained a thorny problem.

A crisis was avoided when her chief minister, Robert Cecil (1563-1612), arranged for the king of Scotland, James Stuart, or James VI, to succeed the throne upon Elizabeth’s death in 1603. There were other dangers that confronted the English government under Elizabeth. Throughout the late 16th century economic forces had transformed English society. The nobility no longer had a vital military role to play in England.

They were also losing their authority in government while the House of Commons was becoming the near equal of the House of Lords in Parliament. Finally, the nobility seemed to be losing out in terms of England’s increasing prosperity, as new elements, such as the gentry, entered the scene. The gentry was a broad group of people that had done quite well since the early 16th century when they purchased the land the English crown had confiscated when the monasteries were closed. The gentry also found themselves more thoroughly involved in the commerce of the nation which found them at odds with the nobility who were traditionally aloof from business matters. Integral to the administration of the local parishes, the gentry now wanted a voice in Parliament.

Their argument was simply that since they had helped increase the wealth of the nation they too ought to share in the governing of the nation. The existence of the gentry in the early 17th century was not enough to stimulate a civil war. What helped create the foundation for the Civil War was the fact that many of the gentry were sympathetic to the Puritans, who argued that the Anglican Church established by Elizabeth was far too close to Roman Catholicism, and so they sought to reduce the influence of ritual and hierarchy within the Church. Elizabeth refused to do so. 

Despite the incompetence of the Puritan Revolt, the Revolt was rejected by almost all English people in 1660. After forty years of parliamentary and military strife, Charles II returned to England. He was not a popular king. He was absorbed into the opulent life at court, had numerous mistresses and was probably a Roman Catholic. This all begs an important question: why did the English people accept the Restoration of a Stuart King? Why did England revert to a state of affairs that existed before 1640 ?

The answer to these questions lies in the combined constitutional and religious nature of the 1640 revolt. At this time, the majority of Englishmen opposed the king’s arbitrary rule over Parliament. The people were united in their desire and insistence on their political liberties and it was on this basis that the Puritan Revolt began. However, events led to the seizure of power by Cromwell’s New Model Army, which placed religious liberty above political freedom.

For Cromwell and his followers, the liberty of the people of God, that is, the chosen or elect, were more important than the civil liberties of the nation. In other words, this limitation on the potential sovereignty of the people in the interests of a minority was not acceptable to those forces who opposed Charles. So, in 1660, Levellers and Presbyterians combined with the Royalists, attempted to secure the peaceful restoration of Charles II. However, as a reaction to Puritan tyranny under Cromwell, the English restored too much autocratic power to the king. The result was that political and religious liberties had to be rescued by the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The Fronde was a French civil war resulting from the conflict between and increasingly absolutist monarchy and the nobles of France. It occurred during the monarchy of King Louis XIV, while he was still a child. It occurred at about the same time as the later stages of the Civil War in England and immediately after the Thirty Years War in Germany. All three of these conflicts were caused by the attempt of the monarchy to expand the authority of the monarchy at the expense of the nobility and wealthy merchants. The outcome in each country was radically different.

The name Fronde was derived from a play sling used by the boys of Paris in mimic street fights. His father Louis XIII had died at a relatively young age (1643). Thus Louis became king when he was only 5 years old. The Fronde was to put the monarchy and the royal family in danger. Louis would go on to become perhaps France’s most powerful king, but at the time of the Fronde he was still a child and in mortal danger. It was an experience that he would never forget.

The Fronde occurred at about the same time as the later stages of the Civil War in England and immediately after the Thirty Years War in Germany. All three of these conflicts were caused by the attempt of the monarchy to expand the authority of the monarchy at the expense of the nobility and wealthy merchants. The outcome in each country was radically different. The failure of the Fronde enabled Louis XIV to establish an absolutist monarchy. The English Civil War on the other hand confirmed and expanded constitutional limits on the British monarchy. The Thirty Years War in Germany not only essentially destroyed the authority of the German monarchy (Holy Roman Emperor), but left Germany disunited for over three centuries.

Cardinal Mazarin was the protege and successor of Cardinal Richelieu who served Louis XIII and worked tirelessly to centalize the french state and expand the powers of the monarchy. Mazarin attempted to bring the finances of the French Government under control. The royal finances had been strained by French participation in the Thirty Years War againstv both the Hapsburgs in Germany and Spain. For his austere financial measures and other reasons the Italian-born prevalent became very unpopular, the nobels accusing him of despotic behavior. Mazarin’s appointment of foreigners was especially unpopular. The Parlement of Paris thought its prerogatives were threatened. People complained of excessive taxes and administrative abuses.

The Parlement launched the Fronde when they refused to approve royal edicts and Mazarin’s economic program. Under Richelieu the Parlement had been a subservient body, routinely endorsing royal edicts. This was initially a limited action and within constitutional lines, although not what Mazarin expected. Gradually the French nobles expanded the confrontation into a struggle aimed at regaining the privliges they had enjoyed before Richelieu. The leaders of the Fronde were first president of Parlement Mathieu Molé and councilers Blancmenil and Broussel.

France had aided the northern Protestant princes in the Thirty Years War to oppose the Hapsburgs which it faced in Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Finally France entered the War directly to avoid a Hapsburg victory. This proved very costly and was a major reason Mazarin needed additional taxes. The ending of the War in Germany and the French victory over the Spanish at Lens (1648) by the Prince de Condé (1648) strengthened the position of Mazarin and the court as it ended foreign distractions and freed a trained army for domestic uses if Mazarin struck the first blow, ordering the arrest of Parelment councilors Blancmenil and Broussel (August 1648).

Mazarin hoped to destroy the Fronde before opposition grew any further. The people of Paris took up arms, attacked and dispersed the royal guard, and erected barricades around the Palais Royal. The young Louis XIV was inside the palace and was in fear for his life. The people of France and the Parlement were joined by some nobels. This is a time that King Louis XIV as an adult would look back on with great fear.

Negotiations followed. Mazarin approved an ordinance regulating financial and judicial matters (August 1, 1649). There was some reduction of taxes, but Mazarin and his aides retained their offices. This placated some, but not the nobels who insisted on removing Mazarin. The two sides observed each others movements closely, with great distrust. The Court party began calling the Parlement party “frondeurs”–loosely”

Mazarin made another attempt to end the Fronde by arresting its leaders. This time he moved against some of the most important nobels. He had the Prince de Condé (Duc de Longueville) and Armand de Bourbon (Prince de Conti) arrested by royal decree (January 1650). This act aroused the provinces. The Duchess Longueville, Conde’s sister, persuaded the Vicomte de Tuerenne to lead an army against the Court party. Tuerenne scored some initial successes, but was defeated at a battle near Rethel. Despite this victory, Mazarin had become so unpopular; he had to release the arrested nobles and flee to the Netherlands.

Following the battle at Rethel, Mazarin and Louis gradually out maneuvered the Fronde leaders in domestic political infighting and intrigue. Basically instead of arresting the leaders, Mazarin and the Court bought off important leaders, leaving the remaining opposition leaders too weak to defy the Court. The conflict which began over the oppression of the people and oppresive tactics turned to court intrigue. The Queen Mother and regent, Anne of Austria, convinced Turenne to transfer his allegiance. Mazarin bribed another imprtant Fronde leader, Jean François Paul de Gondi with the offer of a cardinate. Condé who had made himself unpopular by his obnoxious behavior fled to Guienne southwest France. Louis XIV by this time was 14 years old and beginning to take a more prominent role in the affairs of state. He tried to convince Condé to return to Paris.

Condé having been arrested once did not trust the King and formed an army. Condé’s forces fought with a royal army commanded by Turenne (July 2, 1652). Parelement again negotiated with the Court over the removal of Mazarin who had returned from the Netherlands. Louis agreed to this and declared a general amnesty. Condé still distrustful offered his services to the Spanish crown and Louis declared him a traitor. Soon afterwards, Mazarin returned again. The victory of the Court party led by Mazarin effectively removed all organized constitutional restraints on royal power. This left Louis open when he assumed his majority to rule as an absolute monarch. And this is precisely what he did, summarizing his rule with the statement, “I am the state”. 

The Bill of Rights 1689

Whereas the said late King James II having abdicated the government, and the throne being thereby vacant, his Highness the prince of Orange (whom it hath pleased Almighty God to make the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery and arbitrary power) did (by the advice of the lords spiritual and temporal, and diverse principal persons of the Commons) cause letters to be written to the lords spiritual and temporal, being Protestants, and other letters to the several counties, cities, universities, boroughs, and Cinque Ports, for the choosing of such persons to represent them, as were of right to be sent to parliament, to meet and sit at Westminster upon the two and twentieth day of January, in this year 1689, in order to such an establishment as that their religion, laws, and liberties might not again be in danger of being subverted; upon which letters elections have been accordingly made.

And thereupon the said lords spiritual and temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being new assembled in a full and free representation of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done), for the vindication and assertion of their ancient rights and liberties, declare:

1. That the pretended power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament is illegal.  

2. That the pretended power of dispensing with the laws, or the execution of law by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal.  

3. That the commission for erecting the late court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious.  

4. That levying money for or to the use of the crown by pretense of prerogative, without grant of parliament, for longer time or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.

5. That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal. 

6. That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parliament, is against law.  

7. That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.  

8. That election of members of parliament ought to be free.  

9. That the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.  

10. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.  

11. That jurors ought to be duly impaneled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders.  

12. That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.  

13. And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, parliament ought to be held frequently.

And they do claim, demand, and insist upon all and singular the premises, as their undoubted rights and liberties….

Having therefore an entire confidence that his said Highness the prince of Orange will perfect the deliverance so far advanced by him, and will still preserve them from the violation of their rights, which they have here asserted, and from all other attempt upon their religion, rights, and liberties:

The said lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, assembled at Westminster, do resolve that William and Mary, prince and princess of Orange, be, and be declared, king and queen of England, France, and Ireland….Upon which their said Majesties did accept the crown and royal dignity of the kingdoms of England, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, according to the resolution and desire of the said lords and commons contained in the said declaration.

Source: The Statutes: Revised Edition (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1871), Vol. 2, pp. 10-12.

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