10 May 2010

Disasters: The Fronde

Lila DiPasqua

We've all heard of the French Revolution, the reign of terror that began 1789. You don't have to know French to be shocked by its list of victims found here. Many of the ages listed beside the names are young. Equally tragic were the number of entire families that were wiped out--put to death under the blade of the guillotine.

But did you know that the Revolution came very close to happening much earlier? More than 100 years earlier, in fact.

Sadly, it's true.

The upheaval that shook the citizens of France from 1648 to 1653, claimed many lives and drove the country into financial despair for years to come was called the Fronde. In French it means the "Sling." A child's toy. Something that street urchins played with.

Yet this civil war was no child's game, but an attack against the monarchy.

The king, Louis XIV, was but a boy. Not yet ten years of age when the violent rebellions of the Fronde began--rebellions that were meant to unseat his mother, the Queen Regent, who was to rule on his behalf until he came of age, and her First Minister, Cardinal Mazarin.

Cardinal Mazarin, though beloved by the boy king, was of Italian origins. Having been handed much of the Queen Mother's authority by the Queen Mother herself, Mazarin was despised by the French. They didn't think this foreigner should run their country, and they didn't think he governed well. His high taxes and power inspired resentment among the high nobility, the Parlement of Paris and the lowly commoners. The Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, didn't escape criticism either. Considered a foreigner too, she was called the whore of the Italian pig.

The Parlement of Paris were the first to balk, followed quickly by a number of high ranking men of the aristocracy--who were driven by their own personal interests and ambition.

The Frondeurs amassed private armies against the King, put up barricades in Paris, and incited the hungry crowds. It wasn't difficult to stir a mob, not when the cost of bread had risen higher than the poor could pay. The violence escalated. The deaths mounted. As did the danger to the young king. One night a mob broke into the palace to make certain the boy king had not fled the city and was still asleep in his bed.

Louis XIV never forgot the terror or humiliation he and his mother suffered during the Fronde. He was forced to leave Paris and flee to the country for his own safety as the rebellions continued and spread beyond the city boundaries. Together with his mother, they lived in exile and slept on straw beds. Anne of Austria was even forced to sell her jewelry for food.

Mazarin, too, had no choice but to leave the country, escaping to Germany.

On July 4th 1652 there was a bloodbath in the streets of Paris. It wasn't until October 1652 that young Louis XIV, now fourteen, was finally able reentered the city. With the Fronde over, the Frondeurs subdued, he recalled Mazarin back to France. His return in February 1653 marked the end of the Fronde, but not the end of the deaths.

Now, firmly seated in power, Mazarin continued to rule on Louis's behalf, with the young king's blessing even after Louis was crowned--until Mazarin's death in 1661. Mazarin's demand of higher taxes to fund war never ceased. Ultimately, the burden fell on the poor. Famine ran rampant throughout the realm. And the deaths in some areas occurred in numbers too great for church officials to properly record.