«A revolt rather than a revolution».
Is this a fair assessment of the Frondes?
The research area of
this paper is the observation and discussion of the differences between
«revolt» and «revolution» and whether the Frondes were
right to assess this notion, exciting rebellions in France during the reign of
It is a well-known fact that revolts
and revolutions often occur in the course of history, however, revolutions are
considered to be a more recent development. It is difficult to say for sure
what is better: a revolt or a revolution, however, a thorough discussion of
these two phenomena will give us an exact answer. For many centuries people’s
opinions have been divided: some have called for a revolution, while others
have spoken in support of a revolt. For instance, a well-known movement the
Fronde called for «a revolt rather than a revolution», and this claim
was quite popular among nobles at that time. In order to evaluate it, let’s
observe the reasons, which led to their revolt, and on their example compare
these two notions.
The Frondes and a revolt.
In the French history
there was an event called the Fronde (1648–53) – an open rebellion of several
great nobles during the minority of King Louis XIV, caused by the efforts of
the Parliament of Paris to limit the growing authority of the crown; by the
personal ambitions of discontented nobles; and by the grievances of the people
against the financial burdens suffered under cardinals Richelieu and Mazarini.
As a matter of fact, there were two periods of the Fronde: the Fronde of the
Parliament (1648-49) and the Fronde of the Princes (several years later).
The first period began,
when the parliament rejected a new plan for raising money, proposed by Anne of
Austria and her adviser, Cardinal Mazarini. According to the scheme,
magistrates of the high courts would give up four years’ salary. The high
courts opposed the proposal. As an answer to their deed, the government
arrested several members of the parliament, but in August 1648 Anne and
Mazarini were forced to release prisoners. However, they didn’t stop at that,
and sent the royal army to take action against the Fronde when the Thirty Years
War ended. Anne, the king, and Mazarini secretly left Paris and the city was
blockaded by royal troops under Louis II, prince de Conde. A peace was signed between
the parliament and the regent at Rueil in 1649.
Evaluating this first
period of the Fronde, it is necessary to pay attention to other reasons of the
rebellion. In fact, the rebellion of the Fronde was justifiable at that time.
When Mazarini came to power, he and Anne wasted much efforts on foreign policy,
trying to strengthen the power of France, and they managed to do it1.
However, the cost was awful. Reforms had postponed, taxes were high, and the
people complained. Thus, the Fronde consisted of three revolts: one by the
lower and middle classes against heavy taxation, a second by the nobles to
increase their political power, and a third by the officeholders to protect
their position. One result of the Fronde was that the
French became willing to accept a much stronger, more centralised government
under their king in order to prevent future civil wars. Another result was that
the youthful Louis XIV decided to take whatever steps were necessary to avoid
However, the second
period of the Fronde wasn’t, in fact, useful and the revolt was only a
political struggle between Mazarini and some nobles, receiving the name the
Fronde of the Princes. It didn’t start as a result of some reforms, or
difficult position of nobles, or unlawful actions of the government. As a
matter of fact, everything began from the prince de Conde, who expected to
control Cardinal Mazarini and Anne after his help. His intrigues led to his
arrest in January 1650, and caused a second outbreak, the Fronde of the
Princes, or the New Fronde. Madam de Longueville decided to release her brother
and called on Marshal Turenne for help. Government troops managed to defeat
Turenne and his Spanish allies at Rethel (1650), however, Mazarini had to
release Conde. Soon after the release he took up open warfare against the
government. But he lost his principal support of Turenne, who took the side of
the government after Louis XIV reached his majority. Conde concluded an
alliance with Spain, but was defeated by Turenne. The princes soon made a peace
agreement with the government, except for Conde, who commanded the Spanish
forces against France until the Peace of Pyrenees (1659)3.
The second Fronde was the last attempt of the nobility to resists the king by
arms. It resulted in the humiliation of the nobles, the strengthening of royal
authority, and the further disruption of the French economy. Louis XIV forced
his nobility into the position of his courtiers and he developed the monarchy
as a tax-gathering machine for the manufactures of France, so there was no need
to touch the revenues of the nobility4. Thus, this
episode, which even endangered his life, left a strong impression on Louis. As
an adult, he was determined to prevent any further rebellion by controlling the
Thus, despite the fact
that the second Fronde wasn’t needed, as it had no special reasons, it turned
France into one of the most powerful states in the world under the rule of
Louis XIV, who, on the example of the first Fronde and the second Fronde,
developed the necessary principals of his ruling.
The French revolution.
However, two Frondes were not the end
of the rebellions. By the 1780’s many in France were influenced by a movement
called the «Enlightenment,» which held that all persons should be
equal before the law. These ideas led to the conflict that caused the revolt5.
This was the beginning of the famous French revolution. On June 17, 1789, the
Third Estate declared itself the National Assembly. On July 11, 1789, Louis XVI
ordered his army to disband the National Assembly by force. On July 14, 1789,
the people of Paris stormed the Bastille looking for arms and gun powder to
protect themselves against the army and to protect the National Assembly. The
next day the Marquis de Lafayette was appointed commander of the city’s armed
forces by a committee of citizens. The king had lost control of Paris.
Throughout the country peasants revolted and called for reforms and an end to
the old feudal relationships. Frightened nobility gave in to the demands and
urged the National Assembly to end feudal rights.
The Revolution led to high
unemployment and increased hunger in the city. The power of the monarchy was
broken. The king had to return to Paris. The National Assembly abolished the French
nobility as a group with legal rights and created a constitutional monarchy in
July 1790. The king remained the head of state, but the true power rested with
the National Assembly. The National Assembly continued to make further reforms:
dividing the country into 83 districts, adopting the metric system, promoting
economic reforms and freedom, and generally applying the ideas of the
Enlightenment to all of France’s institutions. The Assembly also confiscated
the lands of the nobility who had emigrated from France and nationalised Church
lands. They forced the clergy to take oaths of allegiance to the new government
and sought to subjugate the power of the Church.
However, the Revolution continued.
From 1793 to 1794, the Committee of Public Safety conducted a reign of Terror
upon the French people. Maximilian Robespierre was the head of the Committee of
Public Safety. The Terror was directed at anyone who was perceived as being an
enemy of the revolution. Over 40,000 people were executed or died in prison.
However, on July 27, 1794, Robespierre was overthrown and the next day
executed. Thus, the Terror was over. In 1795, a new government, a Directory,
was created, but several years later it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte,
who declared himself the «Emperor of the French.» Thus, the
Revolution that had ended monarchy resulted in the establishment of an Emperor6.
The comparison of a revolution and
So, observing a revolt on the example
of two Frondes, and a revolution on the example of the French revolution, we
are able to compare these two kinds of rebellions, and evaluate the notion of
the Fronde which claimed «revolt rather than a revolution». To tell
the truth, both revolt and revolution have its advantages and disadvantages. Of
course, they bring some benefits, but very often they lead to misfortunes,
problems and troubles as well as deaths of thousands of people. However,
revolutions are certainly better, as they are the expression of people’s wish
(the majority of people), while revolts are the expression of a small group of
people, who seek their own interests.
Revolution does not just mean that an
armed group seizes power. Politically speaking, it means that the masses seize
power, and establish a people’s government. It does not just involve throwing
out foreign armies, as this is, of course, an obligation that a nation must
fulfil without revolution, as well as it should take measures to nationalise
foreign interests in a country. In fact, revolution consists in the masses
seizing power and so a final and decisive solution is found to the political
problem in favour of the people. Revolution is the victory of liberty, and a
genuine and decisive victory in favour of the masses.
Nowadays the historians and the governments of many countries try to
falsify the history of revolutions. They paint them either Blue or Buff in the
style of their own politics, however, a real revolution has many colours. It is
a revolt that possesses only bad features and dark colours. Revolts within a
state can’t be considered a wise step, even if they are aimed at making life
better or bringing about some reforms. Reformation always needs further reform,
it only brings misery and more destruction.
An excellent example
of the revolt could be the marching of the ladies of Paris to Versaille and
taking the king, queen, and prince back to Paris with them during the French
revolution. They had done it after hearing a rumour of a stockpile of bread
that was being held by the king at Versaille7. In this
case these women were not engaged in a revolution, but more in a revolt. So,
there is a vast difference between the action of creative revolution, and the
action of revolt within society.
Thus, the assessment of the Fronde is
not fair, as revolution is certainly better, as it is born of understanding of
the whole structure. Its action produces waves, which are able to create quite
a different civilisation. And even if they fail, we can’t dismiss the prospect
of revolution and the reasons of failure until we carefully examine the
movements. Individual revolts are bound to fail and it is hardly surprising
that these revolts did not go farther – they don’t have the support of the
majority, besides they are often badly thought over. And revolutions usually
are of a great standard, expressing the wish of the masses and including a
large number of forces. Every new revolution take new and unpredictable forms,
leading to positive changes or establishing new forms of ruling.
In short, a revolution breaks down
the social constraints, which underlie so much of what is considered
«mental illness», freeing people to discover their own meanings,
methods of thinking and feeling. In fact, it gives people freedom. And freedom
belongs to the individual, and as such it certainly resides in individual
responsibility to oneself and in free association with others. Thus, there can
be no obligations, no debts, only choices of how to act. Revolution remains a
better choice for improvements and changes.
1. Wendy Gibson. A Tragic Farce: the Fronde
(1648-1653), 1998. pp. 27-38.
2. Moote A.L. The
Revolt of the Judges: The Parliament of Paris and the Fronde, 1643-1652.
(1972), pp. 2-7.
4. Commonweal, Volume 2, Number 21, 5 June
1886, p. 77.
5. Roger Chartier (trans. Lydia Cochrane), The
Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham, 1991), pp. 124-8.
6. Ibid, pp. 127-128.
1. Burke P., The
Fabrication of Louis XIV. New Haven and London, 1992.
2. Commonweal, Volume 2, Number 21, 5
June 1886, p. 77.
3. Chartier R. (trans.
Lydia Cochrane), The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham,
1991), pp. 124-8.
4. Gibson W. A Tragic
Farce: The Fronde (1648-1653), 1998, pp. 23-148.
5. Hanley S., The Lit
de Justice of the Kings of France: Constitutional Ideology in Legend, Ritual,
and Discourse. Princeton, 1983.
6. Kantorowicz E., The
King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medireview Political Theology. Princeton,
7. Knabb K. (ed. and
trans.), Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of Public Secrets,
1981, p. 81.
8. Marin L. (trans. Martha
M. Houle), Portrait of the King. Minneapolis, 1988.
9. Maza S., Private
Lives and Public Affairs: the Causes Celebres of Prerevolutionary France.
Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 167-211.