Wars of the Fronde Begin

The Wars of the Fronde in France pitted the privileged leaders of the bourgeoisie against the abuses of absolute monarchy, marking the emergence of the bourgeoisie as a serious contender in French politics.

Summary of Event

As the kingdom of France entered the year 1648, it was beset by a multitude of serious problems. King Louis XIII, who had ruled the country since 1610, had died in 1643, leaving his five-year-old son, Louis XIV, as the new monarch. Until he became old enough to rule in his own right, the government of the kingdom was controlled by a regent, Anne of Austria (Louis XIV’s mother), and her first minister and chief adviser, Cardinal Jules Mazarin. Condé, The Great
Émery, Particelli d’
Louis XIV
Mazarin, Jules
Talon, Omer

Mazarin, an Italian who had been a protégé of Cardinal de Richelieu (former first minister of Louis XIII who had died in 1642), was resented by many members of the French nobility and by the French people at large. Part of the reason for this resentment was classic xenophobia; many French people simply did not like being ruled by a “foreigner,” especially one who appeared to become extraordinarily wealthy as a result of his position. The rumor that Mazarin was Anne’s lover, and even perhaps secretly married to the queen, also fueled the popular image that the cardinal was an opportunistic place-seeker who was using his position to further his own ambitions and fortune at the expense of the well-being of France.

This foundation of personal resentment against Mazarin was reinforced by extreme dissatisfaction with many of his policies. The regent and her first minister had inherited a war against the Habsburg Dynasty of Austria and Spain from the previous reign. This conflict, known as the Thirty Years’ War Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648);France and , had been a tremendous drain on French resources for years and had prompted a series of dramatic tax increases and administrative innovations that had pushed most of the country’s taxpayers to the brink of endurance and had placed the finances of the kingdom in serious jeopardy. Mazarin’s decision to continue the war effort meant that there was little chance for improvement in the kingdom’s appalling financial condition or for any decrease in taxes. Taxation;France It also did not appear likely that any of Richelieu’s administrative reforms, which generally aimed to increase the power of the king’s agents at the expense of such semiautonomous institutions as parlements (local assemblies of notables, which had the power to register, and thereby implicitly approve or disapprove, royal edicts), would be reversed. Mazarin actually intensified these problems by allowing his minister of finance, Particelli d’Émery, Émery, Particelli d’ to engage routinely in a number of unscrupulous tactics (such as withholding the salaries of venal state officials) to raise the necessary revenue to keep the country running.

These various grievances culminated in 1648, which ironically marked the successful conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War. In January of that year, Louis XIV visited the Parlement of Paris and received a very cool reception. Omer Talon, Talon, Omer one of the chief members of this body, gave a speech in which he outlined the financial troubles of the kingdom, the misery of the peasantry, and the heavy burden of taxation. He did congratulate Louis for presiding over the French victory in the Thirty Years’ War but argued that victory in and of itself would not be enough to satisfy the problems facing his people. He instead urged the young king to recognize that France was a kingdom where “men are born free” and to “think of these things and of the misery of the people.”

As would become evident in the months to come, this speech represented the first gauntlet to be thrown by parlement at the policies of the regency. Hoping to take advantage of the king’s youth and the unpopularity of Mazarin and his policies, this body wanted to use its right to register royal edicts to gain control of taxation policy and to weaken the power of the royal council and its agents in the field, the intendants. Talon may have expressed their opposition by stressing the misery of the common people, but the main issue was a struggle for control of the future of the kingdom.

As the opposition of the parlement grew during the spring and early summer of 1648, Mazarin hesitated to take any firm steps to confront it, fearing that he simply was not strong enough to deal with it effectively. In June, 1648, Louis II of Bourbon, prince of Condé (the Great Condé Condé, The Great[Condé, Great] ), won an important victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Lens Lens, Battle of (1648) and provided Mazarin with the confidence he needed to stand up to his critics. He ordered the arrest of three of the most outspoken leaders of the opposition in parlement in the hope that this act would intimidate the others into acquiescence.

King Louis XIV and Queen-Mother Anne of Austria fled Paris and the Wars of the Fronde around 1650 to the safety of Saint-Germain Palace.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

The public response to this arbitrary act led to the outbreak of the Fronde. The common people of Paris, many of whom actually believed that parlement had their best interests at heart, rioted and seized virtual control of the capital. At the same time, the remaining leaders of parlement presented a list of grievances to the regency and demanded their immediate resolution. Mazarin quickly and accurately recognized the seriousness of the situation and, despite the pleas of the queen regent to fight back, he released the three imprisoned parlement members and agreed to accept a “charter” that parlement had drawn up that greatly limited royal power in the areas of taxation, justice, and administration. In January of 1649, Mazarin made another tactical retreat and convinced the young Louis XIV and his mother to flee the capital and temporarily take up residence outside Paris in St. Germain.

Although Condé wanted to then launch a direct frontal assault on the capital and force it back into submission, Mazarin preferred to have his commander establish a siege and thereby gradually bring the city back under royal control with a minimum of bloodshed. This siege did gradually cut off the flow of food into Paris, and as the population’s suffering increased, so did the intensity of popular hostility toward Mazarin. “Mazarinades,” vicious printed personal attacks on the cardinal, poured from the city’s popular presses, as did a torrent of obscene songs about his relationship with the queen regent. Yet Mazarin knew he held the advantage now that Condé’s troops encircled the city, and he began to negotiate with his enemies within Paris. Both sides ultimately had to retreat from their original positions.


In the Treaty of Reuil, Reuil, Treaty of (1649) signed in 1649, Mazarin was unable to obtain the complete humiliation of parlement that he originally wanted, but parlement, for its part, did not receive its demand for the cardinal’s dismissal. Many of the promises of reform that Mazarin had granted immediately before his flight from the city were retained in this agreement. Yet their fulfillment depended on the good will of the Crown and it was clear that this would not be forthcoming once Mazarin had regained his strength. Cardinal Mazarin, Anne, and the king returned to Paris shortly thereafter. Royal power had been seriously tested by this first phase of the Fronde, but it had survived to face new tests that lay on the horizon. Louis XIII[Louis 13]
Louis XIV[Louis 14]
Anne of Austria
Mazarin, Jules
[kw]Wars of the Fronde Begin (June, 1648)
[kw]Fronde Begin, Wars of the (June, 1648)
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June, 1648: Wars of the Fronde Begin[1620]
Government and politics;June, 1648: Wars of the Fronde Begin[1620]
Social issues and reform;June, 1648: Wars of the Fronde Begin[1620]
France;June, 1648: Wars of the Fronde Begin[1620]
Fronde, Wars of the (1648-1653)
Anne of Austria

Further Reading

  • Beik, William. Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985. An excellent case study of the impact of the Fronde on the policies and administration of Louis XIV.
  • Berce, Yves Marie. The Birth of Absolutism: A History of France, 1598-1661. Translated by Richard Rex. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. An analysis of the Fronde is included in this history of France from the Edict of Nantes through Mazarin’s death.
  • Briggs, Robin. Early Modern France, 1560-1715. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. One of the best textbooks in English on the early modern period in French history. The work includes a thorough summary on the Fronde and preceding events.
  • Moote, A. L. The Revolt of the Judges. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971. Although subsequent scholarship has revealed several important errors of interpretation in this study, it remains one of the most complete accounts of this complex event.
  • Ranum, Orest. The Fronde: A French Revolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. In this analysis of the Fronde, Ranum argues that the conflict represented a precursor to the Great Revolution of 1789.
  • Treasure, Geoffrey. Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France. New York: Routledge, 1995. Among other topics, this biography discusses how Mazarin worked to retain an absolute French monarchy during the upheavals of the Fronde.
  • Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974. The early chapters of this classic biography of Louis XIV include a thorough account of the Fronde, emphasizing this event’s impact on Louis’s future attitude.

Treaty of the Pyrenees

Absolute Monarchy Emerges in France

Famine and Inflation in France

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i><br />

Anne of Austria; The Great Condé; Louis XIII; Louis XIV; Jules Mazarin; Cardinal de Richelieu; Viscount de Turenne. Fronde, Wars of the (1648-1653)