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11 The Buildup, 1585 to May 1588
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La Fronde De La Justice

These new studies, which bring twentieth-century tools as well as hindsight to the problem, explicate robin attitudes toward the origins and motivations of the League. It is noteworthy also that unlike some historians for whom the Sixteen were either nineteenth-century liberal democrats or twentieth-century Marxists before their time, these scholars confirm the interpretation of our mainstream spokesmen, that the League was a rebellion, seeking to exploit the general discontent to the advantage of its members, and to raise their status at the expense of the première bourgeoisie . In short, it was a political rebellion and not a social revolution.

Between the autumn of 1585 and the spring of 1588 most events favored the League cause and prepared the way to the Day of the Barricades. The


negative image of the king and popular resentment of his fiscal policies were exacerbated by new edicts. In October 1585, L'Estoile reports on new edicts caused by the League. These were issued by the king because of the pressing need of money for war. Offices that had lapsed after the death of recent holders were revived—for a fee. "This shows that all war is a devouring monster, but especially civil war, which ever creates new expenses for kings and new burdens for the people" (Brunet 2:212-214). A few days later another edict against the Huguenots was issued, commanding them either to abjure or to leave the kingdom. It was a regular tactic of Henri III to accompany unpopular exactions with some gesture of appeasement. Six months later the bishop of Paris, Pierre de Gondi, was the subject of libelous attack for asking permission from the pope, at the king's behest, to raise twice as much money for the crown as had been authorized by the clergy by alienating church lands. In 1586, a bad year for Henri III, L'Estoile reports on dévotions du Roy, agréables à ceux de la Ligue: a sharp rise in the price of bread and an increase of beggars in the streets coincided with a three-month visit of Henri, duc de Guise. Pierre says of this last that the artisans and peddlers of the city benefited more in honor than in profit; the duke spent little but made himself popular by saluting and flattering them constantly (Brunet 2:327, 333).

The real crunch came with twenty-seven new fiscal edicts in mid-June. The Parlement was opposed to them—as to many previous ones,

because of the great misery, affliction and suffering of the people, who protested and demonstrated vigorously, and like the crow that screamed at Jupiter's eagle, blamed the king, tearing him apart with all sorts of calumny, whereas the truth was that ceux de la Ligue et de Lorraine were the inventors of these villainous edicts . . . which confuse justice, order and finance. The money raised passes into the hands of the Guisards, for their war (Brunet 2:339).[20]

Almost at once there was a strike by the procureurs of the Parlement and the Châtelet, which lasted from June 18 to July 12, precipitated by an edict requiring them to pay a (new) fee for the right to exercise the office. They took counsel and agreed not to resume their offices, in fact to resign from them entirely, unless the edict was revoked. The premier président promised that they would shortly be reimbursed if they would call off the strike, and it looked as if they would comply at the next meeting, after some


of the older procureurs advocated compromise, but the next day they changed their minds, at least the younger ones did, and used force to prevent three or four of the older ones from returning to the Palais. They held another meeting that afternoon and voted to continue the strike and to punish any dissenters who broke rank. The same occurred at the Châtelet, where the older procureurs were harassed and prevented from exercising their offices (Brunet 2:341-342). This is an interesting bit of evidence of generational conflict aligned with political opinion. But one cannot assume that the younger generation would consistently favor resistance to the royal will and their elders exemplify loyal obedience. In certain other situations, crown policy favored more rapid advancement and/or greater profit for newer—usually also younger—officers, at the expense of those with seniority.[21]

We are fortunate in having written reactions to these edicts from two eminent spokesmen, premier président Achille de Harlay and Étienne Pasquier, then avocat du roi in the Chambre des Comptes. By a curious circumstance, we possess also the opinion of Guillaume Du Vair, conseiller in the Parlement and maître des requêtes de l'Hôtel du Roi since 1584. Every case raises the constitutional issue, because the king was attempting to implement these edicts without the approval (registration) of the court. Members of Parlement were opposed to the fiscal policy in itself, but they were alarmed by the constitutional implications.

Harlay's discours (addressed to the king) makes four main points, of which the first is an assertion of the traditional idea that rendering justice is the king's main duty and unfailing obligation. C'est par la justice que regnent les rois rant en la paix qu'en la guerre . It follows that justice can only be administered by men chosen for their high integrity, whereas at present judicial offices are sold to the highest bidder. "The situation is already so far deteriorated that I almost dare say that only the shadow of justice remains. Although we [Parlement] are often blamed for the disorder, confusion, and threatened ruin that result," Harlay goes on, "it is you who will be accountable to God's inescapable judgment. We would be failing in our duty if we did not protest. " He then takes up the two kinds of law, those of the king and those of the kingdom. The latter are inviolable, and although God gave kings the right to exercise the former freely, à Dieu ne plaise . . . que vous soyez Roy par violence et par force . Such methods are those of barbarians and pirates—or of tyrannical kings, "but yours is a realm of loyalty and justice . . . your subjects give you more out of goodwill than


those of the Turks through force." Finally, and most crucial, "the kings of France have very carefully refrained from publishing any law or ordinance that had not been deliberated on in this company . They considered that to violate this form would be to violate that which made them kings. . . . By upholding the authority of this company they confirmed their own . . . in saving us you save yourself." He closes by appealing to the king, as the image of God: "We raise our eyes and pray that He will inspire you to do what is good and just, and in the accustomed form, and to reject pernicious innovations which are often proposed."[22]

No procès-verbal of this session was recorded in the registers. We have Harlay's speech in his own words, in manuscript, and also as written down by Du Vair, who also wrote up speeches of the king, the chancellor (Cheverny), and Jacques Faye, avocat du roi, pronounced on the same day, and published them some years later, in the first edition of his works. Du Vair's biographer, René Radouant, makes a careful comparison of the two versions of Harlay's speech, in his pursuit of Du Vair's personal opinions. (It is well to remind ourselves that Du Vair's first appearance on the political stage was in his discours sur les barricades , two years later.) For the historian of parlementaire mentalité the comparison is important because Harlay himself took umbrage at Du Vair's version: "[he] has damaged me by bringing to the public under my name chose non seulement defectueuse, mais mal disposée, et conçue en forme que je n'approuve point. " It is true that it is not completely faithful to the original and that both the organization and the emphasis are somewhat different, but Harlay's four points are all there, anyway. As Radouant points out, it is the spirit and the tone that are different. Harlay's reflects l'esprit de corps of the court, Du Vair's version the fears of absolutism; Harlay alludes discreetly to the edicts that have precipitated the crisis, Du Vair attacks the subject head on, spells out what he believes to be the disastrous outcome, and places the blame very much more directly on the king. In Harlay's version, devotion to the king, the pain it causes him to have to reproach his sovereign, and his fear of providing the king's enemies with a further weapon set the tone, while Du Vair's is cold, unsympathetic, and strong in theoretical and abstract points. Radouant concludes, as anyone must who makes a line-by-line comparison, that Du Vair did indeed alter the overall effect of the speech, yet I feel that the biographer goes too far when he speaks of the transformation of a remon-


strance paternelle et tremblante into a réquisitoire glacé, hautain, impitoyable .[23]

Some of Du Vair's points are close to those of some ligueur orators of this period, notably a demand for the Estates General to "reform" the crown's policies. This resemblance troubles Radouant, who then asks, do we have sufficient evidence to conclude that Du Vair was himself a member of the League, or as we might say today liguisant? This question comes up more dramatically in his funeral oration for Mary Stuart the following year, but Radouant's own conclusion is given in the chapter on the Harlay discours : Du Vair shared with ligueurs opposition to absolutist doctrine and methods, and he also agreed with some of the remedies they proposed. But it does not seem that he—like many others in the same situation—became an authentic member, and when he came to believe that the ligueurs , "sacrificing the public welfare to their own interests, passed from liberty to anarchy" and put the national independence in jeopardy, he became a militant politique . That was in 1593. In the interval, however, his position was somewhat equivocal, and certainly not that of a mainstream magistrate. It is probable that Du Vair was himself uncomfortable in his stance; his name did not appear on the several discours (of which Harlay's is one); they are presented as historic documents. Nor did the oraison funèbre of 1587 bear his name. Furthermore, Du Vair withdrew entirely from public view for more than two years after the assassination of Henri III.[24]

The cardinal de Bourbon was assigned to persuade the Chambre des Comptes to accept the ill-fated edicts on June 25, 1586. Pasquier was not persuaded. The sovereign courts, he argued, are to the kingdom what the "noble organs" (the brain and the heart) are to the human body—and should never be touched. The law is "the soul, without which the republic must die." And those laws that have their source in the royal prerogative must pass through the alambic of the sovereign courts. The grandeur of France in the past arose from this sharing of power between the king and the court. In his famous, informal style that was a major factor in his great popularity, Pasquier confided to the Chambre, and to the king through the cardinal, that in order to merit their designation of gens du roi they must sometimes tell the king the truth, "even if it is unpleasant."[25]

This "Fronde de la justice" ended with the king's capitulation. On July


12, 1586, he withdrew the edict taxing the procureurs, saying that if they had come to him directly sooner, the course of justice would not have been interrupted. He bade them pray for him. This outcome appeared to confirm the widespread protests against royal policy—and, in L'Estoile's opinion, to encourage the ligueurs (Brunet 2:345).

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