- Le Labyrinthe de l'État: Essai sur le débat politique en France au temps de la Fronde (1648-1653)
General surveys of early modern France too often dismiss the Fronde because it failed to halt the increasing centralization of the monarchy. Hubert Carrier's ambitious Le Labyrinthe de l'État, as with his earlier works on the publications of the Fronde, offers an extensive survey of the political literature (pamphlets, correspondence, and cahiers de doléances) produced during the revolt. The author sets out to explore the full range of positions addressed in this literature concerning the monarchy, the Parlement of Paris, the princes of the blood, the nobility, and the various bodies of the Third Estate as the Frondeurs challenged Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin's management of the country during the minority of Louis XIV.
From his exhaustive research, Carrier finds some coherency in the vast literature identifying three main currents of political thought: the liberal thesis of the parliamentarians, the aristocratic view of government in the pamphlets of the princes, and the defense of the absolute monarchy. The first section of the book delves into the great diversity of political thought, but what emerges is the enduring popularity of the monarchy and the continued affection for the king despite widespread dislike for Mazarin and the regency. The pamphleteers attacked despotism and those close to the king rather than blaming the man or institution for the problems of the country. Most parties who participated in the disruptions in France were horrified by the execution of Charles I in England and did not want France to follow the same path. Despite this support for the institution of the monarchy, the parties of the Fronde viewed absolutism as a dangerous novelty of the seventeenth century that must be halted for the benefit of all. [End Page 525]
The second part of the book explores the complex and enduring fiscal crises of France. Increased taxation had placed ever greater burdens on the people during the 1640s and the subjects viewed the taxes as arbitrary and unjust. Blame for these financial woes fell on the Italian-born minister Mazarin, who was perceived as profiting personally from the suffering of the people. Both the pamphlets and the cahiers de doléances highlight abuses associated with tax collection, and Carrier's research reveals that the already acute subsistence crisis in France was exacerbated by the disruption of commerce during the Fronde. Excessive taxation and hunger were charges that resonated throughout the kingdom while more complex financial problems failed to receive the same attention from the pamphleteers.
The third section of Carrier's work addresses the multifaceted issue of social orders. One of the most intriguing components of the Fronde, as with most civil disturbances, is the role of the people. Were the "menu peuple" agents of their socioeconomic betters or did they possess their own agenda? Carrier does an impressive job of distinguishing between the many levels of the Third Estate, from the wealthy and powerful bourgeoisie to the desperately poor, and highlights how their agendas and actions were neither static nor consistent throughout the revolt. For the most part Carrier does not see the Fronde as a class struggle, with the exception of Bordeaux in the spring of 1652.
Despite the five years of turmoil that produced an impressive array of political literature, the Fronde by most accounts failed. Carrier points to the failure of the various parties to form any union after the exile of Mazarin and the cardinal's success at playing the camps off against each other. In addition the Frondeurs did not have an adequate military plan, a fully developed reform program, or, in the end, a great leader.
Le Labyrinthe de l'État affirms that writers during the Fronde already were exploring many of the political theories that would become central to the debates of...