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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


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Katia Béguin's Les Princes de Condé

As one puts down Katia Béguin's Les Princes de Condé (Paris, Champ Vallon, 462 pp. 190 FF) one thinks of how parochial the older Annales notion of histoire totale was. Almost none of what is presented and analyzed in this very rich and subtle study of clientage, patronage, and princely household culture was ever even imagined as history in histoire totale. Still, the larger message was there, as a manifesto, expand the horizons of historical questions as well as ourselves, period, thus I believe Febvre and Bloch would welcome this work. Also note, these themes were scarcely part of the older paradigm of political, social, and economic history, not only, but especially in France or in European continental historical studies.

To be sure, clientage studies certainly had an enormous impact on how political history was conceived, especially in Britain (Syme, Neale, and Nanmier, late 1920's) but all we have to mention is the "new" political history in Britain (I think of Conrad Russell and John Guy) in order to clarify how clientage history and political history were never the same, with the latter finding its origins in modern times in S. R. Gardiner and G. M. Trevelyan. (I should discuss Notestein at this point, in fairness.)

In France clientage history remained impossible to conceive as long as mandarin powers over appointments and admissions to prestigious schools remained locked up. Shaken, but by no means dead, the clientage systems in France now are challenged by regional political-clientage networks, and the appointment of faculty who have the range and sophistication necessary to let students develop on their own, to inspire, not diriger in the older sense. Daniel Roche is the model of the new professor, placing merit above all considerations of clientage or ideology, (pace R. Mousnier!) and his generous, interesting avant-propos to Béguin's book attests to this openness and strength of ideas, the presence of a great teacher. Roche also pioneered on the Condé, writing a very important article on their wealth, published many years ago.

The Bourbon-Condé branch of the family did not have great landed estates in 1600. To be sure, by any standard except in the hierarchy of dukes and princes, they were immensely wealthy, but did they really have the means to sustain their title? Marriage to Charlotte de Montmorency, with a dowry of 600,000 livres, and some other breaks, gave Henry II de Condé a potential for competing in revenue with Gaston d'Orleans, the king's immensely rich, rebellious brother. The treason of the Montmorency resulted in still more lands, patronage, and offices to fall in the hands of the Condé. Richelieu and Louis XIII had an understanding with Henry II, and in fact built up the Condé estate as a result. Legal thickets could have been found to keep the Montmorency inheritance for the Crown, but Richelieu and Louis decided otherwise. The 1630's were also a time when the Guises began their descent into financial trouble, making the Condé that much more influential in the realm. We often think of the huge royal "gifts" given to Richelieu and his successor, but the "grands" also got huge payments from the Crown.

Henry II de Condé took money very seriously; he did not play the "gent" unconcerned about wealth. His behavior is more bourgeois than that of many bourgeois, in squeezing monies out of every possibility. He would leave an estate of about 16,000,000 livres to his already illustrious son, the Victor of Rocroy. We also think of the fortunes of the grands as inherited or surviving from the Middle Ages. Actually, nothing could be more wrong. All the high competitors climbed to great wealth in the 16th century, or the early 17th century. The Guises came along fairly well under Francis I, who facilitated their rise, and the rise of so many others (LaRochefoucauld, to name only one). Political patronage and clientage were far more important than the overall trends in economic and social conditions — the true primordial stage of revenue "generation" by peasants, millers and toll collectors. It was the accumulation of estates, not increased revenues from estates, that structured the hierarchy of aristocratic wealth.

Lest the reader conclude that Béguin is writing a classic estate-management study (one thinks of Lawrence Stone's smaller studies, not the Crisis....), she is not. The central theme is power and how wealth sustains rank. There are personal judgments in sparkling prose: "L'initiative venait souvent des familles qui, insensiblement, s'étaient placées dans la dependance princière pour leur propre avancement on celui de leurs obligés." (p. 78) There is always a historicist transparency between the analysis and the documents quoted.

On the vexed question of whether or not there was an ordering in dependency — social, psychological, and/or financial — Béguin distinguishes between vassalage, and clientage relations, the first being primarily the manifestation of the legal status resulting from living on certain types of land, and clientage being more one generational — usually a relation that precedes vassal-lord relations in the Early Modern period (p. 216). She also notes how loans to the Condé created bonds with enormous political and psychological consequences, perhaps no different than those from procuring marriages at the "proper" rank, lower taxes, and jobs for clients.

Béguin sees the Grand Condé as wanting to continue the same practice of grabbing "gifts" from the Crown that his father had done under Richelieu, but Mazarin refused to play the same game (p.111). In a structural sense this is true, though with the nuance that Mazarin was competing himself for wealth and titles at not quite the same time as Condé; the late 40's, and early 50's are different for Mazarin from the later 1650's, I think. We need to examine the Mazarin fortune year by year. The rivalries over governorships, and commands of such places as Pont de l'Arche and Le Havre were closer to the very heart of monarchial power than the high ranking household offices. Regency instability had brought a lot of wealth from Sully's savings to Henry II; the Victor of Rocroy held stronger cards than his father, knew it, and played them brashly with Mazarin, who had no face cards at all. Mazarin had little choice but to try to keep up the unstable equilibrium between Gaston and Condé, with the former always backing, filling, and letting Mazarin down. Béguin has written brilliant political history about the Grand Condé. But without wanting to go over again the hoary debate about self-interest v. fidelity, it seems evident that high risks taken by a Bithaud, say, or Viole, are revealing of something less calculated than interest: "Seuls ses partisans les plus farouches out accepté de risquer leur ágent à son service" (p. 132). It took a certain kind of person to follow Condé; he could be cruel, he could make fidèles feel anger from their sense of their dependancy, Gaspard de Chavagnac being an example. Regarding the state and the Neostoic anti-corruption discourse of the Parlements, Condé had been raised and trained by his father to put family interests above everything. It is difficult to imagine him really governing. What he wanted and needed were powers to fill offices, nominate cardinals and bishops in Rome, and distribute regiments at reduced cost to the fidèles that lacked the full amount to buy them. Béguin's work confirms and extends the historiography launched by J. Bergen's work on Richelieu — that is the near inability of anyone in the governing elite to understand the political except in the most financial of terms. Condé's Berry, with tons of gun powder stored in the cellars of Montrond, was a state within a state. As a rebel he made royal officials feel guilty because of the Bourbon blood in his veins, when they carried out royal orders to destroy the castle. Mazarin respected that blood, never really imagining him as someone to hate as an implacable enemy.

J.- P. Labatut's prosoprographic study of the dukes and peers did not capture the high stakes in high aristocratic politics in the seventeenth century. Hostility and opposition to Condé remained uncoalesced, fearful, and largely ineffective, and this despite the brutal acts of violence (see Robert Descimon on the attack on the Hôtel de Ville).

The organization of this book is just about perfect. It is generally chronological while being specifically thematic and also generational. Part I is the rise to fortune of Henry II, and the accrochage of his son in the Fronde. Part II is the clientage and household of the Grand Condé, and Part III is the cultural patronage.

The Condé household constituted a mini state; the higher the rank the longer the number of years of service, and benefits in housing and other perqs, including "appropriate" marriages for their children. The proper word for the intimate householders is commensaux — that is, the servants, creatures, and clients, with the last two being quite distinct from each other. Béguin translates Sharon Kettering's "broker" as "courtier," and indeed, the Condé had clients in Burgundy and Paris who effectively acted as courtiers.

Estate revenues were brilliantly managed after the years of redressement by none other than Gourville. Béguin analyzes wills of householders and finds portraits of the Condé in their inventories, the evidence of being and belonging. Loans, gifts, jobs, extended outward in a giant network, not as big as the kings certainly, but very impressive as a non-intermediary "body" that stood as a possible counter weight to royal absolute power.

The Hôtel de Condé and Chantilly would be not only refurbished, but enlarged and modernized — and like so many other county seats (Pontchartrain being an excellent example) gardens, woods, and reflecting pools were given a high priority. Béguin points out that while all at Chantilly was very grand, it was not particularly bold or scintillating.

The 1660's and 1670's were not, however, without innovation in architecture, thus Condé stepped behind his royal cousin, who, thanks to Le Vau, Le Brun, and Le Nôtre, created something much more daring in the first, flat roof Versailles. Le Nôtre worked on Chantilly as well, as did various people on the waters, but Daniel Gittard, Condé's architect, preformed ably if not brilliantly. Condé threw parties that competed with those of the Court at Versailles, but it is evident that he did not feel himself to be on a day to day competitive joust with the Sun King. The latter never had a Rocroy to his credit.

Condé's householders order food and entertainment from Paris, as required, Vatel being one example. Louis X l V refused to let some of "his" artists accept commissions from the prince; the latter never seems to have thought of systematically using cultural patronage against the court. Wasn't the talent available? Condé may have shared the military-diplomatic values of his cousin, to the point that he did not perceive the cultural as the enjeu in power relations that later historians would. Chantilly would be the focus for Condé's magnificence, as the Hôtel in
Paris had been for his father. This ordering is significant in itself, for a family that grew enormously powerful thanks to waiting on the king first.

The last part of the book is on literary and scientific patronage. Like his father with Théophile de Viau, the Grand Condé accepted to house writers and thinkers who offended church or state officials in some way. Béguin sees no conscious effort on his part, to compete with royal patronage, or to give cover systematically to thinkers or writers challenging the status quo. Quite the contrary.

Like his kingly cousin, the Grand Condé never forgave Bussy-Rabutin for his satirical jokes — he remained non grata at Chantilly for life. La Bruyère's protection by the prince seems to have been more the result of accidental circumstances than the desire to have an astute moralist in residence. Still, La Bruyère might never have had the eye for social contradiction that he had, had he lived at Versailles. The Grand Condé supported Moliére in the quarrel over Tartuffe. He never seems to have feared having a play in the Château that was banned. Very interestingly, Béguin sees him also as quite distant from the machinations of other grands and grandes over plays and operas in the 1670's.

The prince was an avid reader; he ordered books of all sorts, and remained willing at least to open his mail for still another polemic from the Grand Arnauld. He was genuinely interested in natural philosophy, and through his doctor, Bourdelot, sponsored an academy of learned persons interested in all the recent research and experiments.

A prosopography of Condé's clients completes the work. It is full of interesting detail. This is a major contribution to our understanding not of just aristocratic political culture, but of politics and culture in Ancien Régime. From Roche's early article — very pioneering — on the Condé fortune, Béguin has brought us a long way. Would it be possible now to research such a study on the princesses? Charlotte de Montmorency and Claire Clémence de Maillé-Brézé were remarkable women who played roles greater on the stage of power and culture than well over 90% of the males in the century. The results might be a bit romanesque, but what is wrong with that? The Grand Condé's wife ended up in a convent presumably for having been too interested in a valet. Hmm. One thinks of the late Ruth Kleinmane's work on Anne of Austria's household — only a beginning, but a beginning it is! Not biography, but a book with a sub-title like Béguin's Rebelles, Courtisanes [hélas le jeu de mot ne peut pas être evité], et me fait revenir sur le Valet de Claire-Clémence] et Mécènes. What a splendid, thoughtful book this is! French historiography is not in decline; it is just free of the media hype that surrounded the Montaillou moment.