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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


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Transcribed Sources


Orest Ranum: The Vocabulary of Civil War

This paper was written for a conference organized
by John Pocock at the Folger Shakespeare Library
May 18-20, 2000

The topic is the wars in the British kingdoms as they were heard about, read about, and spoken about by "those involved in the French Monarchy" in the mid-seventeenth century.

Before turning to sources that neither Ascoli1 nor Knachel 2 used — that is, the Journal of Debates in the Parlement of Paris in 1648 by Le Boindre3; BN ms. fr. 25025; relations from all over France that are multi-authored; and the secret letters to Christine of Savoy by a Barnabite monk, Bailly4 — it will be useful to revisit some of the familiar sources (notably the Gazette de France) and later, to glance at elite theatrical writing. If there is time, a close reading of Henrietta Maria's, Cardinal Retz's, and Jean Vallier's statements on the topic would round out the choice of voices to be heard.

Knachel refers to the wars, the civil wars in the kingdoms beyond the Channel as his principal topic; but in presenting the Gazette de France he is more concerned by its reception and general content than the actual reports on the war. What follows is a close reading from late 1647 down to Charles's execution.

The words "civil war" would be used all the time to describe the military clashes between the parties, words having a very emphatic and well established semantic field in French. From London, Dec. 26, 1647, Charles's letter to the Commons is reported — debate is postponed — the reporter states that "division is greater than ever in this city," with cries of "Long live the King" and "Long live the Parliament" and "Down with the Covenant and the Presbyterians" being heard in its streets5 .

Removing the powers over the militia of Charles and his heirs baffles the reporter; "What becomes of royal power? What becomes of the oath taken by his Majesty at his coronation to maintain his subjects against the enemies of the state?"

General Fairfax and his Council of War had been presented to the Parliament on Dec. 17, 1647; the terms of payment including the following exact quotation:

"Finally, we desire that our army, or a part of it be permitted to quarter in the said city of London, at the houses of those who have refused to pay, and the impudents who against their vows have dared to present a request to Parlement asking to be discharged of it [a special military levy]."

In February and March the words sédition générale and révolte are replaced by the single word, "war," guerre.6

Then on March, 12, 1648, it is reported that Fairfax wants to release his guards, but "these have presented a plea which tells him that having been established by the authority of the two houses, they can only receive their congé from them."7 Also, a certain Clark, who had been condemned to death by the Council of War for having torn his company's standard and many other insolences, obtained his grace because he was brave.

While the identity of the author or authors of various reports from London is not apparent, it is interesting to note how he/they backs away on occasion from immediate reporting of current events, and in the first person observes in late February of 1648:

"For six years the dissension between his Britannic Majesty exists with the two chambers of Parliament over the militia, which is the power on earth and at sea, and which has been the only subject of their quarrel. His said Majesty and his predecessors — haven't they possessed the militia since the beginning of time? The laws grant it to them, and they have always used it for the benefit of their subjects; on the contrary this same militia was never in the peoples' hands, and they have never asked for it."8

A bit later there is news that Poyer is holding Pembroke for the king, and that Colonel William Fleming appealed in the name of the Parliament to give it up, but Poyer refused. There is news that there is a real possibility of a war between England and Scotland.

While not always military civil war — and therefore called a "tumult" — the reports about the attack by apprentices on the major and his soldiers at Morefield, April 23, 1648, notes that after the troops were ordered to fire on the apprentices, the apprentices fell as a crowd on the soldiers, took some weapons and their standard, which they then preceded to parade through the streets.9

Declarations and manifestoes are translated and published, such as those of March 31, 1648, but the type used is much smaller than for an account of events taking place in Turkey. Cross-channel events also have to compete with news from Naples, Vienna, and Amsterdam. Readers are confronted by brief articles up-dating the situation — July 2, 1648: "the town and castle of Pembroke are still besieged by the Parliamentaires."10 Lists of officers' names and ranks of this army are provided. There is an excerpt from a letter from Manchester saying: "Everyone marvels what ever could have obliged so many seigneurs, that is, the Parliament maintain a faction [read: the army] which is obviously apparently contrary to them."11 The argument is also made that the king's cession of his rights by force cannot be valid, as one of the parties did not sign the act voluntarily, and all the more so if the person constrained ought to be the freest of all in his states, a king who is the soul of the law.12

On July 16, 1648, there is a solemn request by sixty militia officers to join their troops to those of the city of London. The joining up of Buckingham and Holland is also reported:

"Last night the Duke of Buckingham and Milord Francis, his brother, accompanied by eight counts or barons, having secretly left this city with a great number of persons of quality, went to Hampton Court, ten miles from here, where they assembled up to 1500 horse and a great number of infantry, which increases daily. They carry off everything that they can use but do not pillage either money or furnishings or other things that could make the people think badly of them."13

So is the siege of Colchester and the taking of Lincoln by the king's forces. The "Parti Royal" in the North has not been defeated. A declaration of "all" the officers in the navy comes in — with an oath of loyalty to York. The skirmishes between Holland's and Scoop's army at S. Noeds (Surrey) are not conclusive at the time they are reported. On July 27, 1648, Colchester is holding on.

There is the set of proposals of July 30, 1648, beginning with the Three Proposals: 1) that the king "cede" [powers] over the militia for ten years; 2) that he grant power to a Presbyterian government; and 3) that he revoke all declarations [by the Crown] against Parliament."14 There is also news that the Scots are invading England, and that they have been declared enemies of the state. Hamilton's letter declaring why he is invading, and Lambert's reply are here, translated in their entirety.

And Colchester is holding out, this, despite Fairfax's having thrown flyers into it promising great advantages to surrender. When Colchester fell, it is called a "fameux siège;" the articles of surrender and the list of principal prisoners is provided.

On Dec. 24, 1648, there is news of the bad treatment of the Commons; about 40 are taken prisoner and locked up in two public houses. Others are not permitted to take their seats in the House. Upon Cromwell's arrival the Speaker (Orateur) thanks him for his services. He is considered the "first motor" in all these designs.15 Major Brown is arrested by Fairfax. He is quoted as saying:

"I will not accept guilt for a crime that would be so black as to dishonor the office that has been bestowed on me, in conformity with the laws of the country and the free votes of the community of London — thus you should not expect from me either a reply or a defense, because in making them I would appear to approve in you a power that I do not recognize, and do not wish to recognize when it could cost me my life. I contend only in the resolution to lose it to maintain the truth "16

Charles is moved to Windsor under heavy military escort. There are negotiations with Fairfax for the liberty of the members of the Commons under arrest. There is a proposal for raising a half-year levy to pay the army — in order to relieve the people who are quartering soldiers.

News of the king's trial and execution are not given very high coverage by the regular Gazette; there are special numbers and various other printed accounts on a subject that shocked and fascinated Parisian readers. On March 25, 1649, there is news that the Crown jewels and forests are sold to pay the army. There is a lengthy quotation of the last words by Hamilton, Holland and Capel. Longhorne, Powel, and Poyer are accused, not executed.17

On May 31, 1649, news of Fairfax's movements prompt Leveller armies to head for Oxford. Fairfax took 900 prisoners at Burford. Thompson, Derkins, and Dan are executed. Leaving the Gazette at this point it is important to note that the only more reflective report is on the subject of the power over the army. There is very little about religious division or "constitutional" matters of church and state in the Gazette for the period of the Second Civil War, so-called. There are also no predictive remarks, or even expressions of surprise about the turn of events. If there were languages of civil war in the British Kingdoms which enabled persons to anticipate, even rhetorically, or to anticipate a next step, these languages seem not to have come across in French. More on this after exploring Debates in the Parliament of Paris in 1647-1649.

Turning to Le Boindre's Journal of the Debates in the Parlement in 1648, it becomes quickly apparent that the interesting fact is that the terms civil war or rebellion were never enunciated, either about events in England or France. As the judges selected generals and authorized them to raise troops in the name of the king and Parliament, assessed special taxes on the Parisians, and proceeded to take over the Arsenal, words about "civil war" do not seem to have been used. Reference to events in England turn on the financial distress of Henrietta Marie, so the judges vote her 20,000 livres for firewood and other necessities.18

The absence of the words "civil war" in the Frondeur debates should not surprise. The Frondeurs were raising troops to assure the peace and order in Paris and in the realm. Le Boindre was young, and a Frondeur — he proudly recorded his "maiden speech" on behalf of "relief for the people" and he noted that it had driven the debates toward action.

Calling a civil war a "civil war" — even in England — was not logically-politically possible for the judges who were rapidly descending into one. The words may have remained part of the verbal weaponry of the court, but that is not our subject. Court- supporting judges — Omer Talon is a good exampl — made specific allusions to the Wars of Religion, and to violent events taking place in Paris in 1586.19 During Talon's famous speech before the Queen Regent and the Parlement, the younger judges from the Enquêtes stamped their feet to silence him or make him stop drawing any historical parallels between 1586 and 1648, thus confirming the semantic and historical constraints on the use of such words as "civil war" and "rebellion" by judges in a court of law descending into civil war. Similarly, no fears were expressed about the possibility that the generals and troops they were raising might not always execute the Parlement's orders, and this at a time when the judges were most certainly reading about civil-military relations in Westminster, in the Gazette. A conseil de guerre was appointed of senior and highly respected judges to meet regularly with the generals, but the discourse remained explicit about defense, not offense. Only the Duc de Beaufort, in a flamboyant manner, raised the question of eventual offensive operations, a proposal dismissed by the senior judges. Thanks to the computer it is possible to discover that in addition to "defense" and "offense," the only other modifiers of the term "war" are "disorders" and "men." "Desordres de la guerre" connoted all the negative social and economic consequences of quartering, and the presence of troops in a city; but clearly the disorders of war were not considered to be "civil war." "Man of war" distinguished the paid fighter, the soldat, from the militiamen. From Le Boindre's Journal it thus seems possible to characterize how such a phrase as "civil war" could in itself become semantically charged to the point that it could not be said by those about whom it was most literally applicable.

Turning now to the manuscript journal of a militia colonel, Guillaume Tronson,20 it is interesting to note that he makes no references to events in England or Scotland. He refers to the war going on in France between the court's armies and the Parlementaire armies as being "little" — to distinguish it from the "big" war going on between France and Spain. Tronson sees his duty as keeping persons and property safe in his neighborhood. The one attempt to mobilize the militia against Conde's troops turned into a complete rout. Tronson regretted not having brought along more cash to buy back weapons from the scalpers who were there to sell to the highest bidder. The absence of allusions to the larger world beyond his neighborhood may be explained partly by Tronson's legal training. He would only write about what he observed himself, and the narrowing horizon so characteristic in persons during an intense political debate such as the Fronde.

Albert Bailly was a Barnabite monk who served as a diplomatic agent in Paris for Christine, Duchess of Savoy (sister of Henrietta Marie and Louis XlIl). His references to conditions in England are usually meterological — tempests, storms, etc. He associates Charles's trial with the possibility that the end of the world is at hand. He cannot sympathize with the "praise" given to Cromwell and Fairfax, presumably by those who see them as restorers of order rather than as destroyers of monarchy.

In July 1649, after a long interview with John Berkley of Stratton, Bailly characterizes the "Independenans [sic] and the Egalistes,"21 as those who favor living according to one's instincts, after which he sums up the political aims of each — without any reference to civil war or civil-military regulations. He also refers to the Nivelleurs, and characterizes their views. What is interesting here is his direct translation of English party labels into French. By late 1649 he began to state categorically that the tempests and storms that came over body politics were short, or brief, signaling confidence in a return to order and a rejection of more apocalyptic views. He says that France is like the sea. His understanding of the Fronde stresses the collisions of corporations and orders, such as the mobility and the Parlement, not individuals acting on the stage of history, or armies in conflict.

Turning now to the genre of hand flyers, relations, etc. and drawing on BN Ms fr. 25025-25026 as a prime example of reports collected from all of France's principal cities, references to the events in England are infrequent, and very much along the lines already discerned. An exception occurred in mid-January of 1649:

"One remarks that the disorders in England began in the same as we see here, the King of England left London on January 5,1640, and as soon as he arrived at Hampton Court the Thames overflowed, it becoming so great that no one had seen it so, and it carried away a great many houses in London. May God keep us from our divisions not corresponding to those of England at the beginning." 22

The parallel was Anne's and Louis's departure on Epiphany night of 1649, a flight from Paris to avoid becoming prisoners of the Frondeurs.

While the Regency Council may have occupied the high moral ground founded on legitimacy and order, it does not seem to have castigated the Frondeurs consistently as fomenters of civil war. Sources for council deliberations are scarce except for Mazarin's letters, and he was not one to moralize about order or civil war. The Cardinal frequently expressed disappointment and frustration with Charles l's conduct of affairs of state, as early as 1639-40. As Knachel and Portemer have noted, for Mazarin Charles's abandonment of Thomas Wentworth, and his non-intervention in his trial, was an error beyond measure. Mazarin asserted that once the minister is destroyed the people would thirst for the king's blood.23 The Strafford-Mazarin parallel, or non- parallel, became something of a general argument among court politicians, with its predictive dimension giving it considerable force. While certainly forceful, it did not prevent Anne from accepting the Cardinal's exile twice, this after the Parlement had put a price of 50,000 livres on his head. Thus the Strafford-Mazarin parallel functioned only somewhat effectively to maintain the Cardinal in office, while the evocation of 1586 in the Parlement functioned to imply that the Parlement was descending into rebellion and civil war. Anne in her heart may have believed that Mazarin's exiles were not disgraces, especially since she never allowed any law court to prosecute him or to really remove him from office. Strafford's fate did not seem to impede Mazarin's enemies on the royal council from doing their utmost to destroy him. They seemed not to have feared for the life of the boy king.

In this context a single voice, both French and English, merits our attention, namely Henrietta Marie's famous counsel to Anne through Madame de Motteville, the Regent's lady in waiting. Henrietta did not understand the fate of the English Monarchy in civil war terms. She stated:

"First of all she commanded me to fall on my knees next to her bed, and honoring me by giving me her hand, with a thousand sobs that interrupted her discourse, she commanded me to tell the Queen of the condition she was in, and to tell her on her behalf of the king her lord (Charles I), that he had been defeated because he had never known the truth, and that she (Henrietta) counseled her not to irritate her peoples unless she had the power to subject them completely; that the people are a ferocious beast that can never be tamed, and that she prayed God that she would have more contentment in France than they had had in England."24

Anne, so far as we know, never commented on the military aspect of the crisis in England. From Mazarin's perspective the civil war in England knocked out a potential ally for Spain as he grabbed strongly, too strongly for portions of the Spanish Netherlands in the peace negotiations of 1646-48.

Before turning to other unused sources on this topic it is important to recall that English history was, after Roman history, the most frequently selected site for works for the stage. All through the years of civil war in Britain, the French could attend one or another play about Mary Stuart, Essex, and Thomas More in the more elite theaters.25

It would only be from the time of the Restoration that the more recent events would be acted out, the martyrdoms of Charles being the prime example. It is not evident that the French could make direct parallels between Tudor-centered theater, and Stuart history. The mirror must have been quite dark, certainly by comparison with Roman history in theater. The plays by Pierre Corneille, Rotrou, and others are filled with the atmosphere of conspiracy, dvnastic divisions, jealousy, over-mighty subjects, and civil war. As a reader of Livy, Justin, Tacitus, and of course Lucan, Pierre Corneille would parallel only obliquely present events in France through Roman political history. Great playwright that he was, Corneille placed at the foundation of his plays such themes as the relation between victory and legitimacy, conspiracy, benefits, inequality of rank, and gratitude, and the management of lesser provincial princes by Rome. Civil war as such, like murder, is kept off-stage, but it is a constant presence. In 1642, in Cinna, Corneille offers a typology of the political being, with Maximilian being a republican, Cinna an aristocratic oligarch, and Augustus the princeps. In 1651, in Nicomède, the proud regional king is confronted by a diplomat from Rome charged with maintaining submission to Rome. Here Corneille was interested in "management" in empire, with parallels about a proud Irish clan chief in British history being out of reach, or at the most, only oblique. Rebellion, civil war, popular tumult, overthrow of empire, such were the canonical themes of French elite theater at the time of the civil wars in Britain.

As a complement to this brief survey of comments on the events in the English civil war, let us turn to two writers about civil war after the Fronde experience. Writing in the 1670s, after having been a voracious reader and frenzied political animal, at the heart of his Mémoires Cardinal Retz put the question of how to turn an urban "emotion" into a civil war.

Retz had revealed his colors as a young man by adapting Mascardi's Fiesque Conspiracy into a study of how an ambitious great noble creates a party to assume complete control of a city. The English civil war would never deeply fascinate him. Retz sought to perceive just the right occasion, thinking that once Paris was in revolt the realm would become "inflamed." By late February 1649, Retz now perceived the Parlement as an impediment to a general civil war; he could not convince the judges to turn their defensive army into an offensive one. Parallels with the 1580's came to mind, notably Bussy Le Clerc's attack on the judges.26 Retz hoped that, by pamphleteering and staged assassination attempts, he could arouse the Parisians to encourage the Duc de Bouillon and Turenne (Bouillon's brother) to begin intimidating towns here and there. Retz had no fear of disorder. His understanding of Roman history was not profound; his reading of Machiavelli, if it was direct, was also flawed: his two references to maxims attributed to the Florentine cannot be found in the Prince or any other of the writings. And the events in England clearly did not interest him sufficiently to prompt reflection.

By way of contrast, Jean Vallier, anti-Frondeur and Tacitean, ruminated at length about the events in the kingdoms to the west, putting the seventeenth century civil wars in a broader context:

"We have learned with horror from the histories of England and Scotland the bloody and calamitous treatment that these islanders gave their sovereigns, and one cannot ignore [the fact] that more than eighty persons of royal blood perished in violent deaths in the less than hundred years that the factions of white and red roses lasted...but one has never heard speak of the most enraged fury of some subjects who reached excesses of barbarism and ferociousness. Not content with bearing arms against their legitimate king, without any apparent pretext of injustice or violence, forced him to leave London...." 27

The narrative continues about Charles's fate, and without more reference to the war the king lost, or to civil-relations in Westminister.

To conclude, only the regularly published Gazette provided coverage of the civil war in the British Isles. The other commentators quickly turned away from observing whether or not Colchester was still holding out to ruminations about popular fury, and other descriptive bits of discourse drawn from a vast array of antique sources. Davila's monumental history of the Wars of Religion certainly narrated the various civil wars, negotiations, and conspiracies that wracked France in the late sixteenth century, but it too casts its understanding in a vision of human action in politics that tends to reduce the importance of war as an actor in history. Put another way, there would not seem to have been "a language of civil war" available in seventeenth century France, but it is interesting to note that its semantic force may have been such that "civil war" could not be publicly said by the Frondeurs.


1 Ascoli, P., La Grande Bretagne devant l'opinion française (Paris, 1930) 2 vols.
2 Knachel, P., England and the Fronde (Ithaca, 1967).
3 Le Boindre, J., Journal des Débats du Parlement de Paris pendant la minorité de Louis XIV, ed. by R. Descimon, O. Ranum. and P. Ranum (Paris. 1997).

4 Bailly, A., Correspondance, ed. by L. Giachine, P. Cifareili, and A. Armatuzzi (Aoste, 1999) 3 vols.
5 Gazette de France, Dec. 26, 1647 (p. 33) Bibliothèque Mazarine copy.
6 Ibid., 1648 (p. 358).
7 Ibid., 1648 (p.375).
8 Ibid., 1648 (p. 375).
9 Ibid., 1648 (p. 550).
10 Ibid., 1648 (p. 886).
11 Ibid.,1648 (p. 940).
12 Ibid., 1648 (p. 947).
13 Ibid., 1648 (p. 959).
14 Ibid., 1648 (p. 1034).
15 Ibid., 1648 (p.22) in the 1649 volume.
16 Ibid., 1648 (p. 22) in the 1649 volume.
17 Ibid., 1649 (p. 196).
18 Le Boindre, p. 317.
19 Mémoires, ed. by Michard and Poujoulat (Paris, 1839) p. 237.
20 British Library, Mss Egerton 176; Mémoires de quantites d'actions particulières..., to appear in 2001, ed. by R. Descimon and O. and P. Ranum. in 2001.
21 Bailly, 11, p. 222. "Ils conviennent tous au fait de la religion, qui est de vivre chacun selon son instinct...."
22 BN, ms. fr 25025, fol. 68.
23 Knachel, p. 47; M. Laurain-Portemer, Une Tête à gouverner quatre empires (Paris, 1997) p. 226ff.
24 Mémoires, Madame Motteville as quoted by Ascoli, 1. p. 99.
25 Conway, J., Terres tragiques: l'Angleterre et l'Ecosse dans la tragédie française au XVlIe siècle (Tubigen and Seattle, 1999) Biblio 17, number 114.
26 Retz, P. Gondi de, Mémoires, ed. by S Bertière (Paris, 1998) p. 440.
27 Vallier, J., Mémoires, ed. by H. Courteault (Paris, 1902) I, p. 231.