Abraham de Wicquefort, Les Gazettes parisiennes de l'année 1653, suivies de l'état de la France en 1654, ed. by Philippe Mauran (Paris: Champion, 2014), pp. 456.
After many years of waiting, the writings of Abraham de Wicquefort have finally become available. Robert Mandrou's very engaging presentation of Abraham de Wicquefort, Chronique discontinue de la Fronde (Paris: Fayard, 1978), and his "Abraham de Wicquefort et le duc Auguste, 1646-1653: sur les relations intellectuelles entre France et Allemagne, un siècle avant les Lumières," Wolfenbüttler Beiträge, vol. 3, p. 191-233, came with a very thoughtful perspective on these types of flying texts, the not-quite-relation, the not-quite-dispatch, the not-quite-newspaper that prepared us all for further studies. But those studies would really only be possible after Claude Boutin's two-volume edition of Abraham de Wicquefort's gazettes from 1648-1652, published by Champion in 2010.
The volume under review here, edited by Philippe Mauran, brings us into the little-studied post-Fronde years -- years of war, state-building and diplomacy in France, under the wizardly, triumphant eye of Cardinal Mazarin.
Such may not be the case everywhere in Europe, but the impression from reading Italian, French, Spanish, and English diplomatic correspondence suggests that there was increased professionalization from the 1620s-1630s on. There is less gossip, less reporting on receptions, less about health, except for the principles. If professionalization was not involved (there may be other explanations), then a fondness for these familiar gossipy subjects may have contributed to the rise of Renaudot and the Gazette as well as the letters written by Abraham de Wicquefort (henceforth "A.de.W."), Vittorio Siri, Albert Bailly, (1) and others who continued to include fait divers, revealing anecdotes, and accounts of marriages, baptisms and funerals. With the diplomatic dispatch increasingly reserved for diplomacy, a niche was created for reports such as those of A.de.W., Bailly and Siri. Attached to courts, but tenuously so, and without an office of state, A.de.W. (like Siri) lived by his wits and his personal connections. The supreme fictional and cinematic example is the minor Turkish functionary who, for decades, writes to his government about events on Pasquali's Island without ever receiving an acknowledgment!
Bailly's relations with members of the governing family of Savoy, and Siri's with the Grand Duke of Tuscany, were not unlike A.de.W.'s with Duke August of Brunswick-Luneburg, of Wolfenbüttel; they all receive regular pensions and are on one or another list of servants in a princely household. Though nominally writing for individuals, there is little evidence of a personal interest such as music or horses, on the part of the princes (or princesses) who received the letters. Other householders would most certainly have read these letters, and their content would have nourished conversation at court.
A.de.W.'s sources are kept secret, as are Siri's; but it would seem that Bailly had access to information circulating in Chancellor Séguier's household through the physician, Cureau de la Chambre.
BnF, mss 25025-25026, a lengthy series of letters written in Paris from December 1648 to August 1653 that Patricia has transcribed and will soon re-format and republish on this site, have thus far defied Patricia Ranum's attempts to identify the author, but the letters are similar to those of A.de.W. in their detached tone and their range of themes. Bailly, A.de.W., and Siri wrote for someone else; Tronson wrote for his uncle; Vallier and Dubuisson-Aubenai wrote for themselves. However, they share the common feature of being de jour, dated and in order, as journaux.
Like Spanheim, A.de.W. had a professional diplomatic perspective. Each man sensed a particular obligation to report foreign-policy options being considered. Marriage plans and negotiations were still the warp of diplomacy in aristocratic Europe. Spanheim's Ambassadeur et ses fonctions would appear in Cologne in 1690, eight years after his death. It is a genre that had its modern birth, like diplomacy itself, in Renaissance Italy (see G. Mattingly).
Philippe Mauran associates A.de.W.'s writing of the Statu Gallico with the shift in service away from the Brunswick-Luneburg to the Hohenzollern -- in the person of Frederick-William, the Great Elector in 1654. We can think of A.de.W. as an artisan writer, presenting his chef d'oeuvre to his patron who, compared to the Hanoverians, was less prestigious as a family but would be more active in state-building and cunning diplomacy, particularly against Sweden. Mauran notes that A.de.W.'s actual diplomatic duties, while only occasional, were carried out for Mazarin in 1652, a fact no doubt of interest to Frederick William, who would have preferred someone with very recent diplomatic experience, not just letter-writing.
Philippe Mauran also notes that the Statu Gallico belongs to a genre. So, did A.de.W. benefit from previous examples in sharpening the themes in his text, delimiting it rather brutally to offices and high-ranking French families? Or did Frederick William signal what he wished to know? A.de.W.'s text would have been carefully calligraphed on top-quality paper, then bound in leather for presentation. Who knows: perhaps the presentation copy survives in some archive, waiting to be discovered. The text, superbly edited here, would seem to be a copy of an almost-completed draft.
In the content, A.de.W. actually avoids discussing exactly who made foreign policy, and when. Was the answer obvious? Mazarin. He does not evaluate everyone who is a member of the Conseil d'en Haut, but he expresses quite a high opinion of Chavigny, who of course suffered disgrace. Chavigny had been the secretary of state -- executor of foreign policy -- during the Richelieu ministry. A.de.W. seems to dislike Servien; he was not alone. Disgraced in 1636, Servien was a survivor with little factional baggage (unlike others, who had Mme de Chevreuse and her party behind them).
The veil of descriptive prose rarely drops, but on several crucial points A.de.W. speaks in the first person: je. For example, because Condé had followers whose fate had to be considered were he to make a settlement and return from Habsburg employ to France, the following phrase is intentionally enigmatic: "Je sçay que Monsr le Cardinal [Mazarin] l'a bien voulu dire à une personne de tres haute condition qui sollicitoit la reconciliation de son fils" (p. 303). So Mazarin would do quite well, thank you, with Condé out of the country. (His public pronouncements favored Condé's return, but ...) The person of "très haute condition" could be a courtier or a general, not a minister or a judge.
The letters are descriptive; the état de la France is
analytical but not polemical in the way the Mars Gallicus is.
Not comparative, and not working out an analysis by using a more
philosophical category, as the duc de Rohan had done in his Intérêt
des princes, A.de.W. pursues historical accuracy and balance. Was
he enamored of France and things French? Not particularly.
Philippe Mauran's work as editor, annotator and bibliographer-indexer is of the highest standards. He has made a major contribution to understanding not just French, but also European political culture in the 1650s.
1. Albert Bailly, Correspondance. ed. Luca Giachino (Aoste, 1999), I; Paola Cifarelli (Aoste, 1999), II; and Antonella Armatuzzi (Aoste, 1999), III. The three volumes cover the years 1643-1651. See my review on this site.