Roundtable Creating Communities through Coercion in Seventeenth-Century France

AHA Session 183
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Iowa Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Brian W. Sandberg, Northern Illinois University

Session Abstract

Creating Communities through Coercion in Seventeenth-Century France

A community need not be a voluntary association, and the French Grand Siècle witnessed many instances of coalitions built through underhanded methods. Deceit, manipulation, or intimidation often seemed as effective in securing cooperation and service as honesty or generosity. Such political, religious, or personal coercion helped form the larger French community at various moments, in various ways. The instances highlighted in this panel suggest that the much-debated dichotomy between cooperation and force during the Grand Siècle is not always a useful division – rather, force could be used to compel cooperation in many situations. 

This panel will explore three instances of coercive network building. First, immediately after King Henri IV’s assassination in 1610, the French state deployed an array of innovative techniques to bring into the fold of the patrie those who resisted the move toward political centralization. Through concerted efforts to focus negative emotion on a common enemy in the assassin Ravaillac, and feelings of grief for the slain Henri IV, the royal party sought to build an “emotional community” in support of the growing power of the centralizing state. Later, during the mid-century rebellion of the Fronde, the Prince de Condé sought to build a clientele – indeed, an army – capable of standing against the forces of Cardinal Mazarin’s royal party. In order to do so, he required the fidelity of individual noblemen, corporate bodies and institutions, as well as towns and regions of strategic value. Gaining and guarding the cooperation of some people and places, though, required that the Grand Condé resort to irregular and even menacing tactics, and the Prince showed himself capable of such expedients. How, why, and how successfully Condé did so reveals interesting facets of patronage systems at this pivotal time. Finally, the fullness of Louis XIV’s power was both expressed and tested by his choice to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Following the Revocation, the effort to surveil and control the faith of noble families became a consuming endeavor for the monarch, as the private beliefs of those close to the throne had the potential to publicly undermine the King’s gloire, and to call into question Louis’s ability to command his subjects. The need to ensure Catholic orthodoxy became an imperative that justified the “re-education” of Protestant youths, and their forced inclusion in the Catholic faith.

Over the course of the seventeenth century, both the Crown and its opponents at times needed to improvise new ways of transforming critics into allies, whether by forthright means or otherwise.  These cases demonstrate that the exercise of power required attentive management of complex webs of fidelities, as well as assertive strategies for realigning or neutralizing the loyalties of those who could not be won over by straightforward means. By examining attempts to direct emotions, proselytize through force, or simply strong-arm the intransigent, this panel will shed light on the logics that determined the need to build communities, even against the volition of community members.

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