The Fronde in Alsace: Defining Loyalty, Identity, and Neighborliness at the Beginning of French Lordship, 1652–54

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Peter G. Wallace, Hartwick College
The Peace of Westphalia redefined constitutional relations within the Holy Roman Empire and redrew its political boundaries. The Upper Rhine valley saw especially dramatic changes, with the establishment of French lordship over the Austrian holdings in Upper Alsace. Nevertheless, French authority was legally circumscribed as the Alsatian estates retained their Imperial status. Louis XIV’s power in Alsace depended on his control over the fortress at Breisach, but with the kingdom embroiled in revolts against Cardinal Mazarin’s policies and his influence over the king, the loyalty of French officials at Breisach remained open to question. Mazarin’s hand-picked governor for Breisach, Henri de Lorraine, Comte d’Harcourt, eventually rebelled, seeking recognition as an Imperial prince. Ultimately in 1654, Mazarin had to sign a peace treaty with Harcourt to regain the fortress. From Mazarin’s perspective, the Alsatian Fronde was an afterword to the princes’ rebellion. From Upper Rhenish perspectives, however, Harcourt’s rebellion soured political relations between royal officials and their Swiss, Imperial, and Austrian neighbors and delayed full expression of Louis XIV’s sovereignty in Alsace for a generation.

Working from unpublished materials in regional archives, this paper explores the impact of the Alsatian Fronde on Upper Rhenish perceptions of French power and on French relations with Basel and the Alsatian Imperial estates. In sorting out political relations with their fractious French neighbors, regional elites began to define what it meant to be Swiss or to be Imperial, laying the foundations of the Upper Rhine’s modern triangular political landscape. For a moment all sorts of political trajectories seemed possible. Historians have too often read this story backward. This paper intends to show that Louis XIV’s power in Alsace remained fragile and contested before the 1680s and was defined in terms alien to the historical imagination of later French nationalists.

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