Souvenirs of the Fronde: Dr Bruno Tribout discusses the afterlives of the mazarinades

For its final seminar of 2015, on November 27th, the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Dr Bruno Tribout to present “The mazarinades after Mazarin: literary memory and political criticism in the reign of Louis XIV.” The Fronde was a period of civil wars in France during which opposition from the princes, nobility, and the courts of Paris confronted the monarchy during the years 1648 to 1653. And the mazarinades appeared during these years of the Fronde as anti-government pamphlets that commonly attacked Cardinal Mazarin in particular. Cardinal Mazarin had been the Chief Minister for Louis XIII until the king’s death in 1642 and continued to wield influence alongside his widow Anne until Louis XIV’s ascension to the throne. The term for the pamphlets, clearly derived from the Cardinal’s name, was first popularized with Paul Scarron’s pamphlet of that title in 1651.

Une moitié de Paris imprime ou vend des imprimés; l’autre en consomme.

Half of Paris prints or sells pamphlets; the other consumes them.


With 5,500 pamphlets in circulation during the years of the Fronde—compared with 900 pamphlets during the wars of religion and just thirty after the Fronde—the circumstance of the mazarinades is a singular and complex event in French literary and political history. They existed in diverse forms, ranging from simple placards to lengthy treatises, and are notable for the violence and freedom exhibited in a time absent of censorship. But Dr Tribout shifts his focus away from the time of their publication, upon which there has been much critical attention in the past decade, and instead looks at their enduring effect throughout the reign of Louis XIV. Though these libels had a great impact during the time of the Fronde, Dr Tribout shows that studying the afterlives of these publications reveals their continuing influence on French culture in distinct political and sentimental channels of individual and collective memory.

The resurgence of the pamphlets’ political force is perhaps unsurprising given their original polemical nature. Much of the form remained the same—they being now established as literary genre—but the publications were reimagined for a changed civil atmosphere. France was no longer seized by civil wars, but was instead oppressed by the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV, who became the new target of the mazarinades. Even the memory of Mazarin himself would be used as ammunition against the king, such as in the imagined dialogues captured by The Alcoran of Lewis XIV, or the Political Testament of Cardinal Julius Mazarine (1695, and in English translation in 1707). Dr Tribout uses the amusing example to show how Louis XIV emerges here as a mock-Machiavelli and—a trend in these new mazarinades—Mazarin embodies the views of those who had previously attacked him. Mazarin transforms into a Frondeur himself!

Even before becoming a target, Louis XIV looked with suspicion on the past of the Fronde and its mazarinades, as he ordered that all records of the Fronde held in the court be destroyed. A king obsessed with image, he attempted to preserve his own by abolishing the memory of the troubles. As we have seen from the example above, however, this memory was indeed still vivid, and the mazarinades played an important role in the personal history of French citizens. The pamphlets would survive, archived by members of the Fronde themselves and in personal collections across the state. And some of these personal reserves were of surprisingly little political importance to their collectors, but rather objects of curiosity shown to visitors or trinkets of personal sentiment. To this effect, Dr Tribout shares a letter from Mme de Sévigné to her daughter Mme de Grignan from 27 November 1675 in which she writes that she is entertained by rereading her old pamphlets:

Je m’amuse les soirs à lire l’Histoire de la prison et de la liberté de M. le Prince, on y parle sans cesse de notre cardinal. Il me semble que je n’ai que dix-huit ans. Je me souviens de tout, cela divertit fort.

In the evening I enjoy reading the History of the prison and freedom of M. le Prince; our cardinal is mentioned on every page. It is as if I were only eighteen. I remember everything, this is most entertaining.

It was this example that struck me most in Dr Tribout’s presentation. As a student interested in ephemera, it’s interesting to see the evolution of one of over 5,000 pamphlets not only surviving but also taking on a new role for its reader. I was left thinking about how a personal experience of the past perhaps differs from a retrospective arc of history and how the survival (and revival) of materials of the past can be used to ignite not only new political thoughts but also personal memories and sentiment. How will we contemporary readers engage with our own ephemeral texts—today’s newspapers or heated Facebook rants—after ten years have passed?

Report by Chloe Elder, MSc student in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh.

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