That the pure description of politics expanded in the sixteenth century has often been taken for granted rather than explained and has tended to create the impression that the dominance of the court and of its particular kind of factional politics is in some ways a new phenomenon of the Renaissance period. Ambassadors were still primarily employed to transmit accounts of negotiations rather than reflect widely.
This has many implications for the discussion of political history but may also have created a false impression. Nor has there been much attempt to place early modern politics in a longer-term historical context. Firstly a few words about terminology. Usage and literature both reflected and generated expectations about court politics and the terminology used to describe political favour certainly changed during the late medieval and early modern periods. Underlying it, though, is the same series of anti-courtier stereotypes.
Did anything substantial change beneath the surface? Se il nye, se fait il. Se il confesse, il confesse. Se il rit, il rit. Se il pleure, il pleure. It may be that the Italian form of favorito began to influence French usage from around and it is certainly used in the sense of one particularly singled out by his authority by Jacques de Rochemore in his translation of Guevara.
The word mignon had already been used to describe the trusted servant of a great aristocrat in the fifteenth century. In terms of literary stereotypes there was a continuation of the late medieval preoccupations with courtly corruption. It repeated the traditional notion that the court of France was hostile to the study of letters, though Francis I was praised as a patron. Machiavelli had made the point in his sour aphorisms of which included the observation that the French were enemies of Latin culture and only favoured Italians who had nothing to lose and by implication were completely dependent.
Renaissance and medieval historians have tended to give some very different meanings to the concept of a court. Francis Decrue, for instance, thought it took on its modern sense only in the sixteenth century, a view followed in modern times by J. In the first half of the sixteenth century, a period in which the crown was relatively successful in containing political threats, patronage was sought and politics played out in the royal entourage.
There is no reason to suppose that some kind of court factional politics was in any way new in the reign of Francis I but how did developments in the structure and role of the royal household influence this? As a household, its institutional character is apparent in the fact that, technically dispersed from reign to reign, its shows remarkable continuity in administration. A minor post at court could lead on to great things.
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The structure of the court as a household, then, was deeply conservative and by the mid-sixteenth century had changed relatively little for two centuries. However, in its quality as a protean centre of politics and magnificence, it undoubtedly grew in terms of numbers from the late fifteenth century. Those on the payment role of the maison du roi alone increased three times between and , when they stood at , and nearly doubled again by the later reign of Francis I when they reached just over Though Francis I did not issue any new ordonnances , he did formalise service by quarters and, crucially, instituted on his accession the body of gentilshommes de la chambre , a title used in his household as duke of Valois but hitherto unknown in the court of France.
There has been a great deal of emphasis on both sides of the Channel concerning these developments, yet as I have tried to show, in principle not much was new here. The gentilshommes de la chambre were very similar in origins and functions to the chamberlains. The gentilshommes were undoubtedly courtiers who held local power. The answer to factions, from the royal point of view, was the favourite. It was signified by the extent and number of acts which singled out an individual for favour, forming part of a process, running from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, whereby the crown sought to associate the nobility with political power by acts of grace.
The royal affinity that developed in the reign of Charles VII also poses questions. The king therefore chose his confidants from a range of suitable men whose loyalty to the crown or to his immediate family was well established. How innovative were changes in the physical setting of the court during the Renaissance?
Few historians would deny the role of the Renaissance as the setting for royal display devised to deploy a vision of power and the duties of obedience. Formidable fortresses fitted out for domestic use were available west of the capital at Saint-Germain and east at Vincennes. In the city itself there was the rambling hotel Saint-Paul near the Bastille as well as the Louvre. Formal ceremonies of state took place in the Palais at Paris, of course, much as in England Westminister retained such a role after the fire of One observer in said that he who had not seen the court of France knew nothing of grandeur.
However, the material setting of royal power was notably more grandiose in the later fourteenth century than it was to be a century later. After the great break of the court transferred its centre to the Loire, first of all at Bourges and then, even after the recapture of Paris, to Tours, though not in the city itself but at the country manor of Montilz. The logis of the king in the later fifteenth century seldom involved more than a salle , chambre and retrait. Louis XI called the Milanese envoy into his chamber after dinner in to discuss news. The importance of the denial of access is shown when, in the year , the duke of Cleves felt aggrieved with Louis XI and decided to withdraw from the French court.
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Louis XI frequently held audiences at his lever and urgent news frequently reached the king at that time. In June , he was brought urgent news from Italy by the Milanese ambassador while having his boots taken off for bed around midnight. In England, this has given rise to a serious debate over the influence of personal access to the monarch, the extent of his freedom of choice and consequently the role of faction in the reign of Henry VIII.
This would leave him in the position of the Constable in , as a minister who failed to deliver what he had promised. As we have seen the requirement of the favourite to offer wise counsel was a traditional one. In France this oscillation swung between court faction and party strife which involved political action outside the court, a pattern which continued until the mid-seventeenth century. The interplay between these two forms of activity constitutes the essence early modern politics.
The mid-fourteenth century saw a move towards heightened party strife as a result of the weaknesses of the early Valois regime and military defeat. Here the role of the house of Valois-Evreux-Navarre was significant. By coincidence, kings of Navarre who were also major princes within France played crucial roles in rebellions in ss and the ss. This came to a head in the Estates-General of with the demands for the elimination of coteries in the government, the submission of the choice of all royal officials to the Great Council controlled by the Estates and the dismissal of 22 counsellors.
Many of the Navarrist nobles were won over to the Valois cause in the late s and s and would dominate the Council through the Melun bothers down to the mids. From about , another combination of figures, many of them of non-aristocratic origins and of middle nobility, emerged as much more significant politically. It is the case that they were severely damaged by the accusation that they had been lining their own pockets not entirely untrue and they did not manage to assure the stability of royal finances though they did build up something of a reserve.
Such comments always have to be treated with caution, of course and are closely paralleled by J. The late fourteenth and early fiftenth centuries were shaped by, first, the minority and then the periodic paranoid schizophrenia of Charles VI , military disaster Nicopolis, , Agincourt, , disputed rule and disputed succession from onwards. The regime of the uncles tried to maintain the financial status quo and at first the absence of serious war expenditure and the restoration of financial buoyancy helped but this was undermined by competition for public revenues and a deteriorating economic situation.
Gradually a wave of anger at abuses swept over those in control of the bureaucracy. There ensued a generation in which court politics was subsumed in wider political factions which sought to control the court from outside, a period now brought much more clearly into focus in terms of court politics in the light of the work of M.
It was here that the clash with Burgundy really became venomous. The costs of political stability in the period were enormous. Hence the venomous competition for control of the revenues. Can we talk of the Armagnacs and Burgundians in these terms?
à : to, toward, towards
Both of them depended on the control of the royal financial administration and that is their dominating characteristic. Rey has estimated that the dukes drew and average of , lt. In this game the duke of Burgundy came out as the champion of the ancient French liberties and made good his case by ensuring the restoration of self-government to Paris which had been removed in This to some extent explains the failure of the Burgundians to maintain their control of Paris.
In Paris, the world of commerce and of the street was largely Burgundian, while from the party made advances in the Chambre de Comptes and the Parlement. Between and , Charles VI had been nominal king in the hands of the Burgundians with the dauphin Charles self-proclaimed Regent.
But not even the exclusion of the Armagnacs from power in could do this. Upheavals such as the Praguerie and the War of the Public Weal seemed to presage the return to party strife as in the early fifteenth century but were checked and politics returned to the channels of court intrigue. This may well have been the case as far as the Parlement and other sovereign courts are concerned.
English | Hélène Dorion
Most groupings kept some sort of contact with the house of Burgundy for insurance purposes but had no interest in seeing Burgundy triumph. What comes across more clearly about the strenuous battles for dominance at the court of Charles VII is that the political groupings no longer have much ideological content to them.
These saw constant realignments of interest with the underlying objective of building up territorial power-bases which would ensure an ability to control the power of the crown in the interest of a particular alliance. Bernard Chevalier thought that it was not possible to write the history of the court under Louis XI presumably in the absence of extensive ambassadorial reports and the anecdotes of memoir writers which might shed light on factions.
The richness and diversity of the sources for politics in the sixteenth century reflect a more diverse agenda of reportage rather than a change of activity. Commynes, who paints such a complex portrait of his master, is generally reticent about power struggles among his servants. Regional aristocratic courts did not disappear but declined in relative importance. Between and the s many struggles in the royal household resulted from the unusual general upheavals stemming from the change of reign.