Many Parisians participated in hostilities against Cardinal Jules Mazarin in 1651. This unrest was known as ‘the Fronde’Footnote 1 and had started in May 1648. In the peripheries of France, such as Brittany, early flurries of the civil war went mostly unnoticed by the inhabitants. However, by 1651, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye (1632–1713) and Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot (1616–1655)Footnote 2 were quarrelling over who had the right to preside over the états . It was the former—a client of Cardinal Mazarin—received a severe warning from his patron, rather than the latter. Prince-du-sang of Condé, as well as his brother the Prince-du-sang of Conti, supported Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot.Footnote 3 Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye heeded this patron’s urgent warning. However, his long-time friend Henri Charles, Duke de la Trémoille (1620–1672) did challenge Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot’s presence in Nantes.Footnote 4 The arising conflict resulted in a military intervention, which removed their challenger from the 1651 états assembly.Footnote 5 His removal angered Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot, who went on to complain at the parlement of Rennes, where the judges sided with him. In Rennes, the parlement’s judges published a decree that stated that Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot was to preside over the Assembly in Nantes. With this protest, they became notorious for obstructing the états in Brittany.Footnote 6 However, the parlement’s verdict was ignored, and the judges subsequently ruled that the états’ proceedings were altogether invalid and henceforth, the assembly should quit their session.Footnote 7 When they assembled in 1651, the états of Brittany faced tax requests by the government in Paris to be used to fight the Franco-Spanish War. At the time of the previous sessions, the Thirty Years’ War was fought and financed. As a result, the need to protect the Breton tenants from financial extortion, or to safeguard noble interests from excessive French interference, could theoretically have led to the use of arguments that deployed fatherland terminology in order to protect Brittany. Strikingly enough, it was not applied and hence this case differs enormously from those of Jülich and Hesse-Cassel .

The assembly’s session sought to deal with the tax requests from Paris and, of crucial importance, in upholding good relations with those in government. Brittany, as one of the few remaining, pays d’état , was to organise its internal financial affairs as it held a particularist position within France. As such, its political situation is comparable with other principalities in Europe. However, differences in demographics and geography need to be acknowledged. Brittany’s population was estimated at 1,802,000 around 1660 and was almost entirely Catholic.Footnote 8 Brittany measured about 30,000 square kilometres, so there were approximately 60 inhabitants per square kilometre. By way of comparison, this is ten times the size and population of the previously discussed principalities of Jülich and Hesse-Cassel.

Furthermore, the composition of the nobility in Brittany was entirely different. Breton noblemen were very heterogeneous in income, property size and possessions. Considerable differences in income and possessions also led to significant differences between the richest and poorest nobles. During the 1651 assembly, even though not everyone had turned up, over 230 noblemen and 14 church officials were counted; 36 cities were represented as well.Footnote 9

The above-described polemic between the three presidents of Brittany—that is, among the most important noble families—was directly related to the Fronde. Opposition to Cardinal Mazarin and his policies led to the parlement’s outright opposition to his wishes. The parlement followed Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot, and fought against the états , which was led by the Dukes de la Meilleraye and de la Trémoille in 1651. Despite opposition against extra-provincial taxation and Parisian influence, the Assiettes do not include the words fatherland, patria (patrie) or patriot. It was not that the vocabulary was unknown; it was applied in religious hagiographies, which means that the words and their meanings were known.Footnote 10 It also meant that they were used in a specific context, which was not political.

Being an ancient Catholic Church province, as well as an independent principality initially, Brittany had fixed and recognised geographical boundaries. Furthermore, in the years examined here, the tax burden was much lower than in other years. When measuring the taxations in grams of silver, the tax burden in Brittany was not high at all compared to the German principality of Jülich. The political context in Brittany was very different from that in the German principalities. In Brittany, maintaining the status quo and compliance with princely politics was the best way to protect noble privileges. By doing so, the chances of the king deciding to incorporate the province of Brittany into France shrunk. The advantage to the crown of incorporating Brittany was clear: the crown could then exert power directly and levy taxes without the cooperation of the états . This advantage was outweighed, however, by the political stability and mutual benefits derived from maintaining the status quo, as had been shown in the sixteenth century. In essence, direct taxation would lead to tax evasion. Thus, both parties made sure that the system worked. For the higher nobility, there was no need to resist or object to this state of affairs. Moreover, the patronage of highly placed elites in the vicinity of the crown ensured excellent communication and the possibility of conducting tax negotiations.

The province of Brittany was considered one of the wealthiest parts of France, especially during the seventeenth century, although it did experience some decline. Using William Beik’s analysis, Collins remarks that Brittany was run by a ‘class system’ rather than by a ‘society of order’.Footnote 11 Three groups of people formed the elite in Brittany: (1) the nobility, (2) the legal and judicial elite; and, (3) merchants.Footnote 12 The French monarchy needed to cooperate with all three groups to be able to achieve anything in Brittany. The elite did not correspond with the états , as ranking did not run according to wealth. For example, many nobles were considered impoverished with incomes of 6000 livres a year, whereas the rich had incomes exceeding 30,000 livres annually.Footnote 13 Due to these differences in wealth and interest contingent upon possessions, the états formed a heterogeneous whole. Social climbers also occasionally emerged from the second and third group. They could be far wealthier than the poorest noblemen and act as moneylenders to or buy offices from the crown.

Brittany was only 700 km away from Jülich (Düsseldorf), and a mere 880 from Hesse-Cassel (Kassel ). Interestingly enough, the nobility in each of these areas approached their discomfort with princely politics differently. I have shown how the nobility of Jülich struggled to come terms with the problems at hand and voicing their concern, learning along the way. The nobility in Hesse-Cassel left us with a lawsuit, which was neatly penned down by their lawyer(s) who were paid to forumalate a sophisticated line of argumentation. The relationship between the heterogeneous Breton nobility and their French King’s government is the crucial factor in this chapter. The complicated relationship between Brittany and France is explained first, in order to understand how this particularist province stood out, and how Cardinal de Richelieu wanted to cherish this position. I follow this discussion with a focus on the moment that there were noticeable tensions in Brittany: the years 1649–1651 and an increase in taxations. The Assiettes—proceedings of the états —provide us with information of what went on during the assemblies and show why the nobility was lenient with princely policy. They were to bend, not to break (Map 6.1).

Map 6.1
figure 1

Brittany (seventeenth century). Map by: Willem and Jan Blaeu, “Britannia Ducatus.” 1635. Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Accessed November 23, 2020. Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library

1 Brittany’s Early History: Successions and a Forced Union

The Breton War of Succession was fought between 1341 and 1365, leading to the creation of the états in its wake.Footnote 14 This war can be considered a derivative of the Hundred Years’ War. John de Montfort (1295–1345) claimed the duchy based on the fact that he was the half-brother of the previous duke, Jean III. The English crown supported Montfort in his attempts to gain Brittany. His opponent in this conflict was his cousin Joanna of Penthiève (1324–1384), wife of Charles of Blois (1319–1364). As Charles of Blois was the French king’s nephew, Joanna could rely on the crown’s support.Footnote 15 Duke Jean III, who had no male heir, had initially wanted to leave the Duchy of Brittany to the French crown, but the Breton nobility objected. When the duke died in 1341, the matter of succession was still undecided, and the both John of Montfort and Joanna of Penthiève attempted to seize control.Footnote 16 The decisive battle of Auray (1364) concluded the war: here, the pro-Penthiève armies of Blois and Bertrand du Guesclin were defeated. Charles of Blois died.Footnote 17 The Treaty of Guérande was signed a year later, and the widowed Joanna abdicated in favour of John de Montfort’s son, John V (1339–1399).Footnote 18 The war of succession meant that John V needed tax money to secure his claim, and therefore the états were assembled in 1352 for the first time.Footnote 19 The états included the clergy, nobility and the third estate.Footnote 20 Every nobleman aged over 25 represented The nobility by and, most importantly, by the nine barons of Brittany. The towns and cities represented the third estate. The number of their representatives gradually increased (to 21 in 1577 and 44 in 1614) due to demographic and economic developments.Footnote 21

The House of Montfort ruled for over a hundred years until Francis II of Brittany fell off his horse and died shortly after signing the Treaty of Le Verger (1488)—which stated that the King of France needed to consent to a marriage of a Breton Princess.Footnote 22 Francis II left behind two female heirs: Anne (1477–1514) and her sister Isabeau (1478–1490). The nobility was left to protect the duchy on behalf of the eleven-year-old heiress. They did so by concluding a treaty with King Henry VII of England (1457–1509) in 1489 in order to prevent French annexation. Unfortunately, Henry VII proved unreliable as he signed the Treaty of Étaples (1492) with France 2 years later, allying England with France. Soon afterwards King Charles VIII of France (1470–1498) invaded Brittany, forcing Duchess Anne to marry him.Footnote 23 In order to secure the independence of Brittany, Anne had married Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519) by proxy but—logically—the marriage was never consummated. She had done so without the consent of the French king, who therefore claimed she had violated the treaty between France and Brittany. Since the couple were engaged in 1486, it was argued that this marriage fell outside the Verger treaty.Footnote 24 King Charles VIII felt threatened by his total encirclement by the Habsburg dynasty and invaded Brittany. As Emperor Maximilian I failed to help Duchess Anne, the French King forced the young duchess to marry him in 1492; the marriage by proxy was annulled. Anne of Brittany, as Queen of France, actively tried to protect the rights and privileges of ‘her’ Brittany, despite her husband’s exertion of power by jure uxoris (title by right belonging to his wife).Footnote 25

When Charles VIII died only six years later, the widowed Queen Anne remarried the new king, Louis XII, to continue the personal union between France and Brittany.Footnote 26 Louis XII was already married at the time and had to see his previous marriage annulled. Louis XII married Anne of Brittany in 1499, the contract including an explicit clause that specified that the two dynasties would remain separate, and the institutions and legislation of Brittany would be upheld.Footnote 27 The marriage produced no male heirs and consequently, King Louis XII married off his eldest daughter and heiress of Brittany, Claude (1499–1524),Footnote 28 to his cousin Francis I (1494–1547), who was the next in line to rule France under the Salic Law.Footnote 29 The marriage was much against his wife’s wishes, as Anne had wanted her eldest daughter to marry King Charles V of Spain, in the hope of cementing a Spanish-French alliance. The queen had wanted her youngest daughter Renee (1510–1575) to inherit Brittany.Footnote 30 King Louis XII’s desired that the heir from the marriage of Francis I and Claude of Brittany, Henry II (1519–1559), would unify Brittany and France, ending Breton independence.

King Francis I, however, did not want to wait for one of his heirs to unite Brittany and France; he wanted to rule Brittany himself. In 1532 he invited the états of Brittany signed a union in Nantes.Footnote 31 The Edict of Plessis-Macé overruled the clause in his marriage contract on the Breton independence.Footnote 32 Brittany did hold a unique position within France as a pays d’états , which meant that the levying of taxations went via the états and that the ancient privileges of the land were upheld.Footnote 33 Although Brittany was no longer sovereign but part of the Kingdom of France, it was still a particularist region as one of the pays d’états .Footnote 34 The edict of Plessis-Macé did guarantee Breton privileges and liberties.Footnote 35 The King of France and by the états of Brittany benefited both from the edict. The crown, on the one hand, recognised the états’ privilege in consenting to taxation and therefore abstained from the creation of offices and stationing military forces. The états, on the other hand, were reticent because they wanted to prevent displeasing the French King and endangering their liberties and privileges.Footnote 36 The king later imposed taxes without first seeking consent, which led to protests and tax evasion, and resulted in much lower tax yields than the crown had initially envisioned.Footnote 37 A permanent parlement was created in Nantes in 1554 but this was moved to Rennes in 1561.

The Chambre des Comptes (Eng: Court of Account or Audit) was allocated to the city of Nantes.Footnote 38 The Breton position that it should run its own affairs also implied that taxes such as the taille, aides and the gabelle, as well as indirect taxes, were not collected in Brittany.Footnote 39 During the seventeenth century, the French government looked for new ways of obtaining money other than borrowing from Italian and German bankers.Footnote 40 Collins describes an essential change made by Queen-mother Anne of Austria: she made the pays d’états borrow the money, and then pass it on to the crown.Footnote 41 As the province could borrow money at a much lower interest rate, they were forced to contract loans in order to provide Paris with the sums it demanded. The états also became responsible for paying the interest to the moneylender, which raised the tax burden.Footnote 42 The king requested a Don Gratuit, or ‘free gift’ from 1614 onwards instead, and the états always granted it—though the sum could vary.Footnote 43 Like Béarn and Navarre, Brittany remained a principauté or pays d’états .Footnote 44 As such, it provided a steady source of income for the French crown.Footnote 45 Assenting to the Don Gratuit instead of collecting a regular tax protected the province’s liberties, and the only visible change in the governmental structure of Brittany was the replacement of the Duke of Brittany by a governor from France.Footnote 46 This regular, formalised means of requesting taxes by France totally differs from the ad hoc way of convening in the Holy Roman Empire.

Arguably the power of the crown to review, change, or invalidate the états’ actions did threaten the independence of Brittany.Footnote 47 The états could only assemble when the king summoned them, usually in Nantes, Rennes or Vannes.Footnote 48 The participants of an assembly without royal permission would have been prosecuted as criminals.Footnote 49 However, the états and the royal government seem to have worked well together, and it was the états who managed provincial affairs.Footnote 50 Brittany’s unique position was not only established by its particularist position, but also by its unique position as pays d’obédience or church province to the papal power.Footnote 51 It fell outside the 1516 Concordat of Bologne, which meant that the Pope and not the French crown had the right to appoint bishops. The king chose to ignore this rule and used his right of régale to fill in vacant dioceses.Footnote 52 The king misused his royal right to appoint non-Bretons to these positions, which led to protests.Footnote 53 The religious position was underlined through hagiographies to defend the Breton churches and officials.Footnote 54 In 1636 the Dominican monk Albert Le Grand was commissioned to write a book titled Les vies des Saints which much impressed the états.Footnote 55 According to Jason Nice, the text was essential, as ‘[…] the Estates of Brittany ensured the endurance of the sense of Breton identity produced by Albert Le Grand.’Footnote 56

1582 constituted a significant year in Brittany’s history, Philippe Emmanuel de Lorraine (1558–1602), the duke of Mercœur, cousin to the Duke of Guise, became governor in that year.Footnote 57 The reason for his appointment was that the French King, Henry III (1551–1589), had married Mercœur’s half-sister Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont (1553–1601). Despite this close connection to the French crown, Mercœur sought to use his position as leverage to liberate Brittany from French rule. He was one of the claimants to rule Brittany as an independent duchy again. He based his claim on his marriage to an heiress of Brittany, Marie de Luxemburg, Duchess of Penthiève (1562–1623) who was a distant relative to Johanna de Penthiève.Footnote 58 Unsurprisingly, the new governor was firmly in favour of upholding the unique and independent position of Brittany in France, or rather, independently of France. The result was that increasing tax requests from the French king led to a war in Brittany.Footnote 59

The Duke of Mercœur sided with the Spanish. King Henry IV (1553–1610) sent an army to fight to the Duke of Mercœur but met with defeat at the Battle of Craon (1592).Footnote 60 It took until 1598 to defeat the governor’s troops at the city of Angers. To ensure control over Brittany, King Henry IV married his illegitimate son César, Duke de Vendôme, to Françoise de Lorraine, Duchesse de Mercœur and Duchesse de Penthiève (1592–1669) in 1608.Footnote 61 Shortly after his father’s murder (1610), the Duke de Vendôme increased his interest in Brittan, presiding over the états for the first time that same year, even though he had been governor since 1598.Footnote 62 The duke started to receive regular payments from the assembly three years later. Duke de Vendôme was also able to rule more independently after the death of his father, as long as the young King Louis XIII received his tax money. Duke de Vendôme used the money that he received from the états to finance a hundred-man strong personal guard–a guard that he used to rebel against the king, alongside the Prince of Condé and other nobles.Footnote 63 In order to restore peace after this rebellion, King Louis XIII and his mother visited some of the western provinces. In August 1614, just two months before the meeting of the Estates-General in Paris, the king and his mother stayed in Nantes.Footnote 64

In the following year, 1615, the états were not assembled, allegedly because the Prince of Condé had rebelled again, and this would prejudice the meeting. The following year, taxes were requisitioned without the consent of the états, triggering protests and a good deal of anger.Footnote 65 In 1617, the Duke de Vendôme deceived the états, claiming that the king needed only the usual amount of taxation; yet it turned out that the king had requested an additional 600,000 livres.Footnote 66 Two years later, the governor informed the assembly that he wished to create another personal guard, and so needed money. The états granted the request, but under the condition that paying the captain of the guard would be their responsibility. They hoped to ensure that the said captain would be loyal to the états and not merely to the governor.Footnote 67 In 1626, Governor Duke de Vendôme was convicted of partaking in the Calais conspiracy: an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duke de Richelieu.Footnote 68 The César, Duke de Vendôme had to resign from the office of governor of Brittany.Footnote 69 Pons de Lauzières-Thémines-Cardaillac, Marquis of Thémines (1553–1627) and Marshall of France since 1616 succeeded him, a client of Cardinal de Richelieu, who died within a year of accepting the office, leaving the office vacant until 1631 (Fig. 6.2).Footnote 70

Fig. 6.2
figure 2

Ancestral chart of the Dukes of Brittany (1209–1524)

2 Cardinal de Richelieu’s Influence and Cardinal Mazarin’s Guidance

From October 1626 onwards, Richelieu, Cardinal de occupied the newly created office of Grand Master and Supreme Head of the Navy and Commerce.Footnote 71 He united various admiralty functions to strengthen and modify the navy and merchant fleet.Footnote 72 From a military perspective, alterations were necessary to build up a fleet and avoid another ‘La Rochelle’.Footnote 73 The nobles profited from Cardinal de Richelieu’s plans because the cardinal considered free trade to be of vital importance to the Breton economy and—from an economic perspective—it was useful to keep on the right side of the Bretons.

Nevertheless, the états did not agree to his plans to establish a maritime monopoly. They objected to the creation of a special court for maritime affairs as they feared losing influence.Footnote 74 Cardinal de Richelieu quietly used the Breton institutions—such as the états—to implement his plans for the naval reforms, but he did not change the institutions themselves.Footnote 75 The parlement, as well as the third estate, were critical of this process, as they were made up mainly of jurists from towns who feared the loss of influence.Footnote 76 Luckily for Cardinal de Richelieu, the clergy and nobility were favourable to his plans. Firstly, the nobility—with little risk of losing status or influence—wished to see free commerce.Footnote 77 Secondly, the presence of seven Royal Attendants at the états weighed in Cardinal de Richelieu’s favour. The king paid these men, and consequently, they argued in favour of the royal policy. By placing loyal clients, Cardinal de Richelieu attempted to change the policy in his favour.

Cardinal de Richelieu obtained the position of governor over Brittany in 1631.Footnote 78 It was a much-coveted position, because the governor was the highest authority in the province. The prince of Condé requested the king to appoint Cardinal de Richelieu as the next governor, after the César, Duke de Vendôme was placed under house arrest for conspiracy in 1626, and his successor Marshal de Thémines died.Footnote 79 The Duke de Retz, on the other hand, wanted Queen-mother Marie de’ Medici to become a governess—due to her substantial influence in religious affairs, and the aptitude she showed in other offices. In the end, an amendment to the Retz’s proposal made it possible for Cardinal de Richelieu to hold the position between 1626 and 1640.Footnote 80 It has been suggested that the cardinal wanted to become governor of Brittany in order to force the province towards direct taxation and a form of arbitrary rule. However, the existing system of Don Gratuit functioned well and provided for Cardinal de Richelieu’s financial needs.Footnote 81 In pursuit of his plans for the navy, he gradually shifted his focus toward the possibility of warfare with the Habsburg dynasty in both the Holy Roman Empire and Spain.Footnote 82 Unless the états were convinced that the privileges and liberties of Brittany would be respected, they would oppose such policies.Footnote 83

Cardinal de Richelieu used relatives to act on his behalf and fulfil his duties during periods of absence. Whenever vacancies arose, Cardinal de Richelieu placed trustworthy friends or relatives in these positions, strengthening his power and ability to control the affairs more fully.Footnote 84 As a result, he had many clients in place to champion the crown’s interests. Although the parlement did not appreciate such overt nepotism, it did leave Brittany’s privileges and its political structure intact and ensured the états functioning.Footnote 85 The états frequently debated taxes and articulated grievances, but there were no serious threats to the province. Strikingly, despite the growing influence of Cardinal de Richelieu and his allies, neither the structure of Breton politics nor its privileges were harmed, and the elites in Brittany thrived. The relationship was not entirely one-sided, and the elites could likewise use nepotism to gain the king’s favour and obtain profitable offices.Footnote 86 The elites could keep the king content, remain in power and protect their people from paying too many taxes—due to their direct communications with Paris—while obtaining profitable offices. Whereas the états mostly went along with this state of affairs and remained discreet in their protests, the opposition from the parlement to Cardinal de Richelieu’s naval plans was more visible and hostile.Footnote 87

The états were the highest authority in the province.Footnote 88 The influential Breton elite was present at each of the assemblies—they received personal invitations to join. The lower elites could attend if they so desired.Footnote 89 Unlike the higher elites, however, their attendance was not obligatory. Those who did, were often there accompanying their patron; otherwise, they often could not afford to participate.Footnote 90 The patron-client networks of Brittany’s elite were heavily dependent upon the king’s favour, as it was ultimately the king who granted offices and possessions.Footnote 91 Even though bishops and abbots gained their appointment only through royal favour, this did not stop them from blocking royal policies, even after Cardinal de Richelieu established his governorship.Footnote 92 Cardinal de Richelieu may have had an influential position in Brittany, however his shipping and trade reforms did not go as smoothly as he had hoped.Footnote 93 Both the opposition of the Breton parlement and the displeasure of the seaside cities contributed to the failure.Footnote 94 Cardinal de Richelieu’s inability to be personally present in Brittany undoubtedly influenced the situation, but France’s active engagement in wars against the Habsburg dynasties also played a role.

During most of the period in question, Charles Marquise de la Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye acted on behalf of his uncle, Cardinal de Richelieu. He received regular instructions about his uncle’s wishes, especially when it came to requesting the Don Gratuit from the états.Footnote 95 According to Jason Nice, frustrations with the états’ unwillingness to meet the king’s demands led De la Meilleraye to remark in 1636 that Brittany lacked affection for their (French) king.Footnote 96 Passion was no issue for Cardinal de Richelieu when pursuing his policy in Brittany.Footnote 97 Cardinal de Richelieu rushed France into the Thirty Years’ War, leaving his plans for Brittany in the hands of his trusted clients. He joined the Swedes against Emperor Ferdinand II, hoping to weaken the Austrian-Habsburg dynasty. This long-term plan also influenced the decision to go to war with the Spanish Habsburg dynasty.Footnote 98

Following the death of Cardinal de Richelieu, Queen-mother Anne of Austria became governor of Brittany.Footnote 99 The Duke de la Meilleraye had recommended her, and he still governed the province in her absence. In practice, little changed as Duke de la Meilleraye had previously represented Cardinal de Richelieu and simply remained active in office. The duke supported Cardinal Mazarin who now ruled France together with the Queen-mother, since King Louis XIV was still a minor.Footnote 100 As Queen-mother and regent, Anne had promised King Louis XIII to “‘never abandon’ Cardinal Mazarin.”Footnote 101 Thus, in the case of Brittany, the patronage of Queen Anne became one with the patronage of the first minister. The queen was determined to guarantee her son’s succession by proceeding with her late husband’s foreign policy.Footnote 102 To Cardinal Mazarin, it was beneficial to be the queen’s favourite, as this effectively prevented possible rivals from attacking his position.Footnote 103

Anne’s decision to pursue the war policy of Cardinal de Richelieu, and her late husband, King Louis XIII, was heavily criticised by the high nobility.Footnote 104 The Cabale des Importants (1643-4), or ‘strife of the important’, was meant to overthrow Cardinal Mazarin’s power in Brittany and preferably in the whole of France.Footnote 105 One of the participants in this affair was François de Bourbon-Vendôme, son of the former governor Duke César de Vendôme. He attempted to murder Cardinal Mazarin but failed. Cardinal Mazarin responded by playing a balancing game: on the one hand, he controlled the noble uprising to the best of his ability; on the other hand, he sought and achieved military successes against the Habsburg armies. Victories such as the Battle of Rocroi (18-19 May 1643), only days after King Louis XIII’s death, did much to reinforce his position.Footnote 106

According to Richard Bonney, to force the Habsburgs into a peace settlement, France organised military interventions.Footnote 107 Unfortunately, France did not reach an agreement. Although the Battle of Lens (1648) concluded the Thirty Years’ War with the Austrian Habsburgs, the Franco-Spanish war with the Spanish Habsburg dynasty was not part of the treaties. Malcontent with Cardinal Mazarin’s inability to end the Franco-Spanish War was expressed in Paris during the Fronde, but other parts of France—such as Brittany—remained relatively quiet. Cardinal Mazarin’s patronage and the favourable tax climate had much to do with the complaisance of Brittany.Footnote 108 Illustratively, Cardinal Mazarin was displeased with the 1647-assembly of the états over which Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot presided. Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot was not a client of the first minister and was disliked as a result.Footnote 109 In contrast, Cardinal Mazarin’s approval of the meetings in 1645 and 1649 when the Henri Charles, Duke de la Trémoille presided over them, are notable since he vigorously defended the plans of the queen-mother and her favourite.

3 The États and the Parlement of Brittany

During the seventeenth century, the frequency of assemblies held in Brittany varied. Collins demonstrates a frequency of every year in the late 1620s and every other year from 1630 onwards.Footnote 110 According to his study, it was upon the états’ request that the assembly took place in 1649 and 1651, and not in the intervening year or the following year 1652.Footnote 111 Meetings earlier in the century usually lasted less than 19 days. Cardinal de Richelieu’s influence on the province, however, resulted in lengthier assemblies that lasted for up to a month. The trend towards longer sessions continued throughout the 1640s and 1650s when financial and social troubles took root, at which point the assemblies could last for well over two months.Footnote 112

The assemblies tended to keep to a relatively standardised schedule. The royal representatives were invited—or, strictly speaking, ordered to attend. On the first day of each assembly, they read the Kings’ official letter and delivered speeches. On the second day, the attendants received information on how much money was requested for the Don Gratuit.Footnote 113 The royal commissioners and the president of the états would then draw up the schedule for each day. Topics had to be brought forward 24 h in advance; decisions were only valid with the signature of the president.Footnote 114 Voting could be public or secret—depending on the wishes of attendees.Footnote 115 Tensions generated by the support of and opposition to Cardinal Mazarin were noticeable in the 1647-parlement—precisely when the Parisian judges met in December.Footnote 116 Despite this opposition, the Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye managed to pacify the parlement. Also, it is essential to keep in mind the events that took place in Paris, even though violence was not part of the Fronde in Brittany.Footnote 117

3.1 États Assembly and Parlement of 1649

On 29 April 1649, the états of Brittany received a letter written on behalf of Louis by the grace of God, king of France and Navarra.Footnote 118 The text explained the current affairs in which France was actively involved and outlined the matters of importance which had occurred over the past few years: the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the war between Spain and the Dutch Republic. The letter stated that the peace treaty was favourable for the common good,Footnote 119 but adds that the treaty did not conclude the Franco-Spanish War that sparked in 1635. A conflict of interest caused the failure to obtain peace with the Spanish Habsburgs: concluding peace would give a wrong impression of the French force.Footnote 120 The letter elaborated on the nature of the conflict. Also noteworthy was the mention of ‘the civil war’ in Paris and in several provinces that could lead to the dynasty’s destruction.Footnote 121 The letter voiced a complaint: the government felt it had earned the respect, obedience, loyalty, and affection of its subjects, but was instead met with unrest and civil war. The government sought the means to resolve the conflict. There was a reason why the états received such a letter. Though formal, the tone of the letter seems to be somewhat flattering towards the Bretons while addressing their generosity. The king expected ardent affection of his Breton subjects and a contribution to the welfare of the land in its present need.Footnote 122 The Crown voiced their gratitude for the état’s role in collecting contributions and taxations. The assemblée had to deal with reforming and restoring justice, police, and discipline in the province of Brittany.Footnote 123 Furthermore, the fouages ordinaires (hearth tax—a property tax) had been set at seven livres to pay the gendarmerie.Footnote 124 The government, however, needed more money and supplies on top of the fouages.

Another letter was written on the same date, on behalf of the king, and addressed to Duke de la Meilleraye. He was asked to preside over and to facilitate the meeting organised in the city of Vannes when the états assembled in June.Footnote 125 Various noblemen received letters dated 29 April 1649 as well, including Baron de Ponchau Connilleau. He was informed about the role that the Marquise de la Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye, was to play in the upcoming meeting and was asked to assist him.Footnote 126 Subsequently, Count de Vertue, governor of the city of Rennes, was informed of the meeting on 17 June in Vannes and the presence of Duke de la Meilleraye.Footnote 127 The count was likewise expected to be present in Vannes. The same applied to the regular advisor of the États’ financial counsellor’s seigneur Gobelin, seigneur Sanguin, and seigneur la Bedoyere, and the General Prosecutor, all of whom received invitations to attend the Assembly and see to an orderly meeting.Footnote 128

Commencing on 16 June 1649, the états assembled in the city of Vannes.Footnote 129 The opening line of the minutes stated that the king assembled them to deliberate on finances.Footnote 130 Formalities dominated this first day of the assembly; the names of those present were read out, and privileges were enumerated and recognised by the king through a letter drawn up in 1647. The king highly valued the loyalty of the three états, according to the letter written on 15 November 1647.Footnote 131 It also referred to several essential privileges, rights, immunities and liberties, especially granted to them by King Louis the Just.Footnote 132 It seemed there was a causality: due to the nobility’s loyalty, the king respected the nobility’s rights and privileges.Footnote 133

Four issues were dealt with in the course of the assembly. Firstly, as Collins notes, the états of Brittany granted the king a sum of 1,700,000 livres in 1649; these ‘dix sept cent mille’ are known as the Don Gratuit.Footnote 134 According to Collins, the fact that it was 900,000 livres less than the états paid in 1647 prevented the bankruptcy of Brittany.Footnote 135 In order to arrive at this amount, attendees of the meeting pledged contributions. These could vary from a few hundred, to thousands of livres, depending on their assets.Footnote 136 The états pronounced their motivation for agreeing to the request stating that the money usage was for necessities.Footnote 137 These voluntary contributions were given under the assumption that the king would respect the états’ privileges about consultation and consent in matters of taxation. Brittany pushed to be allowed to collect the contribution on its own, without interference.Footnote 138 One concrete measure to be taken in the following years that would raise funds was the tax on beer, cider, and fruit brandy.Footnote 139 A day after proposing these measures, it became evident that not everyone agreed with them - especially regarding the third estate. The third estate was much averse towards annual allowances for the Grandées.Footnote 140 Usually, these fees would help to gain support from highly placed nobles who were often in the vicinity of the crown, but they also meant a financial burden.

Secondly, another war-related issue was brought up during the assembly. St.-Malo hosted Spanish prisoners, and the états addressed the cost of their nourishment and general imprisonment.Footnote 141 There were other problems as well, and officers who did their duty faced obstructions. The example given was the nuisance faced by those collecting the gabelles. The états decided upon a cinquante livres fine, or 50 livres, for anyone who harassed the tax collectors.Footnote 142 Thirdly, grievances concerning the malpractice of a particular individual named Meaut Marchaud were addressed. He had allegedly used violence and overstepped the boundaries of his office, violating the privileges of the pays.Footnote 143 The états suggested that the parlement should address the matter, since it was a legal concern. Lastly, some complaints worried that the freedom of trade was in jeopardy.Footnote 144 As freedom of trade was a vital part of Brittany’s economy, the assembly started an investigation and requested a written rapport.

During the Vannes-meeting, an old letter from the king, dated 18 May 1648, was read. It stated the importance of following and obeying the king’s decisions. Strikingly, the assembly increased its speed in decision-making after that—finalising the meeting merely two days later.Footnote 145 The assembly had taken 35 days to reach its conclusion, with its final meeting taking place on 25 July.

3.2 États-Assembly and the ‘Rump’ Parlement of 1651

The états of Brittany received a letter written on behalf of the king on 23 August 1651. It referred to the upcoming assembly on 25 September in the city of Nantes. The format was that of an ordinance, stating that the invitees must be present.Footnote 146 The following men received a personal invitation, as they were to play a role in the organisation and communication of the assembly: Comte de Vertu, Marquis de Coastin, Sieur de Harrouy, Sieur Sanguin, Sieur Huchet, and Sieur Morice.Footnote 147 The letter also stated that the commissioners had shown their affection to be in the king’s service, especially by satisfying their ruler’s financial desires.Footnote 148 Despite the king’s strict orders, the assembly delayed, and the first reports were only written on the 28 September, while by the 30 September the assembly still awaited several members.

A conflict arose during this meeting of the états, between Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye and Henri Charles, Duke de la Trémoille. Footnote 149 In this conflict between the three presidents, patron-client relations played a significant role. Footnote 150 The governor was theoretically supposed to preside over the assembly, but in reality, the lieutenant general usually did the honours. The queen-mother—acting as governor—had delegated her official tasks to the Marshal of France, the grandmaster of the artillery and lieutenant-general of Brittany, Duke de la Meilleraye.Footnote 151 The duke did not often preside over meetings either, so the task rotated among the highest nobles of Brittany.

Cardinal Mazarin directed his client not to interfere with the House of Rohan-Chabot.Footnote 152 However, Duke de la Meilleraye’s friend Henri Charles, Duke de la Trémoille contested Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot’s claim to preside over the assembly.Footnote 153 Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot had openly sided with the Frondeurs and the Princes of Condé and Conti.Footnote 154 Other noblemen were hesitant about siding with Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot because they wanted to retain Cardinal Mazarin’s favour.Footnote 155 Attempts to promote César, Duke de Vendôme as chairman of the 1651 assembly failed, and tensions rose.Footnote 156 Not for the first time did Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye opt for an armed intervention; soldiers actively intimidated those nobles who intended to attend the Assembly.Footnote 157 This intimidation was so effective that when the meeting finally started on 30 September, it was noted that some people refused to participate.Footnote 158 The military intervention led to the removal of Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot from the city of Nantes.Footnote 159 Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot left for Rennes where he met with judges from the parlement.Footnote 160 According to Pocquet, the judges voted in favour of Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot’s presiding over the états. The assembly was again delayed for a few days, but eventually, they cast aside the parlement’s verdict.Footnote 161 The états were not impressed and stated that the legitimacy of their assembly depended solely upon the king’s authority.Footnote 162 Under pressing circumstances, such phrasing was used to please the king.

The judges were angered, and royal intervention was needed.Footnote 163 At this point, the king made it known that he wanted the états to welcome both Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot and César, Duke de Vendôme at the assembly.Footnote 164 The parlement continued their rebellion, most commonly referred to as the ‘Fronde of the Breton parlement’.Footnote 165 The états deliberated and decided that they would continue their assembly without further ado and would not stop despite the arrêts of the parlement.Footnote 166 The états then addressed the king, stating that the judges were not acting in the interest of Brittany.Footnote 167 The king informed the assembly that to gain his support, they would need to consent to the taxes that he had requested.Footnote 168 The parlement thus wrote a new injunction stating that any decision made by the états was null and void, on 24 October 1651.Footnote 169 The next day, the états warned their opponents that representatives of the city of Rennes were no longer welcome at their meeting and that this situation was likely to worsen, indicating an escalation in the conflict.Footnote 170 Once again, a royal intervention was required. The parlement was pressured to withdraw all of their accusations and lift their injunction. The judges allegedly jeopardised the defence of the province.Footnote 171

The assembly had been called together to deal with three issues in particular: taxes, the appointment of a new treasurer, and discuss the freedom of trade. After lengthy deliberations, the negotiations over Brittany’s financial contribution led to a Don Gratuit of 1,700,000 livres —the same amount granted by the previous assembly.Footnote 172 A letter from the king was read on 17 November 1651.Footnote 173 In that letter, he stressed that the subjects must aid the crown by paying their taxes in order to keep the kingdom secure and prosperous. The law would be used to punish those opposing the king without cause, since the king was upholding the dignity of the country and the reputation of the nation, and France was currently under attack by foreign principalities. It is essential to realise that this is the only explicit reference to the word nation during this crisis. However, in this context, the word is used with a specific reference. The reference to ‘nation’, therefore, reads like a literary trope—a personification—that is bestowed with a reputation. As the author of the letter is the king himself, it may even be read as an indication that his reputation was threatened if people needlessly rose against his rule while under foreign attack. Regardless, it was evident that the word was not used to claim an office. Firstly, the word nation was used by the king, who was already the sovereign of the country; he did not acquire a new office by using this vocabulary. Secondly, the words patriot or fatherland did not accompany the word nation. The king did not need a new office, so a word to describe the office of a patriot was not in question.

The impatience of the king, his advisor, Cardinal Mazarin, and his mother, the queen—was expressed in a letter read out upon arrival on 5 December. This letter clearly stated that the king’s support depended upon the consent of the états concerning taxations.Footnote 174 The long duration of the assembly probably contributed to the general sense of discontent. At that moment, it had already lasted for 39 days and would continue for another 18 days yet. The états were left with little room to negotiate, and eventually gave in. As a result of the estate’s acquiescence, value-added taxes on beer, cider, and fruit brandy were raised. The collection of the fouage remained the duty of the province of Brittany as this was most efficient,Footnote 175 and several noblemen offered money.Footnote 176 Another financial issue discussed was allowances for grandees, precisely that of the Prince of Condé.Footnote 177

Bernardin Poullain, the province’s treasurer, had died in 1648; thus, the états had to discuss the appointment of a new treasurer or syndic.Footnote 178 It was an essential position with taxes to be collected, as the syndic also oversaw the payment of interest.Footnote 179 Queen Anne had demanded Brittany’s advancement of taxes from 1645 onwards, and with the états as debtor they covered the interest as well.Footnote 180 The function of the treasurer was proven to be of significance when troubles arose after the death of Poullain.Footnote 181 A lawsuit had followed his death, instigated by his creditors and heirs, and the états discussed this legal procedure, as many of the creditors were among the attendees and pushing for action.Footnote 182 As it turned out, Poullain owed quite a few people money, and his late father Michel Poullain had even contracted some of these debts as early as in the 1620s and 1630s.Footnote 183

The third topic placed on the agenda of the états was the establishment of freedom of trade.Footnote 184 On 7 December 1651, an official request to re-establish the freedom of trade was made, since trade formed a vital part of the Breton economy.Footnote 185 In line with these troubles, the issue of foreign prisoners in St. Malo was also briefly raised on 3 November, when a letter written on 13 December 1650 was brought forward. The costs of guarding and feeding these people had caused financial pressure and needed to be addressed.Footnote 186

Henri Chabot, Duke de Rohan-Chabot protested even more aggressively than before, despite the royal warnings. He found shelter from the king’s army in the city of Angers.Footnote 187 The états were thankful for the military solution and continued their deliberations. The assembly ended in mid-December: the parlement was still malcontent and not at rest; though it ceased its resistance, it did not revoke its sanctions.Footnote 188 Rennes did not obey the orders given by Duke de la Meilleraye.Footnote 189 He visited the city in order to clarify issues with the parlement and used his influence to successfully persuade the majority of the judges to side with the clients of Cardinal Mazarin.Footnote 190 Despite duke’s best efforts, the tensions with the parlement were still unresolved at the next assembly of the états in 1653.

4 The Tax Burden in Brittany

For Brittany, the Assiettes meticulously recorded the taxes. As there was no property damaged due to actual warfare, the amounts stated can be considered to be the total costs. Table 6.1 indicates the requested taxes. The rows in bold are the years the états assembled. The amounts in taxes of these years are split over the year of the assembly and the subsequent year. Except for the years 1642–1644, the amounts are divided into three.

Table 6.1 Tax and financial burden of Brittany (1636–1654)

Table 6.1 clearly shows that the tax load in Brittany fluctuated. Comparing these data with those of Jülich, it becomes clear that the tax burden in Brittany was higher at the lowest point (0.22 g of silver per inhabitant more than in Jülich; 1652 is the lowest point in Brittany vs 1642 in Jülich). Nevertheless, as Brittany’s figures give a complete overview, whereas those of Jülich do not contain the costs of damages, it is difficult to give a complete outline. The sharp fluctuations in Jülich were of significant influence on the perceived tax burdens because of prompt payments due to requisition made. The atmosphere in Brittany was more relaxed as états themselves organised tax distributions, and no direct requisitioning took place. The tax burdens expressed in kilos of grain and then recalculated into kilocalories, as has been done in Table 6.2.

Table 6.2 Tax and financial burden of Brittany in kcal and days of food insecurity (1636–1654)

Each year, the price of wheat could differ and therefore, the hectolitres of grain that could be bought with the silver varied (second and third column). The kilocalories obtained from one kilogram of (organic) wheat has been set at 1680 kcal. The amount may have varied over the years, depending on the fertility of the soil. The number of insecure food days can be calculated by measuring the kcal in the total amount of organic wheat and dividing that by the FAO-calculated food insecurity measure of 2100 kcal per person per day. When divided by the number of inhabitants, the number of days of food insecurity can be calculated—these are expressed in kcal. For Brittany, 1.7 million inhabitants are used as a figure. In 1651 the financial measurements equalled the worth of approximately 6 days of food insecurity or just hunger. In 1654 the worth of taxations equalled a worth of nearly 20 days of hunger.

5 Conclusion

In the case of Brittany, fatherland terminology was absent in the political sphere, but this does not necessarily mean that the terminology was absent altogether. As Nice showed in his study, these words were known and applied in Brittany, though more at a cultural-religious level. It is clear that the political terminology in Brittany differed from that in the two discussed German principalities. Efficient communication and relatively cordial relations between the highly ranked nobility of Brittany and the Mazarin-government positively influenced the amount of tax Brittany had to pay. For the Parisian government, it was essential to respect a particularist province, as the états were able to borrow much money against a much lower interest rate than the crown. Maintaining and strengthening this relationship was therefore very important to the Breton nobility. Tax requests from the government in Paris were challenging to negotiate. The multi-layered états would also have caused some difficulty by objecting to princely politics. Hence, strategically stationed clients in the états helped to obtain the taxes without much resistance. As the request for taxations of 1649 showed, not everyone agreed with the amount, though in the end, an agreement on the amount of taxes was reached. However, the third estate opposed the allowances of Grandees. As no fixed sum had to be paid to the Grandees to keep them satisfied and preserve their favour, there was considerable room to negotiate. Their connections within court circles were beneficial. Not only did they allow informal negotiations, but they also worked in favour of those seeking office, and in keeping taxes as low as possible.

There was no war fought inside the Breton borders—the actual Fronde seems not to have affected it directly. Taxation formed a possible threat, but it only affected those with little income. The high elite profited from warfare, as they could lend money against a high-interest rate. Moreover, in 1649 and 1651, close ties with the crown made it possible to negotiate lower tax-burdens for the pays d’état of Brittany before the meeting of the états , as it would have bankrupted them. Maintaining the états’ privileges and autonomy was an essential issue for the nobility. As long as their values were not threatened, the nobility was not likely to apply a new terminology. Such words would have jeopardised their relationship with the king.

The situation in Brittany can be summarised by focussing on four steps in the process of requesting taxes. Firstly, when in need of money, the French king did not requisition the taxes, at least not in Brittany. Instead, he sent an ordinance to the états inviting them to assemble.Footnote 191 The highest noblemen received it personally, assuming their presence and their help organising the meeting. There seemed to be little room for objections to the friendly request, but there was some room for negotiations: in both 1649 and 1651, the états requested not to be assembled in the following year.Footnote 192

Secondly, there was little room to protest, as the crown could interpret this as disobedience to the crown and a violation of the feudal relationship. The Assiettes reminded the nobility that the king would reaffirm the privileges granted to the états once the matter of taxation was resolved.Footnote 193 Where discussions about the distribution of taxes occurred, there is no trace of no open resistance against the policy that caused the increase. The Assiettes show that obtaining this reaffirmation was of considerable significance to the états of Brittany. Their unique history of independence as both a duchy and a church province, and the privileges resulting, had been respected. They continued to be respected even after the union with France in the sixteenth century. Judging from the general history of France, there was a realistic threat to the independent position of the province.Footnote 194

Thirdly, Cardinal Mazarin’s government kept a close watch on ongoing assemblies, as the disputes of 1651 showed.Footnote 195 Duke de la Meilleraye, as acting governor and client of Mazarin, was not to intervene in the affairs of Duke de Rohan-Chabot. However, when the situation escalated, and intervention did take place, it seemed that Mazarin accepted the situation, as he was slow to respond. However, when the rump parlement of Rennes blocked the decisions taken by the états in Nantes, a letter on behalf of the king arrived stating that the judges’ verdict was not in Brittany’s interest.Footnote 196

Finally, the états dealt with matters of taxation in debates that went back and forth, and numerous private discussions behind closed doors. In order to reach an agreement, the états had to reach a consensus about Don Gratuit. Large sums of money were demanded: 1,700,000 livres in both 1649Footnote 197 and 1651.Footnote 198 Though this was substantially less than in 1647 (2,600,000 livres ) and 1653 (2,300,000 livres), it did not mean that the assemblies finished their debates quickly. Footnote 199 It took them weeks to determine where the money had to come from, who had to pay, and who was still in default. A consensus was always reached about the Don Gratuit. However, the commissions for the Grandees were—at least in 1649—a matter of debate. Footnote 200 The third estate did not want to take part in this, as they felt they were contributing enough. When we measure the tax burden in grams of silver per capita, it shows that the highest demand was still less than 7 g. The lowest demand was a little over 4 g/inhabitant. The demand is higher than the calculated demands in Jülich, but Brittany could spread the payment and had no additional costs of warfare or war-related damage. In contrast to the two German principalities, the tax load of Brittany is both the gross and net burden. When measured in days of food insecurity, it led to a minimum of 5.8 days of hunger (1649), and Brittany experienced even more than 18 days of hunger in 1647 and 1654.

In Brittany, fatherland terminology was absent from the political scene. The états or the nobility, in particular, made no objections against the king’s policy. Duke de Rohan-Chabot did voice his disagreement with the clients of Cardinal Mazarin on how to preside over the états. This 1651 example reveals that many different interests were pursued within the province, and in the Kingdom of France itself. The heterogeneous composition of the états seems to have scattered the resistance against the warfare of Cardinal Mazarin, who continued Cardinal de Richelieu’s war policy against the Habsburg dynasty of Spain. The inhabitants of Brittany did not suffer war-related burdens such as billeting, plundering, or other atrocities as the German principalities did. Therefore, the perceived impact of the war was much smaller. This difference may have contributed to the absence of fatherland terminology.