This study set out to show that the nobility fiercely objected to dynastic warfare and the increased ad hoc needs for taxes to pay the armed forces required do the fighting or defending. The nobility perceived both warfare and taxations as a tremendous threat to the welfare of their fatherland and the inhabitants. Discussing this perceived peril was impossible within the existing power structure, as it would likely be considered an act to undermine the princely government. Since both Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm (Jülich ) and Landgravine Amalie Elisabeth (Hesse-Cassel) had already begun their reign under problematic circumstances, this placed their relationships with the nobility under pressure. The French King Louis XIV neither started his rule over Brittany amidst a war of succession, nor was his dominion entirely occupied. Brittany had owned the French crown for over a century, though it held a particularist position as a pays d’état .

Based on research by Von Friedeburg and Vroomen with a focus on fatherland terminology in Hesse-Cassel (1646–1651) and the Dutch Republic (1618–1619; 1650; 1672) respectively, I formulated two hypotheses. Firstly, when—in small territories—the interests of a subordinate group were confined, fatherland terminology was used to address the situation. Secondly, fatherland terminology was used by relatively homogeneous interest groups who expressed their critique on politics, as there were only limited existing options to bring about change. The research on Hesse-Cassel was expanded by adding Jülich to the scope to test these hypotheses. To contrast these two small principalities, the large, heterogeneous particular province of Brittany is added to the equation. Hence, I was able to compare the two factors that could influence the arguments: homo- or heterogeneity of the nobility, and the economy of scale. I selected tumultuous times: the last part of the Thirty Years’ War and the Fronde, to make the situations comparable to each other. This conclusion is structured along the lines of the hypotheses mentioned above.

1 Answering Hypothesis 1: Within Small Principalities Fatherland Terminology Is Used

Brittany was a vast territory of about 30,000 km2 and around 1660, had an estimated population of 1,802,000.Footnote 1 It had a significant economy of scale, which was beneficial as the burden of taxations could be spread over the broad population. The size of this particular province also influenced the hierarchical structure of the nobility, creating a large group of noblemen with varying amounts of income and influence. Agriculture and maritime activities characterise Brittany’s economy.

The taxes levied in Brittany were not directly aimed at protecting the province itself. As such, the taxations could have generated opposition, as there seemed to be no link with their perceived benefits. However, this practice did not seem to bother the états , as long as their autonomy in other aspects of governing was respected. Having to pay taxes to the King of France was not necessarily different from having an independent duke, as it meant that the états could still protect their ancient privileges. In other words, little had changed when they accepted the French king as their ruler in 1532. Any complaints were to be addressed to the (acting) governor of the province, or directly to Paris; likewise, Paris decided on the amount of taxes to be collected; tax distribution and collection still fell under the jurisdictions of the états. With that, the king and états maintained the status quo; there were still only two ‘participants’ in the debates. Before the unification with France, a duke and the états governed Brittany;Footnote 2 after the union, the King of France—being the Duke of Brittany— still assembled the états when in need of taxation. Before the unification, there was no court to which to appeal when communications failed. In the post-1532 period, the only two ‘participants’ were the états and the acting governor on behalf of the absent king.Footnote 3 Although it was possible to discuss irregularities and problems with the governor, the king would decide in such matters.

The états ’ had enormous freedom to levy the taxes necessary to pay the crown. As they could decide on their own where the money would come from, they were able to spread the burden evenly over the population, primarily since there was no requisitioning of funds at short notice. As long as their privileges were respected, the états were cooperative, and there was no need to use fatherland terminology. It also worked the other way, as long as the états were cooperative and did not use—what the king could perceive as—offensive language, their privileges were respected.

The two small German principalities within this study confirm the application of fatherland terminology in small—German—principalities. Jülich and Hesse-Cassel shared some characteristics. The economy of scale in these principalities was minimal. The population of 215,000 and 375,000 inhabitants respectively, bore the financial burdens warfare; with only a limited number of nobles who jointly objected to the government and policy of their prince.Footnote 4 The number of cities within each principality—and their involvement in politics—was negligible; most wealth came directly from agriculture.

The nobility perceived the amount of the requisitioned taxes as disproportionate; moreover, the duke and landgravine had failed to obtain the nobility’s permission to collect taxes at all. The small principalities had only little variation within its group of nobles, who mostly shared the same interests. Taxes targeted the resources of the nobility’s tenants, which indirectly affected the nobles themselves. On top of the contributions, the two principalities suffered from roaming troops plundering and raiding the area, the billeting of soldiers, and other—unspecified—atrocities of war. The nobility unanimously voiced their complaint about the prince’s arbitrary or tyrannical rule.

The nobility in both German principalities used the terminology of fatherland and patriot to address their fatherland’s problems. Their princes mirrored this terminology, as they gradually adopted the word use themselves. In Jülich, the terminology seemed to have become applicable to the duke himself;Footnote 5 in Hesse-Cassel , the landgrave used the terminology to indicate an error in the argumentation of the nobility: if the nobility of Hesse-Cassel were true to their word—that is, loyal patriots—they would leave matters to the landgrave’s judgement.Footnote 6 In addition, any threats to the fatherland were taken seriously but were the responsibility of the landgrave.

A striking difference between the two principalities was their divergent approach to printed documents. Within the European context, pamphlets were used to invoke help from outside the principality. It was seen as a last resort to argue the case against the violation of the fatherland or patria. Within the Holy Roman Empire, the last resort in conflicts was the Imperial Chamber Court or the Aulic Court. Arguably there was no need for pamphlets here, but rather lawsuits, which constituted an institutionalised form of complaint. The nobility of Jülich did use pamphlets as they may have deed foreign aid more effective. Strong support from the Dutch Republic could have encouraged the nobility because it was almost inevitable that help would come if requested. Hesse-Cassel , on the other hand, could not count on such an alliance. The Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt even had his eye on the principality. This threat worked in favour of making the case at the Imperial Chamber Court, where the court could pressure the landgrave, without needing to invite outside military intervention.

The taxes in Jülich—that is, the amounts that were specified by the Landstände —and those in Brittany are, to an extent comparable. By expressing the worth of the respective currencies, the Reichsthaler or the Livres Tournois, in grams of silver, the tax-burdens become comparable. Figure 7.1 shows the results per inhabitant, using the calculations as explained earlier.

Fig. 7.1
figure 1

Comparative tax burdens of Jülich and Brittany, in grams of silver/inhabitants (1639–1652). Source: Table 3.1 and Table 6.1

Figure 7.1 clearly shows that although Jülich may not have had the lowest tax burden in the early 1640s, it went up quickly and exceeded that of Brittany. The overview given for Brittany is as complete as it can get and shows that the amount of taxes varied between 4 and 7 g of silver per inhabitant per year. In Jülich this amount fluctuated between 4 and as much as 12 g of silver per person per year. However, this does leave out material damages.

When these grams of silver are recalculated into kilos of grain and then into kilocalories, the image becomes slightly different (see Fig. 7.2). That is to say, the differences vary a lot less, due to the amounts of grain that could hypothetically have been bought with the silver. The tax burden of Brittany fluctuated far less than that of Jülich. A spike characterises the burdens in Jülich in the year 1646 with a burden of 12 g of silver per inhabitant (Fig. 7.1) or 31 days of hunger (Fig. 7.2). Such fluctuations coincide with the increase in used fatherland terminology as the nobility sought a way to criticise destructive princely politics. One could argue that Brittany suffered under a relatively heavy burden as well, as it never fell below a burden equal to 5 days of endangered food security, and even endured 19 such hypothetical days in both 1647 and 1654. However, Brittany only suffered from financial burdens and not from troop movements or any other war-related damage.

Fig. 7.2
figure 2

Comparative tax-burdens of Jülich and Brittany, in a number of days below 2100 kcal (1639–1652). Source: Table 3.2 and Table 6.2

2 Answering Hypothesis 2: Homogeneous Interests Stimulate the Use of Fatherland Terminology

The excessive taxation and consequences of the Thirty Years’ War caused significant problems. Forcing inhabitants to pay enormous amounts of taxes was perceived as a tyrannical act that led to the use of the fatherland terminology in the German principalities. This usage indicated a claim of the temporary, presupposed office of a patriot, being the defender of the threatened fatherland (patria) and the welfare of its inhabitants. The defenders of noble blood were compelled to resist the disastrous politics of the prince because the war burdened the population to a point where livelihoods were severely affected. The emergence of this new terminology came about by changes in the field of political theory; likewise, legal argumentation was required to substantiate claims by the nobility. The events that took place shaped the content and meaning of the terms. Interestingly, these events are often considered to be exclusive to the fields of social or military history, and are hardly ever fused with political, legal, or intellectual history. The original documents produced by the Landstände of Jülich and Hesse-Cassel between 1642 and 1655 substantiate these conclusions.

The war damage demonstrated that the inhabitants in the principalities perceived many threats. The ineffective policy of Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm or the warmongering attitude of Landgravine Amelie Elisabeth made the situation worse, according to the nobility whose pleas fell on deaf ears. So they searched for alternatives. In Jülich, the 1627-lawsuit had failed to influence the duke’s policy. Consequently, the nobility—as patriots—met in Cologne to discuss state affairs. They positioned themselves as the defenders of the fatherland, hoping to re-open lines of communication with the duke.

In Hesse-Cassel, assembling within the principality proved hazardous, with the arrest of spokespersons and such assemblies being banned.Footnote 7 The nobility felt that their privileges were severely violated and brought matters to the Imperial Chamber Court . They turned to arguments based on the fatherland and their being a loyal patriot, which functioned as a warning vehicle for the landgravine. This terminology seems to have been the nobility’s last resort, designed to open up communication, and it worked in the end.

The heterogeneous états of Brittany, which had a myriad of interests at stake, did not use the terminology in a political context. Brittany’s different social-historical background may explain this difference. Here, the wealthy noblemen—or wealthy merchants—could profit from money lending, so they could afford to buy influence. The governor acted on behalf of the king and benefited greatly from his patron. This arrangement also revealed the benefit of strong ties between patrons and clients. These more personal relationships eased negotiations, even as direct communications were rendered more difficult with hundreds of participants.Footnote 8 There was no third party to mediate. Within this framework, the états maintained their privileges, especially about taxation, which was possible only by maintaining the status quo. If the king had wanted to incorporate Brittany into France to govern it directly and levy taxes without the cooperation of the états , he could have done so—and Bonney has shown that this occurred in other parts of France.Footnote 9 Nevertheless, this well-functioning distribution of responsibilities did not invite changes.

In Brittany, differences in wealth and the patron-client relationship with Mazarin shaped debates and influenced their outcome. Duke de Rohan-Chabot was sent away from the assembly as his interests were not the same as Cardinal Mazarin’s—or, of the cardinal’s clients. The majority wanted to maintain their privileges and immunities by cooperating with Cardinal Mazarin. Duke de Rohan-Chabot certainly believed in preserving noble privileges and those of Brittany; however, he favoured the Prince of Condé and their plans for a new government did not involve Cardinal Mazarin.

Based on these three case studies, I argue that the heterogeneity of the assembly in Brittany contributed to the absence of fatherland terminology. Its patron-client relationships attributed to eased communications: on the one hand, Mazarin and the high nobility enjoyed such a relationship; on the other hand, the high nobility and their clients within Brittany also functioned in this way. These relationships were strengthened by the fact that consent to the demand for taxes encouraged the French crown to respect the nobility’s privileges. Within the Holy Roman Empire , arguments with the words patriot, patria, and fatherland were made. The Thirty Years’ War caused much damage in both Jülich and Hesse-Cassel. The nobility in both principalities displayed their discontent with their rulers, Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm and Landgravine Amelie Elisabeth of Hesse-Cassel respectively.

I found open resistance against the deprivation of income as a result of disproportionate burdens and damaging princely politics only in small economies of scale with a (relatively) homogeneous estate. The Landstände of Jülich and Hesse-Cassel both faced threats to their income and that of their tenants by direct and imminent warfare and related burdens. In Brittany, the terminology was not unknown but not used in political discussions, despite the turmoil of the Fronde and its Breton derivative of 1651. Here the highly ranked elite profited from its client-relationship with the crown and the king’s government. Instead of fearing for their tenants, the keys to their decision-making were gaining offices, money, and interests. These interests may have collided with the concerns of other, lesser nobles and subjects. Nevertheless, these different interests divided the Breton états and silenced all criticism.

3 Final Remarks

The use of fatherland terminology may not have occurred often in the Holy Roman Empire , but it was instrumental. When applied with some repetition, and with the same meaning and goals, it did have an effect. Both in the Duchy of Jülich and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Cassel , the nobility used the terminology to open communications without being accused of rebellious actions against their ruler. In the long run, the terminology was copied by the prince, or at the very least, by his lawyers.

Shifting the focal point from loyalty to a prince, towards loyalty to the fatherland, was a development central to the terminology studied here. Supporting a failing or harmful policy that went against the common good was troublesome. Therefore, a verbal shift to the blameless fatherland that experienced much peril and turmoil was a safe option to which real objections were hardly possible. In line with the medieval concept of dominion and the duty to protect this principality, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel quickly caught up with the terminology. He pointed out that it was indeed his duty to protect the principality, and so he would. In the case of Jülich, it was precisely the de facto rule that seems to have caused some difficulties here, as the de facto Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm, could not claim rule over the dominion Jülich and his policy caused much harm.

Focussing on policies that harmed the fatherland could not be seen as a traitorous act: it was aimed at the common good and did not directly accuse a prince. The group of people who felt compelled to so (the patriots), was only a small group of people. In the case of Jülich, they could afford to travel to Cologne , and were able to have a debate on these affairs. In Hesse-Cassel, only noblemen attended the Kirchhain assembly and, subsequently, supported the legal suit. The sources do not mention any commoners involved, except when referring to the victims of war. As soon as these inhabitants of non-noble birth had participated in the debates, accusations of a full-blown rebellion would likely have emerged. Here we may see the influence of Althusius’ ephors who—as a small group of magistrates—hold the office to point the prince right. It was tactical to place the discussion in the context of those of noble birth, protecting their tenants and other inhabitants of the principality, and avoiding any hint of revolt or rebellion.