Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Apparitions and the Public Sphere in Seventeenth-Century France

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Apparitions and the Public Sphere in Seventeenth-Century France

Article excerpt

Durant la crise constitutionnelle de la Fronde en France (1648-52), plus de cinq mille differents pamphlets inonderent les marches parisiens en reponse aux demandes d'un public curieux et avide de lecture. La plupart de ces pamphlets, connus collectivement comme Les Mazarinades, critiquaient la reine et exprimaient leurs griefs sous forme de chansons, de poemes burlesques et de dialogues imaginaires. Dans certains de ces pamphlets, des fantomes, emissaires de Dieu, et d'autres etres surnaturels apparaissaient devant la reine et ses sujets et passaient des commentaires sur la crise politique qui confrontait la France. Lorsque ces apparitions visitaient les roturiers francais, en particulier les bourgeois et les ermites, ces etres surnaturels exhortaient les hommes a s'engager activement a s'opposer a la reine. Empruntant des tropes conventionnels du theatre, et lirant parti de l'interet populaire dans le surnaturel, les auteurs des pamphlets d'apparitions presentaient un nouveau role politique pour le peuple francais dans la France absolutiste.

Quoiqu'un domaine politique public n'apparut en France qu'au dix-huitieme siecle, en analysant la psychologie individuelle et la nature de l'autorite politique, les apparitions des Mazarinades furent des precurseurs importants du discours politique francais. Jurgen Habermas et d'autres historiens de la France interesses dans de development du domaine public rejettent habituellement les Mazarinades comme etant des calomnies au lieu de les considerer comme des commentaires poliques serieux; ce faisant ils interpretent la naissance au domaine public au dix-huitieme siecle comme etant une rupture avec l'absolutisme. Au contraire, les pamphlets d'apparitions demontrent que les representations de personnes particulieres comme des sujets politiques etaient deja analysees durant le dix-septienne siecle.



Shakespeare's Macbeth was a man tortured by ghosts and apparitions. Having murdered his chief rival to the throne, Macbeth finds himself almost driven mad by the reappearance of the dead man at his banquet table. Macbeth's haunting by supernatural beings was not unusual in early modern Europe. At that time, apparitions were a useful way for people to work through ethical, social, and political problems. Mystics, witches, saints, and common folk mere aff regularly visited by apparitions. Some of these apparitions were dead family or friends; some were emissaries from God or the devil; others still presented allegorical visions to illustrate a particular event. In all cases, however, apparitions visited early modern people when they were faced with a particularly vexing personal or political problem. Apparitions helped people to understand the crises before them and sometimes, though not always, offered solutions as well.

Given the importance of apparitions as a cultural resource in the early modern period, it is not surprising that during the Fronde, French pamphleteers chose to write about apparitions to explore the dangers of France's situation. The Fronde began in 1648 when the Parlement of Paris rebelled against what they considered to be the extortionist and invasive policies of the regent Queen Anne. Within weeks, apparition pamphlets attacking the queen began to be published. In these pamphlets, the queen is usually confronted by an emissary from God, usually the Virgin Mary or an angel who reprimands Anne for her misuse of power, her failure to keep the peace while her son Louis XIV is still a minor, and her alleged lascivious desires for her chief minister Cardinal Mazarin.(1) Like other slanderous pamphlets produced during the Fronde, the apparition pamphlets explore the extent to which power was gendered in the absolutist state and the inherent fragility of a female regent's authority in seventeenth-century France. The queen and her minister Mazarin, who was accused of similar shortcomings in these pamphlets, were not, however, the only people visited by apparitions during the Fronde. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.