Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

"God Reigningthrough You, Reigns with You": The Charenton Controversy and the Development of Royal Authority in Early Bourbon France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

"God Reigningthrough You, Reigns with You": The Charenton Controversy and the Development of Royal Authority in Early Bourbon France

Article excerpt

During the years of 1617-20, a little-known polemical debate raged between the Protestant ministers, led by Pierre du Moulin, in the town of Charenton, just outside of Paris, and the fesuit Jean Arnoux, confessor to Louis XIII. Marked by the crisis of Henry IV's assassination in 1610 and the revolt of the princes against the regency government of Marie de' Medici, the first decades of the seventeenth century witnessed an intense debate over the nature of royal authority. The author argues that the Charenton Controversy, influenced by the ideological clashes that occurred during the Estates-General, demonstrates that the ambiguous notions of royal authority were beginning to take concrete form.

Keywords: Arnoux, Jean; du Moulin, Pierre; Estates-General 1614; Huguenots; Louis XIII

With the assassination of Henri IV in 1610 at the hand of JeanFrançois Ravaillac, the project of restoring the prestige of the monarchy and placating French society was thrown into doubt. There was no question that in the aftermath of 1610 France entered a period of political uncertainty.1 However, the disputed succession that Henri had feared, with the attendant civil wars, never materialized.2 Despite the very real constraints on the exercise of royal authority following Henri's ascension in 1589, the smooth succession of his son as Louis XIII is indicative of the relative success of the crown's efforts to pacify French society.3 The discourse of the new conception of royal authority that began with Henri's conversion at St. Denis in 1593 was still an ongoing concern at the Estates-General of 1614. 4

Ostensibly called to pronounce Louis XIII's majority the EstatesGeneral of 1614 took place during a period of political crisis.5 With Henri II de Bourbon, prince of Condé, out of the country, Marie de' Medici moved rapidly to take control of the regency. This move combined with the filling of regency offices with the queen mother's favorites led to a break between the government and much of the nobility, led by Condé.6 The propaganda campaign that followed the princes' revolt against the queen mother's administration demonstrates how far the theory of royal absolutism had developed and permeated the political elites since Henri IY Although the concepts of political authority and sovereignty were "ambiguous notions in earlyseventeenth-century France," the rhetoric emanating from the pamphlet wars leading up to the Estates-General reveal that these ambiguous notions were beginning to take concrete form.7 Indeed, the discourse of royal authority became even more acute during the years 1614-17. The suppression of the First Article of the Third Estate notwithstanding, the Estates-General addressed the crisis of 1614 by affirming the sovereignty of the crown.8

The reluctance of the queen mother's government to embrace the claims of royal sovereignty proposed in the Third Estate and the First Estate's successful campaign to suppress the First Article was part of the continuing debate over the nature of monarchial authority in the aftermath of the religious wars. Even after Henri IV's efforts at centralizing the state, the boundaries of Bourbon royal authority were still fluid. The confessional polemics between Louis XIITs confessor and the Protestant ministers at Charenton were one aspect of the continuing debate over the defining the boundaries of royal authority in favor of increasing royal sovereignty.

By the first decades of the seventeenth century, religious polemics such as the ones in the opening months of the Estates-General of 1614 rejected framing religious opponents in a rhetoric of dehumanizing otherness.9 We see during Louis XIITs minority an acceptance in Catholic preaching that the Protestant threat could not be exterminated by the sword but rather by the word through conversion. The Protestants for their part mirrored this rhetoric. Recognizing their precarious position in France, they took great pains to profess their loyalty to the crown and, in the face of Catholic proselytizing efforts, to remind the crown of its responsibility in maintaining the articles of the Edict of Nantes. …

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