UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Royal government in Guyenne during the first war of religion 1561-1563 Birch, Daniel R.


The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the principal challenges to royal authority and the means by which royal authority was maintained in France during the first War of Religion (1561-1563). The latter half of the sixteenth century was a critical period for the French monarchy. Great noble families attempted to re-establish their feudal power at the expense of the crown. Francis II and Charles IX, kings who were merely boys, succeeded strong monarchs on the throne. The kingdom was impoverished by foreign wars and overrun by veteran soldiers, ill-absorbed into civil life. Calvinism spread rapidly and became not only a religious but a political movement drawing ideological and organizational support from Geneva. The powerful Hapsburg monarch, Philip II, watched affairs in France with a suspicious eye and frequently manipulated matters affecting the French court. Not only were his border territories in the Pyrenees threatened but the Spanish king rightly feared that religious division in France would have repercussions in his rich low country territories. The province of Guyenne was chosen as a setting for this study because it was the province of the first prince of the blood, it was close to the Spanish kingdom, it had a history of concern for local prerogatives, and it had a large number of Huguenot believers and congregations. Not least among the reasons for choosing Guyenne in which to study royal government was the availability of abundant documentary sources. This thesis is based primarily upon the examination of memoirs and correspondence. Most important of the memoirs are those of Blaise de Monluc, lieutenant-general of Guyenne. The critical edition of these together with a biography and a study of the historical accuracy and significance of Monluc Commentaires have been prepared by Professor Paul Courteault. Among the documents available is the extensive correspondence of Catherine de Medicis, the letters of Antoine de Bourbon, those of Monluc, and many letters of Charles IX and of provincial officers. Royal government in France was not based on a financial, administrative or military foundation adequate for the king to force his will upon his subjects. Interest groups allied to the king had popularized an ideology of royal authority which served royal interests. Personal contact with his subjects, especially with the nobility enhanced royal authority. The basis of royal government, however, was the goodwill and co-operation of individuals in positions of influence. King Charles IX and Catherine de Medicis, the queen mother, constantly sought to gain and maintain such goodwill and support. They granted offices and honours which carried with them the opportunity of professional advancement and personal enrichment. An extensive correspondence tended to maintain their knowledge of affairs throughout the kingdom and their influence over their subjects. Nevertheless they had to balance individual noble against noble, faction against faction, Parlement against governor in constant negotiation to maintain royal authority. The identification of the personnel who represented the king in Guyenne reveals ways in which provincial resources could be mobilized for the crown and against the crown. In a period of civil war the military organization of the royal army within the province was of critical importance particularly when the army was largely local. Local notables appointed officers, recruited soldiers and commanded the forces. Just as important to the crown were the financial institutions of the province. As with the military institutions, it is essential to determine the ways in which those institutions facilitated royal government and the ways in which they could be made to serve the particular interests of individuals and groups other than the crown. The designation "absolute" as applied to the sixteenth-century French monarchy must be somewhat qualified as a result of an examination of the functioning of local and provincial institutions: voluntary (leagues), representative (Estates) and appointed (Parlement). It is to the nature of that monarchy that the present study is addressed. The province of Guyenne and the first years of civil war provide the historical setting.

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