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Cardinal de Retz, French Noble Exile, and Political Mobility in Seventeenth-Century Europe



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Gillain, Christophe 


During the seventeenth century, it was commonplace for rebellious French elites who opposed the ministerial monopoly of power held by Richelieu and Mazarin to flee abroad in defiance of the monarchy. In recent years, there has been renewed historical interest in the exile of some of these figures, including Louis XIII’s mother and brother, Marie de Médicis and Gaston d’Orléans, or the prince of the blood known as the Grand Condé. But such studies have tended to focus on individual figures or families, rather than drawing conclusions about the wider phenomenon of French noble exile. Surveys of disgrace in early modern France have primarily examined top-down formal banishment and viewed the years that aristocrats spent in foreign exile as little more than footnotes to their careers. By contrast, this thesis presents the first in-depth study of the political culture of French noble exile in seventeenth-century Europe. It argues that the mobility and foreign exile of nobles played a central role in challenging and constructing royal and ministerial authority in the years prior to Louis XIV’s personal reign. French exiles became thoroughly entangled in European power politics as they sought support from rulers hostile to France such as the Pamphili and Chigi popes and the Habsburgs.

The thesis takes a micro-historical approach centred around Cardinal de Retz, one of the leading frondeurs who rebelled against the French government during the 1650s. Although Retz has long been known for the literary quality of his memoirs, his near-decade in European exile (1654 to 1662) after the civil upheaval of the Frondes has been neglected by historians. But the information war that Retz led against the French government from abroad and his alliances with other exiles like Condé placed him at the heart of French and European ecclesiastical and political conflicts during the 1650s. Putting Retz’s struggle for supremacy with Louis XIV and Mazarin in a longer context illuminates significant continuities in French political culture before and after the Frondes. Using the analytical framework of political mobility, the thesis argues that the movement of individuals and objects across borders was essential to French noble resistance to absolutist monarchy. Because politics was conducted along personal lines, exiles were granted asylum and forged allegiances with foreign officials and rulers through the circulation of esteem, credit, and affect. At the same time, measures taken by the Bourbon monarchy against its rebellious subjects outside the kingdom highlight the role of human movement – and efforts to control it – in making the seventeenth-century French state.





Morieux, Renaud


Absolutism, Asylum, Cardinal de Retz, Diplomacy, Emotions, Exile, French Nobility, History, Mobility, Pamphlets, Seventeenth-Century France, Sovereignty


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust St John's College Society for the Study of French History Cambridge Paris Society.