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Guerres de plumes

Héloïse Hermant



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1This book examines the controversies during the minority of Carlos II between Juan José de Austria and the successive favourites of the queen mother. The final outcome of that war of words was exile for the favourites and the prince’s appointment as first minister. By analysing an original new line of enquiry, this research has identified policies that harnessed the powers of the pen, making it possible not only to resist the authorities without displaying open disobedience, but also to scale the ladder of power from within. Within the arena of debate created by these confrontations, Don Juan made brilliant use of the dynamics of the written word to negotiate his place at Court. Dissidence no longer hid behind the anonymity of libel to avoid reprisals but now took advantage of the platform offered by polemical writing to secure a place on stage and become untouchable. Thanks to various means of persuasion and mobilisation —defamation, rumour, marches on Madrid— the Juanistas managed to exert pressure on the powers while avoiding actual rebellion by controlling the channels through which violence was unleashed. In this way, they expanded the boundaries of public policy, altered the practices of power and undermined certain paradigms of political culture. Moreover, by exploiting the divisions that split the councils, Don Juan achieved institutional paralysis and laid the foundations of a new art of political negotiation, which ultimately produced multiple poles of power. This book thus fills a gap in the history of courtly power and palace factions, between works dealing with the reign of Philip IV and those dealing with the court of Carlos II’s majority, which was riven by faction-fighting.

2Nonetheless, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Where this prince broke new ground was in mobilising a broad spectrum of opinion around him without having systematically to persuade in order to draw adherents to his cause. In the successive regency crises, his camp, a motley assemblage of malcontents who sought to gain their ends through intrigue, evolved from a faction to a party through a process of de-particularisation of the Juanista cause, making it possible to devise a manifesto setting out clear demands that would widen his appeal. This party then morphed into a movement of opinion. In defending cross-category interests or simultaneously addressing various constituencies by multiplexing the registers of culture, language and belief in a single message, it transcended the logic of cliques, reaching out to heterogeneous sectors. This device made it possible to draw new layers of society into the political struggle and diversified the categories of allegiance. By defining the frameworks, the strategies and the types of mobilisation achieved through the combined identification and fabrication of a constituency and an adversary, this study explores the participation of population groups in the construction of collective causes and throws more light on the difficult question of how sectors normally excluded from the institutional sphere became politicised.

3Wars of words that revolve around a particular way of conceiving society and political action tend to have lasting consequences. This book contributes to the history of the relations of forces by examining the norms and the changes in political languages, in order to explore the interactions between ideology, praxis and action through an analysis of the concepts refering to power. It assesses the changes in political culture, placing the political imagery in the war of words in a historical perspective. The fact is that the absence of a right of opposition in the monarchy limited the effects of an attempt at mobilisation through libel and prevented any serious disturbance to the contours of political culture. Nonetheless, the new systematic character of these wars of words prompts the question of whether there was not emerging a new mode of publicity marking the transition from a policy of visible power and a return to prescription, to an area of contention, where the authorities, no longer aloof, engaged in polemics and where there was a false appearance of transparency. This book does not then propose to retrace the emergence of a « public opinion » by positing a linear evolution. It questions the validity of contemporary analytical categories (public opinion, coup d’état) and restores forms of opposition and political dissidence to their original political, religious and cultural contexts. By analysing the way in which the libellers used the means offered by publicity to conquer and expand a constituency born of the interest in struggle, it is possible to conceive of original spheres of publicity which stand apart from the acclamatory sphere in the service of the sovereign and from the public opinion of the Enlightenment.

4The complex figure of Don Juan is the Ariadne’s thread in this enquiry. It is not so much the psychology of the person that commands attention but rather the image that he sought to build, which image we can define by reference to a political praxis where publicity was placed at the service of dissimulation. This historical exercise puts three simultaneous faces to Don Juan : that of the fox (representing, for Juanistas, Christian prudence), that of the chameleon (corresponding to Machiavellian prudence), and that of the Christ-Pelican (symbolising the sacrificial and messianic redemption of Spain).

© Casa de Velázquez, 2012

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