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Patronages et clientélismes 1550-1750 (France, Angleterre, Espagne, Italie)

Roger Mettam
Charles Giry-Deloison


Roger Mettam

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1If all the authors in this volume accept that concepts of clientage and patronage are essential to an understanding of early modem European society and politics, there unanimity ends. As the individual essays reveal, there are many opinions on how to define these concepts, on the weight to be attached to them, and on the extent to which their adoption displaces or merely qualifies previous interpretations. These differences are often masked by the use of a common vocabulary. Words such as dynasty, lineage, affinity, duty, obligation, ami and fidèle abound in the text. Marriage alliances are everywhere. Terms like absolutism, centralisation and bureaucracy are frequently shunned, or may appear only to be rejected as anachronisms. Indeed it is possible for some of these historians to describe the power structures and society of a kingdom, principality or republic without using the word "state". Society and politics can be portrayed as a series of individuals, organized into clearly identifiable groups and bearing little or no relationship to the formal institutional mechanisms painstakingly expounded by jurists at the time and by modem historians of bureaucracy. Such extremes of interpretation can become as unhelpful as clichés about "new monarchies" and "the rise of the modem state". As Madame Bayard rightly points out, the vocabulary favoured by historians of clientage includes words which were not used at the time or did not have their current meaning, but at least these scholars are trying to explain structures which did exist. They are not as unhistorical as the devotees of "absolutism" and "mercantilism", who invented Systems and values, imposing them on a past society which had no conception of them.

2The hierarchical nature of patronage, where the sovereign was supreme patron but where his clients were themselves patrons, has caused its historians to focus less on the kingdom as a unit and more on its component parts. These represent the geographical limits of individual patronage networks. Thus, more attention is paid to courts, provinces, dioceses, cities and towns at the expense of "realms", those often arbitrary amalgamations of diverse regions which had little or no meaning to the men who lived within them. Critics will say that once again excesses of interpretation have crept in. For example some scholars are willing to recognize that His Most Catholic Majesty and His Most Christian Majesty were each at the head of an extensive patronage network, but to deny that the terms "Spain" and "France" had any meaning at the time, save perhaps for foreigners who endowed enemy kingdoms with a unity which they did not in fact possess. Elizabeth of England had a much more vivid conception of an entity called Spain that any Catalan would have done. Nevertheless the historians of patronage, by studying courts as well as provinces, have bridged the gap which for too long has separated "national" and local historians, two groups who seldom seem to be writing about the same country.

3The emphasis on clientage networks has raised new historical questions, and some scholars have either failed to address them or have answered by making assertions, frequently intuitive, which carry varying degrees of conviction. Most of these problems turn upon conflicts of loyalty and how they were resolved. With so many competing interest groups in early modem society, an individual might not be able to reconcile his obligations to his family, his relatives by marriage, his sovereign, his patron, his clients, his profession and his province or town. He might belong to an institution or corporation which was in conflict with another body, among whose members were his own kinsfolk. Sometimes differences of religious allegiance within a single family added further strains, while catholic clergy, and even laymen, might be faced with the need to choose between their sovereign and their pope. Then there was the difficult decision as to when a relationship between a patron and a client was no longer yielding benefits to one or both parties. A great aristocrat might fall from favour at court and be unable to satisfy the ambitions of his clientele.

4Some of these questions receive different answers, depending on the extent to which the historians believe in the rigidity of patronage Systems. For some scholars the bond between patron and client was enduring, and might well be passed on to subsequent generations. Others have seen the relationship as more pragmatic, lasting only as long as it brought mutual advantage. It is also evident that some men had more than one patron simultaneously, because a family might have ambitions to obtain different kinds of patronage, not all of which were in the gift of a single benefactor. A noble house which sought a variety of military, civil and ecclesiastical posts for its members and clients might seek the assistance of both the provincial governor and the archbishop. It could also be prudent to have two champions at court instead of only one. Mutual patronage was also possible, making it difficult to say who was the patron and who the client. Mazarin used his position at the French court to obtain benefits for the bishop of Carpentras, while the bishop in return made use of this own crédit at the curia to obtain papal patronage for Mazarin. Pierre Goubert has described the two men as amis, but that is a word fraught with difficulty in the context of early modem patronage. In some courtly traditions, the term was not indicative of a reciprocal relationship but was a courtesy accorded by a person of rank to someone a little lower in the social hierarchy.

5Recently some scholars have stressed that clients, although in too subservient a position to be called amis, might nevertheless strike a hard bargain with a patron as a condition for serving him. Sometimes patrons were prepared to make extensive promises, because their need for supporters bordered on desperation. Richelieu at times had to concede more than he would have wished, while some fifty years earlier the ducs de Guise had paid a high price for the allegiance of middle-ranking nobles in the provinces where Guisard power was based. Moreover the obligation to serve a patron in time of war was not an openended commitment, and a client might withdraw his services when he deemed himself to have discharged his duty.

6One group of families which has at last received attention, long overdue, as a result of research by historians of patronage, is that composed of illustrious houses whose family interests lay within the dominions of more than one sovereign. International marriages made by ruling houses often receive a mention and are even accorded varying degrees of importance, but they have usually been seen from the viewpoint of one kingdom and as part of the foreign policy of a single dynasty. Few scholars have tried to examine the whole network of these liaisons. With great aristocratic families, even those who claimed present or past sovereignty over some small European State, the approach of historians has usually been more tightly constrained by modem national boundaries. No historian of the sixteenth-century French "wars of religion" has failed to examine the role of the house of Guise within France, but only recently have researchers begun to look at this troubled half-century from the perspective of the extended family, with its Lorraine, Guise, d'Aumale, d'Elbeuf and d'Este lines. To that trans-national network of relatives, the situation in France was only one factor to be taken into account as it planned its strategy for safeguarding or advancing its interests in Lorraine, Scotland, the Netherlands, the north Italian States and parts of the Empire, as well as in Normandie, Picardie and Champagne.

7Diplomatic historians, well versed in the archives of ministries for foreign affairs or in the private papers of ministers and ambassadors, have often failed to accord due weight to this international network of princely communications. A study of it reveals not only numerous informal channels for correspondence across Europe, from court to court, but also a new set of factors which helped to determine the outcome of diplomatic initiatives, as princely houses sought to advance or to thwart the policies of sovereign rulers. Some scholars have discussed divergences between royal and ministerial priorities in foreign affairs, for example the unhappiness of Colbert de Torcy that Louis XIV both recognised James III of England and was prepared to commit precious resources and manpower to the task of establishing Felipe V on the Spanish throne. Once again their sympathies have lain with the ministers, as architects of modem governmental Systems and national policies, rather than with kings, preoccupied with dynastie matters and putting loyalty to the international brotherhood of Catholic monarchs above the interests of their subjects.

8A number of the conclusions contained in these essays deserve to be brought together here as a means of concluding this volume, although the result may be to expose more discord than concord. Madame Jouanna, Madame Cerutti and Monsieur Bennassar all share the belief that patronage was acquiring a more centralized character during their period of study, although many other contributors would disagree. Nor would all concur with the clear distinction between clientage and amitié which Madame Jouanna proposes. Clients, who were as likely to have chosen their patron as to have been recruited by him, assessed the extent of their obligation and the benefits from continuing the relationship in the manner which she reserves for amis. More controversial is her assertion that the court crédit of a patron came to assume a greater role at the expense of his local crédit. The controversy arises only because she is making a generalization on the basis of studying an untypical group of aristocratic families, the "grands". Apart from d'Épernon, her patrons are all princes of the blood or princes étrangers from foreign sovereign houses. She is therefore charting a trend in which provinces, after the turbulence of the sixteenth-century civil wars, were increasingly reluctant to support princes in pursuing positions of power which would benefit the princely family but bring no advantage to the provincial élites. Only religion still remained an issue by which the Grands might occasionally rally provincial support. Accordingly the princes increasingly focused on the court in their quest for greater influence, without relying on supporters in the localities. Had Madame Jouanna studied families just below the princely level, for example the ducs et pairs, the balance between curial and local crédit would be seen to have changed little during the seventeenth century.

9A further modification could be introduced into the argument of Madame Jouanna. Rather than a steady tendency towards the domination of patronage by the court, a greater oscillation could be proposed. The disruption of royal patronage during the "religious wars", when it ceased to be an effective force in large parts of the realm, was undoubtedly succeeded, as she maintains, by greater stability and a balancing of royal beneficence under Henri IV. Yet not everyone will accept her conclusions on the ministry of Richelieu. Far from being a centraliser of patronage, with the interests of the crown at the forefront of his mind, he can be regarded as a powerful but insecure minister, always aware of the precariousness of his position and the unpredictability of royal favour. Therefore he tried to buy supporters by distributing patronage but, by showering favours on some families he alienated others, and not just d'Épernon. He therefore destabilised the patronage System again, and it was not until the personal rule of Louis XIV that equilibrium was restored. Madame Jouanna may be right that crowns, both French and English, tried to gain control over a clientage System which they could not abolish and which they knew to be an effective way of ruling the kingdom. It is whether these kings succeeded in gaining that control which will remain a matter of debate among historians.

10The piece by Robert Oresko admirably demonstrates the geographical extent of dynastic strategies, involving neighbouring principalities, more distant monarchies and the papal court. His analysis of Savoyard marriage and patronage policies, with its particular emphasis on bastards, raises an issue which deserves more attention from historians of other early modem ruling houses. Bastards were an important instrument of both foreign policy and internal patronage when there were insufficient legitimate princes and princesses to meet the demand. As Oresko has argued elsewhere, the nieces of Mazarin were also enlisted in the marriage policies of the crown, at a time when there were too few trustworthy members of the royal family. A particularly striking example of the role accorded to bastards was when Louis XIV inserted his own natural sons, who were already highly favoured and occupying important positions, into the direct succession to the French crown, as a seemingly strong dynasty was suddenly undermined by untimely deaths in 1711 and 1712.

11Further down the social scale, Daniel Dessert reveals that patronage and clientage were still dominant forces in the recruitment of royal officials. Offices were often passed down within families over many generations, and further posts in the same area of administration were obtained for relatives. As Dessert shows, some of these officials were accused of conspiring with other élite groups for mutual profit, and Saint-Simon would have been quick to contrast the virtuous aristocrat, cherishing his honneur, with these lesser men who abused their administrative position in their search for monetary advantage. The essay by Madame Bayard suggests that Saint-Simon was far from alone in making this distinction, as it examines the interaction of financiers and aristocrats. Not only were the men of the money-markets very careful about their social behaviour when having dealings with the higher nobility. The need of leading financiers, each with his own clientele of lesser men, for a powerful aristocratic patron demonstrates that the support of such an advocate at court carried much more weight than a reputation for proven experience in the world of finance.

12Whether or not Madame Jouanna is right about the centralisation of patronage in France, that concept cannot be applied to the Spain portrayed by James Casey, a land whose regions felt even less sense of common identity than the diverse provinces of the French kingdom. Patronage was the principal means by which the Spanish crown sought to gain co-operation from these proudly separatist peoples. Here, in the seventeenth century, it was still the extent to which a family had local crédit that determined kings and ministers to enlist its assistance, according it royal patronage and posts in the service of the crown. It was then essential for the noble, if he wished to maintain his crédit in the locality, to be seen to be no mere cipher, blindly carrying out the orders of the crown. A further counter-weight to royal patronage was that great and powerful nobles continued to dispense their own largesse, independently of the crown. Casey also stresses the point, equally true in France, that in law cases it was the reputation of the family, and not just the misdeeds of one of its members, which helped to determine the severity of the sentence. A family of great crédit and honour deserved to be treated more sympathetically, and not for the cynical reason that a judge would be wary of alienating such a powerful social grouping.

13Those essays concerned with urban societies reveal many different forms and patterns of organization, but always some System by which local élites could dominate activity within the walls. The least fluid is that of the lignages and bandos described by Bartolomé Bennassar in Castile, remarkable because they were so few in number and continued to dominate their town over the centuries. They expanded by taking in more members but were not displaced by totally new associations. They fought each other in the courts but, again as in France, rival groups could be locked in interminable litigation and yet still co-operate in running their city and in resisting outside interference. Bennassar suggests that royal power over the towns may have increased under Charles V and Philip II, but the enduring impression conveyed by his essay is that the traditional municipal élites remained firmly in control. Such alleged encroachment by the sovereign is in marked contrast with the situation in Milan, as discussed by Cesare Mozzarelli. He studies an unusual clientele, that of Gonzaga, an alien group of foreigners imposed upon the city and counter-productive in the almost general hostility it provoked. After the dismissal of Ferrante Gonzaga, not only did the Milanese patriciate reassert its control over the city but the sovereign ruled through the traditional civic élites in an atmosphere of mutual respect and relative harmony.

14Very different was the power structure in the City of London, where Ian Archer describes a variety of power groups, competing in their attempts to dominate the City hierarchy. Although it was dependent on the crown for the maintenance of its privileges, monarchs were usually reluctant to meddle with the status and rights of their capital city. The City both resisted and responded to the influence of courtiers, as it deemed appropriate, and they in turn respected its views. Assuming that Archer's portrayal of the City is correct, it is easy to understand why English historians have been more reluctant than their European colleagues to embrace the notions of patronage and clienteles. In London, if not in England as a whole, matters seem to have been ordered differently, with corporate allegiances often outweighing clientage when decisions were made on the advancement of supplicants. The resistant corporations of London stand in stark contrast to the vulnerable patriciate of Turin, as described by Madame Cerutti. Despite the title of her essay, she is not discussing the role of patronage and clientage. A glance at her text will confirm that impression, because it contains no proper names save that of one duc de Savoie. She is describing ducal attempts to undermine the unity of the civic élites, and it would be interesting to know the extent to which patronage networks participated and sought advantage in the fluid situation created by these initiatives fforn the ruler. Madame Cerutti concentrates on the corporate city, and does not reveal the extent to which some groups, and perhaps some clienteles, gained from the new arrangements.

15The first of the three essays on the church, that of Joseph Bergin, has much in common with the thesis of Madame Jouanna. It moves from the French civil wars, when the System of royal patronage broke down and certain powerful families were allowed to gather too much influence for themselves and for their clientele in large areas of the kingdom, to the more orderly System under the conciliatory Henri IV. On the subsequent period, the same question may be posed to Bergin as to Jouanna, namely whether the dispensation of ecclesiastical patronage became more centralized under the crown during the reign of Louis XIII or whether it was effectively exercised by Richelieu, who was building himself a group of noble supporters at the cost of irrevocably alienating other families. This policy may therefore have been more in the interests of the minister than of the crown, for there were undoubtedly houses who felt that their legitimate claims on patronage, ecclesiastical as well as secular, were being ignored, and that their rivals were receiving preferment to an excessive degree. As attempts to persuade the king of this inequity failed, although some of the conspiracies against Richelieu nearly succeeded, it is not surprising that some of the aggrieved nobles looked favourably on Gaston d'Orléans and other foci for dissent. Unfortunately, as Bergin says, a great deal of research remains to be done before the full patronage networks relevant to ecclesiastical appointments are revealed, and that must include, of course, a detailed analysis of the Roman dimension.

16M. Châtellier has produced one of those detailed studies of the kind for which Bergin calls. Although no region of France can be said to be typical, this essay discusses one which is additionally complex because of changes and attempted changes in sovereignty. Moreover the question of Jansenism, which did not fit easily into disputes between gallicans and ultramontanes, provides further complications for the historian. Despite the masterly synthesis of Châtellier, there are enough suggestive questions in his piece to require a whole book, if they are to be answered adequately. In this region, as in other areas which were transferred to French sovereignty, the policy of the crown towards secular affairs has been extensively studied, and this essay reveals that the same principle operated in ecclesiastical matters as well. The policy was to impose some leading French figures on the province at the topmost levels of the hierarchy, but to cause as little disturbance as possible at the lower levels. The king was prepared to preserve all the local traditions and privileges which did not conflict with the new regime, and to maintain the local patronage networks which were willing to work with him. Only one question is not resolved satisfactorily by Châtellier. Was the appointment of a Rohan-Soubise to the diocese of Strasbourg an unqualified triumph for Louis XIV over the Grand Chapter? The Rohan, princes étrangers, were a considerable force in the France of Louis XIV, so much so that he was prepared to depart from his policy of creating very few pairies in order to enlist their support in the later years of the reign. It could therefore be argued that this appointment was less of a triumph for Louis and more of a victory for both the house of Rohan and the Grand Chapter of Strasbourg.

17Stephen Taylor admirably exposes the dangers for historians of assuming that all appointments can be explained in political, in this case ministerial and parliamentary, terms. He also issues a timely reminder that Systems of patronage, which were generally accepted at the time, have frequently been described as "corrupt" by scholars who have imposed modem standards of political behaviour on earlier periods. This is doubly ironic because corruption seems to be universal in twentieth-century political Systems whereas the ecclesiastical patronage of the duke of Newcastle, as described by Taylor, produced honourable and moderate men, well fitted for the tasks entrusted to them. As he demonstrates, the conferment of such patronage was generally thought to entail an obligation on the part of the recipient to be trustworthy and to act in the interest of others, as well as bringing him Personal advantage. Unfortunately Taylor has time only to look at ministerial motives for making ecclesiastical appointments, and it. would be interesting to know more about the tactics used by applicants for preferment in lobbying ministers and even the king himself. Nevertheless this is a good example of how the church, despite its political influence, was treated as an institution in its own right and not as an adjunct of government, a distinction which the "gallican" kings of France were also careful to make.

18The world of Venetian espionage, colourfully described by Bruno Simon, reveals that the pecuniary motive was a principal element in establishing a network of informers. Those who were Venetian subjects might be rewarded with privileges and exemptions but the services of non-Venetians had to be procured by regular payments of money and gifts. Even so it was not possible to ensure that an agent was serving only one master. Such mercenary motives were no doubt less distasteful to a mercantile thalassocracy like Venice than they would have been in a monarchical and aristocratic society, where money was useful but unrespectable.

19Simon Adams has chosen a dramatic period of fluctuating royal authority in order to show the unwisdom of charting irrevocable trends in history. In his account, the movement from bastard feudalism towards court-orientated military patronage is seen to have been a tentative step, which was retraced as circumstances changed and first a young king and then two women ascended the throne in turn. Some of the great patrons may, of course, have overreached themselves as a result of these developments, and met an early death for their imprudence. Adams therefore provides a convincing interpretation which harmonises well with recent studies of the English civil war of the following century. This impression of the rise and fall of factions, and of periods of aristocratic dominance separating spells of more effective monarchical rule is very similar to the pattern in France, from François Ier to Louis XV. The kinds of power sought by nobles might become more diversified as time went by, but the way of forming clienteles remained remarkably constant.

20David Parrott also joins the ranks of those who are sceptical about the movement of power towards the centre. He portrays the great aristocrats as preserving their dominance over their military clienteles, but now doing so within the royal army instead of by retaining their own troops. In contrast to Jouanna and Bergin, he shows that the royal ministers actually lost, rather than gained, a degree of control, as the crown became more stretched financially and had increasingly to rely on the generosity of powerful nobles to maintain the troops which it could not support directly. Although Parrott stresses that this continuing noble independence was more pronounced in the army than in the civil spheres of government, some historians would argue that it is the considerable extent to which élites and vested interest groups could manipulate the ministers, rather than any increase in direct royal or ministerial control, which better characterises the ministries of Richelieu and Mazarin. If they did have some successes, it was by working within the traditional patronage System and not by imposing any new structure. Moreover much of the network of clients and allies which each cardinal had built up did not endure beyond the end of their respective ministries. Both Adams and Parrott show that the expanding military needs of the monarchy meant the strengthening of aristocratic clienteles in the army, and that these groups, if their expected rewards were not forthcoming, might become effective leaders of opposition to the royal government.

21For some of the historians who have contributed to this volume, notions of patronage and clientage are helpful ways of describing social and political relationships in a post-feudal age, but do not undermine traditional arguments about the rise of the centralised, bureaucratic, "modem" state, although sometimes the chronology of its advent has been adjusted. For most of the contributors, in contrast, assertions about absolutism have been dealt a terminal blow. Such a revision is beginning to make good historical sense, not only in the territories and centuries discusses here, but elsewhere and in later times. These new approaches have recently transformed the study of France in the final decades of the ancien régime, and are beginning to make their impact on the court politics, imperial guards and dvorianstvo of eighteenth-century Russia. The validity of such interpretations is already creating tierce debate, and even unseemly turmoil, among historians of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England.

22All the scholars in this volume have nevertheless attempted to unravel networks of clientage, however their conclusions may vary. That immediately distinguishes them, by their sheer industry, from many other historians. The evidence for patronage can seldom be found in convenient sources, like the formal pronouncements of monarchs or of institutions. Ministerial correspondence may sometimes yield the names of patrons and clients, but seldom the dynamism of the relationships. They have to be pieced together from references, often fragmentary, in private correspondence, household accounts, muster rolls and other documents, which may not overtly reveal the links between patrons and clients because they are assumptions in the mind of the writer. Yet, to the diligent and observant historical eye, social patterns emerge, and with such clarity that it is incomprehensible how some scholars can continue to deny their existence and importance.

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