Thursday, July 16, 2015

Political Alignments

Politics in 1620s France is complicated and from a 21st century perspective, unfamiliar. I've spent some time reading about the political movements of the period and piecing together, such as I am able, who is part of which faction. All this is complicated by the fact that 1620s France still has one foot in the feudalism of the Middle Ages. Ties of family, oaths of feudal loyalty, and patron/client relationships shape the shifting alliances as much as do the larger, philosophical and political differences. For now I am just focusing on the big movements, four of which can be modeled with a Cartesian system. Which is nice since Cartesius or as he is known to most of us, Decartes, is a figure in this period.

Party Alignment Axes



Devout Catholics, the dévots favor alliances with the Catholic monarchs of Europe in order to combat the Protestant heresy in France and abroad. Dévots encourage close relations with Spain, Austria, and the papacy and reject support for England, the United Provinces, and German and Scandanavian Protestants. In domestic affairs, the dévots support the continuance of the nobility’s traditional privileges and oppose absolutism and the rise of the bureaucratic robe nobility associated with the centralization of royal power.

Bon Français

Their rivals are the bon Français (literally "good French"), or politicals, who consider themselves patriots of France on equal measure with being good Catholics. The bon Français believe that supporting the king should be the primary concern of his subjects and that the greatest threat to the security of the crown, and by extension France, comes from Habsburg Spain and Austria. The bon Français accept alliances with Protestant powers in the service of protecting the crown against those foreign powers seeking hegemony over France and Europe.


Many of the dévots are ultramontanists as well. Ultramontanism is the Roman Catholic belief or doctrine that Papal authority supercedes that of local temporal and spiritual authorities, such as princes and bishops. "Ultramontane" means "beyond the mountains," specifically the Alps, and the original usage referred to a pope elected from outside Italy, but in 17th century France it refers to those who believe the powers and prerogatives of the Pope exceed those of the king or the prelates of the Church in France. Ultramontanists strongly resist the concept of the absolute monarchy and of the civil authority of the state over the persons and institutions of the Church.


Ultramontanism is in turn opposed by gallicanism. Gallicanism is the belief or doctrine that the royal and civil authorities of France hold power over the French Church comparable to that of the Pope in Rome. Unlike the Anglicans in England, Gallicans do not reject the authority of the Church over temporal and ecclesiastical affairs altogether, but rather emphasize the role of the bishops, and the monarch and the civil authorities, in managing the affairs of the Church in France. The role of the Papacy in Gallicanism is one of 'first among equals.
The Jesuits are perhaps the most vocal proponents of ultramontanism in France.

Power Alignment Axes


Another way of viewing politics in France is by looking at who or what the parties see as the supreme authority in France. The Dévots favor the Catholic Church, while the bon Francais favor the King and the Ultramontanists favor the Pope, while the Gallicans favor the State.

The Noble Parties

The are two parties among the French nobility. The noblesse d'épée and noblesse de robe. In a sense these divisions are similar to concept of old money and nueveau riche or new money. The noblesse d'épée are the old money in France and the noblesse de robe are the new money. It isn't an exact analogy, since the new money is really the merchant and banking classes more than the noblesse de robe, but it is close enough for an analogy.

Noblesse de robe

The ‘nobles of the robe,’ a reference to the gown worn by students at university, hold their titles not through tradition or military prowess but through their ownership of bureaucratic and judicial posts. In order for the emerging professional bureaucracy of the French state to have sufficient status to be taken seriously by the traditional nobility, it was necessary to make many administrative posts both venal (subject to purchase and inheritance) and noble.
The robe nobles are considered to be of a lesser nobility by the sword nobles, leading to considerable friction between the two classes.

Noblesse d'epee

The ‘nobles of the sword’ are heirs to the military and chivalric traditions of France. Before the rise of the professional army in France in the latter half of the sixteenth century, the sword nobles were the men-at-arms (gens d’armes) of the French king, comprising the lion’s share of the French military strength. From the fifteenth century on, they were the core of the compagnies d’ordonnance, the foundation of the army, composed of noble knights and their archers or men-at-arms.
The sword nobles often trace their lineages for centuries. They are proud and jealous of their privileges and place in society.


Black Vulmea was helpful in describing the various factions in 1620s. As always his campaign site is a font of information for the period. Also, as often is the case, used judiciously, Wikipedia is your friend.

Once you have factions, you need to know what secrets or knowledge they possess so that you can play interesting interactions and social combat with the PCs. Here is one simple, relatively painless way to track that:

Go To What do your NPCs know? (Available 17JULY)

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