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1. Interactions et transferts entre la France et les îles Britanniques, 1640-1660

Diplomacy and the religious question: Mazarin, Cromwell and the treaties of 1655 and 16571

David L. SMITH


Cet article étudie les négociations diplomatiques qui menèrent à la signature des deux traités de novembre 1655 et de mars 1657 entre le Cardinal Mazarin et Oliver Cromwell, ainsi que celles qui, jusqu’à la mort de Cromwell en septembre 1658, accompagnèrent la mise en place de cette alliance. L’article s’interroge sur les dilemmes auxquels furent confrontés deux chefs politiques ne partageant pas la même foi, mais qui durent négocier l’un avec l’autre en dépit de leurs différences religieuses et qui parvinrent tant bien que mal à établir une alliance. Cette étude de cas est ainsi représentative des difficultés et des enjeux liés aux négociations diplomatiques entre différentes cultures et confessions au milieu du XVIIe siècle en Europe.

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Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the conference at the CRIDAF at the Université de Paris-Nord XIII (January 2008) and at a research seminar at the Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (October 2008). I am very grateful to all the participants on those two occasions, especially Bernard Cottret and Lauric Henneton, for their helpful comments, and also to the two anonymous readers for E-rea for their valuable suggestions.


  • 1 In this paper, all dates are given in new style, and in quotations from primary sources I have mode (...)
  • 2 Saulnier’s argument is developed more fully in his doctoral thesis: La diplomatie française et la R (...)

1The alliance between Mazarin and Cromwell between 1655 and 1658 was, as François Saulnier has recently argued, “une alliance des contraires” (“Cromwell et Mazarin” 233).2 This paper will explore the diplomacy that led up to the two treaties between Mazarin and Cromwell in November 1655 and March 1657, and that then surrounded the operation of that alliance in practice until Cromwell’s death in September 1658. I will examine in particular the dilemma of two leaders of different faiths, who negotiated with each other despite their religious differences, and who ultimately achieved an alliance. This involved overcoming, or at least neutralising, particular issues of concern, such as English treatment of Catholics, and French treatment of Huguenots, and focusing instead on areas of shared strategic interest, especially the benefits of an alliance against Spain. How, in short, were two such apparently contrasted powers as a Catholic monarchy recovering from the Frondes, and a Protestant republic created in the wake of the execution of Charles I, able to make common cause?

2This question has not received the detailed investigation that it deserves. Saulnier’s is now the most detailed recent French account (La diplomatie française), and within the English historiography older works are still the fullest and most reliable. The great narratives of S.R. Gardiner (Gardiner 3:147-66; 4:146-248) and C.H. Firth (Firth 1:268-341; 2:177-223) contain extensive accounts of the relations between Cromwell and Mazarin, but over the course of the twentieth century, as diplomatic history fell more and more out of fashion, research in this area has been fitful at best. In recent work on the Cromwellian Protectorate, foreign policy remains the least well covered aspect (Coward; Little). When it has been discussed, the primary focus has usually been on examining the formulation of foreign policy, and the motives that lay behind it, rather than on the conduct of diplomacy (Little and Smith; Pincus; Crabtree; Prestwich; Jones). The fullest accounts in English are by Philip A. Knachel, Charles P. Korr and Timothy Venning: however, none of these works looks in detail at the negotiations leading up to the treaties of 1655 and 1657, or at the political and religious difficulties that beset them (Knachel; Korr; Venning). As Glenn Richardson has recently written, “if there is one period in the history of early-modern Anglo-French relations that ... still awaits satisfactory and comprehensive treatment, it is that of the Protectorate” (Richardson 16). This article thus has a twofold purpose: to explore an area that is relatively understudied in the existing scholarly literature, and to examine these negotiations as a case-study of Anglo-French interactions during the period of the ascendancies of Mazarin and Cromwell.

3Such interactions also offer an interesting example of the issues that confronted cross-cultural diplomacy in early-modern Europe. In this particular case, the talks were conducted not merely between two different cultures but across confessional boundaries as well. Such negotiations were not unknown in seventeenth-century Europe, and they have been a central theme of work by historians such as Lucien Bély and Charles-Édouard Levillain (Bély; Levillain). In the early 1630s, for example, Cardinal Richelieu had negotiated with Northern European Protestant rulers, especially Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, in an effort to secure an anti-Spanish alliance. This bore fruit in the Treaty of Bärwald in January 1631 (Bély 107; D’Albis 135-6). Similarly, during the mid-1640s, Cardinal Mazarin had been willing to treat with Sweden in the negotiations that led up to the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 (Bély 152-64; Dulong 93-6; Treasure 239-49). Strategic concerns could encourage states to forge alliances that cut across cultural and confessional boundaries, although such talks were often complicated by religious issues and were liable to run into difficulties that were related to their contrasting confessional identities. Throughout the seventeenth century, such issues complicated the relationship between France and the Dutch Republic (Krumenacker). Similarly, Levillain has shown how, in the years between 1665 and 1688, the three-way relationship between England, France and the Dutch was marked by constant interactions and tensions between strategic and confessional considerations (Levillain). Those conflicting priorities, and the attempts to resolve them, were evident also in Anglo-French diplomacy during the 1650s. In particular, problems could arise when each state sought to protect the interests of its co-religionists who formed a minority living under the rule of the other. We shall see that this kind of concern proved to be a significant obstacle to the negotiations between Cromwell and Mazarin, and that at times it threatened to delay or even prevent the conclusion of an alliance between them.

The Treaty of 1655

  • 3 In December 1653, the short-lived Barebone’s Parliament dissolved itself and surrendered power back (...)

4Despite such impediments, in the end two treaties were signed between England and France during the 1650s: a defensive treaty in November 1655, and an offensive one sixteen months later in March 1657. The first was the product of lengthy negotiations that originally began with the arrival of Antoine de Bordeaux as French ambassador to England in December 1652. Bordeaux appears to have been a diplomat of exceptional patience, and he needed all his patience in his attempts to negotiate with Oliver Cromwell. Bordeaux arrived at a time of considerable political instability within England, leading in 1653 to Cromwell’s dismissal of the Rump Parliament, the short-lived experiment of Barebone’s Parliament, followed by the collapse of the Commonwealth, the establishment of the Protectorate, and the appointment of Cromwell as Lord Protector.3 Amidst all this political turmoil, Cromwell was reluctant to rush into a treaty with France. Moreover, political opinion in England was suspicious of France because of its association with Catholicism and with Royalism (Charles Stuart and other members of the royal family were in exile in Paris), and a fear that France was sympathetic towards the Dutch Republic, with whom the British Republic had been at war since May 1652 (Venning 38-46; Korr 28-55). Bordeaux thus found Cromwell and his advisers cautious about moving towards an alliance with France, and it was to take nearly three years of patient negotiation after his arrival in England to secure a defensive alliance.

5For Louis XIV, and for his chief minister Cardinal Mazarin, 1653 was likewise a year of great significance, but for reasons quite different from those in England. That year finally saw the end of the Frondes which had posed such a grave threat to the French monarchy since 1648. France had watched the events of early 1649 in England – the trial and execution of Charles I and the abolition of the monarchy – with a mixture of horror, fascination and admiration. Some of the leading Frondeurs even pointed to the example of England as an illustration of the fate that might befall the French monarchy if it did not adapt (Knachel 78-111). The eventual defeat of the Frondes made it easier for the French monarchy to contemplate negotiations with the English republic without running the risk of encouraging dissident elements at home (Knachel 179-214). Mazarin returned to Paris in February 1653, and then, with the surrender of the city of Bordeaux to royal authority in August the provincial Fronde came to an end. The reassertion of the Crown’s authority during the course of 1653 enabled Mazarin to look outwards with greater confidence, and in particular to focus on the Habsburg danger, from Spain and the Empire. An English alliance seemed attractive as a counter against the possible hazards of Habsburg encirclement. The crux of the diplomatic problem in 1653 was thus that at just the time when events in France were making Mazarin more inclined to seek an English alliance as soon as possible, events in England were inclining Cromwell to maintain his cautious attitude towards a treaty with France.

6This situation gradually began to change during the course of 1654-5. There were two particular developments that provide the crucial context within which Cromwell slowly came round to the idea of a treaty with France. The first was the conclusion of the Treaty of Westminster between England and the Dutch Republic in April 1654 (Pincus 84-191). Although this alliance remained somewhat uneasy, mainly because of continuing commercial rivalries between the two powers, it nevertheless helped to allay English fears that France might join forces with the Dutch against England (Venning 166-89; Jones 137-44). The second development was the decision of Cromwell and his Council to launch a major amphibious expedition against Spanish power in the West Indies. This so-called Western Design was approved by the Council in July 1654 and launched the following December. This was the clearest signal yet that Cromwell was moving away from his carefully studied policy of non-alignment between France and Spain and inclining away from the latter. It revealed the Atlantic nature of Cromwell’s thinking, for he was consciously seeking to defend the religious freedom of those Protestant English merchants who were trading in the West Indies. Strategic considerations also loomed large for, in Karen Kupperman’s words, Cromwell believed that “until Spain was severed from its sources of riches in the Indies, the danger of attacks on England would remain” (Kupperman 349). Carla Pestana has argued that although financial motivations contributed to the design, it “was most significantly an effort to achieve the religious and political goals that had long animated the group around” Cromwell because “it fulfilled his religious vision of triumphal Protestantism” (English Atlantic 178-9). He regarded Spain, in classic Elizabethan terms, as a malevolent world-wide Empire, whose tentacles encompassed the new world as well as the old. Indeed, the two were intimately connected, for the Western Design also made it all the more important for Cromwell to preserve good relations with France while he was actively engaged in a war against Spain.

7It nevertheless took until November 1655 for a defensive treaty between England and France to be signed. The hesitation was once again principally on Cromwell’s side, and can be related not only to the fate of the exiled royal family but also specifically to religious issues. Perhaps Bordeaux’s most difficult task was to persuade Cromwell and his advisers that the regime of Louis XIV and Mazarin did not pose any threat to the well-being of the Huguenots. Cromwell was reluctant to believe this without tangible concessions to the Huguenot community which neither King nor Cardinal was in a position to make. On 18 December 1654, Louis XIV assured Cromwell that he was not acting “du quelque autre motif ... [que] ... l’amitié, qui demeurera établie entre les états” (Birch 3:12-13). Bordeaux wrote on 22 January 1655 that Cromwell was “without doubt ... driven by particular consideration, which is unknown to me, to maintain a division with France” (Birch 3:103). Yet, despite threatening to abandon his embassy and return to France, Bordeaux remained in London. His perseverance would ultimately pay off and he was, perhaps, buoyed by a note that he received from Paris towards the end of May 1655 which praised him for staying “in England with some hope of concluding your treaty” rather than being back in Paris “with an absolute breach” (Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson A 26, fo. 184r).

8By then, however, an even more serious obstacle to the negotiations had arisen. Recent research has suggested that in the mid-1650s the French government was being reasonably gentle towards the Huguenots within France in gratitude for their loyalty to the monarchy during the Frondes. Although this leniency would begin to diminish by the end of the decade, in response to growing pressure from the Assembly of Clergy, in general the 1650s were a period of relative tranquillity for French Huguenots (Cottret, Huguenots in England 290; Gwynn 24-5). By contrast, in May 1655 Duke Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy, a client of Louis XIV, was responsible for the massacre of about 270 Protestant Vaudois in Piedmont (Gardiner 4:177-85). Bordeaux lamented that these massacres of Protestants gave Cromwell another excuse for spinning out the talks still further, and wrote to his father on 3 June that:

the intention of the protector and this government was always to amuse us, and not to conclude till the very last: and this doth appear by what the secretary of state [Thurloe] hath sent me this evening, instead of the treaty, which he promised to send me after it was writ out fair: he hath sent me word, that his highness would first send an express to the king, with a letter in favour of the protestants of Savoy, who suffer great persecutions; that they would send me tomorrow the copy, and desire a pass of me. This pretence of delaying is a little coloured; besides, they could not find any other, in regard all the conditions are agreed on, and this government, it may be, doth think to render themselves agreeable to the people of England by such offices; and that the rupture with France would pass for a war for religion sake; but the people is disabused, and have learned more wit, having had experience enough of this fallacy in their own wars. And the people of condition and understanding, and foreign nations will not find, that after three years delay, the justice, though never so vigorous, which the duke of Savoy doth exercise, ought to produce upon good ground a war between France and England (Birch 3:469).

9The following day, Cromwell wrote letters to both Louis XIV and Mazarin. To the King he declared:

We do not doubt but that your Majesty hath such an interest and authority with the Duke of Savoy that by your intercession and signification of your good will, a peace may very easily be procured for those poor people, with a return into their native country, and to their former liberty. The performance whereof will be an action worthy of your Majesty, and answerable to the prudence and example of your most serene predecessors; and will not only very much confirm the minds of your subjects that they need not fear the like mischief any time hereafter, but also engage your confederates and allies, which profess the same religion, in a far greater respect and good affection to your Majesty (Abbott 3:727).

10Cromwell thus hinted that the fate of the treaty negotiations depended on the King’s willingness to intervene with the Duke of Savoy. This linkage was made even more explicit in Cromwell’s accompanying letter to Mazarin:

There is nothing which has acquired more good will and affection to the French nation, among all the neighbouring professors of the reformed religion, than that liberty and those privileges which by public acts and edicts are granted in that kingdom to the Protestants. And this among others was one main reason why this republic so ardently desired the friendship and alliance of the French people.

11Cromwell hoped that Mazarin would use his influence to intercede on behalf of the Vaudois, and thus “lay the foundations of a stricter alliance between this republic and the kingdom of France” (Abbott 3:728).

12The French court intervened shortly afterwards on behalf of the Vaudois, and the French ambassador to the Duke of Savoy proposed that an amnesty be granted to them. In August 1655, the Treaty of Pignerol ended hostilities between the Duke of Savoy and the Vaudois, and guaranteed the latter the right to worship in freedom (Morland 652-64). Mazarin hoped that the way would now lie clear for the conclusion of an Anglo-French treaty. In a two-hour conversation with the English diplomat George Downing in late August, Mazarin stated “that of all things in the world he desired a right understanding with” Cromwell, and “that he would do any thing in his power to evidence it”. The Cardinal continued “that as to the protestants in France, as he had been their friend to keep them from wrong, since he managed affairs here, so if there were any thing, that [Cromwell] would have done on their behalf, which might stand with the honour of France, he would do it, though for his part he had not interposed on behalf of the Catholics in England; and upon this particular he enlarged much.” Mazarin also emphasized that “the accommodation now in Piedmont was by his master’s intercession”, and “that he would engage, that no treaty or peace should be made” between France and Spain “but with [Cromwell’s] consent” (Birch 3:734). These undertakings appear to have overcome any remaining hesitations, and a defensive alliance between France and the British Republic, the Treaty of Westminster, was finally signed on 3 November 1655 (Abbott 3:930-8).

13The public clauses of this treaty included promises not to aid rebels or pirates against either state, a cessation of any commercial or other hostilities between the two states, and a promise to have past commercial disputes adjudicated. In a further, secret, article France agreed to the expulsion of Charles Stuart and his younger brothers James and Henry, together with the Duke of Ormond, Edward Hyde, Edward Nicholas and fifteen other leading Royalists. In return, Cromwell agreed to expel ten leading rebels, such as Barrière, from the time of the Frondes, who had been associated either with Condé or with the rebellious community of Bordeaux (Abbott 3:938). Thurloe wrote that Cromwell also received a promise to the effect that the Huguenots would “be well treated and enjoy the benefits of their edicts”. Cromwell clearly attached great importance to this last undertaking, and Thurloe called it “the cement of this union and the friendship with” France (TNA, SP 103/12, fo. 68r). A few weeks later, Cromwell explained to Johann Friedrich Schlezer, the agent of the Elector of Brandenburg, that he preferred France to Spain, and welcomed the fact that the “many hundred families of the reformed church [who] lived in France ... were well treated and protected there” (Abbott 4:43). The treaty appears to have enhanced Cromwell’s reputation among the Protestant communities of Germany and Switzerland, and his agent in Geneva, John Pell told Thurloe that these Protestants “will be glad to hear of England’s peace with France, and war with Spain; for it is in these countries a general observation with hardly any exception, the papists are for Spain, the Protestants are for France” (Vaughan 1:297).

Between two treaties, 1655-7

14Having signed this treaty, both Mazarin and Cromwell had strategic hopes as to how they wished their relationship to develop from this point onwards. For his part, Mazarin hoped that the treaty would be the foundation for a closer alliance with England, and he wished ultimately to secure active English support in the conflict against the Habsburgs. He wrote to Bordeaux on 9 November 1655, praising “so good a work, of so much importance for the good and peace of both nations”, and added: “As for a nearer alliance, all which I can say unto is, that his majesty doth desire it, and will be always ready to embrace it; but before we send you his intentions as to particulars, we must foresee what propositions they will make to you” (Birch 4:120). By this time, Cromwell was also inclining, in the wake of the failure of the Western Design, towards a renewal of hostilities against Spain. As Carla Pestana has argued, the defeat of the Western Design was a devastating blow to Cromwell, and he “retired for a period of intense prayer in an effort to understand the providential meaning of the disaster” (“English Character” 7-8). In Karen Kupperman’s words, Cromwell “never accepted that the failure of the Western Design signaled God’s endorsement of Spain, but he was forced to see it as a rebuke of England” (Kupperman 354). This setback seems to have reinvigorated Cromwell’s commitment to a French alliance, and in April 1656 he sent William Lockhart as ambassador to Paris. Cromwell instructed Lockhart to conduct talks that would lead “to a nearer union, and more intimate alliance than is settled and established by the late treaty”. Cromwell felt that “the affairs of both [states] seem to me to be such (they have now one common enemy) that do ... give opportunity to the two states of being very useful to each other, for their carrying on their common interests”. Cromwell declared that he had allied with France rather than Spain because France “gives liberty of conscience to the professors of the Protestant religion” whereas Spain persecuted them “with loss of life and estate”. Cromwell hoped that the King and Mazarin would continue to take steps to improve “the sad and miserable condition of the poor Protestants of Piedmont, in the dominions of the Duke of Savoy, many of their brethren having been massacred in a most cruel manner”. He hoped that Louis, acting

from that friendship and amity that is between us, and from those principles which France hath always professed towards the Protestants in their own dominions, ... will take such effectual course, that the Duke of Savoy may not only make good and perform the late treaty [of Pignerol], but cause it to be amended in such manner, as that those people may be secured in their lives, estates, consciences, and ancient privileges, whereby the King will not only do that which is just and pleasing to God, and very acceptable to all his neighbours of the same profession, but oblige those men to him, and further encourage his own Protestant subjects to continue their fidelity and services to his Majesty (Abbott 4:139-40).

15Ironically, we shall see that England’s own record on religious toleration, this time of Catholics, would come under scrutiny before the negotiations were concluded.

16Lockhart first met with the King and Mazarin in May 1656 (Battick 106-10), but it was not until March 1657 that an offensive alliance against Spain was signed. The delays once again came principally from the English side, and were fuelled by fears that Mazarin might conclude a peace with the King of Spain, to whom he had recently despatched his trusted adviser Hugues de Lionne to discuss terms. Lockhart’s talks with the Cardinal came to focus principally on the possibility of a combined attack on Spanish power in Flanders, where Charles Stuart had now settled, and specifically on the coastal towns of Mardyck and Dunkirk. Both sides wished to strike at Spanish power, but they differed over where a campaign should be concentrated and over whether England would provide troops for service on land as well as a fleet. Mazarin was reluctant to commit himself to an attack on Flanders without English troops, especially in the wake of the loss of the town of Valenciennes to Spanish troops in mid-July. Furthermore, Mazarin was under mounting pressure from the Pope, the Assembly of the Clergy, and other devout Catholics within France not to draw any closer to Cromwell, whom they regarded as a heretic. On 24 July 1656, Lockhart informed Thurloe of “the heightening of the dissatisfactions of the clergy and the bigot parties, who impute the cause of this loss [of Valenciennes] to the king’s employing a protestant general [Turenne], and his alliance with you, whom they call heretics” (Birch 5:210).

17Two days later, on 26 July, Lockhart wrote that Mazarin had told him “that he had condescended to the [Spanish] propositions of peace upon no other account, but to stop the clamour of the Pope and French clergy. He knew the King of Spain’s demands would be so high, as all honest Frenchmen would think it fit and just to continue the war. The issue hath answered his expectations, for the Spaniards’ demands are so unreasonable, as even the clergy offer to contribute largely for the carrying on the war against them.” Mazarin reported that the Spanish had, among other demands, required him to “renounce the friendship with his highness, which to him was the hardest condition of all”. Although the Cardinal was reluctant to discuss Flanders, Lockhart persisted until in the end, “with a great deal of appearance of being satisfied, he at length agreed to the siege of Dunkirk and Mardyck” (Birch 5:217).

18On 8 August, however, Lockhart had another audience with Mazarin and when he raised the matter of Dunkirk he “found him absolutely averse to it. He told me, he could not undertake the carrying of it, without resolving to lose some other place, which the enemy would not fail to attempt, so soon as they should see him engaged there; and to lose another place, and deliver up what he had got there to his highness, would render him so odious to all France, as he durst not venture upon it at any rate”. Lockhart at this point “offered to take leave of him” but Mazarin made him sit down and assured him “that his regrets were exceeding great, that he could not at present satisfy his highness’s desire in that particular; and that he would with all his heart agree to all that was demanded, so the execution [of an attack on Dunkirk] were delayed till the next spring. And the better to express the sincerity of his intentions, said, he was ready presently to sign articles for it.” Lockhart told Mazarin that “it was generally believed the peace betwixt France and Spain was very far advanced. He protested very highly to me, there was no such thing; bid me assure his highness of it, upon his reputation; and if ever he should have any such thoughts, he would communicate them to his highness, and follow his advice in it.” Dissatisfied with Mazarin’s protests, Lockhart asked to be relieved of his embassy, and told Thurloe that “you will find the Cardinal to be of that temper, that he will need a little round dealing” (Birch 5:252-3).

19In the event, however, Lockhart stayed in France, and over the weeks that followed his negotiations with Mazarin came to focus on the issue of Dunkirk. Mazarin remained reluctant to commit himself, especially because devout Catholic opinion within France strongly favoured an alliance with Spain rather than the heretic Cromwell. Lockhart reported that “all persons here, that pretend to be good Catholics, express a passionate zeal for an accommodation betwixt France and Spain upon any terms. The clergy press the necessity of it upon their auditories at all occasions” (Birch 5:532). However, with the improvement in French military fortunes during the autumn and winter of 1656, it became increasingly difficult for Mazarin to offer England credible reasons for not taking action against Dunkirk. Eventually, in November agreement was reached for a joint attack on Dunkirk or Gravelines the following spring.

  • 4 Interestingly, “Spaniolised” finds echoes in the French word “hispagniolisés” that occurs in some e (...)
  • 5 Recusants” were those who refused to attend services in their parish churches. Since the reign of (...)

20At this point, awkwardly for Cromwell, the second Protectorate Parliament took a growing interest in enforcing and extending penalties against English Catholics, not least as a way of funding the campaign in Flanders. Cromwell had, after all, told the Parliament when it met that “the papists in England have been accounted Spaniolised ever since I was born” (Abbott 4:264).4 This opening speech in September 1656 was remarkable also for its denunciation of Spain as a menace and a providential enemy. Cromwell declared: “Truly, your great enemy is the Spaniard. He is. He is a natural enemy, he is naturally so ... This state is your enemy, and is your enemy ... naturally, by that antipathy that is in him providentially” (Abbott 4:261). That enmity was evident in a Spanish threat that extended across the Atlantic. Cromwell went on to argue that “the French, all the Protestants in Germany, have agreed that [the Spaniard’s] design was the Empire of the whole Christian world, if not more” (Abbott 4:262). The Western Design had been launched, Cromwell asserted, to avenge “the blood of your poor people unjustly shed in the West Indies, and for the wrongs done elsewhere, when they asked liberty of conscience for your people that traded hither” (Abbott 4:262). The Catholics in England constituted an enemy within, a fifth column that Cromwell feared might take action on behalf of Spain. In Cromwell’s striking phrase, the Spaniard “hath an interest in your bowels” (Abbott 4:264). It was in this context that, in December 1656, a bill against popish recusants5 passed its second reading in the Commons. This complained of the recent “great increase of popish recusants within this Commonwealth”, and required all those aged sixteen or over who were “papists or popishly affected” to take an oath abjuring the Pope’s authority and deposing power, and renouncing the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory (Firth and Rait 2:1170-80). Those who refused were to forfeit two-thirds of their estates to Cromwell (Journal of the House of Commons 7:463). Cromwell gave his consent to this “Act for convicting, discovering and repressing of popish recusants” on 6 July 1657 (Firth and Rait 2:1170).

21Such a draconian measure against English Catholics could scarcely have come at a worse time from the point of view of the negotiations for a French alliance. When Bordeaux told Mazarin of this development, the Cardinal ordered him to intercede with Cromwell on behalf of English Catholics. Bordeaux first raised the matter in late December with Lockhart, who was by then temporarily back in England. Lockhart initially replied that the intervention of a foreign power in English affairs would not be welcomed, but when Bordeaux reminded him of England’s own recent intervention on behalf of the Huguenots and the Vaudois he became more conciliatory, and they agreed that each might make representations on behalf of his own co-religionists. Bordeaux reported to Mazarin on 4 January 1657 that Lockhart:

m’a d’abord dit que les entremises des étrangers en leur faveur ne seraient pas trop bien reçues, quoique je ne lui témoignasse pas avoir la pensée de parler en leur faveur; et sur ce que je lui ai demandé s’il n’avait point passé quelques offices pour les Protestants de France ou des vallées de Piedmont, il m’a désavoué de s’être mêlé des premières et s’est plaint de la mauvaise condition des autres. Néanmoins, après quelques raisonnements sur la matière, il est demeuré d’accord que l’on pouvait donner des avis pour les uns et les autres (TNA, PRO 31/3/101, fo. 7v).

22The next day, Cromwell himself wrote the following remarkable letter to Mazarin:

I may not (shall I tell you, I cannot?), at this juncture of time, and as the face of my affairs now stand, answer to your call for toleration ... I believe that under my government your Eminency, in the behalf of Catholics, has less reason for complaint as to rigour upon men’s consciences than under the Parliament ... Truly I have (and I may speak it with cheerfulness in the presence of God, who is a witness within me to the truth of what I affirm) made a difference; and, as Jude speaks, plucked many out of the fire, – the raging fire of persecution, which did tyrannize over their consciences, and encroached by an arbitrariness of power upon their estates. And herein it is my purpose, as soon as I can remove impediments, and some weights that press me down, to make a farther progress, and discharge my promise to your Eminency in relation to that (Abbott 4:368).

23It seems that although Cromwell assented to the act against popish recusants in the summer of 1657 neither it nor the older laws against recusants were seriously enforced. Furthermore, the revenue derived from recusants under this legislation was apparently very small (Firth 2:79). As John Morrill has recently argued, “Cromwell’s attitude to English Catholics was much milder than is usually recognized ... Catholics ... benefited from the repeal of all the statutes that required attendance at divine worship in their parish churches, and there was little disturbance of the private exercise of Catholic rites, even in central London” (Morrill 94-5).

The Treaty of 1657

24Cromwell’s personal leniency notwithstanding, Parliament’s promotion of a measure against popish recusants had once again revealed the difficulties that beset cross-confessional negotiations. For the second time in less than two years, concerns about the treatment of a religious minority within one of the states had seriously jeopardized the prospects of an alliance between France and the British Republic. By early 1657, however, with the religious question defused at least for the time being, the way lay clear for a formal alliance, the Treaty of Paris, which was signed by representatives of Cromwell and Mazarin on 23 March. This provided for joint attacks by land and sea on Dunkirk, Mardyck and Gravelines in April. France would contribute 20,000 troops for this campaign, while England would provide her fleet and 6,000 men. England was to garrison Dunkirk and Mardyck, France Gravelines; if Gravelines fell first, then England was to hold it as a surety until Dunkirk was taken (Abbott 4:911-15). Interestingly, the treaty bound Cromwell to preserve the free exercise of the Catholic religion in any Flemish towns that came under his control. In Dunkirk, Mardyck and Gravelines, “he shall leave all things so far as concerns the Catholic religion in the same state as he finds them, and he shall maintain the ecclesiastics, either religious or secular, in the enjoyment of their revenues and the possession of their churches”. A further, secret article stipulated that for a year there should be no truce or treaty with Spain except by mutual consent, and that if the Pope or Venice called for a peace conference, English representatives should be invited to it (Firth 1:270-1; Abbott 4:914-15).

25Lest it be thought that he had conceded too much in these terms, Lockhart wrote to Thurloe on 25 March giving “the reasons that moved [his] condescendence to them”. He pointed out, first of all, that he “did foresee there was a necessity of bringing things to a conclusion, so as you might have time to make the preparations necessary on your part”, and that he had “met with so many changes and alterations of their thoughts about the particulars treated on, as I had a world of difficulty to get them fixed in what is now agreed upon”. Secondly, Lockhart reported that he “had hints given me, that the propositions made by the nuncio, in the behalf of a peace with Spain, were not so much disrelished at court, as their own professions and public same speak them to be”. Thirdly, he “apprehended, if the Spaniard were not vigorously attacked in Flanders (which I did not see the French in a condition to do without your assistance) that they might have spared a considerable body of men for the carrying on Charles Stuart’s designs against England”. Finally, he “considered that the advantages would arise to England from his highness having a interest in the continent, might over-balance the disadvantage of condescending to some little particulars, that they had so tenaciously stuck upon”. Lockhart went on to explain that he had “stuck much upon the [religious] article, got several alterations made in it; and yet as it stands, I fear it may appear harsh enough, and would be really so, if the salvo of nihil adversus regimen cui submissi suerint molientes did not leave a latitude to his highness”. Lockhart felt that the proviso that the Catholics must bear themselves in a submissive and obedient manner gave Cromwell a “latitude” that enabled him to expel any troublemakers. Lockhart believed that the terms were the best that he could have secured, not least because he found Mazarin’s negotiators “much concerned in these expressions, in order to the satisfaction of the clergy and others” (Birch 6:115-16).

26Both Louis XIV and Cromwell promptly ratified the treaty, and it was supplemented on 9 May by a further series of secret articles. These provided for each state to assist the other against any power that injured their citizens, even against its own allies. This allowed, in particular, for English assistance to France against the Dutch Republic if and when required. Cromwell was to send a further 12,000 troops to France when needed, and to receive Ostend and Nieupoort when they were captured. Both powers also agreed to assist Sweden against the threat of a Danish invasion (stirred up by the Dutch), and to take joint action to prevent a Habsburg succeeding Ferdinand III as Holy Roman Emperor. Cromwell also promised to send English naval aid to French expeditions to Catalonia and Naples, although in the end these did not take place (Abbott 4:915-19).

A troubled alliance, 1657-8

27The treaty of 1657 notwithstanding, mistrust between England and France persisted right up to Cromwell’s death in September 1658. In part this was because he and Mazarin hoped to develop their alliance in different ways: Cromwell saw it as the means for a joint Anglo-French campaign against Spanish power in Flanders, whereas Mazarin wanted it to be the basis of a broader anti-Habsburg coalition that might draw in other Protestant powers such as Sweden and Denmark (TNA, PRO 31/3/101, fos. 283r-294r). This difference of strategic priorities, together with the sheer difficulty of organising combined operations in the Spanish Netherlands, led to a series of disputes over military tactics. For Cromwell and his advisers, the capture of Dunkirk was the primary goal, and during the summer and autumn of 1657 they suspected that French objectives lay elsewhere. Cromwell complained to Lockhart on 10 September 1657 that Mazarin’s promises were “but parcels of words for children” (Birch 6:490).

28Above all, mutual suspicion persisted over religious policies, and especially over the treatment of English Catholics and French Huguenots. Such tensions over the treatment of religious minorities were a constant hazard in diplomacy that attempted to cut across confessional boundaries. English mistrust was fuelled by new reports of harrassment of Huguenots in Gascony and Piedmont, including “the banishment of their ministers, pulling down of their churches, and subversion of almost all their privileges”, but such rumours were apparently based on exaggerated versions of an incident in Montauban (Birch 6:487-9). Conversely, in the summer of 1657, Mazarin renewed his protests to Cromwell about the treatment of English Catholics (Chéruel and D’Avenel 7:715). According to Giavarina, the Venetian Resident in London, Bordeaux had “more than one audience of the Protector, showing much zeal in the interests of the Catholics. He pressed the matter so much that his Highness asked him not to meddle in the procedure of Parliament touching his subjects.” To this Bordeaux replied that he “had asked nothing more than his Highness himself had done with his master in favour of the Huguenots of Piedmont, and as the King of France, at his request, had interposed for them, he expected the same civility and sincerity from this side towards the English Catholics, who profess the same faith as himself”. Cromwell assured Bordeaux that “he would do all in his power to prevent the act or at least the execution of its most severe articles” (Hinds 72). French Catholic opinion, led by Cardinal de Retz, nevertheless deeply resented the new act against their co-religionists, and Mazarin feared that the occupation of certain Catholic towns in Flanders under French auspices would be widely unpopular within France (Chéruel and D’Avenel 8:234-6). By the end of 1657, Lockhart was reportedly “in the worst possible odour with the entire population of Paris”, and kept “himself shut up in his house almost always and neither [received] nor [paid] visits, under the plea of indisposition” (Hinds 150).

29During December 1657, there was a striking symmetry in the attempts by both governments to influence the religious policy of the other. On 11 December, Thurloe wrote to Lockhart in Paris about “the poor Protestants in Piedmont” and claimed that there was “no period of the enemies’ malice, or their sufferings”. He urged Lockhart to press the French Court to “interpose powerfully with those of Savoy, for the Protestants, their lives, their possessions, their liberties; that they may obtain not an edict only, but an effect; for performance is the only security” (Birch 6:647). Later that month, Lockhart had an audience with Mazarin in which he “mentioned the estate of the oppressed Protestants in the valleys”, and requested him to “consider their sad complaints, and think upon means of delivering these poor people from the cruelties and insolencies of their oppressors” (Birch 6:695). Conversely, on 13 December, a few days before this audience, Mazarin had written to Bordeaux:

Je vous prie de redoubler vos offices auprès de M. Le Protecteur en faveur des Catholiques, et de lui dire confidemment, de ma part, que ce n’est pas seulement le zèle que je dois avoir, êtant que je suis, qui me fait vous en écrire ainsi, mais c’est aussi qu’effectivement le mauvais traitement des Catholiques en Angleterre, dans le temps que la France et l’Angleterre sont si unies, donne sujet à beaucoup de gens de parler contre moi, faisant juger par là quels préjudices on ne doit pas craindre pour la religion, les Anglais s’établissant en Flandre, et quel est le tort que cela me fait dans le monde. Il en peut arriver des inconvénients dans la politique pour ses intérêts (Chéruel and D’Avenel 8:236).

30Mazarin’s continued pressure seems to have been influential in securing the release of many imprisoned Catholic priests in both England and Ireland, and in encouraging some relaxation of the penal laws in practice, even if the legal position of English Catholics remained unchanged (Firth 2:221-2). Mazarin’s concern also helps to explain why, when Dunkirk was finally captured in June 1658, Turenne’s terms explicitly guaranteed the religion, churches, religious houses and relics of the inhabitants. Lockhart had no option but to accept this, while also securing the stipulation that inhabitants could be expelled if they did not behave obediently (TNA, SP 103/12, fos. 93r-104v).

31Dunkirk brought these issues into sharp focus because its significance was religious as well as strategic. Thurloe later wrote that English control over Dunkirk would help to “maintain a good understanding with France”, and that “a good intelligence with France was thought safer for the Protestants there than a war”. Thurloe envisaged Dunkirk as a Protestant rallying-point that could encourage Protestants in Flanders to declare their hidden religious beliefs and reject both Catholicism and Spanish power (Birch 1:759-63). On 3 July 1658, Lockhart promised aid to any English Protestants who wished to settle there, “provided they bring with them a line from ... Thurloe, mentioning their fidelity and affection to [Cromwell’s] government” (Birch 7:197-8). A few days later, on 9 July, Lockhart also proposed a “voluntary contribution in England, Scotland and Ireland, for the relief of the poor oppressed Protestants in Flanders”, and which might help Flemish Protestants move to Dunkirk to take the places of any Catholics expelled for disloyalty (Birch 7:216). It was little wonder that Giavarina reported that “the designs of the government are so vast that they aim at taking possession of any part of the world ... while in the matter of religion they aim at nothing less than one day infecting the whole Catholic world with Lutheranism” (Hinds 234-5).

32A further problem that Mazarin and Cromwell each faced – and another challenge that arose from the process of negotiation across confessional boundaries – was continuing pressure from religious zealots on their own side who remained unhappy with the terms of the alliance and in some cases even disapproved of its very existence. In France, one prominent critic of the English alliance in general, and the ceding of Dunkirk in particular, Madame de Motteville, wrote in her Mémoires:

Ce dessein parut odieux à tous les gens de bien, et on ne manqua pas de blâmer le ministre de cet avantage qu’il donnait aux anciens ennemis de la France, à un hérétique, à un usurpateur; mais il avait ses raisons; il crut qu’il était impossible sans cela de sauver l’Etat de beaucoup de maux, et fut persuadé au contraire que par cette voie, il forcerait le roi d’Espagne à faire la paix. Ceux qui murmuraient contre cette liaison des Anglais avec nous disaient que, sans compter l’intérêt de la religion, il y avait encore à craindre que ce ne fût donner des forces à des voisins qui ne pouvaient nous aimer, et que cette place mettaient en état de nous faire un jour de la guerre (Riaux 4:109).

33In similar vein, Cardinal de Retz summed up devout Catholic opinion in his A Most Humble and Important Remonstrance to the King concerning the Surrender of the Maritime Town of Flanders into the Hands of the English (1658). He lambasted Mazarin as Cromwell’s dupe, and accused the Cardinal of conceding far too much to the Lord Protector, whom he denounced as “a monster that nature had never before produced throughout all the centuries”. Mazarin was so alarmed by this pamphlet’s impact on French public opinion that he commissed Lionne to write a rebuttal entitled Remarks on the Transfer of Dunkirk into the Hands of the English (Salmon 305-6).

34At the other end of the religious spectrum, some English Protestants attacked Lockhart for proceeding too gently in his new role as Governor of Dunkirk and wanted him to act more decisively to root out Catholicism in the town. As Donald Lupton wrote in his Flanders, or an exact compendium of that fair, great, and fat country (1658), “the great church [of Dunkirk] is fair in building, and will be fairer when as popish superstition is removed, and the gospel preached in its vigour, zeal and, purity, which is already begun” (Firth 2:215). Lockhart also had to cope with those strongly Puritan soldiers in Dunkirk who were aggressive in their anti-Catholicism. He reported to Cromwell on 3 July that “it was openly said that it was fit to pillage the place, and especially the church where there were much riches. Their insolence went to that height that one of them lighted his pipe of tobacco at one of the wax lights of the altar where a priest was saying mass, which occasioned my being sent for in haste” (Birch 7:197). Lockhart was anxious that Puritan voices in England were trying to persuade Cromwell that “the Catholic religion meets with too much countenance, and the Protestant with too little” (Birch 7:206), but he remained convinced that a moderate approach was essential not only to preserve peace in Dunkirk but also to reassure Mazarin. A gradualist approach would, Lockhart argued, bear greater fruit in the end: “As Rome was not built in one day, so it would not be pulled down” in one day (Birch 7:197). Such correspondence indicates that by 1658 the religious differences between England and France had not been resolved but merely papered over, sometimes very thinly indeed.


35The fundamental religious divide between Mazarin and Cromwell was neatly illustrated by their final words on their deathbeds. Right to the end, the confessional gulf between them was apparent. According to one contemporary newsletter, as Cromwell lay dying at the beginning of September 1658 “he was distracted and in those fits would cry out, “What will they do with the poor Protestants in Piedmont, in Poland and other places?”” (Henderson 272). By contrast, on his deathbed, Mazarin reflected: “I am a great criminal, and have no hope but in the mercy of God”. He asked to be treated as an ordinary penitent, knowing “that there is but one gospel for the great and humble alike” (Treasure 309). Mazarin followed Cromwell in death in March 1661, and two and a half years thus separated their deaths. A great deal had separated them in life, especially their religious beliefs. Yet somehow the Cardinal who thought himself a criminal, and Cromwell, the Protestant champion or heretic depending on your viewpoint, had managed to forge an alliance through a series of fascinating, complex and ultimately successful negotiations. Diplomacy between different cultures and across confessional boundaries was a challenging task, fraught with difficult issues and potential obstacles, but it could and did bear fruit. The negotiations examined in this paper present the historian with a labyrinth of tangled priorities and persistent religious mistrust out of which emerged an alliance that just about held together. Truly, this was “une alliance des contraires”.

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List of works cited

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1 In this paper, all dates are given in new style, and in quotations from primary sources I have modernized spelling.

2 Saulnier’s argument is developed more fully in his doctoral thesis: La diplomatie française et la République d’Angleterre, 1649-1658. Diss. Université de Paris IV Sorbonne, 1999. Print.

3 In December 1653, the short-lived Barebone’s Parliament dissolved itself and surrendered power back to Cromwell. Shortly afterwards, the Army Council adopted a new written constitution, the Instrument of Government, under which Cromwell became Lord Protector, an office that he held until his death in September 1658.

4 Interestingly, “Spaniolised” finds echoes in the French word “hispagniolisés” that occurs in some early seventeenth-century works such as Avertissement au roi pour connaître la vérité de ceux qui sont causes des troubles de son royaume (1621), quoted by Bernard Cottret in 1598: L’Edit de Nantes 287.

5 Recusants” were those who refused to attend services in their parish churches. Since the reign of Elizabeth I, various statutory penalties had been imposed on them, but these were repealed by the Toleration Act of 1650, under which attendance in parish churches ceased to be compulsory (Firth and Rait 2:423-5).

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David L. SMITH, « Diplomacy and the religious question: Mazarin, Cromwell and the treaties of 1655 and 1657 », E-rea [En ligne], 11.2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2014, consulté le 06 décembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.3745

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David L. SMITH

Selwyn College, Cambridge

David L. Smith is Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His books include Constitutional Royalism and the Search for Settlement, c. 1640-1649 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), A History of the Modern British Isles, 1603-1707: The Double Crown (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), The Stuart Parliaments, 1603-1689 (London: Arnold, 1999), and (with Patrick Little) Parliaments and Politics during the Cromwellian Protectorate (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007). E-mail:

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