chapter  5
25 Pages

Mobility and governance in early modern Marseilles


Like other port-cities in the early modern period, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, Marseilles was a place of transit. The port and the city, proud of their past and Phoenician origins, rich in ancient relics, attracted visitors and pilgrims, passers-by and people of note who came in style. In the sixteenth century Provence and Marseilles were a crossroads, a melting-pot of all nations. This is how the royal authorities explained the periodic outbreaks of violence and revolts. The Governor of Provence, the Duke of Épernon, wrote in 1593 to King Henry IV: ‘There is no province in your whole kingdom, where men are more marked by inconstancy and instability thanmen of this country.’1 He then denounced their ‘extreme opinions’.2

For the queen mother, Catherine of Medici, who visited the region in 1578-9, the innumerable quarrels and enmities among the people of Provence could be explained by the fact that this was a mixed population: ‘thus all the people here are descended from diverse nations and the strain still shows through in many of them’.3 The Spanish Ambassador to France, Álava, who accompanied King Charles IX and Catherine of Medici, went even further. During his visit toMarseilles (1563) he complained about the taste for things Turkish of the galley commander Cornelio Fregoso, a naturalised Genoese,4 and also condemned those of the King’s entourage who enjoyed the Moorish-style ballet put on by the Knights of Malta and dressed up à la Turque for their amusement in the city.5 For Álava, this taste for things Turkish is not only visible proof of the alliance with the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean, but also brings to light the false difference between what they profess and what they practice, with its deeper taint.6