Étienne Marcel

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Statue of Etienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac next to the Hotel de Ville of Paris Etienne Marcel.jpg
Statue of Étienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac next to the Hôtel de Ville of Paris

Étienne Marcel (between 1302 and 1310 – 31 July 1358) was provost of the merchants of Paris under King John II of France, called John the Good (Jean le Bon). He distinguished himself in the defense of the small craftsmen and guildsmen who made up most of the city population.

A provost is the ceremonial head of many Scottish local authorities, and under the name prévôt was a governmental position of varying importance in Ancien Régime France.

Merchant businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others

A merchant is a person who trades in commodities produced by other people. Historically, a merchant is anyone who is involved in business or trade. Merchants have operated for as long as industry, commerce, and trade have existed. In 16th-century Europe, two different terms for merchants emerged: meerseniers referred to local traders and koopman (Dutch: koopman referred to merchants who operated on a global stage, importing and exporting goods over vast distances and offering added-value services such as credit and finance.

John II of France monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1350 until his death

John II, called John the Good, was King of France from 1350 until his death. He was the second monarch from the House of Valois.


As a delegate of the Third Estate, he played an important role in the general assemblies held during the Hundred Years' War. In 1357, he found himself at the head of a reform movement that tried to institute a controlled French monarchy, confronting the royal power of the Dauphin or heir to the throne.

Personal life

Étienne Marcel was born into the wealthy Parisian bourgeoisie, the son of the clothier Simon Marcel and Isabelle Barbou. Like Jacob van Artevelde in Flanders, his upbringing in the urban upper class brought him close to the powerful; he grew up at a time when towns were becoming a political force, especially Paris, which was the largest city in western Europe (its population in about 1328 is estimated at 200,000 people).

Bourgeoisie polysemous French term which denotes the wealthy stratum of the middle class that originated during the latter part of the Middle Ages

The bourgeoisie is a polysemous French term that can mean:

Jacob van Artevelde Flemish statesman and political leader

Jacob van Artevelde, also known as The Wise Man and the Brewer of Ghent, was a Flemish statesman and political leader.

Étienne Marcel first married Jeanne de Dammartin, and Marguerite des Essars, who survived him.

Political career

Marcel is mentioned as provost of the Grande-Confrérie of Notre Dame in 1350. In 1354 he succeeded Jean de Pacy as provost of the Parisian merchants, representing the mercantile leaders of the Third Estate of the Estates General, [1] at a time of great change; one of his earliest assemblies - that of 1355 - aimed at controlling the kingdom's finances.

Estates General (France) unelected tricameral parliament in the Kingdom of France from 1302 to 1789

In France under the Old Regime, the Estates General or States-General was a legislative and consultative assembly of the different classes of French subjects. It had a separate assembly for each of the three estates, which were called and dismissed by the king. It had no true power in its own right—unlike the English parliament it was not required to approve royal taxation or legislation—instead it functioned as an advisory body to the king, primarily by presenting petitions from the various estates and consulting on fiscal policy. The Estates General met intermittently until 1614 and only once afterwards, in 1789, but was not definitively dissolved until after the French Revolution.

In 1356, King John was taken prisoner by the English after the Battle of Poitiers. On 17 October, his heir, the Dauphin Charles, called together the Estates General. In conjunction with Robert le Coq, Bishop of Laon, Marcel played a leading part; a committee of eighty members, formed by the two, pressed their demands for new taxes with such insistence that the dauphin dismissed the body.

Financial straits, not least dealing with the ransom for King John, obliged the Dauphin to summon them once more on 3 February 1357, with the consequence being the promulgation of a great edict of reform. John the Good forbade its being put into effect, whereupon a conflict ensued between Marcel and the dauphin, Marcel endeavoring to set up Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, in opposition to John. The Estates General assembled again on 13 January 1358, and on 22 February the populace of Paris, led by Marcel, invaded the palace and murdered the marshals of Champagne Jean de Conflans and Normandy Robert de Clermont, before the prince's eyes.

The assemblies had proven incapable of resolving the crisis in the kingdom. The murder of the nobles undermined Marcel's support from the aristocracy. [1] The Dauphin, Charles, was now able to take power and save the crown for the Valois line.

Thenceforth, Marcel was openly hostile to the throne. After vainly hoping that the insurrection of the Jacquerie might turn to his advantage, he next supported the King of Navarre, whose armed bands infested the neighbourhood of Paris. On the night of 31, July Marcel was about to open the gates of the capital to them, but Jean Maillart prevented the execution of this design. Marcel was assassinated by the guards at the Porte Saint-Antoine; [1] Parisian bourgeois believed he had gone too far in opposing the king, and thought he might hand over the city to the English. During the following days, his adherents were likewise put to death, and the dauphin was able to re-enter Paris.

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  1. 1 2 3 Barbara Tuchman (1978). A Distant Mirror . New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 155ff.