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Absolutism in France under louis XIV

Posted December 6th, 2012 at 02:31 AM by funakison

Originally Posted by funakison View Post
Absolutism in France under Louis XIV
Despite the attempts of the early Stuart kings such as Charles I to impose it, the notion of `The Divine Right of Kings` was rebuffed in England yet flourished in France. Absolutism was a form of government where the ruling monarchs were responsible to God alone, sovereignty was embodied in the king. Absolute rulers became the legislators of their country – they made the law.
France was the country in which absolutism hit its peak . When Cardinal Richelieu became first minister of the French crown in 1624, he set in place the cornerstone of French absolutism. His policy was to make all groups and institutions not related to the French monarchy subordinate to it. He began methods in curbing the nobility’s power. Richelieu was so dedicated to creating absolutism, he developed the ‘raison d’état’, where he made his actions lawful as long as they were in interest of the state, even if his actions would be a crime elsewhere. But it was not until King Louis XIV took the throne that absolutism truly hit its stride. The king was initialy content to let Mazarin continue the policies of Richelieu for they suited his purpose. It was the day after Cardinal Mazarin's death, at the age of twenty three, that Louis showed his hand by expressing his determination to be a real king and the sole ruler of France.
"Up to this moment I have been pleased to entrust the government of my affairs to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself. You secretaries and ministers of state will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to seal no orders except by my command.
The news sent shockwaves through the court, The kings mother, who was well aware of Louis's fondness for fun and games and getting into the beds of the maids in the royal palace, laughed aloud at these words. But Louis proved willing to pay the price of being a strong ruler . He established a conscientious routine from which he seldom deviated, but he did not look upon his duties as drudgery since he judged his royal profession to be "grand, noble, and delightful."
Eager for glory, Louis created a grand and majestic spectacle at the court of Versailles . Consequently, Louis and his court came to set the standard for monarchies and aristocracies all over Europe. Yet the grand spectacle of Versailles hid a secret agenda. The control of the nobility was a prerequisite in the formation of an absolute monarchy, and it was something that King Louis XIV set out to achieve. When still a young child, during the Fronde, a civil war opposing the policies of the government, some nobles broke into the royal palace and harassed King Louis XIV and his mother, causing him to realise that the nobility were not his friends, and they needed to be controlled. When he officially became king, Louis set about to achieve a ‘complete domestication of the nobility’, by managing to get them to cooperate with him . Throughout France, the nobility were involved in projects that exalted the monarchy and reinforced the aristocrats’ prestige – the relationship benefited both parties, so everyone seemed to ‘win’. To assure the nobility were pleased with him, Louis granted them privileged social status and increased access to himself, which in turn meant access to the enormous patronage the king had to dispenseThe government of France relied on the social and political structure of 17th century France, where historically the nobility had great influence. However, King Louis XIV set out to undermined the nobility. One of the ways he did this was by using court ceremonials from which he excluded the nobility from attending, which in turn weakened their right to advise the king and to participate in the government. Ever eager to be part of the kings inner circle the nobility started to occupy themselves with frivolous things like the opera, balls, and gossip. They fawned over Louis competing for his attention. This consumed their time, which reduced the threat to King Louis XIV’s power. Louis had successfully separated power from status and grandeur.
The effects of socioeconomical changes in King Louis XIV’s reign impacted the country for better and for worse. One of the first things that King Louis XIV did was make the French language important. The vernacular language swelled in popularity under his reign. French became the national language of polite society and the vehicle of diplomatic exchange. Over time, French even started to replace Latin as the language of international scholarship and learning. Many kings wanted to imitate King Louis XIV’s court, style, and monarchy, in that all of Europe French intellectuals and artists were being copied. In other countries. The expansion of the French language was something positive that happened under King Louis’s rule, and that helped France inspire a cosmopolitan European culture, based on their own government and language.
The finances of France were both a positive and negative spot in French absolutism. Under King Louis XIII of France, the state’s financial status was weakened. French citizens were refusing to pay taxes, as they were under the misconception that because the French army was powerful enough to defeat the Spanish, the taxes were unnecessary. When King Louis XIV was in power, it was discovered that finances were the weakness in his administration. It was an intolerable situation for Louis and his grand designs. He was spending a lot of money, on an extensive military reform, an expansion on the professional bureaucracy, the cost of Versailles, and the costs of wars in which he had involved France. The continuation of these need an ever increasing amount of money to finance them.
For French kings to gain money, they had to consult local or provincial Estates so that they could approve the taxes for particular regions. The Estates consisted of three parts: the clergy, nobility, and all the other people (commoners). The clergy and the nobility had many tax exemptions, so the majority of the taxes fell onto the commoners. The members of the Third Estates, as the commoners were called, tried to push back the year the taxes came out, bargained for a lesser amount, or put off collecting it. Another issue concerning taxes was that the act of collecting the taxes failed to produce enough revenue. Tax farmers were people who purchased the right to have the job from the government. Their job was to collect taxes in a particular district. What they did to gain money however, was to pocket the difference of what they collected and what they actually gave to the state. Because of these actions, the tax farmers profited, while the government was receiving far less than the people had actually paid. Moreover the Crown had an agreement with the nobility for many years that said that as long as the nobility did not pay taxes, they did not have a say in government. Louis was content to continue this policy as nobles with power were a potential threat to the monarchy, the downside to this policy was the crown lost much potential revenue. French absolutism threatened to be disasterous for France, the king needed a fianacial genius and he found one in the form of Colbert , the new controller of finances who had replaced the disgarced, self serving Fouqet. Colbert set about applying a mercantile approach. Mercantilism is a collection of government policies for the regulation of economic activities, especially concerning commercial activities, by and for the state. Colbert had a plan to improve the economy, with five main points. The first was to keep a positive trade balance. Colbert went to extremes with this view – he made it so France was not importing anything. This made France a self-sufficient country, and also ensured that France would not become in debt due to a trading i,mbalance. The second idea was to subsidize industries within France, this was necessary due to the fact that no imports were coming into the country, new industries and methods of manafacture needed to be implemented to counterbalance the restriction on imported goods. Colbert subsidized cloth industries, mirrors, steel and firearms. He set up state inspections to ensure that the products being made were of good quality. The third part of Colbert`s policy was to maintain the gold reserve. This was important because Colbert knew that if all the gold was gone, the currency would not have any value. He ensured that the French currency never lost its value. The fourth improvement Colbert made was to recruit foreign expertise. He did this to help French industry grow. The fifth item on his list was to increase the merchant marine, as more ships were needed to export the increase in manafactured goods, Colbert also made improvements to the communication of the people of France by building roads and canals, which assisted in the free flow of goods and people. under Colbert France became the leading industrialised nation in the world. Colbert was a benefit to France in King Louis XIV’s reign . Under normal condutions France would have flourished, but the building of Versailles and Louis constant wars were draining the French coffers as fast as Colbrt was filling them. The death of Colbert saw the premotion of Claud Le Peletier who in desperation resorted to the devaluation of the currency, sold offices, tax exemptions and titles of nobility. To raise revenue, all the silver in France was shipped off to the mint to be melted down and made into money. Even this did not raise enough revenue for the multitudes of wars King Louis XIV was in. By 1714, a year before the end of King Louis XIV’s reign, France hovered on the brink of financial bankruptcy. Although France was shining bright for a period of time, by the end of Louis’s rule, the economy in France was a negative concept in the absolutist rule of King Louis XIV.
A benefit of French absolutism during King Louis XIV’s reign was the making of French classicism. French classicism is the art and literature created in the age of Louis XIV. The artists and writers of the late 17th century copied the subject manner and style of the classic antiquity. Their work resembled that of Renaissance Italy, as the French art possessed the classical qualities of discipline, balance, and restraint. Classicism was the official style of Louis’s court. Although the king never truly relaxed from the pressure of running the government, he was said to enjoy music and theatre, even using them as a backdrop for court ceremonials. Although King Louis did not help advance French classicism, he was supportive of it, especially when concerning certain musical artists, like Jean-Baptiste Lully, who created orchestral works, Francois Couperin, a harpsichord and organ player, and Marc-Antonie Charpentier, who created religious music. Louis loved and supported the stage, as well as people like Moliere and Racine, two men who wrote plays, Moliere who wrote satires, and Racine, who wrote tragic dramas.
One thing that was constant amongst all absolutist regines was an attempt to control religion. When King Louis XIV was king, he entered in the government inheriting the pros and cons of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes was a law created by a past French King Henry IV, giving Huguenots liberty of conscience. King Louis’s new law ordered the destruction of churches, closing of schools, baptism of Huguenots, and the exile of any priest that refused to convert faiths. The Edict of Nantes was never expected to be permanent, as religious pluralism in the 17th century was unpopular and divisive. Louis believed in ‘one king, one law, one faith’, and the Edict of Nantes went against that belief. For absolutism to be successful, everyone had to listen to the king, and do what the king said. Having two major religions just would not work if Louis XIV wanted an absolute rule. He set out to curb the Hugenots and bring them to heel, the protestant enclave of La Rochelle rebelled and was speedily crushed marking the end to religous diversity in France.
The government was also successfully run under Louis XIV. He set up an administration that utilized several councils of the state and intendants, and his government had a uniform and centralized administration that was imposed onto the country. The councilors of state were recently ennobled or upper middle class, and this provided means of social mobility for them. King Louis XIV also had professional bureaucrats that served the state in person of the king, but there was no belief that they shared even the slightest bit of power with him. He also chose bourgeois officials, as he wanted people to know that those who worked for him would not get power, and he had sole authority. King Louis XIV never called an Estates General , so neither the commoners nor the nobles had a platform to voice their dissent , and were generally excluded from what was going on in the government.
King Louis XIV was directly involved in French foreign policy which all too often led him to war . In his reign of fifty-four years, he was at war for thirty-three of them. War was his administration`s greatest expense. It was what ultimately made the government teeter at the edge of bankruptcy Louis XIV’s standing army had 250,000 men, which was a ten fold increase on the size of his fathers army. The King appointed Francois le Tellier, later marquis de Louvois, secretary of the state for war. Louvois created a professional army that was modern in the way that the French state, not the nobles, employed the soliders. Louvois had several ways to recruit troops, such as dragooning, or seizing men off the street, conscription, a draft, and a lottery system. The soldiers, under Jean Martinet, were turned into ‘a tough, obedient military machine.’ A system was organized so that food was given to the troops, so they were no longer living off the countryside, an ambulance corps looked after wounded, and uniforms and weapons were standardized. The army was divided into four sections: training, medical, supply, and weapons. All of these changes added up to a military revolution, where France could dominate affairs of the continent for the first time ever. With this professional army Louis invaded Flanders, acquiring twelve towns, Holland, where Louis gained additional Flemish towns and all of Franche-Comte, Strasbourg, and Lorraine. After all of these conquests. The cost of these wars had to be paid from the public purse and thanks to the unequal system of taxation, the nation teetered towards finacial ruin No matter what measures were made, the revenues raised were never enough. . This is when absolutism in France was not as successful, as no one was telling the king that his foreign policy was driving the nation into Bankrupcy. The War of Spanish Succession began due to territorial disputes in the previous century, and over the question of the succession of the Spanish throne. The king of Spain at the time, Charles the Second, had no heir. Because of this, the major European powers decided to divide the territory up between France and the Holy Roman Empire. However, Charles II put a dent in this plan by leaving the throne to Philip of Anjou, his lover, who also happened to be King Louis XIV’s grandson. Louis would have been able to influence Spain, so the English, Dutch, Austrians, and Prussians founded the Grand Alliance, which fought against Spain and France. The fighting lasted until the Peace of Utrecht was drawn up, which said that Philip was to remain the first Bourbon king of Spain, on the understanding that Spain and France never united, and France was to surrender Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay Area to England, and Austria was to receive the Spanish Netherlands. The Peace of Utrecht also marked the end of French expansionist policy.
From 1643 to 1715, King Louis XIV ruled in France, he governed using an absolutism which had positive and negative outcomes that affected the socioeconomic, political, and military concerns of the time. The reign of King Louis XIV was the time when absolutism hit its peak he applied it to all forms of his government, whether it be the cultural aspect of it, such as with French becoming a widely used language, the finances of France, French classicism, and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes , the governmental, like the nobility was brought under Louis control . Absolutism had its ups and downs, but overall it was used at the appropriate time is history by a successful king,
Yet even as the Sun King shone at its brightest, storm clouds were gathering. The era of absolutism had a shelf life, and needed to be applied by a strong king. The age of enlighenment was on the horizon, and over time other european countries began to modernise, whilst France languished in the past still bathing in the memory of its sun king oblivious to the spectre of revolution hovering nearby.
Thanks for reading
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  1. Old Comment
    funakison's Avatar
    Here is my blog on absolutism under Louis X!V, read that and then think of Versailles as a bubble that shielded its inhabitants to the world beyond.

    Absolutism in France under louis XIV - Historum - History Forums
    Posted June 24th, 2014 at 04:54 AM by funakison funakison is online now

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