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Old December 4th, 2012, 04:10 AM   #1

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Why did Absolutism succeed in France and fail in England in the 17th Century


I am working on a blog about the rise of absolutism in France under Louis XIV and wondered why the acceptance of the divine right of Kings succeeded so spectacularly in France and failed so dismaly in England.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 08:01 AM   #2
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Speaking for France, as far as I grasp it at all that is, what you had was a situation where the monarchy seems to have provided a kind of third party solution between the competing aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The monarchy and centralised state reined in the aristocrats, but in return to make the aristos accept their reduced personal power (no private fortifications and armies in France), but then the monarchy also made nobility a prerequisite for government office.

A less independent and powerful aristocracy was apparently also willing to accept a certain loss of independence and personal power after the French Wars of Religion. Even they might well have grown tired of constant blood-letting and domestic warfare, and so they accepted the royal bid for power.

I think if one is looking for comparisons between England and France over this, something might stick in possible differences of relative power of their respecitve aristocratic classes? I'm thinking it might turn out the Renaissance French aristos were more powerful than they similars across the Channel?
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Old December 5th, 2012, 05:08 AM   #3

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Speaking for France, as far as I grasp it at all that is, what you had was a situation where the monarchy seems to have provided a kind of third party solution between the competing aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The monarchy and centralised state reined in the aristocrats, but in return to make the aristos accept their reduced personal power (no private fortifications and armies in France), but then the monarchy also made nobility a prerequisite for government office.

A less independent and powerful aristocracy was apparently also willing to accept a certain loss of independence and personal power after the French Wars of Religion. Even they might well have grown tired of constant blood-letting and domestic warfare, and so they accepted the royal bid for power.

I think if one is looking for comparisons between England and France over this, something might stick in possible differences of relative power of their respecitve aristocratic classes? I'm thinking it might turn out the Renaissance French aristos were more powerful than they similars across the Channel?

I am not entirely sure about this one, i was rather under the impression that under Louis XIV-XVI the french nobility had a great deal of prestige and privilege but very little power.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 05:52 AM   #4

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I am not entirely sure about this one, i was rather under the impression that under Louis XIV-XVI the french nobility had a great deal of prestige and privilege but very little power.
That was indeed the point of absolutism (although how much this was the case in reality can be questioned).

And if anything it was the landed gentry that can be said to have come out as winners in England following the fall of absolutism.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 08:27 AM   #5
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I am not entirely sure about this one, i was rather under the impression that under Louis XIV-XVI the french nobility had a great deal of prestige and privilege but very little power.
I rather think that's what I said.

It was trade off. Powerful nobles came to accept royal power taking over for a bunch of juicy privileges, becoming not so powerful nobles. (And part of the reason was that the killing in the Wars of Religion was off-putting even to the aristocracy.) This was however also to the commoners' benefit, since once the absolute monarchical power was in place, they only need to deal with it, and not a plethora of variably avaricious nobles. And the monarchy might well favour interest groups among the commoners, and not necessarily always the nobles.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 08:35 AM   #6

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I rather think that's what I said.

It was trade off. Powerful nobles came to accept royal power taking over for a bunch of juicy privileges, becoming not so powerful nobles. (And part of the reason was that the killing in the Wars of Religion was off-putting even to the aristocracy.) This was however also to the commoners' benefit, since once the absolute monarchical power was in place, they only need to deal with it, and not a plethora of variably avaricious nobles. And the monarchy might well favour interest groups among the commoners, and not necessarily always the nobles.

So we have a tame nobility in France, and once the hugenots had been crushed a single religon in France, whereas in Britain Charles 1 never managed to achieve either of these.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 09:52 AM   #7
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So we have a tame nobility in France, and once the hugenots had been crushed a single religon in France, whereas in Britain Charles 1 never managed to achieve either of these.
Because the "tame" French nobility only allowed itself to get relatively de-clawed by the imposition of a strict privilege society that gave all the cushy government service jobs to them?

(It's in the long run a major contributor to the failure of the system. It effectively cut all talented and clever common Frenchmen out of the loop for service to the French state. So why be loyal to it? Why not take it apart and remake it into something more amenable to you and your fellows? Especially by the 18th c. when sucessful professionals and entrepreneurs had both money and prestige, but were STILL entirely cut out the loop of the running of the French state. The Swedish system if royal absolutism looked like the French system, EXCEPT it was also meritocratic. The government effectively solicted and sponsored clever commoners to work for it, since the Swedish nobility was a damn sight less powerful, and numerous, than the French to start out with.)

I don't know English 16-17th c. history well enough compared to a lot of people around here to really step into that hornet's nest. However, the Parliament fighting Charles already had rather a lot more power than the Estates in France at the same time. Even if Charles might have tried to cut a deal with the nobles la the French system, there would be enough powerful common folks with position and power to put up one hell of a fight? The French Third Estate could look at the king taking absolute power as a bump upwards compared to sticking to getting beat over the head by the First and Second Estates in Parliament. In England to begin with you had only the House of Commoners and the House of Lords squaring off, and correct me if I'm wrong, but by Charles I's time the distribution of power between the Commoners and the Lords was to the formers' advantage?

Again, comparing it all to the Swedish situation, which has features of both the other two, there were four estates, two common, one clerical (Second Estate in France) and the Lords. In the Swedish case Parliament actually voted absolute monarchical powers to Charles XI, since three estates decided to beat the Lords, and in their perspective having an absolute monarch who actually did break the last remnants of aristocratic political power was a positive. (And even the Lords were divided between the old Hight Nobles, with large estates and actual power, and the Low Nobles who already had been relegated to making a living as employed government officials.) The difference between France and Sweden ended up being that the monarch actually willingly put down his absolute power (1721) in favour of full parliamentarism. And in the Swedish case there was no need for a revolutions, since the government was the domain of all four Estates in parliament, and meritocracy was in place over noble privilege. (Then it got wonky and eventually violent again with the violent re-imposition of absolutism, and abolishing parliamentarism 1772-1809.)
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Old December 5th, 2012, 10:56 AM   #8

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Its starting to look like Louis had all the aces. Easier to tame nobles, easier to create religous uniformity, and an unrepresented lower class. Charles I had none of these. Nor could he raise money the way Colbert did for Loius XIV.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 11:07 AM   #9

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I am working on a blog about the rise of absolutism in France under Louis XIV and wondered why the acceptance of the divine right of Kings succeeded so spectacularly in France and failed so dismaly in England.
Maybe Cromwell and the levellers along with Locke had something to do. They were a consequence of Calvinism which I don't think took foot on France.
I am under the impression that one of the reasons English monarchy survived so long is because it was never able to strongly stand in the way of the people like others.

Last edited by Yḥānān; December 5th, 2012 at 11:14 AM.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 11:14 AM   #10

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Maybe Cromwell and the levellers along with Locke had something to do, which were a consequence of Calvinism. I am under the impression that one of the reasons English monarchy survived was because it was never able to strongly stand in the way of the people like others.

Yes indeed once we chopped our Kings head off, it did rather discourage his successors from advocating the divine right of Kings.
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