HIS231-1/29 The Absolutist Monarchy
Agenda: Background, Centralizing, Economic Implications
France: very populous (19,000,000) spread over large territory. Very fertile soil. Stable finances.
France is creating a Global Empire.Trade in India, Madagascar, America, West Indes, Canada,
Lebanon. Vast Mercantile fleet, largest, most powerful navy in the world. Culture develops very
well in this flourishing. They establish the Estates General, a French national Parliament, and
local Parlements to deal with tax issues and the intendant system. France is a single state with
distinct social divisions due to regional differences. Towns Charters, customs and the system of
weights and measures vary, which is all a really big problem if one wants to centralize and
establish unity. Today‟s lecture will focus on Louis XIV (1638-1715) who ascends to the throne
at the age of 22 after the death of Cardinal Mazarin, his regent.
1648-The Fronde breaks out in France. “Sling”, the poor are breaking windows and rioting due
to the pressures of the nobility.Mazarin has just come to the regency after the passing of Cardinal
Richelieu, and he decides to tax the leaders of Parlement for some much needed revenue. They
refuse to pay, get the lower classes to rally around them and begin a rebellion. When Mazarin
arrests these leaders the streets get worse. He has no military power to suppress, his forces all @
Westphalia. He is forced to release prisoners, who head out of town to plot and run into the
returning army. The army is turned against Mazarin and lays seige to Paris. Mazarin signs Peace
of Roule, appeasing them and bringing stage 1 to an end. In 1650 they will rise again in an
abortive attempt at revolution. It is finally contained and finished in 1653. Young Louis XIV is
watching this and feels the answer to the instability is to have a strong, centralized government.
Divine Right- a popular theory of European monarch in which the right to rule is an
unquestionable gift from God bestowed upon the chosen through birth. The Bourbons,
Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns are all absolutists.
“L‟etat, c‟est moi!” I am the state Louis purportedly proclaims. The nobility supports this notion
of Louis because his gain in power means stability of power for themselves in this unsure time.
Centralizing the State
Louis is not an intellectual, but he is a hard worker and true to his word, and this allows him to
be a successful monarch. He gathers support of nobility and institutes reform. Outlaws
mercenary armies, proclaims the only military force will be the kings. Large, well-equipped,
well-trained, loyal. But COSTLY. A bureaucracy, sundry equipment, loyalty must be bought.
Sees power in symbolism. Creates a „secular liturgy‟, wants world to revolve around himself,
dubs himself “the Sun King.” Builds Versailles (1669-1688) moves in in 1682. COSTS between 6-25% of GNP! Establishes ceremony around himself always. His bedroom is at the very center
of the lavish palace.
Economics 101 for Absolutist Rulers
1598: Edict of Nantes proclaimed by Henry IV. He‟s the fellow who feels that “Paris is worth a
Richelieu and Louis XIV revoke this edict giving freedom of religion in an effort to purge the
Huguenots and establish French solidarity in one shared religion, Catholicism. The Huguenots
emigrate and a unified Catholic state is achieved, at the expense of losing some of their best
workers and artisan‟s to foreign powers.
This is a financial risk! Louis must support his palace, his army, be generous to the nobles to
keep their support, and these giant financial transactions create jealousy and fear among other
nations. He is flagrantly proving himself unwilling to comply with a „balance of power‟.
When he marries the princess of Spain he becomes heir to the Spanish throne, and that is
unacceptable to everyone else. European powers keep france from being a super power. The
Dutch,British, Swedes form the Triple Alliance and face France in the War of Devolution.
War of Spanish Succession (1702-1713) Louis wants to take throne from Charles. No one can
allow this kind of power. The triple alliance comes back, and the first True world war is at hand.
France is defeated and the Peace of Utrecht is signed. England, Holland, etc. get a lot. They wipe
out the French navy and England is the uncontested ruler of the seas. This costly war, palace,
centralization will build the financial issues that lead to the revolution.
By tradition, Louis can only tax the third estate, the Clergy and High Nobility are exempt. The
Financial Minister Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) reduces internal tax to build trade, creates
a national commercial code. Improves transportation, communication. Collaborate w/ guilds.
Develops specific products, like clothing. French East India Company. Controls price of bread to
suppress the possibility of bread riots.
Louis XV (1712-1774) ascends the throne. Neither smart nor hardworking, but just as lavish as
dad. Upon passing he remarks “Apres moi, le deluge.” After me, t