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French Absolutism


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Title: French Absolutism

French Absolutism
1560-1650 Age of Crisis
  • Accompanied by decline in religious orientation
  • Growing secularization that affected political
    and intellectual worlds of Europe.

Modern State System Developed
  • 17th century was a turning point in the evolution
    of the modern state system.
  • Idea of united Christendom in Europe gave way to
    practical realities of a system of secular states
    in which reason of state took precedence over
    salvation of subjects souls.
  • By 17th century, the credibility of Christianity
    had been so weakened in the religious wars that
    more and more Europeans could think of politics
    in secular terms.

Responses to Crisis
  • Privileged classes of society, the aristocrats,
    remained in control.
  • One of the responses to the crisis was a search
    for order within society.
  • The most general trend saw an extension of
    monarchical power as a stabilizing force
    absolutism most evident in France during the
    reign of Louis XIV.
  • But absolutism wasnt the only response. Others,
    like England reacted differently to domestic
    crisis and another system emerged where monarchs
    were limited by power of their representative

Characteristics of Western European Absolutism
  • Sovereignty of a country embodied in the person
    of the ruler
  • Absolute monarchs not subordinate to national
  • Nobility was effectively brought under control
  • Bureaucracies often composed of career officials
    appointed by and solely accountable to the king
  • Monarchies gained effective control of the Roman
    Catholic Church
  • Maintained large standing armies
  • Employed secret police to weaken political

Theory of AbsolutismBodin
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Among first to provide theoretical basis for
  • Wrote during French Civil Wars only absolutism
    could provide
  • order and force people to obey
  • Believed sovereign power consisted of the
    authority to make laws,
  • tax, administer justice, control the
    states administrative system,
  • and determine foreign policy.

Theory of AbsolutismBossuet
  • Bishop Jacques Bossuet (1627-1704)
  • Principle advocate of divine right of kings
    during reign of Louis XIV
  • Argued government was divinely ordained so humans
    could live in an organized society.
  • He did caution that although a kings authority
    was absolute, his power was not since he was
    limited by the law of God.
  • There was a large gulf between the theory of
    absolutism as expressed by Bossuet and the
    practice of absolutism. A monarchs power was
    often limited by practical realities.

Development of French Absolutism 17th century
  • French society divided into 3 estates made up of
    various classes
  • - First Estate clergy 1 of
  • - Second Estate nobility 3-4 of
  • - Third Estate bourgeoisie
    artisans, urban workers, peasants
  • This hierarchy of social orders, based on rank
    and privilege was restored under the reign of
    Henry IV.
  • France primarily agrarian 90 lived in
  • French population 17 million
  • - largest country in Europe (20 of

Frances Religious Wars
  • 1559 King Henry II of France died
  • Left four young sons 3 of whom ruled one after
    the other, but incompetently
  • The real power behind the throne was Catherine de
    Medicis their mother
  • Catherine tried to preserve royal power for her
    sons, but growing conflicts between Catholics and
    Huguenots were rocking France

St. Bartholomews Day Massacre
  • Many Huguenot nobles were in Paris attending the
    marriage of Catherines daughter to the Huguenot
    prince, Henry of Navarre
  • Catherine had received reports that the Huguenots
    were planning on causing some trouble
  • Thousands of Huguenots were dragged from their
    beds and slaughtered most of the nobles
    attending the wedding died
  • The rampage went on for six weeks

St. Bartholomews Day Massare
Henry of Navarre
  • Henry survived
  • 1589 Henry inherited the throne of France when
    both Catherine and her last son died
  • He became Henry IV, the first king of the Bourbon
  • As king he was decisive, fearless in battle, and
    a clever politician a politique

Henry and Religion
  • France was a Catholic country, most people
    opposed Henry as king
  • To save France, Henry gave up Protestantism and
    became a Catholic
  • He explained his conversion by declaring, Paris
    is well worth a Mass.
  • 1598 Henry issued the Edict of Nantes a
    declaration of religious tolerance toward
    Huguenots, who were free to practice their
    religion openly - except in Catholic episcopal
    towns and around Paris

Henrys Legacy
  • Henry had enacted wise financial policies
  • He devoted his reign to rebuilding France and its
  • He restored the French monarchy to a strong
  • The French people welcomed the peace after the
    religious wars
  • Henry was killed by a fanatic who hated him for
    his religious compromises

Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu
  • Henry IVs son Louis XIII took reign after his
    fathers death
  • He was a weak king, but in 1624 he appointed a
    strong minister, Cardinal Richelieu
  • Richelieu became, in effect, the ruler of France
  • Although he tried to lead according to moral
    principles, he was also ambitious and enjoyed
    exercising authority

Steps Toward Absolutism
  • Richelieu took two steps to increase the power of
    the Bourbon dynasty
  • 1) He moved against the Huguenots
  • - allowed worship but forbid
    walled cities and their
  • armies
  • 2) He sought to weaken the power of the nobles
  • - made them take down fortified
  • - increased power of government
    agents from the
  • middle class ended need for
    noble officials
  • - creeated elaborate network of
    spies to uncover conspiracies

Strengthening of Central Administration
  • Sent out royal officials called intendants to
    provinces to execute orders of the central
  • Intendants came into conflict with provincial
    governors, but most of the time intendants won

Richelieu and the Thirty Years War
  • Richelieu wanted to make France the strongest
    state in Europe
  • He believed the greatest obstacle in achieving
    this goal was the Habsburg rulers whose lands
    surrounded France
  • Habsburgs ruled Spain, Austria, the Netherlands,
    and parts of Germany
  • To limit Habsburg power, Richelieu involved
    France in the Thirty Years War subsidized
    Protestant Sweden and sent troops to support
    Protestant cause against the Habsburgs.

Richelieus Finances
  • Here he was less capable.
  • Basic system of state finances were corrupt.
  • Many people benefited from the systems
    inefficiency and injustice when it tried to
    reform it.
  • Taille (annual direct tax on land) was increased.
  • Expenditures, especially the cost of war, soon
    outstripped additional revenues.
  • French debt continued to spiral.

Richelieus Death
  • Richelieu died in 1642.
  • Louis XIII died five months later.

  • A new French intellectual movement developed
    after witnessing the religious wars
  • They turned to skepticism, the idea that nothing
    can ever be known for certain
  • These thinkers expressed an attitude of doubt
    toward churches that claimed to have the only
    correct set of doctrines
  • They believed to doubt old ideas was the first
    step toward finding truth

Montaigne and the Essay
  • After witnessing the death of a dear friend
    during the religious wars, Michel de Montaigne
    thought deeply about lifes meaning
  • To communicate his ideas, he developed a new form
    of literature the essay
  • An essay is a brief work that expresses a
    persons thoughts and opinions
  • He believed that humans could never have absolute
    knowledge of what is true the beams of his
    study were painted with the sentence, All that
    is certain is that nothing is certain.

Rene Descartes
  • French writer and brilliant thinker
  • Wrote Meditations of First Philosophy which
    examined the skeptical argument that one could
    never be certain of anything
  • He used his observations and his reason to answer
    such arguments
  • He created a philosophy that influenced modern
    thinkers and helped to develop the scientific
  • He became an important figure of the Enlightenment

Louis XIV and Cardinal Mazarin
  • 1643 Louis became king when he was only 5 yrs.
    old, his great grandfather was Philip II (both
    believed in divine right rule)
  • Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, became Louis
    XIV regent.
  • She allowed Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieus
    successor, to be the true ruler of France.

Cardinal Mazarin
Impressions of Mazarin
  • Mazarin was greatly disliked by all elements of
    the French population because he was a foreigner
    came from Italy as a papal legate.
  • Nobles resented the building of central power at
    the expense of the provincial nobility and they
    temporarily allied with members of the Parlement
    of Paris, who opposed new taxes bing levied by
    the government to pay for the Thirty Years War.
  • Masses were also angry at additional taxes.

The First Fronde1648-1649
  • The Parlement of Paris was the most important
    court in France. It had jurisdiction over half
    of the kingdom.
  • Members of the Parlement of Paris formed the
    nobles of the robe. These were the service
    nobility of lawyers and administrators.
  • The Parlement of Paris led the First Fronde which
    broke out in Paris and was ended by compromise.

The Second Fronde1650-1652
  • 1648-1653 Anti-Mazarin riots, known as the
    Fronde, tore France apart
  • Nobles of the sword, ancestors of medieval
    nobles, led the riots that threatened the young
    kings life.
  • They were interested in overthrowing Mazarin for
    their own purposes to increase their power.
  • After the violence was over, Louis never forgot
    his fear or his anger at the nobility
  • He was determined to become so strong that they
    could never threaten him again

Failure of the Fronde
  • The Fronde failed for three reasons
  • 1) Its leaders distrusted one another even more
  • they distrusted Mazarin
  • 2) The government used violent repression
    against it
  • 3) Peasants and townspeople grew weary of
  • and fighting
  • For many years after it, the people of
    France accepted the
  • oppressive power of the absolute king
    believing rebellion was worse

Louis and Absolutism
  • Henry IV, Richelieu, and Mazarin strengthened the
    French monarchy
  • Mazarin died in 1661 and 23 yr. old Louis took
    control of the government
  • Louis weakened the power of the nobles by
    excluding them from his councils
  • He increased the power of the government agents,
    called intendants, who collected taxes and
    administered justice. These jobs went to wealthy
    middle class men.
  • Everyone in government was to communicate
    directly to him.
  • Louis never called the Estates General, the
    medieval council of representatives of all French
    social classes. They did not meet from
    1614-1789. They were then no check on royal

Jean Baptiste Colbert
  • Colbert became Louis chief minister of finance
  • Colbert believed in the economic theory of
  • Mercantilism relies upon a favorable balance of
    trade so to keep wealth in France, Colbert tried
    to make France self-sufficient
  • He wanted to manufacture everything and not rely
    on imports

Colberts Mercantilist Policies
  • 1) Gave government funds and tax benefits to
  • companies
  • 2) He placed a high tariff on goods from other
  • 3) He recognized the importance of colonies as a
  • of raw materials and markets for
    French goods
  • - He encouraged migration to
    French colony of
  • Canada where the fur trade added
    to French
  • commerce

Revocation of theEdict of Nantes
  • After Colberts death, Louis announced a policy
    that slowed Frances economic progress
  • 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which
    had protected the religious freedom of the
  • In response, thousands of Huguenot artisans and
    business people fled the country
  • Louiss policy thus robbed France of many skilled

Versailles Palace
VersaillesThe Hall of Mirrors
Louiss Grand StyleVersailles
  • Louis spent a fortune surrounding himself with
  • He built a splendid palace at Versailles, 11
    miles southwest of Paris
  • Its rich decorations and furnishings clearly
    showed the wealth and power of Louis
  • He involved the nobility in elaborate court
    ceremonies like the levee to make them think that
    they were important
  • Having the nobles at the palace increased royal
    authority and allowed the intendants to have more

The Palace at Versailles
  • Cost 2 billion in 1994 dollars
  • Size 500 yards 2 wings (each 150 yds), 2,000
  • Gardens 15,000 acres, 1,400 fountains
  • It took 36,000 laborers and 6,000 horses to build
  • It took so much water to run all of the fountains
    at the same time that it was only done on special

Patronage of the Arts
  • Versailles was the center of the arts during
    Louiss reign
  • He made opera and ballet more popular
  • One of Louiss favorite writers was Moliere
  • - wrote Tartuffe which mocks religious
  • - The Would-be Gentleman, mocks the
    newly rich
  • - The Imaginary Invalid, mocks
  • Chief purpose of art under Louis was to glorify
    the king and promote values that supported
    Louiss absolute rule

Louiss Disastrous Wars
  • France became the most powerful country in Europe
    under Louis XIV
  • In 1660, they had 20 million people 4x as many
    as England, and 10x the size of the Dutch
  • The French army numbered 100,000 in peacetime and
    400,000 in wartime far ahead of others in terms
    of size, training, and weaponry

Attempts to Expand Frances Boundaries
  • 1667 Louis invaded the Spanish Netherlands
  • - gained 12 towns
  • 1672 He invaded the Dutch Netherlands
  • - Dutch saved their country by opening
    the dikes and
  • flooding the countryside (used tactic
    earlier against
  • Spain)
  • - Treaty of Nijmegen ended the war with
    France getting
  • several towns and a region called

Balance of Power Politics
  • In the 1680s, a European-wide alliance had formed
    to stop France and Louis as he tried to create
    his universal monarchy
  • By joining together, weaker countries could match
    Frances strength
  • This defensive strategy was meant to achieve a
    balance of power, in which European nations
    maintained military and economic power so no
    single country or group of countries could
    dominate others
  • In 1689, William of Orange, the Dutch prince,
    became the king of England (in the Glorious
    Revolution). He joined the League of Augsburg
    which consisted of the Habsburg emperor, the
    kings of Sweden and Spain, and leaders of several
    smaller European states. Joined they equaled
    Frances strength.

War of the Spanish Succession
  • By this time the French were longing for peace.
  • France had been weakened by a series of poor
  • They also were suffering from constant warfare.
  • Louiss added new taxes to finance his wars.
  • But in 1700, when the childless king of Spain,
    Charles II, died, Louis saw the opportunity to
    increase Frances power

  • Before his death, Charles had promised the throne
    to Louis XIVs 17 year old grandson, Philip of
  • The two greatest powers in Europe, enemies for so
    long, were going to both be ruled by Bourbons.
  • But other countries were resolved to not let this
  • In 1701, England, Austria, the Dutch republic,
    Portugal, and several German and Italian states
    joined together against France and Spain in a
    struggle known as the War of the Spanish

  • The costly war dragged on until 1713 when the
    Treaty of Utrecht was signed.
  • Under the treaty, Louiss grandson was to remain
    king of Spain so long as the thrones of France
    and Spain were not united
  • The Austrian Habsburgs took the Spanish
    Netherlands and other Spanish lands in Italy
  • Prussia and Savoy were recognized as kingdoms

Britain The Big Winner
  • Britain took Gibraltar from Spain, a fortress
    that controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean
  • Spain also granted a British company an asiento
    permission to send enslaved Africans to Spains
    American colonies.
  • - this increased Britains involvement
    in trading
  • enslaved Africans
  • France gave Britain the North American
    territories of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and
    abandoned claims to the Hudson Bay region

Louiss Death and Legacy
  • When Louis was paving his way as the most
    powerful ruler in French history, he boasted,
    Letat, cest moi, meaning I am the state.
  • But Louiss last years were more sad than
  • He regretted the suffering he had brought to his
    people as a result of his disastrous wars.
  • He died in bed in 1715 which brought rejoicing
    in France they had had enough of the Sun
  • He had ruled for 72 yrs. longer than any other
    European monarch

  • Louis had definitely left France as a power to be
    reckoned with in Europe
  • But his staggering debts and resentment over the
    royal abuse of power would plague Louiss heirs.
  • Eventually this resentment led to a revolution.
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