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9-08-2015, 17:22


Along with war, the other constant in European politics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the dominant power of France. Except for Russia and the Ottoman Empire, France was the largest state in Europe geographically, and its population was by far the largest outside the Ottoman Empire; in 1620 it had about twenty million people, which was four times the population of England, and twice that of Spain or Russia. In the sixteenth century Ottoman and Spanish armies were the largest in Europe, but by the seventeenth century the largest army belonged to France. Though Bossuet was the most eloquent defender of royal authority, and Louis XIV its most famous exemplar, the kings of France had already begun an expansion of central power before Louis’s accession. In 1598 Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, which declared that France was offi cially a Catholic country but that Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) would have the right to practice their faith and maintain military garrisons in 150 towns. Assisted by his Protestant chief minister, Maximilian de Béthune, duke of Sully (1559–1641), Henry IV tackled other problems as well, restoring public order, overhauling government fi nances, lowering taxes on the peasants somewhat, and supporting measures that encouraged trade. He expanded the sale of royal offi ces begun by his predecessors, and made royal offi cials pay an annual tax, the paulette , if they wanted their offi ces to remain hereditary. Henry’s toleration of Protestantism was too much for some, and in 1610 he was stabbed in the streets of Paris by a fanatical Catholic assassin; the monarchy passed to his son Louis XIII (ruled 1610–43), who was only eight. Actual power was held by the queen-mother, Henry IV’s second wife, Marie de’ Medici (1573–1642), and various high nobles. Different factions rose and fell in favor and infl uence, but by the 1620s the most powerful fi gure was Armand-Jean du Plessis, a nobleman and bishop who was made Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642). Shrewd and extremely able, Richelieu became chief minister, and succeeded in keeping the forces threatening the power of the monarchy in balance. Always acting in the name of the king, he further limited the independent power of the high nobility, rewarding those who supported him with high offi ces, military commands, and advantageous marriage alliances, while sending those who opposed him into exile or even executing them. The list of exiled nobles eventually included the queen-mother herself, who had demanded her son dismiss Richelieu but instead ended up spending the rest of her life outside France. Richelieu used cultural patronage to support royal power, recruiting writers to defend crown policies in print through newsletters, gazettes, and histories. In 1635 he gave offi cial support to the Académie Française, a society of writers and philologists intent on standardizing the French language, which would provide a cultural counterpart to political measures of centralization. Richelieu extended the power of royal offi cials called intendants , who were appointed directly by the monarch so that they did not own their offi ces, and were almost always members of the newer noblesse de robe . Each intendant had authority over a certain district, collecting taxes, recruiting men for the army, ordering soldiers to be billeted with families, regulating economic activities, administering local courts, and enforcing royal decrees. Intendants could not be native to the district in which they operated, so they had no independent base of power; their activities worked to build up the power of the centralized state and further weaken the regional nobility. They were assisted by deputies who did much of the actual work and understood local power relations, so that these too could be used to royal advantage. Louis and Richelieu also asserted stricter controls over the Huguenots, continuing to allow them freedom of worship but forbidding them from maintaining fortifi ed towns. They successfully besieged the Atlantic port city and Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle when its inhabitants objected, pulling down its walls and suppressing the municipal government. Foreign policy under Louis and Richelieu was marked by continued opposition to Habsburg power, which led France into war in Italy and Spain, and into the Thirty Years War, fi rst backing Sweden and then as a combatant. The fi nancial drains of these wars were enormous; rising taxes and grain shortages led to popular rebellions and collective violence in cities and rural areas. Rebellions against the monarchy and its policies culminated in the 1640s, after the death of Richelieu in 1642 and Louis XIII the following year. The situation was much the same as it had been a generation earlier: the new king, Louis XIV, was only a child, and real power was held by the queen-mother, Anne of Austria (1601–66), together with a cardinal and chief minister, Jules Mazarin (1602–61). In 1648, Anne and Mazarin tried to force the parlement of Paris, the most prestigious and infl uential court in France, to accept new taxes. It refused, the queen arrested some of its leaders, and the populace of Paris reacted with violence. Civil order completely collapsed and mobs threatened the royal family, breaking into the palace and forcing them to fl ee the city. Several months later the queen made peace with the rebels in Paris, which calmed the city for a while, but the situation in many provinces was very unstable. Local parlements refused to send any taxes to the capital, and a series of revolts and civil wars broke out from 1648 to 1653. Together these disturbances became known as the Fronde, meaning “slingshot” in French, and derived from the weapons that poor children used to throw mud against the coaches of the rich. Frondeurs included poor urban workers and peasants protesting high taxes, but also many groups armed with far more than slingshots and mud. High nobles led many of the provincial rebellions against royal offi cials, arguing that they were attempting to restore the structures of power that had existed before Richelieu’s reforms. Royal intendants, meant to be the enforcers of absolutism, became part of the resistance, demanding that the crown pay more attention to their interests. Thousands of pamphlets, written by well-educated political writers, not peasants, accused Mazarin, who was Italian, of treachery; some included the queen-mother, born the daughter of the Habsburg king of Spain, in their denunciations of the infl uence of evil foreigners. The very breadth of the Fronde was part of the reason it did not succeed, however, as the rebels were never able to unify their plans or aims. Mazarin played one faction off against another and used loyalty to the young king as a tool to counter the rebels. The dramatic and frightening events of the Fronde deeply infl uenced Louis, however, who hated revolts, hated Paris, and favored anything that encouraged order and enhanced his own regal power. At Mazarin’s death, he decided to rule without a chief minister, taking over the day-to-day operation of government himself in what would be the longest reign in the history of Europe. Louis was hard-working, suspicious, and cautious, supporting measures that worked toward greater uniformity in law and practice. He read the dispatches of ambassadors, offi cials, and spies, and supervised all aspects of the military, personally appointing all offi cers down to the rank of colonel. Careful not to give the nobility or other infl uential individuals a chance to come together outside his presence, he never called a meeting of the Estates General. He frequently backed projects where royal and noble interests merged, however, such as the building of canals. He recognized that the most sensible solution to France’s fi nancial problems – taxing the nobility – was politically impossible, so he supported commercial activities that would bring in wealth. He and his controller-general of fi nances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–83), subsidized the production of cloth, steel, and fi rearms, gave bonuses to ship-builders, expanded the merchant marine, organized guilds in many industries, established trading companies, and developed preferential policies on immigration, imports, and exports. Colbert sent peasants as settlers to New France in North America, and supported explorations in the American interior, including that of Robert la Salle (1643–87), who claimed the delta of the Mississippi River for France in 1684, naming it, not surprisingly, “Louisiana.” Louis’s desire for unity and uniformity in his realm extended to matters of religion. Huguenots were increasingly deprived of their political rights, barred from many professions, ordered to quarter more troops in their households, and sometimes forced to undergo Catholic baptism. They were offi cially forbidden to emigrate to New France – though some did – a policy that contrasted with that of England, where the rulers were happy to let religious malcontents such as Puritans and Quakers leave the country. In 1685, Louis formally revoked the Edict of Nantes, ordering Protestant churches and schools closed and Protestant clergy to leave the country. Protestant lay people were ordered to convert and forbidden to emigrate, though tens of thousands of them did, fueling hatred of Louis in northern Europe. Inside France, however, Louis won wide praise for this action, especially among the nobility. In some areas of France, the emigration of Huguenots meant a loss of substantial numbers of skilled people (and their taxes), but overall this did not have a dramatic effect on economic development. The French economy could survive the loss of Huguenot knowledge and skills, but it could not absorb the ever-expanding costs of Louis XIV’s wars. Pushing northeastward, he invaded the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces, ultimately gaining some Flemish towns and the area of Franche-Comté. In the 1680s, he seized the city of Strasbourg, and sent his armies into the province of Lorraine. Though his army was gigantic and well-trained, the efforts of his opponents and his inability to squeeze any more money out of the taxable portion of the French population prevented him from annexing any more territory. A series of bad harvests caused starvation, disease, and depopulation in many parts of France, leading to renewed peasant revolts in the 1690s. These problems halted Louis’s military adventures only briefl y, for the last years of his reign were taken up with trying to secure the throne of Spain for his grandson Philip when the ruling Habsburg king died childless, in a war that became known as the War of the Spanish Succession. (Louis XIV’s mother, and thus Philip’s greatgrandmother, was the daughter of one Habsburg king of Spain, and Louis XIV’s wife, who was Philip’s grandmother, was the daughter of another.) In this he was successful, and Philip became the fi rst Bourbon king of Spain, but only after extended war and a peace treaty that specifi ed that the crowns of France and Spain were never to be held by the same member of the Bourbon family. The treaty also gave far more land to the Austrian Habsburgs than to France. All of Louis’s military efforts had gained relatively little territory and had fi nancially exhausted the country; his subjects greeted his death with relief. Louis’s successors, his great-grandson Louis XV and Louis XV’s grandson Louis XVI, engaged in warfare on a scale slightly more limited than that of Louis XIV, but still ruinously expensive. The nobility saw the constant need for more revenue as an opportunity to reassert their dominance after decades of subservience to the Sun King. The parlement of Paris and other regional parlements challenged all attempts by the monarchy to impose emergency or regular taxes, using their traditional privileges increasingly as a basis from which to push for the right to approve all taxes and limit the power of the monarchy. The parlements reasserted their right to review royal decrees before they became law. Louis XV (ruled 1715–74) disbanded the parlements in an attempt to crush his opposition, who increasingly portrayed themselves as representing the entire French nation. Louis and his ministers were attacked in anonymous pamphlets as degenerate despots. His attempts at reform and modernization, including a reorganization of the judiciary, were often short-lived and vacillating. Louis XVI (ruled 1774–92) reinstated the parlements , a measure widely supported by public opinion, and promoted trade and industry. He signed the Edict of Versailles in 1787, which gave non-Catholics – including Jews – legal status and the right to worship freely. A series of fi nancial ministers promoted radical fi scal reforms that would have restructured the tax system and addressed the issue of government debt, but these continued to be blocked by the parlements . Louis came under increasing pressure to convoke the Estates General, the nationwide general assembly that had not met since 1614, to address the crisis. In 1788 Louis agreed, calling for the meeting to begin on May 1, 1789. He did not foresee, nor did anyone, what the result of this meeting would be.

SOURCE 24 Cahiers de doléances (1789)

When King Louis XVI’s call to choose delegates for the Estates General was issued in 1788, groups throughout France met to discuss their grievances. They created numbered lists of what they thought was wrong, called Cahiers de doléances (“registers of grievances”). Because the Estates General was to keep its traditional structure, with each of the three estates – clergy, nobles, commoners – meeting separately, these lists of grievances were issued separately by groups representing one or another of the Estates. All three groups agreed on certain things – that taxes were too high and the judicial system too complex – but those coming from groups representing the Third Estate also called for broader political and legal changes to achieve greater social equality. Following are some of the demands of the Third Estate from Versailles, many of which have direct bearing on the privileges and behavior of the nobles and clergy, as well as the national government, and had been discussed for decades.