Government of Louis 14th


Topic 1

Topic 1: Conciliar Government, The King’s council met as - The High Council (This council discussed the most important matters of the state, e.g - Foreign Affairs and Religious Affairs) They were the most able and loyal ministers e.g. Colbert, 3-5 of them were Nobles of Robe (Newer nobility who had become loyal during the Frondes.)

The Finance Council: Dealt with matters of: Finace, Industry, Agriculture, Shipping. This was run by the Controller-General of France (Colbert), supported by a team of accountants capable of book-keeping. It was mainly made up of Nobles of the Robe and Louis had the power to appoint and sack all of them.

The Council of the Interior: Responsibilities: Give reports, give instructions to Intendants, Keep Louis informed of Events. They were mostly Nobles of the Robe, who had to tell Louis about issues such as conscription, riote and religious problems. 

The Privy Council: The council was led by the Chancellor and 7 dozen lawyers to deal with matters of justice. The King was absent from this council – he was represented by a heavily decorated chair. Again, this contained Nobles of the Robe.

The Nobles of the Robe and Colbert: Over all, it is clear to see that the Nobles of the Robe were the most trusted than the Nobles of the Sword. Also with these councils, you can see that Colbert played a huge part in ruling the country and this took away from the apparent absolutism of Louis XVI. Versailles was Louis’ centre of government and so there was little separation between his personal life and his ‘work.’ Every aspect of everyday life became a public event. 

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Topic 2

Estates: Today’s society can generally be divided into ‘classes’ a term which most people object to, seeing it as superficial and subject to revision or abolition.

At the time of Louis 14th and his contemporaries, there was a different name – ‘Estates.’ People were not offended by this in the same way, because the Estates were believed to have been ordained by God and therefore, people were not interested in changing which class they were in. Nobles were predestined to be nobles and the same for the poor and the clergy.

There were 3 main estates:The Clergy, The Nobility and the rest of French Society

1.      The First Estate: The Clergy: The 17th Century was a very religious age, making the clergy particularly important. They proved to be a problem in this way, because everyone listened to them and respected everything they said.They disappointed Louis when they condemned the Palace of Versailles – they saw the tax money of the poor (even in times of famine) being poured into a huge Palace for the King to live in. BUT they added prestige to the Crown as well. They taught that people should accept and be happy with their place in society (as it was given to them by God.)The clergy glorified the King’s achievements – whenever a French Victory was won, Churches would sing the Te Deum – a hymn of praise.They also helped to fund Louis’ policies – le Don Gratuit (the free gift) which was supposed to be freely offered but was often a result of several negotiations. Some preachers taught that resisting royal authority was tantamount to blasphemy as the King was supposedly appointed by God – the Divine Right of Kings.

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Topic 2 (1)

The Second Estate: The Nobility

There were approx. 10,000 nobles living in France. Only 4,000 of them could stay at Versailles and this was very cramped. There were really strict etiquette rules for nobles. They were never allowed to turn their back on a painting of Louis (offensive). They always had to take off their hats in the presence of Louis’ dining table, even if he was not there. There was a strict routine for the nobles during their stay at Versailles: Nobles would surround Louis as he got up and dressed. The nobles who were more in Louis’ favour were allowed to be closer in the room and the others queued down the corridor. The nobles would be present when Louis went to breakfast, went to the toilet, went to mass, had lunch, went for an afternoon walk, had dinner and had his ‘coucher.’ It was an honour to hold the candle as the King got into bed.

The nobles had many jobs: Usually they assumed jobs in the army (military and naval commanders). They could also be Bishops, Nobles of the Sword were involved in the embassies. There was a lot of nobles who were involved in the court

He encouraged the growth of the new noble group, mention before, the Nobles of the Robe. He needs their services in his councils and other areas and he liked his first ministers to be the Nobles of the Robe as they were so dependent on his favour, thus they were more hard-working. They were also rich and Louis was interest in their money. His foreign policy was to be very expensive and the Nobles of the Robe would pay for any posts the General-Controller claimed there was need for.

They were not allowed to get involved in trade, but were exempt from tax.

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Third Estate and Richelieu

The Third Estate: The Rest of French Society

This was particularly closely involved in the creation of Versailles. In fact it was 20,000 of this estate who built Versailles’ buildings and gardens. Many people died in the process (but this was kept a secret from the other builders to stop them from being frightened). These people did not only build Versailles, but also paid for it in taxes. This was not too bad because it wasn’t hugely expensive, but the people who actually lived there in luxury paid nothing for it.

Cardinal Richelieu:

 Richelieu dominated the history of France from 1624 to his death as Louis XIII’s chief minister, succeeding Luynes who died in 1621. Richelieu is considered to be one of the greatest politicians in French history.

Richelieu's time as chief minister is notable for many reasons, he attacked the Huguenots; reformed the navy and army; crushed any rebellions and advanced royal absolutismHe raised money by any methods required. He supervised a foreign policy that was designed to make France the greatest power in Europe.

It was said that you either liked Richelieu or hated him - there was no half-way.

In November 1642, Richelieu fell ill. He died on the 4th December 1642. His time as Chief Minister had brought untold suffering to the general population of France but he had pushed the nation on to the path of glory. Just days before he died, Richelieu wrote to Louis XIII:

“I have no consolation of leaving your Kingdom in the highest degree of glory and of reputation.” 

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Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu and the Huguenots

Richelieu’s time in office is dominated by his campaign against the Huguenots, the modernisation of the military in France, especially the navy, and involvement in the Thirty Years WarsAs an ardent Roman Catholic, Richelieu detested the Huguenots. However, in his grand scheme to elevate the international status or France, he was willing to tolerate them as long as they were loyal to France.

§  Richelieu, in this sense was willing to turn a blind eye to the Huguenots freedom to worship. However, the Huguenots did not show loyalty. They were frequently associated with rebellion and disloyalty and this Richelieu could not tolerate. By 1624, when Richelieu was appointed Chief Minister, the Huguenots had 8 "circles" in the south of France and a commander-in-chief with an army. They had created provincial assemblies and a general assembly – they were essentially a republic within a monarchy!

§  To Richelieu this was a "political monstrosity" which could not be tolerated. His views were shared by the dévots who were becoming more and more influential at court. The Huguenots viewed Richelieu appointment with great concern. Richelieu worked on the logic that France needed international respect in Europe. He wanted France to be respected abroad and an attractive ally which could bring in much needed funds via military alliances. Any French involvement in European affairs might have given the Huguenots the freedom to expand in southern France. For Richelieu wishes to succeed, France needed internal stability and security. The Huguenots threatened this – hence the need to attack them.

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Domestic Policy

Louis XIV’s domestic policy was to transform France. Louis XIV built on Louis XIII’s policy of extending absolute royal rule (centralised absolutism) to all parts of the kingdom.

Louis dominated the central government of France and consulted with hand-picked ministers. On three or four occasions a week, Louis would meet with his Chief Council, the so-called Conseil d’en Haut. This consisted of three to five men who were all loyal to the king and hand-picked by him to serve him. Some of the minister who served Louis remains some of the most distinguished in French history. The most prominent were:

·         Jean-Baptiste Colbert

·         Michel Le Tellier

·         Francois-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois

·         Hughes de Lionne

·         Jules Mazarin

In previous years, kings of France had used men called Intendants to establish royal power in the provinces. Areas that were remote from Paris had developed a culture of governing themselves and paying only lip service to royal authority. 

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The role of the Intendants was to change this.

  • ·         The Intendants went, frequently with royal protection, to these remote areas and stamped royal authority on them.
  • ·         Louis XIV realised their importance and extended them in both numbers and functions.
  • ·         Their task was difficult in that they had to overcome a culture in these regions that had existed for centuries - and were frequently feudal in origin.
  • ·         Another group that the Intendants crossed were men who had bought positions in the regions at times when the king had to raise funds.
  • ·         These men were wealthy but frequently ill-equipped to run these offices competently. Their sole purpose was to run them so that they themselves benefited - something Louis would not tolerate.
  • ·         Intendants were used to reform local/regional financial systems, judicial systems and policing the law. In this sense, they trod on the toes of the local nobility in most, if not all, areas of their life.
  • ·         A successful Intendant was suitably rewarded with promotion - this depended on pleasing the king.
  • ·        If an Intendant had done well it was at the expense of the local nobility and to the advantage of Louis XIV.
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Domestic Policy (1)

Louis ensured that the legal system of France was modernised. In fact, what he introduced was used in France to the time of the Napoleonic reforms:

  • ·         Civil law was reformed in 1667
  • ·         Criminal law was reformed in 1670
  • ·         A Maritime Code was introduced in 1672
  • ·         A Commercial Code in 1673.

To enforce his rule, Louis needed a large army. By the time of his death in 1715, the army of France stood at 350,000. Not only was it large in size, but it was also a modern army completely controlled by the state. Such an army ensured that the people were well controlled within France. Any hint of rebellion could be suitably dealt with:

  • ·         The army was answerable to the Secretary of State for War and the Intendants who worked for him.
  • ·         These men all relied on Louis for professional advancement and it served their cause to take on one of the throwbacks to the feudal days of France - local nobles controlling their armies in an independent manner.
  • ·         Their armies were taken over by the state which served a two-fold purpose - it reduced the local power of the nobility and it increased royal absolute power at the same time.
  • ·         To avoid a regional governor becoming too powerful and building up too great an influence in any one region, they were moved from one province to another with a degree of regularity.
  • ·         Their work also became more and more ceremonial as their real work was taken over by Lieutenant-Generals appointed in Paris.
  • ·         By doing this, any chance they had of developing some form of regional power was all but ended.
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Domestic Policy (2)

The credit for finding the modern French Navy went to Jean-Baptiste Colbert. In 1643, at the start of Louis's reign, France had about three serviceable naval boats. For Colbert, this represented a weakness that other nations might exploit. Therefore, a great deal of time and effort went into developing a modern navy. This allowed France to follow an aggressive expansionist policy in both colonisation and commerce. Both added to the wealth and prestige of France. The economy relatively prospered in the early years of Louis' reign. Under the guidance of Colbert, the French economy did well.

Colbert realised the importance of a sound commercial policy and he viewed that overseas trade was the way ahead:

  • ·         France did well in this area and her economy benefited as a result as more tax revenue was raised. However, the fundamental weakness of the French economy was never tackled.
  • ·         Those who could afford to pay the most tax paid the least as a result of out-dated tax clauses and posts bought by the wealthy nobility.
  • ·         Those who could afford to pay the least proportionately paid the most. Such a system kept many in poverty.
  • ·         Therefore, the greatest number of people was the poor who paid the most tax. This left them with barely enough to live off let alone buy goods that were taxed.
  • ·          Those who had the money to spend were the least in number and their total tax liability would have been completely disproportionate to their wealth.  
  • ·         In one sense, the success of Colbert was such that this obvious problem was suitably disguised so that future politicians would have to solve it.  
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