Absolutism In France summary



Absolutism In France summary


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Absolutism In France summary







      1.   as Louis the XIV, the Sun King,

a.   I command you to listen to me explain how I came to rule

            2.   & why you must obey my every wish

            3.   as I was chosen by God himself to rule you French

            4.   most all my fellow kings

                  a.   in the various nations of Europe

                  b.   will become even more powerful than the kings in the Middle Ages

                  c.   but none will be as great or as powerful as me

            5.   only England

                  a.   that puny little island

                  b.   will be the exception to this

            c.   their king can't keep control of his people

                  d.   he lets parliament have too much power

                  e.   what amounts to a limited or constitutional monarchy

            6.   France & the other countries adhere to absolute principles

            7.   sovereignty resides in us - the kings

                  a.   not the nobility or the parliament

            8.   we kings are responsible only to God

                  a.   divine right to rule

                  b.   absolute right to rule

            9.   we as absolute kings

                  a.   are creating new state bureaucracies & armies

                  b.   regulating all institutions

            10. according to my crystal ball

            11. we do not have as much power as leaders will in the future

            12. they will call them leaders of modern totalitarian states

                  a.   Stalin, Saddam, Hitler

            13. I want to give you some background leading up to my reign

            14. and then I will tell you why I am the greatest king




            1.   2 kings Henry IV & Louis XIII

            2.   together w/their ministers,

                  a.   Sully, Richelieu & Mazarin

                  b.   set in motion absolutism that I will turn into thee absolutism of all time

      B.   HENRY IV 1599-1610

            1.   outstanding king

            2.   best loved of French monarchs

            3.   Protestant who converted to Catholicism to save France from anarchy

                  a.   PARIS IS WORTH A MASS

            4.   he was very concerned for France's welfare

            5.   Under Henry w/aid of Sully, his chief minister

                  a.   France's economy strengthened & enlarged

                  b.   marshes for farm land reclaimed

                  c.   luxury crafts in Paris encouraged

                  d.   thousands of mulberry trees planted to foster manufacture of silk

                  e.   canals extended

                  f.    road & bridge built

                        (1)  won France reputation of maintaining best highways in Europe

                  g.   even balanced budget of income & expenses

            6.   he also curtailed power of nobility

            7.   really set in motion foundation that later kings built on

            8.   history might be different if he had not been assassinated in prime of his career

      C.   LOUIS XIII (reign 1610-43)

            1.   only 9 yrs old (1610) when father, Henry IV assassinated

            2.   his mother Marie de'Medici attempted to rule

            3.   but showed little of her famous family's political skill

            4.   once again political machinations surfaced among French nobles

                  a.   as during time of St. Bartholamew's Day Massacre

            5.   when Louis XIII came of age

            6.   though incapable himself of asserting a strong rule,

            7.   he had minister who could

                  a.   Cardinal Richelieu




            1.   set cornerstone of French absolutism

            2.   chief architect of absolutism for Louis XIII

            3.   Ideas passed to Louis XIV

            4.   virtual ruler of France for next 18 yrs.

            5.   He proved to be a good Machiavellian

            6.   he subordinated everything to raison d'etat = reason of state

            7.   mastermind behind French royal power 17th c.

            8.   his work also served as basis for France's cultural domination of Europe in later 17th c.

      B.   WHO WAS HE?

            1.   trained as a gentleman/soldier

            2.   but renounced that life for church

                  a.   when became convinced it offered a better path to advancement

            3.   brilliant


            1.   outlined in his POLITICAL TESTAMENT

            2.   4 things he promised Louis XIII he would do

                  a.   crush Huguenots (Protestants)

                  b.   harness the nobles

                  c.   keep king's subjects in dutiful order

                  d.   make king's name great abroad

            3.   raison d'etat determined his policy toward Huguenots

            4.   The Edict of Nantes had given them certain political privileges

            5.   to Richelieu these formed a state w/in the state

                  a.   a block to strong centralization

            6.   personally led army to subdue La Rochelle, capital of Huguenots

            7.   Richelieu canceled political clauses of Edict of Nantes

                  a.   but left its religious provisions intact

            8.   also his idea of funding protestants (Sweden)

                  a.   to thwart power of Hapsburgs & Spain

                  b.   during Thirty Years' War

            9.   in 1635 he founded the Academie,

                  a.   famous French institution to compile a dictionary of French language

                  b.   set standards & style of national culture

            10. Richelieu said

                  a.   only 1 law & that law of king

                  b.   none could stand above it

            11. he ordered destruction of some of nobles' chateaux

            12. he forbid favorite aristocratic indulgence of private duels

            13. when disobedient noblemen defied his edicts

                  a.   were imprisoned & even executed

            14. more significant

                  a.   his transfer of local political administration away from nobles

                  b.   to more reliable royal officials

                        (1)  intendants

                  c.   hand picked by him

            15. a man largely responsible for setting in motion

                  a.   the grand nation & absolutism of Louis XIV

            16. Historians have always differed in their estimates of how good he was for France in long run

            17. for royalists he built an efficient centralized state

            18. for others he built in a sense too well

            19. made French govt

                  a.   so centralized

                  b.   so professionally bureaucratic

                  c.   it had no placed for give & take of politics

            20. a govt by discussion like England's parliament

            21. & no political place for new, growing & ambitious middle classes

                  a.   except for few bureauacractic positions

            22. perhaps ultimate decision on his benefits

                  a.   must be settled by upheaval of French Revolution of 1789

            23. Richelieu also left legacy of strong resentment of monarchy

            24. by both French aristocracy & privileged bourgeoisie

            25. this led to revolt when Louis XIII died

                  a.   & Louis XIV a minor

                  b.   & regency ruled


IV. LOUIS XIV 1643-1715


            1.   as Louis XIV only 4 1/2 yrs old when father Louis XIII died

            2.   Richelieu's hand picked successor & protege

                  a.   Cardinal Mazarin (Italian)

                        (1)  in charge of regency govt

                        (2)  for 18 years - 1643-1661

                              (a)  when he died

            3.   Mazarin too a cardinal of church

                  a.   & master of raison d'etat

            4.   continued Richelieu's policy of centralization

            5.   but backlash occurred against absolutism & financial policies & rule by a foreigner

            6.   uprising known as "Frond"          

            7.   Mazarin won by applying old adage

                  a.   divide & rule

            8.   & realization that their choice

                  a.   either anarchy or absolute monarchy


            1.   Louis XIV 18 yrs old when Mazarin died

                  a.   king for 72 years

                  b.   longest reign in western history

            2.   under him apex of French absolutism 

            3.   French consider Louis XIV reign their Golden Age

            4.   under him French culture and language spread throughout Europe

            5.   known as sun king

            6.   sun symbol perfect example of l'etat, c'est moi = I am the state

            7.   elaborately dressed

                  a.   large head of hair not a wig

                  b.   powdered wigs were popular under his father

                  c.   then again when Louis got older & his hair turned grey

            8.   he never did have a chief minister like his predecessors

            9.   intelligent & boundless energy

            10. serious as to responsibilities of king

            11. yet had strong sense of grandeur of his crown

            12. never missed an opportunity to impress


            1.   married to Spanish princess Marie Theresa

                  a.   for political reasons in 1660

            2.   but a ladies man & kept many mistresses

            3.   Louis encouraged belief at court that it was an honor to lie w/king

            4.   when became known a new lady enjoying favors of king

                  a.   & might become his mistress,

                  b.   other ladies always stood in her presence

            5.   to preserve appearance of domestic peace,

                  a.   Louis forced mistresses to pay calls on Queen

                  b.   & then entire group had to attend mass together every day

            6.   3 major mistresses

                  a.   Louise de la Valliere

                        (1)  had 5 children by Louis

                              (a)  1 daughter legimatized

                  b.   Marquise de Montespan

            7.   Mme de Montespan was mother of 6 of his children

                  a.   Louis legitimated Louis Ceasar

                  b.   & gave titles & arranged proper marriages with the other ones

            8.   & Mme de Maintenon

            9.   after Marie's death 1683 secret marriage to Madame de Maintenon

                  a.   who had been governess of his illegitimate children

                  b.   morganatic marriage

                        (1)  man of royalty or nobility marries a woman of inferior social status

                        (2)  w/provision that any children of marriage or wife may not lay claim to his rank or property

                  c.   she had lots of influence over Louis


            1.   capstone in his absolutism policy

            2.   true monument to absolutism

            3.   proclaimed glory of sun king

            4.   both royal residence & seat of French government

            5.   requiring his nobles to abide there part of year

            6.   150,000 lived at Versailles

            7.   dukes & counts who had been autonomous in their castles

                  a.   now reduced to status of courtiers at Versailles

            8.   Versailles - showplace of Europe

            9.   cost $100 million & 40 yrs to build

            10. formal, carefully ordered & perfectly landscaped gardens

                  a.   expresses spirit of age of Louis XIV

            11. every tree, every bush, every fountain,

            12. every piece of statuary within 3 miles of landscaping

                  a.   perfectly laid out

            13. life at court organized around king's daily ritualistic routine

                  a.   rising, dressing, retiring

            14. Louis believed it was king's duty

                  a.   to pursue royal pleasure as relentlessly as he pursued royal business

            15. dress codes & high stakes of gambling at court contributed to

                  a.   indebtedness & dependency of nobility on king

            16. all this ritual & play served political purpose of keeping an impoverished nobility in check

            17. while Versailles gave every appearance of magnificence

            18. degrading influence of ambition built on flattery & hypocrisy,

                  a.   & continual fear of king's displeasure

            19. nobles barred by law from high govt positions

            20. Louis kept them busy & dependent

                  a.   so that they had little time to plot a revolt against him

            21. Versailles also part of elaborate pr campaign

                  a.   to exalt French monarchy in eyes of other European rulers & their courts


            1.   French culture of Louis XIV permeated all of Europe

            2.   1 of Louis' first acts

                  a.   to purchase & place under state control the Gobelins

                        (1)  Factory in Paris that produced exquisite handicrafts

            3.   from its workshops poured forth tapestries, silver & furniture

            4.   before France imported luxury items

                  a.   now will export them

            5.   Louis also 1st French king who consistently encouraged writers

            6.   he granted annual allowance to such authors as

                  a.   famed playwright of comedies Moliere

                  b.   & tragic dramatist Racine

            7.   he supported court composer Jean Baptiste Lully

            8.   rulers all over Europe, including host of princes in Germanies

                  a.   aped standards of Louis' court at Versailles

            9.   French manners, language, clothes, dishes, furniture, architecture, art were all the fashion

            10. smaller scale Versailles built

                  a.   Peter the Great of Russia in St. Petersburg

                  b.   Schoenberg Palace of Hapsburgs in Vienna

            11. many royal courts of other countries spoke French

                  a.   Sweden, Russia, Poland & Germany

            12. in 18th c. great Russian aristocrats more fluent in French than in Russian

            13. In England, first Hanoverian king George I spoke fluent French, halting English

            14. French also gradually replaced Latin as the language of international scholarship & learning

            15. & French became language of diplomats

            16. the prestige of France was not diminished by those who hated her while they envied her

            17. France was hardly loved, but she was admired & imitated


            1.   Louis believed that political unity required religious conformity

            2.   un roi, une foi, une loi = 1 king, 1 faith, 1 law

            3.   thus he suppressed 2 groups of religious dissenters

                  a.   Catholic Jansenists

                        (1)  opponents of the Jesuits

                  b.   Huguenots

                        (1)  Calvinists

            4.   he revoked religious part of Edict of Nantes 1685 (1598)

                  a.   serious mistake

                  b.   50,000 Huguenot families including many skilled artisans fled to

                        (1)  Holland, England, Germany, North America & South Africa


            1.   appointed Colbert his minister of Finances

            2.   Colbert worked to centralize the French economy

                  a.   with same rigor that Louis had worked to centralized French Govt

            3.   govt controlled economy through philosophy of mercantilism

            4.   aim of mercantilism

                  a.   to maximize foreign exports

                  b.   & build up internal reserves of gold & silver

                  c.   in order to make war

            5.   also Louis encouraged movement to Canada & exploration of Mississippi area

                  a.   Louisiana

                        (1)  named after Louis XIV

            6.   most nb contributions

                  a.   created new national industries & organized factories

                  b.   created merchant marine

            7.   increased taille (tax) on peasants

                  a.   became chief source of royal wealth

            8.   nobles had secured freedom from taxes in exchange for opting out of role in government

            9.   middle classes too were exempt from many taxes

            10. but lack of money grave weakness of Louis' absolutism

            11. revenues never enough to keep pace w/expenses

            12. but Colbert's financial policies

                  a.   unquestionable transformed French into a

                        (1)  major industrial & commercial power


            1.   Louis had 2 major goals

                  a.   secure natural frontiers for France

                        (1)  Pyrenees & alps, Rhine River, ocean

                  b.   establish great French empire outside Europe

            2.   but in order to accomplishment these goals

            3.   war was necessary

            4.   so Louis' foreign policy was war policy

            5.   in fact he loved war so much he had miniature battle scenes painted on his high heels

            6.   Richelieu & Mazarin had seldom gone beyond point of maintaining French power & prestige

            7.   they attempted little actual French expansion in Italy, Germany or Low Countries

            8.   Louis XIV definitely attempted to add to French territories

            9.   Spain he wanted to conquer by marriage

            10. to establish a great French empire

                  a.   Louis motivated by rivalry of  English & Dutch

            11. he fought 4 wars over 46 years

            12. Louis impressive military machine suffered from 2 grave defects

                  a.   essentially a mercenary army

                  b.   army of French state not an army of Frenchmen

                  c.   army did not have men who were personally committed to cause for which they fought

            13. other reason

                  a.   chronic lack of sufficient funds

            14. in later years Louis conducted many of his campaigns himself from his desk at Versailles

                  a.   with as little success as Saddam did

            15. after 1 particularly stunning loss to British general, Lord Marlborough

                  a.   king indignantly complained

                  b.   God seems to have forgotten all I have done for Him.

            16. He fought

                  a.   Spain

                  b.   United Provinces  of Low Countries

                  c.   England

                  d.   Sweden

                  e.   Denmark

                  f.    Brandenburg

                  g.   Lorraine

                  h.   Holy Roman Empire

                  i.    Bavaria

                  j.    Saxony

                  k.   Portugal

            17. wars were entitled

                  a.   War of Devolution,

                  b.   Dutch War,

                  c.   War of League of Augsburg

                  d.   & War of Spanish Succession

            18. height of French expansion reached in 1678

                  a.   with victory over Spain & the Holy Roman Empire

            19. Louis then fought new Dutch king of England

                  a.   William III and the League of Augsburg

            20. War of Spanish Succession involved issue of succession to Spanish throne

                  a.   Louis claimed Spain

                  b.   but was opposed by

                        (1)  Dutch, English, Austrians & Prussians

                  c.   war also attempt to check French economic growth in world

            21. war concluded that union between France & Spain was forbidden

            22. Louis' wars had people believing France was threatening things they held dear

                  a.   life, property, independence

            23. Europe thought Louis dreamed of conquering all of Western Europe

            24. Louis' objective ran counter to England's concept of the balance of power

            25. so England brought an alignment of most of the nations of western Europe against France

            26. in 4 wars of Louis, France severely drained of manpower & finances

            27. in last war alone 1 million of French Army killed

            28. by end of last war in 1713 France on brink of bankruptcy with widespread misery

            29. in end France lost

                  a.   Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Hudson Bay territory in Canada

            30. while France still a major power had lost her position of predominance in Europe

            31. in end only territory Louis gained from 46 years of was

                  a.   city of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine area between Germany & France


            1.   Duc De Saint Simon, army officer & public official during Louis' reign

            2.   Louis xiv's vanity was without limit or restraint; it colored everything & convinced him that no one even approached him in military talents, in plans and enterprise, and in govt.  Hence, those pictures and inscriptions in the gallery at Versailles which disgust every foreigner; those opera prologues that he himself tried to sing; that flood of prose and verse in his praise for which his appetite was insatiable; those dedications of statues copied from pagan sculpture, and the insipid and sickening compliments that were continually offered to him in person and which he swallowed with unfailing relish;


            1.   European wars would never again be confined to continent

                  a.   because of entrance of America in 2 of them

            2.   at beginning of 17th c king's authority had been felt only rarely by his subjects

            3.   by 18th c his influence was all-encompassing

            4.   absolutism had become more than a theory

            5.   Louis absolutely controlled all jurisdictions & interest groups in France

                  a.   Church

                  b.   economy - finances

                  c.   army

                  d.   bureaucracy

                  e.   nobles

            6.   but in last decades of his rule many of positive gains of absolutist govt

                  a.   canceled out by crushing weight of growing national debts

            7.   in fact France on brink of financial bankruptcy

            8.   as absolutism became more & more efficient

            9.   condition of people grew steadily worse

            10. on his deathbed, dying Louis warned Dauphin

                  a.   not to imitate his love of building

                  b.   & his liking for war

            11. when he died Frenchmen had grown to hate old man

                  a.   they had welcome w/such rejoicing as an infant 77 yrs before

            12. Louis left a legacy of popular hatred for 18th c. rulers to come

            13. who would continue French Absolutism

                  a.   Age of Absolutism 1660-1789

            14. antecedents for the French Revolution

            15. but French today revere Louis XIV as one of their greatest national heroes;

            16. because of the culture he inspired and symbolized.




            1.   today perhaps it is hard to understand why Louis & absolutism was so popular

            2.   absolutism incorporated into rising states of Russia, Prussia & Austria

                  a.   all will follow France

            3.   need to remember survival of medieval view

                  a.   that right decisions in govt are not arrived at by experiment & discussion

                  b.   but by finding authoritative answer provided for in God's scheme of things

            4.   in days of Louis XIV men still believed that God thru his chosen agents directly managed the state

            5.   men beginning to question this idea,

                  a.   but it would take generations

            6.   for Louis' subjects

                  a.   he earthly representative of God on earth

            7.   God had chosen Louis to be ruler

            8.   & Louis would be held accountable & responsible to God for what he did as a monarch

            9.   he had succeeded to his position by divinely ordained workings of principle of primogeniture

            10. he was not elected by his subjects

            11. nor did he acquire his throne by force of arms

            12. he was born to a position God had planned for legitimate male heir of 9th c. Hugh Capet

            13. as God's agent his word was final

            14. to challenge it would be to challenge whole structure of God's universe

            15. disobedience both a political & religious offense

            16. during this time several philosophers spelled out this rationale of absolutism

      B.   JEAN BODIN 1530-96

            1.   credited w/originating first clear concept of sovereignty of absolutism

            2.   thesis

                  a.   absolute sovereign who acknowledges no one greater than himself except for God


            1.   English, but lived in France for awhile

            2.   Leviathan 1651

                  a.   most influential justification of absolutism

                  b.   sovereign lawfully demands the unqualified obedience of his subjects

                  c.   subjects have no right of revolution even against tyranny


            1.   devout tutor to dauphin

            2.   feared anarchy more than tyranny because of revolutions of 17th c.

            3.   cited Old Testament rulers divinely appointed by & answerable only to God

            4.   as medieval popes had insisted only God could judge a pope

            5.   so Bossuet argued that none save God could sit in judgment on the king


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Absolutism In France summary

Absolutism in France under the “Sun King”


I. The Wars of Religion

A. From 1560 – 1590, France is torn apart by religious wars between Huguenots (French Protestants) and Catholics (the majority of Christians in France)


II. Rebuilding France

            A. The Reign of Henry IV

1. A Huguenot (Protestant) King who quickly converts to being Catholic.

2. Issues the Edict of Nantes which granted religious tolerance to French Protestants.

3. “A Chicken in Every Pot”

4. Extended the reach of government into all aspects of life, weakening the power of the nobles and increasing the power of the throne.

                        5. Assassinated in 1610


            B. Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

1. Inheriting the throne at the age of 9, Louis XIII quickly loses power and the nobles begin to dominate French life again.

2. In 1624, he appoints Cardinal Armand Richelieu to run government affairs.


III. Cardinal Richelieu

A. Richelieu is an extremely effective leader,

1. He destroys Huguenot military strongholds while allowing them  to continue to practice Protestantism.

2. He destroys the personal armies of nobles and tears down their fortified castles in order to reduce their power.

3. He places nobles into high government positions, making them dependent on the King and the central government of France for their fortunes and livelihoods.

B. He selects another churchman, the Cardinal Mazarin, to continue his work after he dies for the new king of France, Louis XIV.


IV. Mazarin and the early years of Louis XIV

            A. The Fronde

1. After Louis took the throne, an uprising called The Fronde occurs. Several groups (nobles, merchants, peasants and poor city dwellers) all rebel for different reasons.

2. The uprising even forces the young new king to flee his palace.

3. At the age of 18, when Cardinal Mazarin dies, Louis XIV was recorded to have said, “ I have been pleased to entrust the government of my affairs to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself.”



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