The Absolute Monarchy In France



The long reign of Louis the XIV (1643-1715) marked absolute monarchy at its peak in France. When Louis XIII died the next in line to take the throne was only 5 years old, Louis XIV. His mother ruled for him along side the new Chief Minister, Mazarin, who had been trained by Richelieu. Mazarin became unpopular with many, because of his overbearing attempts to raise taxes. In the 1640's a group of nobles backed by peasants led a series of revolts against the crown. The revolts alarmed the young king into believing that only a country with absolute monarchy could prevent civil war. Louis believed that his power came from God and no one should question it. This was known as "divine right". After Mazarin's death in 1661, Louis XIV ruled as an absolute monarchy. "L'etat c'est moi" in French, meaning "I am the state", was Louis' description of his power.

Louis worked hard to build up France's glorious monarchy. Because of his reign's splendor, he was called the "Sun King." Louis spent fortunes on lavish palaces and opulent city buildings. The most magnificent was Versailles, near Paris, where the royal family resided. Louis ordered many officials to live with him. Those who were against him spent their time pampering King Louis XIV in hopes that he would give them pensions or higher positions in his court.

In 1665 Louis the XIV named Jean Baptiste Colbert as his minister of finance to strengthen France's economy. Colbert improved taxation, supported shipbuilding and the navy, and helped industry. These times did not last very long, though. Louis' luxurious lifestyle and France's frequent wars drained the treasury. France, unlike England, had no law that could halt the amount of money that the king could spend.

Another reason for the decline was Louis' religious intolerance. Louis was worried that the "Huguenots" would cause rebellion, so he forced them to convert to Catholicism. When that did not work he reverted to persecution. Many of the Huguenots fled to Protestant countries and North America.

After the end of the Thirty Years War Louis wanted to expand French lands to the north and east to give France a border that was easier to defend. To make this wish a reality Louis reorganized the French army. Other European states, afraid of what his actions would be, formed alliances to resist him. Between 1667 and 1714 France went to war 4 times. The most destructive of these was the "War of the Spanish Succession".

The war went badly for France, but the war ended before France suffered great losses. The Peace of Utrecht, made up of several treaties, restored the balance in Europe.

By the end of Louis the XIV's reign, the treasury was almost empty. Wars and careless spending had left France in debt. These troubles were made worse by the wars during the reign of Louis XV. Financial problems helped weaken the monarchy and bring on the French Revolution in 1789.


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