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French Absolutism. Development of French Absolutism – 17 th century. French society divided into 3 estates made up of various classes: - First Estate: clergy; 1% of population - Second Estate: nobility; 3-4% of population

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development of french absolutism 17 th century
Development of French Absolutism – 17th century

French society divided into 3 estates made up of various classes:

- First Estate: clergy; 1% of population

- Second Estate: nobility; 3-4% of population

- 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 countryside.

French population = 17 million

- largest country in Europe (20% of population)

france s religious wars
France’s 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 bartholomew s day massacre
St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
  • Many Huguenot nobles were in Paris attending the marriage of Catherine’s 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
henry of navarre
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 dynasty

As king he was decisive, fearless in battle, and a clever politician – a politique

henry and religion
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
henry s legacy
Henry’s Legacy

Henry had enacted wise financial policies

He devoted his reign to rebuilding France and its prosperity

He restored the French monarchy to a strong position

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
Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

Henry IV’s son Louis XIII took reign after his father’s 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
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


  • 2) He sought to weaken the power of the nobles

- made them take down fortified castles

- increased power of government agents from the

middle class; ended need for noble officials

richelieu and the thirty years war
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

louis xiv and cardinal mazarin
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)

Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu’s successor, was the true ruler of France

1648: helped to negotiate treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War and made France the most powerful country in Europe

The nobility of France hated Mazarin because he increased taxes and strengthened the central government

the fronde
The Fronde

1648-1653: Anti-Mazarin riots, known as the Fronde, tore France apart

Soldiers who led the riots threatened the young king’s life

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
Failure of the Fronde
  • The Fronde failed for three reasons:
  • 1) Its leaders distrusted one another even more than

they distrusted Mazarin

  • 2) The government used violent repression against it
  • 3) Peasants and townspeople grew weary of disorder

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
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 power.
jean baptiste colbert
Jean Baptiste Colbert

Colbert became Louis chief minister of finance

Colbert believed in the economic theory of mercantilism

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

colbert s mercantilist policies
Colbert’s Mercantilist Policies
  • 1) Gave government funds and tax benefits to French


  • 2) He placed a high tariff on goods from other countries
  • 3) He recognized the importance of colonies as a source

of raw materials and markets for French goods

- He encouraged migration to French colony of

Canada where the fur trade added to French


revocation of the edict of nantes
Revocation of theEdict of Nantes

After Colbert’s death, Louis announced a policy that slowed France’s economic progress

1685: Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which had protected the religious freedom of the Huguenots

In response, thousands of Huguenot artisans and business people fled the country

Louis’s policy thus robbed France of many skilled workers

louis s grand style versailles
Louis’s Grand Style:Versailles
  • Louis spent a fortune surrounding himself with luxury
  • 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 power
the palace at versailles
The Palace at Versailles

Cost: $2 billion in 1994 dollars

Size: 500 yards; 2 wings (each 150 yds), 2,000 rooms

Gardens: 15,000 acres, 1,400 fountains

It took 36,000 laborers and 6,000 horses to build it

It took so much water to run all of the fountains at the same time that it was only done on special occasions

patronage of the arts
Patronage of the Arts
  • Versailles was the center of the arts during Louis’s reign
  • He made opera and ballet more popular
  • One of Louis’s favorite writers was Moliere

- wrote Tartuffe which mocks religious hypocrisy

- The Would-be Gentleman, mocks the newly rich

- The Imaginary Invalid, mocks hypochondriacs

  • Chief purpose of art under Louis was to glorify the king and promote values that supported Louis’s absolute rule
louis s disastrous wars
Louis’s 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 republic

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 france s boundaries
Attempts to Expand France’s 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


- Treaty of Nijmegen ended the war with France getting

several towns and a region called Franche-Comte

balance of power politics
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 France’s 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 France’s strength.
war of the spanish succession
War of the Spanish Succession

By this time the French were longing for peace.

France had been weakened by a series of poor harvests.

They also were suffering from constant warfare.

Louis’s 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 France’s power


Before his death, Charles had promised the throne to Louis XIV’s 17 year old grandson, Philip of Anjou.

  • 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 happen.
  • 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 Succession.

The costly war dragged on until 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed.

  • Under the treaty, Louis’s 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: The Big Winner
  • Britain took Gibraltar from Spain, a fortress that controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea
  • Spain also granted a British company an asiento – permission to send enslaved Africans to Spain’s American colonies.

- this increased Britain’s 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
louis s death and legacy
Louis’s Death and Legacy
  • When Louis was paving his way as the most powerful ruler in French history, he boasted, “L’etat, c’estmoi,” meaning – “I am the state.”
  • But Louis’s last years were more sad than glorious.
  • 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 King.”
  • 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 Louis’s heirs.

Eventually this resentment led to a revolution.