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French Absolutism. Source of Pictures and Template: Ms. Pojer , New York. Sovereignty Defined. What does “sovereignty” mean? supreme authority within a territory

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French Absolutism

Source of Pictures and Template: Ms. Pojer, New York

sovereignty defined
Sovereignty Defined
  • What does “sovereignty” mean?
    • supreme authority within a territory
    • e.g., Some argue that the Greek government is no longer sovereign because the European Union’s requirements that it adopt difficult measures to lower its debt.
  • How is this achieved?
    • Monopoly over the instruments of justice and the use of force within clearly defined territories.
absolutist defined
Absolutist Defined
  • What does “absolutist” mean?
    • Sovereignty is embodied in the person of the ruler.
      • E.g., Louis XIV’s “I am the state.”
    • Often claimed to rule by divine right, but were constrained by some laws.
      • “Though kings were a race apart, they could not do as they pleased; they had to obey God’s laws and rule for the good of the people.”
      • Competing bodies (Estates General, Parlement of Paris).
what distinguishes new monarchs from absolute monarchs
What distinguishes “new” monarchs from “absolute” monarchs?

15th C “New” Monarchs

17th C “Absolute” Monarchs

Derived from traditional assumption of power (e.g. heirs to the throne), belief in “divine right of kings”), and not subordinate to national assemblies.

Maintained large standing armies. Monarchs no longer relied on mercenary or noble armies.

Employed secret police to weaken political opponents, but left alone those who didn’t openly oppose state.

In West, nobility was effectively brought under control, but could still at times hinder absolute monarchs from completely having their way.

Bureaucracies composed of career officials appointed by and solely accountable to king. Often rising members of the bourgeoisie or new nobility (“nobility of the robe” who purchased their titles from the monarchy).

Catholic monarchs gained control of the Roman Catholic Church in their countries.

  • Created more efficient bureaucracies that enabled the “New Monarchs” to begin centralizing control of their realms
  • Use of mercenary armies and creation of standing armies
  • Gunpowder, muskets and cannon increased the vulnerability of noble armies and their knights.
  • Reduced power of nobles through taxation and confiscation of land from uncooperative nobles.
  • Many nobles pledged support of king in return for titles and offices and served in the royal court or as royal officials. But, also increased the political influence of the bourgeoisie (at

the expense of the nobility) in exchange for


  • Reduced political power of the clergy
  • Increased public (national) debt by taking out loans from merchant-bankers.
critical thinking
Critical Thinking . . .
  • Is Henry VIII a “new” monarch or an “absolute” monarch? Justify your answer.
  • Is Elizabeth a “new” monarch or an “absolute” monarch? Justify your answer.
  • Is Philip II a “new” monarch” or an “absolute” monarch? Justify your answer.
  • Is Henry IV a “new” monarch or an “absolute” monarch?
absolutist techniques
Absolutist Techniques
  • Control competing rivals, institutions and interest groups in their territories.
  • Regulate religious groups.
  • Abolish feudal and early modern liberties.
  • Secure cooperation of old rival: nobility.
  • Create new state bureaucracy to serve king. Bureaucrats paid a salary and not supposed to use position for private gain.
  • This bureaucracy regulated the economic life of country in the king’s interest by raising taxes and/or inventing new sources of revenue.
  • Maintained permanent standing armies.
  • Glorification of the state.
  • Use of war and an expansionist foreign policy to divert from domestic problems.
paris is worth a mass a chicken in every pot
“Paris is worth a Mass”“A Chicken in Every Pot”

Henry IV


No war, lower taxes on peasants, lease tax collection to financiers, subsidize trading company, and highway system.


“Where the interests of the state are concerned, God absolves actions, which if privately committed, would be a crime.”

Louis XIII

Cardinal Richelieu

richelieu s goal total subordination of all groups to french monarchy
Richelieu’s goal: total subordination of all groups to French monarchy
  • Direct action reducing noble power, best illustrated by his demolition of feudal castles and beheading of Montmorency for involvement in revolt.
  • Recruiteda new class – intendants – loyal only to king, from the“judicialnobility” to help govern districts through army recruitment, tax collection, legal enforcement, and “big brother” to local nobility.
  • Betrayed Edict of Nantes, which gave Protestants religious, political and military independence, because it constituted “a state within a state,” i.e., politically disobedient. Sign of sovereignty = demolition of walled fortifications.
  • Brought France into the Thirty Years’ War.
  • Standardization of the French language.
  • Achilles’ Heel: Never obtained the ability to tax at will, meaning never will have enough monies.

L’ etat c’est moi!



L’ ouis XIV as Apollo

by Jean Nocret, 1670

the fronde and versailles
The “Fronde” and Versailles

Argument: Louis XIV built Versailles due to the chaotic period of the “Fronde.” What evidence (supporting details) from the text supports this argument?





louis xiv
Louis XIV
  • Collaborated with nobles in order to increase prestige, while also using court ceremony, entertainment, informers to render them harmless.
  • Versailles: “shock and awe” – tool of state policy as well as “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
  • French language and culture become the standard of “civilization.”
  • Revoked Edict of Nantes once and for all.
  • Allowed his finance minister Colbert to subsidize domestic (native) industries to compete with foreign goods, institute tariffs on vessels and on foreign goods, and encourage migration of foreign artists to France = MERCANTILISM.
  • War! (33 of 54 years as king). Took on Low Countries in a trade war and all of Europe in the War of Spanish Succession, which had he won would have resulted in France controlling Spanish throne. Added benefit of checking France’s maritime expansion.

The King’s Bed

The Queen’s Bed


Versailles Statistics

  • 2,000 acres of grounds
  • 12 miles of roads
  • 27 miles of trellises
  • 200,000 trees
  • 210,000 flowers planted every year
  • 80 miles of rows of trees
  • 55 acres surface area of the Grand Canal
  • 12 miles of enclosing walls
  • 50 fountains and 620 fountain nozzles
  • 21 miles of water conduits
  • 3,600 cubic meters per hour: water consumed
  • 26 acres of roof
  • 51,210 square meters of floors
  • 2,153 windows
  • 700 rooms
  • 67 staircases
  • 6,000 paintings
  • 1,500 drawings and 15,000 engravings
  • 2,100 sculptures
  • 5,000 items of furniture and objects d'art
  • 150 varieties of apple and peach trees in the Vegetable Garden