France Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism 1

The Decline of French Power in Europe and the Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism Part I


In his will, Louis XIV entrusted the regency to a council in which his son legitimated Duke of Maine was to have a preponderant part, although the presidency was entrusted to Philip d’Orléans. But the latter, who enjoyed the sympathy of the Jansenists, of the young, of all the discontented, and could count abroad on the support of his cousin George I of England, made an agreement with the parliament, to which he returned the lost political authority in exchange for the annulment of all restrictions that the will of Louis XIV had placed on the power of the regent. According to shoppingpicks, Philip’s government began with a series of liberal reforms which gave him great popularity: alongside the regency council, seven councils were established to which the administration of the state was entrusted; favors were promised to Jansenists and Protestants, a more equitable distribution of taxes was announced. But the inability of the advisers, the indifference of the public, the opposition of the interested parties, who aimed at the re-establishment of the ministries, and the ambiguous character of an innovation that bound the absolute power of the monarch without creating a representative regime, made the life of the new councils: in 1718 they were abolished and the old system returned.

Meanwhile, Philip, with the help of Dubois, aimed to re-establish ties with London. Declined the proposals of Russia, in 1717 a treaty of alliance with England and Holland was concluded, granting to the former the expulsion from France of the son of James II, the pretender James III, to the latter the abolition of protective duties. In 1718, the emperor also joined the alliance. The threat that the new league constituted for Spain, the ambitious plans of Cardinal Alberoni, minister of Philip V, the hostility between the regent and Philip V, who would have liked to claim his rights to the throne of France, were the cause of the war, which broke out in 1719. The Spanish army was repeatedly beaten and Philip V had to accept the peace in The Hague (1720). This was the start of a policy of rapprochement between France and Spain, a policy that led to the engagement of Louis XV with the daughter of Philip V. In 1723 the king’s age was proclaimed and Dubois, who became cardinal and prime minister, was given the title of secretary state for foreign affairs; but a few months later he died, soon followed by the regent.

On the death of Louis XIV, the regency had to face a very serious financial situation, a consequence of the costly wars and the errors of mercantilist politics. Rejecting the proposal not to recognize the commitments made by their predecessors, the Finance Council, headed by the Duke of Noailles, took charge of a general audit of accounts and credit securities. The council, using the same summary methods adopted by Sully and Colbert, succeeded in reducing the debt by about half a billion and reducing the deficit while abolishing the tithe tax. But economic life did not rise again. Then he resorted to the great reorganization plan concocted by Law (v.). In 1716 he founded his bank. Two years later the regent, freed from the councils, converted the private bank into a royal bank, despite opposition from parliament. Alongside the bank, Law established the Company of the West which then, having absorbed all the commercial companies that survived the decline of the last years of the reign of Louis XIV, was called the Company of the Indies. Law did not realize that his system was based on completely illusory foundations and that his initiative ended up being a gigantic attempt at inflation and stock manipulation. In 1721 the liquidation was reached which had disastrous effects on the public and private economy. After his fall, the contracts that the company had redeemed were replenished. The bankruptcy was followed by a new revision, which canceled more than half a billion values. Despite the creation of new revenues, the 86 million that the state had to pay on the death of Louis XIV was reduced to 56; thus the public debt was brought back to the total sum of one billion and 700 million. The improvement of the circulation allowed the trade to resume its normal course and the national economy to regain stability; but the bankruptcy and the arbitrary acts with which the reduction of the debt was obtained sowed seeds of discontent that survived for a long time and had to bear fruit, while the brief interlude of liberalizing reforms had left traces in the intellectual classes and in the bourgeoisie.

On the death of Philip d’Orléans, the office of prime minister was entrusted to the Duke of Bourbon, which meant the preponderant influence of a woman, the Marquise de Prié. From this moment on, any clear distinction between politics and gallantry ceases, and ministers and sovereign will suffer more and more from the omnipotence of the favorites. Despite some useful measures, such as a principle of tax reform, the construction of the San Quentin canal, the drawing by lot of a permanent militia of 60,000 men, the duke became unpopular with the persecution of Protestants and Jansenists, with the cruel laws against begging, with the institution of the new 50th tax on all income. Journalists and pamphleteers attacked the duke and marquise, accusing them, especially during the famine of 1725, to starve the people. Public opinion had been forming all the more unbridled and excessive, the longer it had been forced to silence.

France Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism 1