Absolute monarchy in France

Absolute monarchy in France

Absolute Monarchy in France was established during the 17th century.Though earlier French kings had tried to strengthen their power, which was scattered among the nobles, it was finally established during the reign of Louis XIII and consolidated during that of Louis XIV.

It was Louis XIII’s regent Cardinal Richelieu who vowed "to make the royal power supreme in France and France supreme in Europe." ("source: Cardinal Richelieu's Political Testament")

However, many obstacles stood in the way of absolutism in France:
*Nobles had the means to raise private armies and build fortifications. The king did not have the means to raise and keep an army himself and had to rely on these nobles to defend the nation;
*Lesser nobles, who had the ability to read and write, also acted as the king's agents. Effectively, they were his representatives of government to the people. They collected taxes, posted edicts, and administered justice.
*The Huguenots, who since the 1598 Edict of Nantes by Henry IV, held the rights to bear arms and to build fortifications in certain locations.

To overcome these obstacles King Louis XIV used several tools:

One of the more unsubtle acts of this consolidation of power was the repeal of the edict of Nantes with the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.

A more subtle tactic was the demolition of the nobles castles, disguised as a budgetary act to reduce maintenance costs by removing unnecessary fortifications on the nations interior, this Edict of 1626 removed any ability of the nobles to rebel.

Louis XIV reduced the nobles’ power further by requiring them to spend at least some portion of the year at Versailles. At Versailles he could watch them and be sure they weren’t plotting against the crown. Rather than seen as demeaning, the nobles took this as a high honor. Nobles, being granted residence at Versailles, were only too happy to give up their duties as government ministers, and Louis XIV, with the help of his minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, replaced them with members of the merchant class who could read and write.


The final outcome of these acts did centralize the authority of France behind the king. The replacement of government ministers, removal of castles, and other financial polices of Colbert did reduce French national debt considerably. In the 18th century, however, the relocation of nobles and the sheer obsolescence of Versailles became heavy fodder for a rising merchant class and an instigative press.

Perhaps the most pressing consequence of absolutism in France is the emigration of the Huguenots. Of the merchant class, their emigration effectively leads to a brain drain and a loss of tax revenue for France. Moreover, barred from New France, they immigrated to other nations, most notably the 13 colonies, taking their skills of printing, glass making, carpentry, ceramics, a deep belief in the needs for freedom of religion (at least for Protestantism), and the right to bear arms.

* Ancien Régime
* Early Modern France
* Absolute monarchy
* Political absolutism

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