Absolute monarchy in France  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

France's political system of Absolute Monarchy developed in a long process. After the period of the Renaissance Monarchy which was mainly based on the political consensus between monarch, social classes and the submissive’s league, Absolute Monarchy slowly emerged in the 16th century. This period of time was strongly influenced by religious conflicts developing out of the establishment of Calvinism and permanent wars. However, France’s critical position turned out to be of a central meaning for the formation and theoretical justification of Absolute Monarchy. Its disputes between monarchy and community as well as the fatal loss of the House of Valois' authority during the second half of the 16th century prompted nation-state theoretical reflections that led to a strengthening of the monarchic central power and, thus, helped to overcome the monarchy’s crisis and to consolidate the internal and external political situation.

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 an important place 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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Absolute monarchy in France" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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