France in the early modern period
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Kingdom of France in the early modern period, from the Renaissance (c. 1500–1550) to the Revolution (1789–1804), was a monarchy ruled by the House of Bourbon (a Capetian cadet branch). This corresponds to the so-called Ancien Régime ("old rule"). The territory of France during this period increased until it included essentially the extent of the modern country, and it also included the territories of the first French colonial empire overseas.
The period is dominated by the figure of the "Sun King", Louis XIV (his reign of 1643–1715 being one of the longest in history), who managed to eliminate the remnants of medieval feudalism and established a centralized state under an absolute monarch, a system that would endure until the French Revolution and beyond.
- French Renaissance literature
- French literature of the 17th century
- French literature of the 18th century
The Peace of Etaples (1492) marks, for some, the beginning of the early modern period in France.
After the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) and the Treaty of Picquigny (1475) – its official end date – in 1492 and 1493, Charles VIII of France signed three additional treaties with Henry VII of England, Maximilian I of Habsburg, and Ferdinand II of Aragon respectively at Étaples (1492), Senlis (1493) and in Barcelona (1493). These three treaties cleared the way for France to undertake the long Italian Wars (1494–1559), which marked the beginning of early modern France.
Despite the beginnings of rapid demographic and economic recovery after the Black Death of the 14th century, the gains of the previous half-century were to be jeopardised by a further protracted series of conflicts, the Italian Wars (1494–1559), where French efforts to gain dominance ended in the increased power of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors of Germany.<
Ludovico Sforza, seeking an ally against the Republic of Venice, encouraged Charles VIII of France to invade Italy, using the Angevin claim to the throne of Naples, then under Aragonese control, as a pretext. When Ferdinand I of Naples died in 1494, Charles invaded the peninsula. For several months, French forces moved through Italy virtually unopposed, since the condottieri armies of the Italian city-states were unable to resist them. Their sack of Naples finally provoked a reaction, however, and the League of Venice was formed against them. Italian troops defeated the French at the Battle of Fornovo, forcing Charles to withdraw to France. Ludovico, having betrayed the French at Fornovo, retained his throne until 1499, when Charles's successor, Louis XII of France, invaded Lombardy and seized Milan.
In 1500, Louis, having reached an agreement with Ferdinand II of Aragon to divide Naples, marched south from Milan. By 1502, combined French and Aragonese forces had seized control of the Kingdom; disagreements about the terms of the partition led to a war between Louis and Ferdinand. By 1503, Louis, having been defeated at the Battle of Cerignola and Battle of the Garigliano, was forced to withdraw from Naples, which was left under the control of the Spanish viceroy, Ramon de Cardona. French forces under Gaston de Foix inflicted an overwhelming defeat on a Spanish army at the Battle of Ravenna in 1512, but Foix was killed during the battle, and the French were forced to withdraw from Italy by an invasion of Milan by the Swiss, who reinstated Maximilian Sforza to the ducal throne. The Holy League, left victorious, fell apart over the subject of dividing the spoils, and in 1513 Venice allied with France, agreeing to partition Lombardy between them.
Louis mounted another invasion of Milan, but was defeated at the Battle of Novara, which was quickly followed by a series of Holy League victories at La Motta, Guinegate, and Flodden Field, in which the French, Venetian, and Scottish forces were decisively defeated. However, the death of Pope Julius left the League without effective leadership, and when Louis' successor, Francis I, defeated the Swiss at Marignano in 1515, the League collapsed, and by the treaties of Noyon and Brussels, surrendered to France and Venice the entirety of northern Italy.
The elevation of Charles of Spain to Holy Roman Emperor, a position that Francis had desired, led to a collapse of relations between France and the Habsburgs. In 1519, a Spanish invasion of Navarre, nominally a French fief, provided Francis with a pretext for starting a general war; French forces flooded into Italy and began a campaign to drive Charles from Naples. The French were outmatched, however, by the fully-developed Spanish tercio tactics, and suffered a series of crippling defeats at Bicocca and Sesia against Spanish troops under Fernando de Avalos. With Milan itself threatened, Francis personally led a French army into Lombardy in 1525, only to be defeated and captured at the Battle of Pavia; imprisoned in Madrid, Francis was forced to agree to extensive concessions over his Italian territories in the "Treaty of Madrid" (1526).
The inconclusive third war between Charles and Francis began with the death of Francesco Maria Sforza, the duke of Milan. When Charles' son Philip inherited the duchy, Francis invaded Italy, capturing Turin, but failed to take Milan. In response, Charles invaded Provence, advancing to Aix-en-Provence, but withdrew to Spain rather than attacking the heavily fortified Avignon. The Truce of Nice ended the war, leaving Turin in French hands but effecting no significant change in the map of Italy. Francis, allying himself with Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, launched a final invasion of Italy. A Franco-Ottoman fleet captured the city of Nice in August 1543, and laid siege to the citadel. The defenders were relieved within a month. The French, under François, Count d'Enghien, defeated an Imperial army at the Battle of Ceresole in 1544, but the French failed to penetrate further into Lombardy. Charles and Henry VIII of England then proceeded to invade northern France, seizing Boulogne and Soissons. A lack of cooperation between the Spanish and English armies, coupled with increasingly aggressive Ottoman attacks, led Charles to abandon these conquests, restoring the status quo once again.
In 1547, Henry II of France, who had succeeded Francis to the throne, declared war against Charles with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. An early offensive against Lorraine was successful, but the attempted French invasion of Tuscany in 1553 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano. Charles's abdication in 1556 split the Habsburg empire between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, and shifted the focus of the war to Flanders, where Philip, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at St. Quentin. England's entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, England's last possession on the French mainland, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries; but Henry was nonetheless forced to accept the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, in which he renounced any further claims to Italy.
The Wars of Religion
Barely were the Italian Wars over, when France was plunged into a domestic crisis with far-reaching consequences. Despite the conclusion of a Concordat between France and the Papacy (1516), granting the crown unrivalled power in senior ecclesiastical appointments, France was deeply affected by the Protestant Reformation's attempt to break the unity of Roman Catholic Europe. A growing urban-based Protestant minority (later dubbed Huguenots) faced ever harsher repression under the rule of Francis I's son King Henry II. After Henry II's unfortunate death in a joust, the country was ruled by his widow Catherine de' Medici and her sons Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Renewed Catholic reaction headed by the powerful dukes of Guise culminated in a massacre of Huguenots (1562), starting the first of the French Wars of Religion, during which English, German, and Spanish forces intervened on the side of rival Protestant and Catholic forces. Opposed to absolute monarchy, the Huguenots Monarchomachs theorized during this time the right of rebellion and the legitimacy of tyrannicide.
The Wars of Religion culminated in the War of the Three Henrys in which Henry III assassinated Henry de Guise, leader of the Spanish-backed Catholic league, and the king was murdered in return. After the assassination of both Henry of Guise (1588) and Henry III (1589), the conflict was ended by the accession of the Protestant king of Navarre as Henry IV (first king of the Bourbon dynasty) and his subsequent abandonment of Protestantism (Expedient of 1592) effective in 1593, his acceptance by most of the Catholic establishment (1594) and by the Pope (1595), and his issue of the toleration decree known as the Edict of Nantes (1598), which guaranteed freedom of private worship and civil equality.
France in the 17th and 18th centuries
France's pacification under Henry IV laid much of the ground for the beginnings of France's rise to European hegemony. One of the most admired French kings, Henry was fatally stabbed by a Catholic fanatic in 1610 as war with Spain threatened. Troubles gradually developed during the regency headed by his queen Marie de Medici. France was expansive during all but the end of the 17th century: the French began trading in India and Madagascar, founded Quebec and penetrated the North American Great Lakes and Mississippi, established plantation economies in the West Indies and extended their trade contacts in the Levant and enlarged their merchant marine.
Henry IV's son Louis XIII and his minister (1624–1642) Cardinal Richelieu, elaborated a policy against Spain and the German emperor during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) which had broken out among the lands of Germany's Holy Roman Empire. An English-backed Huguenot rebellion (1625–1628) defeated, France intervened directly (1635) in the wider European conflict following her ally (Protestant) Sweden's failure to build upon initial success.
After the death of both king and cardinal, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) secured universal acceptance of Germany's political and religious fragmentation, but the Regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Cardinal Mazarin experienced a civil uprising known as the Fronde (1648–1653) which expanded into a Franco-Spanish War (1653–1659). The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) formalised France's seizure (1642) of the Spanish territory of Roussillon after the crushing of the ephemeral Catalan Republic and ushered a short period of peace.
For most of the reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715), France was the dominant power in Europe, aided by the diplomacy of Richelieu's successor (1642–1661) Cardinal Mazarin and the economic policies (1661–1683) of Colbert. Colbert's attempts to promote economic growth and the creation of new industries were not a great success, and France did not undergo any sort of industrial revolution during Louis XIV's reign. In fact, the king's foreign policy, as well as his lavish court and construction projects, left the country in enormous debt. The Palace of Versailles was criticized as overly extravagant even while it was still under construction, but dozens of imitations were built across Europe. Renewed war (the War of Devolution 1667-1668 and the Franco-Dutch War 1672-1678) brought further territorial gains (Artois and western Flanders and the free county of Burgundy, left to the Empire in 1482), but at the cost of the increasingly concerted opposition of rival powers.
French culture was part of French hegemony. In the early part of the century French painters had to go to Rome to shed their provinciality (Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain), but Simon Vouet brought home the taste for a classicized baroque that would characterise the French Baroque, epitomised in the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, in the painting of Charles Le Brun and the sculpture of François Girardon. With the Palais du Luxembourg, the Château de Maisons and Vaux-le-Vicomte, French classical architecture was admired abroad even before the creation of Versailles or Perrault's Louvre colonnade. Parisian salon culture set standards of discriminating taste from the 1630s, and with Pascal, Descartes, Bayle, Corneille, Racine and Molière, France became the cultural center of Europe. The king sought to impose total religious uniformity on the country, repealing the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The infamous practice of dragonnades was adopted, whereby rough soldiers were quartered in the homes of Protestant families and allowed to have their way with them. Scores of Protestants fled France, costing the country a great many intellectuals, artisans, and other valuable people. Persecution extended to unorthodox Catholics like the Jansenists, a group that denied free will and had already been condemned by the popes. Louis was no theologian and understood little of the complex doctrines of Jansenism, satisfying himself with the fact that they threatened the unity of the state. In this, he garnered the friendship of the papacy, which had previously been hostile to France because of its policy of putting all church property in the country under the jurisdiction of the state rather than of Rome.
Cardinal Mazarin oversaw the creation of a French navy that rivaled England's, expanding it from 25 ships to almost 200. The size of the army was also considerably increased.
Starting in the 1670s, Louis XIV established the so-called "Chambers of Reunion", courts in which judges would determine whether certain Habsburg territories belonged rightfully to France. The king was relying on the somewhat vague wording in the Treaty of Westphalia, while also dredging up older French claims, some dating back to medieval times. Through this, he concluded that the strategically important imperial city of Strassburg should have gone to France in 1648. In September 1681, French troops occupied the city, which was at once strongly fortified. As the imperial armies were then busy fighting the Ottoman Empire, they could not do anything about this for a number of years. The basic aim of Louis' foreign policy was to give France more easily defensible borders, and to eliminate weak spots (Strassburg had often been used by the Habsburgs as a gateway into France).
Following the Whig establishment on the English and Scottish thrones by the Dutch prince William of Orange in 1688, the anti-French "Grand Alliance" of 1689 was established. With the Turks now in retreat, the emperor Leopold could turn his attention to France. The ensuing War of the Grand Alliance lasted from 1688-1697. France's resources were stretched to the breaking point by the cost of fielding an army of over 300,000 men and two naval squadrons. Famine in 1692-1693 killed up to two million people. The exhaustion of the powers brought the fighting to an end in 1697, by which time the French were in control of the Spanish Netherlands and Catalonia. However, Louis gave back his conquests and only gained the island of Haiti. The French people, feeling that their sacrifices in the war had been for nothing, never forgave him.
In November 1700, the inbred, mentally retarded, and enfeebled Spanish king Charles II died, ending the Habsburg line in that country. Louis had long waited for this moment, and now planned to put a Bourbon relative, Philip, Duke of Anjou, on the throne. Essentially, Spain was to become an obedient satellite of France, ruled by a king who would carry out orders from Versailles. Realizing how this would upset the balance of power, the other European rulers were outraged. However, most of the alternatives were equally undesirable. For example, putting another Habsburg on the throne would end up recreating the empire of Charles V, which would also grossly upset the power balance. After nine years of exhausting war, the last thing Louis wanted was another conflict. However, the rest of Europe would not stand for his ambitions in Spain, and so the War of the Spanish Succession began, a mere three years after the War of the Grand Alliance.
The disasters of the war (accompanied by another famine) were so great that France was on the verge of collapse by 1709. In desperation, the king appealed to the French people to save their country, and in doing so gained thousands of new army recruits. Afterwards, his general Marshal Villars managed to drive back the allied forces. In 1714, the war ended with the treaties of Utrecht and Rastadt. France did not lose any territory, and there was no discussion of returning Flanders or Alsace to the Habsburgs. While the Duke of Anjou was accepted as King Philip V of Spain, this was done under the condition that the French and Spanish thrones never be united. Finally, France agreed to stop supporting Jacobite pretenders to the English throne. Just after the war ended, Louis died, having ruled France for 72 years.
The reign (1715–1774) of Louis XV saw an initial return to peace and prosperity under the regency (1715–1723) of Philip II, Duke of Orléans, whose policies were largely continued (1726–1743) by Cardinal Fleury, prime minister in all but name. The exhaustion of Europe after two major wars resulted in a long period of peace, only interrupted by minor conflicts like the War of the Polish Succession from 1733-1735. Large-scale warfare resumed with the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). But alliance with the traditional Habsburg enemy (the "Diplomatic Revolution" of 1756) against the rising power of Britain and Prussia led to costly failure in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) and the loss of France's North American colonies.
On the whole, the 18th century saw growing discontent with the monarchy and the established order. Louis XV was a highly unpopular king for his sexual excesses, overall weakness, and for losing Canada to the British. A strong ruler like Louis XIV could enhance the position of the monarchy, while Louis XV weakened it. The writings of the philosophes such as Voltaire were a clear sign of discontent, but the king chose to ignore them. He died of smallpox in 1774, and the French people shed few tears at his passing. While France had not yet experienced the industrial revolution that was beginning in England, the rising middle class of the cities felt increasingly frustrated with a system and rulers that seemed silly, frivolous, aloof, and antiquated, even if true feudalism no longer existed in France.
Upon Louis XV's death, his grandson Louis XVI became king. Initially popular, he too came to be widely detested by the 1780s. Again a weak ruler, he was married to an Austrian archduchess, Marie Antoinette, whose naivety and cloistered/alienated Versailles life permitted ignorance of the true extravagance and wasteful use of borrowed money (however, it should be noted that Marie Antoinette was significantly more frugal than her predecessors). French intervention in the US War of Independence was also very expensive.
With the country deeply in debt, Louis XVI permitted the radical reforms of Turgot and Malesherbes, but noble disaffection led to Turgot's dismissal and Malesherbes' resignation in 1776. They were replaced by Jacques Necker. Necker had resigned in 1781 to be replaced by Calonne and Brienne, before being restored in 1788. A harsh winter that year led to widespread food shortages, and by then France was a powder keg ready to explode.
House of Bourbon (1589–1792)
- Henry IV
- the Regency of Marie de Medici
- Louis XIII and his minister Cardinal Richelieu
- the Regency of Anne of Austria and her minister Cardinal Mazarin
- Louis XIV
- the Régence of Philip II of Orleans
- Louis XV
- Louis XVI