- Describe Louis XIV’s views on royal power and how he expanded his own authority
- At the time of King Louis XIII’s death in 1643, Louis XIV was only five years old. His mother, Anne of Austria, was named regent, but she entrusted the government to the chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin’s policies paved the way for the authoritarian reign of Louis XIV.
- Louis began his personal reign with administrative and fiscal reforms. National debt was quickly reduced through more efficient taxation, although reforms imposing taxes on the aristocracy were late and of limited outcome.
- Louis and his administration also bolstered French commerce and trade by establishing new industries in France and instituted reforms in military administration that curbed the independent spirit of the nobility by imposing order at court and in the army.
- Louis also attempted uniform regulation of civil procedure throughout legally irregular France by issuing a comprehensive legal code, the “Grande Ordonnance de Procédure Civile” of 1667, also known as the Code Louis. One of his most infamous decrees was the Code Noir, which sanctioned slavery in French colonies.
- Louis also attached nobles to his court at Versailles and thus achieved increased control over the French aristocracy. An elaborate court ritual by which the king observed the aristocracy and distributed his favors was created to ensure the aristocracy remained under his scrutiny.
- Following consistent efforts to limit religious tolerance, Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the Edict of Nantes and repealed all the privileges that arose therefrom.
cuius regio, eius religio
A Latin phrase that literally means “Whose realm, his religion,” meaning that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled. At the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which ended a period of armed conflict between Roman Catholic and Protestant forces within the Holy Roman Empire, the rulers of the German-speaking states and Charles V, the emperor, agreed to accept this principle.
Declaration of the Clergy of France
A four-article document of the 1681 Assembly of the French clergy promulgated in 1682, which codified the principles of Gallicanism into a system for the first time in an official and definitive formula.
The belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarchs’ authority or the state’s authority—over the Catholic Church is comparable to the pope’s.
Edict of Fontainebleau
A 1685 edict issued by Louis XIV of France, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes (1598) had granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state.
A decree originally passed by France’s King Louis XIV in 1685 that defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free black persons, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and ordered all Jews out of France’s colonies.
The Sun King
At the time of King Louis XIII’s death in 1643, Louis XIV was only five years old. His mother, Anne of Austria, was named regent in spite of her late husband’s wishes. Anne assumed the regency but entrusted the government to the chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, who helped her expand the limited power her husband had left her. He functioned essentially as the co-ruler of France alongside Queen Anne during her regency, and until his death effectively directed French policy alongside the monarch. In 1651, when Louis XIV officially came of age, Anne’s regency legally ended. However, she kept much power and influence over her son until the death of Mazarin. On the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis assumed personal control of the reins of government and astonished his court by declaring that he would rule without a chief minister.
Louis began his personal reign with administrative and fiscal reforms. In 1661, the treasury verged on bankruptcy. To rectify the situation, Louis chose Jean-Baptiste Colbert as Controller-General of Finances in 1665. Colbert reduced the national debt through more efficient taxation. Excellent results were achieved, and the deficit of 1661 turned into a surplus in 1666. However, to support the reorganized and enlarged army, the panoply of Versailles, and the growing civil administration, the king needed a good deal of money, but methods of collecting taxes were costly and inefficient. The main weakness of the existing system arose from an old bargain between the French crown and nobility: the king might raise without consent if only he refrained from taxing the nobles. Only towards the close of his reign, under extreme stress of war, was Louis able, for the first time in French history, to impose direct taxes on the aristocracy. This was a step toward equality before the law and toward sound public finance, but so many concessions and exemptions were won by nobles and bourgeois that the reform lost much of its value.
Louis and Colbert also had wide-ranging plans to bolster French commerce and trade. Colbert’s administration established new industries, encouraged domestic manufacturers and inventors, and invited manufacturers and artisans from all over Europe to France. This aimed to decrease foreign imports while increasing French exports, hence reducing the net outflow of precious metals from France.
Louis also instituted reforms in military administration and, with the help of his trusted experts, curbed the independent spirit of the nobility by imposing order at court and in the army. Gone were the days when generals protracted war at the frontiers while bickering over precedence and ignoring orders from the capital and the larger politico-diplomatic picture. The old military aristocracy ceased to have a monopoly over senior military positions and rank.
Louis also attempted uniform regulation of civil procedure throughout legally irregular France by issuing a comprehensive legal code, the “Grande Ordonnance de Procédure Civile” of 1667, also known as the Code Louis. Among other things, it prescribed baptismal, marriage, and death records in the state’s registers, not the church’s, and also strictly regulated the right of the Parlements to remonstrate. The Code Louis played an important part in French legal history as the basis for the Napoleonic code, itself the origin of many modern legal codes.One of Louis’s most infamous decrees was the Grande Ordonnance sur les Colonies of 1685, also known as the Code Noir (“black code”). It sanctioned slavery and limited the ownership of slaves in the colonies to Roman Catholics only. It also required slaves to be baptized.
Centralization of Power
Louis initially supported traditional Gallicanism, which limited papal authority in France, and convened an Assembly of the French clergy in November 1681. Before its dissolution eight months later, the assembly had accepted the Declaration of the Clergy of France, which increased royal authority at the expense of papal power. Without royal approval, bishops could not leave France and appeals could not be made to the pope. Additionally, government officials could not be excommunicated for acts committed in pursuance of their duties. Although the king could not make ecclesiastical law, all papal regulations without royal assent were invalid in France. Unsurprisingly, the pope repudiated the declaration.
Louis also attached nobles to his court at Versailles and thus achieved increased control over the French aristocracy. Apartments were built to house those willing to pay court to the king. However, the pensions and privileges necessary to live in a style appropriate to their rank were only possible by waiting constantly on Louis. For this purpose, an elaborate court ritual was created where the king became the center of attention and was observed throughout the day by the public. With his excellent memory, Louis could see who attended him at court and who was absent, facilitating the subsequent distribution of favors and positions. Another tool Louis used to control his nobility was censorship, which often involved opening letters to discern their author’s opinion of the government and king. Moreover, by entertaining, impressing, and domesticating nobles with extravagant luxury and other distractions, Louis not only cultivated public opinion of himself, but also ensured the aristocracy remained under his scrutiny.
This, along with the prohibition of private armies, prevented the aristocracy from passing time on their own estates and in their regional power-bases, from which they historically had waged local wars and plotted resistance to royal authority. Louis thus compelled and seduced the old military aristocracy (the “nobility of the sword”) into becoming his ceremonial courtiers, further weakening their power. In their place, he raised commoners or the more recently ennobled bureaucratic aristocracy as presumably easier to control.
Finally, Louis dramatically limited religious tolerance in France, as he saw the persistence of Protestantism as a disgraceful reminder of royal powerlessness. Responding to petitions, Louis initially excluded Protestants from office, constrained the meeting of synods, closed churches outside Edict of Nantes-stipulated areas, banned Protestant outdoor preachers, and prohibited domestic Protestant migration. He also disallowed Protestant-Catholic intermarriages where third parties objected, encouraged missions to the Protestants, and rewarded converts to Catholicism.
In 1681, Louis dramatically increased his persecution of Protestants. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio generally had also meant that subjects who refused to convert could emigrate, but Louis banned emigration and effectively insisted that all Protestants must be converted. In 1685, he issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which cited the redundancy of privileges for Protestants given their scarcity after the extensive conversions. It revoked the Edict of Nantes and repealed all the privileges that arose therefrom. By his edict, Louis no longer tolerated Protestant groups, pastors, or churches to exist in France. No further churches were to be constructed, and those already existing were to be demolished. Pastors could choose either exile or a secular life. Those Protestants who had resisted conversion were now to be baptized forcibly into the established church.