Louis XIV and France
personality, Louis was reserved, suspicious and secretive. He ate a
great deal but drank little. He was polite and accomplished at
enjoyed having books read to him, especially the works of the
dramatist, Jean Racine (1639-99) who became the King's official
historian. Louis also appreciated the fine arts.|
Louis married Maria Theresa, the daughter of
Philip IV of Spain, who in 1661 bore a son, Louis the Dauphin.
[See Family Tree]
Louis also had many mistresses, including
de la Vallière,
Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise of Montespan, and
Françoise Scarron (née d’Aubigné), Madame de Maintenon the last of whom he
secretly married after the death of Maria Theresa (1683).
Thereafter, Louis lived a life of pious domesticity.
was always religious, attending mass every day, and was deeply
suspicious both of Protestants and of the Jansenists (a Catholic Augustinian
group). However, he had no real interest in theology, and
his piety did not stop him adopting a practical - even mercenary -
policy in regard to clerical appointments and church lands.|
Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83)
Louis XIII had ruled through Cardinal Richelieu, and Cardinal Mazarin
had acted as chief minister during the regency of Anne and Louis XIV's
younger years. Immediately after Mazarin's death (March 1661), Louis
XIV announced his attention of ruling personally without a chief
minister. He removed his mother, Anne of Austria from the Conseil d’en Haut (High Council) and replaced powerful clergymen and nobles with
bureaucrats drawn from the lesser nobility.
Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de
Belle-Isle, the superintendent of finances had expected to succeed
Mazarin as principal minister. Instead, Louis XIV worked in concert
Colbert to arrange Fouquet's downfall on charges of corruption.
Colbert took over as finance minister.
Hugues de Lionne became Louis' foreign minister and remained so until his death in 1671, when
he was succeeded by Arnauld de Pomponne.
Michel Le Tellier had been Louis XIV's minister of war since
1643, and he worked steadily to discipline and control the armed
François Michel Le Tellier,
Marquis of Louvois, who became secretary of state for war in
1677, continued his father's attempts at reform until his death
At that point Louis-François-Marie Le Tellier de Louvois,
Marquis of Barbezieux took over the department; he was Louvois' son.
Not to be outdone by the Le Tellier
clan, the Colbert
family provided four ministers apart from the "Great Colbert" (Jean-Baptiste).
His brother Charles Colbert, Marquis of Croissy, was secretary
of foreign affairs from 1679-96; his son, Jean-Baptiste Colbert,
Marquis of Seignelay was briefly secretary of state for the
navy before dying suddenly in 1690; Croissy's son, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis of Torcy, was minister of foreign affairs
1699-1715; finally, the Great Colbert's nephew, Nicolas Desmaretz
was controller-general from 1709-15.
The Le Tellier and Colbert
clans were linked by the marriage of the elder Le Tellier's sister to
the Great Colbert's cousin.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, ("The
was born in Rheims in 1619, the son of an incompetent businessman.
Educated by the Jesuits, he went to work for Mazarin, and was soon
made Intendant of Mazarin's household.|
|He gained power by
investigating Fouquet's financial misdeeds and recovering money for
the crown. In 1665, he was made Controller General of Finance. He
worked to reform and streamline the tax-collection system as well as to codify and unify French Law.|
In 1664 Colbert was appointed in addition to the Superintendancy of
Buildings and Arts, and in 1669 to the secretaryship of the
Navy. Colbert was obsessed with fostering the growth of the navy:
- in 1661, the navy had only about 19 ships; by 1677 its numbers
stood at 140.
|Although Colbert was
domineering to his inferiors, he always groveled to Louis XIV.|
historians have seen Colbert's policies as unimaginative and
essentially bourgeois (despite his noble status and royal
support); others have exalted his achievements and attributed his
failures to the destructive effects of the wars that beset France
rationalization of state finances, the industrial initiatives
and the stimulus to commerce were less positive and durable …
there still remain the merits of [Colbert's] legislative
achievement, his success with the navy, the beginning of a
considerable colonial empire and his unique role as an
artistic patron" (Bluche).
"There is indeed a large
measure of truth in the contention that Colbert's mind never
rose to the level of a general idea. Here was the perfect
bureaucrat whose concern was with the way the machinery ran,
rather than with the function it performed" (Wilson).
Nobles and bureaucrats
Louis XIV required that the greater nobles attend his court (at their
own expense) and in return he gave them offices with fine titles but
little power. The King wanted the nobles at court so that they could
not build up independent power in the provinces. He wanted the
administration staffed by competent officials, dependent on him for
their tenure. A noble commentator (the Duke of Saint-Simon) sneered at
Louis XIV's administration as "Règne
de vile bourgeoisie" (the rule of the contemptible bourgeoisie).
Colbert never had the financial resources to buy back all the
hereditary offices and give the crown complete freedom of action, but
he did reduce their number and the money spent on them.
Colbert continued Richelieu's and Mazarin's policies of using
centrally-appointed intendants to control hereditary
Louis XIV blamed the parlement of Paris for the Fronde, and set
about reducing its powers. In 1673, he forced it to register
edicts before it prepared remonstrances - this effectively stripped it of the power to hold up legislation.
Louis also bullied the members of the local parlements,
such as that of Languedoc, into subservience. These and the
parlement of Paris retained some vestigial privileges, but ceased
to be a real check on royal power.
|Colbert did not restructure the system of taxation - but he did
try hard to ensure that it was efficiently administered.|
|When the war with Spain finally ended in 1659, direct taxation
was reduced and many arrears written off. Indirect taxation rose as
France grew more prosperous.|
|Like Richelieu before him, Colbert tried to encourage economic
growth. He created state industries, protected French producers with
high tariffs (especially from the Dutch), and established trading
|Colbert established state factories for luxury goods (the
most famous was Les
Gobelins). He also regulated every possible aspect of the
private sector: - the innumerable guild ordinances and product
règlements were meant to
ensure high manufacturing standards, but they spawned a parasitic
bureaucracy and cramped the free development of industry.
|Most of Colbert's economic projects
failed, or succeeded only temporarily, but since the demands of war
meant that Colbert's initial plans were never carried through, it is
difficult to know whether those plans were inherently flawed.|
||In 1682, Louis XIV moved into the Palace of
Versailles. This immense and luxurious residence not only set the
standard for royal palaces across Europe, it acted as a showpiece
of the French monarch's power and grandeur.
The French Academy had been founded in 1634; the Royal Academy of
Painting was created in 1648. These tried to extend
regulation to artistic creativity.
In 1666, Colbert established the Royal Academy of Science (Académie
Royal des Sciences) to encourage scientific investigation. Unlike
the informal, unofficial Royal Society of England, this was an
institution of state, with a limited membership, salaried academicians,
and required attendance.