17th Century England and France

November 9, 2002

period 1

1. Richelieu symbolized absolutism in several ways. Richelieu pursued centralizing policies utterly without qualm. Supported by the king, who let his chief minister make most decision of state, Richelieu stepped up the campaign against separatist provincial governors and parlements. He made it clear that there was only one law, that of the king, and none could stand above it. When disobedient nobles defied his edicts, they were imprisoned and even executed. Such treatment of nobility won Richelieu much enmity, even from the queen mother, who, unlike Richelieu, was not always willing to place the larger interest of the state above the pleasure of favorite nobles.

Richelieu was somewhat successful in his foreign policy. This can be seen in France’s substantial land gains and political influence when the Treaty of Westphalia ended hostilities in the Holy Roman Empire and the Treaty of Pyrenees sealed peace with Spain. Richelieu also employed the arts and the printing press to defend his actions and to indoctrinate the French people in the meaning of raison d’état (“reason of state”). This set a precedent for Louis XIV, who made elaborate use or royal propaganda and spectacle to assert and enhance his power.

2. More than any other monarch of the day, Louis XIV used the physical setting of his royal court to exert political control. The palace court at Versailles on the outskirts of Paris became Louis’s permanent residence after 1682. Because Louis ruled personally, he was the chief source of favors and patronage in France. To emphasize his prominence, he organized life at court around every aspect of his own daily routine. He encouraged nobles to approach him directly, but required them to do so through elaborate court etiquette. Polite and fawning noble sought his attention, entering their names on waiting lists to be in attendance at especially favored moments. Court life was carefully planned and successfully executed effort to domesticate and trivialize the nobility. Barred by law from high government positions, the ritual and play kept them busy and dependent so they had little time to plot revolt. Dress codes and high-stakes gambling contributed to their indebtedness and dependency on the king.

Versailles was more of a prison than a palace. The nobles there were kept there to have fun, like children in a toy store. The nobles were too busy serving the king or playing to actually work on government issues or plot a revolt.

3. Mercantilism is close government control of the economy with the goal to maximize foreign exports and internal reserves of bullion, the gold and silver necessary for making war.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert was Louis’s most brilliant minister. Colbert worked to centralize the French economy. Colbert tried, with modest success, to organize much economic activity under state supervision and, through tariffs, carefully regulated the flow of imports and exports. He sought to create new national industries and organized factories around a tight regimen of work and ideology. He simplified the administrative bureaucracy, abolished unnecessary positions, and reduced the number of tax exempt nobles. He also increased the taille, a direct tax on the peasantry and a major source of royal income.

4. Louis XIV had a very belligerent foreign policy. Louis had sufficient resources at his disposal to raise and maintain a large and powerful army, and by every external measure he was in a position to dominate Europe. He spent most of the rest of his reign attempting to do so.

Louis was not successful, but was able to keep the French people thinking that he has won the war, one way or the other.


6. There had long been enmity between the monarch and Parliament in England during the Stuart’s time. Both James and Charles tried their best to subdue Parliament for economic reasons. They needed money and knew that their ideas of obtaining this revenue would not be approved by Parliament. However, in January 1642, Charles I invaded Parliament with his soldiers. He intended to arrest Pym and the other leaders, but they had been forewarned and managed to escape. The king then withdrew from London and began to raise an army. Shocked by his action, a majority of the House of Commons passed the Militia Ordinance, which gave Parliament authority to raise an army