History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: 17th century Politics and Culture

Absolutism: France

The term absolutism refers to the absolute control of a single ruler of a country. Although such total power did not truly occur anywhere in the seventeenth century, France came close.

painting of Louis XIIILouis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

King Louis XIII (13th) of France was the son of Marie de Medici, who was related to the wealthy Renaissance Medici family of Italy. Despite the force of her personality, nobles in France gained tremendous power and independence during her regency. Fortunately, she was the patron of Cardinal Richelieu, who helped her make decisions. Upon the accession of Louis XIII, Richelieu continued his role as advisor.

Louis XIII was not a strong man or a strong king.

painting of Anne of AustriaHe was acknowledged as being somewhat feminine in his character, and had homosexual tendencies. He preferred hunting and parties to affairs of state. Married at age 14 to Anne of Austria, a Spanish-Austrian princess, he tended to ignore his passionate and intelligent wife, who intimidated him. He became so reliant on Cardinal Richelieu that he left affairs of state to the older man, who was really the creator of French absolutism.

Richelieu was determined that despite the poor raw material, the king of France must become absolute ruler. The key was controlling the nobility. Richelieu created the intendant system, giving high positions to middle-class officials who would be dependent on the king and owe nothing to noble families. Cardinal RichelieuThese men were sent to collect taxes and enforce the king's laws. Any noble who refused found his men drafted into the king's army. Richelieu thus created the system that Louis XIV would later use as a model for his own power. There were even rumors, never proven, that Richelieu was the birth father of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV, the Sun King

Richelieu died in 1643, the same year as Louis XIII, having provided a successor to help Anne rule. Cardinal Mazarin assisted Anne during her time as regent, while little Louis grew up. Within five years, the nobility rose again in series of civil wars known as The Fronde. 10-year-old Louis watched in horror as nobles battled outside the palace for his own crown. The boy vowed that he would never again permit such threats to his power.

His creation of Versailles, and his own image as the Sun King, was more than Bust of Louis XIVvanity. Life at Versailles showed Louis XIV's plans to "domesticate the nobility". Nobles were required to spend each winter at Versailles instead of on their country estates. Anyone who did not attend found his family without royal support or patronage. During their months at Versailles, nobles took on common tasks to get closer to the king. They did gardening work, served at the king's table, and even emptied the king's chamber pot (potty) to get the king's ear and earn royal favors. In addition to continuing Richelieu's policies, and following the advice of his royal economist, Colbert, Louis XIV created a court that would be a model for all would-be absolutists.

 

2. Constitutionalism in Britain ->

Top