We know, In Britain peaceful revolution came which drove away James II and gave the victory to Parliament (Glorious Revolution, 1688). The real fight was won by Parliament in the civil war against Charles I.
It took around 450 years to develop the Parliament in England (From 1215 to 1688). The king had thus to take a back seat in England but on the European continent, it was not same. Absolutism and despotism prevailed in the European continent.
The irresponsible and despotic monarchs were in fashion and Louis XIV of France, the Grand Monarque, was the model and the paragon to be followed by others. The seventeenth century is practically the century of Louis XIV on the continent of Europe.
The monarchs of that day claimed all the power and all the wealth of the land and their country was to them almost like a private estate. A famous Dutch scholar, Erasmus, wrote:
Of all the birds the eagle, alone has seemed to wise men the type of royalty not beautiful, not musical, not fit for food, but carnivorous, greedy, hateful to all, the curse of all and with its great powers of doing harm, surpassing them in its desire of doing it.
‘The eagle’ of France in the 17th century was Louis XIV(ruled 1643–1716) of Bourdon Dynasty. Louis XIV said, “I am the state”. In 1716 old Louis XIV finally succeeded in dying. Louis XIV was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV (ruled 1715–1774). There was another long reign of fifty-nine years. Thus two successive kings of France, Louis XIV and Louis XV, reigned for a total period of 131 years. Louis XV was succeeded by the most problematic king Louis XVI(ruled 1774–1792).
France under Bourdon Dynasty
In the 17th and 18th century France under Bourbon Dynasty had full of the anarchical system. Louis XIV was a complete despotic monarch and Louis XV was chiefly remarkable for its disgusting corruption and intrigue. The resources of the kingdom were used for the pleasures of the king.
There was an extravagance at Court based on graft. The men and women at Court who happened to please the king got free gifts of land and sinecure offices, which meant income without work (Feudalism was prevalent). The burden of all this fell more and more on the masses.
Autocracy, incompetence and corruption went hand in hand, merrily forward. Louis XV escaped the people’s judgement and vengeance. But it was his successor in 1774, Louis XVI, who had to face this.
France and European countries
In the 18th century, there was a scramble for colonies in America and Asia. Many European powers took part in this, but the chief players were two -England and France. England had got a great lead in the race, both in America and India. France, apart from being incompetently governed by Louis XV, was too much involved in European politics.
From 1756 to 1763 war was waged between these two Powers, as well as several others, in Europe and Canada and India to decide as to who was to be the master. This war is called the Seven Years’ War. Long years of war had drained the financial resources of France.
Change in the Demography of France
The population of France rose from about 23 million in 1715 to 28 million in 1789. This led to a rapid increase in the demand for foodgrains. Production of grains was not on the pace with the demand. Land grants by the Louis XV sowed the seeds of feudalism in the France.
The feudal lords were forming a vicious net for the peasants, which led to their extreme suppression. Due to this dynamic change in the demography plus feudal system increased the burden on primary sector of France. The agricultural sector collapsed soon because there was no required assistance from the state.
As the Agricultural sector collapsed and France was not having good reservoirs of coal and iron(except Alsace and Lorraine) the secondary sector was also in trouble. So there was not scope to develop the tertiary sector in France.
France: Role of Louis XVI and his wife
Louis XV was reported to have said: After me the deluge, and he acted accordingly. Merrily he sent his country to the abyss. In 1774, Louis XVI, a very foolish and brainless man of the Bourbon dynasty of kings ascended the throne of France.
He was 20 years old and married to the Hapsburg Austrian princess Marie Antoinette. She was also very foolish, but she had a kind of obstinate strength and Louis XVI was entirely under her thumb. She was even more full of the idea of the “divine rights of kings” than Louis, and she hated common people.
Between the two of them, wife and husband, they did everything to make the idea of monarchy hateful to the people.
France: Economic Crisis
Upon his accession, the new Bourbon dynasty king Louis XVI found an empty treasury. The 7 years of war had drained the financial resources of France. The war added more than a billion livres to a debt that had already risen to more than 2 billion livres. Lenders who gave the state credit now began to charge 10 per cent interest on loans.
So the French government was obliged to spend an increasing percentage of its budget on interest payments alone. Added to this maintaining an extravagant court at the immense palace of Versailles was one of the blunders of the king. Under Louis XVI, France helped the thirteen American colonies to gain their independence from the common enemy, England.
France of 18th Century: Hunger Riots
Right at the beginning of Louis XVI reign, there were hunger riots. For several years these continued. During one of these food riots at Dijon, the Governor told the starving people:
The grass has sprouted, go to the fields and browse on it!
Vast numbers of people became professional beggars. It was officially declared that in 1777 there were eleven lakhs of beggars in France. The peasants were not only hungry for food but were also hungry for land. Because under the feudal system the feudal lord of the land and to them went a great part of the income from it. The peasants had no clear ideas, no clear goal, but they wanted to own their land and they hated this feudal system which crushed them.
This pity condition of France in the 17th century was the sign of extreme suppression of commons and it is very much obvious fact that suppression plus exploitation eventually leads to rising of nationalism.
We will continue with it in next coming post 🙂
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