The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe Part III

The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe 3

The gabelles were rented out to a crowd of enriching contractors. An internal customs network hindered trade. As for the real state property, it was, for the most part, committed or alienated. Colbert aimed not so much at implementing a substantial reform as at practically improving the functioning of the administrative mechanism. It began with a lit de justice who for four years carried out a review of all the contracts and loans of the state, reducing and often canceling the debt securities: a regular state accounting was established, similar to the commercial one. As for the gabelles, the idea was not to abolish the contracts, but to bring them together in the hands of a single company. By legal and illegal means, state property was reconstituted. Great care was devoted to agriculture and commerce; but the advantages of the decrease of the taille, the abolition of tolls and internal customs, the improved viability were partly canceled by Colbert’s “mercantile” theories which, by imposing restrictions on the trade of grains, ended up lowering the price to an anti-economic level. Even the industries, and especially the silk one, if they drew notable increases from the system of subsidies and protection, were hampered in their momentum by the excessive interventions and state regulations; and protectionism not only led to a harmful tariff struggle with Holland and England, but was among the causes of the fatal Dutch war. But it must be remembered that Colbert’s economic policy must be considered and judged in terms of all internal and foreign policy. Thus much attention was paid to the colonial possessions of America; Nouvelle France, of which he was excellent governor for a decade (1672-1682), was disapproved of by Colbert, being a custom abandoned in the mother country. In this period the explorations of Canada also received impetus, particularly thanks to Jean Talon; and the gradual conquest continues in the first decades of the century. XVIII, until the competition with the English colonies is determined and therefore the fight that was decided in an unfavorable way for France during the Seven Years War. Colbert also attempted to found large companies for overseas trade, such as that of the East Indies, established in 1664; but his efforts failed. His reorganization of the navy was more successful. This time is also an attempt at legislative unification: Colbert was responsible for the civil code of 1667 and the penal code of 1669, the penal procedure code of 1670, the commercial code of 1673, etc.; in Le Tellier and in Louvois the military regulations which accompanied the reorganization of the army. Some of these codes remained in force for a long time and all served as the basis for further legislation.

According to, the tariff struggle, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which caused very serious damage especially to industry, which had largely been in the hands of Calvinists, the continuous wars that followed that of Holland made them lose almost all the advantages procured by Colbert. At his death (1683) the budget was in deficit of 16 million, but in 1697 the deficit it had risen to 138 million. The growing need for money forced the government to go back to the old expedients: new offices were created and sold by the thousands, paid noble titles were awarded, future revenues were committed, new taxes were created, coins were reworked, and coins were issued. tickets and loans were taken out at ever higher rates. The situation was getting worse due to the enormous lavishness of the king and the unpredictability of the government. The total public debt, which at Colbert’s death did not exceed 156 million, had risen (1715) to about 3.5 billion, while the immediately due debts amounted to 430 million.

His religious policy was inspired by the same unitary purposes that guided the administrative policy of Louis XIV: intolerant of any disintegrating and autonomist attempt, desirous of a compact moral unity of the state, he was, even before becoming devout, hostile to Protestants, pushing its hostility up to the dragonnades and to that revocation of the Edict of Nantes which robbed France of some of its best productive forces. He also persecuted Jansenism, but made his own that part of Gallican theories that aimed to extend sovereign prerogatives. The four articles of the declaration of 1682 strengthened the Concordat of 1516, allowing the king to dominate the clergy and the state in his own right, even in the spiritual field. Although in 1693 the need for money forced Louis XIV to exchange Gallican freedoms for the right of regalia, Gallicanism still predominated in the French clergy at his death. This had been, during the reign of Louis, of complete docility; even the Jesuits had tempered their ultramontanism.

The sufferings caused by the long wars had severely tested internal resistance: the famine of winter 1709 was terrifying; the restless people; a dull murmur of protest and discontent together with outbursts of revolt immediately stifled. The intellectual class nurtured opposition spirits and proposals for reforms (Boulainvilliers, Saint-Simon), but often got lost in references to a chimerical past (Fénelon) almost to an imaginary neo-feudal return. Yet all were aware of the strength which had derived to the nation from the absolute power of the monarch, of the prestige which had been given to France by its king in European life. But, from the very moment in which the absolute monarchy reaches the apex of its power, the phase of decline begins. This phenomenon must be explained above all by the fact that Valois and Bourbon, while they brought the art of reigning to ever greater perfection, they administered public affairs, it can be said, day by day, with absolutely empirical criteria: they managed like few others to be obeyed, but they did not know how to govern. Thus the periods of prosperity within and of hegemony abroad depend essentially on the quality of the ministers and on the virtue of the generals. As for Louis XIV, his greatest personal merit was the indefatigable energy, the almost religious sense with which he exercised his superhuman function as despotic sovereign; the field where he most showed his understanding of the needs and future task of France was the politico-military one. The concept of security at the borders, in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Rhine, was implemented under him not only through territorial acquisitions.

The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe 3