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French Monarchy Notes

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THE FRENCH MONARCHY, c.1700-1789 AND ITS PROBLEMS Matthews, Revolution and Reaction, Europe 1789-1849 (Cambridge, 2001) Essentially providing an easily-understood insight into the old regime

The parlements were final courts of appeal for their particular region, and also held the responsibility of registering royal edicts; before registration, the parlement could criticise the edict and ask the King to reconsider; if necessary, in the last resort, the King could force registration by a lit de justice; normally registration was a formality, but occasionally the parlements did protest, on issues of religious policy and tax reform, claiming to represent the interests of the nation against monarchical despotism. In essence, the monarchy did little to endear itself to the French people and the parlements; the last four years of Louis XV's reign saw concerted efforts to trim the powers of the parlements and initiate substantial fiscal reform; in 1770, royal ministers issued edicts prolonging the wartime taxation (vingtième) and ordered that they be adhered to, irrespective of the consent of the parlements - the Paris parlement was exiled and then abolished due to its opposition Taxation issues and financial concerns furthered in the 1780s; once Calonne had been replaced with Brienne, the latter decided to implement a watered-down version of the former's proposals in 1786, wherein bad harvests and a worsening economic crisis partly stimulated by a damaging trade treaty with Britain. The Paris parlement opposed them, declaring that only the Estates-General could approve the new taxation policy (which would remove the tax exemptions of the nobility and reform the fiscal structure to ensure efficient collection and accounting) The political causes of the French Revolution include the influence of the new ideas spawned by Enlightenment, the nature and development of the crown's financial problems, failures of attempts at reform, the role of the monarchy and the impact of the American War of Independence

Scott, The Birth of a Great Power System, 1740-1815, Ch. 8; The Anglo-Bourbon Struggle Overseas and in Europe, 1763-1788, pp.214-243

British victory in the Seven Years' War was unusually decisive; the Treaty of Paris ensured her maritime supremacy over all other European, indeed world, nations; this was a humiliating defeat for France, which excluded her from the North American mainland, all but destroyed her possessions in India, and only left her West Indian power-base largely intact; throughout the next two decades following Paris, Spain and France sought to undermine British hegemony

Existence of a solid Bourbon alliance after 1763 was in itself novel; the accession of the French Bourbon family south of the Pyrenees at the beginning of the eighteenth-century had not created permanent political unity, indeed, relations had been patchy, at times distant; the accession of Charles III of Spain changed this, since he was a fervently hostile to the British as the French were

Choiseul, the French foreign minister was careful to shroud the relationship post-1761 as being one of family solidarity; yet this rhetoric did not fully conceal the extent to which he sought to exploit Spain economically and strategically; the commercial opportunities which Spain's vast empire offered should be opened to the French trade, which would enrich themselves and Louis XV's state

General shift of policy under Choiseul, from an empire built on colonial possessions to one based more specifically on trading, to generate wealth but avoid the high cost of administration and defence - Spain's role would be to provide raw materials and a captive market for French manufacturers

Choiseul, however, deemed that Spain was militarily too weak to be a significant ally; her fleet required reconstruction, and her performance in the war of 1762-63 had not covered her armies in glory

Only if French defeats mounted up would Spain play a useful role: to provide a weak and vulnerable colonial empire for Britain to attack - much like its role at the close of the Seven Years' War, with British attacks on Manila & Havana The Situation for France in the Immediate Aftermath of the Paris Treaty (1763)

France had lost the most, however, from the Seven Years' War; the period between 1763 and 1792 was the only extended one between Westphalia and Vienna when France did not come to dominate European international relations

The duc de Praslin, Choiseul's cousin, declared that her power was so reduced that she might soon have to face the humiliation of relegation from the ranks of the great powers

Economic, demographic and military resources were still substantial, but the fighting had intensified the financial and political problems; her poor military performance surprised contemporaries, and the decline was not easily reversed; there were attempts at military reform through until the 1790s, but it would not be until the Revolutionary and then Napoleonic armies swept across Europe that her military prestige would return to its pre-Seven Years' War level

Fundamental to this eclipse were the financial problems, exacerbated by the prolonged conflict; France had largely paid for the war through further substantial borrowing, creating an enduring problem of public finance which was then further worsened by a series of credit crises; by the late 1760s, the debt was estimated at 2000 million livres, six times the state's annual income; debt servicing consumed around 60% of the government's yearly expenditure

Further damage to the prestige of France; domestic problems became more acute as time went on; with Jesuits, finances, the parlements, and increasingly scandals at court

Spain was, however, comparatively weaker, in almost every sense, and many contemporaries judged that Choiseul was foreign minister of both France and Spain, since he exhibited such control over both; Grimaldi, Choiseul's counterpart in Spain, was usually content to follow the lead of the Frenchman















France ceded Louisiana west of the Mississippi to Spain in November 1762 - a move which fitted conspicuously with the French desire for a trading rather than colonial possessions Anglo-Bourbon rivalry came to focus more heavily on the imperial sphere; this made naval power of premier importance; British naval supremacy had been demonstrated by the Seven Years' War; Choiseul undertook the task of French naval rearmament; the French and Spanish, however, lacked the men, material (esp. timber) and the money to reconstruct a fleet capable of challenging Britain's; only in the American War of Independence was the combined weight of the Bourbon fleets of real threat to Britain Through French spy-rings, and British naval intelligence secured through an agency run from the Dutch Republic and directly through reports of strategically-placed diplomats and captains in the merchant navy and fighting fleet, the result was that both sides had surprisingly accurate details of the other's position. Peace of Paris had left many disputes unresolved; the issues of fortifications at Dunkirk, the Canada Bills (a complex dispute over the extent of France's responsibility for loans made by British merchants to the former French regime there) and the so-called Manila ransom (due to Britain not destroying the Philippines capital in the final stages of the conflict These were unlike to cause another war, but kept up a feeling of hostility and unease in Anglo-Bourbon relations; the unpredictable clashes on the imperial periphery were much more of a serious threat to peace, since metropolitan governments were generally inclined to react to events, rather than being in control of their subordinates Immediately after Paris, there were disputes over Turks Island, Gambia and finally, and most seriously, the Falkland Islands; each had their origins in subordinates exceeding the instructions or at least intentions of his government In 1766, the British blockhouse established at Port Egmont on West Falkland was at issue; the Spanish government determined to remove this by force, and in the later 1760s, expelled the small British garrison; Britain mobilised the fleet and the Bourbons did likewise; the dispute was far more serious for London, because force had been used against the British flag; fighting almost broke out in 1770-1771 In the end, peace was preserved by the fall of the two foreign ministers, Choiseul (dismissed by Louis XV on Christmas Eve, 1770) and Weymouth (resigned two weeks earlier with increasing opposition from his cabinet colleagues) Dismissal of Choiseul marked a turning point; he had been fervently anti-British, but the period of the early 1770s was one of marked change; the fundamental causes of tension remained, but new personalities and political priorities in both London and Paris produced several years of unparalleled harmony between the Channel-rivals Initiative came from duc d'Aiguillon; his was a pacific policy, as attention was focussed on remedying the crown's debilitation financial weakness and solving any problems created by an attempt to increase direct taxation, which would be opposed by the parlements, powerful law courts in Paris and the provinces and the General Assembly of the Clergy D'Aiguillon recognised the increasingly marginal role to be played by both Britain and France in Europe; Russian and Prussian ascendency would confirm this belief British territorial gains from 1763 created their own problems, most notably in North America, where the need to assimilate the new acquisitions and to govern and defend the enlarged empire produced policies which were conflicted with the growing desire among colonists for greater autonomy from Westminster Increasingly, colonists looked to Europe for political and financial support in their struggle against the British; they sent agents to leading European capitals, and their principal target was an old foe of Britain - France. After Louis XVI's accession in 1774, French policy had been in the hands of Vergennes, who shared Choiseul's desire to humble Britain; his hostility was calculated, however; French policy throughout the American War of Independence (AWI) sought to restore the colonial balance of power, which had been tilted towards Britain since 1763, and thus effect a possible détente with Britain on French terms Choiseul's planned war was to be the basis for the co-operation sought by D'Aiguillon He also intended to weaken British power by depriving her of the American colonies and the commercial and naval strength which they provided her; for him, American independence was a means to an end; he was alarmed by the coming dominance of the three Eastern powers, esp. Russia, and sought to strengthen France's position through the seizing of assets from Britain - a fool-proof plan, one might think While policy logic would suggest intervention was of benefit to France in 1776, but the king was coaxed into doing so; expenditure had been cut massively since the removal of Choiseul, and the fleet had suffered accordingly; yet there was to be war, and, following combat between the fleets in the Channel in July 1778, the old rivals were once more at war During 1778-1779, there was an increasing focus from Britain on countering French threats to her interests world-wide, with particular emphasis on the Caribbean; French strategy from 1779 was surprisingly cautious and defensive France may have made gains in the West Indies, capturing Grenada, Dominica and St. Vincent, but these gains must be set against the simultaneous collapse of French power in India, and their failure to ground troops in North America Britain had additional problems, however, perhaps greater than the French; Britain had sought to close European and New World ports and harbours to American shipping and privateers, but these plans could only be partially completed; Sweden, Denmark and Portugal were conducive to the idea, but problems arose with negotiations with the Dutch Republic France's commitment to the American cause became more positive in 1781, when a fully-coordinated strategy at last began to yield positive results; the French fleet was able to hold off the British reinforcements while American troops forced the British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781.











However, Rodney's naval victories in 1782 were a sign of things to come, as French fortunes slid and Britain recovered in the final months of the war; by the end of 1782, French finances in particular, as well as British amenability to American independence, meant that an immediate end to the fighting would be beneficial to all participants The Anglo-French peace treaty was perhaps of most significance to contemporaries, and France, close to bankruptcy, needed peace with Britain more than ever; France acquired unimportant West Indian island of Tobago, the Senegal River, the right to fortify Dunkirk and minor concessions in the Newfoundland fisheries and India The French situation internationally had been radically improved by the AWI, but their financial issues, a structural rather than cyclical problem, had grown more acute as a result of the costliness of war; at the heart of this issue lay the problem of borrowing and debt repayment Before the Seven Years' War, slightly less than 30% of the monarchy's annual income had been devoted to servicing the massive debt; by 1786, this figure had soared to almost 50%, and with an annual deficit on 100 million livres. In the aftermath of the AWI, France borrowed more heavily in peacetime to bridge this vast shortfall, primarily from the international capital market, and this worsened the fundamental weakness of royal finance - only increased taxation could ameliorate France's financial difficulties and securing approval for this was highly unlikely, owing to the fiscal exemptions enjoyed by many of the wealthier members of French society, and the ability of the parlements to protect those privileges and block reform In 1787, with the calling of the Assembly of Notables, the situation had digressed so severely as to perhaps move France from the great power status she had once enjoyed; in 1788, the foreign ministry was obliged to take a cut in funding of 42%, and this did little to improve the effectiveness of French diplomacy The war of 1778-1783 taught Vergennes the hard way that foreign policy commitments had fiscal repercussions France had wider problems in the 1780s though; the death of Maurepas, the veteran first minister and the dismissal of the ministry's financial supremo, Necker, in the same year (1781), deprived the ministry of the stability which it had previously enjoyed The monarchy had lost much of its popularity throughout the course of the eighteenth-century, and the increasing courtscandals and the publicity which went with them; by the end of the AWI, court and government were fissured by personal rivalries, which increased during the years of peace, with no mutual enemy to bind them France also struggled during this time to avoid war, and hold her territorial and trading position France was becoming increasingly alarmed at the patriot movement which was developing and strengthening in the Dutch Republic, and its radicalism; here, the fissures within the French ministry, which had, until that point, been primarily concerned with the related issues of royal finance and the parlements spilled over into diplomacy, as Vergennes' rivals sent their own, unofficial diplomats to the Dutch capital, where they pursued policies far more radical than the foreign minister probably wished French foreign policy was essentially dictated by financial weakness - she could not afford war Early stages of the French Revolution in 1789 effectively removed her from international diplomacy in the short term

Doyle, The Origins of the French Revolution

Lefebvre's Quatre-Vingt-Neuf , translated into English by the American scholar Robert Palmer under the title The Coming of the French Revolution, ultimately put the cause of the French revolution down to the rise of the bourgeoisie.

Lefebvre was unashamedly Marxist, and, according to him, 1789 was the moment when this class took power in France, after several centuries of growth in terms of numbers and wealth - medieval society had been dominated by landed aristocracy, but by the eighteenth-century, asserted Lefebvre, the bourgeoisie had risen

Between 1787 and 1789, Lefebvre saw not one revolutionary movement, but four; first came the collapse of the monarchy, destroyed by the aristocracy; in order to effect their revolution, the nobility had recruited the support of the bourgeoisie, but, in September 1788, when the parlement of Paris declared that the Estates-General should be constituted, the bourgeoisie exploded with fury; now their own revolution began; the aim was civil equality, destroying the privileges of the nobility and the clergy - their ideas of equal taxation, equality before the law and in career opportunities stemmed from the Enlightenment

However, the bourgeoisie needed other elements to consolidate their success, just as the aristocracy had needed them to overthrow the monarchy in 1788; in 1789, their precarious victory was threatened by a noble-inspired royal attempt to dissolve the National Assembly - a coup only prevented by the actions of the Parisian mob (this was the third revolution)

Yet the economic crisis of 1788-1789 had created the fourth, peasant revolution; nation-wide uprising fired by fears for the safety of ripening crops against the exaction of seigniorial dues and labour services by aristocratic landlords


Lefebvre's analysis seemed masterful, and dominated French scholarship on the Revolution well into the sixties, but outside the narrow, largely monolingual sphere of French scholarship, doubts were being raised Alfred Cobban, when appointed Professor of French History at the University of London in 1954, spoke of the "myth of the French Revolution - the myth being that a capitalist, bourgeois order had replaced a feudal one Cobban argued that any remnants of feudalism had passed away long before 1789, and that the actual composition of the so-called bourgeois revolution did not fit with the model given by Lefebvre - Cobban's analysis showed that 13% of the bourgeois elected to the Estates-General in 1789 came from the world of commerce, while about two-thirds were lawyers of some description or another Lefebvre wrote that Cobban was trying to deprive the Revolution of its fundamental significance
















George V. Taylor argued that those members of the bourgeoisie who were capitalists were largely uninterested in politics before and during the revolution, except where their commercial or industrial interests were concerned; according to Dawson, Provincial Magistrates and Revolutionary Politics in France, 1789-1795 Far from promoting capitalism, argued Cobban, the Revolution sought to retard it, and that was the fundamental aim of the various groups in 1789 John McManners, in 1953, put forward the argument that it was money, not privilege, which had bound the upper classes in France in the pre-revolutionary society, binding the great nobles and upper bourgeoisie together into "an upper-class unified by money" - McManners, 'France' in A. Goodwin, The European Nobility in the EighteenthCentury (London, 1953) Ford, in Robe and Sword, argued that, by the mid-eighteenth-century, the robe nobility no longer owed their ennoblement to their offices, and that they had captured the leadership of the nobility as a whole - the old divisions were dead, as nobles united against the crown on the one hand, and the commoners on the other; this work seemed to give reason for the why and the strength of the aristocratic reaction which occurred in the late-1700s Forster published a social and economic study of the nobility of Toulouse in 1960 which showed them to be neither debt-laden prodigals, nor impoverished rustics, but shrewd and careful managers of their estates; their virtue, according to Forster, lay in their spend-thrift attitude, discipline, and strict management of the family fortune A series of articles over the following years demonstrated the similarity across the rest of France, and suggested that the economic outlook of nobility and bourgeoisie was much the same Behrens claimed that the fiscal privileges of the nobility were not as great as the revolutionaries, and later historians, had claimed; the French nobility were in fact perhaps the most highly-taxed in Europe, and the really important taxexemptions were for the commercial bourgeoisie in the great mercantile cities - Nobles, Privileges and Taxes in France at the End of the Ançien Regime - her claims were challenged by Cavanaugh in Nobles, Privileges and Taxes in France. A Revision Reviewed (1974) George Taylor's findings suggested that there was no real evidence of bourgeois capitalism in pre-Revolutionary France at all, and that proprietary wealth was in fact of significantly greater importance Debate in France followed on parallel lines; Mousnier, an historian of the seventeenth-century, produced a new model of pre-revolutionary French society; the Revolution had been caused by the break-down in consensus about social values which underlay the old society of orders; by the 1750s, production was being seen as more important than the service of the state, and a class society replaced the old society of orders after 1789 There was, however, a problem of seeing the bourgeois and nobility as economically members of the same class - the most radical solution to this problem was to ignore the socio-economic, and revert to a purely political explanation of the Revolution's outbreak - the solution proposed by Taylor It was, according to him, a "political revolution with social consequences", not a "social revolution with political consequences"; there was no demand from grass-roots for most of the reforms that were to take place soon after 1789, again emphasising that revolutionary radicalism was a result rather than a cause of the political crisis To deny the Revolution any social origins at all was a step too far for most Between 1726 and 1791, 90% of the Farmers General of taxes, often considered the supreme example of bourgeois men of wealth, were noble; there was little distinction, if any, to be made between nobility and bourgeoisie The nobility, therefore, cannot have been a closed caste - an open elite, not a hereditary class apart If what divided bourgeoisie from noble gained too much attention in the past, that which separated bourgeoisie from bourgeoisie and noble from noble did not receive enough Even among the lawyers and officiers, there was no great general consensus as to the desire for reforms in 1789 If the divisions within the nobility are emphasised, it is easier to comprehend how they were overthrown; a massive study of the Breton nobility, for instance, has shown that in the eighteenth-century, deep antagonisms existed in this noble-swamped province between rich and poor nobles, and how hostile the resident nobles were to the gilded absentees of Versailles Despite Ford's argument, robe and sword nobles were still at each other's throats in the 1780s; a study of the cahiers of the nobility in 1789 has also shown them to be divided ideologically, with large numbers won over to the political liberalism hitherto thought to be the monopolistic stronghold of the bourgeoisie Colin Lucas argued that "the middle class of the later Ançien Regime displayed no significant difference in accepted values and above all no consciousness of belonging to a class whose economic and social characteristics were antithetical (opposing) to the nobility" Lucas adopted Cobban's argument that venal office holders might occupy a stress-zone within the single propertied elite; bypassed by the economic prosperity of the century, they found themselves unable to realise their social ambitions and were bumped off the ladder of social assent by richer mercantile newcomers Lucas also saw that the circumstances were much the same for the petty nobility, and that the two together provided the driving force of hostility to the government in 1787-1788 - they did not unite, according to Lucas, due to the fact that the Estates-General were to meet according to the forms of 1614 - for Lucas, the essential point about the parlement's ruling was NOT that it represented the unwillingness of the nobility to share power with the bourgeoisie, but that the distinction of between nobles and non-nobles was resurrected by the electoral requirements of the Estates General, and at a moment when the lower echelons of the propertied elite were already suffering from economic and social frustration

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