Domestic policy

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: THE ADMTNISTRATIVE STRUCTURE

France under Louis XIV was governed by a conciliar system. If we look closely at this system of councils we can learn a great deal about some of the most important features of the reign.

There is often confusion about the number of royal councils existing at this time. In fact, there was only one, the King's Council. Had there been more than one the unique authority of the king would have been threatened by the possibility of division. The confusion has been due to the fact that the council met under a series of different names in order to deal with differing kinds of business. The personnel changed too, according to the type of session, but all were royal councillors and all the sessions were deemed to be meetings of the royal council because their authority depended upon the King. However, the number of titles under which the royal council met fluctuated over the course of the reign. There were four which had a continuous existence: the High Council, the Council for the Interior or the Despatches, the Royal Council of Finance and the Privy Council. The king always chaired the first three and though he did not attend the Privy Council, an empty armchair symbolized that it too was a meeting of the royal council.

The High Council was the king's chief committee. It was concerned with all important matters of state, though it tended increasingly to concentrate on foreign affairs. Its membership was very small, between three and five councillors. These were the ministers of state about whom it is worth making several observations. Nobody sat by right, or by virtue of his office, at the High Council. The title of minister depended upon the king's summons and if he ceased to call a particular adviser that individual at once ceased to be a minister.

Thus the absolute authority of the king was reconciled with the obligation traditionally accepted by his predecessors to take counsel. Louis expressed both aspects of royal authority in advising his grandson (who in 1700 became King Philip V of Spain) to listen to his Council but then to take the final decisions himself. Louis believed that professional advice had to be taken seriously, but he also believed that his vocation as king by divine right gave him an additional wisdom and insight which justified his having the last word.

Louis's ministers were more professional than their predecessors. No longer could members of the royal family, princes of the blood,

-12-

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