Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745

Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745

Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745

Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745


Power and Politics in Old Regime France is a major history of the politics of the first half of the reign of Louis XV. It is based on exhaustive archival research and offers a comprehensive analysis of the neglected ministries of the duc de Bourbon and the cardinal de Fleury.Peter Campbell deals first with court, policy and faction. A second section offers new interpretations of the crises provoked by the Jansenism and the Paris parlement. The methods and practices of political management in this period of successful government are contrasted with the crisis of the old regime in the 1780s. An unusually substantial bibliography represents an invaluable resource to the researcher.


An ecclesiastical career: a family strategy; provincial patrons; royal almoner; bishop of Fréjus; appointment as preceptor. From preceptor to religious adviser, 1715-21: educating Louis XV; court politics in 1720; the conseil ecclésiastique; the affair of Louis’ betrothal; Fleury’s strong position.

an ecclesiastical career

In 1720, when the political career of the future cardinal de Fleury began in earnest, he had been preceptor to Louis xv for five years, actively educating the young King since 1717. His rise to this position of trust in the royal entourage had been anything but swift; and yet, contrary to expectations, this appointment was to be the beginning of a great career as a statesman. By 1723 he was a minister of state, and in 1726—just before his seventy-third birthday—he took over the reins of government from a prince of the blood, the due de Bourbon. When he died in 1743 he had exercised all the functions of a premier ministre for nearly seventeen years: managing the court, distributing patronage, deciding on foreign, domestic and religious policy and choosing ministers, members of the episcopate and court officers. in foreign affairs his deft but traditional policies saw French emancipation from English tutelage, the acquisition of Lorraine, a province long desired by the kings of France, and the reluctant entry into the War of the Austrian Succession. Within France he was successful in limiting the scope of the religious problems associated with Jansenism and involving the Paris parlement, and in containing the disruptive effects of faction. in 1743 Louis xv sat firmly on the throne, having benefited from a period secure from the worst excesses of factional rivalry that threatened to undermine consistent policies and create internal turmoil. the failures of Louis xv during the later part of the reign to 1774 only serve to highlight the earlier successes of Fleury.

This was an achievement by any standards, but for an outsider whose origins lay with a family of modest provincial origins, it was extraordinary. the rise to power of the cardinal de Fleury is an instructive example of social mobility within the parameters of the socio-political system of the ancien régime. Unusual in that he

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