The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701

The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701

The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701

The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701

Synopsis

This book presents a new interpretation of the development of the French army during the "personal rule" of Louis XIV. Based on massive archival research, it examines the army not only as a military institution but also as a political, social and economic organism. Guy Rowlands asserts that the key to the development of Louis XIV's armed forces was the king's determination to acknowledge and satisfy the military, political, social and cultural aspirations of his officers, and maintain the solid standing of the Bourbon dynasty.

Excerpt

By 1693, the annus mirabilis of French battlefield victories in the seventeenth century, the army of Louis XIV was the largest organised military force Europe had ever seen. That year troop numbers topped 400,000 men on paper, and even in reality the army stood at about 320,000 men. It would not be surpassed in size either in France or in any other part of the continent until the republic which supplanted the Bourbon monarchy mobilised the country for another bout of coalition warfare one hundred years later.

At the very core of this book are three basic questions: howdid the regime of Louis XIV create and fashion an army of such vast size out of the ramshackle forces which the ministries of Richelieu and Mazarin, lasting from 1624 to 1661, had bequeathed to him? Why, over the next forty years, did the army take the shape that it did? And what can a study of the army tell us about the nature of French government in the second half of the seventeenth century? At first glance these questions might appear quite simple. But one cannot hope to answer them by reference merely to the institutional development of the army and the War Ministry, as most scholars have hitherto tried to do. When combined with a 'statist' outlook on the course of French history, this approach has distorted our picture of the army, and allowed its history in this period to be characterised as the onward march of a bureaucratic machine accompanied by the marginalising of the nobility.

Without question Louis XIV's government implemented numerous procedural reforms to the army, which sometimes took several decades to refine and which were not always successful. And I will advance fresh ideas about the relative importance and consequences of some of these changes. But we must also recognise that the French army of the seventeenth century was moulded by a complex interaction of political, social, economic and cultural forces. Most importantly, the development of the army was shaped primarily not by an agenda of 'modernisation' and 'rationalisation' but by the private interests of thousands of members of the propertied elite, from the monarch down to the humble provincial nobility and urban bourgeois. Louis XIV himself used the army to advance his legitimate and illegitimate progeny, to build support for the ruling Bourbon line, and to disrupt the traditional patterns of patronage and clientage which had contributed so much to the instability of France between 1559 and 1661. In its very essence Louisquatorzian France was a dynastic state.

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