Few historians today believe that there was anything very ‘absolute’ about what was once reflexively called the absolute monarchy of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France. A revisionist view that treats the Bourbon monarchy as limited in its authority and conciliatory in its methods has swept the field and entrenched itself in original scholarship and works of synthesis, textbooks and manuals. Revisionism also serves as a context for articles and book reviews. One can but admire the magnitude of this triumph, all the more impressive for having been won without any particular resistance, a victory without a battle. Indeed, I myself do not write in an effort to overthrow the main tenets of this revisionist history; I admire the quality of the core scholarship that has almost made revisionism into a new orthodoxy. I do think that we have pushed the revisionist thesis beyond its appropriate limits, possibly because we have given up looking for evidence that contradicts it.
I have examined two aspects of the history of the parlements under Louis XIV, the king’s suppression of their political independence and his extortion of money from the magistrates who served in them. As the subtitle to this book suggests, I believe that an understanding of these subjects shows that Louis XIV acted as an absolute monarch when he needed to and that, therefore, the revisionist thesis needs qualification. Any statement characterizing the Bourbon system as inherently limited and conciliatory ought to contain a modifying clause, dependent or main, to make clear that there was something ‘absolute’ about the monarchy after all.
Although this study belongs more to the realm of scholarship than to polemic, one ought to state a little more clearly, if only briefly, w here revisionism came from and what it amounts to. The ablest representatives of the school, indeed in a sense its founders, are Albert N. Hamscher and William Beik. In 1976, Hamscher published The Parlement of Paris after the Fronde, 1653–1673, a superb monograph which argued that the government of Louis XIV consulted, cooperated with, and sometimes deferred to that tribunal on important judicial, political and financial issues. As Hamscher saw it, Louis XIV skilfully