The Age of Absolutism, 1660-1815

By Max Beloff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
FRANCE

HISTORIANS have no alternative but to accept the common verdict of contemporaries that the central core of European civilization in the age of Louis XIV and his successors was the monarchy of France. As has been suggested, the preeminence of France in population and its natural wealth are, no doubt, fundamental to an explanation of this fact. The Wars of Religion and the fragmentation of political authority that resulted from them, had delayed the full exploitation of these advantages. But the tenacious and constructive genius of Cardinal Richelieu had done for Louis XIII what Henry VII of England had largely done for himself more than a century earlier. The rivals of the monarchic power, the old feudal or military nobility and the newer quasi-nobility of the lawyer- caste had failed in their rebellions of the mid-seventeenth century--known as the Fronde--to establish any serious check upon the royal authority. While Charles II of England achieved his restoration only at the price of a permanent shift of power from the Crown to the landed and mercantile aristocracy, Louis XIV found himself at his majority in a position to put into practice those precepts of absolutism that had become common form among political thinkers. The shifts and stratagems that had served Cardinal Mazarin so well during the King's long minority were no longer required; and the prospect of serious internal opposition to royal policies hardly needed to be taken into account.

The secret of the French domination of the European scene was thus very largely political. It was to be found in the respect felt by lesser Princes for one who seemed to have solved the problems of their profession, and to be exploiting them with increasing returns in power and glory. But the reflection of this fact was to be found in the admiration accorded to expressions of the French genius. And as is so often the

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The Age of Absolutism, 1660-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter I - The Age Defined 11
  • Chapter II - The European Scene: 1660-1789 28
  • Chapter III - France 46
  • Chapter IV - Spain and Portugal 77
  • Chapter V - Prussia and Austria 104
  • Chapter VI - Russia and Poland 133
  • Chapter VII - The Maritime Powers and The American Revolution 152
  • Chapter VIII - Absolutism in Transformation: 1789-1815 170
  • A Note on Books 181
  • Index 183
  • Selected List of Books Available In This Series 189
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