Oxford University Press
William Beik - Review Article: The Absolutism of Louis XIV as Social Collaboration - Past & Present 188 Past & Present 188 (2005) 195-224

The Absolutism of Louis Xiv as Social Collaboration*

Emory University

A generation ago a new view of French absolutism became the accepted orthodoxy. According to this view, the king ruled by collaborating with socially powerful elites — at court, in Paris and in the provinces. Government was characterized by compromise, negotiation, and sharing of resources in a manner which maintained and supported hierarchical differences. This approach replaced an older formulation dating all the way back to Alexis de Tocqueville, according to which the Bourbon monarchs had laid the foundations for the modern state by reducing the nobility to obedience and beginning a process of national unification. The dominant paradigm thus shifted from a centralizing, modernizing monarch to a king maintaining and defending a traditional society.

While the social, collaborative model still prevails, cracks are appearing in this edifice. Most recent studies are questioning aspects of the interpretation, and one recent author, John Hurt, even calls for a more drastic shift of focus: 'Few historians today believe that there was anything very "absolute" about what was once reflexively called the absolute monarchy', he complains, and goes on to state, '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'.1 Clearly the time has come for a reassessment of the evidence, and a number of important new studies provide the occasion.

The traditional view was grounded in the authoritative French works of Georges Pagès and Roland Mousnier, and in a [End Page 195] variety of other studies in English and French.2 By contrast, social collaboration has been a distinctively Anglophone preoccupation. There is no obvious explanation for this divergence of approaches, in which the social consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s was channelled by the French into studies of regional societal systems following the lead of Fernand Braudel, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and the Annales School, while English-speaking authors directed their social concerns towards a deepening of political history instead of abandoning the événementiel.3 It is only recently that the French have begun to join the discussion and take account of works written in English.4 One example is the alert, well-informed discussion by Fanny Cosandey and Robert Descimon.5

Let me note at the outset that the present discussion concerns the practice of governance, not the theory of absolutism, for it was in practice that the king collaborated. There is little dispute concerning the theory that the king had absolute authority, that is, authority unchecked by any institutional body. His reach was limited only by religion, conscience and [End Page 196] the fundamental laws of the realm.6 But what could he really do? I propose to summarize the varieties of 'collaborative' positions and then consider whether new research should cause us to rethink this current orthodoxy.

I The Prevailing View of Collaboration

Collaboration is not at all a precise concept, and different authors give it a variety of meanings. There are essentially two approaches. The first stresses common interests between the state and other groups in society. My own study of Languedoc fell into this category.7 I suggested that Louis XIV placated formerly rebellious provincial elites by providing them with ideological support, by sharing privileged tax flows with them, by fulfilling certain of their principal aspirations, and by consulting them about certain governmental projects which reflected favourably on their reputation for magnificence. I fitted these ideas into a loosely Marxist framework, arguing, along with Perry Anderson, that the Crown and provincial notables shared common class interests and that society took the form of a late, recharged feudalism rather than a manifestation of the rise of capitalism.8

Other authors produced similar arguments using different frameworks. James Collins found that Breton society contained a [End Page 197] combination of class interests and status distinctions.9 The king believed in protecting the privileges of society's many corporate entities and he shared certain class interests with the great nobility in the Breton Estates, but he was also pushing to extend his universal authority even at the expense of these ties. David Parker argued, in sophisticated Marxist terms, that the ruling class actually owned the state through venality of office, and that as a result royal institutions devoted much of their time to adjudicating intra-class conflicts over property and status. Thus the state was 'as much an arena for the regulation of conflicts inside the ruling class as an instrument of class domination'.10 Other studies explored particular connections. Albert Hamscher showed how Louis XIV was working with the Parlement of Paris rather than silencing the judges, and how the royal council supported the authority of the various parlements by restoring their jurisdictional influence.11 Sharon Kettering described the patronage networks whose reciprocal exchange of power and influence forged effective but personal links between ministerial circles and provincial brokers.12 Sarah Hanley explored the gendered assumptions built into the legal underpinnings of absolute monarchy, and the influence of royal judges and jurists in helping to define legal practice.13 Daniel [End Page 198] Dessert, seconded by Françoise Bayard and Claude Michaud, demonstrated that there were close ties between the world of tax farming and the court nobility, the church hierarchy and the provincial estates.14

The second argument for collaboration is based on necessity rather than social interests. According to Roger Mettam, co-operation with provincial elites was unavoidable because of the government's utter inability to influence local society very deeply, along with the king's lack of interest in doing so. The government was weak and the royal expectations were entirely traditional.15 Louis focused his attention narrowly on maintaining authority, pursuing international glory and directing military operations. He believed that provincial society could take care of itself, except when disorder or the need for tax revenues required intervention. Nicholas Henshall carried this view to its logical conclusion in a book which attempted to demolish the very concept of absolutism.16

These accounts differ in the way they connect the pieces of the puzzle, but they are largely in agreement about the nature of the pieces. They present a governmental system that had its own rules and momentum. It was no longer medieval but not yet modern. Some of its distinctive features were venality of office, patronage networks, a hierarchical social system which put much stress on unequal rights (privileges), the continuing importance of powerful grandees both at court and in the provinces, and a traditional-minded king whose government was based more on personal relationships than on bureaucratic regularities.

Newer studies, however, raise doubts about elements of the 'revisionist' argument. Was the Sun King's glory really just a smokescreen? Were the pays d'états, where much of this collaboration has been found, typical? Did the harsher regime that emerged after 1689 signal the death of 'collaborative' absolutism? [End Page 199]

II Regional Elites and the State

The place to start is with regional studies, because they have traditionally been used to assess the exchange of revenues and services between the Crown and provincial elites.17 We now have three new contributions to this genre. Mark Potter explores financial relations of the king with two provinces, Burgundy and Normandy, from 1688 to 1715; his study overlaps with that of Julian Swann, who studies the Estates of Burgundy from 1661 to 1790; while Marie-Laure Legay studies the three small estates of Artois, 'Walloon' Flanders and Cambrésis.18

Potter offers a tightly argued case concerning royal–provincial fiscal relations in Burgundy.19 The elites in question were the high royal officeholders, on the one hand, and the groups represented in the Estates, on the other.20 Both enjoyed a relationship by which provincial influence was secured in return for large sums transferred to the royal coffers. Louis XIV granted venal officeholders property rights which secured their hold on their offices, thereby creating a kind of property which could be pledged as collateral for loans to the Crown. Using these offices as security, they could then borrow money at low [End Page 200] interest rates on behalf of the king. This borrowing might be done collectively as a company or individually. Similarly, the provincial estates could borrow money for the king once he had granted them the right to collect taxes, the revenues from which were pledged for interest payments to secure the loan.21 The regularity of the sessions of the Estates and their reliable administration created a climate of investor confidence which in turn led to lower interest rates. In both cases borrowing required the king to guarantee the legal standing of the institution which set up the loan.

Who was winning this tug of war between king and province?22 In the war years from 1689 to 1715, the Estates of Burgundy were subjected to a deluge of fiscal demands from the king which they bought up or paid off, usually by borrowing money. According to Potter, the Estates had real power to protect provincial interests by facilitating a coming-together or 'coalition' of leading provincial figures. This coalition defended the privileges of the province because it was in the interests of their members as landholders to do so. The assembly protected landholding revenues by keeping the king's taille demands at reasonable levels, by buying up newly created venal offices which might erode the tax base or threaten their interests, and by fighting to disarm new taxes like the dixième and the capitation. After 1689 they used the revenues from two excise taxes granted by the king to underwrite the loans they took out to buy off edicts and satisfy the king. They could tolerate this concession because the taxes in question primarily threatened merchants who were not represented in the ruling 'coalition' and did not burden landowners or their tenants.

Potter goes an analytical step further by comparing this 'community management' in Burgundy with the situation in Normandy, where there was no body to represent the province, and so there was no 'coalition'. The intendant and the tax farmers were correspondingly more powerful. Possibly as a [End Page 201] result, Normandy paid a much heavier taille. In Burgundy collection by the Estates guaranteed the king lower but more reliable taille revenues; whereas in Normandy he could set any amount, but he could not count on receiving it because there was no intermediate body to facilitate collection, and because peasant recalcitrance and insolvency made the returns unreliable. Furthermore, in Burgundy extraordinary demands were financed through the Estates and paid on time according to well-managed loan contracts. In Normandy separate contracts had to be negotiated with each corporate body by traitants (tax farmers), with very mixed results.

All this suggests that Louis XIV got a good deal from the Estates of Burgundy. By strengthening the owners' property rights over offices and perhaps slightly moderating his direct demands, in return the king got a cost-free, efficient tax administration that insured payments against immediate crises, along with access to cheaper and more readily accessible credit than he could otherwise enjoy. His greater control over Normandy did not mean substantially higher revenues or more regular procedures. Which then was the most 'collaborative'? In theory the Estates participated, but they could no longer protect themselves from the onslaught of state demands. They could only control the way the demands were satisfied. They saw their advantages maintained but at the expense of the general population and especially to the detriment of commercial interests. This is not unlike what Collins found in Brittany. As Potter notes, 'Provincial estates, therefore, did not so much leave privileged provinces open to exploitation as they created opportunities for the landed elite to advance their interests at the expense of both commercial groups and peasant tenants'.23

Swann's welcome study provides year-by-year information on the activities of those same Estates General of Burgundy all the way through the eighteenth century. This assembly consisted of some fifty clerics, around a hundred nobles possessing a fief in the province, and twenty-five mayors of towns. They met every third year and, given the exclusivity of their membership, it is questionable whether they formed, as Potter argued, a 'coalition' of the provincial elites. [End Page 202]

One notable feature of the local political climate was the immense influence of the princes of Condé, governors of the province. A marvellous study of this involvement between 1660 and 1730 by Beth Nachison shows in detail how the Condés continued to be intimately immersed in the politics of Burgundy even though they rarely visited the province.24 Another feature was the exclusion of the officers of the Parlement of Dijon from the Estates. This powerful company represented a rival pole of authority that was often at loggerheads with the Estates, again raising doubts about the viability of a political 'coalition' of the elite. A third feature was the chambre d'élus, a permanent committee of seven that managed the affairs of the Estates between sessions. Swann provides much evidence to show that the élus operated effectively.

He also argues, like Potter, that the Estates had real bargaining power to defend the province against the king's demands. Like the other provincial estates, they capitulated in 1674 to the king's insistence that they grant a large don gratuit without discussion, and this laudatory procedure became 'a piece of political theatre' that was repeated every session until the Revolution. Swann maintains, however, that this formal capitulation was not an act of 'blind deference'.25 The Estates continued to send unpublished remonstrances to the king, and on occasion they launched major lobbying efforts against some detested policy. They did have a stellar record for managing their debt. Despite the massive loans of the War of the Spanish Succession they remained solvent, even though by 1715 the crues and octrois, local taxes on which the loans were based, were committed many years in advance. In this way they provided a service to the friends, relatives and clients from whom they borrowed the money by offering them 'the happy prospect of a nineteen-year investment with a guaranteed annual return of 5 per cent and [End Page 203] the comforting knowledge that their capital was secure'.26 Remarkably, the Estates may even have borrowed at rates higher than necessary to shore up the portfolios of their elite creditors.

In the eighteenth century the Estates continued to be active and important. Bargaining reduced the nobility's share of the capitation tax, and moderated other demands. Periodic assaults on the assembly's cosy provincial arrangements by Controller-Generals Orry in 1745, Machault d'Arnouville in 1749, L'Averdy in 1764, and abbé Terray in 1770 were fended off with varying degrees of success. There were attempts from within to redress inequities in the assessment of the taille, and to root out the extensive corruption in the Estates' administration, but these were always blocked by members of the privileged orders and by outcries from the Parlement, which claimed jurisdiction.

Legay studies in detail the three small north-eastern provinces of Artois, 'Walloon' Flanders and Cambrésis, and adds more general remarks about all the Estates in the eighteenth century. The Estates of Artois were configured like a miniature Estates of Burgundy, with three orders representing clerics, nobles with fiefs, and a few town governments. Cambrésis had a small assembly dominated by wealthy ecclesiastics; Flanders had four orders of towns but no nobles or clergy. Traditional accounts conclude that Louis XIV had robbed all the provincial estates of their last measure of autonomy; but instead of withering away, says Legay, they increased in importance. Abandoning their futile role as defenders of provincial liberties, they became the administrative allies of the Contrôle-Général and gained in managerial influence what they had lost in independence.

Like the élus of Burgundy, these assemblies' strength lay in their permanent bureaux, which maintained representation in Paris itself. Business was increasingly conducted in the capital, through meetings between the provincial agents and the premier commis of a minister, the intendants des finances, or the commissaires de guerre.27 The result was a growing collaboration between the notables who ran the [End Page 204] Estates and the commis who ran the government. Starting in the 1760s these Estates underwrote loans to the king, acquired jurisdiction over tax disputes, and began to oversee roads and public works. By the last years of the Ancien Régime they even had a larger staff than the intendant. However, the price for this transfer of duties from the royal agents to the Estates was letting the privileged and unrepresentative deputies defend their own class interests, not those of the public.

Reading Potter, Swann and Legay, one might argue that the collaborationist view is confirmed, with qualifications. Regional assemblies continued to be important not so much as defenders of local liberties but as intermediaries who facilitated royal government while defending the interests of provincial elites. They were an effective alternative to the system of intendants, who had trouble dealing with vested interests. One might wonder then why the king did not simply create estates in every province. (In the eighteenth century reforming ministers tried this several times.) Perhaps the answer is that collaboration with old-style elites was unavoidable where it already existed, but extending it would disenfranchise desirable commercial interests and ruin the peasants, and therefore agriculture.

However, a new thesis on Franche-Comté provides an interesting counterpoint to this conclusion.28 Darryl Dee's account, which supplies some evidence for the older, more intrusive view of royal absolutism, examines the integration of that province into France after its conquest from the Spanish in 1674. Here, where the king and his ministers had more or less a free hand, did they choose to collaborate or did they take over and dominate? Dee suggests that they followed a policy of 'pragmatic opportunism' rather than a master plan to extend absolutism. The king was constrained by existing social forces and he worked through traditional means, which he pushed to their limits. He developed close ties with a small circle of elite provincial collaborators, most notably the family of Claude Boisot who had supported the French during the first occupation. He also favoured a group of loyal families from the former Parlement of Dôle, which he revived and transferred to Besançon. [End Page 205] But in caressing some prominent families, he also narrowed the focus of his local support to a tighter group. The king's most telling innovation was the abolition of the Estates of Franche-Comté and the transfer of responsibility for tax collection to the intendant. Apparently he did not always value the participation of provincial estates over the uses of royal commissioners.

Dee's close examination of the correspondence between Versailles and the province during the War of the Spanish Succession brings home the skill and enterprise of the king's later generation of ministers, who are often undervalued when compared with the famous figures of the first thirty years. These men held the system together and made it work under extreme pressure. Normally, tax money flowed from local sources in the province, through the hands of financier-receivers, into the trésor de l'extraordinaire des guerres, and from there back to the province in the form of payments for military expenses. By 1704 this system of tax flows had crashed. Desperate for new funds, the intendant Louis de Bernage and the controller-general Michel de Chamillart worked out a plan to arrange a provincial abonnement général. For a 'subsidy' of 350,000 livres per year the king would absolve the province of future 'edicts'. Like the abonnements in other provinces, this arrangement shifted much of the burden of the subsidy from the undertaxed officers and urban elites to the overburdened rural taxpayers. Remarkably, this deal was negotiated without any representative body to ratify it. Instead of the Estates taking over administrative functions formerly exercised by the intendant, as in Burgundy and Artois, the intendant was taking over the traditional role of the Estates by unilaterally striking a deal on behalf of the province!

III The State at the Centre: Policies and Systems

Recent studies of the central government offer both insights into particular branches and broad interpretations. One triumphalist account of the ruling successes of Louis XIV is Anette Smedley-Weill's comprehensive study of the provincial intendants.29 It is a useful summary of the system of agents, [End Page 206] their multiple functions and their increasingly rationalized administration. But the author gives no hint of the practical realities, ideological ambiguities, social accommodations or traditional practices that have been the focus of most of the scholarship of the past twenty years.

On the royal court, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's examination, with Jean-François Fitou, of the duke of Saint-Simon's memoirs stands out as an analytical tour de force which wonderfully captures the system of political relationships at Versailles around the year 1709.30 In a densely argued narrative, Le Roy Ladurie identifies three 'cabals' at the court, two of which (plus a 'bastard subgroup') formed what might be called the 'dominant party at Versailles'.31 This approach demonstrates the complexity of the way political relations were tied to personal relationships. People organized themselves according to personal rivalries, to be sure, but also according to family loyalties, religious predilections, social status, friendship, ideological viewpoints and professional status. Their connections were multilateral and came in varying degrees of intensity. They evolved over time. There was no simple 'royal faction'. This picture is a considerable improvement upon Norbert Elias's more mechanical account of courtly circles ranging themselves around the king.32 The book also explores the demography of marriage relationships among the 2,616 French personages discussed by Saint-Simon, analyses the 'dropouts' who withdrew from court society, usually for moral or religious reasons, and traces the political reconfigurations of the court after 1715.

A new book by Sara Chapman explores this milieu from the point of view of the Pontchartrain dynasty.33 It is a detailed study of the family ties and patron–client relations of Louis de [End Page 207] Pontchartrain, who was controller-general and secretary of state for the navy (1689/90–1699) and chancellor (1699–1714), and of those of his son Jérôme, who succeeded his father as naval secretary (1699–1715). The Pontchartrains functioned through family ties and personal allies. Through close scrutiny of correspondence, Chapman illuminates their implementation of the 1695 capitation tax and the controller-general's ties with intendants in the provinces and with the clergy. We learn about the naval secretary's contacts with the count of Toulouse, who was amiral de France, and with the West Indies. We also hear of the chancellor's personal ties to the judges of selected sovereign courts. In all these areas Chapman focuses on the personal relations, not the business conducted. She finds that professional loyalties were gaining on client loyalties, but that personal relationships remained central to the system even after 1715.

By presenting a parade of personal bonds, Chapman highlights the world of patronage from the perspective of a major governmental figure. It is only by contemplating the multilateral contacts of men like Pontchartrain as a group that we begin to see them as a political class with multiple ties to one another. His many correspondents moved in and out of royal commissions, judicial offices, church positions and military posts. They shared many experiences. A given official, say a royal councillor, could benefit from experience undergone in earlier posts, and he might find himself working with people he had worked with before, who in turn might bring their experience to bear on the matter under discussion.

A major problem in studies of Louis XIV is precisely how to weigh such traditional, personal modes of functioning against what we know about the undeniable signs of state development: the growth in the size of government agencies, the increasing sophistication of information-collection, or the extension of royal reach into new areas of governance. For example, David Kammerling Smith's study of Louis XIV's conseil de commerce, which was established in 1700, points to just such an innovation.34 Here was a new institution created by the king to [End Page 208] monitor merchant opinion and improve co-ordination of state economic policies, an extension of the activities of the Pontchartrains discussed by Chapman.35 Composed of a mixture of high government administrators and deputies from mercantile cities, its structure went through various permutations. On the one hand it developed a channel of communication with hundreds of merchants, guilds and individuals all over France — people who were learning how to dialogue with the government — and on the other it established a system of organized information-gathering involving the provincial intendants, the inspectors of manufactures, and the commissioners or intendants of commerce in the Council of Commerce. The Sun King had clearly inaugurated something new and forward-looking, but it entailed a certain contradiction of goals and rhetoric. As Smith argues, there was an implicit conflict between the ministerial objective of managing the economy in the tradition of Colbert and the discordant appeals coming in from private parties wanting more freedom to innovate.36 There was also a clash between the official client network which was built on privileged contacts and personal favouritism and the communication network which was built on openness of exchange. 'On the one hand, the language of privilege permeated the economic discourse used in the Council of Commerce. On the other hand, the activities and goals of the Council of Commerce challenged the practices of privilege'.37 Unlike the provincial estates, this was a direct link with the rising world of profit-making.

Louis XIV's imposition of the capitation and dixième taxes has also been considered a forward-looking step which began to encroach on the tax exemptions of the privileged. The recent study by Michael Kwass explores this paradox.38 The capitation [End Page 209] tax (1695–8, 1701–90) and the dixième tax (1710–17, 1733–7, 1741–9) did indeed challenge privileged groups' exemptions. The first was a head tax based on a schedule of social ranks. The second was an income tax based on 10 per cent of net revenue (later 5 per cent as the vingtième tax, 1749–90). Through these 'universal' taxes Louis XIV attacked the very privileges which he otherwise had supported and even created. Kwass notes that as a percentage of direct taxes (excluding indirect taxes), the two new impositions grew relative to the traditional taille until by 1789 they made up 58.2 per cent of direct taxation. Meanwhile the vingtième was assessed with increasing accuracy by the intendants, and by the 1780s nobles and other privileged parties were paying a sizeable portion of direct taxes. Even the clergy had to cough up more 'free gift' money, and the provincial estates had to increase their regular grants accordingly. Still, over half the vingtième fell on the non-privileged as an addition to the taille.39 Thus the privileged were being significantly taxed but the burden on the non-privileged was not reduced.

Another example of aggressive intervention appears in Peter Sahlins's new book on citizenship, which discusses Louis XIV's transformation of the droit d'aubaine.40 This medieval right of seigneurs to seize the property of aliens who died within their territory had gradually been extended by jurists to include a variety of restrictions on foreigners living in France. From time to time previous monarchs had issued dispensations to individuals or groups. In 1697 Louis XIV stepped in with a blanket royal ordinance that rescinded all previous rights, redefined the restrictions covered by the droit d'aubaine, and imposed a naturalization tax on all foreigners and their descendants who had settled in France since 1600, the payment of which would supposedly exempt them from the newly defined restrictions. This was obviously another fiscal expedient. But by universalizing a specific right formerly held separately by diverse parties while nullifying the many historical and regional differences, the king was steamrollering over privileges in the name of absolute authority — a perfect example of absolutist unification. This [End Page 210] process illustrates again the mixed motivation inherent in absolute monarchy, or as Sahlins describes it, an 'essential contradiction of French absolutism'.41

These examples recall that Louis XIV's regime has traditionally been characterized as 'classical', 'rational', even 'Cartesian'.42 Jay Smith's study of noble attitudes towards the monarch puts a different spin on this phenomenon.43 He explores the tendency to regulate, standardize and classify that characterized the Sun King's regime, as seen in the rules of etiquette imposed at court, in Colbert's general surveys of the state of the kingdom, and in the investigations of the nobility, the legal codes and the royal academies. Smith invokes Michel Foucault in viewing these cultural innovations as a form of 'discipline'. But instead of seeing them as steps towards the imposition of internalized personal discipline on the population, Smith sees them as a way of re-educating the nobility. The king was teaching the nobles that their merit would now include new values and skills, and he was expanding their concept of service from a face-to-face loyalty in the presence (the 'gaze') of the king to service to a king not-present but embodied in the administration. This extension of the impact of a face-to-face encounter with the 'king's gaze' to the more impersonal contacts between eighteenth-century nobles and royal institutions is perhaps stretched beyond credence, but Smith provides a good way of thinking about the process of the nobles redefining themselves, and yet remaining nobles.44

Peter Campbell's study attempts to pull all these disparate aspects of the governmental system into one model which he [End Page 211] calls the 'baroque state'.45 This 'was a socio-political entity, whose structures were interwoven with society, which it tried to rise above but with which it inevitably had to compromise. It endowed itself with grandiose schemes'.46 Campbell sees no modern bureaucracy in 1715, because there was no civil service ethic and no effective chain of command. Family and client ties remained stronger than bureaucratic loyalties. Once again court politics were central. Factions mattered because personal relations were not separated from political relations.47 Campbell even goes as far as to claim that the court was France's only national institution and that the only political actors were the people who inhabited it. Within courtly society the two spheres of aristocratic sociability and ministerial decision-making remained distinct because courtiers could not openly discuss the 'secret' of the king's councils. But the two were interlocked because the ministers were dependent on their client systems to reinforce the administrative networks throughout the country, and because factional shifts at court had implications for the rise and fall of particular ministers and their policies. Most of Campbell's book is a discussion of how the characteristics of this 'baroque state' continued to operate through much of the eighteenth century.

IV A New Dimension Of The State — The Army

The most striking addition to our knowledge of French absolutism concerns that 'Giant of the Grand Siècle', the army.48 According to traditional historiography, standing armies were one of the pillars of royal power. As the size of armies mushroomed, so the argument goes, battlefield methods were transformed and training was intensified. This 'military revolution' then induced state reorganization, laid unprecedented fiscal demands on the population and promoted bureaucratic rationalization. Yet, [End Page 212] until recently, relatively little has been known about the specifics of the relationship between the army and the state. Three massive studies totalling 1,531 pages of text have now changed this picture.49 Each confirms the army's colossal importance, but all three dispute the standard tale of state-building and criticize existing models of collaboration.

David Parrott lays the foundations for this re-evaluation by exploring army–state relations in the time of Louis XIII. His findings deflate the traditional view of Cardinal Richelieu as a master state-builder and reinforce more recent assessments of Richelieu's administration as a set of makeshift solutions. Parrott finds that the effective size of the royal armies was smaller than had previously been thought, and he looks in vain for awareness of a 'military revolution' on the part of writers and commanders.50 France's large, but old-fashioned, army was severely limited by practices which reflected the inefficient social arrangements of the day. For historical reasons involving a long tradition of noble rebellions, the Crown was insistent upon retaining ultimate control over the commissioning and decommissioning of officers and companies. At the same time aspiring nobles were eager to obtain military commands in order to consolidate their social reputations. They had to lobby the king for positions. He, in turn, was able to require aspiring captains or lieutenants to defray a sizeable share of the costs of recruiting and equipping their men. Once assembled, the common soldiers were so scandalously and irregularly paid that the commander would have to draw on his credit or his private [End Page 213] fortune to provide them with wages and food rations, or else risk having his unit disbanded and his reputation tarnished. Having little to gain and everything to lose, he would be cautious on the battlefield. Parrott calls this a 'peculiarly French' problem. Nobles eager only to establish their credentials often dropped out after a campaign or two. The government distributed favours and viable payroll vouchers only to the officers best placed in the patronage system, not to the most needy or the most talented.51

Parrott's rich account at the very least illustrates the weaknesses in a monarchy which was undoubtedly very powerful but which was still dominated by the interests of prominent nobles and financiers. The financial infrastructure was too backward to raise the 20–30 million livres per year needed to operate the army at the height of the Thirty Years War, although this amount should have been well within the means of a large, productive kingdom. Revenues were committed years in advance to financiers at costly rates, and taxes were collected by private consortiums of financiers who siphoned off a sizeable share. The secretaries of state, the chancellor, the royal financial hierarchy, the tax farmers and the private munitioneers all had overlapping and conflicting functions. Supply of heavy munitions, powder and shot had to be farmed out to entrepreneurs whose bankruptcy was always a looming threat. France was large enough to prevail despite these weaknesses, but we might well wonder where the successes of Louis XIV came from.

John Lynn and Guy Rowlands attempt to answer this question. Their two studies, published in 1997 and 2002 respectively, provide contrasting but not incompatible views of the army of Louis XIV. Lynn uses a broader brush and offers a comprehensive picture of the whole seventeenth-century army in the context of the longer history of European warfare. His many chapters provide an encyclopedic array of information on army administration, supply, ranks, morale, militias, discipline, weapons, logistics, tactics, strategy, fortifications, and those elusive but precious topics, the living conditions of the rank and file, and the role of women in the army.52 Rowlands's [End Page 214] study, also extensive, is analytically more interesting, perhaps because it covers the shorter period from 1661 to 1701 and deals only with the social elite.

Lynn's multidimensional view of absolutism is refreshing. The monarchy, he claims, cannot be thought of as merely a set of central tax-gathering and distributing institutions because it had three other dimensions. First were the regional actors — provincial estates, receivers and financiers — who collected and distributed funds semi-autonomously. Second was the army itself, a kind of state within the state. Instead of troops supporting themselves through pillage and requisitions, army units now set up provisional governments in occupied zones, selling passports and exemptions from local taxes and collecting taxes which now went into state coffers instead of being siphoned off by the soldiers. Lynn claims that in the 1690s a quarter of the cost of land warfare came from these contributions — but Rowlands challenges this figure as far too high.53 Third was the money extracted from the army officers' private fortunes as they continued to sink whole inheritances into maintaining their personal companies — the process underlined by Parrott. Rowlands says they provided up to 14 per cent of the total cost of war but Lynn reckons that it was as much as 25–30 per cent of the cost — a veritable tax on the nobility.54 This phenomenon should be noted, as it was in effect a hidden tax on nobles who were traditionally exempt. It parallels the exactions from similarly privileged venal officeholders.55

Lynn and Rowlands both confirm that the army saw significant expansion in size and organization after 1675, when the persons affiliated with Louvois and Vauban took over control from the circle led by Condé and Turenne. Both authors urge caution about the regularity of this growth, but the trend is unmistakable. The number of units rose from 88 regiments of infantry and 72 of cavalry in 1691 to 238 regiments of infantry and 94 of cavalry in 1714. Such a massive growth, which supports the traditional view of the rise of the state, inevitably led to changes in organization. More roturiers (commoners) [End Page 215] were necessarily commissioned alongside nobles to fill the officer corps. The king assumed direct command through his war cabinet and established the ordre du tableau in 1675 to regulate precedence among officers. A largely unsuccessful effort was made to provide training for officers through the creation of companies of musketeers and cadets. Provincial militias were raised and sent to war, serving as auxiliaries between 1688 and 1697, and as regular troops between 1701 and 1708. Networks of magazines to store grain and munitions were organized. Strategists added thinner, more linear formations in battle and adopted the necessary drilling, copied from the Dutch. Discipline was greatly improved and desertion rates declined. The Hôtel des Invalides, 'the most extensive social welfare program maintained by the state', was built in Paris to house disabled veterans.56

But neither of the authors sees these impressive signs of progress as the advent of modernity in the state. Lynn portrays the military machine as taking on a life of its own, becoming in effect the real absolutist entity in terms of royal control and dragging a more backward royal administration in its wake. Rowlands stresses the personal aspects by extending the idea of collaboration. 'This book is an explicit rejection of modernization theories of the early modern state', he writes, and goes on to argue that, far from representing an attempt to 'state-build', the French state was shaped by 'Bourbon dynasticism, a term which can and should include tensions within the ruling house; by family interests; by personal rivalry; by highly traditional senses of obligation and chivalry; and, at the end of the day, by the need to find money to fight wars'.57

This concept of dynasticism lies at the heart of Rowlands's argument. In a detailed analysis of the operation of the war ministry and the war treasury, he emphasizes their non-bureaucratic basis. The ministries were strongholds of the allies and relatives of the Le Telliers, all pursuing personal and financial advancement. Novel moves towards bureaucratic control, such as the creation of civilian commissaires de guerre, were indecisive because [End Page 216] the new commissioners did not have enough prestige to make military officers obey them, and the king eventually opposed giving them additional power. Provincial and army intendants, the supposed modernizers according to traditional accounts, were more loyal to personal patrons than to administrative efficiency or even to the king and were largely 'motivated by financial profit, political power, and personal and family ambition'.58 The war treasury, directed by the trésorier-général de l'extraordinaire des guerres, was built upon personal ties within a network of financiers whose shaky fortunes were based on a parasitic and usurious hold on royal revenues.

How then was the army able to surmount the earlier difficulties laid out in Parrott's account? The difference lay in the king's effective handling of the officer corps, within the context of his patrimonial objectives. He knew that a standing army required relatively contented leaders and better conditions. He applied his genius for personal relations to assuring that success in the field was rewarded and to creating multiple channels of patronage so that 'everyone' could be heard. Aristocratic officers were still required to invest fortunes in their troops, but they could expect consistent, loyal service to be rewarded with recognition and honour, so the investment was worth making. Louis milked them for revenues, but he also helped out those in financial need. He gave a boost to families that were supporting military officers by arranging favourable marriages for their kin and showering them with church posts. The king was caught in a paradox: 'he was anxious to achieve control over his leading subjects but he also wished to use them as highly autonomous military leaders' and 'he was prepared to play ruthlessly upon the ambitions of his subjects in order to secure the best possible services from them'.59

These studies of the army all stress the traditional nature of the king's objectives and his lack of interest in modernizing institutions. They turn the 'state' into a vast patronage machine in which meritorious service, innovation and better control did indeed exist, but were driven by family interest, personal advancement and issues of honour. Far from being a trap for the aristocracy, or a place of senseless posturing, the court at [End Page 217] Versailles, in this view, was the central bargaining place for the staffing of a 'sustainable standing force'. Rowlands's analysis seconds that of Mettam in stressing these traditional elements. But he departs from Mettam in denying the theory of rule through a single 'royal faction'. And he adds more substance to the view that the army was built upon the idiosyncrasies of the society.

V Contrary Evidence? The Fate of the Parlementaires

As I indicated at the outset, Hurt's new study challenges the whole revisionist tendency of the past twenty years. Calling Hamscher and myself the 'founders' of this tendency, he concludes that 'little or nothing in the pages to come supports the optimistic view of revisionists, notably that of William Beik, who portrayed the ruling class of Languedoc as allied with Louis XIV, nurtured, protected and "basking in the sun" of his benign rule'.60

Hurt provides a well-argued, excellently documented case. It consists of three narratives. The first traces Louis XIV's crackdown on the parlements' traditional constitutionalist claim to verify and register edicts. This is a well-known story, but Hurt presents it with clarity and great legal precision. The second narrative traces the way the Crown pressured the venal officeholders into paying up large sums of money, first as the price for renewal of the droit annuel,61 then through forced loans (augmentations de gages) and creations of new offices, and finally by putting ceilings on the value of the offices themselves, which constituted a major component of their family fortunes. After 1709, when the Crown started lowering the rate of return on these loans, delayed interest payments, and ultimately translated the debt into useless shares in John Law's company, many magistrates were ruined. The third narrative focuses on the [End Page 218] years 1718 to 1720, when the sovereign courts fought back. The Paris Parlement, supported by the Parlement of Rennes, tried to regain the constitutional prerogatives they had lost in 1674. There was an exchange of belligerent challenges, but the royal council ultimately quashed the Parlement's pretensions.

Hurt's scenarios admirably serve his stated purpose of refocusing attention on the authoritarian side of Louis XIV's rule. But his story is extremely one-sided. He is highlighting one theme — the king's arbitrary action. In the early years, Colbert, who emerges as the evil genius behind the repression of the parlementaires, successfully browbeats the Parlement back into submission after the excesses of the Fronde. By 1674 the judges are relegated 'to the margins of political life'.62 Losing their initiative, they fall into passivity, hardly protesting when the king rains edicts on them, ruining their fortunes. Under the regency after 1715 they make a brief comeback. But when they fight back, the regent turns to Marc-René de Voyer, marquis d'Argenson, his Keeper of the Seals who had been brought up in the school of Colbertian rigour. Under d'Argenson's direction the royal council strikes back. Through lits de justice, confiscation of publications, arrests, and exile of the Parlement to Pontoise, Louis XIV's legacy of repressive coercion is perpetuated and continues right up to the session of 1766 when Louis XV 'flagellated' the Parlement, echoing d'Argenson's similar flagellation in 1718. The parlementaires have become 'a weakened, almost endangered group'.63

A look at the studies reviewed above should quickly reveal the narrowness of this account. Without denying Louis XIV's repressive record, the so-called 'revisionists' are actually pushing beyond the issue of authoritarian tendencies by asking how absolute rule affected the well-being of elite groups and why the latter tolerated the resulting loss of independence. The answer to this question must reach further than just an examination of the Parlement's political influence and the financial impact of venality on its members. The judges were surely concerned about these issues, but their posts meant much more to them than that. They meant authority to participate in decisions concerning property and inheritance, power to intervene [End Page 219] in the policing of one's city or land, precedence in church and public processions, sometimes hereditary nobility. As Hamscher and others have pointed out, the parlementaires accepted their apparent subordination because they were receiving benefits in terms of smoother operation, fewer evocations of cases out of their jurisdiction, participation in the rising glory of the king they served, and a pervasive atmosphere of social order through reinforcement of the society of orders. No doubt some were ruined.64 But Hurt has not demonstrated that the majority of them were in such dire straits, nor do we know how damaging these developments were to their overall family wealth and social position.

Another problem is that Hurt does not address the mutual interdependence of property in office and borrowing on behalf of the Crown. Potter's book chronicles the measures taken by Louis XIV to solidify the legal status of offices, and more generally to confirm corporate and individual privileges.65 David Bien and others see this arrangement as a central pillar of the absolutist system.66 They argue that the king could not abolish privileges because they were the basis for the credit needed to run the monarchy. It would be useful to know how Hurt's data about impoverishment relates to this broader phenomenon. The period from 1709 to 1720 was a fiscal nightmare, but it was not the norm and people lived through it. The parlements survived and remained at the centre of the political stage. Their professional world was dominated by important cases, clashes with legal adversaries, and other concerns like the rising controversy over Jansenism and their growing consciousness that there was a public forum to which they could speak.67 They remained powerful and wealthy figures. [End Page 220]

VI Conclusion

French absolute monarchy is still best conceptualized as a social compromise with the sword and robe nobility and other influential persons, but recent studies suggest corrections and additions. It is legitimate to ask, as many of these authors do, whether conclusions based on the provinces with provincial estates and focused on the first thirty years of the Sun King's personal reign can be applied to other regions and to the eventful last thirty years of the reign. These are genuine problems. There have been few studies of governance in the provinces which were directly administered by royal agents (the pays d'élection) because they did not readily produce documentation presenting the provincial side of the relationship. The ministerial correspondence, mostly with provincial intendants, projects an optimistic, managerial tone which can be misleading. It does appear that those provinces, which constituted the majority of the territory, were handled in a more authoritarian manner, although the results were not necessarily less favourable to local elites. Potter's study, which is one of the few to attempt a direct comparison, finds subtle differences but suggests that to some extent the same processes were simply applied in different ways.

It is also valid to point to important innovations in the period from 1590 to 1715, and to question whether they involved collaboration or merely centralization. The results show both advances and limits. Military expansion was colossal. It entailed a vastly improved patronage system for the commissioning of officers and commanders, centred on the king himself, the influx of more roturier officers and the beginnings of a coherent system of military ranks. Civilian oversight of units in the field advanced, but was held in check by the royal preference for officer initiative. Munitions and funding services developed, but they did not outgrow their roots in ministerial client systems or their underwriting by private financiers, nor did the credit system escape its grounding in the peddling of offices and privileges. The provincial estates were transformed into administrators of royal programmes, not without some concessions due to their ability to bargain and decide issues of implementation. In the midst of financial desperation, novel practices [End Page 221] were initiated that would have an active future: the so-called 'universal' taxes, the conseil de commerce and its network of commercial correspondents and petitioners, the naval links with the Caribbean world, and the attempts to impose uniform procedures with respect to hospitals, citizenship, property law and colonial slavery.

While acknowledging these developments, I still believe that social collaboration on the basis of common class interests continued to characterize the system of rule and that these arrangements continued to prevail in the eighteenth century, to the point of seriously hindering the transformations needed to adapt French society to new circumstances. In piecing together this picture of advances and survivals, we must keep in mind the two sides of class interest. An assessment of collaboration cannot be based solely on the degree of independence or political initiative of this or that institution. We need to know the social impact of the measures taken, the identity of the beneficiaries as well as the victims, and not just who made the decision. Most government activities which disadvantaged someone also aided someone else. Money borrowed was also money lent. Tax collections flowed away from one group, but towards another. The grandeur of the king's regime and its belligerently hierarchical message were welcome reinforcement for those who relied on a titled position or personal status and for those who benefited from landed property, venal office or state finance.

Signs of the socially conservative implications behind seemingly innovative measures can be seen in most of the studies above. A mammoth army was organized around favours doled out by a pompous king in a dazzling court, supported by bureaux that were becoming more efficient, but at the same time were dominated by personal interest and favouritism. Novel taxes redressed some of the imbalances of the past while perpetuating others. Economic councils wavered between promoting a free economy and regulating it. Desperately overreaching military objectives were supported by badly co-ordinated lines of authority built upon contradictory channels of patronage.

These studies thus reveal a basic contradiction between the king's primary efforts to maintain a traditional system by reinforcing hierarchical differences and defending property, and the same king's impulse to universalize and standardize procedures, [End Page 222] which implied limiting the rights and privileges of those he wanted to defend. All the studies discussed here are saying, at least indirectly, that Louis XIV was a king with a traditional view of his power, not an avid state-builder. But to meet large objectives he stretched the old system to its limits, more so than any previous monarch had done, even introducing innovations which had the potential to undermine property and hierarchy. Absolute monarchy was not the centralizing leveller of intermediate bodies that Tocqueville imagined. It was a backward-looking force that rebuilt an old system by adapting old practices to new uses. Louis pushed the marketing of privilege to its limits, raised government through personal ties to a high art, redefined the relationship between the officer corps and the state, brought about a makeover of the provincial estates, and found ways to tax the privileged without abandoning the system of privileges.

The result was that old practices became deeply entrenched and the well-being of the state became increasingly tied to defending them. The most serious entrenchment was a social alliance between the king and traditional privileged groups. It transferred the tax burden of new loans onto the peasantry, won reductions from new special taxes, defended old-guard notables holed up in provincial estates, and protected the legal status of officers and corporations just when Louis might have wanted to get rid of them. This collaboration was jeopardizing the future by making irreversible a set of vested interests and established procedures which would turn into obstacles in the new century.

These studies suggest an agenda. The concept of social collaboration is still meaningful, but it calls for more intensive examination of the functioning of Louis XIV's government after 1690, especially the civilian government. There is more to learn about the changing role of parlementaires and other robe officers, with respect to both their financial state and their role in provincial governance, once the lines had hardened at Versailles. Other issues of interest are beyond the scope of this review. The work of Dale Van Kley reminds us that we need to know more about the role of religious beliefs, and their impact on politics. Joseph Bergin reminds us of the importance of the episcopacy.68 The gendered monarchy is a fresh concept [End Page 223] outlined by Hanley, and in fact the role of women in the higher echelons of government is still unknown despite the popularity of various court ladies.69 There are a growing number of cultural studies of the symbolic uses of the king's person.70 But apart from expanding the picture of the system in the later reign, the most important task will be to explore the ways in which Louis XIV's conservative innovations dominated the reigns of the eighteenth century, and the degree to which they impeded or furthered necessary reforms.71 When this governmental system built on privilege, dynastic influence and secrecy confronted new ideas, new public audiences, and new economic and diplomatic challenges, would it find itself able to adapt? We should take a fresh look at the eighteenth century from the perspective of these venerable habits and not just concentrate on the rise of new forces.


* This article is dedicated to the many colleagues through the years who have participated in this ongoing discussion, only some of whom are cited here.

1. John J. Hurt, Louis XIV and the Parlements: The Assertion of Royal Authority (Manchester, 2002), p. ix. For other critiques, see the introductions to the works cited below by Campbell, Chapman, Nachison, Potter, Rowlands or Swann.

2. Georges Pagès, La Monarchie d'ancien régime en France (de Henri IV à Louis XIV), 4th edn (Paris, 1946); Roland Mousnier, La Vénalité des of fices sous Henri IV et Louis XIII (Paris, 1971); Roland Mousnier, The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy, 1598–1789, trans. Brian Pearce, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1979–84); Ernest Lavisse, Histoire de France depuis les origines jusqu'à la Révolution, 9 vols. (Paris, 1900–11), vii (pts 1–2); viii (pt 1); François Bluche, Louis XIV, trans. Mark Greengrass (Oxford, 1990); Michel Antoine, 'La Monarchie absolue', in Keith Baker (ed.), The Political Culture of the Old Régime (Oxford, 1987); John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (New York, 1968); William F. Church, Louis XIV in Historical Thought (New York, 1976); Herbert H. Rowen, The King's State: Proprietary Dynasticism in Early Modern France (New Brunswick, 1980); Richard Bonney, Political Change in France under Richelieu and Mazarin, 1624–1661 (Oxford, 1978); Richard Bonney, The Limits of Absolutism in Ancien Régime France (Aldershot, 1995).

3. On the Annales School, see Peter Burke, The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929–1989 (Stanford, 1990); François Dosse, New History in France: The Triumph of the Annales, trans. Peter V. Conroy, Jr (Urbana, 1994).

4. Some recent surveys by French scholars are: Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Ancien Régime: A History of France, 1610–1774, trans. Mark Greengrass (Oxford, 1996); Joël Cornette (ed.), La France de la monarchie absolue (Paris, 1997). Some surveys in English are: James B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France (Cambridge, 1995); David J. Sturdy, Louis XIV (London, 1998); Peter Robert Campbell, Louis XIV, 1661–1715 (London, 1993); Geoffrey Treasure, Louis XIV (London, 2001).

5. Fanny Cosandey and Robert Descimon, L'Absolutisme en France: histoire et historiographie (Paris, 2002). See Joël Cornette, Le Roi de Guerre: essai sur la souveraineté dans la France du Grand Siècle (Paris, 1993).

6. The pioneers in interpreting the theory of absolutism as limited monarchy were Fritz Hartung and Roland Mousnier, 'Quelques problèmes concernant la monarchie absolue', Comitato internazionale di scienze storiche, X Congresso internazionale de scienze storiche (Roma, 1955), Relazione Vol. 5 (Storia moderna) (Florence, 1955). Another pioneer was Andrew Lossky, who summed up his views in his 'The Absolutism of Louis XIV: Myth or Reality?', Canadian Jl Hist., xix (1984). A fine examination of the history of the concept of absolutism is Richard Bonney, L'Absolutisme (Paris, 1989). It was J. Russell Major who emphasized the concept of the monarchy accommodating the nobility. However, his political view of consultation led him to see Louis XIV's absolutism as something different from the 'renaissance' or 'consultative' monarchy, thus he adopted the traditional, not the revisionist-social, interpretation of Louis XIV: J. Russell Major, From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy: French Kings, Nobles, and Estates (Baltimore, 1994). A founder of what might be called 'French revisionism' was François-Xavier Emmanuelli, Un mythe de l'absolutisme bourbonien: l'intendance du milieu du XVII e siècle à la fin du XVIII e siècle (France, Espagne, Amérique) (Aix-en-Provence, 1981).

7. William Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc (Cambridge, 1985).

8. Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974).

9. James B. Collins, Classes, Estates, and Order in Early Modern Brittany (Cambridge, 1994).

10. David Parker, Class and State in Ancien Régime France: The Road to Modernity? (London, 1996), 268.

11. Albert N. Hamscher, The Parlement of Paris after the Fronde, 1653–1673 (Pittsburgh, 1976); Albert N. Hamscher, The Conseil Privé and the Parlements in the Age of Louis XIV: A Study in French Absolutism (Philadelphia, 1987).

12. Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France (Oxford, 1987). See also her essays in her Patronage in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France (Aldershot, 2002).

13. See four articles by Sarah Hanley: 'Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modern France', French Hist. Studies, xvi (1989); 'Social Sites of Political Practice in France: Lawsuits, Civil Rights, and the Separation of Powers in Domestic and State Government, 1500–1800', Amer. Hist. Rev., cii (1997); 'The Monarchic State in Early Modern France: Marital Regime Government and Male Right', in Adrianna Bakos (ed.), Politics, Ideology and the Law in Early Modern Europe (Rochester, NY, 1994); 'The Jurisprudence of the Arrêts: Marital Union, Civil Society and State Formation in France, 1550–1650', Law and History Rev., xxi (2003). On the law and absolutism, see also David Parker, 'Sovereignty, Absolutism and the Function of the Law in Seventeenth-Century France', Past and Present, no. 122 (Feb. 1989). On gendered monarchy, see Robert Descimon, 'Les Fonctions de la métaphore du mariage politique du roi et de la république en France, XVe–XVIIIe siècles', Annales ESC, xlvii (1992); Fanny Cosandey, La Reine de France: symbole et pouvoir, XV e–XVIII e siècle (Paris, 2000).

14. Daniel Dessert, Argent, pouvoir et société au Grand Siècle (Paris, 1984); Françoise Bayard, Le Monde des financiers au XVII e siècle (Paris, 1988); Claude Michaud, L'Église et l'argent sous l'ancien régime: les receveurs généraux du clergé de France aux XVI e–XVII e siècles (Paris, 1991).

15. Roger Mettam, Power and Faction in Louis XIV's France (Oxford, 1988). A concise statement of Mettam's position is Roger Mettam, 'France', in John Miller (ed.), Absolutism in Seventeeenth-Century Europe (New York, 1990).

16. Nicholas Henshall, The Myth of Absolutism: Change and Continuity in Early Modern European Monarchy (London, 1992).

17. I should inform the reader that I have published elsewhere somewhat different reviews of five of the books discussed (see below for complete citations of the books). The reviews are: Marie-Laure Legay, Les États provinciaux, in Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, l (2003), 206–9; John Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle, in Jl Interdisciplinary Hist., xxx (1999), 122–3; David Parrott, Richelieu's Army, in Jl Interdisciplinary Hist., xxxiii (2003), 629–31; Julian Swann, Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy, on-line, H-France Review, iv (May 2004), no. 52; Guy Rowlands, The Dynastic State and the Army, in Amer. Hist. Rev., cix (2004), 262.

18. Mark Potter, Corps and Clienteles: Public Finance and Political Change in France, 1688–1715 (Aldershot, 2003); Julian Swann, Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates-General of Burgundy, 1661–1790 (Cambridge, 2003); Marie-Laure Legay, Les États provinciaux dans la construction de l'état moderne aux XVII e et XVIII e siècles (Geneva, 2001).

19. Here Potter is working with arguments first used by David D. Bien, 'Offices, Corps, and a System of State Credit: The Uses of Privilege under the Ancien Régime', in Baker (ed.), Political Culture of the Old Régime. See also Mark Potter and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 'Politics and Public Finance in France: The Estates of Burgundy, 1660–1790', Jl Interdisciplinary Hist., xxvii (1997); William Doyle, Venality: The Sale of Of fices in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1996).

20. High officeholders included the judges of the Parlement and the Chambre des Comptes, and possibly some other royal officials who owned their offices. For the membership of the Estates, see the discussion of Swann which follows.

21. If the annual interest, plus a fund to repay the capital, was covered by the annual revenues of the tax, there would be no other cost to the province. This was essentially the same tactic used by the English Parliament in the 1690s in floating the national debt.

22. Louis XIV reportedly borrowed a total of 2,231 million livres from 1689 to 1715 without arousing the turbulence that had accompanied similar measures during the reign of Louis XIII: see Potter, Corps and Clienteles, 13–14.

23. Ibid., 132.

24. Nachison describes how the Condés controlled appointments, masterminded the deliberations in the Estates and even collaborated with the intendants. She delineates the intensely personal quality of patron–client relations, the effect of personalities like Henri Jules, described by his chamberlain as 'feared by everyone, hated by his domestics and the horror of his family'. Beth Nachison, 'Provincial Government in the Ancien Régime: The Princes of Condé in Burgundy, 1660–1730' (Univ. of Iowa Ph.D. thesis, 1992), 38–9; Beth Nachison, 'Absentee Government and Provincial Governors in Early Modern France: The Princes of Condé and Burgundy, 1660–1720', French Hist. Studies, xxi (1998).

25. Swann, Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy, 163–5.

26. Ibid., 299.

27. We might note here the undeniable bureaucratic development of the central state.

28. Darryl Dee, 'The Practice of Absolutism: Franche-Comté in the Kingdom of France, 1674–1715' (Emory Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 2004). See also Darryl Dee, 'Judicial Politics, War Finance and Absolutism: The Parlement of Besançon and the Venality of Office, 1699–1705', forthcoming in French History. I was Dee's dissertation adviser.

29. Anette Smedley-Weill, Les Intendants de Louis XIV (Paris, 1995).

30. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, with Jean-François Fitou, Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago, 2001); originally published as Saint-Simon, ou le système de la cour (Paris, 1997).

31. Le Roy Ladurie, Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, 139.

32. Norbert Elias, The Court Society, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford, 1983). On the royal court, an important new contribution is Jeroen Duindam, Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe's Dynastic Rivals, 1550–1780 (Cambridge, 2003). See also Jean-François Solnon, La Cour de France (Paris, 1987); Sophie de Laverny, Les Domestiques commensaux du roi de France au XVII e siècle (Paris, 2002).

33. Sara E. Chapman, Private Ambition and Political Alliances: The Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain Family and Louis XIV's Government, 1650–1715 (Rochester, NY, 2004).

34. David Kammerling Smith, ' "Au Bien du Commerce": Economic Discourse and Visions of Society in France' (Univ. of Pennsylvania Ph.D. thesis, 1995); see also David Kammerling Smith, 'Structuring Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century France: The Political Innovations of the French Council of Commerce', Jl Mod. Hist., lxxiv (2002).

35. The conseil had been the creation of Louis de Pontchartrain, but after he became chancellor in 1699 Michel de Chamillart took over as its head.

36. A study of the impact of Colbertism in the eighteenth century is Philippe Minard, La Fortune du colbertisme: état et industrie dans la France des Lumières (Paris, 1998).

37. Smith, ' "Au Bien du Commerce" ', 567.

38. Michael Kwass, Privilege and the Politics of Taxation in Eighteenth-Century France (Cambridge, 2000). Two other works analyse the capitation of 1695: Alain Guéry, 'État, classification sociale et compromis sous Louis XIV: la capitation de 1695', Annales ESC, xli (1986); François Bluche and Jean-François Solnon, La Véritable Hiérarchie sociale de l'ancienne France: le tarif de la première capitation, 1695 (Geneva, 1983).

39. Kwass, Privilege and the Politics of Taxation, 95.

40. Peter Sahlins, Unnaturally French: Foreign Citizens in the Old Regime and After (Ithaca, 2004).

41. Ibid., 55.

42. The Cartesian aspect is stressed in James E. King, Science and Rationalism in the Government of Louis XIV (Baltimore, 1949); see also Albert Guérard, The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age (New York, 1928).

43. Jay M. Smith, The Culture of Merit: Nobility, Royal Service, and the Making of Absolute Monarchy in France, 1600–1789 (Ann Arbor, 1996): see ch. 4.

44. A good example of contrasting readings of noble mentality is provided by Smith, who sees noble attitudes as extensions of age-old habits, and Jonathan Dewald, who sees the same court nobles as displaying elements of modern individualism: Smith, Culture of Merit, 3 n. 3; Jonathan Dewald, Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture: France, 1570–1715 (Berkeley, 1993). In a middle position, Mark Motley sees the nobles modifying their educational strategies to adapt old roles to new circumstances: Mark Motley, Becoming a French Aristocrat: The Education of the Court Nobility, 1580–1715 (Princeton, 1990).

45. Peter R. Campbell, Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720–1745 (London, 1996).

46. Ibid., 4.

47. See esp. ibid., 177–90.

48. The classic studies on the army are: André Corvisier, Louvois (Paris, 1983); André Corvisier, L'Armée française de la fin du XVII e siècle au ministère de Choiseul: le soldat, 2 vols. (Paris, 1964).

49. John A. Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army 1610–1715 (Cambridge, 1997); David Parrott, Richelieu's Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624–1642 (Cambridge, 2001); Guy Rowlands, The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661–1701 (Cambridge, 2002). Although these three books were published in succession by Cambridge University Press, this was not a collaborative project. However, the books are connected in that Lynn refers extensively to Parrott's doctoral thesis. Parrott was the thesis superviser of Rowlands, who is critical of some of Lynn's conclusions.

50. On the military revolution debate, see Michael Roberts, 'The Military Revolution, 1560–1660', in his Essays in Swedish History (London, 1967); Jeremy Black, A Military Revolution? Military Change and European Society, 1550–1800 (New York, 1996); Geoffrey Parker, 'The Military Revolution, 1560–1660: A Myth?', Jl Mod. Hist., xlviii (1976); Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800 (Cambridge, 1988); Parrott, Richelieu's Army, 19–83, 547–52. Lynn's discussion stresses gradual reform since the religious wars, rather than a military revolution.

51. Lynn discusses Parrott's argument: see Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle, 223.

52. Note also his short military history of the reign: John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714 (London, 1999).

53. Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle, 208–11; Rowlands, Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV, 365–6.

54. Rowlands, Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV, 265–6.

55. See the discussion of Hurt below.

56. Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle, 430. On Louis XIV and hospitals, see Daniel Hickey, Local Hospitals in Ancien Régime France: Rationalization, Resistance, Renewal, 1530–1789 (Montreal, 1997).

57. Rowlands, Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV, 361.

58. Ibid., 108.

59. Ibid., 335.

60. Hurt, Louis XIV and the Parlements, pp. ix, 12. I have never claimed that Louis XIV's rule was benign or nurturing!

61. The droit annuel, or paulette tax, was an annual payment by a venal officeholder which guaranteed that the office would remain the property of the family should the holder die, and that the heirs could dispose of it as private property. This tax was granted for a period of years, so there was opportunity for bargaining at renewal time.

62. Hurt, Louis XIV and the Parlements, 195.

63. Ibid., 196–8.

64. Potter addresses this point by noting that Hurt fails to deal with the widespread tendency for corps to borrow collectively: see Potter, Corps and Clienteles, 47.

65. Ibid., ch. 6.

66. Bien, 'Offices, Corps, and a System of State Credit'; Gail Bossenga, The Politics of Privilege: Old Regime and Revolution in Lille (Cambridge, 1991); Hilton L. Root, The Fountain of Privilege: Political Foundations of Markets in Old Regime France and England (Berkeley, 1994).

67. To be fair, Hurt does not claim to be covering all these dimensions of the problem, nor does he reject all 'revisionism'. But his assertion that the oppression of the parlements undermines the collaboration thesis calls for a discussion of these broader dimensions of the issue. On the monarchy and Jansenism, the authoritative work is Dale Van Kley, The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560–1791 (New Haven, 1996).

68. Joseph Bergin, Crown, Church and Episcopate under Louis XIV (New Haven, 2004). This study appeared too late for review here.

69. For Hanley's work, see n. 13. On women at court, see, for example, Vincent J. Pitts, La Grande Mademoiselle at the Court of France, 1627–1693 (Baltimore, 2000); A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King: Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans, 1652–1722, ed. and trans. Elborg Forster (Baltimore, 1984).

70. For example Louis Marin, Le Portrait du roi (Paris, 1981); Jean-Marie Apostolidès, Le Roi-machine: spectacle et politique au temps de Louis XIV (Paris, 1981); Abbey E. Zanger, Scenes from the Marriage of Louis XIV: Nuptial Fictions and the Making of Absolutist Power (Stanford, 1997); Sara E. Melzer and Kathryn Norberg (eds.), From the Royal to the Republican Body (Berkeley, 1998).

71. A new study which aims to look at the eighteenth century from the perspective of the reign of Louis XIV is Colin Jones, The Great Nation: France from Louis XIV to Napoleon (1715–1799) (London, 2002): see the points in his introduction. Another new study is Gwynne Lewis, France, 1715–1814: Power and the People (London, 2004).