Absolutism and

the Modern French State


Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679

Cardinal Richelieu, 1585-1642

Louis XIV, 1638/43-1715



     What is the nature of the modern state, whether absolutist or constitutional?

     What is "absolutism," in theory and practice?

     How did absolutism develop in France?  What were its limits?


Key Terms

1) Jacques-Benigne Bossuet,                           6) Versailles

2) Thomas Hobbes & Leviathan                     7) Nobles of the Robe

3) Cardinal Richelieu & raison detat            8) War of Spanish Succession

4) Intendants

5) Louis XIV (Letat, cest moi)



I.  The Modern State and Absolutism


     Modernity and the Growth of Centralized State Power


     Sovereignty, Bureaucracy, and Centralization

o  A Monopoly on Law, Justice, and Violence


     Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Politics Drawn from the Words of Holy Scripture


     Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan


     Responsible Monarchs vs. Arbitrary Autocrats


     Early Modern Absolutism vs. 20th-Century Totalitarianism



II. The Origins of Modern French Absolutism, 1300-1600


The Hundreds Years War (1337-1453):  England vs. France

     Standing Armies, Taxation, and Bureaucracy

     The King vs. Lords:  Expanding Royal Power


Independence from Rome

  The Avignon Papacy (1358-1378)

  The Invasion of Italy (1494-1530)

  The Concordat of Bologna (1516) and the Origins of Gallicanism

  Creation of a French National Church


The Sixteenth Century:  From Stability to Civil War to Stability

     St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre (1578)

     The Edict of Nantes (1598)



III.  Perfecting the Absolutist State:  The Bourbon Monarchy


     Henry IV (1589-1610):  The Edict of Nantes


     Louis XIII (1610-1643) and Cardinal Richelieu (1624-1642)

  raison d'tat

  Relations with the Nobility

  Administration and Bureaucracy:  The Intendants and Middle-Class Officials

  Huguenot Policy — LaRochelle (1627)

  The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the Treaty of Westphalia


     Louis XIV (1643/1661-1715):  "L'etat, C'est Moi"

     The Boy King and the Fronde

     Mazarin (Politics) and Colbert (Mercantilist Economy)

     Nobles of the Robe (New) vs. Nobles of the Sword (Old)

     Versailles: Domestication or "Collaboration" of the Nobility?

     Hall of Mirrors 2 Courtyard   Louis XIV The Park 2 3

     French Imperialism in Europe: Louis XIV's Wars


o   The Long-Term Weaknesses and Limits of French Absolutism

  Finances:  Aristocratic Exemptions, Tax Farming, Peasant and Middle-Class Tax Burden

  Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) and Huguenot Persecution

  Imperial Overstretch and the "Balance of Power": The War of Spanish Succession, 1701-1713

  The Inexorable Logic of Centralization: Alexis de Tocqueville's Theory of the French Revolution (1789) - The Old Regime and the French Revolution