France's Change from an Absolute to an Enlightened Monarchy During the years 1661-1789

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France's Change from an Absolute to an Enlightened Monarchy During the years 1661-1789

An absolute monarchy is when the monarch’s actions are restricted

neither by written law nor by custom. Eighteenth century France after

the Hundreds Years’ war was in theory an absolute monarchy. The

absolute system of monarchy in France was supported by the Christian

teaching which said that your system in life is ordained by God. The

relationship between the monarch and his people was seen to be

paternalistic and Bolingbroke said in 1738, “The true image of a free

people, governed by a patriot king is that of a patriarchal family.”

However, at the end of the C18th all these beliefs came to be

challenged, primarily by the philosophes, in a period called the

Enlightenment. Significantly though, it was not until 1789 when the

French Revolution forced France to re-evaluate its system of monarchy

and rule that steps were seriously taken in the enlightened direction.

An aspect of all three monarchs which was in no way enlightened was

their refusal to delegate power away from themselves to anyone. An

example of this in Louis XIV was in March 1661, when Louis was just 22

and Cardinal Mazarin, the Premier ministre died. He decided not to

appoint another minister but rule totally alone. Louis said to his

officials “It is not time that I governed for myself…I order you not

to sign anything, not even a passport….without my command.” Like his

predecessors and successors Louis believed in divine right and he

believed that ordered authority was an antidote to chaos. Louis wished

to be “informed about everything, listening to the least of my

subjects” and so h...

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...itical detention for their

enlightened ideas, it is significant that in contrast to the bloody

fates of C17th freethinkers such as Bruno and Campanella, their

personal liberty was fairly unimpeded, which shows that France was at

least more enlightened than perhaps in past times. Louis XV has been

credited for the coup by some such as the historian Geoffrey Treasure,

as it “demonstrated a king introducing reform”- a step towards

enlightenment, although the reform itself was not liberating.

Concluding, the Enlightenment brought to the foreground the problems

with an absolute monarchy: the in competency of a sole ruling monarch;

the in-egalitarian nation “beset with financial problems” (William

Doyle); a lack of religious and political tolerance; and the peasants

“who sought greater economic freedoms” (Montjaye Vanfrey).

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