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How successful was Louis of imposing absolute control on government in the provinces?
Louis throughout his reign was believed by his predecessors to be an absolute monarch but was this really true when put into practice. To achieve absolute power Louis needed more or less total control over everything that went on in the provinces. For example he needed to make sure the taxes which he imposed were being successfully collected and corruption was to a minimal. To some extent Louis was successful in imposing absolute power on the government in the provinces.
He passed laws which they didn’t like and they weren’t allowed to remonstrate until the law was passed meaning no chance for real negotiation. Although to another extent his successes could have been limited as yes they weren’t allowed to remonstrate until the law was passed but the parlements would still be informed about the policy and Louis would discuss it with them first hand showing the parlements still had some control. Furthermore some may say that Louis didn’t mean or intend to enforce absolute control in the provinces. He saw the need for compromise and realised it was in his best interest to do so.
To a certain degree Louis successfully imposed more control on the government in the provinces using his absolute powers. The government in France in the seventeenth century had many government bodies. Examples of these are the provincial governors and the parlements. Traditional historian’s believed Louis tried to reduce the powers of these government bodies to show he was gaining the absolute power he needed to be an absolute monarch. To begin with Louis took various measures to lessen the power of the parlements.
There were many steps which he took to do this. He firstly decided to cut their judicial wages by a third. Louis wanted to show the parlements he was the main leader in France and no one can question him. The wage cuts could also mean more money for Louis himself, to spend on his own interests. Being wealthy can show a person’s power in society even today, so by gaining more money it would be showing Louis absolute power over France is coming into effect. It would also come clear to the parlements that Louis is gaining absolute power over them and stopping him from doing so would lead to no good.
Next Louis created a law that parlements could not remonstrate until a law which was to be put in place was passed. If an act of remonstration was to arise before the law was actually passed than in Louis words they “must be executed quickly and only once.” Again Louis is imposing his absolute control over the parlements. Louis made all the final decisions, were the parlements had really no say in the matter, if he was to pass a particular law. Louis was the main leader and everyone had to come to him first to pass any type of law. He was the main man. This shows his absolute control over the provinces and the whole of France was successfully being put in place. Louis could do anything without the consultation of others. He could control France in his own way if he wanted to as he made the final decisions over anything which was to be passed by government or even the clergy. Laws would also be passed by Louis that the parlements did not like.
An example of this was when in 1714 Louis insisted a law was to be passed that allowed his bastards sons to take the throne if his legitimate family line ended. Many parlements did not like this law but were obliged to pass it as Louis would pass it any way as he is the final decision maker. Liberal historian’s believed Louis successfully imposed absolute control in the provinces. He was seen as an absolutist to them and his absolute powers were not always for good but in short term showed he was powerful. Louis made all final decisions and the government seemed to not have as much of a say as they may have liked too. The policies which he put in place to reduce the power of the parlements successfully showed him to be an absolute power over the government in the provinces.
Louis did not just try to reduce power of parlement but he tried to control the provincial governors too. He wanted not just one group of the government to be changed but the whole government to be controlled in his way. Louis wanted to show his absolute control was in place to everyone in the provinces. The provincial governors were usually part of the nobility of sword with ancient land holding rights, privileges and held important status in the particular province they worked in. They traditionally were responsible for raising money through tax collection in the provinces and day to day decision making. Louis tried imposing his absolute control over them too. He made sure taxes were collected properly and to his standards. He needed the right amount of money for him to spend and if they didn’t collect it to a satisfactory standard he would have words and they may be punished in some way. This shows if you cross Louis you will be punished and you needed to keep on the right side of him.
The provincial governors were nobility of the sword and were much easier to control. They had not bought their offices like the nobility of the robe. They needed to stay on his right side as they could be easily sacked. His absolute powers were shown through his banishment of Fouquet, who he thought was getting to big for his boots. He tried to disagree with Louis and was banished far away from the king in a rural area. Louis was showing his absolute control of his close companions too and his absolutism was coming through after this event. In some way he was successful in imposing his power over the provincial governors as they were less likely to disagree with him as they were allocated places in the government. The king was the ruler over everyone and to question his authority would be bad idea.
One group of people in the provinces who could have helped him to gain absolute control were known as the intendants. They gathered information for the king and supervised the enforcement of his decisions. The intendants were given reports on their progress from the king. If they weren’t doing their job properly then the king would lay down what he wanted of them or else they may be gotten rid of. Louis shows here that he has control over the intendants as if they cross him they will not be part of his governing bodies which most people wanted to be part of. Furthermore the Intendants were only allowed to serve in a particular province for up to three years. Louis made sure they had no family or financial connection with these generalities. This helped Louis to gain absolute control over them. Making them only stay in a province for up to three years would allow Louis to stop the intendants from becoming attached to the province they are in.
If the intendants were to stay in a province for too long they may become more lenient towards friends they may have made financial opportunities which could sway them from being loyal to the king. This allowed Louis to gain what he wanted out of the intendants such as they could spy on people in the provinces and see if they were being corrupt in any way. This allowed the king to control other people to as he would find out if a person is not obeying him first hand. Louis could then either punish them or give them are warning. Louis would issue the punishment showing his absolute power over the people and the government. The intendants would be more reliable if not in one place for too long allowing Louis to control them and the people in the provinces. No one would question Louis in the provinces and he made all decisions overall. This showed his absolute power over government in the provinces was successfully being imposed.
On the other hand however to another degree Louis power was limited by certain factors. In many areas he compromised and negotiated with government in the provinces rather than imposing absolute control. Even though Louis may have tried to gain absolute control there was still a lot of corruption among the government bodies especially by the provincial governors. The provincial governors collected the taxes for the king from people in the provinces. This may have help Louis build up his empire but the provincial governors would pocket some of the money for themselves meaning not all the money went to Louis. This shows Louis was not successful in imposing absolute power over the provincial governors. If he had absolute control all the money which the provincial governors collected would go to him. Louis did not always keep an eye on the government bodies in the provinces as he would be occupied with doing his own thing.
The provincial governors would also employ lesser nobles to collect the taxes for them to give to the king. Some were busy enjoying their own perfect lives using their position as part of government and friend to king. Nobles who were employed in the provinces would too pocket money from the taxes. The king would then receive less and less money. Louis absolutism was limited here as he would not always punish them for being corrupt but just let it go over his head. In his own mind Louis found it better to negotiate with the provincial governors of how much taxes he should receive.
The provincial governors were not that much threat to Louis in terms of uprising but he needed to keep them on side in order to ensure continued revenue from provinces. Again it shows Louis did not successfully have absolute control over the provinces. He had to negotiate terms with the provincial governors and did not have full control over what they did in their own lives as part of the government. Louis could not just change what they did as there could be potential for rebellion. Even though it was unlikely it was possible.
Consequently Louis powers over the parlements were not as absolutist as people may have thought. Yes he would not let the parlements remonstrate before the law was passed but more often than not he would discuss the law with the parlements first before he actually passed it. This shows he doesn’t have absolute power over the parlements. He did want other people’s opinions before he put a law out there meaning they could sway his decisions on the particular law. He did consult them on the law but he didn’t usually pass it without any discussions. His absolutism was limited as he shows he wants people to be on his side. If he was an absolutist he would not care about other people’s opinions on him. He did have the final say on laws but this was nothing new as forerunners took this on before him. Kings always have the right to formulate and pass laws. He was only doing what he was rightfully allowed.
Next Louis was also limited in imposing his absolute power on the parlements as they could either be his biggest supporter or biggest threat. They were not located at Versailles but lived by themselves away from the king. This limited Louis from keeping an eye on them as each member of the parlement was scattered around France. Louis could not control what they did as much as he would have liked as they were far away from him. Also Louis wanted to stay on their good side and didn’t want to try and control them too much.
There were still memories of the Fronde in Louis mind, when the parlements turned on his father and Mazarin. He did not want this to happen again as this would disrupt French society. Although Louis may have wanted to impose absolute power on the government in the provinces he could not go too far with his policies. He didn’t want any rebellions to happen among the parlements. He tried lessening the power so this would not happen during his reign. 2oth century historians say the extent to which Louis did have absolute power has anyway been exaggerated. Roger Mettam studied the provinces and it showed Louis ruled through cooperation. He didn’t take powers of parlements but made deals with them.
The government bodies in the provinces may have been the main part of Louis limited absolutism but there were other factors which may have limited him. The geography of France was one of these. France was and still is a large country, communication can be very hard. This would have limited Louis from keeping an eye on the government powers in the provinces. He could not be in each province at any one time and during this time the provincial assemblies could have made decisions without his say so.
Versailles was located on the other side of France to some provinces and government. This limited Louis from imposing his absolute control over the government in provinces as he was not in the middle of the discussions they may have as they are not located at Versailles with him. Communication between Louis and the government could limit him from knowing everything that that the government and the people in the provinces are doing. To be an absolutist Louis would have to know everything what was going on, so he can lay down the law to them.
Similarly his economic position limited him from being successful in imposing his absolutism on the government. He didn’t have the money to do what he wanted. Therefore he needed to keep the church and the government on side. Louis needed money to be raised for him for his own pleasure and for France to run smoothly. Provincial governors raised money for him, do he needed to keep him on side to ensure his taxes were being collected to a good standard.
If Louis had the money to be an absolutist he could have been but his financial difficulties limited him. The church needed to be kept on side as they were a big influence on his tax and money income. The divine right of kings could have influenced Louis to try to be an absolute monarch but this could have limited him too. It meant he needed to put the interest of the people of France before his own. Divine right of kings for Louis could mean cooperation with god so shouldn’t he cooperate with the people and government.
On the contrary one might argue that it wasn’t Louis intention to impose absolute control in the provinces. He recognised the need for compromise and conciliation and realised it was not in his best interest to simply dictate his will. Louis saw the need to discuss decisions with the government bodies for the country to run in the way he wanted. Trust between him and the government bodies would be a high. He liked being friends with some of the parlements and provincial government. Dictating to them rules and regulations and being overbearing would not allow this.