The Bourbon Monarchy of France was greatly responsible and contributes to the French Revolution of 1789. The revolutionary situation in France was created by the acts of omissions and commission of the French kings who were primarily responsible for the hopeless situation and the responsibility in this regard is to be equally shared by three Bourbon kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.
French Monarchy contributes to the French Revolution
The three French Monarchy that mainly contributes to the French Revolution are:
Louis XIV, the grand monarch’ raised the power and prestige of France to the pinnacle of glory, there is no doubt about it. But the seeds of the Revolution were sown actually during the “golden age” of his reign.
The political, social, and economic evils from which France was suffering in 1789 all owe their origin due to some actions of this impressive Bourbon king. He was responsible for making France the seat of absolute monarchy. Louis claimed that the king rules by Divine Right. His power is absolute and no man on earth can challenge his power.
Further, he robbed the nobles of any political power and made them attendants and sycophants. He centralized all powers in his own hands and established his personal rule. Also, he built the magnificent royal palace at Versailles and spent lavishly ornamenting the court with pieces of sculpture and architecture.
There was no control or check upon the powers of the king. While the nobles were turned into a useless class, he allowed them to busk under the sunshine of royal favor. He did not touch their privileges. The expenditure of money for the upkeep of Versailles, for pomp and grandeur, for maintenance of army and navy went on increasing and increasing but the king took no step to increase his revenue by taxing the nobility and clergy. The burden of state expenditure was met almost wholly from the income that came by taxing the men of the third estate, the middle class, and the peasants.
The king also did not summon the medieval assembly of France, the states-general, even once in his hit time, for advice or approval of his action. To make matter worse, Louis XIV fought four major European wars which drained away whatever had been saved by Colbert through his financial reforms. It is said that at the time of his death in 1715, the “Grand Monarch” had realized his follies and on his death bed he had advised his great-grandson and successor Louis XV to learn from his failures and stop wasteful expenditure and fighting wars.
Louis XV was also a worthless ruler. He spent his time in wine and women leaving the administration in the hands of his mistress, Madame Pompadour. From his time France was ruled by a band of greed. Selfish courtiers and nobles fleeced the people to fill their own pockets. Nothing was done to save France from political and social degeneration. Also, the gulf between Versailles and the nation went on widening. To cap the climax, two more wars the war of Austrian succession and the seven years’ war were fought during his time. These wars brought France near economic bankruptcy which precipitated the French Revolution.
The national debt of France increased further. The oppression of the nobles crossed the limit. The corruption in the court and church knew no bounds. Louis XV could sense what was coming after him “After me, the Deluge!” he lamented.
When Louis XVI became the king in 1774, the whole of France seemed to turn into a volcano. The eruption might take place at any time. It required strong hands to control and contain the situation. But Louis XVI was inexperienced and weak as a ruler.
He had not the tact and strong personality that was needed to deal with the situation. He got 15 years-quite a long period to remove the evils and abuses that erupt up in the French government and society. But he could not. The Bourbon despotism had nothing of the “enlightened features of “Benevolent Despotism” that characterize some governments of the 18th century. Also, the Bourbons were indifferent to the needs and well beings of their subjects. The common people mattered nothing to the monarchy. It was engaged in merrymaking, lavish style of living while France was learning. The court was corrupt.
King Louis XVI was under the control of his queen Marie Antoinette who did not allow the king to carry out the essential political and financial reforms. The nobles and courtiers did not see the writings on the walls.
For centuries, the men of the Third Estate were suffering due to social inequality and economic disparity. The privileged class-the aristocracy and the higher clergy would not surrender their privileges.
Louis XVI failed to improve the administration. He failed to root out the evil and unjust practices. He was helpless before the opposition of the Nobles and the higher clergy. The question of privilege lay at the core of all problems. The people wanted some measure of individual freedom but this would affect the privilege of the upper class, the first two estates.
For justice and fair play, it was required that the richer section should pay more taxes than the poorer section. But the nobles and higher clergy would not pay any tax because exemption from payment of taxation was their special privilege. They wanted to perpetuate their position as a privileged class while the common people-the bourgeoisie, the peasants, and laborers were to spend 80% of their total income for the payment of taxes.
The failures of the monarchy to abolish the privileges were the principal reason for the French Revolution. As Fisher has pointed out, “The French Revolution came because the French monarchy was unable to solve the question of privilege.”
Louis XVI could have averted the Revolution by tackling the economic crisis through an equitable system of taxation and curtailing the royal expenditure. Several ministers like Turgot, Necker, and Calonne attempted to do that. But they were dismissed due to the pressure from the queen and the selfish nobles.
The financial problem became more acute when France joined in the American war of independence and fought against England to help the colonists. This further drained away the resources and France became bankrupt. The treasury became empty. The national debt increased. There was a famine-like condition in France. Hungry peasants left their villages and crowded the city of Paris in search of food. Amidst such a revolutionary situation, Louis VI summoned the states-general to find out the solution. His last blunder was to side with the minority privileged class-the Noble and the clergy. The outcome was the French Revolution. The men of the third estate rose in armed work and it spelled the doom of the French Monarchy which was responsible for the untold miseries and sufferings of the French people.
History of Modern World
(15th Century to World War II)
By: BARBARA F.Jala
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