BECK index

France of Louis XV and XVI

by Sanderson Beck

France under Regent Philippe 1715-23
France and Cardinal Fleury 1723-42
Louis XV and Wars 1743-63
France under Louis XV 1763-74
Louis XVI and the British War 1774-83
France under Louis XVI 1783-86
France on the Brink 1787-88

France under Regent Philippe 1715-23

France in the Era of Louis XIV

      After ruling France for 55 years King Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 and was succeeded as king by his 5-year-old great-grandson Louis XV. Louis XIV had expanded France’s domain by ten percent and ruled a French empire that extended from Canada to Louisiana, the West Indies with trading posts in the Levant, West Africa, and India. Yet wars, starvation, and expelling Huguenots had impoverished peasants and reduced the population of France by a fifth. Royal finances were weak and had been satirized in Lesage’s play, Turcaret, or The Financier, in 1708. In 1714 Louis XIV had legitimized his sons by Madame de Montespan—Louis-Auguste, Duke of Maine, and Louis Alexandre, Count of Toulouse, as princes of the royal blood. According to the royal will his 41-year-old nephew, Duke Philippe II of Orléans, was to be chairman of the Regency Council, but he was only to vote to break a tie. The Duke du Maine was to be responsible for the young King’s education.
      Philippe of Orléans tried to stop reports of the transition from reaching Bourbon King Felipe V of Spain, though he had agreed not to rule France. On the day of the King’s death the Parlement began to gather in the palace of justice along with princes, dukes, and peers to arrange the regency. The next day Philippe promised to revive lost powers of Parlement, and he assured the Jansenists and Gallicans that he would not enforce the Unigenitus bull. The Parlement went along, as the absolute authority claimed by Louis XIV had died with his body. Following the views of Fénelon expressed in his novel, The adventures of Telemachus, Philippe was willing to be obstructed from doing evil while hoping he could be free to do good. He had the Paris Lieutenant General of Police, the Marquis d’Argenson, deploy 3,000 soldiers in the streets. Within one week Philippe II of Orléans had control of the government and appointed seven councils to help him and the Regency Council. Yet he made sure important issues never came up in the Regency Council. He appointed twelve members to each of the seven councils of Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Army, Navy, Home Affairs, Finance, and Trade. The presidents of these councils met with the Regency Council. Philippe released most of the prisoners from the Bastille except those who had committed serious crimes. Hundreds had been held by secret lettres de cachet including many Jansenists.
      On September 12, 1715 Regent Philippe and the child Louis XV held a lit de justice in the Parlement to ratify the decisions made in the Parlement. Philippe continued to live in the Palais-Royal, and King Louis resided nearby at the Tuileries palace. France was at peace, and the Army and Navy Councils used the time to make reforms, but the other councils had little power beyond consultation. Only Philippe could sign and settle government accounts. In the provinces the Intendants de finance, justice et police retained their authority.
      In 1715 the French government had 69 million livres in revenues but spent 147 million. The regent reduced the army to 25,000 men and exempted discharged soldiers from taxes for six years. The Dutch had abandoned the island of Mauritius in 1710, and the French took it over in 1715 and named it the Isle of France. In 1716 the villain-taxes were reduced by 3.5 million livres. To stop corruption the Chamber of Justice imposed fines as high as 12 million livres on more than 4,000 people sentenced for malversation of state funds, but the state treasury collected only a small portion of the 219 million livres imposed. On June 6 the Company of the West brought the first slaves to French colonial territory on the North American continent in Louisiana. Colonists in the West Indies persuaded the Parlement on October 25 to end the policy that slaves brought from the colonies to France would become free. In November 1718 Governor Bienville founded the city of New Orleans named after the French regent.
      France formed the Triple Alliance with Britain and the Dutch on January 4, 1717 and was persuaded to expel in February the pretender James III who fled to Rome. An edict dissolved the Chamber of Justice in March. On August 4 France signed a friendship treaty with Russia. That year the publication of the Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz reviewed issues prior to the absolutism of Louis XIV. Fénelon’s friend Cardinal de Noailles presided over the Council for Religious Affairs but opposed the Unigenitus bull. Yet in December the Regent replaced the Gallican Chancellor d’Aguesseau with the Marquis d’Argenson. The Abbé de Saint-Pierre favored the councils and published his Traite de la Polysynodie in 1718, and his criticism of Louis XIV caused the French Academy to expel him. Philippe dissolved five councils in September, keeping Army and Navy until 1722-23, but he increased the members on the Regency Council from 14 to 29 in 1719 and to 35 in 1722.
      John Law was the son of a goldsmith in Edinburgh and became an expert on banks established by England in 1694 and by Amsterdam, Genoa, and Turin. He had killed a man in a duel but escaped to Europe where he gambled and planned financial schemes. In 1715 he proposed that France declare bankruptcy. Philippe considered that too risky, but on May 26, 1716 he authorized Law to start a private bank that could issue notes. The Regent made officials accept the banknotes in transactions and as tax payments. In the fall of 1717 Law established the Mississippi Company (later called the Occident Company) to exploit Louisiana. Law hoped that issuing paper money would stimulate trade and manufacturing while centralizing government revenues, stabilizing the currency, lowering interest rates, and eliminating usurers. In this way France could gain power without using force. A year later Philippe offended Parlement when he registered his recoining decree with the Cour des Monnaies instead of with Parlement which reacted by banning circulation of Law’s banknotes. Magistrates called for uniting all Paris courts, and on August 18 they decreed that foreigners could not be involved in France’s finances. Eight days later Philippe, advised by the Abbé Guillaume Dubois and Saint-Simon, forced several measures through the Parlement while the capital was militarized to curtail opposition. In 1718 the city founded in Louisiana was named New Orleans after Philippe. Law offered dowries and 450 acres to families who emigrated there. Later prisoners who were vagrants and prostitutes were transported to Louisiana. They were poorly fed, and some died on the voyage.
      Philippe had tried to stay out of a continuing dispute between the dukes of Maine and Toulouse against the aristocrats and peers; but now the Regent reduced Maine and Toulouse to the rank of dukes, and he dismissed Maine and put François de Neufville, the Duke of Villeroy, in charge of Louis XV’s education. Pamphlets attempted to influence public opinion, and Maine and his wife criticized the Regent in Philippiques. In the summer of 1718 the Duke of Maine sent agents to Breton nobles who objected to their tax burden. They formed the Act of Union for the Defense of the Liberties of Brittany and called for a meeting of the National Estates General, and over several months more than 500 Bretons signed the petition. On August 2, 1718 the French expanded their alliance to include Austria and Savoy. Abbé Dubois had tutored Philippe, and on September 24, 1718 he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
      In December 1718 the Duchess of Maine secretly conferred with King Felipe V of Spain, and she conspired with his premier Alberoni, Ambassador Cellamare, and Cardinal Melchior. The Regent had the Duke and Duchess of Maine arrested, and he expelled the Spanish ambassador, Prince Cellamare. The Maines were held in house arrest, but the Regency Council pardoned them in 1720. The Duchess of Maine gave up politics and would court philosophers in her salon at Sceaux including President Hénault, Mme. du Deffand, Mme. du Châtelet, and Voltaire.
      On December 4, 1718 the government took over the bank and regulated its issues. Branches of the bank were set up in the provinces of Amiens, Orléans, La Rochelle, and Tours. Law purchased the shares of the Senegal Company for 1,600,000 livres, and in 1719 he took over the African and East Indies companies. In April a decree banned devaluating banknotes, making them worth more than coins. In July Law’s company was given a monopoly to coin and issue money, and in the fall the bank took responsibility for the national debt. The idea was to get the state’s creditors to invest in the economy by buying shares in the company which was already taking over the collection of taxes. The new company was called the Indies Company, and purchases increased the value of shares. By the end of 1719 the market value of all the shares was eighty times the worth of the gold and silver in France. Law became a Catholic and was made Controller-General of the Finances on January 5, 1720. Some people were becoming rich quickly, and for the first time a few were called “millionaires.” On the 28th a law set the value of the shares, which fell anyway converting them into banknotes. A share worth 1,300 livres could be taken to the bank and exchanged for banknotes. On March 2 the Prince of Conti brought three wagons and left the bank with 24 million livres in gold. The next day the Duke of Bourbon took away about 25 million livres in bullion.
      Increasing paper money was causing inflation, and in 1719-20 Louisiana suffered from a famine and an epidemic. The Paris police put the ex-governor of Louisiana in the Bastille for questioning the Mississippi experiment. Twelve printing presses worked around the clock to print banknotes to supply demand, and about 30,000 people had moved to Paris. A decree prohibited holding more than 500 livres in coins, and officials began searching houses for gold and silver. Law tried to reduce speculation by lowering interest payments on state bonds from 4% to 2%, but banks closed on March 24, 1720. By May prices had doubled, and the share value of the East Indies Company was 6,138 million livres. On May 21 he announced that there was too much money in circulation, and he devalued share prices and banknotes by 50%, which aroused so much anger that Philippe cancelled it a week later. By July the share value had fallen to 1,974 million livres. The bank closed its doors, and nearly twenty people were killed in a riot outside the offices on July 16. The Regent ordered the Parlement to meet at Pontoise twenty miles from Paris. On August 15 it was decreed that banknotes over 10,000 livres would lose currency in October, and the bank closed on October 10. Law, his sons, and some aristocrats had bought property, and on November 1 Law fled to Italy and never returned. Notes between 10 and 100 livres failed in May 1721. In the fall current accounts lost three-quarters of their value. Gold again became the only currency. A few people had made millions. About 500,000 people claimed losses from holding banknotes. High aristocrats had paid off their debts as had many peasants. Montesquieu satirized Law’s system in his Persian Letters in 1721.
      Abbé Dubois had tutored Philippe, and on September 24, 1718 he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He had already arranged a defensive treaty with England in 1716, and in January 1717 this had become a Triple Alliance with the Dutch. Spain had built a new armada and had invaded Sardinia and Sicily. On August 1, 1718 the French expanded their alliance to include Austria and Savoy. Nine days later an English fleet defeated the Spaniards at Cape Passaro near Syracuse. In December the Regent had Maine conspirators arrested, and he expelled from France the Spanish ambassador, Prince Cellamare. The Maines were held in house arrest for a year. The Duchess of Maine gave up politics and would court philosophers in her salon at Sceaux including President Hénault, Mme. du Deffand, Mme. du Châtelet, and Voltaire.
      In 1720 the bubonic plague killed 100,000 people in Marseilles. Bishop Henri-François-Xavier de Belsunce de Castelmoron stayed during the epidemic to help people while eleven of his twelve attendants became sick and died. Bishops and parish priests would play leading roles in governing France during the 18th century. They urged people to eat fish on Fridays and be abstinent during Lent and Advent. The Catholic Church owned about 8% of France’s cultivable land and collected tithes of 10% on agrarian income. The General Assembly of the Clergy met every five years. They negotiated so that they could make a free gift of about 2% of their income instead of paying taxes. Lower interest rates promoted industry, and they hired immigrant artisans. The Regent also invested in buildings, roads, bridges, and canals. Expanding trade abroad increased the number of French merchant ships from 16 in March 1719 to 300 in June 1720.
      Felipe V’s advisor Cardinal Alberoni had funded attempts to assassinate Philippe, and on January 9, 1719 France declared war against Spain. In June the Marquis de Pontcallec led Breton nobles, and Felipe V sent Spanish troops to the Brittany peninsula. On August 15 Rohan du Pouldu led the peasant resistance to the tax collection by soldiers. The French army of 15,000 men suppressed the rebellion by the end of the year, imprisoned eighty, and executed four including Pontcallec in March 1720.
      Dubois had arranged for Spain to be included in the Quadruple Alliance in January 1720, and in March 1721 France and Spain formed a defensive alliance. One year later they agreed on a double marriage pact. Felipe V’s 3-year-old daughter Maria Anna was betrothed to Louis XV, and Philippe’s daughter Louise Élisabeth was to wed Spain’s crown prince Louis of the Asturias. As a result of the banking bubble that burst and the war France’s debt by 1722 was nearly three times what it was in 1715.
      Decrees in 1718 and 1720 mandated the transportation of tramps and prostitutes to Louisiana. In 1720 an epidemic of the bubonic plague took 100,000 lives in the area of Marseille. Veteran soldiers often became bandits and smuggling gangs, and the most notorious highway robber Cartouche was executed in Paris in November 1721. Bribery had made Dubois a cardinal in July, and the next year he persuaded the Parlement to accept the Unigenitus constitution. Philippe was not very religious and allowed the writings of Voltaire, Fontenelle, and Montesquieu to be published. Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757) had entered the French Academy in 1691 and published the controversial De l'origine des fables in 1724 to refute popular superstitions and to suggest psychological factors.
      Louis XV moved from the Tuileries in Paris back to the great palace at Versailles on June 15, 1722. Villeroy refused to speak to the King on August 10 and was arrested that day. He was replaced by the Duke of Charost, but Cardinal Fleury and Regent Philippe were the only two that Louis really liked. On October 25 he was crowned Louis XV in Reims cathedral. On February 16, 1723 in the Parlement he was declared of age according to tradition on his 13th birthday. On August 10 Cardinal Dubois died of syphilis, and on December 2 the Regent Philippe died of a massive stroke. Philippe had increased his drinking and had a strong passion for his oldest daughter who had married the Duke of Berry when she was fourteen. She liked to gamble and ran up large debts as did many in the royal family.

France and Cardinal Fleury 1723-42

      André-Hercule de Fleury was born on June 22, 1653 in a noble family and was educated by Jesuits. He was Bishop of Fréjus from 1698 to 1715 when dying Louis XIV summoned him to court to tutor Louis XV. Fleury was elected to the French Academy in 1717 and was allowed to travel with the King in his carriage. In March 1723 he became a minister in the Council of State. In December after the death of Regent Philippe d’Orléans he urged that Duke Louis Henri of Bourbon be first minister. Fleury continued as an advisor and then retired. On March 4, 1724 an edict authorized the death penalty for theft, and that year a royal decree mandated primary schools in all parishes with catechism classes. Another prohibited heretical religious meetings with capital punishment for Protestant preachers.
      On March 8, 1725 Bourbon informed Spain that the marriage to the Infanta would not occur, and the French ambassador barely escaped from Spain. On May 1 Spain agreed to an alliance with Austria that France and Britain considered offensive. On August 15 Louis XV married by proxy the 22-year-old Polish princess Marie Leszczynska, and they were wedded on September 5. She would bear him ten children by 1737, and the oldest son Louis was born on September 4, 1729. The Duke of Bourbon had arranged the marriage, but he could not regain the trust of Spain. Also the 2% tax he imposed on income was severely criticized and led to his dismissal. A famine in 1725 led to riots over the price of bread in Paris, and Lieutenant-General of Police Hérault with the Controller-General’s authority developed better methods and forced provincial Intendants to build up emergency granary supplies by fixing prices, building roads, and securing international trade.
      On June 12, 1726 Louis XV insisted that Fleury be recalled, and the Duke of Bourbon and his mistress, the Marquise of Prie, were banished from the court to his estate at Chantilly. The next day Le Blanc replaced François Victor Le Tonnelier de Breteuil as secretary of state for war, and Le Peletier Desforts succeeded resigning Controller-General Dodun. On June 16 King Louis announced that he would rule himself as Louis XIV had. On October 8 Fleury repealed the 2% tax on the clergy who gratefully donated 5 million livres to the state, and on November 5 Fleury became a cardinal. Young Louis spent much of his time hunting, shooting about 250 pieces of game per day. With his wife pregnant most of the time Louis had a series of mistresses that included the Countess Louise Julie de Mailly-Nesle and three of her younger sisters from 1732 to 1745.
      Cardinal Fleury lived simply and made most of the decisions for Louis XV. The elderly advisor controlled the Council of Conscience. He tolerated Protestants but had Jansenists banned from universities, seminaries, and cathedral chapters. In 1727 Jansenists responded by publishing the inexpensive weekly Nouvelles ecclésiastiques newspaper. That year the saintly Jansenist deacon François de Pâris died, and his tomb in the cemetery at the Saint-Médard Church became a place where some believed they experienced miraculous healings. Henri François d’Aguessau was made chancellor again and worked on reforming and codifying the laws until he retired at the age of 82 in 1750. In 1729 Fleury was appointed provisor of the Sorbonne. The Council of Dispatches handled administration and judicial appeals. In addition to his secret Council of State the King had a Privy Council to “judge the judges.” Four secretaries of state handled foreign affairs, war, the navy, and the king’s house. The new Controller-General Philibert Orry (1730-45) revived the councils of Finances and Commerce.
      In 1725 Russia and Prussia had joined the alliance of Austria and Spain, and Europe seemed headed for war. French militia, which had been disbanded after the peace of Utrecht in 1713, were re-organized in 1726, and in 1727 the government took over from the colonels the arming of soldiers with muskets. Fighting in European battle formations required military discipline, and foraging was avoided to prevent desertion. Yet Fleury helped avoid war in 1727 through the Paris Peace Preliminaries. Then by the treaty of Seville in 1729 France allied with Britain and Spain which was allowed to keep its fortresses in Italy against Austrian imperialism. In March 1731 the treaty of Vienna ended France’s alliance with Britain.
      On March 24, 1730 a royal decree declared the Unigenitus bull a law, but the Parlement asserted the right of appeal against religious judgments. Forty Parisian lawyers published Mariamberg’s Mémoir pour les Sieurs Samson in October 1730 arguing that “the Parlements are the Senate of the Nation” and “the depository of public authority.” The King banned it on the 30th, but the lawyers and royal ministers agreed to a compromise on November 25. The Royal Academy of Surgery was founded in 1731, and barbers were no longer permitted to practice surgery.
      On September 7, 1731 the Parlement decreed that ecclesiastical authority is inferior to the Parlement’s, but the King annulled it. Fleury had Louis XV summon a delegation from Parlement to Versailles where he informed them that the King is their master, and the Chancellor read a royal decree that the Unigenitus law would be enforced. In the second half of that year about thirty peddlers were jailed for selling portraits of Pâris. The Jansenists called Fleury the “French Grand Inquisitor,” and by 1731 he had imprisoned about a hundred dissenters. On May 3, 1732 Archbishop Vintimille disciplined 21 Parisian curés for refusing to announce in churches the episcopal order against reading the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, and lawyers supported the Parlement’s strike from May 16 to 26. The government forced them to resume; but as Jansenists were being charged with lettres de cachet, seven chambers of the Parlement resigned between June 20 and July 10. That month Louis XV banished 139 members of the Paris Parlement, but they were recalled in December. On August 18, 1732 Fleury decreed that religious matters belonged to the Grand Chamber, but Parlement asserted its right to challenge them and went on strike again. The two sides finally agreed on a compromise on December 4.
      The French queen’s father Stanislas Leszczynski had ruled Poland 1704-09, and after the death of Poland’s King Augustus II of Saxony in February 1733, a French army helped Stanislas return to Poland where the Diet elected him king again. Russia and Austria backed Augustus III of Saxony. Fleury managed to keep the British and Dutch neutral while France allied with Spain and Sardinia and declared war on Austria on October 10. On November 17 Controller-General Orry imposed the tenth emergency tax to pay for the war.
      The Spanish forced the Austrians to withdraw from Naples, and Felipe V’s son Don Carlos entered Naples on May 10, 1734 and became the ruler of the Two Sicilies. That month the French occupied Lorraine and the Electorate of Trèves. Sardinians helped the French attack the Austrians in Lombardy. An Austrian army marched on Warsaw to support Augustus III, and Stanislas retreated to Danzig protected by the French army under the Count of Plelo. Outside the port city the French were defeated on June 30; Plelo was killed, and Stanislas fled. French forces had fared better on the Rhine, and with Spanish forces they defeated the Austrians at San Pietro near Parma on June 29. The French foreign minister Chauvelin was more militaristic, but this was balanced by the diplomacy of Fleury. Austrian Emperor Charles VI asked for peace, and on October 5, 1735 the French began negotiating secretly with Austria over the Polish succession.
      In 1736 Louis XV appointed Belle-Isle governor of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and he governed them until his death in 1761. In February 1737 Chauvelin was dismissed and exiled to the provinces. After long negotiations a treaty was signed at Vienna in 1737 and ratified in November 1738, confirming Augustus III as King of Poland. Charles VI’s daughter Maria Theresa married Duke Francis of Lorraine, who was given rights to the duchy of Tuscany. Stanislas was to govern Lorraine with an Intendant under France which chose Controller-General Orry’s brother-in-law Chaumont de La Galaiziere, who had been Intendant of Soissons 1731-36.
      In 1737 Abbé Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre published his Observations on the Continuous Progress of Universal Peace proclaiming the perfectibility of humanity through reason in science and government. Also that year in his Project to Perfect the Governments of States he proposed a Political Academy to advise ministers of state. His suggested reforms included universal education under the government (not the church), religious tolerance, married clergy, unifying French laws, state promotion of public welfare, and progressive taxes on incomes and inheritances.
      In 1738 Controller-General Orry required inhabitants to provide 15 days a year of compulsory labor (corvée) to repair roads, and this along with measures decreed in 1725 helped lessen the problems after poor grain harvests in 1738-41 especially in Paris, though Louis XV admitted that one-sixth of the French died of hunger. After the peace treaty of Utrecht in 1713 times were generally good in France, and the population increased from 21.5 million in 1715 to 24.6 million in 1740 and would continue to grow to 28.6 million in 1789 when the population of Paris reached 650,000. The main factors that increased population were not so much larger families as a reduced death rate because of better health and fewer famines and wars. France’s mortality rate in 1750 was 400 deaths per 100,000 people, and this fell to 350 in 1775 and to 328 in 1790. Aristocrats owned 20% of the land, the church 15%, and the bourgeoisie (middle class) 30%. The peasants were about 85% of the population and owned only about a third of the land. The Third Estate included the bourgeoisie and the peasants, and they paid about half their income in taxes.
      Fleury sent the Marquis of Belle-Isle as ambassador to Germany; but he negotiated a treaty with Friedrich II that got France into an Austrian war declared in May 1741. On August 15 French crossed the Rhine to invade Germany and Austria, and a Franco-Bavarian army captured Linz on September 14. Five days later Saxony allied with France against Austria. France was bound to support Spain against the English, and Belle-Isle led a French army into Bohemia and with Bavarian allies that captured Prague on November 25. Belle-Isle suffered from gout and could not fight. Count Maurice of Saxe led the French in the attack on Prague, and he had Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, crowned King of Bohemia. On January 24, 1742 Charles was elected King of the Romans, and on February 12 in Frankfurt he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. Prussia’s Friedrich II made peace with Austria’s Maria Theresa who was supported by the Magyars and was crowned Queen of Hungary. Austrian forces besieged the French in Prague. On December 12 the French retreated as Austrians occupied Bavaria. That summer Paris was wild with rumors and panic while the government put writers and pamphleteers in the Bastille. By 1742 the French had military barracks in about 300 localities. Cardinal Fleury’s health was failing, and he died at the age of 89 on January 29, 1743.

Louis XV and Wars 1743-63

      Louis XIV on his deathbed had given the 3rd Duke of Noailles instructions for Louis XV when he would assume power. Now the King learned that his great-grandfather advised him to “never have a favorite or a prime minister” and to consult with his council but make his own decisions. He also wrote, “If you must make war, lead your armies in person.” On June 27, 1743 about 36,000 British, Hanoverian, and Austrian forces defeated 23,000 French at Dettingen. On October 25 Louis XV formed the Second Family Compact with his uncle Felipe V of Spain. On March 15, 1744 France declared war on Britain and on April 26 against Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Louis XV dismissed the incompetent foreign minister Amelot on April 23. In May the King decided to lead his army into the southern Netherlands, but he took with him two of the Nesle sisters. France allied with Prussia in June against the Empress and supported the Union of Frankfurt which aimed to force her to restore Bohemia. Louis became very ill at Metz in August, and his Royal Almoner, Fitz-James, Bishop of Soissons, insisted that he banish his mistresses from there and repent for his sins. Louis did so, recovered, and was welcomed back to Paris as the Beloved (le-Bien-Aimé) King in November. By the end of the month he went back to his mistress Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, duchesse de Châteauroux. After she died on December 8, he was consoled by her sister Diane Adélaïde de Mailly.
      On February 28, 1745 Louis XV met Jeanne Antoinette Poisson at a masked ball in the palace at Versailles to celebrate the wedding of the Dauphin Louis to the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain. At the age of 20 Jeanne had married the son of the mint treasurer and said she would only be unfaithful with the King. By March she was living in the palace as his mistress, and her official separation from her husband was announced on May 7. On June 24 Louis XV bought the marquisate of Pompadour and made Jeanne Antoinette Marquise of Pompadour. He would spend the rest of his life in palaces within the Ile-de-France and never stayed another night in Paris. She attended the salon of Madame de Tencin and was soon entertaining Fontenelle, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. Louis XV conversed with her for hours almost every day. She became the King’s private advisor and gatekeeper, and the disliked Controller-General Orry resigned in December. Madame de Pompadour had established her own salon at Etiolles where she entertained Diderot, D’Alembert, Duclos, Hélvetius, Turgot, and other philosophers. In 1746 she helped Voltaire get elected to the French Academy. She had palaces built and decorated with luxurious furniture, and she set up a theatre at Versailles where she performed in plays by Molière and others.
      Maréchal de Saxe led French forces to victories in the low countries at Fontenoy over the British, Hanoverians, and Dutch on May 11, 1745 and then proceeded to conquer the Austrian Netherlands. Voltaire’s “Poem on the Battle of Fontenoy” was very popular. Also on May 11 the British besieged Louisbourg on Cape Breton, and 1,400 French surrendered on June 28. The French army was successful in the low countries as Ghent and Bruges surrendered in July and Dendermonde, Ostend, and Nieuwpoort in August. Marshal Saxe led the French army that besieged Brussels in January 1746 and captured it on February 22. In September they seized Namur, and they defeated the Austrian army at Raucoux on October 11. On July 2, 1747 Saxe’s army defeated an Anglo-Dutch force at Laufeldt near Maestricht, but the French invasion of Piedmont was defeated at Assietta on the 19th. The French besieged Berg-op-Zoom from July to September and seized 17 supply ships. Saxe’s army also captured the fortress at Maastricht on May 7, 1748.
      France’s Governor-General Dupleix led forces that took Madras away from the English East India Company in September 1746. The British navy blockaded French ports, demanding the return of their Newfoundland fishing fleet in 1747. That year Sardinians invaded Provence, and the French army led by Belle-Isle defeated the only invasion of French territory between 1715 and 1792. By 1748 the French had taken Nice and Savoy from the Sardinians. In the treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle signed on October 18 that ended the War of the Austrian Succession the French diplomats agreed to give up the Austrian Netherlands, return Madras to the British, and Barrier towns to the Dutch. Although they regained Cape Breton, many of the French complained that they were too magnanimous. This war had cost France about one billion livres.
      The Epicurean philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie published anonymously his L'homme Machine in 1748, denying that the soul is separate from the body, and he discussed the ethical consequences of this in his Discours sur le bonheur ou Anti-Sénèque. He believed that as complicated machines humans can ignore their own interests for the sake of others.
      In 1749 Controller-General Machault d’Arnouville imposed a 5% tax on all incomes. Madame de Pompadour chose Nicolas Berryer to be Police Lieutenant, and he ordered the arrest of vagrants and demobilized soldiers. In 1749-50 people in Paris heard of kidnappings by the police. In 1751 Louis XV founded a military school in Paris with 500 scholarships for nobles. Almost all officers in the army were aristocrats, and colonels hired recruiting sergeants to enlist soldiers by bribery, corruption, and press-gangs. About a quarter of the French army was foreigners who were mostly Swiss, Germans, Italians, Irish, and Hungarians. Debt and taxes had increased because of France’s participation in the War of the Polish Succession (1733-37) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1741-48). In 1750 France’s income tax was enforced by Intendants, and new tax officials hoped it would increase government revenues. In June the Assembly of Clergy began a campaign to revive clerical immunity from taxes, and in December 1751 the King conceded the church’s immunity; but in 1752 Controller-General Machault hired Voltaire and other pamphleteers to satirize the church’s arguments. In 1751 French military expenditures had been 256 million livres, and the annual interest the state paid on its debt was up to 72 million. French soldiers in March used bullets to disperse a Protestant meeting in the Cevennes. One year later a Protestant preacher was hanged at Montpellier, and another wave of Huguenot migration occurred in 1752.
      Christopher de Beaumont became the archbishop of Paris in 1746, and in December 1750 he ordered parish priests to deny the sacrament of the last rites to those whose confession was not certified as orthodox by a priest who had accepted the Unigenitus bull. On December 29 a priest died without the last rites, and Parlement remonstrated to the King on March 4, 1751. He also banned Jansenist priests from attending to the poor in the General Hospital. In March 1752 a confessor refused to give last rites to the respected Parisian priest Lemerre, and Parlement condemned the policy and on April 18 prohibited it in the city. The King reprimanded them and ordered silence on the issue. He ordered that grain surpluses be bought and stored as a reserve for famines; but this drove up the price of bread and caused starvation. In December the Parliament seized Beaumont’s property and urged peers to impeach him. Louis XV warned Parlement with Letters Patent, and Parlement drew up Grand Remonstrances. On May 5, 1753 Parlement suspended its services, and four days later the Royal Council issued lettres de cachet that sent most members into exile and transferred the Grand Chamber to Pontoise and then Soissons. The provincial parlements of Aix, Bordeaux, Rennes, and Rouen supported the exiled Paris Parlement, and they were later joined by Toulouse, Metz, and Grenoble. The prince of Conti persuaded Louis to recall the Parlement and revive the Law of Silence. Louis-Adrien le Paige published his Historical Letters on the Essential Functions of the Parlement to increase the legitimacy of Parlement.
      In 1754 French Governor Duquesne had a fort built where the Allegheny and Monongahela become the Ohio River, and the British began sending troops to stop French expansion in the western frontiers that connected Canada and Louisiana. That year France sent 4,000 troops that were captured and imprisoned by the British navy. The English also seized about 300 French merchant ships, and British colonists deported 8,000 French Acadians from Nova Scotia.
      In March 1754 civil war in France seemed imminent. Cardinal de La Rochefoucauld suggested a way to avert it, and on September 7 the exiled members of the Parlement were recalled and were ordered to refrain from disputes with the clergy. After Archbishop Beaumont reiterated his policy in early December, Parlement forced him into exile; but on March 18, 1755 he denied that the Unigenitus bull is a rule of faith. The Count of Stainville persuaded Pope Benedict XIV to issue the Ex omnibus encyclical on October 16, 1756 endorsing the Clergy Assembly’s position outlawing proofs of confession. Finally on December 13 the government ordered the Parlement to accept the papal bull, ending the controversy.
      On September 8, 1755 the French were defeated at Lake George in New York. Madame de Pompadour stopped having sexual relations with Louis XV in October, but she continued to advise him and said that he could have other mistresses.
      On May 1, 1756 France formed a defensive alliance with the Austrian empire. On the 20th a French squadron captured Fort St. Philip on the island of Minorca after defeating English ships. Two French squadrons were sent to the West Indies to protect merchant ships, and they captured British prizes. Genoa agreed to let French forces use Corsica for naval and military bases. In July the Parlement opposed increasing taxes for the war against Prussia, but a royal lit de justice pushed through the additional 5% tax on income on August 21. Another one forced Parlement to register the Edict of Discipline on December 13. This outlawed a judicial strike, and 140 magistrates resigned.
      On January 5, 1757 the unemployed servant Robert-François Damiens stabbed Louis XV with a penknife between ribs, and he was tortured and executed on March 28. On January 27 Louis banished sixteen magistrates, and on February 1 he dismissed Controller-General Machault and War Minister d’Argenson. On May 1 France made an offensive alliance with Austria. Madame de Pompadour got the Abbé de Bernis appointed secretary for foreign affairs on June 27, and in September he persuaded the King not to enforce the Edict of Discipline. Pope Clement XIII made Bernis a cardinal in November, but on December 13 Louis XV dismissed him from all his offices for having criticized Pompadour’s spending.
      On November 5, 1757 at Rossbach in Saxony the Prussian army of 22,000 men led by Friedrich II defeated 42,000 French who suffered 5,000 casualties and had 5,000 more captured. France provided large subsidies for Russia, Sweden, Saxony, and Austria and promised to support the empire with 100,000 soldiers in exchange for concessions in the low countries. About 32,000 Prussian and British allies defeated the French army of 47,000 men led by Prince Louis de Bourbon at Krefeld on June 23, 1758. France borrowed money, and the cost of credit increased.
      France had little money to support the colonies, and the British besieged Louisbourg on June 8, 1758 and captured it on July 26 as 6,600 French surrendered. Fort Duquesne was destroyed on November 26. Madame de Pompadour had helped the Count of Stainville become the ambassador in Rome and then Vienna; but he was recalled, and the King made him the Duke of Choiseul and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in December. Also in 1758 the Sorbonne condemned the atheistic De l’esprit (On the Mind) by Helvetius, and the Parlement of Paris ordered it burned in public.
      In March 1759 France made a third treaty with Austria. On April 13 the French defeated British and German allies at Bergen near Frankfurt; but after the British raided Le Havre in early July, the planned French invasion of Britain could not take place. On August 1 at Minden an Anglo-German army of 37,000 men defeated the French army of 44,000 led by the Marquis de Contades and Marshal Victor-François de Broglie. The British navy dominated the seas, defeating the French off Portugal in August. On September 13 a British assault captured Quebec. The Brest fleet was defeated at Quiberon Bay on November 20. The British navy had devastated French commerce. By 1759 the state’s deficit was about 200 million livres, and in September the Parlement was forced to impose a third tax of 5% on income and luxuries such as tobacco, carriages, lackeys, wallpaper, silk, and gold and silver plate. They also doubled the capitation tax on those who were exempt from the taille. That year France ended its ban on printing color on cotton so that their calicoes could compete with the English.
      About 2,000 French were overcome by 17,000 British and surrendered Montreal on September 8, 1760. The French governor at Pondicherry in southern India had only 700 men, and after a four-month siege they surrendered to the British in January 1761. On March 21 the French led by the Duke of Broglie managed to capture several thousand Prussian and Hanoverian troops at Grünberg; but on July 16 the French army of about 90,000 men was defeated at Villinghausen by about 65,000 German and British allies led by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick. On June 8 the British captured Belle Ile sur Mer. Spain, Naples, and Parma joined the French in the third Bourbon Family Compact on August 15. On September 17 Choiseul began negotiating peace, and on November 3, 1762 France, Spain, and Britain signed a preliminary peace at Fontainebleau. That year France demobilized 100,000 soldiers. The Treaty of Paris was signed on February 10, 1763 ending the Seven Years War. The French managed to hang on to its sugar-producing islands of Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe, and Martinique in the Caribbean, but they lost all their colonies on the North American continent.

France under Louis XV 1763-74

      On February 23, 1763 a new equestrian statue of Louis XV was installed in Paris. During the war he had remained in comfort with Madame de Pompadour and killed about a thousand stags while hunting. On April 24 Controller-General Bertin decreed a package of new taxes, and on May 3 the King went to Parlement to have them registered. On July 23 the Cours de Aides and its president Lamoignon de Malesherbes gave the King a report on poverty and the corruption in the administration of state finances, and they urged a convocation of the States-General. In January 1764 the Parlement ended the third twentieth begun in 1760 and the doubled capitation of 1761 but maintained for six more years the second 5% tax and the urban free gift (don gratuit). The package added a stamp tax and more indirect taxes. This lit de justice was resented by many.
      The Jansenist Le Paige had anonymously criticized lits de justice in 1756, noting that the old Frankish assemblies and Merovingian rulers had used these to get counsel from their subjects but that they had become despotic pronouncements. Attempts to enforce the registration were resisted in Rouen and Toulouse. Magistrates resigned in Rouen, and parliamentarians were put under house arrest in Toulouse. The Grenoble Parlement was sent into exile. Since Clement XIII had become pope in 1758, Jansenists had been opposing the Jesuits. In 1760 Le Paige had published his General History of the Birth and Progress of the Company of Jesus, and the Jansenist newspaper Nouvelles ecclésiastiques continued the campaign, blaming Jesuits for tolerating sin, amassing wealth, perverting boys, and being anti-French and despotic. In May 1762 the Paris Parlement upheld a ruling in Martinique that the Jesuit Order had to pay merchants of Marseilles 1.5 million livres for cargo seized by English privateers in 1755. In August the Parlement prohibited Jesuit organizations and activities in France. Louis XV officially suppressed the Jesuit Order on November 26, 1764, though he allowed 3,500 French members to live in France as private citizens. The Bourbon Family Compact was instrumental in persuading Pope Clement XIV V to dissolve the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in July 1773.
      Foreign Secretary Choiseul increased his power by appointing relatives and friends to high positions. Chancellor Lamoignon was disgraced and banished, though he refused to resign. Choiseul made the former Parlement president René Charles de Maupeou the Vice Chancellor and his son René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou the First President of Parlement. Controller-General Bertin’s fiscal program was withdrawn by November 1763, and the next month he was replaced by Clément Charles François de Laverdy. Three months later Laverdy banned publishing anything about his administration. He strictly enforced new laws against vagrancy for three years, and he freed the grain trade, which enriched landowners but led to many food riots. Duhamel du Monceau’s 1750 book on agronomy helped improve farming, and local agricultural societies formed in the 1760s. The government regulated print shops, and only its newspaper the Gazette de France as the “Official organ of the royal Government” was allowed to report political news between 1762 and 1787.
      Madame de Pompadour died on April 15, 1764, leaving behind her library of 3,525 volumes including 844 of French poetry, 738 history and biography, and 718 novels. She had spent more than 36 million livres but supported artists and artisans and left behind much art she had acquired for the government. After her death Choiseul became the King’s most trusted advisor. He reformed military recruiting, supply, and exercises. After complaining twice in 1764 about oppressive taxes imposed by the Duke of Aguillon, the Parlement of Rennes in Brittany suspended itself. Most members resigned in May 1765, and they did not resume until July 1769. Also in 1765 Buirette de Belloy’s play, The Siege of Calais, about six burghers sentenced to death by England’s Edward III during the Hundred Years War sparked wild patriotism, which was criticized by the Baron d’Holbach’s salon and other philosophers. Dauphin Louis died in December 1765.
      In recent years the court was being limited to nobles with a genealogy traced back to 1400, and many of these aristocrats filled state offices. Choiseul warned the King that France must become stronger to get back at the British by maintaining alliances with Austria and Spain, by building up the French fleet, and by improving military education and training. Nouveaux riches officers were blamed for losing the war, and they turned to aristocrats again. Soldiers lived in barracks and garrisons and had to swear loyalty to the King. After the death of Stanislas Leszczynski on February 23, 1766 Choiseul’s native province of Lorraine was annexed by France. On March 3 Louis XV bullied the Parlement of Paris into repudiated the Parlement of Brittany. Three days later he proclaimed before the Parlement his sovereign power as the sole legislator, and after two weeks the Parlement accepted his sovereignty. In 1767 he ordered that records and accounts be kept. He found that the careful study of newspaper reports was more useful than employing spies. On May 15, 1768 Genoa decided to pay its debt by ceding Corsica to France, which over the next year deployed 25,000 troops to maintain order there as Genoa relinquished its claim to the island.
      On September 16, 1768 the younger Maupeou was appointed Chancellor of France. Bad harvests starting that year doubled the price of grain. The wine harvest also failed. Manufacturing suffered bankruptcies and laid off workers. Voltaire published a History of the Paris Parlement under a pseudonym, criticizing its reactionary policies in 1769. That year the government reduced its fiscal obligations by lowering interest rates and suspending payments. In December the Controller-General Maynon proposed financial reforms, but Maupeou defeated them in the Royal Council. Maynon resigned, and Maupeou managed to get his ally, the Abbé Terray, appointed over Choiseul’s nominee. Terray had served the prince of Conti, and his reductions in military spending offended Choiseul’s clients. From September 1763 to March 1769 Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville, sailed around the world exploring Tahiti, Samoa, and the New Hebrides, losing only seven men out of 330.
      The beautiful Madame du Barry entered the court on April 22, 1769 and soon became the King’s mistress even though many believed she had been a prostitute. In 1769 business interests persuaded Choiseul to abolish the Company of the Indies which had a monopoly on Asian trade. French colonial trade increased greatly between 1763 and 1778. In the French West Indies (Guadaloupe, Martinique, and Haiti) about 20 million Europeans owned more than 160 million African slaves. Sugarcane and coffee beans were shipped to Nantes, Rochefort, and Bordeaux where they were refined and transported to central and northern Europe. This trade increased tenfold between 1715 and 1789, and by the 1780s was one quarter of France’s income. The circulation of gold in France went from 731 million in 1715 to two billion in 1788.
      On June 27, 1770 the King, arguing that state secrets were being revealed, stopped the trial in the Paris Parlement of the Duke of Aiguillon for malfeasance. Terray abandoned the free trade of grain and prohibited its export in July. Choiseul in August urged Spain to stop English settlement in the Malvinas (Falkland Isles); but Louis XV did not want war, and on December 24 he dismissed Choiseul and took charge of foreign policy. Madame du Barry persuaded the King to give Choiseul 300,000 livres and an annual pension of 60,000.
      Lawyers in the parlements had made the nobles of the robe as powerful as the nobles of the sword. On December 3 the Parlement had discovered that the new Edict of Discipline prohibited correspondence between parlements and protests against royal orders. Parlement opposed these, and on the night of January 19, 1771 musketeers woke up every member and made them agree to resume their judicial duty. The next day many changed their minds, and that night 130 members who refused were given lettres de cachet exiling them to various places and confiscating their offices. Maupeou and Terray were joined by Foreign Minister d’Aiguillon in June, and by the end of the year they had broken up the Paris Parlement and its network of jurisdictions and replaced it with a conforming Parlement. Most parlements were remodeled, but the troublesome ones in Rouen, Douai, Metz, and Dombes were abolished. In February 1771 Terray decreed that venal officers had to assess their posts, and the new hundredth penny tax on all offices deterred them from inflating their evaluations. He also forced those who had received their noble status since 1715 to pay 10,000 livres, raising six million. By reforming taxes, lowering the interest rate the government paid, and doubling tolls Terray managed to increase revenue by 15 million livres and save 36 million. On April 13 the King registered the triumvirate’s reforms with a new Parlement.
      The repression was severe, and the piles of literature seized from print shops and sellers filled store-rooms at the Bastille and included 6,000 copies of the latest Encyclopédie. The editors of the Gazette de France were replaced, and the government promoted its policies by publishing more than a hundred pamphlets that included some by Voltaire who considered the monarchy the lesser of two evils. The secret and anonymous pamphlets written by Helvétius, Raynal, d’Holbach, Mercier, and others outnumbered the government’s proponents about four to one. About half the anti-government publications were by Jansenists, who were about a third of those arrested. With the parlements silenced the Controller-General in November made the twentieth tax permanent and continued another twentieth until 1781 for a 10% income tax for the next decade. In 1772 they nearly balanced the budget, and the flurry of pamphlets diminished. By 1773 the worst of the economic recession was over. New assessments of indirect taxes to the Farmers General increased revenues by 20 million livres in 1774. King Louis XV caught smallpox sleeping with a young woman in late April, and he died on May 10. Louis XVI immediately had himself inoculated to prevent smallpox.

      The Journal économique promoted agronomy and good husbandry from 1721 to 1772. Physiocrats believed that agriculture created the greatest value, and they favored free trade and a liberal economy. Jean-Claude Vincent de Gournay was appointed intendant of commerce in 1751 and in 1754 translated Josiah Child’s Brief Observation Concerning Trade and Interest. In 1755 he was influenced by the French translation of Richard Cantillon’s Essay on the Nature of Commerce which asserted that wealth is produced from land by human labor to create sustenance and the conveniences of living. Gournay advised reducing economic regulations so that values and prices can be determined by supply and demand which reflect human choices. He believed that government should intervene only to protect life, liberty, and property or to stimulate production.
      François Quesnay (1694-1774) became a successful surgeon and in 1749 became physician to Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. The next year he met Gournay and decided to apply reason to economics. On September 17, 1754 he persuaded Louis XV to abolish all tolls and restrictions on the transport and sale of wheat, rye, and corn. Under pseudonyms Quesnay wrote articles for Diderot’s Encyclopédieon farms and grains. He favored large plantations and urged government to improve roads, rivers, and canals without imposing tolls in order to facilitate trade. In 1758 Quesnay published his Economic Table arguing that agricultural produce is the main source of wealth. He advised reducing regulations that impede the flow of money. He also wanted taxes on farmers reduced and replaced by taxes on the profits made by landowners whose luxurious lives distort the flow of income, and they should be collected by the government, not by private financiers. He became the leading physiocrat.
      Victor Riqueti, Marquis de Mirabeau (1715-89) inherited an estate and in 1756 wrote The Friend of Mankind, or a Treatise on Population. After meeting Quesnay he expanded this book to six volumes that had forty editions in his lifetime. In 1760 the elder Mirabeau published his Théorie de l’impot arguing that popular consent should be required to impose taxes, and he also recommended taxing income from land as most equitable. He criticized the tax collectors as parasites, and they persuaded Louis XV to have him imprisoned at Vincennes but for only eight days before he was exiled to his home at Bignon near Nemours which he turned into a school for physiocrats. In 1763 the physiocrats began the newspaper La Gazette du Commerce, and Mirabeau published in three volumes his Rural Philosophy, or a General and Political Economy of Agriculture Reduced to the Immutable Order of Physical and Moral Laws which Assure the Prosperity of Empires. In 1765 he purchased the Journal de l'agriculture, du commerce, et des finances. Mirabeau was called the “friend of man.” He criticized the tyranny of lettres de cachet, but later he asked the government to issue fifty so that he could discipline his family.
      In 1767 Lemercier de la Rivière published The Natural and Essential Order of Political Societies in which he recommended universal freedom so that society could attain wealth, population, and power through competition enlightened by experience and example so that all will contribute to the general good. In 1768 Pierre-Samuel du Pont de Nemours gave this group of philosophers a name when he published Physiocratie. He served Turgot as inspector of manufacturing and helped negotiate the peace treaty of 1783.
      D'Etienne Gabriel Morelly wrote his Essay on the human heart or natural Principles of Education in 1743 and his Treatise on the Qualities of a Great King in 1751 to describe a communistic society and then in 1753 the poem, Naufrage des iles flottantes, ou La Basiliade. His major work, Code of Nature, or The true spirit of its laws of any overlooked or misunderstood time, was published in 1755. He praised the communism of early Christianity and regretted that the Church sanctioned private property which he believed caused vanity, pride, ambition, villainy, hypocrisy, and viciousness. He suggested that children should be raised from the age of six to sixteen communally. Private property should be restricted to personal needs. Products collected in public storehouses could be distributed to all citizens. All capable adults are to work until they are forty when they can retire and be supported by the state. His Code was the first to publish the famous communistic principle: “from each according to one’s ability and to each according to one’s needs.”
      In 1763 the lawyer Simon-Henri Linguet became an ally of Morelly and criticized law and property. He published in the journal, Political Annals, (1777-92) arguing that the rich use the laws to protect their property from the poor. Employers pay employees as little as possible. When the unemployed beg, begging is made a crime.
      Abbé Gabriel Bonnot de Mably (1709-85) retired in 1748 and published eighteen books on history, morals, and politics during his lifetime, and many more were published posthumously. He also believed that property was the root of vice, and he believed that enforceable international law is essential to maintain peace with justice. He believed that the Indians practicing Jesuit communism in Paraguay were happier than Europeans. He felt that democracy is a good idea but that ignorance and acquisitiveness cause it to fail. He held up communism as an ideal toward which civilization should move by replacing competition with cooperation. He believed in breaking up land ownership so that peasants would have enough.

Louis XVI and the British War 1774-83

      Louis XV’s grandson Louis-Auguste was born on August 23, 1754 and was made the Duke of Berry. His older brother, the Duke of Burgundy, died in 1761, and his father, the Dauphin Louis, died in 1765 and his mother in 1767. Louis was especially influenced by Fénelon’s novel Télémaque, and in 1766 he printed maxims from that book. Louis-Auguste was a good student and learned Italian and English as well as French. On May 16, 1770 he married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette, the Habsburg archduchess, daughter of Emperor Franz Stefan (r. 1745-65) and Queen and Archduchess Maria Theresa (r. 1740-80); but the marriage was not consummated until after he had surgery in 1777. They had four children between December 1778 and July 1786 including two sons in October 1781 and March 1785.
      Ten days after he became king on May 10, 1774, young Louis XVI chose as his minister the 74-year-old Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Comte de Maurepas. Louis and his younger brothers were inoculated with small pox in June, making them immune. His Queen Marie Antoinette had the pretty Madame du Barry removed from court, and the King announced that only those of “recognized morality” would be presented. Louis believed he should always consult public opinion because it is never wrong. The Queen also opposed the Foreign Minister Aiguillon, and on June 2 he was replaced by the diplomatic Charles Gravier, Count of Vergennes, who arrived from Stockholm in June. Maurepas in July moved decision-making from the Council of State to committees, and he persuaded the King to dismiss Chancellor Maupeou and the Abbé Terray on August 24. In 1774 the annual deficit was 37 million livres and the national debt 235 million. The court at Versailles had about 6,000 people including 886 nobles plus 10,000 soldiers nearby. King Louis XVI began his reign by donating 200,000 livres to the poor and by forbidding collection of the coronation tax. The King had a good library, and he read Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion more than once and translated some of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
      Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-81) learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, German, and English and was elected prior of the Sorbonne in 1749. There he taught his philosophy of the progress of the human spirit. He attended the salons of the madams Geoffrin, Graffigny, du Deffand, and de Lespinasse, and in 1753 he wrote two letters on tolerance. He served as Intendant of Limoges 1761-74. He reformed taxes, organized civil service, allowed free trade in grain, abolished the corvée, and had 450 miles of roads built by paying workers. He urged people to eat potatoes as well as feed them to animals, and he was admired for his efforts in relieving the famine that started in 1768. In 1766 he wrote his Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, and he published it in the Ephémérides du citoyen in 1769-70. He compared the circulation of money to that of blood in the bodies of animals.
      On August 24, 1774 Turgot was appointed Controller-General, and Norman Miromesnil became Keeper of the Seals. Paris Police Lieutenant Sartine succeeded Turgot as Navy Minister. Turgot was a practical physiocrat who believed in governing by reason, and he promised there would be “no bankruptcy, no tax increases, and no borrowing.” On September 13 he decreed free trade in grain except in Paris. On November 12 Louis XVI recalled the parlements and increased their authority as superior courts of law. Press censorship was lifted in 1774 but was partially reinstated in 1777.
      Bad weather in 1774 doubled bread prices, and late in the year and in 1775 hungry people attacked bakers, rich farmers, and oppressive seigneurs. Angry mobs stopped grain convoys from leaving poor areas. In February 1775 Turgot implemented the Six Acts; the first four extended free trade in grain and eliminated unnecessary offices, and the other two abolished guilds and ended using peasant labor on roads (corvée). The parlements believed in different rights and duties for the three estates, and they were concerned about the equality implied in the Six Acts.
      In March bread cost twelve sous in the Ile-de-France, and in April the price doubled. Disturbances began at Dijon in Burgundy on the 17th, and ten days later riots broke out in Beaumont near Paris. On May 2 the King wrote to Turgot that Versailles was under attack. Turgot argued that officials who had lost their position with the end of regulation were leading the attacks. The King ordered his troops not to fire on the people and that the price of bread be reduced to two sous per pound. The next day angry crowds plundered the bakeries. Turgot ordered the Paris militia to protect the bakeries and the granaries while he arranged for foreign grain to be brought to Paris. Monopolists had been withholding grain to raise the price. When the price of bread became lower, the rebellion subsided. About 25,000 soldiers had quelled the riot and arrested 162 people. A wigmaker and his young companion were hanged for breaking into bakeries. During this Flour War the coronation of Louis XVI in Reims cost 835,828 livres, which was less than half of what his wedding to Marie Antoinette in 1770 had cost.
      On April 28, 1775 the millionaire Geneva banker Jacque Necker published his “Essay on Grain-Trade Legislation,” and Turgot sent out Condorcet and Abbé André Morellet to respond. The religious dévots were upset when the philosopher Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes was made Minister of the Royal Household in July. By the end of 1775 Turgot had lowered annual spending to 66.2 million livres and interest payment on loans from 8.7 million to 3 million. He also arranged to borrow 60 million livres form Dutch financiers at 4% interest. Yet Turgot had aroused opposition from nobles who objected to tax on land, Parlement for his persuading the King to override its vetoes, clergy because he favored religious liberty, tax farmers he wanted to replace with government employees, financiers he avoided with his 4% loan, and courtiers whose extravagance he criticized. On October 27, 1775 the veteran Count of Saint-Germain became War Minister and reformed the military by reducing the number of officer ranks, and he replaced bribery and corruption with promotion based on merit. He stopped hiring recruiters and had the army set up recruiting depots supervised by councils of five officers.
       On January 5, 1776 Turgot abolished forced labor, masterships, and guild wardenships, but they were restored in August. On March 12 a lit de justice enforced the Six Acts, and that night Parisian workers celebrated. As the news spread to the country, peasants rejoiced that the corvées had been abolished. Saint-Germain disbanded some regiments and courtier generals and then appointed those with technical competence. On May 2 France loaned one million livres to the Americans fighting the British. Miromesnil sided with the magistrates in the parlements, and Vergennes objected to Turgot’s opposing French support of the American revolution. On May 12 Malesherbes resigned, and Louis XVI dismissed Turgot and appointed the former Intendant Clugny, the Baron de Nuits. On June 30 they established a national lottery to raise money. A good harvest lowered the price of bread, and in September they revived regulation of the grain trade, the guilds, and the corvée. Clugny died on October 18. Four days later Maurepas advised the King to appoint the Genevan banker Jacques Necker director of the Royal Treasury, and the Catholic bailiff Taboureau de Réau was made his superior as Controller-General. Turgot urged Boncerf to publish his pamphlet, The Disadvantages of the Feudal Rights, but Parlement censured it.
      Also in June 1776 the Marquis Jouffroy d’Abbans moved a steam-powered ship on the Doubs River. War Minister Saint-Germain established twelve military schools in the provinces. Baron d’Holbach published La Morale Universelle to replace Christian morality, and he founded the Nine Sisters Masonic Lodge. On the last day of the year Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris to represent the American rebels.
      Marie Antoinette organized weekly balls in various palaces, and she still supported Choiseul, who had arranged an alliance with Austria in 1757 and her marriage. The King made Maurepas his chief on the Royal Finance Council, and he often met separately with ministers of the departments. On January 1, 1777 the Journal de Paris became the first daily published in France, but the Chief Almoner soon had it banned. Jacob Nicolas Moreau published his Principes de morale politique et du droit public, ou Discours sur l’histoire de France in which he advocated that everything should be done for the people but by the absolute will of their ruler.
      On May 28, 1777 France allied with the Swiss Cantons. After Taboureau resigned on June 29, Necker became the Controller-General; but he was excluded from the Council of State because he was a Protestant. The war in support of American independence against the British would cost France as much as the Seven Years War (1756-63). Necker greatly reduced the number of financial officials and made sure that venal officers were not taking profits. High court officials were prohibited from selling subordinate offices, and he replaced the General Farm collectors of royal revenue with salaried officials. Navy expenditure which had been 8 million livres in 1725 had increased to 33.2 million by 1775.
      Louis XVI and Vergennes had been sending secret aid to the American rebels since January 1776. Beaumarchais had bought weapons and equipment for 25,000 men, and transportation was arranged by the American ambassador Silas Deane. Benjamin Franklin arrived in France in December. In April 1777 the 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette left his pregnant wife to join the American army, and on July 27 he arrived with the Vicomte de Noailles and the Comte de Ségur. That month John Adams came to Paris, but he could not get along with Franklin and left. Saint-Germain resigned on September 26, ending a period of reform. On December 6 France recognized the United States of America, and they signed a treaty of friendship and commerce on February 6, 1778. That month Britain declared war on France which would contribute 18 million livres to the United States during their War of Independence. On July 11 a letter from Louis to the Admiral of France, Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre, confirmed that France had declared war on Britain. Louis XVI issued a loan of 80 million livres in December to reduce France’s deficit. In February 1779 La Fayette returned and asked for more aid for the Americans. On April 12 at Aranjuez the Spanish secretly agreed to join France in the war against the British, giving them a combined fleet of 140 ships to match the British navy of 150. In the West Indies the French led by the comte d'Estaing recaptured Saint-Vincent in June and Grenada in July. By August the French navy dominated the English Channel.
      On August 10, 1779 Necker obtained a decree to suppress the last relics of serfdom that harmed the poor and agriculture. In July a church assembly voted to give 30 million livres to France’s treasury. Necker on August 30 persuaded the King to stop using judicial torture, underground prisons, and to separate convicted criminals from those awaiting trial and from those arrested for debt. During the war in 1779 and 1780 Navy Minister Antoine de Sartine spent funds without authorization, and in October 1780 King Louis approved his being replaced by the Marquis de Castries. A second twentieth tax would be imposed for five years.
      In May 1780 France sent 7,000 men commanded by the Count of Rochambeau, and in July they landed at Newport, Rhode Island. Admiral de Grasse led the capture of Tobago on April 29, 1781, and their cooperation with General George Washington helped bring about the surrender of the British army under Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19. That year a decree required that only officers with four degrees of nobility could be promoted to a rank above captain. Spaniards and the French had besieged the British at Gibraltar with 13,749 men in June 1779, and they increased this to 63,000 in September 1782 but had to give up at the end of the war in February 1783.
      On January 19, 1781 Necker established the Hospital Administration. In February he published his Compte Rendu a Roi (Account for the King), and it soon sold 100,000 copies. He reported that the average annual expenditure of the government was 400 million livres, and he claimed that revenues created a surplus of 10 million; but he did not include the expense of the American War which was covered by borrowing and which made the annual deficit 46 million. Government borrowing increased the interest rate from 8% to 10% in the early 1780s. In April 1781 the King’s brother, the Count of Provence, revealed a memo by Necker to the King in 1778 that supported provincial assemblies. Local assemblies followed the tradition of the three estates with one quarter clergy, one quarter nobles, and half the third estate. A pamphlet war erupted. Vergennes criticized Necker who asked to be appointed to the State Council. When Louis refused this, Necker resigned on May 19, 1781. The elderly Maurepas died six months later. Joly de Fleury became Controller-General and levied a third twentieth tax. In the next two years while the war was winding down, France’s government borrowed as much as Necker had in the previous five years. Fleury was dismissed in March 1783.
      Maurepas died on November 21, 1781, and on December 12 Cardinal Christophe de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris, passed on after having given to the poor 500,000 francs out of his income of 600,000. In April 9-12, 1782 the Battle of the Saints off Dominica in the Caribbean destroyed 20 million livres worth of French shipping; the French suffered 3,000 casualties and had 5,000 taken prisoner. This disaster persuaded Parlement to levy a third twentieth tax for three years. The French and British began negotiating peace on May 7, 1782. On September 13 about 35,000 French and Spanish troops attacked the British fortress at Gibraltar. The long siege was not lifted until February 7, 1783.
      A preliminary peace treaty was signed at Paris on November 30, 1782 to end the British war against the United States, and France and Spain signed a preliminary treaty with Britain on January 20, 1783. Most of the territories taken since 1778 were returned except France was allowed to keep Tobago and territory they had regained from the English by the Senegal River and the island of Goree. The French lost some fishing rights off the east coast of New Foundland. France, Spain, and Britain signed the formal treaty at Versailles on September 3. The American War had cost 853 million livres. The annual deficit was 80 million livres, and the annual interest payments on France’s debt were more than 100 million livres. Before the war the debt service was about 30% of annual revenues, but after the war it was 50%.

France under Louis XVI 1783-86

      On March 19, 1783 the Royal Council established a School of Mines. Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne, became Controller-General of Finances on November 3 when France’s debt was 646 million livres. After becoming minister of state on January 18, 1784 Calonne attempted to implement several reforms to cut government spending, revive free trade, sell church property, equalize salt and tobacco taxes, and impose a universal tax on land; but the Paris Parlement issued remonstrances seventeen times, and the King did not enforce the measures. Calonne liked to gamble at night and often dozed off at the State Council meetings. In October 1784 Breteuil bought the chateau de Saint-Cloud for the Queen without asking Calonne. That year the linguist Valentin Haüy founded the first school for the blind in Paris, and he invented embossed characters on paper for reading.
      On April 14, 1785 Controller-General Calonne revived the Indies Company that competed against the British, and on July 17 the Council restricted British imports, causing a short trade war. On August 27 France and Spain redefined their border. France mediated a conflict between Habsburg Emperor Joseph II and the Dutch in the treaty signed at Fontainebleau on November 8, and two days later France allied with the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Calonne asked Parlement to authorize a loan in December, and on the 23rd the King forced them to approve it.
      Between 1775 and 1787 the King’s household expenses went from 4.6 million livres to 6.2 million. By 1787 Calonne had borrowed 635 million livres, adding 45 million to annual interest payments. He was criticized most for helping his court cronies profit, and he also patronized musicians and artists. His efforts mostly benefited the wealthy. Foreigners were investing in the government loans. He was advised by the physiocrat Dupont de Nemours, Swiss banker Etienne Clavière, Belgian banker Seneffe, and Count Mirabeau.
      France at this time had about 4,000 offices that ennobled commoners who attained them, and in the 18th century about 6,000 commoners purchased them. Nobles were less than one percent of the French population, but they owned about a quarter of the cultivable land as well as the commercial and financial sectors. About one-fifth of nobles were struggling so as not to fall into the Third Estate. Many French were becoming wealthy because of technological improvements in agriculture, mining, and manufacturing as well as in banking. About 7% of nobles were military officers. The government was involved in a large portion of the economy, and a position at court offered great opportunities for capital investments. Greed was replacing honor as a motivation for court favor. Fiscal policy tended to favor the older nobility. High aristocrats and military officers often managed to pay less in taxes, though some went bankrupt. This was sometimes prevented as charity was often proportional to one’s social status.
      From the 1730s to the 1780s agricultural prices in France increased about 60% while purchasing power decreased by about 20%. Land rents nearly doubled as the rich became richer. More food helped the population grow in numbers and size because of new crops such as corn (maize) and potatoes, because tax incentives helped more land be cultivated, because regions specialized in crops they could sell to Paris, and because transportation improved distribution. Sugar from the colonies was used with many products, and the Parisians’ consumption of sugar averaged ten pounds per year. In addition to weight gain this caused tooth decay and the development of dentistry. By working longer hours and having women and children work, the French could afford to buy more things. Homes were filled with better furniture, wallpaper, and curtains for windows, and people bought more clothes.
      The number of Masonic lodges in France had increased from 44 in 1744 to about 400 in 1774, but by 1789 there were nearly a thousand lodges. These groups were diverse, though mostly men, and they practiced religious tolerance. By 1773 they established formal elections. They emphasized goodwill, social welfare, and self-improvement. Henri Reymond published The Rights of Parish Priests in 1776 and suggested that citizen priests could help the people become the voice of God. In 1784 Louis XVI appointed a commission that included Lavoisier, Guillotin, and Franklin to investigate Mesmer’s theories of animal magnetism, but Mesmer left Paris in 1785. On January 7 that year Jean Blanchard and John Jeffries were the first to cross the English channel in a hot-air balloon.
      Queen Marie Antoinette did not like the King’s almoner, Cardinal Rohan, and the aristocratic Madame Jeanne de La Motte suggested to Rohan that he could purchase favors from the Queen by giving her diamonds she desired. La Motte hired the prostitute Nicole Leguay to impersonate Marie Antoinette at midnight on August 11, 1784, and on January 29, 1785 Rohan gave her an extraordinary necklace of 500 diamonds that Louis XV had given to Madame du Barry. Rohan promised to pay 1.6 million livres; but it was a fake, and the diamonds had already been sold separately. When Marie Antoinette discovered the ruse, she was livid and had Rohan arrested while he was preparing to say mass for the King. Crowds watched as the cardinal was taken to the Bastille prison. He was visited by the two princes of the blood and other aristocrats. On May 31 the magistrates found Madame de La Motte guilty and sentenced her to be branded and imprisoned for life, but she soon escaped. Cardinal de Rohan was arrested on August 15. A crowd of 10,000 demanded his release from the Bastille, and in May 1786 the magistrates voted 26-23 to acquit him. Louis XVI dismissed his almoner and had him sent into exile. In the pamphlet battle the legal brief (mémoire judicaire) was free of censorship, and the Queen’s reputation suffered. These briefs were printed in large numbers including 20,000 of the brief defending Nicole Leguay.
      A drought in 1785-86 killed many cattle, affecting peasants in the south especially. In June 1786 Louis XVI made a rare public visit to the new naval facility at Cherbourg. The Navy Treasurer Baudard de Saint-James invested 7 million livres of his own money. In August Calonne submitted his “Outline of a Plan to Improve Finances” by replacing the twentieth income taxes with a graduated land tax based on assessed property value. The King wanted to alleviate the plight of the common people and approved. British William Eden negotiated a trade treaty with France on September 26 that enabled imports of British manufactured goods to rise quickly from 16 million livres in 1784 to 27 million in 1788. Speculation in Paris property was spreading, and by the end of 1786 a counterfeit racket was exposed and caused the worst money famine of the century. Loans were called in, and the bubble burst. Workers were fortunate to be employed 250 days a year, and they worked about fifteen hours a day and spent about 60% of their wages on bread, the basic food.
      Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais wrote his play, The Marriage of Figaro, by 1778 but had trouble getting it produced. The Comédie-Française agreed to do it in 1781, but Louis XVI had the play read to him and said it would never be performed. In 1783 he cancelled an attempt at Versailles arranged by his Minister du Roi Breteuil. After various changes were made, The Marriage of Figaro opened in Paris on April 27, 1784. As people rushed to get tickets, three bystanders were killed. The play was an immediate success, had a hundred performances by 1787, earned the author 60,000 livres, was translated into several European languages, and Mozart wrote music for the opera. As the second part of a trilogy, the Count’s valet Figaro challenges and outwits aristocratic privileges, making fun of the nobles.
      Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) painted mostly portraits in the 1770s and 1780s, and his most famous works of this era were his Oath of the Horatii in 1785 and The Death of Socrates in 1787.

      Antoine Lavoisier was born on August 26, 1743. His father was an attorney for the Parlement of Paris, and his mother was an heiress. He studied at the College Mazarin and became a scientist. In 1763 he began working on a mineralogical atlas. The French Academy gave him the prize for his essay on the best way to light the streets of Paris at night. After he wrote papers on hydrometry and gypsum, he was elected to the French Academy in 1768. He invested in the tax farmers-general and worked with them. He persuaded Turgot to take over the private production of gunpowder and was appointed head of the committee in 1775, and their work improved French gunpowder. Lavoisier transformed chemistry by discovering and naming sulfur in 1777, oxygen in 1778 and hydrogen in 1783, and in 1785 he explained that water is a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gases. He urged the founding of a Royal Commission on Agriculture, and after ten years of research on his model farm he presented his report in 1788 that recommended clover and the sainfoin legume. He also introduced potatoes and beets. His wife helped in his laboratory and translated English works by Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish. In 1789 Lavoisier published his Elements of Chemistry (Traité Elémentaire de Chimie). He became Director of the Academy of Sciences and a deputy to the States-General. He promoted constitutional monarchy and worked on the commission of weights and measures. In 1793 he wrote Reflections on Public Instruction that included a plan for free public education. Marat had criticized him in 1791 for his work with tax farmers and gunpowder. Lavoisier was tried with other farmers-general and was executed by guillotine on May 8, 1794.
      The Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94) was a mathematician and philosopher. In 1781 he condemned slavery and urged abolition in his Reflexions sur le’esclavage des Negrès. He was admitted to the French Academy on February 21, 1782. In his reception speech he stated,

This union between the sciences and letters,
the bonds of which you seek to tighten, must be
one of the distinguishing characteristics of this century.
For the first time, the general system
of the principles of our knowledge has been developed.
The method of discovering truths has been reduced to an art,
one could almost say to a set of formulae.
Reason has finally recognized the route that it must follow
and seized the thread that will prevent it from going astray.
These first truths, these methods spread through all nations
and carried into two worlds, can no longer perish.1

He expressed the optimism that “truth has conquered; the human race is saved!” He predicted that each century will add new enlightenment to what has preceded and that progress will have no limit but the end of the universe. He affirmed, “Every scientific discovery is a benefit to humanity.” He hoped that the moral sciences would also advance along with the physical sciences by using mathematics and reasoning in regard to actions and consequences. In his last note in the speech he advocated abolishing the use of torture, removing imaginary crimes such as those related to religion and private morals except for rape and abduction, limiting the death penalty to assassination, giving the accused all the evidence in the case and the right to counsel and the right to challenge witnesses in the trial. In his 1785 Essay on the Application of Mathematics to the Theory of Decision-Making he suggested a better method of voting by ranking each voter’s preferences.
      In 1786 Condorcet published On the Influence of the American Revolution in Europe and dedicated it to Lafayette. He reviewed how French politicians realized that American independence would ruin England and help France prosper. He especially praised the human rights they had advanced including “security of person, which includes the assurance that one will not be disturbed by any violence … and the free exercise of which must be preserved in everything which is not contrary to the rights of another.”2 Next he listed “security and free enjoyment of property.” Third, the interpretation of the laws must be impartial and not arbitrary. Fourth, human equality must be the basis for the right to contribute to the making of laws. The American Declaration of Independence gave them an example of the sacred rights so long forgotten. In no other nation had they been so well known and preserved. Yet he noted that Negro slavery still existed in some of the United States to the shame of enlightened men, but he hoped that it would not long sully the purity of American laws. He also confirmed that freedom of the press had been established in America.

France on the Brink 1787-88

      On December 29, 1786 Louis XVI announced the convocation of the Assembly of Notables, and 144 met on February 22, 1787 for the first time since 1626. They learned that the annual deficit was up to 112 million livres. The Notables had extensive wealth in land and resisted Calonne’s tax; only two were not nobles. Calonne set up seven committees led by princes of the blood, but only Calonne’s former business associate, the Count of Artois, was able to get his committee to support the minister. The Marquis de La Fayette suggested convening the Estates General, and this proposal gained broad support. Calonne distributed a “Supplement to the Instruction” to inform the Assembly the King had endorsed his plan, and Louis sent out a printed “Notice” (Avertissement) to be read in churches on April 1. These failed, and one week later Louis XVI dismissed Calonne and replaced Keeper of the Seals Miromesnil with Chrétien François de Lamoignon. The ministers of War and the Navy also resigned.
      In the first half of 1787 Baudard de Saint-James and four other big financiers of the government declared bankruptcy. France signed a commercial treaty with Russia in January 1787. Foreign Minister Vergennes died on February 13, and the King did not replace him so that he could govern himself. Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse, became Finance Minister and chief of the Council on May 1. The Seal Keeper’s cousin Lamoignon de Malesherbes became a minister without portfolio, and he was supported by the philosophers Condorcet and Morellet. The Assembly still refused to pass the reforms, and on May 25 Brienne dismissed them. He had attended the salon of Madame du Deffand, and philosophers helped him get elected to the Academy. In June he appealed to Parlement which only agreed to free trade in grain and the cancelling of the corvée.
      On July 6 the Parlement opposed Brienne and demanded that the States General be summoned. The number of deputies from the Third Estate had doubled, and on July 30 the Parlement rejected a new land tax and a stamp tax that would have taxed credit deals. On August 6 a lit de justice imposed this and the land tax. When the Parliament objected, they were exiled to Troyes on August 14. On the 26th Brienne was recognized as the principal minister which pleased Marie-Antoinette, who was called “Madame Deficit” because of her extravagance. Four days later Louis XVI sent the Parlement into exile, but he recalled them on September 24. Brienne withdrew the two laws, and the restored Parlement agreed to impose two twentieth taxes for five years.
      On November 19, 1787 Brienne asked Parlement for more loans and promised a convocation of the Estates General in 1792 when the twentieths would expire. When no vote was allowed, the Duke of Orléans challenged the constitutionality. Louis XVI replied, “It is legal because it is my will.” Four days later Orléans was exiled by a lettre de cachet, and two of his supporters in Parlement were arrested, the King ended the exile of Orléans in April 1788. France’s 700,000 Protestants were given civil status on November 29, but on January 29, 1788 Parlement approved civil status without allowing them freedom of religion or access to office. On January 20 the Parlement had presented a list of grievances. On February 19 Abbot Gregoire, Condorcet, journalist Jean Pierre Brissot, and the Marquis de Lafayette founded the Society of Friends of the Blacks to help the 600,000 Africans in French colonies and to abolish the slave trade. In 1788 French slave traders shipped 29,506 Africans to St.-Domingue which had 480,000 slaves.
      Many workers in Paris had invested in government loans, and about 300,000 French were state creditors. To save money in January 1788 an edict eliminated 173 positions from the Queen’s household, and Brienne cut back the offices of the Controller-General. The Royal Household expenses had been about a quarter of the budget in 1726, but now were down to a sixth. In March the last budget of the Old Regime called for 629 million livres on expenditures and anticipated 503 million in revenues.
      Chancellor Lamoignon de Malesherbes cancelled the Parlement’s judicial and legislative powers on May 1, 1788. Two days later the Parlement issued its “Declaration of the Fundamental Laws of the Kingdom” which criticized arbitrary arrest using lettres de cachet, and they opposed removal of magistrates. On May 6 resistance leaders Jacques Duval d’Eprémesnil and François Goislard de Montsabert were arrested in Paris. On May 8 Brienne’s reorganization of the high courts suspended the parlements and replaced them with 47 new courts, and this was registered by the force of a lit de justice. The judicial power of parlements would be replaced by appeal courts, and a Plenary Court with the power to register legislation was formed from Parlement’s Grand Chamber and ministers of the crown, leaving provincial parlements with only a judicial role.
      Local parlements supported Paris, and popular uprisings broke out in Pau, Rennes, Grenoble, Brittany, and Dauphiné. On June 3 people in Rennes rioted against Brittany’s commander, the Count de Thiard, and intendant Bertrand de Molleville to block the exiling of their magistrates. The Parlement of Rennes proclaimed “that man is born free, that originally men are equal, and that these truths have no need of proof.” On June 6 Antoine Barnave’s pamphlet, “L’Esprit des Edits,” was circulated in Grenoble, and the next day people on roofs threw tiles at royal troops. An officer ordered his men to use fire-arms, and one civilian was killed; but the officer was arrested three days later to calm the situation. Parlement attacked the Commandant’s house and took control of the city, but on June 12 the magistrates obeyed the King’s order to leave town. Two days later an assembly of citizens convoked the Estates of Dauphiné for July. On June 20 the Royal Council declared the nobles’ assemblies illegal, but priests in Brittany did not dare announce the proclamation. Three days later the Parlement of Rennes reacted to the news by sending a delegation to Paris, and they published a letter from the Breton prisoners to Louis XVI. In Paris 10,000 troops were called out on July 6 to quell unrest in poor districts, and twelve noble delegates from Brittany were arrested on July 15. Four days later prices on the Paris stock market dropped sharply. On July 21 the three estates of Dauphiné met at Vizille and called for an Estates General to be convened.
      An Assembly of the Clergy met in the summer of 1788 and agreed to pay only 1.8 million livres of the 8 million requested by Brienne. He appealed to commoners to oppose the church and the nobles with an edict on July 5 asking how the Estates should be organized. On August 8 Brienne agreed to convoke the Estates General on May 1, 1789. On August 16 he reduced the interest paid on treasury bills to 5% and suspended some payments, and he also tried to mobilize public opinion against the parlements.
      Condorcet was one of the liberals who believed that the convocation of the Estates-General was reactionary and anarchical designed to sabotage the government policy of national regeneration through provincial assemblies. After Brienne was forced to announce the convocation of the Estates-General, Condorcet wrote a postscript to his Essay on the Constitution and Functions of the Provincial Assemblies. In his essay he affirmed that the purpose of every law is justice and that only reason can tell us what justice is. He wrote, “Truth and justice are the same in all countries and for all men,”3 and he urged the French to draw up a “declaration of the rights of man.”
      The number of political commentaries published in France between September 1788 and May 1789 may have been as many as four million. On July 13, 1788 a terrible hailstorm had wiped out agriculture in central France. The harvest was disastrous, and that summer the price of bread jumped from eight sous to twelve by October.
      On August 16 Finance Minister Brienne declared the French government bankrupt, and on the 25th Louis XVI dismissed him and recalled Necker to be Director-General of Finances; he was the first Protestant on the Council of State. After pushing through a tolerance decree for Protestants, Malesherbes resigned from the Council on August 28. His successor Charles Louis François de Paule de Barentin and Household Minister Laurent de Villedeuil tried to defend royal absolutism. The next day eight people were killed in riots. Marie Antoinette was rumored to be having an affair with the Count of Fersen, and they and the Polignacs campaigned against Necker. On September 11 Necker summoned the Estates General without any deputies from the colonies to meet on January 1, 1789, and the next day he released the Breton nobles. He made massive loans to the state to stabilize its finances, and on September 23, 1788 the King recalled the parlements, bringing rejoicing in the streets in which several people were killed or injured. Two days later the Parlement registered the convocation of the Estates General according to the rules of its last meeting in 1614.
      The Assembly of Notables met again on November 6 and acknowledged that all orders of society should pay taxes, but they opposed doubling the Third Estate or voting by persons. On December 10 six guilds of merchants published the “Petition from Citizens Living in Paris” by Joseph Ignace Guillotin, but the Parlement ordered its ban on petitions enforced. On the 12th five princes of the blood submitted a document criticizing ministerial policies that would create a revolution in government, and they urged the King to rely on the nobles. Many patriotic nobles were meeting often at the home of the parlementaire Adrien Duport as the Society of Thirty. On the 27th Necker and the Council of State met and agreed to double the representation of the Third Estate. People believed the King had taken their side and rejoiced, and assemblies of nobles in the provinces protested to no avail.

France’s Revolution 1789-95


1. Selected Writings by Condorcet ed. Keith Michael Baker, p. 5.
2. Ibid., p. 73.
3. Ibid., p. 86.

Copyright © 2017 by Sanderson Beck

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Britain of Georges I-III 1714-88
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