France achieved the absolute monarchy under the reign of Louis IV (1638-1715) who self-proclaimed himself as Sun King. He believed in “one king, one law, one faith”. He began controlling nobility, built strong military and standing army, salaried bureaucracy, improved economy and persecuted the protestant Christians (dragonnades).
Old Regime in Europe
- Europe was organised aristocratically (e.g., Venice was ruled by noble class, In England franchise was very limited, In Austria, Russia, Spain, Prussia, France Princes had absolute power).
- Reformation (16th century) and Counter Reformation (17th century) brought new ideas into the Christendom and removed the absolute hegemony of Pope in Rome.
Weak and inefficient control by outsider powers
- Germany: Under the presence of Holy Roman Empire, regional kings had no authority (e.g., there were 360 kingdoms in German empire without any absolute control).
- Prussia: ruler Frederick William II was busy in the partition of Poland rather than looking to French revolution.
- Austria: there were protest by the local linguistic groups such as Bohemia, Hungary and Netherlands against the imposition of German language by Joseph II.
- Italy: mere a geographical expression without any unity.
- England: just got the blow on its prestige with a loss in the American war of Independence.
When all these nations were busy elsewhere, French revolution didn’t face their unwanted interference.
- all states were aristocratic and oligarchic, while nobles and the clergy enjoyed unprecedented privileges.
- Privilege class paid little or no tax at all. While all expenses of the royalty came from money of the masses.
- Feudalism: where serfs enjoyed no rights while landlords took all benefits without any work. However, even before the revolution could began, there was substantial decline in the severity of serfdom in French society.
- Next to England, France had the most numerous, prosperous, intelligent and enlightened middle class.