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French democratic institutions before the Revolution

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hugoestr View Drop Down
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  Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: French democratic institutions before the Revolution
    Posted: 09-Mar-2005 at 23:43
What democratic institutions did France have before the Revolucion? How active were they? When was the last time that France had some semblance of democracy before 1789?
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  Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Mar-2005 at 09:20

The last representative assembly before the Revolution was the meeting of the Estates of the Pays d'Etats in 1614.  This of course was a vestige of medieval practice where the king made his case for his policies, the estates advised on state (and other) matters, and agreed to financing over what the king could realize from his royal estate revenues.

At that time, France was in the middle of another period of civil-religious turmoil, and Louis XIII and the "Barbons Gris" had had enough of obstruction and having to get consent....times had changed, the political situation was dangerous, and other, more "absolutist" methods were devised (often by extra-legal means).  It took a long while, but by the time Richelieu was secure in power, and the Huguenots supressed, France was beginning to be a more "absolute" monarchy.  Of course, this required the cooperation of the nobility, and that was not certain until after the Frondes of 1648 to 1652.

I do not think we can think of the Estates as democratic institutions as we understand them.  They were "representative" it is true, but only of the most influential groups of Nobles, Towns, Clergy, and a very few wealthier non noble land owners.  The 17th century movement toward stronger central authority with available financial means and standing military forces came out of all the turmoil and conflict of the religious wars, counter reformation, the Thirty Years War, and noble rebellions (and not just in France).  Representation became an agent of instability and was to be avoided.

Since "absolutist" rule could not have been done without the cooperation of the nobility and those who basically bought their way into the nobility, the "middle class" were cut out of the picture until all the pressures and abuses of the ancient regime could not be supressed.  That is when that middle class revolutionary thing happened that the French have been fond of ever since.  :-) 

 

  

 

 

 

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  Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Mar-2005 at 20:39
I really appreciate the answer, pikeshot1600. My knowledge of French history is very sketchy.

I had the sense that the French had an absolutist monarch for a long time. Now I know they did.
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  Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Mar-2005 at 21:44

Please don't think the king could do as he wished.......the cooperation of the noble elites (military and clergy) was necessary to implement the absolutism of the later 17th century and of 18th century France.

The influence and financial incentives the nobility had were crucial to the underlying structure of the "ancient regime."

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