Instructor: Dr. E.P. Fitzgerald
Synopsis: Our subject is the history of France from the Reformation to the eve of the French Revolution. We start with the ‘Wars of Religion’ – four calamitous decades of sectarian violence, civil war and foreign invasion. The response to this time of troubles was the making of a strong monarchical state. We study the organization of that state, the administrative elite that served it and the fiscal system that paid for it. We discuss the impact of state-building on the nobility, the peasantry, and the kingdom’s Protestant minority. We track resistance to expanding state power, especially the peasant revolts of the 17th century, and we question how ‘absolute’ the king’s rule was at the local level. We analyze the fiscal-military feedback loop generated by Louis XIV’s wars for European hegemony, and we look behind the glittering façade of Versailles to find a fateful existential challenge: rein in military spending and reform taxation or risk the collapse of the regime. How the successors of the ‘Sun King’ dealt with that challenge constitutes the final third of the course, which focuses on the origins of the Revolution.
But it’s not all politics; we also examine the realities of everyday life: the rural economy and lord-peasant relations, harvest shortfalls and grain riots, banditry and smuggling, social structure and class conflict. Students will debate whether certain aspects of the Old Regime – concentration of wealth and income, mechanisms of social mobility, forms of class reproduction – are not so different from those of our own society today.
Format: Two classes weekly, comprising lectures and discussions. Regular attendance is expected.
Texts: Pierre Goubert, Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen (Vintage paperback), plus excerpts from Henri Sée, Economic and Social Conditions in France during the 18th Century (available online).
Evaluation criteria: Attendance and participation; two tests assessing factual knowledge in context; a final take-home examination comprising questions of interpretation.