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Saturday, February 15, 2014

“Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc”, by William Beik


396 pages, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0521367820

Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc by William Beik is often considered the foundational text of a historiographical movement called “Provincial Revisionism”. Nearly 30 years ago, historians began to question the reality of an “Absolutist” state in 17th Century France; how was Louis XIV able to repress the power of the same nobility who had previously caused Mazarin and Richelieu before him so much difficulty? According to some historians, the answer was not in Louis XIV’s ability to “lure [the nobility] to Versailles and tantalize them with status shorn of power”, but instead it was in the relationship negotiated between the regional aristocracy and the crown. Known as “Provincial Revisionism” for the numerous case studies of specific French provinces – such as Brittany, Languedoc, and Normandy which support this argument – this view of French absolutism stresses the “compromises, negotiations, and the sharing of resources” that occurred between the provincial elite and the monarch.

In this study, Beik argues that Louis XIV “placated formerly rebellious provincial elites by providing them with ideological support, by sharing privileged tax flows with them, and by consulting them about certain governmental projects which reflected favorably on their reputation for magnificence.” Absolutism and Society spawned a plethora of further provincial case studies to determine if there were similarities in other pays d'état, or if the Languedoc was merely an exception to a rule. What resulted was an entire school of thought that centered on the idea of collaboration between Louis XIV and his nobility.

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