Louis XIV, Coronavirus & ECB (2/7) : The French Centralization

The Fronde[1]The French Fronde (1648-1653) started during Louis XIII’s reign and consisted in a confrontation between the royal power, power that Louis XIV’s father tried to settle, and the influence of both the nobility and the Parlement, in a difficult context: poor harvests, notably because of cold climate (Little Ice Age) and high taxes due to the cost of the war against Spain. For more details: ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, The Fronde – France (XVIIth Century), [Consulted on the 17th April 2020], available at : https://www.britannica.com/event/The-Fronde had forced the royal family to flee, humiliated, to the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the future Sun-King was born ten years earlier, in 1638, after the kingdom had waited for a dauphin for a third of a century[5]For the record, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria (born in 1601) married in 1615. When the Queen of France, at the age of 37, finally gave birth to a child, the Dauphin, this event was considered as a great joy and a sign of hope for the whole kingdom; nevertheless, his mother, Anne of Austria, [preferred] his younger brother Philippe, the future Monsieur; neglected by her, [Louis XIV] grew lonely and [closed in] early on, which perhaps contributed to his inclination to secrecy and concealment. Cf : LAROUSSE, Louis XIV. [Consulted on the 17th April 2020],  available at : https://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/personnage/Louis_XIV/130427. After having renounced to his first love with Marie Mancini, niece of Mazarin[2]Louis XIV passionately loved Mazarin’s niece. Mary’s compassion during the King’s illness, as well as the girl’s liveliness and intellectual and cultural curiosity, pleased the sovereign. But the latter, advised by the minister himself, had to give up this union. By doing this, Louis XIV carried out his first political act: he married the Infanta Marie-Thérèse of Austria, daughter of Philippe IV, king of Spain, in 1660 in the french town of Saint-Jean de Luz, near the Franco-Spanish border, in order to prevent a possible conflict with the immense Spanish kingdom, a conflict which finally occurred 27 years later with the War of Devolution. Contrib’City puts forward a hypothesis: would the renunciation of this love, coupled with the humiliation of the Fronde during childhood, have pushed the king to opt for a very harsh policy and to over-dimension his ego, even if he justified the latter under the name of Droit Divin (Divine Right) while refusing to consecrate his kingdom to the God of whom he claimed?, Louis XIV, helped by his minister Colbert, devoted his life to strengthening the royal power until transforming it into an absolute one. For this, he centralized the organization of the kingdom of France, first from Paris (Louvre Palace) and after from Versailles which became a royal city in 1662. At the end of the XVIIth century, the kingdom of France probably had 21.5 million people: France is a demographic giant, one in four Europeans lives in this country[3]BERNIER Isabelle, « La France au XVIIIe siècle est un géant démographique” (XVIIIth Century France is a demographic giant), Futura Sciences, [Consulted on the 8th April 2020], available at : https://www.futura-sciences.com/sciences/questions-reponses/histoire-france-xviiie-siecle-geant-demographique-9610/. Around 1700, […] Paris was by far the first city in France with 530,000 inhabitants, followed by Lyon (97,000), Marseille (75,000), Rouen (64,000) and Lille (55,000). [4] Even if, at that time, society was more than 80% rural, Parisian domination already showed that centralization was underway: the population of Paris was more than five times that of Lyon, the second largest city in France (in 2012, the ratio between the Ile-de-France and Lyon conurbations, the first two in France, was 1 to 10).

Centralization continued through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Empire and then the successive republics, with, in the era of the industrial revolution, not only a political but also an economic strengthening of Paris and its region. This centralization made it possible to unify the national territory by putting common rules, such as for example the imposition of a single language at the beginning of the XXth century (but with all the cultural and psychological trauma that this entailed, especially for children who were forbidden to speak their regional mother tongue at school). This unification brought together the living forces of the Nation, created economies of scale of national and local dimension, and strengthened the power of the capital. It contributed, from the Paris region, to the influence of France around the world, especially in North America, the Antilles and India.

At the end of the XXth century, France became a hyper-centralized country, concentrating 20% ​​of the population and 25% of its GDP (30% of GDP in 2019) in its capital region. Ile-de-France’s GDP, 669 billion euros in 2017[4]REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE, L’Etat en région (the [French] State through its regions), 30th April 2018. [Consulted on the 8th April 2020], available at : https://www.prefectures-regions.gouv.fr/Le-savez-vous/Votre-region-en-chiffres becomes comparable to that of a country since it is close to that of the Netherlands, that is to say 737 billion euros[6]STATISTA, Gross domestic product (GDP) of the Netherlands from 2007 to 2017 (in billion euros), [Consulté le 15/04/2020], disponible sur : https://www.statista.com/statistics/529063/the-netherlands-gdp/.

However, centralization in Paris and then in Ile-de-France also led to a strengthening of vulnerabilities in the health and socio-economic fields.

Additional bibliography[7]AUTOGRAPHES DES SIECLES, Mazarin Jules – les amours de sa nièce et de Louis XIV, [Consulted on the 15th April 2020], available at : https://www.autographes-des-siecles.com/produit/mazarin-jules-les-amours-de-sa-niece-et-de-louis-xiv/ [8]BÉLY Lucien, La France moderne. 1498-1789 (Modern France. 1498-1789), Paris, PUF, 2003 [9]GARNOT Benoît, La population française : aux XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (The French Population: In The XVIth, XVIIth et XVIIIth Century), Paris, Ophrys, 2005. [10]LAROUSSE, Guerre de la succession d’Espagne (War Of The Spanish Succession), [Consulted on the 8th April 2020], available at : https://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/divers/guerre_de_la_Succession_dEspagne/145407 [11]HERODOTE, 1702-1713 – Guerre de la Succession d’Espagne (War Of The Spanish Succession), le 18/12/04. [Consulted on the 8th April 2020], available at: https://www.herodote.net/Guerre_de_la_Succession_d_Espagne-synthese-84.php [12]REINHARD Marcel, “La population française au XVIIe siècle”  (The French Population In The XVIIth Century) in Population, 1958, p 619-630, [Consulted on the 8th April 2020], available at : https://www.persee.fr/doc/pop_0032-4663_1958_num_13_4_5734

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