Louis XV., 1715-1774
the Economy
France 1789-1792
the Economy
Louis XVI., 1774-1789
Domestic Policy
Louis XVI., 1774-1789
Intellectual Life

France 1774-1789 : the Economy

LOUIS XVI. ascended to the throne in 1774, inheriting a kingdom the finances of which were desolate. He appointed JACQUES TURGOT controller general of the finances; Turgot suggested a liberalization of the economy and an additional tax on land property, the CORVEE, which was vehemently opposed by France's nobility and blocked by them in the regional PARLEMENTS. When Turgot failed to get the corvee passed, he was dismissed; France declared BANKRUPTCY (in 1777).
The expenses of the royal household at Versailles continued to be excessive, and France's entry in the AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE didn't make matters easier. Another problem lay in the decentral organization of tax collection; the percentage of taxes collected which actually reached the court was too low. Swiss banker JACQUES NECKER, a critic of Turgot's policy of economic liberalization, was made director of finances in 1777; in 1781 he published COMPTE RENDU, in which it was stated that the kingdom's finances were sound; this statement obviously was made for publicity purpose, for he demanded more authority in order to introduce reforms, which he was not given. Necker resigned (1781).
His successors again attempted an additional tax on land property, CALONNE in 1786 wrote the Summary of a Plan for the Improvement of the Finances. The parlements continued to resist. In 1788, King Louis XVI. recalled Necker; at his advice he called the ESTATES GENERAL to assemble, in order to discuss the requested extraordinary tax.

Life was costly for noblemen; dress codes demanded them to wear expensive clothing, to a large part made of silk, and equally expensive wigs. Masquerade balls, to different themes, added to that demand. Noblemen were expected to live the lifestyle, i.e. lodge in chateaux, ride horse carriages etc.; law however forbade them to engage in any trade. They had to live of the exploits of their estates, which did not grow with the rising costs of (noble) living. Their main financial revenue came from the sale of grain grown on their estates. Measures such as import tariffs on grain made sure that the French market was protected and the grain prices remained high.
The royal treasury collected indirect taxes, such as a tax on the sale of grain (which Turgot failed to abolish); it rose the grain price even more. However, BREAD was the staple food; the peasantry suffered from high prices. In such a situation, the poor harvests of 1788 and 1789 added to an already explosive situation.

Tragedy of Louis XVI., timeline, from Tomball College, another one, more detailed, from French Monarchs
Louis XVI., biography, from World Civilizations at WSU
Biography of Jacques Necker, by J. Lynch, from encyclopedia.com
Biography of Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot, from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition; from Acton Institute
Calonne, from A Brief and Incomplete Chronology of the French Revolution
DOCUMENTS Les Monnaies de 1515 a 1789 : Louis XV., 1715-1774, from AssociationFrancaise de Genealogie, in French
France - Monnaie de Louis XIII. a Louis XVI., from Numismatique - Monnaie scroll down for Louis XV., in French
Medal : Completion of the Canal of Burgundy, 1783, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : New Breakwater at Cherbourg Harbour, 1786, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 9th 2004

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