Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page

Paris under Louis XIV, XV, XVI

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Jang, Yoojin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction : Absolutism
II. Paris under the Brilliant "Sun"
III. Polishing Paris
IV. Rebellious Paris
V. Paris in the 18th Century
VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction
            Now, Paris, the capital and the largest city in France, is a radiant and mighty metropolis. It is culturally rich with ideas, thriving in numerous manufacturing industries especially in areas such as automobile and aeronautics, electronics, chemical and pharmaceutical, food and luxurious articles. Although the city benefited from an outstanding geographical position at the juncture of five rivers and its fertile soil, historical events have contributed considerably in shaping Paris.
            This paper will concentrate on the influence that the three Bourbon kings (Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI) had on Paris. Under these monarchs, Paris was able to undergo evident and substantial change and change itself into becoming into today's flourishing urban center.

II. Paris under the Brilliant "Sun"
            Louis XIV acceded to his throne in 1643 at the age of 5. He was obviously too young to feel threatening to the nobles in Paris. So the nobles and the Paris Parliament schemed the La Fronde, a long civil was in years 1648 to 1653; this took up the first two decades of Louis XIV's reign causing him to suffer from much poverty, misfortune, fear, and humiliation (Britannica Micropaedia : Louis XIV). It was only after Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661 that the French king could properly rule his country. The trials caused by La Fronde molded the character, behavior, and the values of Louis XIV who loathed and would never forgive either Paris, the nobles, or the common people. Paris became a disgrace and even the enemy. Thus, instead of ruling in Paris, he decided to permanently establish himself and the seat of his government in Versailles in 1682. Paris lost the opportunity to success and economic growth because the king no longer resided in the Tuileries Palace, where it served as residence for the previous kings. In fact, Louis XIV visited Paris only twenty-four times and never for more than a few hours. Versailles was the true center of Louis¡¯s realm; 5% of France's revenue was invested to simply maintain the colossal palace.
            The seat of power and scandals developed around the king at Versailles. The ministries and hundreds of nobles moved from Paris to Versailles with their servants. Even musicians crowded themselves to Versailles because to achieve prominence as a musician required the court's approval and (most importantly) the king¡¯s patronage. Jean-Baptiste Lully, a prominent creator of the French opera, came from Florence, Henri Du Mont came from the Southern Netherlands, famous French musicians Richard Delalande and Francois Couperin came from Paris. (Mokhtefi, p.27)
            Conditions were different in Paris. The once flourishing city became the home to hordes of vagrants and mendicants. In the middle of the 17th century, they consisted of one-tenth of the city's population. The city organized public work projects and the Church ran charities that were often more effective than the city's bureaucratic attempts. Vagabonds were also put aboard ship and transported to France's New World colonies, often as servants. The remaining elites in Paris moved to the suburb on the left bank of the Seine. The newly riches continued to settle in the district of Marais or Montmartre. So the center of the city was crowded with the rest of the population, common workers. For apprentices and workers, life was not easy. The major source of diet, bread was sold in extravagant price that it nearly took up sixty percent of their food budget, making life even harder. (Mokhtefi, p.34)
            Louis XIV proved himself to be a domineering king who would not accept any disapproval. In March 1667, the position of Police Lieutenant was created and Nicolas de La Reynie was appointed. (Mokhtefi, p.32) As head of the Parisian administration La Reynie was responsible for public order, justice, health, sanitation, and the economy in general. But his chief duties were preventing any expressions of disapproval of the king in Paris. When caught, the authors of such works were whipped, banished, or in extreme cases, employed as galley slaves.
            In 1667, oil lamps were introduced in certain streets of Paris. These oil lamps were used to lighten the city so that the people could see in the dark and avoid danger. However, the center of the city still remained dangerous, frequented by thieves and cut-throats. The attempt to wipe them out turned out futile since the city's small, poorly organized police force was incapable of eradicating the criminals.
            There were other unpleasant factors to Paris during the end of 17th century: stench and disease. The rivers surrounding and within Paris were the public sewers and dumps for city dwellers, slaughter houses, and pig farmers. Rats carrying disease were everywhere, traveling from sewers to the denizen's homes. The corpses in the cemeteries were barely hidden from sight. The city itself was filthy and it definitely lacked proper hygiene.
            La Reynie sought to improve sanitation. He hired more garbage collectors and street sweepers, while designating specific areas as city dumps. He transferred the skeletons from the cemeteries to the Catacomb's underground quarries. Unfortunately, his efforts made little impression. The city was still polluted with mud and filth, since most streets were unpaved and dwellers continued to throw out the contents of their chamber pots. Clean water shortage also was another chronic problem. There was a lack of water to bathe as people were polluting the rivers. Consequently, the nobles preferred soaking themselves in perfume rather than taking a bath. As for the commoners, they could not take bath at all. Public health care was not provided at all. Even if they were provided for the public, the treatments turned out mediocre.
            Even while Paris was experiencing chaos, the monarch managed to beautify the city and dedicated it to reflect his glory. For the planning of the new brilliance in Paris, the greatest part of the credit must go to Colbert, the king's superintendent of buildings and finance. (Britannica Micropaedia : Louis XIV) A city scale construction designs were planned. Louis XIV ordered the city's defensive walls to be destroyed and fill the empty gaps with tress; which later became the Boulevards. Also, the French Academy was founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635 under Louis XIV. In the following years Academy of the Fine Arts and Academy of Insciptions and Belles Lettres were constructed. Work on the Louvre was resumed in 1624 and was completed by Claude Perraults¡¯s magnificent colonnade in 1674. (Britannica Micropaedia : Louis XIV) Tuileries Palace was altered and opulently decorated. Beyond its gardens to the west, outside the walls of Paris, the tree-planted avenues of the Champs-Elysees were laid out in 1667. The Louvre, neglected for awhile, was in need of attention. Colbert invited Bernini, the famous Italian architect, to Paris. However, his project was rejected because Claude Perrault outwitted all of his rivals, even Bernini, in designing today¡¯s classic and unique colonnade of Louvre. Last but not least, in 1671 the Invalides were created under Louis XIV to come to the aid of old soldiers who had been forced into either begging for money or subsiding on church charity. So the institution of the Invalides was created in 1671 and quickly became home to a number of wounded and aged soldiers. The plans were carried out by Lionel Bruant, and construction was finished in 1676. The dome crowning the church is the perfect symbol of the splendor Louis XIV wanted under his reign.
            Again, tremendous trouble fell in Paris. The harsh winter of 1709 was particularly horrifying. The Seine froze over and wheat deliveries to Paris were blocked from January to April. In August, the royal house announced the beginning of excavation work to assist the poor. By four a.m. the following day, 6,000 unemployed people were on line for recruitment. Their pay was to be three pounds of bread and two sous per day, but the bread soon ran out. The workers rioted and soldiers attacked them, whereupon 15,000 men and women armed with sticks marched on the central market. Musketeers and other armed militia held them at bay and occupied the major intersections of Paris during the following months. What most disturbed the king were the posters posted around Paris, which attacked him, his conduct, and his government.
            Still, the city appeared amazing to people who did not see the reality the denizens suffered. In 1675, Paris became the center of European culture, with approximately 0.5 million inhabitants. And the population of France rose to 19 million in 1700, outnumbering the population of England by three times and that of Spain by two times. (Britannica Macropaedia : Paris)

III. Polishing Paris
            For a very brief period of time from 1715 to 1723, Louis XIV's brother Philip, the Duke of Orleans, exercised political power; Philip returned the center of authority and the future monarch (Louis XV) temporarily to Paris. But as soon as Philip died in 1723, the young king removed himself to Versailles. The motivation for this move, it seems was the desire to control the nobility more closely or perhaps it was simply to eschew the gaze of the Parisian population.
            The great grandson of Louis XIV, Louis XV still saw world politics as a game of family succession. As a result, Louis XV got involved into numerous wars. But France faced military loss. The royal house wanted to minimize the actual losses and made "defeat" a filthy word. Starting from 1742, the repression of publicizing such defeat was intensified and all printed matter was meticulously examined. Since 1728, the rolling press had been forbidden by royal decree. (Britannica Micropaedia: Louis XV) Yet, thousand copies of handwritten flyers and newspapers, all attacking the king and his government, circulated secretly in Paris.
            The Parisians did not consider Louis as an outstanding monarch. In fact, he was a useless one. Although he proclaimed that he would henceforth rule without a chief minister, he was too indolent and lacking in self-confidence to coordinate the activities of his secretaries of state and give firm direction to national policy. While his government degenerated into factions of scheming ministers, Louis abandoned himself at governing and instead made more court mistresses.
            The only positive thing that Louis XV left to Paris was probably improving and fashioning Paris. One of them is Pantheon (1755~1792), designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot. It was commissioned by Louis XV, after his recovery from an illness. Though it was built as the principal church in Paris, it was renamed as Pantheon by the Revolutionary authorities during the French Revolution. Louis XV's temporary residence in the Tuileries during his younger days encouraged development nearby, so that the Faubourg Saint-Honore expanded and became an aristocratic quarter. The garaden of the Palais-Royal became a center of elegant society. The Grands Boulevards began to be populated with houses, and the eastern stretch became a fashionable public area with little theatres and cafes. Villas built by nobles and financiers were scattered around this part of the city. On the southern course of boulevards was laid out and the routes were lined with trees and houses. Some of the houses that had been built earlier on the bridges were razed in 1786 till 1788. Water was supplied to both banks by two fire pumps, developed by Jacques-Constantin Perier and his father.
            But no matter how much he beautified Paris, Louis XV was an ineffectual leader who contributed to the decline of royal authority. When the king died in 1774, no body grieved. The population's major concern at the time was how to pay for another loaf of bread. His rule, in the end, contributed to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789.

IV. Rebellious Paris
            Unfortunately, Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XVI, was an ordinary man. He was a voracious eater and zealous hunter who had no interest in art, theater, and politics. Louis had no sufficient strength of power to make decision and make influence on the court. On top of this character flaw, he had another problem: Marie-Antoinette, his wife. She was beautiful and frivolous spend thrift. While Louis adored her, Marie had only disdain for him. The marriage between the royal houses of France and Austria was intended create alliance and confirm peace to forget the years of war and hatred. It was crystal clear, that the monarch was not a leader but merely a tool of the court and Austria to control political decisions.
            Meanwhile, France continued to be plagued by debt and inflation, which led to tremendous increases in the price of bread. The rise of grain prices was prevalent yet gradual since 1730. However, the cost shot up so high in the reign of Louis XVI. In 1789 in July alone, the price of grain rose by 127%, that of wheat by 150%, and that of rye by 165%. (Furet, p.102) After a few years, the purchase of bread that had accounted for 58% of the budget of the lower class shot up to 88%. The over overwhelming majority of the population had no resources for the purchase of anything besides bread.
            The significance of these figures was that these events lead to the Revolution in 1789. The ramifications for the overall economy were detrimental. Unemployment was dominant in half of Paris's households and textile and manufacturing sectors could not borrow enough money to run their system. Obviously, the French king who was residing in Versailles was enjoying his luxurious life and not noticing what is happening to his people.
            Neglected by the French king, the enraged Parisians started to worry about the future of their nation. Discussions and plans for a revolution that would change a monarchy into a republic were secretly plotted out. When the Third Estate planned for its election, it transformed Paris into a city more engaged in political activities. Newspaper columns and articles were printed along and pamphlets were distributed. Clubs were established, and political conversations were ceaseless. The whole population was involved. As revolutionary fervor took hold and fear led to panic, the dwellers sought weapons for defending the city.
            The Revolution finally ignited on July 14, 1789 when the Place dela Bastille was invaded by commoners. It all began when the king fired the head of government, Jacques Necker, on July 11. This action indicated his reluctance to acknowledge the achievements of the National Assembly such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the attempt for abolition of feudalism. The next day, furious Parisians protested against the stupidity that the king has committed. Paris was soon in turmoil with numerous clashes between the Parisians and the royal army. On the 13th, the bourgeois created a militia called the National Guard in Paris. The following morning, crowds of Parisians forced their way into the Invalides and stole 30,000 rifles and a few cannons. Now equipped weapons, the commoners marched on the Bastille freeing the innocent, slaughtering the guards, and beheading its governor. (Furet. p.212)
            A revolution and Parisians' anger was manifest. But Louis was still adamant and would not give into the popular demands of Parisians. Nevertheless, this did not last for long when in October 5, 1789, Louis XVI and his family - Marie Antoinette and their two children entered the Tuileries Palace in Paris, more as prisoners than as guests. Instead of waiting in the Palace for the rage of the people to burn down Louis plotted an alliance with foreign powers to regain the country by force; he was abdicated his responsibilities as a king once again. The royal family secretly left their home in Paris to join counter-revolutionary forces stationed outside France. In Varennes, in eastern France, Louis was recognized and the royal family was taken back to Paris. Revolutionaries condemned Louis a traitor and demanded him to be judged.
            When brought back to Paris he was trialed, sentenced, and executed. On January 21, 1793, in the Place de la Revolution, not yet named Place de la Concorde, the Parisians witnessed the termination of their last king in history.
            Unfortunately, things did not turn out so well even without the horrible king. The revolutionary forces, though successful, were suffering from lack of money that was needed to equip and feed the soldiers. As the problem became more drastic, Robespierre's government provided a series of radical measures called the Terror. During this period, nearly 6,000 people were guillotined in Paris and Paris was full of fear and stench of blood.

V. Paris in the 18th Century
            Paris under the Bourbon kings was a royal city, as opposed to the Christian city of churches it had been. Paris set the style; especially style for art and architecture. The king made final decisions for constructing new boulevards, bridges and squares, monuments, and other structures to fashion the city. For the first time since the Romans, urban organization was reborn in Paris.
            The Place de la Concorde, originally Place Louis XV, and the buildings that surround it were designed by Jacques-Ange Gabriel. This place later served as an important gathering place for the rebellious Parisians during the French Revolution. Gabriel also designed the Ecole militaire (the Military School), which was built to the west of Paris. Among the other construction projects undertaken during this period were the Royal Library, the Mint, the School of Law, and the School of Surgery. Louvre and Notre-Dame also went through major clean-up and construction modification. The city was beautiful; however, the commoners were more interested in fulfilling their hunger.
            In the second half of the 18th century, larger buildings increased in number throughout Paris. Apartment houses, schools, and theaters were erected to meet the needs of a growing population. Housing style began to develop differently in each social group. Those who had enough to invest on their homes decorated the interior while leaving the exterior simple and classic. Rental houses also flourished and reached new heights: six or seven floors in the center of town, and four on the periphery. Overall, the number of buildings increased along with their heights.
            Woods were replaced by stone and limestone rubble in the constructions of the era. And for the first time, rooms underwent specialization. In addition, stoves or fireplaces now appeared in most rooms of houses, as did lighting. Bathrooms and inside toilets, however, were generally absent causing too much sanitary problems.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2007.
1.      Mokhtefi, Elaine. Paris an Illustrated History. New York: Hippocrene Books, INC., 2002.
2.      Article Louis XIV. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, 15th ed. 1998.
3.      Article Louis XV. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, 15th ed. 1998.
4.      Article Louis XVI. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, 15th ed. 1998.
5.      Article Paris. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, 15th ed. 1998.
6.      Palmer, R. R., Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer. A History of the Modern World: to 1815. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, INC., 2007.
7.      Furet, Francois. Revolutionary France. Vol. 3. Massachusetts: Blackwell LTD, 2004.

Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page

Impressum · Datenschutz