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Versailles Revisited: New Work on the Old Regime

Munro Price
The Historical Journal
Vol. 46, No. 2 (Jun., 2003), pp. 437-447
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3133517
Page Count: 11
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Versailles Revisited: New Work on the Old Regime
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Abstract

Over the last thirty years, the absolute monarchy in France has been a subject of much controversy among historians. The traditional view, which can be traced back to Tocqueville, sees it primarily as an 'administrative monarchy', an essential step in the formation of a centralized French state. More recently, this approach has come under sustained attack from (mostly Anglo-American) scholars, who have emphasized in contrast the limits of absolutism, and in particular the persistent power of local and central elites in relation to the crown. In the light of these disputes, this article argues that the French absolute monarchy was above all a political compromise, in which neither crown nor elites had the definitive upper hand, but which could only function effectively through the co-operation of both sides. An aspect that has not sufficiently been stressed, however, is the fragility of the arrangement: it was ambiguous in practice if not in theory, and ultimately unable to deliver the resources necessary to sustain France's great-power status in the eighteenth century.

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