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Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege

Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege: Nicolas Desmaretz and the Tax on Wealth

Gary B. McCollim
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege
    Book Description:

    ‘Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege’ examines Nicolas Desmaretz, one of the most important finance ministers of the Bourbon monarchy. McCollim brings to life the man who was arguably the central figure in the final transformative years of Louis XIV's reign. Controller General Desmaretz was the nephew of famed finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and had extensive experience in the administration prior to 1683 when he suffered disgrace. His expertise was so renowned in his day that other chief financial officials sought his advice in secret. Desmaretz has been called the ablest man ever to head French finances, and the war financing problems he faced from 1708-14 the greatest challenge faced by the Bourbon monarchy until the French Revolution. Desmaretz became one of the chief financial officials early in the War of the Spanish Succession and took full charge of French finances from 1708-15. In that time, he introduced one of the two most radical financial measures ever taken by the Bourbon monarchy: the ‘dixième’, a tax on income. This tax revolutionized the relationship of French elites to the Crown because it eliminated the issue of status that affected all other forms of taxation: the ‘dixième’ fell on all income, no matter the recipient. The tax lasted until 1717, appeared again during the Wars of the Polish (1733-35) and Austrian (1743-48) Successions, and became permanent, in a reduced form, as the ‘vingtième’, in 1749. The story of the ‘dixième’ has been oddly ignored by fiscal historians. In his rich analysis, McCollim lays out for historians precisely how the royal financial council actually made policy. His book establishes once and for all that from the perspective of state finance, and state taxation, the post-1710 French monarchy had left far behind the institutional framework of the seventeenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-828-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1710 the government of Louis XIV implemented a tax on income called the dixième (tenth) that required each property owner to declare the income that he received from any property that he owned. This tax violated one of the principles of French society at the time because it disregarded the social status of the property owner and only evaluated the tax owed on the basis of the income produced by the property. In effect, the new law disregarded the privileges that Louis XIV’s government had worked so hard to preserve or create in fashioning an ordered society. Previously, French...

  7. Chapter 1 The Fiscal System under Louis XIV
    (pp. 14-49)

    Governments depend on credit to survive. One kind of credit is the short-term loan that modern governments make to themselves. In other words, the government spends money in a steady, regular way that has nothing to do with the pace of revenue collection to pay those bills. Old Regime France could not lend money to itself. Instead, it borrowed money from financiers who were employed either as contractors or officeholders to collect taxes and send the revenues to the state. All of these revenue collectors employed similar methods for paying the state while collecting its revenues.

    One way of understanding...

  8. Chapter 2 The Rise of the Administrative Monarchy
    (pp. 50-88)

    Louis XIV’s reign marked the emergence of a new system of conciliar government that would endure with some small changes for the rest of the Old Regime until the French Revolution. Under the legal traditions of the Old Regime the king governed France by making law and policy in council. While the king was the source of the law, he could only make law, including tax law, in council. The King’s Council was a legal fiction that included a variety of committees and subcommittees. Louis XIV rearranged the King’s Council to suit himself so that policymaking only took place on...

  9. Chapter 3 Nicolas Desmaretz and Company
    (pp. 89-127)

    Nicolas Desmaretz, the second son of Jean Desmaretz and Marie Colbert, was born in Soissons on September 10, 1648.¹ He studied rhetoric and philosophy at a Jesuit school in Reims but did not complete his studies. His uncle Jean-Baptiste Colbert called him, at the age of fifteen, to the contrôle général des finances, where his parents corresponded with Colbert about his activities.² In the eighteenth century the Desmaretz family claimed four generations of magistrates prior to Nicolas. We do know that Nicolas’s grandfather was a procureur du roi in the bailliage of Vermandois and substitute procureur general in Laon at...

  10. Chapter 4 Handling Ideas for Reform
    (pp. 128-159)

    The court surrounding Louis XIV was the pinnacle of society of its day. The king, God’s lieutenant on earth, was surrounded by his servants and the great families of France in much the same way that God was said to be surrounded by cherubim, seraphim, angels, and saints, in the religious doctrines of the time. The king controlled France just as God controlled the universe. Unlike the deity, however, Louis XIV had to rely on intermediaries to execute his will and report to him about the activities of his people. Louis relied on government officials as well as people at...

  11. Chapter 5 The Establishment of the Dixième
    (pp. 160-193)

    When Nicolas Desmaretz became controller general of finances in February 1708, he found the royal finances in great disarray. Almost twenty years of expedients and war had dilapidated a credit system based on indirect taxation, the kind that most immediately suffered the repercussions of war. Like Pontchartrain in 1689, Desmaretz did not have time to prepare for new ways to finance France’s war effort. He had to find funds to support the campaign of 1708 and to establish credit for future campaigns until peace was restored.

    One of his first acts was to restore liberté dans les conventions (liberty to...

  12. Chapter 6 After the Dixième
    (pp. 194-220)

    The establishment of a new tax involved more than publishing a declaration. Now the French government either had to create a new bureaucracy to collect these funds, or had to give orders to the existing officials on how to handle the new revenues. In accord with previous practices, the clergy, the nobility, the various corporations of officers, and the pays d’états and their officers had to be pressured in some way to comply with the new tax. The problem of taxing the income earned by foreigners in France involved diplomatic issues as well. The pressures of war and the demand...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 221-228)

    This book has explored the political and economic thinking and actions of the government of Louis XIV during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the first decades of the eighteenth century, the so-called black hole of French historiography. The government at the end of Louis XIV’s reign needs a definitive history. Until that history is explored and a definitive synthesis written, we will continue to see syntheses and popular history relying on sources such as the Mémoires of the Duke of Saint-Simon, a man who created myths about the events he was describing and indicted Louis XIV and...

  14. Appendix 1 The Conseil d’en haut, or the Council of Ministers
    (pp. 229-231)
  15. Appendix 2 Members of the Royal Council of Finances under Louis XIV
    (pp. 232-233)
  16. Appendix 3 Controllers General, Directors, and Intendants of Finances
    (pp. 234-236)
  17. Appendix 4 Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 237-242)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 243-294)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-306)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 307-318)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)