France History – The Wars of Italy and the Struggle for Hegemony in Europe Part VI

France History – The Wars of Italy and the Struggle for Hegemony in Europe Part VI

But in addition to violent repression, in addition to the daily guerrilla warfare, the monarchy begins to have other weapons to tame feudality. The age of Francis I is the age in which the new French court begins to form, which is no longer the medieval court, with a distinctly feudal character, but the court modeled on the princely courts of Renaissance Italy, with only one center – the sovereign – and faithful servants around. According to, the court of Paris gradually draws the feudatars out of their provincial castles, to drag them into the king’s orbit, to make them dependent on his will and his purse. It is, for now, only the beginning of a long historical process which will have its conclusion in the age of Louis XIV: but it is already a significant change in the life of the great French feudalism. On the other hand, the creation of the standing army, and the agreement with the Swiss, gave the king the first safe weapons, which exempt him from the protection of the feudatars. The army depends on the will of the kings; and, through the Compagnies d’ordonnance, also serves to distract the best men from feudalism, making them pass to the royal service. But such an army requires a large availability of money. Now also in this field the monarchy has provided: in spite of all the complaints of the States of Tours of 1484, the taille it becomes a permanent tax, which greatly increases the revenue from the treasury. Another large asset of income is now provided by the sale of public offices, an expedient which the monarchy makes great use of in times of need. And then there are the great foreign bankers, in particular the Italians of Lyons, with whom the kings now form an alliance. The monarchy knows that it can count on them, even if it has to grant them a lot, mortgage rents and revenues, grant exemptions and goods and honors.

Finally, monarchical absolutism still progresses by virtue of the concordat of 1516 with the Holy See, which actually made the king the master of the enormous wealth of the French clergy. In fact, he has the right to appoint 10 archbishops, 82 bishoprics, 527 abbeys, as well as a very large number of priories and canonicates: and he can use them both to captivate the members of feudalism and to compensate those foreigners, sons of princes and merchants, that it is necessary for him to keep his bonds. From each tithing of the clergy, he portrays 200,000 ducats: and if the pope refuses consent for the tithing, the king equally impinges his coffers by convincing his clergy to offer him a gift “for the defense of the kingdom”.

Just a century after Charles VII had appeared at the mercy of events, the king of France was therefore the true head of his kingdom. And as the monarchy was strengthened, so the nation was strengthened. It has already been said that the reign of Louis XI represented a vigorous resumption of national activity, in all fields; and the rise continued under his successors, who were concerned with favoring the resurrection of the national economy with provisions in which some of the principles of mercantilism were already in germ. Louis XI had created the silk factories in Tours; Francis I created those of tapestries, both trying to curb that import of luxury goods which was deplored as a cause of waste, but which attested to how a high degree of economic well-being had been achieved. And the silk industry thrived in Lyon. It was a period of prosperity for the bourgeoisie, masters of trade and industry, and for the rural people, who benefited from the rapid increase in prices.

However, at a certain point the upward movement seemed to stop. Starting from the second-third decade of the century. XVI, in fact, we are witnessing this fact: the enriched bourgeois, instead of continuing to devote themselves to trade and industry, prefer to acquire public offices, or invest the money in rentes of various kinds that the state or cities offer, or limit themselves to pure financial speculation. Particularly the first fact was serious, such as that which distracted conspicuous forces from the productive activity, and increased the ranks of public officials at an impressive rate, increasing the nation’s passive budget as a whole. Meanwhile, high finance passes almost entirely into the hands of foreigners; and also the commerce de l’argent it is to the detriment of the manufacturing activity.

These germs of economic crisis were accompanied by other clear symptoms of social malaise in the working class. Contrary to what happened to the peasants, the artisans, especially those employed in complex processes (silk, fabrics, etc.) and therefore subjected to the will of the masters – who were at the same time industrialists, merchants and financiers – by the general rise of prices received considerable damage, their wages not changing. And already in the third decade of the century riots broke out in Lyon among the working class, against the city bourgeoisie. It is not surprising if in this environment, which is restless and in need of moral relief, too, the reform found widespread diffusion.

The Wars of Italy and the Struggle for Hegemony in Europe 6