Reviewed in 1996
Though very recent, the volume of papers edited by Neithard Bulst, Robert Descimon and Alain Guerreau, entitled L'Etat ou le Roi, les fondations de la modernité monarchique en France, seems a bit out-dated to this reader, since the conference where the papers were given occurred in the spring of 1991! Alain Guerreau's essay on "Ritualité..." drew my attention to Geoffrey Koziol's Begging Pardon and Favor (Berkeley, 1992), a book that lays foundations for understanding royal power grounded on the king's role as intercessor between the divine and his subjects. Guerreau moves very rapidly through various schools of thought. His critique of the "école américain" (meaning the work of Ralph Giesey and his students) — that ritual always seems to strengthen the monarch, not the state — is reductionist in the extreme. His query about where we ("l'Etat c'est nous") are in all this, is almost childlike in its anachronistic innocence. The summary of Richard Jackson's article on "the Sleeping King" is an attractive statement about the meanings of ritual, but Guerreau wishes to keep the sacred out of the state somehow, as if it were a contagion. Alain Guery's reading of Kantorowicz follows on this, pursuing the history of the king's two bodies, sacred power and temporal power. The general conclusion is that Kantorowicz did not really stress the religious enough in the formation of this theory.
Peter Lewis's discussion of royal clienteles in the 14th-15th centuries is an excellent and witty summary of everything that has been done on the subject in the last thirty years. His selection of sources makes for stimulating reading. After a glance at England, his conclusion is: "The problem of service in return for reward was the same in both countries" (p. 65). Mark Greengrass takes up the same subject for France, 1560-1620, and offers no startling conclusions that differ from the findings of Holt, Neuschel, Harding and Constant — and this is very much to his credit!
Alain Guerreau's discussion of feudal space in Europe is very general in comparison to Lewis and Greengrass. The book by Pierre Dockes on space in the economic thought of the 16th and 17th centuries (Paris, 1969) had completely escaped me, and I must read it to help understand Richelieu (who made all this a state secret), Colbert, and Laffemas and his group — and their sense of public space, so important for their generation.
Daniel Nordmann ventures into the labyrinth of rights and geographic spaces for the French state of the 17th century, a subject worked over years ago by Zeller et al, when "natural frontiers" were still a subject. Nordmann's is a work of recuperation, essentially, of work previously done by historians and all too often neglected by contemporary historians.
Michael Jones's study of Brittany in the late Middle Ages is a careful and extremely important overview of just what happened to make the French state different, and eventually dominant over rival "states" such as Brittany. His attention to the meaning of words is exemplary, permitting him to show that the Breton dukes had available to them all the Roman law on treason that the French kings had, and that they did not hesitate to use it. The discussions of administrative and client history is also very interesting: they make quirky comparative history between "center" and "periphery" seem ridiculous. In comparing ennoblement in Burgundy and in Brittany, it seems that barriers were raised in the latter state after 1450 (p. 130). This, however, is not seen as a reason for some inexorable decline in the Breton state. I particularly admire the summary of how noble families built for social and political prestige and power, with their constructions appearing to be quite a bit like those built by other "ambitious" families in other provinces.
Bill Beik's "Social Interpretation of the Reign of Louis XIV" follows neatly upon all this work and makes the book in general fall under the heading of continuity in techniques of governance and social-political relations. Beik notes that the decline of the political power of the magnates was a fait accompli before the Sun King's personal reign. The central issues are stabilizing rank and hierarchies rather than breaking them (Saint-Simon, with his obsessive attention to the dukes and peers, would not have agreed with Beik!), and a sharing resources raised in the king's name by provincial elites and the general government. There is perhaps too much of the pay d'état flavor to both Jones's and Beik's articles, but both authors make judicious comparisons of developments in different provinces. Beik's account of the central government of Versailles does not perhaps stress enough the sheer quantity of money that was raised and the principles of accountability and studied tax relief that were developed to do so. This point is made by Richard Bonney when he describes 1661 as a "governmental revolution."