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Price: $155.50

Hardback 288 pp.
156 mm x 234 mm



Publication date:
November 2012

Imprint: OUP UK

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The Financial Decline of a Great Power

War, Influence, and Money in Louis XIV's France

Dr. Guy Rowlands

The financial humbling of a great power in any age demands explanation. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) Louis XIV's France had to fight way beyond its borders and the costs of war rose to unprecedented heights. With royal income falling as economic activity slowed down, the widening gap between revenue and expenditure led the government into a series of desperate expedients. Ever-larger quantities of credit, often obtained through fairly novel and poorly-understood financial instruments, were combined with ill-advised monetary manipulations.

Moreover, through poor ministerial management the system of earmarking revenues for spending descended into chaos. All this forced up the cost of loans, foreign exchange, and military logistics as government contractors and bankers built the mounting risks into the price of their contracts and sought to profit from the situation. There was already a problem with controlling royal contractors, who ran the entire financial machinery, but this only grew worse, not least because the government further indemnified and bailed out men deemed too essential to fail. In some cases entrepreneurs even managed to penetrate the corridors of the ministries, either as heads of royal agencies or even as junior ministers.

This added up to nothing less than an early military-industrial complex. As state debt climbed to astronomical levels and financial instruments collapsed in value France's chances of remaining the superpower of the age shrank. The military decline of a great power often goes hand-in-hand with its financial decline, but rarely so dramatically as in early eighteenth-century France.

Readership : Students, scholars, and educated readers seeking an understanding of the long-term origins of the French revolution; readers interested in the financial and economic difficulties faced by militarily-engaged great powers.

General Introduction
Part I: The strategic management of war and the financial chain of command
1. Geostrategy, international politics, and the burden of war, 1688-1714
2. The king, his ministers, and the direction of financial policy
PART II: Raising money, finding money, making money: sourcing revenue in an age of crisis
3. Taxing to the hilt? Structural weakness and falling revenues
4. Borrowing to the limit
5. Manipulating the coinage
6. Paper money and absolute monarchy
PART III: The degeneration of military funding and the rising costs of war
7. The treasury of the Extraordinaire des Guerres in the era of the Spanish Succession
8. The crisis of spending and appropriations in Louis XIV's personal rule
9. The overdraft of war: short-term debt and military finance
10. Rent-seeking in the military paymaster world
Select Bibliography

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Guy Rowlands is Director of the Centre for French History and Culture and a Lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV. Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701 (2002), shich was co-winner of the Royal Historical Society's Gladstone Prize (2003). Prior to his appointment at St Andrews he held teaching and research positions at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, and Durham. His research interests span western European history between 1660 and 1800, with particular focus upon politics, war, and finance. He has been a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2007-08) and a Senior Research Fellow of the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust (2010-11).

Writing History - William Kelleher Storey and Towser Jones
Overture to Revolution - Dr. John Hardman
Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution - William Doyle
Orientalism in Louis XIV's France - Nicholas Dew

Special Features

  • Explains how Louis XIV's reign ended in bankruptcy and France started on the road to revolution.
  • Offers a total view of a state's financial situation, and shows how military financiers dominated French finances in the early eighteenth century.
  • Explains how strategic overstretch can dramatically magnify the economic burdens on a state and society.
  • Shows how governments can mishandle unfamiliar financial instruments.