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Challenge to Absolutism

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Louis XVIs failings as a monarch primarily account for the strength of the challenge to absolutism in France which existed by the beginning of May 1789 - How far do you agree?

Yes to a large extent it can be argued that it was Louis XVIs failings as a monarch that accounted for the strength of the challenge to the Ancien Regime. For example Louis' weak leadership meant he lacked the confidence to act assertively meaning he couldn't combat the growing strength of the privileged class and push through reforms. Moreover he was too easily influenced and took appeasement of the privileged too far instead of stopping them in their tracks. Although it could be argued that the power of the privileged accounted for the challenge to absolutism due to their self interest and corruption it is clear that without Louis weaknesses this would not of been such a serious issue and thus Louis failings remain the primary account to the strength of the challenge as he failed to keep control and influence within the privileged classes which in turn created difficulty when attempting the all important reforms. Moreover although the grievances could be seen as the primary reason and account for the strength of the challenge to absolutism it is clear they are not the most important. For example although it could be argued that the resentment from the third estate ,due to the tax burdens placed on them, mainly account for the strength in challenge it is clear that without Louis failures to reform and listen to the underlying issues within the country this may not of occurred. Thus meaning Louis' failures primarily account for the strength of the challenge. In addition the state of the economy could be seen as the underlying factor which led to a powerful challenge. For example bad harvests and inflation caused huge unemployment within the country causing the general populous to turn to alternative sources of information such as the Enlightenment thinkers, which in turn led to them questioning and challenging the Ancien Regime. Thus it could be argued that due to the questioning, resentment and political situation the economy caused the strength of the challenge to absolutism was great. However and in relation to Louis it is clear that if Louis was able to control the privileged classes, although bad harvests were out of his control, the situation could of been tamed and food riots such as the ones in 1789 may not of occurred.

To a large extent it can be argued that Louis' failings as monarch primarily account for the strength of the challenge to absolutism in the period as he failed to introduce reforms to resolve issues, appease the grievances of the third estate and made emotional decisions which cost the country economically with a 1500m Livre debt. Louis' decision to involve France in American War of Independence placed France in an unmanageable level of debt and by 1786 50% of income was being used to service debt caused by the war. The levels of debt were not sustainable in relation to the tax being collected due to exemptions and the inefficient tax farming. The war not only placed France not only put France in huge levels of debt but also highlighted the failings of the leader. In turn the debt led to a strong challenge to the Ancien Regime as it worsened the country economically. Due to this taxes had to be introduced which placed on the Third Estate, who were already carrying the tax burden of the nation, leading to greater resentment to the regime. Thus Louis' decision to enter the war not only worsened the economic situation but in turn increased the strength of the challenge to the Ancien Regime as the poor were placed into an even worse situation which led to their politicisation against the monarchy. However it is not just the problems which Louis created that led to the challenge towards the regime but also the failure to resolve them due to a weak personality. With the country on the verge of bankruptcy Louis called the Assembly of Notables in 1787 in an attempt to push through tax. However the assembly had a great level of underlying tension meaning little was achieved and the issues presented were not resolve. Louis' decision to call the Assembly instead of an Estates-General highlighted the isolation between the crown and the people and also his political weakness. The EG had the promise of being the resolution to the majority of the countries problems. Not only did it highlight the weakness of Louis but widened the distance between the Third Estate and the rest of the country as it meant they would not be heard in the forceable future. This accounted for the strength of the challenge to absolutism as it heighten the frustration of the Third Estate leading to politicisation of the estate increasing the threat they posed as many were looking to alternatives such as revolution or a national assembly thus undermining the monarchy. In addition Louis' bad decisions increased the friction between not only the monarchy and the 3rd estate but also the 1st and 2nd. For example the dismissal of Parlement in 1788 increased tensions between the king and the estates. Louis' failure to reform was highlighted by the dismissal of Parlement when reform was blocked. Not only did this further exaggerate the cracks in Louis' ruling but the nation was antagonised by a direct strike on the last strand of democracy which existed within the country. The decision to dismiss parlement was fatal to the monarchy as it encouraged the existing challenge to the monarchy and increased it greatly. Not only did it enrage the Third Estate but friction between a previous ally, parlement, was increased as seen by the Aristocratic Revolt. Thus Louis' failings a monarch account for the strength of the challenge to the monarchy in the period as he weakened his alliances which led to powerful classes to turn against him and further increased resentment in the lower classes who were increasingly becoming politicised.

However the power of the privileged class could be seen as the primary account for the strength in challenge as, due to self interest, they blocked the attempts to reform which may of resolved underlying issues and appeased the nation. Moreover they generated their own resentment through their unfathomable wealth and opposition to change. For example when the Assembly of Notables, members who were selected by the king, were called in 1788 and 1789 they disrupted the process of reform which Louis was attempting to initiate in response to the economic situation. This led to a growing strength in the challenge to absolutism as by blocking the reforms they stopped Louis from pushing through reforms which may of appeased the population and lowered the challenge to absolutism thus they are responsible as solutions were limited due to their actions leading to ever growing resentment and strength in challenge. However it can be argued that although they did account for some of the strength of the challenge Louis is still to blame as their actions could of been prevented. For example the Assembly of Notables were a group assembled by the king, thus Louis could of picked Notables who were in favour of reform in order to gain support. However in doing the opposite Louis' failure accounts for the strength in challenge as he failed to prevent failures which he could of avoided by logical thinking. Moreover by taking a sterner approach Louis could of overcome the resistance presented by the Assembly, thus his weakness and failings as a monarch remain the primary account for the challenge. Although it could be argued the feudal system and inequality which incurred was to blame for the challenge to the monarchy as it led to growing resentment. For example both the first and third estate were exempt to taxes and carried privileges which they received by venality. This led to a strong challenge to absolute monarchy as underlying resentment of the feudal system occurred due to the unfair taxes which placed a growing burden on the third estate. This led to a strong challenge as the Third Estate became politicised with such things as the Sieyes pamphlet which argued the third estate was everything and that they should rule, thus posing a great challenge to absolutism due partially to the burden placed on the poor by the privileged. However it was Louis failings which heightened the issue. For example although the privileged classes opposed change which hindered reforms it was also due to Louis that both reforms failed and that resentment grew. Necker, a favourite of the Third Estate, was released from his position due to opposition faced by Parlement and the Assembly. Not only did this lead to fledgling reforms but it drove a wedge not only between the crown and the privileged classes but also the Third Estate. Thus Louis' failings account for the strength in challenge as his weak personality meant the privileged classes had a great influence and were able to oppose his reforms which may of solved the residing issues within the country. Moreover he further increased the underlying resentment between the Third Estate and the First and Second Estates meaning greater politicisation and thus greater resistance to the monarchy. Although these issues may not of existed without the issues involving the economy.

To some extent it can be argued that the underlying failures of the economy primarily accounted for the challenge to the monarchy as the Third Estate became politically polarised and began to question the monarchy in great numbers. Moreover unemployment was common place leading to greater resentment and it is unlikely that without issues with harvest and monetary problems the Third Estate would of rallied up against the monarchy as they did. For example bad harvests which stemmed back to 1783 meant great inflation of prices and lowering wages. This meant unemployment was ripe and the supply of grain was dire with 88% of Parisian wages being spent on bread. Moreover a decline in the textile industry was seen with it shrinking by 50%. Due to this unrest was popular with such events as the Reveillon riots in April 1789. Moreover due to the ever increasing negativity of the situation the Third Estate became increasingly politicised. Thousands gathered at the Palais Royal to listen to controversial speakers leading to changing attitudes towards the monarchy. This led to a strong challenge towards the monarchy as due to the dire economic situation impatience grew within the Third Estate leading to civil unrest which spiralled in size posing a greater issue to the Monarchy, which only occurred due to the economic situation as it increased the friction within the country thus showing it was the primary account for the strength in challenge. Moreover the politicised Third Estate posed a great challenge to the monarchy as they were now questioning the absolutist Louis and became aware of his failures. In addition it is unlikely that without economic issues many would of turned to enlightenment thinkers who began to cause the Third Estate to challenge absolutism. Thus it is clear that the economic situation also accounted for the strength in challenge to the monarchy as it led to the Third Estate taking alternative political routes and further heightened the tension between the Estates and resentment to the crown. However it can be argued that it was Louis' failures that led to these economic problems and thus the challenge to the absolute monarchy. For example the involvement in the American War of Independence as stated previously heighten the severity of the economic situation meaning greater resistance to the monarchy which could of been avoided. Moreover Louis failed to reform and resolve tax issues which may of appeased the Third Estate and halted their challenging of the monarchy. Thus it is clear that Louis' failings on the whole primarily still account for the strength in challenge to the monarchy.

In conclusion it is clear that although the economic situation played an important role ,as it created an underlying issue which gave reason for the Third Estate to resent the Monarchy and led to strength as it politicised them, the issues could of been resolved be Louis. For example although the privileged classes posed great resistance to reform Louis may of been able to resolve the issues if he was sterner. Thus due to Louis' weak personality he was unable to solve the economic issues and appease the Third Estate thus allowing the challenge to absolutism to grow in size which could of been prevented. Moreover without Louis' failings the privileged classes may of been kept under control and thus not of antagonised the Third Estate leading to greater challenging of the absolute monarchy. Thus on the whole Louis' failings primarily accounted for the challenge to the absolute monarchy as it would of been possible to prevent the issues which caused a strengthening challenge if his leadership was stronger.

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