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How successful was Louis XIV in achieving religious unity in France in the years 1661-1715?

By MhairiVaughan May 11, 2014 995 Words
How successful was Louis XIV in achieving religious unity in France in the years 1661-1715? (24 marks). For Louis XIV, achieving religious unity in France was of major concern as it was a challenge to his absolutism. Being a devote Catholic, Louis wanted to unite France under Catholicism as the presence of other unorthodox religions meant that Louis was not supported in every way, like an absolute King should be. Many, including Louis, saw the King of France to be ‘The Most Christian King’, and so, in order to comply with this, achieving religious unity would be essential. Throughout his reign Louis XIV attempted to persecute other religious groups within France such as the Huguenots, Jansenists and the Quietists, his success and the consequences in doing so effectively decided his overall success in achieving unity. In many ways Louis XIV had successes in his aim for religious unity, as his earlier tactics to persecute the Huguenots seemed to be working. Between 1661 and 1679 successful restrictions were made on Huguenot activity and many were bribed to abandon their faith. The casse des conversions resulted in a steady pace of conversions, its leader, Paul Pellisson, claimed to have converted 50,000 Huguenots at ten livres a head. Along with this in 1668, one of the Kings best generals converted from a Huguenots to a Catholic, a major setback to Huguenot morale in France. Between these earlier years the size of Huguenot numbers fell from 2 million to 1 ¼ million and it seemed to be continuing; Louis attempt to gain religious unity was succeeding. The Edict of the Fontainebleu which made Protestantism illegal was well supported in France with many who agreed with Louis that there should be only one religion. With Huguenots numbers on the decline, it seems that Louis had some success in religious unity. Despite areas of concern such as the presence of the Quietists and Jansenists, there activity and scale was of no similar sized threat to that of the Huguenots, with their numbers in the minority. Along with this, Quietist and Jansenists were in fact still Catholic so technically posed no threat to religious disunity. However they were seen to be unorthodox so were still deemed a risk by Louis. In France, Quietism was led by Madame de Guynon. The movement put its emphasis on a total love of God which made ceremonies and religious works unnecessary. This meant that it could exist independent of the Catholic Church which was unacceptable for Louis and his desire for conformity, and so De Guynon was arrested and imprisoned. Despite this, the Quietists did make their mark in France; Madame de Maintenon was impressed by Madame De Guynon and was commissioned to produce a prayerful atmosphere at Saint-Cyr, the school founded by Maintenon, this made Louis’ condemnation of them all the more difficult due to their increased status. Although there was some success, there was also a clear lack of success for Louis in achieving religious unity. The most obvious of this was his failure to convert the Huguenots. The Huguenots were different and therefore their status was an insult to Louis title. Despite the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and Louis best attempts, the Huguenots faith was not fully eradicated and was later a recognised faith after Louis’ reign. Oppose to converting, after the Edict of the Fontainebleu, around 200,000 Huguenots chose to flee which didn’t solve Louis’ problem of religious disunity as the Huguenots were not being abolished. Huguenots resistance to their treatment in France led to further disunity through opposition from various Parlements and the Jansenists as well as resistance which led to the revolt of the Camisards in 1702. The murder of a harsh Catholic persecutor, marked the start of the rebellion; the program of the Camisards was to sack and burn churches and drive off or even kill priests which only damaged religious unity in France as it caused conflict between them and the Catholics. The Jansenists seemed to be of little threat to Louis XIV as the extent and nature of Jansenism was limited. However Louis was heavily influenced by his Jesuit confessors who disliked the Jansenists, despite the fact they were still Catholic. He decided to act against them, seeing them as a threat to the stability of France and French Church. In 1661 Louis imposed Jesuit doctrines on Port-Royal, the Jansenist headquarters outside Paris, and chased out its leaders and later expelled the nuns. In 1713 Louis asked the Pope to introduce the Papal Bull ‘Unigenitus’ which condemned all Jansenist beliefs. However this attempt had a failure in that French Bishops disagreed and it was only registered under Parlement under protest. The overall failure of Louis’ persecution of the Jansenists is that after his death in 1714 Jansenism not only survived but took revenge, forming an alliance against Louis XVI in 1789. Louis also failed as through his desire to destroy Jansenism, despite it being of limited threat, he damaged his relationship with the papacy through their disagreement about the régale which Louis wanted to extend to the whole of France; Bishops appealed to Rome and opponents of Louis were supported by the Pope. His damaged relationship with the papacy was a clear failure in achieving religious unity in France as it contradicted his title of being the most Christian King. To conclude, it can be argued that during the early stage of his reign, Louis was marginally successful in achieving religious unity in France as his initial tactics of the persecution of the Huguenots seemed to be working and their numbers dropping. Also the extent of Quietism and Jansenism in France was minor and of no immediate threat. However, overall Louis was not successful in achieving unity as by the end of his reign he failed to repress the Jansenists and Quietists. His failure of uniformity and the fact he was not convincing enough to be seen as ‘The Most Christian King’, means that overall Louis XIV was not successful in achieving religious unity during this reign.

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