Misled for generations by the argument that the absolute monarchy had become a “modern administrative state,” historians have only recently begun in earnest to research and reflect upon the nature of the courtly system of governance of the baroque state. It is now the continuities of the system of patronage, in the influence of the court factions, in the strategies of political management of the various institutions of the (not centralized but) decentralized system of power, that seem most relevant to the problem of the collapse of the state. Piecing together the structures and procedures of the royal council, John Hardman gives us an analysis of how two vital decisions were taken. The entry into the American war, ultimately so significant in financial terms for the regime, was discussed logically and with due analysis of the circumstances. Even if the judgement could be considered unwise, it was free from factional influence, and in some ways reveals Louis XVI at his best. The second decision, to support Calonne and present a wide program of reforms for approval by an Assembly of Notables, is a different matter. Departing from the traditional conciliar processes, Louis avoided consulting all but three of his ministers on this matter, implicitly leaving them free to oppose what they had not approved. Given that the ministry was split into warring factions and that Calonne’s reforms were in need of all the support they could get, this was a bad mistake. The factional strife and mistakes in political management suggest that the dissolution of the regime began at the centre.
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