MO3214 The Decline and Fall of the French Old Regime, 1715-1789
Lecturer Prof Guy Rowlands
Credits 30
Availability Semester 1, 2016-17
Class Hour view timetable
Description Eighteenth-century France was the cultural leader of Europe, but mounting domestic difficulties made its efforts to remain the arbiter of power on the continent increasingly difficult to sustain. At home the absolute monarchy had great difficulty in adjusting to changing political, social and cultural expectations that would eventually engulf the Bourbon state as its international adventures produced financial bankruptcy. This module will explore France in the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI in order to understand the nature of old régime state and society, and the difficulties under which its people and rulers laboured. It will also give students the opportunity to engage with one of the most controversial subjects in European history: the origins of the French Revolution.
Basic Reading
  • (ed.) William Doyle, Old Régime France (Oxford, 2001)
  • Colin Jones, The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon 1715-99 (London, 2002)
  • William Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution (3rd edition: Oxford, 1999)
  • J. Black, From Louis XIV to Napoleon. The Fate of a Great Power (1999)

Course Structure

  1. Introduction
  2. The Regency and the Legacy of Louis XIV
  3. Social Structure and Social Problems
  4. The French Enlightenment
  5. Constitutional Crises, 1713-1774: Jansenists and Parlementaires
  6. Royal Finances, 1715-1786
  7. The Enlightened Reform Agenda: Turgot, Necker, Calonne
  8. The Army and the Navy, 1740-1789
  9. Public Opinion and the Discrediting of the Monarchy
  10. The Collapse of the French Monarchy, 1786-1789
  11. Review of the course
Assessment 60% examination - 3-hour paper
40% coursework

Learning Outcomes

  • Knowledge and understanding of French government and society in the pre-Revolutionary era
  • Knowledge and understanding of the underlying causes of the French Revolution
  • Awareness of how and why the historiography on these subjects has developed over time
  • Appreciation of the domestic difficulties that can arise when great powers are financially and militarily overstretched
  • Awareness of the importance of studying political history in conjunction with cultural, social and economic history  
Restrictions None
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