Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege

Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege

Nicolas Desmaretz and the Tax on Wealth

Gary B. McCollim


University of Rochester Press



The government of Louis XIV developed two taxes during the last thirty years of the king's reign that forced the privileged to pay. This book is a study of how those taxes developed and what caused them to be adopted.
Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege examines Nicolas Desmaretz, one of the most important finance ministers of the Bourbon monarchy. McCollim brings to life the man who was arguably the central figure in the final transformative years of Louis XIV's reign. Controller General Desmaretz was the nephew of famed finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and had extensive experience in the administration prior to 1683 when he suffered disgrace. His expertise was so renowned in his day that other chief financial officials sought his advice in secret. Desmaretz has been called the ablest man ever to head French finances, and the war financing problems he faced from 1708-14 the greatest challenge faced by the Bourbon monarchy until the French Revolution.

Desmaretz became one of the chief financial officials early in the War of the Spanish Succession and took full charge of French finances from 1708-15. In that time, he introduced one of the two most radical financial measures ever taken by the Bourbon monarchy: the dixième, a tax on income. This tax revolutionized the relationship of French elites to the Crown because it eliminated the issue of status that affected all other forms of taxation: the dixième fell on all income, no matter the recipient. The tax lasted until 1717, appeared again during the Wars of the Polish (1733-35) and Austrian (1743-48) Successions, and became permanent, in a reduced form, as the vingtième, in 1749. The story of the dixième has been oddly ignored by fiscal historians.

In his rich analysis, McCollim lays out for historians precisely how the royal financial council actually made policy. His book establishes once and for all that from the perspective of state finance, and state taxation, the post-1710 French monarchy had left far behind the institutional framework of the seventeenth century.

Gary B. McCollim received his doctoral degree in history from The Ohio State University and is a retired federal employee.


June 2012
1 black and white, 1 line illustrations
330 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580464147
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS013000, HIS037090, POL010000
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Table of Contents

The Fiscal System under Louis XIV
The Rise of the Administrative Monarchy
Nicolas Desmaretz and Company
Handling Ideas for Reform
The Establishment of the Dixiéme
After the Dixiéme
The Conseil d'en haut, or the Council of Ministers
Members of the Royal Council of Finances under Louis XIV
Controllers General, Directors, and Intendants of Finances
Glossary of Terms


The clarity with which central issues are discussed is a distinctive strength which will be appreciated by those who are not familiar with this period. The conclusion brings together worthwhile reflections about a key period and turning point in French history. EUROPEAN HISTORY QUARTERLY

A deeply researched analysis of the dynamics of policymaking during a pivotal period in the development of the early modern French state. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF HISTORY

A valuable contribution to our steadily growing knowledge of the late reign of Louis XIV and especially to our previously scant knowledge of Desmaretz and his ministry... this book has been long needed, and it is a welcome addition to the bibliography of its period and its subject. H-FRANCE

McCollim... has written a fine book...the level of detail is impressive. ECONOMIC HISTORY REVIEW

Minutely researched...particularly impressive is the way McCollim traces the genesis of certain policies from their origins in privately circulated memoires. In doing so, the book brings to light an obscure, but highly influential, subculture. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

Based on an impressive array of archival sources, Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege illumines the financial crisis brought on by Louis XIV's incessant wars. The author compellingly underscores the radical nature of one of the government's expedients, the dixième tax, which undermined the very basis of the old regime: rank, family ties, and position. --Linda S. Frey, University of Montana--Marsha L. Frey, Kansas State University

Rare it is to read an engaging and deeply satisfying account of the real-life trials and achievements of a finance minister (Desmaretz)! A major contribution to a little-known and poorly understood moment of the Ancien Régime. Louis XIV makes wonderful cameo appearances! --Orest Ranum, The Johns Hopkins University

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