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The Bourbon Army and Its Financement

Competition in this period initiated frequent and long wars, and such wars compelled governments to increase their armies’ manpower. This, in turn, created a challenge to traditional financial systems to which early modern statesmen responded with various methods.
The Bourbon Army and Its Financement

Challenges are effective catalysts of change in mankind’s and its organizations’ evolution. They force people to move beyond their existing circumstances, and thus create change. The early modern Europe was in a dynamic state of being, and witnessed important changes due to various kinds of challenges. An important category of such challenges in this period was those that were created by violent inter-dynastic relations and inter-dynastic competition. Competition in this period initiated frequent and long wars, and such wars compelled governments to increase their armies’ manpower. This, in turn, created a challenge to traditional financial systems to which early modern statesmen responded with various methods. France was one of the powerful states of Europe in this period, and its rulers had to face these challenges in order to preserve their greatness and importance. For this reason, they tried various methods in order to expand and maintain their army; and thus, paved the way for centralization.

European dynasties fought in numerous wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of them were rather small scaled wars with only two adversaries while others were large scaled conflicts in which most of major European states fought. İn this violent atmosphere, France, with its surrounded position between Britain, Spain and Austria, fought its own small scaled wars and participated in most of the large scaled wars. Some of these were fought for preventing traditional enemies’ rise of power while others were fought for glory of the Bourbon monarchy especially during the first half of the reign of Louis XIV who, according to Roland Mousnier, was deeply affected by the Fronde and believed that it was necessary for him to obtain glory in order to ensure nobility’s loyalty.

Early modern wars were long siege wars which, according to Geoffrey Parker, were initially shaped by widespread use of gunpowder weapons and improved fortifications. According to him, powerful siege weapons made medieval fortifications obsolete and such fortifications were replaced by improved star forts with lower but thicker walls, bastions, “crownworks” and “hornworks”. As these techniques spread and became a common feature of city defences, siege weapons became insufficient, therefore sieges became longer with constant trench digging and sapping efforts. As it was impossible to bypass these fortifications without risking the integrity of the supply line, commanders of early modern armies had practically no option other than besieging them until they fall. This made it impossible to advance into a country’s heartland after a victory; thus increased states’ resistance to defeats in field, which in turn led rulers to fight long wars until they get financially exhausted.

Improved fortifications were important means of defence but their costs were as high as their importance. Construction of one bastion in Rome needed 44.000 ducats in 1540s, fortification of Antwerp with nine bastions and five gates needed 1.000.000 florins, and fortification of Netherlands costed about 10.000.000 florins. These construction costs were usually temporary since physical maintenance of fortifications was not as costly as their initial cost, but costs of garrisoning and supplying them was temporary. Such fortifications needed men with access to enough food and ammunition in order to delay enemy armies effectively until coming of a relief force, or hold them as long as possible in absence of such a relief effort. French Bourbons reduced garrison cost by employing conscripted militiamen in fortifications during wars after 1688 but periodic expenses for ammunition and food were inevitable.

Construction of fortifications was not the only method with which states tried to gain the upper hand in conflicts. Another important feature of the early modern period was a dramatic increase in armies’ manpower. The French army, or the “Giant of the Grand Siècle” according to John A. Lynn, gives a good example of this increase. According to Lynn, French monarchy had a peacetime army of approximately 10.000 men during first decades of the 17th century. Its numbers rose to 200.000 on paper during war years between 1635-48, but the Lynn gives the estimated real number as 125.000. Size on paper fell to 72.000 during the peace time of 1660-66 but this number doubled again in War of Devolution in 1667-68. This number rose to 279.600 on paper and to 253.000 estimated effectives during the Dutch War between 1672-78. Reduced peace time army during 1678-88 exceeded war time estimated real number of 1635-48 with its 165.000 men on paper. The Nine Years’ War witnessed to an unprecedented increase in size. French army of this period had 420.000 men on paper, of which approximately 340.000 were present in their companies. This number reduced to 140.000-145.000 after the war, but rose to 380.000 on paper and 255.000 in companies as the War of the Spanish Succession stirred the Europe. Wartime army of the Austrian War of Succession had 390.000 men on paper, and its number reduced to 160.000 after the war. Although armies of the post 1635 period were huge by comparison to pre 1635 period, their numbers does not reflect the full potential of the Ancien Régime; because The Seven Years War, according to James C. Riley, was fought by a French army of 612.000 men on paper.

Expanding the army was surely an efficient response to violent dynamics of Europe since it protected the Bourbon dynasty until the French Revolution but it had its costs. Like fortifications, soldiers had a high initial cost because of recruitment bounties which were paid to volunteers in order to convince them to enlist. Amount of these bounties was not fixed and they varied from time to time. Recruiting officers were able to sign contracts with low bounties in regions with high unemployment or during times of dearth and peace; but this amount tended to rise in regions with low unemployment, times of surplus and, of course, times of war during which need of volunteers increased. Providing equipment for these men was another sort of initial cost, especially when governments began providing their soldiers’ weapons and clothes themselves in the 18th century. This led to a standardization, and thus improved armies’ performance but it increased costs of recruitment.

After initial costs, government had to pay smaller but more frequent sums for maintenance of soldiers and the army. There were two important categories of costs for soldiers’ personal maintenance: salaries and food. Soldiers’ salaries were usually similar to salaries of unskilled workers and could not be paid regularly. Food, on the other hand, was more crucial than salaries and it had to be provided regularly as Louis XIV himself emphasised by saying “just as the soldier owes obedience and submission to those who command him, the commander owes his troops care for their subsistence.” Costs of regimental maintenance mainly consisted of prices of equipment and gunpowder. These were less of a burden than food during peacetime since soldiers did not use much gunpowder, and their equipment frazzled slower than they do in wartimes. Nevertheless, since battles were frequent, provision of these often needed considerable sums.

According to scholars like Michael Roberts, Geoffrey Parker and Charles Tilly, necessity of fighting long wars and consequent expansion of army was the most important challenge to monarchs of the early modern Europe and it resulted with expansion of government mechanisms and increase in governments’ ability to extract money from people. Although this is a consistent and reasonable argument, there is another argument that is as consistent and reasonable as the former. Some revisionist scholars like Jeremy Black, assert that improvement in states’ ability to extract money increased before the expansion of armies, therefore it was the cause rather than the result. Although they do not agree about which change came first, both sides accept that armies and governments changed and that these processes were bound to each other.

Bourbons adjusted the army management by using nobles in order to reduce maintenance cost. They used nobles as officers, let them have their own regiments and gave them responsibility to enlist men to their regiments. Since fighting for the king was one of the principal roles of the nobility, nobles adapted to this new system by becoming king’s officers instead of subject warlords. Prestigious and wealthy nobles often used their money in order to pay their soldiers and provide food and ammunition to them. Government reimbursed their expenses but it could afford only partial and delayed payments. Some nobles, in their turn, did not struck dead soldiers off from regimental lists, added non-existent soldiers, and took the extra money for themselves. They also sold NCO posts and leaves to their soldiers in order to compensate their expenses, and even made some profit.

Bourbons shared expenses with regions in which army campaigned or garrisoned. According to Lynn, “Towns, Provinces and field armies themselves contributed money and other resources to maintain the troops.” Languedoc estates, for example, provided 3.5 million livres in order to help the war effort in 1693-94. Towns contributed to expenses of troops that were quartered within their walls, or they gave money to government in order to prevent billeting of troops in their region. Armies used conquered territories’ resources with two methods. The first method was outright pillaging, of which pros and cons are too obvious to discuss in here. The other method which replaced the first one was collecting contributions from these regions. This can be considered as a moderate and more systematic pillage that does not utterly ruin the welfare or the region.

Although reforming the army and using nobility’s and regions’ contributions were effective methods of reducing costs, they were peripheral in army maintenance. State revenues played the principal role in financing the army. The main source of income –in theory- was taxation. Taxes were divided in two: direct taxes which were collected by government officials and indirect taxes which were farmed. The principal direct tax was the taille, which had two variants: taille réele and taille personelle. Taille personelle which was taken from all personal wealth was more widespread while taille réele that was taken from landed property was applied in pays d’états. Taille was a general tax, yields of which were spent on various expenses. Other direct taxes such as taillon, etapes, subsistences and ustensile were military taxes, yields of which were spent solely –or mainly- on military maintenance. Most important indirect taxes were taken from import and export duties, and state monopolies. These were farmed to people who had enough capital.

Although taxes were important sources of income, they were not collected effectively. According to Arthur John Sargent, abuses were widespread in assessment and collection of taille personelle, and tax farming yielded only a small amount of money before Colbert’s reforms. Colbert initiated the auction method in tax farming, thus reduced abuses and dramatically increased net gain to treasury from tax farms but these reforms were partial. Since it was impossible to establish a modern bureaucratic institution, taxation continued to be an insufficient source of income.

Another important source of income was sale of offices and nobility. The French society contained many well-off bourgeois people who were willing to pay considerable sums in order to obtain nobility. They did so because obtaining nobility meant obtaining not just a higher status but also tax exemptions. Although it decreased future tax potential, sale of offices was an important method of getting cash money in short term, and of paying urgent expenses especially during wartimes. Popularity of this method was illustrated by Guy Rowlands who asserted, in his book about French army under Louis XIV, that 6000 letters of nobility were created for sale in 1695.

The most important source of income, especially in war years, was borrowing. Borrowing, like sale of offices, was a fast and rather certain way of finding definite sums but it was an expensive method on the long term. The interest rate for debts were fixed by government but creditors were not willing to risk their money for such rates because Bourbons were bad borrowers. Since they were not able to borrow directly, Bourbons used their financiers who had contacts with creditors. These financiers borrowed the required sum for themselves and they transferred the money to treasury. They usually had to offer illegally high rates of interest in order to induce creditors, and this widespread method increased costs of borrowing. Bourbons were able to detect debts with illegal rates and free themselves from payment but as this method reduced willingness of creditors even more, they did not use this often.

To sum up, it can be said that warlike atmosphere of the early modern period forced Bourbons to expand their armies and fortifications, which increased costs of army maintenance. Bourbons had various sources of income but these were not sufficient and they had to increase their income. Colbert tried to make reforms in order to increase regular income but his efforts were not complete since there were relatively constant wars, and the system was built on patronage. So, Bourbons increased their income by selling offices and by borrowing from creditors.












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