The History of the Hope Diamond and its Relation to Bar Harbor – Part III

published february 28, 2024 | written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Part 3 – Setting the Scene

To continue our story, we must first look back to Louis XIV’s reign, as this plays a role in France’s eventual downfall, in relation to the history of the Hope Diamond.

A Storm Brews

Like his great-grandfather the Sun King, Louis XV had copious spending habits. Plagued by wars and battles, both kings tried to mitigate the losses with fiscal reforms.

Louis XIV was more successful in his plights, selecting for his Controller-General of Finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, after his newly-inherited treasury had “verged on bankruptcy” (McLean, n.d.).

But despite his reforms, Louis XIV still had financial woes. Between his luxurious lifestyle, “attaching nobles to his court at Versailles” as a way to “weaken the power of the nobility,” and the wars France fought, the King increasingly needed more wealth (“France Under Louis XV | Western Civilization II (HIS 104) – Biel,” n.d.).

As we’ve seen time and time again throughout history, corrupt monarchies and governments take advantage of those with the least amount of power: the poor and impoverished.

Due to France’s oldest direct tax, the taille, taxes were able to be imposed on France’s citizens—the caveat? Nobles, aka those with the most disposable income, were exempt, while “rural dwellers, ploughmen, farmers and small landowners” were the ones to pay for the King’s expenses (Petitfils 2019). To add more insult to injury, the poorest of citizens were still paying more than their fair share, given that “many bourgeois obtained exemptions” (McLean, n.d.).

It wasn’t until his second wife, Madame De Maintenon, that the King was persuaded to change his unjust financial policies, finally taxing the country’s aristocracy. That was until exceptions were made for the bourgeoisie and nobility, effectively making the reform virtually ineffective.

Despite the King’s encouragement for “industry, fostered trade and commerce…and culture,” his expenditures for his lifestyle, wars and battles, and diplomacy, far outweighed the revenue he acquired (McLean, n.d.). Effectively, France was bankrupt.

A Healing and Struggling France

Following the Sun King’s death, his great-grandson, five year old Louis XV, assumed control of the French monarchy, not only inheriting the Crown Jewels but a struggling France as well.

Young Louis the Beloved was not without help, however. Until he came of age, the appointed ruler was regent Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, with Cardinal Fleury acting as chief minister.

Fleury’s policies and mandates proved an insurmountable success. The economy was restored and the budget was stabilized under Fleury’s rule, which also meant France’s infrastructure could begin to flourish. By the mid 1700s, “France had the most modern and extensive road network in the world. Modern highways, which stretched from Paris to the most distant borders of France, helped to advance trade” (McLean, n.d.). By and large, France was essentially saved. For now.

However, amid the resurgence of France under Cardinal Fleury’s governance, the political landscape of Europe was tumultuous. Rivalries between European powers continued to simmer, and France found itself embroiled in conflicts that strained its resources and threatened its newfound stability.

One such conflict was the War of the Austrian Succession, which erupted in 1740 over the disputed succession to the Habsburg throne (“War of the Austrian Succession,” n.d.). France, aligning itself with Prussia, sought to challenge the power of the Habsburg monarchy. The war dragged on for eight years, exacting a heavy toll on France’s economy and military.

Through it all, discontent simmered among the French populace. Economic hardships, exacerbated by years of war and extravagant spending, fueled resentment towards the monarchy. Calls for reform grew louder, laying the groundwork for the events that would soon engulf France.

In 1774, Louis XV succumbed to smallpox, leaving the throne to his grandson, Louis XVI. The new king inherited a kingdom on the brink of financial ruin and social upheaval, setting the stage for the French Revolution and the eventual downfall of the monarchy.

Reference List

“France Under Louis XV | Western Civilization II (HIS 104) – Biel.” n.d. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-fmcc-worldcivilization2-1/chapter/france-under-louis-xv/.

McLean, John. n.d. “France’s Fiscal Woes | History of Western Civilization II.” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory2/chapter/frances-fiscal-woes/.

Petitfils, Jean-Christian. 2019. Louis XIV: La Gloire et Les Épreuves.

“War of the Austrian Succession.” n.d. National Army Museum. https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/war-austrian.