The crisis did not end until four years later, when Louis XV died suddenly of smallpox and his successor Louis XVI recalled the former magistrates to their seats, setting off a new round of protests. While continuing as before to proclaim their loyalty to the monarchy, the magistrates once again defended their traditional "liberties" against the "reform" plans of the new King's ministers. Amid these controversies, a lesser court responsible for collecting taxes on food and drink also protested fiscal policies, but now these magistrates added an explosive new wrinkle to their objections. In his policy-making decisions, this court claimed, the King needed to rely not just on the Parlements but on "publicity": that is, the views of the "public" in making policy.

Against this century-long onslaught, the monarchy and its supporters managed a response that moved well beyond divine-right absolutism. The writer Voltaire, although not a constant advocate of monarchical rule, nevertheless argued that "enlightened" monarchs with a great deal of centralized power provided the best political model for a country as large as France and one with such a complex society. He made this point in many of his works, including his biography of Louis XIV, which stressed the Sun King's internal improvements.

Other supporters of the monarchy believed that the King alone responded to "public opinion" rather than personal interest, while still others turned to Enlightenment theories of law to assert that monarchs held power "naturally" and thus for the general good. At the same time, successive ministers proposed that the monarchy could improve its governance by instituting proportional land taxes, elective regional assemblies, and cutting the budget. In all these ways, its supporters sought to maintain the monarchy, not just on traditional grounds, but by updating it to make it more efficient and progressive.

Yet the monarchy could not escape being tarnished, especially by clandestine "bad books"—short works generally printed outside France and smuggled into Paris and the other major cities, where they were in great demand among general readers. Some of these works contained Enlightenment philosophy challenging the monarchy or the Roman Catholic Church, while many others made scurrilous attacks on the King's entourage, especially the women in it. Some charged that the King's ministers were despotic and personally immoral, and others even disparaged the royal consorts. A particular target was Louis XV's mistress, the so-called Countess du Barry, who was often depicted as a schemer using her wiles to seduce Louis XV, undermine the government, and shift power to her allies at Versailles.

By the late 1770s, Louis XV had passed away and du Barry was long gone, but not forgotten. The attacks against her were now applied to the new queen, Marie Antoinette, daughter of Empress Maria-Theresa von Habsburg, ruler over Austria and its vast holdings in central Europe. Marie Antoinette had come to France upon her marriage in 1770 to the then crown prince. Their marriage had been intended to consolidate the recent alliance between Austria and France, reversing their traditional enmity in European affairs. Marie Antoinette's presence in the French royal family symbolized this "diplomatic revolution." Since many old-line military nobles took offense at this development — feeling that France should be fighting with Austria rather than striking alliances with it—they resented the "Austrian" Queen. Outside Versailles, in the country at large, the early popularity Marie Antoinette enjoyed as a charming princess faded once she became Queen, in part because her grace and simple elegance clearly overshadowed her retiring, rather plodding husband. In some of the "libels" printed against her, she appeared greedy and seduced by luxury. This impression was most obviously the case during the 1785–86 scandal known as the "Diamond Necklace Affair."

OBSTRUCTION MUST STOP

PARLEMENTS SMASHED

OFFICIAL PORTRAIT

JUDICIAL COMEBACK

MORE PROBLEMS FOR THE KING

ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISM

CHARITY AND MISERY

MONARCHICAL DEFENDERS

LAST DITCH REFORMS PROPOSED AND DEBATE

TURGOT BLASTED

A SCANDALOUS MISTRESS

SCANDAL OF A ROYAL MISTRESS

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