Book Review of The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701

Guy Rowlands. The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History series. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-64124-1. Maps. Illustrations. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxiv, 404. $144.00.

Originally published in The Journal of Military History 67 (April 2003): 554.  The review has been updated.

Dr Guy Rowlands, Lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, examines the development of Louis XIV’s army and the culture of the royal military establishment from the beginning of the king’s personal rule in 1661 to the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  The author argues that the preservation and strengthening of the Bourbon dynasty was the main feature of the Sun King’s reform and buildup of the French military.  Louis XIV sought to possess a monopoly in political and military power, reimpose order on the armed forces, and crush the possibility that the army could be used against him by aristocratic families in any future civil war.  To accomplish this, the Sun King served as his own chief minister.  He also made a complete overhaul of the patronage and clientage system.  Moreover, the king reordered the finances of the realm.  But, to do this successfully, he needed to accommodate the dynastic interests of his leading subjects and the officer corps.

The study is divided into three major parts.  The first part deals with the Le Tellier family and the War Ministry.  Louis XIV elevated the Le Tellier family to the post of Secretary of State for War and gave them a superior political and social status in France.  Michel Le Tellier served in this post beginning in 1643, followed by his son, the Marquis de Louvois, and his grandson, the Marquis de Barbézieux, whose administration ended in 1701.  Rowlands examines the important role played by the Le Tellier family in reforming and building up the French army, their management of the civilian administration of the army, the use of the military treasury system, and the extent of corruption within the civilian administration of the army.  The second part of the book examines the French regimental officer corps, including its administrative structure, career system, patterns of regimental ownership, funding of regiments, and recruitment, as well as cultural and financial pressures on officers to conform to the king’s directions. In the third part, the author investigates the High Command and the role of the leading aristocratic families serving in the army.  He discusses Louis XIV’s selection of generals for command positions, and how the king worked to keep the goodwill and cooperation of these men.  Especially important is Rowlands’s assertion that military commanders possessed more power and influence in the formulation of strategy, field administration, and conduct of operations than previously thought.

This study is a valuable addition to the work on Louis XIV’s army.  It takes issue with some of the arguments set forth in John A. Lynn’s Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997).  The work is based on solid archival research in France and Britain.  The study is highly recommended to scholars of the Wars of Louis XIV.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota


About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Dutch War (1672-1778), Europe in the 17th Century (1598-1715), French Foreign Policy, French Military History, Nine Years War (1688-1697), War of Devolution (1667-1668), War of Reunions (1683-1684), Wars of Louis XIV (1661-1715) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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