The publication of the Red Book, questioning of absolutism

The publication of the Red Book, questioning of absolutism


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  • Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

  • Register of bearer prescriptions.

  • Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

  • Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

To close

Title: Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 31.3 - Width 23.2

Technique and other indications: Binding in red morocco in the form of a portfolio with the arms of France. Arms of France encircled by the necklaces of the Saint-Esprit and Saint-Michel. Lace decor. Silver lock. Royal monogram. Irons to the bird. On the back of the flap, lily flower seedlings.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / I / 3 / 1a

Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Register of bearer prescriptions.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 29 - Width 22.5

Technique and other indications: All the ordinances bear the signature of King Louis XVI.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / I / 3 / 1a

Register of bearer prescriptions.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 31.3 - Width 23.2

Technique and other indications: Binding in red morocco in the shape of a portfolio with the arms of France. Arms of France encircled by the necklaces of the Saint-Esprit and Saint-Michel. On the back of the flap, lily flower seedlings.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / I / 3 / 1a

Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 31.3 - Width 23.2

Technique and other indications: Binding in red morocco in the shape of a portfolio with the arms of France. Arms of France encircled by the necklaces of the Saint-Esprit and Saint-Michel. On the back of the flap, lily flowers.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / I / 3 / 1a

Register of bearer prescriptions, known as the “Red Book”.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: August 2005

Video

The publication of the Red Book, questioning of absolutism

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Historical context

The financial crisis and the royal pensions scandal

Under the Ancien Régime, royal finances came from taxation, revenues from the royal domain and loans. The Comptroller General of Finances, in charge of the budget, must manage multiple funds of various statutes; he also exercises close control over the Royal Treasury, which under Louis XVI brings together just over 50% of the monarchy's income. The King of France draws on it to grant gratuities or pensions to individuals according to his personal appreciation as well as for services rendered to the State.

While preparing a constitution intended to limit the absolutism that brought the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy, the National Assembly decided, on November 2, 1789, to confiscate the property of the clergy to save the country from bankruptcy. On the 28th, the deputy Armand Camus denounced to the Assembly the existence of the "Red Book", which contained information on the pensions awarded by the king; the latter immediately votes on its impression.

The Comptroller General Jacques Necker, aware of the scandal and the political consequences of such a revelation in the effervescent context of 1789, tried to dissuade the king from accepting. The “Red Book” was handed over to the Constituent Pension Committee in March 1790 and published on April 1.

Image Analysis

The red morocco binding is at the origin of the name of "Red Book" given to the "Register of bearer ordinances from 1773 to 1788" (on the left) which was published in 1790 concerning the reign of Louis XVI; the older volumes will be found in 1793.

Sumptuous "lace" bindings

Emblematic of royal splendor, these three bindings produced during the reign of Louis XV, around 1750, 1760 and 1773 - the date on which each of the collections begins - are unique creations and are among the most beautiful of the 18th century. The royal bookbinders Antoine Pasdeloup (1685-1758) and Pierre-Paul Dubuisson (died in 1762) could be the authors of the two oldest (on the right). The abundant golden decoration of the bindings catches the light and gives each volume a fascinating glow. To obtain such a richness of gilding, the binder uses florets placed next to each other, which make up this kind of lace.

The ornamentation begins with ornate fillets and rollers at the edge of each binding plate and continues, extending further to the center from the corners and midpoints of each side. The space left free between the florets is studded with solid gold dots, hollowed out circles, open flowers, which serve to give the same intensity of brilliance and gilding to the entire ornate surface. At the corners we recognize the Louis XV cipher, two "L" s facing each other around a fleur de lis. The long sides and the flap of the oldest binding, which has a silver clasp, feature bird irons.

The covers of the three bindings bear the royal coat of arms in the center, surrounded by the collar of the Order of the Holy Spirit and that of Saint Michael.

Inconsistent and expensive donations

The "Red Book" is not an account book, but a record of the outflows of funds ordered by the king which have all received the royal "L" (for Louis) initials. Published as is in 1790, the Red book appears inconsistent and expensive; he provoked a general outcry in the patriotic press, which reproduced it and commented on it extensively with sarcastic and insulting remarks to which were added numerous caricatures.

On these pages concerning 1787 and 1788, enormous sums are devoted to various departments which manage them: Foreign Affairs, the King's House, or to exceptional needs: the transfer of funds to Holland for payment in guilders probably concerns the supply in grains due to famine.

The two “ordinances on” Charles de Savalette de Magnanville (1713-1790) and François La Borde de Mériville (1761-1802) “for expenses of extraordinary service of finances” come under the operation of the royal finances. Both guardians of the Royal Treasury, these financiers bought their office at a considerable price and served as financial support for the monarchy. Their countless loans to the royal coffers run into tens of millions of pounds a year, what is known as "serving the Treasury."

The disclosure of the names of pension recipients is even more scandalous. With the exception of the wealthy Vaudois banker Isaac Panchaud (1736-1789), co-founder of the Caisse d'Escompte, they were rich nobles like the Comte d'Artois, brother of Louis XVI (future Charles X), foreign princes like Maximilien des Deux-Ponts - Principality of Rhineland-Palatinate - of the Wittelsbach family, the Count of Albany, Prince Stuart pretending to the throne of England, and his wife Louise Maximilienne, daughter of Gustavus Adolf de Stolberg Gedern, general of the Empress Marie-Thérèse of Austria, or Countess Josepha de Brionne, daughter of Duke Louis III of Lorraine and widow of Amédée II of Savoy-Carignan.

Several people of the court receive pensions, often without real motive such as the countess of Ossun, lady of the queen's matron, "for her table", the countess of Andlau, daughter of the philosopher Helvétius, "secret pension". These disproportionate and often cumulative favors paid to the royal family, favorite courtiers and noble families are deeply shocking, given the deficit and popular misery.

Interpretation

A huge impact

The publication of the "Red Book" highlights the abuses of absolutism, the mess of finances and the need for reform. The Constituent makes a distinction between public finances and the personal finances of the king, to whom it assigns a civil list. From the summer of 1790, the Pension Committee paid pensions based on completely revised criteria.

Disclosure of the beneficiaries of royal largesse further discredits the aristocracy and has an immense effect both in Paris and in the provinces. For journalist Loustalot, Paris revolutions, it makes “any counter-revolution impossible”.

This affair also reveals the weakness of Louis XVI, who procrastinates but does not find a solution in time to prevent the scandal. Another ruler reportedly refused to deliver the document or destroyed it.
Returned to the king after publication, the “Red Book” was rediscovered in 1793 by the victorious revolutionaries. Eager to exploit its powerful impact on public opinion, the Convention once again votes to print it - but this time all three volumes will be published.

  • Old regime
  • Constituent Assembly
  • finances
  • Louis XVI
  • Necker (Jacques)
  • scandal
  • Camus (Armand Gaston)

Bibliography

Bruno BLASSELLE, Full Pages: History of the Book volume I, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.Yves DEVAUX, Ten centuries of French binding.Paris, Pygmalion Publishing, 1977.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "The publication of the Red Book, questioning of absolutism"


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