Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege: Nicolas Desmaretz and the Tax on Wealth

Louis XIV's Assault on Privilege examines Nicolas Desmaretz, one of the most important finance ministers of the Bourbon monarchy. McCollim brings to life the man who was arguably the central figure in the final transformative years of Louis XIV's reign. Controller General Desmaretz was the nephew of famed finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and had extensive experience in the administration prior to 1683 when he suffered disgrace. His expertise was so renowned in his day that other chief financial officials sought his advice in secret. Desmaretz has been called the ablest man ever to head French finances, and the war financing problems he faced from 1708-14 the greatest challenge faced by the Bourbon monarchy until the French Revolution. Desmaretz became one of the chief financial officials early in the War of the Spanish Succession and took full charge of French finances from 1708-15. In that time, he introduced one of the two most radical financial measures ever taken by the Bourbon monarchy: the dixieme, a tax on income. This tax revolutionized the relationship of French elites to the Crown because it eliminated the issue of status that affected all other forms of taxation: the dixieme fell on all income, no matter the recipient. The tax lasted until 1717, appeared again during the Wars of the Polish (1733-35) and Austrian (1743-48) Successions, and became permanent, in a reduced form, as the vingtieme, in 1749. The story of the dixieme has been oddly ignored by fiscal historians. In his rich analysis, McCollim lays out for historians precisely how the royal financial council actually made policy. His book establishes once and for all that from the perspective of state finance, and state taxation, the post-1710 French monarchy had left far behind the institutional framework of the seventeenth century. Gary B. McCollim received his doctoral degree in history from The Ohio State University and is a retired federal employee.