1700-1871 – The age of Enlightenment. This period can be situated between the death of
Louis XIV, in 1715, and the 9th November 1799, when the future emperor Napoleon
Bonaparte took power. The intervening period may be divided into several stages: first
the Regency, followed by the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, and finally the French
France, the most populated country in Europe, was to experience almost eighty years of
domestic peace and economic prosperity. With the emergence of the philosophical spirit
in salons, cafes and clubs, came the gradual erosion of monarchical authority.
Strengthened by their new-found financial power, the capitalistic bourgeoisie showed
clear signs of wanting to annex political power, an ambition that would be achieved from
In the domain of the arts, the ageing Louis XIV hoped to see “childhood instilled in
everything.” Under the Regency, this trend of light heartedness became more pronounced
and was to flourish during the reign of Louis XV. The widespread taste for elegance,
comfort and beautiful objects even infiltrated the ranks of the bourgeosie. But, in the
second half of the century, the philosophers reacted against society’s libertine tendencies.
They advocated a return to the virtues of the Ancient and Republican Rome, the majority
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of which would be adopted as the revolutionary ideal.
During this time period, people would pay taxes called “tithes” to the church. You could
also pay Indulgences to Church and be forgiven of your sins. Common believe was that
the more money you paid in indulgences the better chance you had of going to heaven.
The Church of this period is considered by many historians to be a manipulative,
influencial and powerful force.
Some key figures of this Period are the French Philosophe Voltaire and the King of the
time Louis XVI.
Born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. Voltaire’s style, wit, intelligence and keen sense of
justice made him one of France’s greatest writers and philosophers.
Voltaire left school at 16 and soon formed friendships with a group of sophisticated
Parisian aristocrats. Paris society sought his company for his cleverness, humor and
remarkable ability to write verse. In 1717 he was arrested for writing a series of satirical
verses ridiculing the French government, and was imprisoned in the Bastille.
In 1726 Voltaire insulted a powerful young nobleman and was given two options:
imprisonment or exile. He chose exile and from 1726 to 1729 lived in England. While in
England Voltaire was attracted to the philosophy of John Locke. The book was thought to
criticize the French government and Voltaire was forced to flee Paris again.
In 1759 Voltaire purchased an estate called “Ferney” near the French-Swiss border where
he lived until just before of his death. Ferney soon became the intellectual capitol of
Europe. Throughout his years in exile Voltaire produced a constant flow of books, plays,
pamphlets, and letters. He was a voice of reason, and an outspoken critic of religious
intolerance and persecution.
Voltaire returned to a hero’s welcome in Paris at age 83. The excitement of the trip was
too much for him and he died in Paris. Because of his criticism of the church Voltaire
was denied burial in church ground. He was finally buried at an abbey in Champagne.
In 1814 a group of “ultras” stole Voltaire’s remains and dumped them in a garbage heap.
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No one was the wiser for some 50 years. His enormous sarcophagus was checked and the
remains were gone. His heart, however, had been removed from his body, and now lays
in the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris. His brain was also removed, but disappeared after