The Politics of Fertility in Seventeenth-Century France
Human fertility was a political issue in modern France long before eighteenth‐century writers raised concerns about depopulation. This chapters surveys seventeenth‐century thinking about the connection between human reproduction and state power. Perhaps the most ancient connection came from the dynastic anxieties that plagued the early modern French monarchy. In response, propaganda from the early reign of Louis XIV advertised the young king's virility as the basis for a more stable and powerful France. Secondly, early modern political writing emphasized the benefits that accrued to densely populated states, and provided guidance for princes who hoped to assure the divine blessing of a large population: police sexual morality. Finally, writers in the skeptical tradition observed that fertility varied depending on cultural and legal customs. As Tridentine Catholicism more strictly regulated marital and sexual behavior, they daringly pondered how adapting some pagan marital norms might promote more births. Louis XIV's advisors hoping to promote abundant “peopling” would draw upon these different ways of thinking about the connection between politics and reproduction.
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