VII.5 In which cases sumptuary laws are useful in a monarchy

It was in the spi­rit of the repu­blic, or in some par­ti­cu­lar ins­tan­ces, that sump­tuary laws were pas­sed in Aragon in the mid-thir­teenth cen­tury. James I decreed that nei­ther the king nor any of his sub­jects could eat more than two kinds of meat at each meal, and that each would be pre­pa­red in one man­ner only, unless it was game they had killed them­sel­ves.1

Sumptuary laws have also been crea­ted in our time in Sweden, but they have a dif­fe­rent pur­pose from those of Aragon.

A state can make sump­tuary laws with the pur­pose of abso­lute fru­ga­lity : such is the spi­rit of the sump­tuary laws of repu­blics, and the nature of the thing makes it clear that such was the pur­pose of those in Aragon.

Sumptuary laws may also have a rela­tive fru­ga­lity as their pur­pose when a state, rea­li­zing that exces­si­vely costly foreign mer­chan­dise would require so much expor­ta­tion of its own pro­ducts that it would be depri­ving itself more of its needs by that expor­ta­tion than it would be satis­fying them by the impor­ta­tions, enti­rely for­bids their entrance : and this is the spi­rit of the laws that have been crea­ted in recent times in Sweden.2 These are the only sump­tuary laws that befit monar­chies.

In gene­ral, the poo­rer a state, the more it is rui­ned by its rela­tive luxury, and conse­quently the grea­ter need it has of rela­tive sump­tuary laws. The richer a state, the more its rela­tive luxury enri­ches it, and rela­tive sump­tuary laws must surely be avoi­ded. We shall explain this bet­ter in the book on com­merce.3 Absolute luxury is the only ques­tion here.

Constitution of James I in the year 1234, art. 6, in Marca hispanica, p. 1429. [Reference is to Pierre de Marca, Marca hispanica sive limes hispanicus, hoc est, geographica & historica descriptio Cataloniae, Ruscinonis, & circumjacentium populorum (‘Marca hispanica, or the Spanish perimeter, in other words a geographical and historical description of Catalonia, Ruscino, and the neighboring peoples’, Paris, 1688.]

Banned there were rare wines and other precious merchandise.

See vol. II, book XX, ch. xx.