Louis XIV came at a time when France was ripe for a strong ruler. The nation was rich in people and resources. Other empires were in their decline. The French rulers before him had set the stage for centralization. France had largely stayed out of religious conflict, and thus felt no major impact of years of fighting. Louis was best known for his absolutist rule, which led to an increase in French land; France’s centralizing under a strong ruler, and France taking its seat as the Western World, following Rome and Athens before it.
Louis XIV, nicknamed “The Sun King” was born on September 5th, 1638 to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Louis XIV was regarded as a gift from god, since his mother had experienced 4 stillbirths prior to him. This kept him well regarded by his parents and noblemen. Growing up, Louis XIV’s main hobbies were painting, dance, and ruling. When Louis was 18, he went to a masque, where his costume was the sun. He liked the look so much that he adopted the sun as his emblem, and gained the nickname “The Sun King.” Ruling was a hobby of his because he took the throne at age 5, and thus his kingdom was a large part of his childhood. (“Looking Into the Sun King: Louis XIV – For Dummies.”)
Under his leadership, French territory expanded eastward. France gained frontier towns in Flanders as a result of the War of Devolution. France also gained the Franche-Comte, a prosperous growing region, after the Anglo-Dutch War. (“The Wars of Louis XIV.”) Louis XIV was regarded as an absolutist, aggressive ruler that sought to rule all of Europe under the French crown and institute universal monarchy.
One of the biggest challenges Louis XIV faced personally was his love of polygamous relationships conflicting with his Catholic faith. Louis XIV was a very polygamous man, having many mistresses and thus many illegitimate children. His first love was Maria Mancini, but he chose Marie-Therese of Austria over her for political ties. He fathered a child, Louis XV, with Marie-Therese, but soon after started fraternizing with the women of his court. Louis XIV was the most powerful man in Europe and every woman dreamt to be with him. Marie- Therese died when Louis was 46, so he took Madame de Maintenon, the most educated woman in the court, to be his wife. Seeing as it was quite impossible to reach Louis XIV’s level of success, it is quite self-evident that his children could not reach their father’s magnitude. His most successful child was Louis, Dauphin of France, who died before he could take power. (“Louis XIV – the Sun King: Biography.”) Louis maintained many affairs and many mistresses when married to his first wife. This conflicted with Catholic law which states that a man should be loyal to his wife, and that marriage is a holy thing. As a true Catholic, he did not like where it he looked to be headed, and at the ripe age of 45 took a vow to remain monogamous with his wife. Unfortunately, his wife died a year later, so he took a new wife and remained loyal to her for 32 years.
One of his largest challenges professionally was centralizing France under an absolute ruler. One of his major beliefs was “one king, one law, one faith”, the belief that to be centralized, a nation cannot have a minority in ruler, rules, or religion. To combat the spread of Protestantism, Louis revoked the edict of Nantes, stripping Huguenots of their rights, including the right to leave the country. Huguenots left anyway, lessening Protestantism, but hurting the economy by removing skilled workers. (“Louis XIV – the Sun King: Absolutism.”)
Louis XIV was very much a Machiavellian ruler. In The Prince, Machiavelli says “It is better to be feared than loved.” Louis followed this advice and built his palace at Versailles. Versailles was built for two reasons, one to show the wealth and power of Louis XIV and France to the world, and the people of France. His other reason for building Versailles was intimidate the nobles of his country, letting them fear him instead of loving him. (“LOUIS XIV AND THE VERSAILLES PALACE.”)
During Louis XIV’s life there were two major political groups, those who supported universal monarchy and supported France in its drive towards it and those who opposed universal monarchy and tried to create a counterweight against it. The biggest support for universal monarchy obviously came from France, who were the most likely to achieve it. The biggest opposition came from England, Spain, and the Dutch, who all feared what France could become. Economic activity was changing during this period as well. Economic power began to shift away from the Mediterranean and to the Atlantic. Trade and exploration were becoming profitable endeavors, which increased the economic might of England and Holland. Agricultural and commercial changes were beginning to take place, which paved the way for the industrial evolution. Socially, people began setting aside religion and promoting secular thinking for the first significant time since the Italian Renaissance. This happened largely as a result of countries putting aside religious differences and working together to combat French absolutism. The Age of Enlightenment came as a result of this secular thinking, which produced great inventions like the reflecting telescope, piano, and steam engine. The Enlightenment also produced great minds, such as Thomas Paine. Another social impact during this period was the decline of serfdom. Because of trade and exploration, the middle class grew and demand increased for skilled labor. (“17TH Century Europe.”)
Some of the major inventions of Louis XIV’s day were the barometer, the air pump, the pendulum clock, the cuckoo clock, the steam pump, the pressure cooker, the pocket watch, the reflecting telescope, champagne, a calculating machine, the universal joint, the seed drill, the piano, the turning fork, and the atmospheric steam engine. Louis XIV’s had a relatively long life and coupled with the Age of Enlightenment towards the end of his rule created the circumstances leading to many influential inventions during his reign.( “17th Century – Timeline and Inventions of the 17th Century.”)
One influential artist of the period was Charles Le Brun, whose painting style was very classical, but more decorative. Le Brun eventually became Louis XIV’s painter to the king, and oversaw much of the artistic movement inside France. Le Brun’s most famous works are the decorations inside the castle at Versailles, and his portraits of Louis XIV. (“Louis XIV – the Sun King: Painters.”) Another influential artist was Johannes Vermeer, known for his luscious canvases of women and men in seventeenth-century rooms, his most famous work being Girl with a Pearl Earring.( “17th Century Renowned Artists.”)
Louis XIV’s most proud accomplishment should have been the Edict of Fontainebleau, also known as the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes gave French Calvinists, called Huguenots, similar rights to Roman Catholics. Louis XIV revoked this, which helped rid his administration of pesky nobles that disagreed with his actions and religion. This helped to keep his rule Machiavellian by instilling fear in Huguenots and others who were now aware of the king’s power. Louis should have been most regretful of the War of Spanish Succession. He started the war as he had a claim to the Spanish throne, but the results of the war were dismal compared to the costs. From the war, Louis hoped to gain the Spanish throne and the land that came with it. Instead, his family gained the Spanish throne under the promise that the thrones of Spain and France could never be inherited by the same person. This small victory financially bankrupted his country, and influenced the public view of Louis negatively.
Louis XIV was a true Machiavellian disciple, not caring for his people’s support, but for their fear. Louis remains today one of the best examples of absolutism, and the effects of it. Without a parlement under him, Louis was free to practice his absolutist rule and attempt to put a French influence foothold all over Europe. Specifically influential was his palace at Versailles, the idea of which was taken by monarchs many decades into the future. France expanded its territory, and put a member of the Bourbon family into Spanish power. Under Louis, France experienced its golden age of art and architecture, in addition to being the seat of the western world, and Louis’s methods became standards on how to rule absolutely for years to come.
Works Cited Page
Steingrad, Elena. “Louis XIV – the Sun King: Biography.” Louis XIV – the Sun King: Louis XIV – the Sun King. 2000. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.louis-xiv.de/index.php?id=31>.
“The Wars of Louis XIV.” History Department, University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Education. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351-14.htm>.
“Looking Into the Sun King: Louis XIV – For Dummies.” How-To Help and Videos – For Dummies. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/looking-into-the-sun-king-louis-xiv.html>.
Evans, C. T. “LOUIS XIV AND THE VERSAILLES PALACE.” GPS Faculty Pages. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://staff.gps.edu/mines/louis_xiv_and_the_versailles_pal.htm>.
“18th Century – Timeline and Inventions of the 18th Century.” Inventors. Ask.com. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://inventors.about.com/od/timelines/a/Eighteenth.htm>.
Sommerville, J. P. “17TH Century Europe.” History Department, University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Education. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351outline.htm>.
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