under Louis XIV.
Dr. Ronald Fritze
February 12, 2004
Every time I make an appointment,
I make one ungrateful person
and a hundred with a grievance.
— Remark attributed to Louis XIV by Voltaire.
The second half of the seventeenth century and the first decade of the eighteenth century were the age of Louis IV. The title of the New Cambridge Modern History volume covering much of this era is The Ascendancy of France — and for good reason. France was the most powerful country in Europe at that time and Louis XIV (1638-1715) was its king.
He was king of France from 1643 to 1715, the longest reign in European history and one of the longest reigns in human history. Furthermore, his reign inspired emulation, fear, jealously, admiration, and loathing among his contemporaries. He represented an alleged pinnacle of absolutism and his well-known quotes, "I am the State" and "The law comes out of my mouth," seem to bear out that image. His court was a vast assembly of the French nobility and they vied for his attention and favor.
To underline his power and majesty, Louis XIV had the immense palace of Versailles built near Paris. It was a small city in its own right. Ten thousand people lived in its vast bulk. If ever there was someone who exemplified the popular phrase, "It's good to be the king," Louis XIV was that person.
Unfortunately, as the opening quote shows, being king could have its downside. Louis XIV came into his own as king when Mazarin died in 1661. But even at that point in his young life, Louis XIV had suffered severe disappointment and trauma. During the Fronde he was terrorized by rebels, who stormed the royal palace. Even more serious for him, in 1658 he fell in love with Marie Mancini, a niece of Cardinal Mazarin. The necessity of a marriage alliance with Spain, however, caused Cardinal Mazarin to force the young Louis to abandon his plans for marrying Mancini and instead marry the Spanish Infante, Marie Theresa. It was a bitter disappointment to Louis XIV. Still his personal rule started off well. France prospered. It fought some small wars to expand and secure the northern and eastern borders. Things looked ever so good for Louis XIV and his country.
The problem was that France's power and success bred arrogance and fatal pride in Louis XIV and his ministers. It also bred fear and jealousy among his neighbors. Louis XIV did little to abate those fears and did much to confirm them. France seemed to want to conquer the world. France seemed to want to re-Catholicize all of Europe. As a result, most of the rest of Europe banded together against Louis XIV and France in two violent conflicts that could be called world wars: the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714). These two wars sapped the resources of France. In the end France survived as a great European power, but French hegemony was a thing of the past. England and Austria had definitely risen to great power status.
As kings' lives went, Louis XIV was reasonably lucky. He lived to a ripe old age and died in bed of natural causes. But like any king, he suffered the indignity of being surrounded by false friends and sycophants. Even his ripe old age had its tragic aspect as he outlived two generations of heirs and left his throne to a great grandson, Louis XV, a little child.
The Moderns Won.
February 2, 2004.
By its nature, the human mind is indeterminate; hence, when man is sunk in ignorance, he makes himself the measure of the universe.
What Price Power?
January 21, 2004.
An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia regitur orbis?
[Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?]
The Old Regime.
January 9, 2004.
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."