Spanish and French Monarchial Beliefs - the Escorial and Versailles

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The palace of Versailles was built by Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), and the Escorial was built by Philip II of Spain (1556-1598). By examining the aerial and frontal facades of these two palaces, it may be seen that there were many similarities and differences between the two kings' perception and practice of monarchy. Each king set his own goals for his life, and concluded as to how a monarch ought to behave. Both Louis XIV and Philip II had religious duties to pay attention to, organized the distribution of power in their respective kingdoms, communicated with other countries and entities through war and diplomacy, raised militaries, and made plans for the expansion of their own beliefs, thoughts and practices. Aside from these aspects of the two kings' beliefs and practices of monarchy, the architecture of their palaces reflected their ideals, or personal beliefs, and the interpretation made by the painters of the palaces reflects the attitudes of the two kings toward life.

The role of the king to the public during the reigns of Louis XIV of France and Philip II of Spain were not predetermined, so each king created for himself what he thought monarchy ought to be. Louis XIV and Philip II were both absolutists, and believed that they should be the supreme rulers of France and Spain, respectively. However, Louis XIV did not want to be a national symbol serving no legitimate purpose. He wished to control the military, economy, foreign affairs, and the administration of the kingdom and of justice. He believed that the king of France should be the best that France has to offer- being served by even the most powerful lords of France. Conversely, Philip II thought of himself as Catholic first, and king of Spain second. Opposite to Louis XIV, Philip II preferred to sit in the Escorial and pray, pour over records, and live more as a monk than as Louis XIV's conception of a king. Philip II never wanted to take much of an active part in the administration of his kingdom, except for the times when he wanted to use some of his various powers. However, after he had used it for a while (waging war, raising taxes, etceteras) he would let it lay dormant and return to his documents. Nor did Philip II ever wish to control most of the Spanish economy. The parts that he did control were ones that directly affected himself or his revenues, so vital in order to keep his army of immense proportions. In Spain, the administration of justice was left primarily to the Inquisition, and foreign affairs were dealt with in the palaces of other kings. The only aspect of his monarchy that Philip II wished to constantly take an active part in was the military: his instrument for the re-Catholicism of Europe.

In both France and in Spain, each monarch set a different level of priority to his popularity. Louis XIV once said, "L'état, c'est moi- ‘the state is myself'"1. This is saying that Louis XIV represents the French people, government, society, and civilization- the ‘Sun King'- representing the center and the very best of France. On the other hand, Philip II only seemed to wish to be seen as a devout Catholic, at the service of the Holy See, and not caring much what other people thought of him.

Religious duties were much more evident in the life of Philip II than Louis XIV. Philip II would stay up for nights on end praying for his own salvation and the salvation of others. Inside the Escorial, there was a church and a monastery where Philip II would also commonly spend hours in every day. When not in his church, Philip II often read his Bible and other religious writings. The main goal of Philip II's life was even religious- to re-Catholicize Europe. Although both monarchs were Catholic, religion played much less of a role in daily life at Versailles, where many secular affairs were dealt with. At Versailles, religion was not absent, but seemingly ignored commonly.

In the fourteenth through the sixteenth...
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