Louis XIV: The Greatest King of France
Tuesday December 17th, 2013
A country like France has developed over many years and continues to flourish. French history is well known to countless people for the reason being the famous blood line of the Louis’. France had a total of seventeen King Louis that ruled France at one point. The controversy of which king was the greatest could still exist to this day. Who was the greatest king of France? A question that numerous of people would like to know the answer of. Unfortunately this question could be a mystery till the end of time. As kings go, Louis XIV was the greatest king of France because he was persistent. Under Louis XIV, France had become a modern state with effective armed forces and a stable bureaucracy. He also developed a practical theory of politics; in addition, Louis encouraged an extraordinary blossoming of French culture that ensured French cultural predominance for centuries. The seventeenth-century is labeled as the age of Louis XIV. Since then his rule has been hailed as the supreme example of a type of government - absolutism. He epitomized the ideal of kingship. During his reign, France stabilized and became one of the strongest powers in Europe. During his reign France became the ideal culture since he put great care into its enhancement so he could boast it to the world. The country changed drastically from savage mediaeval ways to a more refined, exquisite living - evident from his palace in Versailles. He created a standing army maintained in peacetime. Louis took personal command of the army and directly supervised all aspects and details of the military affairs. The army was modern not only in the sense that it was permanent and professional but also in its training and administration.1 Replaced by the old practices, was a commissariat which was responsible for feeding troops. Louis XIV also moved quickly to centralize government. The day-to-day governing of France in the seventeenth century was largely carried out by three councils.2 By presiding overall the councils and meeting with all high government officials at least once a week, Louis XIV retained absolute control over the government. Within fifty four years he did what several kings worked on for centuries.3 French culture became one of the most appealing in the world, and the name Louis XIV has been associated with greatness and glory. Louis XIV was a great monarch, and he was capable of maintaining a strong kingdom because he never, in his entire life, doubted his right to be king.4 His autocracy was indeed amazing, and truly an example of the kind. He lived and ruled as a king should have. Louis XIV became the ideal king, and many have tried unsuccessfully to live up to his glory. Much like his ideas to modernize the army and develop a consistent government, Louis also developed practical theories on politics. In absolutist states, monarchs claimed to rule by divine right.5 Plato believed in rule by philosopher kings. King Louis XIV believed in the divine right of kings. But Louis XIV also believed in the responsibility of the king to live up to the divine appointment. Louis XIV was superior in the sense that the biological descendents created a clear cut designation of the ruler. Whereas Plato's ambiguous mention of philosopher kings left a free for all civil strife as to who would the "philosopher" should be. The dictionary definition of the word absolutism is, 'A political theory holding that all power should be vested in one ruler or other authority'. Louis XIV believed strongly in this and believed himself to be an absolute ruler. He used various ways to make his mark, beginning with the idea of absolutism as this was an attractive option when his personal rule began in 1661.6 He inherited this concept from his father and believed that he would be a superior ruler by following on this tradition. During the seventeenth-century, Louis constructed a great palace at Versailles, twelve miles outside the city of Paris. It can be argued that Louis XIV had this palace designed to make the abstract political concept of absolutism visible and the idea that the king exercised absolute or unlimited authority over his lands and people.7 Louis' reign can be characterized by the statement known to him, "L'état, c'est moi" which translates, 'I am the state.'8 Louis sustained the nobility exception from taxes but forced its members into financial dependence. Furthermore, virtually everyone, even the king's opponents, believed that he ruled by divine grace and divine right. Previously, Cardinal Richelieu had called kings the images of God. Early in the Sun King's reign, court propagandist Daniel de Priézac, in his Political Discourses (1652, 1666), called monarchical sovereignty a "great light that never sets."9 Furthermore, that light is a great divine mystery hidden from mere mortals. A patron of the arts, he protected writers and devoted himself to building splendid palaces, including the extravagant Versailles, where he kept most of the nobility under his watchful eye. Versailles became a dazzling, awe-inspiring setting for state affairs and the reception of foreign dignitaries. At Versailles, the king alone commanded attention. Several reasons have been suggested for the creation of the extravagant and stately palace, as well as the relocation of the monarchy's seat. Louis generously supported the royal court of France and those who worked under him. He brought the Académie Française under his patronage and became its "Protector".10 He allowed Classical French literature to flourish by protecting such writers as Molière, Racine and La Fontaine, whose works remain greatly influential to this day. Louis also patronised the visual arts by funding and commissioning various artists, such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox and Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose works became famous throughout Europe. In music, composers and musicians such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, and François Couperin thrived. In addition to portraits, Louis commissioned at least twenty statues of himself in the 1680s to stand in Paris and provincial towns as physical manifestations of his rule. He also commissioned "war artists" to follow him on campaigns to document his military triumphs.11 To remind the people of these triumphs, Louis erected permanent triumphal arches in Paris and the provinces for the first time since the decline of the Roman Empire. Louis's reign marked the birth and infancy of the art of medallions. Sixteenth-century rulers had often issued medals in small numbers to commemorate the major events of their reigns.12 Louis, however, struck more than 300 to celebrate the story of the king in bronze that were enshrined in thousands of households throughout France. He also used tapestries as a medium of exalting the monarchy.13 Tapestries could be allegorical, depicting the elements or seasons, or realist, portraying royal residences or historical events. They were among the most significant means to spread royal propaganda prior to the construction of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. As absolute ruler of France, Louis XIV created the grandest court Europe had ever seen. His long seventy two year reign left an unparalleled political and cultural legacy. Feudal lords and the Catholic Church had surrendered much of their power to the king. France had gained the stature of Europe’s leading cultural and military power and a strong sense of nationhood had developed. Louis XIV was persistent enough to make him the greatest king of France. His country became modern with a stable new government organization. France had also developed a sensible theory of political reform and Louis XIV had a tremendous devotion to the arts. People now saw themselves as French rather than from a particular region. All thanks to one king, the greatest king of France, Louis XIV.
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