Louis XIV was only four years old when he succeeded his father to the French throne. Often uncared for, he nearly drowned because no one was watching him as he played near a pond. This began to shape in his young mind an early fear of God.
Louis’ character was also shaped by the French Civil War. In this, the Paris Parlement rose against the crown. For five years, Louis would suffer fear, cold, hunger and other spirit-breaking events. He would never forgive Paris, the nobles, or the common people.
Finally, in 1653, Cardinal Jules Mazarin was able to end the rebellion. He began to instruct Louis on his position as king. Even though Louis XIV was now of age, the Cardinal remained the dominant authority in French politics.
French kings gained respect as a soldier; Louis served with the French army during France’s war with Spain. His biggest battle, however, was sacrificing his love for Mazarin’s niece for politics. In 1660 he married the daughter of the king of Spain to bring peace between the two countries.
Mazarin died March 9, 1661. On March 10, Louis claimed supreme authority in France. Not since Henry IV had such a claim been made. Louis saw himself as God’s representative on earth, therefore, infallible. He oversaw roadbuilding, court decorum, defense, and disputes within the church.
He had the support initially of his ministers, then that of the French people. He had given France the image it desired-youth and vitality surrounded by magnificence. Louis won the favor of the nobles by making it evident that their future depended on their ability stay on his good side. This weakened the nobility, and would eventually weaken France.
Louis had among his supportors a wide spectrum of individuals. Writers such as Moliere were ordered to glorify him. Monuments rose throughout the country and Louis had palaces built in his honor. The most elaborate was Versailles, located outside Paris. Away from disease, Versailles also isolated the king from his people. The aristocracy became mysterious.
France was also undergoing an economic revolution. Exports were increased, and a navy, merchant marine, and police association emerged. Roads, ports and canals were being built. He invaded the Spanish Nederlands in 1667. The restarted war between France and Spain would be on again, off again for the remainder of Louis’ reign.
In 1668, the French army retreated under pressure from Dutch and English forces. Louis swore to defeat the Dutch and ruin their Protestant mercantile republic. He allied himself with his cousin, Charles II of England, and invaded the Netherlands in 1672. Louis was victorious when the Treaty of Mijmegen was signed in 1678. When the Dutch were defeated, he had also defeated its allies, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. France’s borders had expanded to the north and the east. His navy had become as as large as that of England and Holland.
His private life was not as fortunate. Friends had been implicated in the Affair of the Poisons, where eminent people had been accused of sorcery and murder. Louis ordered his court to become discrete. The seat of Government was transferred to Versailles in 1682. When the Queen died, he married her Mme de Maintenon, who had been governess to the King’s children.
Louis did not understand the reformation, and he viewed French Protestants as threats to the throne. He revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted them freedom of worship. Many left France, those that remained were persecuted.
England, the Dutch, and the Holy Roman Empire united in 1688 in the Grand Alliance to stop French expansion. This war ended in 1697 with the signing of the Treaty of Rijswijk. France lost part of its territory, and Louis lost public support. He was forced to recognize William of Orange as king of England. This went against his belief that the Stuarts had divine right to the throne.
Charles II, the last Habsburg king of Spain died in 1700, and bequeathed his kingdoms to Louis’ grandson, Philip of Anjou (Philip V). Although initially opposed to the inheritance, Louis finally went along with it in order to prevent Spain from falling into the hands of the Holy Roman emperor, Leopold I, who disputed Philip’s claim.
In the War of the Spanish Succession the anti-French alliance was reactivated by William of Orange. By 1709, France was near to losing all it had gained over the past century. Louis’ private life was also a wreck: his son, two grandsons, and a great grandson died. Instead of breaking down as was expected, he held himself together. He bore not only his personal losses, but also the losses France had suffered with remarkable grace.
The Treaties of Utrecht, Rastatt and Baden in 1713-1714 finally ended the war. The hard-fought victory cost France its status as a world power, but its territories were untouched. Not even future defeats would cause France to lose its land in the Rhine or Flanders.
Louis died in 1715, at the age of 77. His body was carried to the Saint-Denis basilica. His heir, the last son of the Duc de Bourgogne, was a sickly five-year-old child. Louis had distrusted his nephew, the Duc d’Orleans, and wanted to leave actual power in the hands of the Duc du Maine. He left orders in his will to make it so. The Parlement of Paris convened to fight the will and, in doing so, rediscovered its own power. This would set in motion a series of events that would lead to revolution.
Though praised within his country, outside of France Louis had a vicious reputation. He allowed his armies to commit atrocities, and countries were reduced to slave states. Although credited with bringing France to the status it achieved, his policies concerning religion, his isolation of the throne at Versailles, and his last will combined to lead to the downfall of the monarchy.
Though seen as a strong ruler, France lost power under him. So connected to the image of king, historians have difficulty in examining Louis the individual. He wanted France to prosper, and its citizens suffered. Still considering himself infallible, he only saw the glorious image of France he ordered his artisans to develop.
Filed Under: French History, People
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Louis XIV Essay: A Juror's Account Of The Trial Of Louis XIV
In the trial of Louis XIV, we found the accused guilty of several charges. In particular, we found the defendant guilty of the following: Recklessly waging war for 33 years in Europe at the expense of the French people; developing the Royal Court of Versailles, which did not benefit the French people or the French state; and, finally, maintaining an unjust tax policy.
We found the defendant innocent, however, of ruthlessly persecuting the Huguenots, depriving the French nobility of political freedom, and destroying the French economy through the policy of mercantilism.
As a juror in this case, it was my duty to examine the information presented by the prosecution and the defense to try to make an impartial and well-informed decision. As both the prosecution and the defense made a strong case, this proved a difficult task for me and my fellow jurors.
The first count of recklessly waging war for 33 years was one of the most contentious issues of the trial. I came to my final decision for several reasons. To start, the defense did not present adequate evidence to support the conclusion that Louis XIV had good reason to wage war for so long. The prosecution supported their contrary case with much evidence, however. The prosecution had several witnesses, for example, such as John Churchill, who testified that Louis wars upset the balance of power.
Furthermore, instead of trying to show that Louis campaigns were in the best interest of France, the defense merely tried to discredit the witness for the prosecution. They did not answer any of my questions about Louis reasons for engaging in the war. This failure on the part of the defense to produce evidence, combined with the evidence given by the prosecution, convinced my of Louis guilt.
As for the charge of ruthlessly persecuting the Huguenots, we found, as I say, Louis innocent. We came to this conclusion because even though the prosecution had some witnesses to testify to Louis vicious persecution of the Huguenots, we also heard testimony from Louis himself to the effect that he gave the Huguenots the choice to freely return to French society if they converted. It is worth noting that this generosity and tolerance was greater than that shown to religious dissidents in some other countries, such as Spain.
The third charge concerned Louis development of the Court of Versailles with no consequent benefit to France or the French people. We found the defendant guilty of this charge. This finding was made despite the fact that the defense offered the supporting testimony of the artist Jean-Baptiste Lully, who had first-hand experience of the Court. Lully, however, could not come up with a straight answer to the question How did Louis action benefit the people of France. His only argument was that the Court glorified French culture and France itself. We did not find this argument compelling.
Another relevant factor was the phrase made a house for oneself which appeared in the defenses closing statements and unintentionally confirmed my suspicions that the Court was created to glorify the name of Louis XIV, and not to benefit French culture. The Court, in fact, was a detriment to the well-being of the people of France because its construction entailed unnecessary spending. Louis may have wanted the Court to increase the prestige of the nation, but in my view the people of France themselves are more important than how the country is perceived.
The charge of depriving the French nobility of political freedom was easily decided upon by the jury. We came to the verdict that Louis was innocent primarily because the prosecution provided very little evidence of guilt. In a system where defendants are innocent until proven guilty, we had no choice but to find Louis innocent.
Concerning next the charge of maintaining an unjust tax policy, we came to the conclusion that Louis was guilty as charged. We can came to this conclusion on the basis of the testimony of Bridgette Rousen, a French peasant, who had unique insight into what the life of an average peasant was like under Louis XIV. She said that she could not pay the taille and could not maintain her own land.
All of the defenses witnesses, however, being of higher status than the peasant, had little direct knowledge of how the taxes had affected the lives of the average French peasant. Rousens testimony, therefore, provided the only significant insight on the taxes and the resulting poverty. I felt I had no choice but to come to the conclusion that he was guilty of imposing unjust taxes.
Finally, we considered the accusation that Louis XIV destroyed the French economy through mercantilism. Not only did it appear to us that Louis was innocent of this charge, it also appeared that in some respects he actually helped the French economy. We determined this from the testimony of defense witness Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who governed the finances of France.
Colbert himself introduced a system which resulted in more exports than imports, and this in turn helped French industries to thrive. Although the defense agreed that this system may not have been the best strategy for protecting the people from drought and famine, they showed that it did help the economy and since that was the only question which we had to decide, we decided that Louis was innocent of the charge.
Looking back on all of our decisions, I am confident that we, the jury, acted to the best of our ability and ultimately made the correct decisions.
Submitted by: Karlzgood