Perhaps one of the most famous of European monarchs, King Louis XIV ruled France for some 72 years, the longest by any French head of State. It is believed that reign of King Louis XIV was reputably famous as one of ‘Absolute government’, primarily because the King had his own particular and dominating style of governing the nation. Attaining the powers of a King at a young age of only 5 years, King Louis XIV would rule through his mother’s guidance and Cardinal Mazarin acting as the head of state deciding most of the official and civilian matters concerning the governance of France. With no proper or formal education to his credit, King Louis XIV nevertheless gained immense insight on practically all matters of governance and grew up to be an extremely intelligent head of state. From the onset of his adulthood, King Louis XIV had perceived numerous plans for his country, and if one were to grade the King according to today’s standards, one would certainly place him in the category of ‘Type-A personality’. This was because the King had learnt, and that too from childhood’ that the best way to rule would be to control the subject with absolute authority. In doing so, the King chose his advisors and consultants from the category of ‘non-nobles, with the objective of inviting least opposition, and for reasons of imposing his decisions and motives without being questioned. The nobles too were useful, and had to be retained around the King’s circle, primarily to win over their confidence, in return for the positions and wealth offered to them on behalf of the state. Also famous as a hard working and pleasant natured, the King sought to bring ‘glory’ for France, and strived for a united France, simply because it was easier to rule. The King’s ideas about making France a glorious state were also exhibited in his desires for other European nations to fear, respect as well as imitate France in all matters of governance, aspects which only remained merely a set of ideas.
Born in 1710 at Versailles, King Louis XIV gained the title of “Louis the Well Beloved”, yet this title only remained so until the King remained a monarch of France, and practically diminished upon his death. Unlike heirs of monarchs, King Louis XIV was neither formally educated in worldly discipline, nor was he nurtured to become a head of state. It was perhaps these primary factors together with the ineffective upbringing during his childhood, which kept the King weak through out his life, in turn implying the King was the head of a weak government. Add to this his attaining the powers of a King at the young age of only 5 years, as also reiterated in the opening lines and his marriage at the young age of 15 years. Thus, it was not until the King had reached the age of 34 years, when he finally decided that he did not the assistance of any intermediaries, a practice which had continued since he was the King of France at age 5. Yet, his lack of education, self-confidence and failure to have a grasp on matters of governance continually hampered his role as a successful monarch. The result of this somewhat disastrous set of policies, and the King’s pre-occupation with the ladies of the court in contrast to the more needed matters of national policy and governance led the nation into the 7-years War. As a result, France lost most of its territories across the world, including those of North America. Though King Louis XIV did try to improve the judicial system at home, and enhance his political and moral authority. Nevertheless, the King had generally lost support from majority of the French populations, in particular the French working class. This culminated in the Great French Revolution of 1789, only to be replaced by King’s grandson Louis XVI. (King Louis XIV, 2004) Influence of Childhood and Youth on the Personality and Reign of King Louis XIV
An overview on the childhood and youth of King Louis XIV reveals that when the King was only a child, he suffered the trauma of loosing both his parents, with a brother as his only surviving immediate family. Though there are some sources, which grade the King as the only heir to the throne, the majority of works on the life of King XIV cite that he had a brother. Thus, one may observe that the King was crowned at the young age of 5, he was duly assisted in the affairs of governance by his mother and through a regent Philippe II, Duke of Orleans. In addition, the King was represented in the governance of the State through Cardinal Fleury. This also implied that no particular attention was paid towards the education, upbringing, or character building, which would prepare the young heir for the post of a King of France. The inability to acquire any formal education, training or character building all led to the upbringing of an individual who would have to rely on his own intuition, insight, and personal experiences to rule an entire nation.
Belonging to a royal bloodline, King Louis XIV was no doubt handsome and presented a figure of imposing personality. Yet these characteristics were more than spoiled and exploited through the nurturing of such thoughts as the King being the sole heir and owner of all the property as well as the subjects (individuals) left behind by his parents. The resultant implications for such line of teachings only proved to be disastrous, as the young King barely had any concerns for the welfare of the larger French populations. In addition, the circle of French nobles and well wishes of the King continuously encircled the young King and did not allow him to move outside the vivid and lively affairs of the court. Thus, emphasis was on the importance of the King’s personal being as owner and head of state, while at the same time, the same courtiers made every effort to dissuade the King from contacting, or inquiring about the general welfare of the French populations, or for the matters of the nation state for that matter.
An example of his early years as the King of France shows that it was not until he reached the age of 30 years, that finally chose to take all the official matters of the state into his own hands. The King thus removed all the ministers and advisors including the chief minister through whom the nation was governed, while the King was still young. Yet, even after having taken over the reins of the state into his own hands, Louis XIV was ‘indolent and lacking in self-confidence’ truly making him incapable of taking any firm decision, or coordinate the various activities concerning the national policy of France.
Though the King’s preoccupation with the line of court’s mistresses disallowed him to take any serious interest in the governance of the nation, yet there are instances where the King tried to use his passive ruling skills. For example, he could not remain oblivious to the fact that most of the mistresses of the court, with whom the King enjoyed lively moments of his life, enjoyed considerable political clout and influence in matters of state’s governance. Thus, the King was not only aware of these subtle relationships; he was also manipulative in ways only known to his close circle of nobles at the royal court.
Another example of his passive form of rule as King of France was setting up a system of secret diplomacy, with the objective of advancing the interests of France outside the borders of France. Yet, this policy too faced a grave failure, as he did not confide with his present team of officials posted in foreign countries, in turn creating confusion instead of actually advancing the interests of France.
Yet another example of King Louis XIV’s failed and incompetent policies due his lack of foresight, mis-calculated judgment, and lack of self-confidence is evident in the eruption of the 7-Years War which lasted from 1756 to 1763. According to French historians as well as the general French public, this war resulted in such disastrous implications that it not only occupied the French in one of the longest wars in the history of France. The same also resulted in the loss of majority of French colonies in North America and India to her major adversary, the Great Britain. The 7-Years War also resulted in creating hatred and a desire for revenge from amongst the King’s countrymen including Louis XVI, who later also supported the colonists in their struggle for the American Revolution. (European Royalty, 2003)
The Influence of Childhood and Youth on The Louis XIV’s Reign
According to some French historians, the age of Louis XIV was 4 years and eight months, while other quote as being 5 years when the young Louis XIV was crowned as the King of France. Yet, at even this age, the laws of the kingdom claimed that the young heir was the owner of the bodies and property of some 19 million French subjects. In addition, the King’s status was that of ‘a visible divinity’. However, these traits, characteristics, and acclaim for the young King failed to muster the needed training and nurturing that was essential for the young heir. On the contrary, the young King was entrusted in the hands of careless servants and governess; so much so the young King narrowly escaped drowning in a pond, as the servants and others had failed to watch over the activities of the young King.
Perhaps the single most influencing factor in the life of young Louis XIV as the King of France was the series of events, also known as the ‘Fronde’. The ‘Fronde’ was the result of the ill planned policies of the Cardinal Mazarin, also the caretaker of the French state representing Louis XIV. Initially commenced by the French nobles and the Paris Parliament (a powerful law court) rose against the policies of the Cardinal Mazarin, the ‘Fronde’ was also the beginning of a long civil war. Such was the fateful events of this ‘Fronde’ that Louis too was caught up in the misery and suffered ‘poverty, misfortune, fears, humiliation, cold, as well as hunger. These periods of hardships in turn evolved the true character of the young King, and molded his behavior as well as his style of approach towards life, leaving a greater influence on the manner of governance of France. These hardships also made the King more than bitter, and committed never to forgive the nobles and the common French public alike.
The ‘Fronde’ was however suppressed by 1653, and Louis XIV with the help of Cardinal Mazarin were able to proceed an entirely new administrative plan for the French State. This was also a period of King XIV’s strengthening of beliefs in the activities and planning of Mazarin, as well as the latter’s acclaim on the absolute powers of the state, as aspect which left little to be disputed by the young King.
Aside from the series of civil wars and uprisings by the French nobles and judiciary of the state, as also reiterated in the preceding paragraphs, the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 was yet another important event, which resulted in the testing of the true capabilities of King Louis XIV. This was also a period for announcing the take-over of the entire responsibilities of the governance of the state by the King. Though, this had become as a surprise for the team of French nobles with close relations with the expired Cardinal, the action of taking over the entire set of responsibilities was nonetheless a rightful claim by Louis XIV. Furthermore, come it may as a tradition, the very concept of dictatorship ‘by divine right; could not be disputed by any individual of the state, regardless of his position or status in the French society. The acclaim to the throne by the Louis XIV also clearly implied that he was the God’s representative on earth, and in that respect any form of disobedience and/or rebellion amounted to a sin, duly punishable according the laws of the state.
By virtue of these divine powers, King Louis XIV also sought to strengthen his own feelings of infallibility, and at the same time adopt an attitude of serenity and moderation, as was demanded of monarchs with absolute authority. This is also the reason why the people of his era referred to Louis XIV as head of the “absolute government”, also mentioned in the opening lines of the subject paper.
One can thus observe that using these absolute powers, King Louis XIV devoted his later life for the affairs of the government, and there was little that escaped his attention. These included for example, the smallest aspects such as etiquette of the royal court, to the more mundane task of the movement of the French military, the construction of roads and buildings, to the sensitive subjects such as theological disputes.
In conclusion, one may deduce that at once, King Louis XIV was an absolute monarch, as also proven by his virtues and acts of taking France to its pinnacle of fame and prosperity. Yet, at the same time, his isolation of the royal court from the reach of the common man, and the concentration of the entire government machinery into his own personal being, made his own accomplishments diminish against the successes. Indeed the armies under Louis IV committed atrocities, yet compared with the horrors of today, where entire nations have been reduced to slavery, and where mass deportations and genocide are looked upon and regarded as weapons of development, Louis XIV’s policies are but mere shadows in a dark tunnel.
It is said that once an Italian chemist offered Louis XIV the first ever-bacteriological weapon. In return, the passive natured King promised to provide pension to the scientist on the condition that the latter would never divulge the secret invention.
The words of the famous French philosopher Voltaire perhaps best depict the person and monarch in King Louis XIV. According to Voltaire, “His name can never be pronounced without respect and without summoning the image of an eternally memorable age.” (Voltaire, 1751).