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The Sun King
Analyse av Ludvig den fjortendes styre av Frankrike
Louis XIV was the king of France between 1643 to his death in 1715. He was a powerful
and mighty ruler whose reign was characterised by the remark attributed to him, “L’état, c’est moi” [I am the state]. As a symbol of his sovereignty Louis XIV chose the sun as his emblem. The sun was associated with Apollo, god of peace and arts, and was also the heavenly body that gave life to all things, regulating everything as it rose and set. Like Apollo, the warrior-king Louis XIV brought peace, was a patron of the arts, and dispensed his bounty. The regularity of his work habits and his ritual risings and retirings were another point of this solar comparison. In many ways he was an excellent monarch of his country, but on the other hand France suffered in many ways under his rule.
In the beginning Louis was a very good king. The first twenty years of the king’s personal reign were the most brilliant. With his minister Colbert, he carried out the administrative and financial reorganisation of the kingdom, as well as the development of trade and manufacturing. With the Marquis de Louvois, he reformed the army and racked up military victories. Finally, Louis encouraged an extraordinary blossoming of culture: theatre (Molière and Racine), music (Lully), architecture, painting, sculpture, and all the sciences.
His reign had both its strong and its weak points. Despite his victories and conquests, France lost her superiority under him. Yet the brilliance of his reign made up for his military policies. The aristocracy of Europe adopted the language and customs of the France where the Sun King had shone, Versailles became the cultural centre of Europe and for every noble man, his education was not complete before having visited Louis’ palace.
But on the other side far more harmful were Louis’ wars. He fought many, and before his death he did realise that they had cost too much in money and in blood. He was further saddened by the death of his son and heir and two grandsons. Louis XIV, the Grand Monarch, died after a reign of seventy-two years. He, Richelieu, and Mazarin had broken the power of Spain. They had expanded France a long way towards its present boundaries, but they had bankrupted their people. They had created an absolute monarchy, but they had failed to make the type of reforms necessary to ensure loyalty to the crown.
However, in a world that regarded territory, power, and wealth as paramount, Louis XIV was recognised as a great king. He transformed France into the dominant nation in Europe, expanded its boundaries, and left his heirs secure in their possessions. Louis reached the height of his power in the 1670s, and he protected what he had achieved for the next four decades in the face of a Europe united against him. Moreover, he eventually realised his dream of seeing a Bourbon on the Spanish throne. During Louis’s reign, France also consolidated the administration of its colonial possessions and commerce, becoming a world power.
On the domestic front, Louis strengthened the central government’s control over the diverse regions of France, incorporating his territorial gains into a united state. On the other hand, he provoked controversy when he restored Catholic religious unity by revoking the Edict of Nantes and repressing Protestantism. Unfortunately many of Louis’s policies, both domestic and foreign, caused great hardship to ordinary people, many of whom suffered starvation, fled their homeland, or lived in terror of persecution. Ultimately, Louis XIV wished to bring glory to France and to his dynasty, and he died believing that he had.
To decide whether The Sun King was a good or bad ruler is a very complicated decision to make, but in my opinion he was not a very good monarch. I feel that he failed to do his job, his own glory and magnificence became too important to him, his wars led to cruelties and deaths and I believe that the people of France would have benefited much more under the rule of a gentle and democratic king. Still what we have to remember, as said by Voltaire:
“Louis was sometimes a tyrant, but his name can never be pronounced without respect and without summoning the image of an eternally memorable age.”
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