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Louis XIV: The Grand Monarch of France

Louis XIV was king of France from 1643 until his death in 1715. He reigned for a considerable period of time, 72 years and 110 days, the longest of any sovereign. Although it was the age of absolutism, Louis XIV surrendered many aspects of administration – political, military, and cultural.

Louis XIV was called the Grand Monarch. He began his personal rule of France in 1661 after the death of his Chief Minister Cardinal Mazarin. At that time in France, there was Divine Right of Kings. He sought to remove the remnants of feudalism and became one of the most powerful French monarchs, consolidating a system of absolute monarchy in France that lasted until the French Revolution. He reinforced unity of religion under the Catholic Church.

During Louis’s reign, France emerged as the leading European power with enough military strength. His entire childhood was spent in conflict with Spain. During his youth, he fought three continental wars – the Franco-Dutch War, the Nine Years’ War, and the War of Spanish Succession. He also fought shorter wars, such as the War of Devolution and the War of Reunions. Warfare defined Louis’s reign, as he believed it was the ideal way to enhance the glory of France. His wars strained France’s resources, but significant achievements were made, including the Canal du Midi, the patronage of artists, and the founding of the French Academy of Sciences.

When he ascended the throne, Louis XIV said, “Up to this moment, I have been pleased to interest the government of my affairs to the Late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself. You will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to send no orders except my command. I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport without my command to render an account to me personally each day and to favor no one.” Louis XIV was quite able to choose and encourage men of talent. A historian noted, “It is the Voice of genius of all kinds which sounds from the tomb of Louis.” Louis began his personal reign with administrative reforms, with money being the essential support of the reorganized and enlarged army.

Louis XIV also made legal reforms. The Code Louis was a comprehensive legal code with uniform regulation of civil procedure throughout the kingdom. Apart from other things, it prescribed baptismal, marriage, and death records in the state’s registers. The Code Louis became the basis of the Napoleonic Code and inspired many modern legal codes. One of his infamous decrees was on slavery. Although it sanctioned slavery, it tried to humanize the practice by prohibiting the separation of families. Moreover, in the colonies, only Roman Catholics could own slaves, and they had to be baptized.

Louis achieved increased control over the French aristocracy. According to historian Philip Mansel, the king turned the palace into an irresistible combination of marriage, market, employment agency, and entertainment capital of aristocratic Europe, boasting the best theater, opera, music, gambling, sex, and hunting, which is most important. Louis began to be shown as a Roman emperor or Alexander the Great, as seen in many works of sculpture, paintings, and monuments.

Thus, Louis XIV was a great king, the king of the sun, and a Grand Monarch.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a Freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

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