The French palace awaited the news of the death of Cardinal Jules Mazarin who diagnosed with cancer in the first week of March 1661. This old man was the chief minister of the Australian Queen Mother Anne, proclaimed regent. Mazarin had been the true ruler of France since 1643 when the five-year-old Louis XIV came to the throne.
How did Louis XIV begin to rule France?
Then, for 18 years, Mazarin became King Louis‘ private teacher and friend. He ruled France with an iron fist and made the young King take over the royal authority in full. He allocated 5 million French francs for the King’s independent use to allow Louis to establish his own ruling system.
On his deathbed, Mazarin made a final recommendation to Louis as an indicator of his political wisdom. He said it would be foolish to appoint a chief minister. Crying while talking to his old friend for the last time, Louis took this last lesson to heart. Mazarin died on March 9. Confessing that this was the most feared moment in his memories, Louis still acted like a man who was born and raised to become a king.
He ordered full mourning in the palace, whereas this was an unexpected order, as this was generally only for members of the royal family. This order was also an indication that Louis was expecting full obedience, a 22-year-old boy who had never been tried in the art of governing a state.
The absolute monarchy of King Louis XIV
The next morning King Louis summoned the ministers and stunned them by saying he was considering changing the French monarchy by the foundation. “It is now time for me to take over the reins of the administration. You will assist me with your advice when I ask for it.” In case the issue was not understood properly, he turned to the Chancellor Pierre Seguier, whom everyone respects greatly, and said: “I request and command you, Mister Chancellor, to seal no orders except at my command and without having discussed them with me,“.
When an official asked him who to report the order to, “Me,” replied the King. This word would determine the fate of France over the next half-century. Louis XIV raised the absolute monarchy to the level that a king equipped with divine rights could have, as the chief minister Cardinal Mazarin taught him. All this coincided with a period when the divine claim of Charles I, from the other side of the English Channel, resulted in a civil war. And when he came back to power, the monarchy was much more restricted than before.
Louis XIV put some non-noble persons in important positions: such as Jean Baptiste Colbert and diplomat Hugues de Lionne, who worked in almost all major government departments, and were primarily responsible for economic matters. “It is important for my people to know the rank of men those who serve me, and realize that I do not intend to share my authority with them,” he said.
The most magnificent symbol of royalist absolutism was the palace Louis built in Versailles. Everything about its construction and decoration was carefully planned to draw attention to the King’s glory and magnificence. The long wings opening from the center building, which used to be his grandfather’s hunting castle, were planned to form an impressive courtyard that all visitors from Paris had to pass upon entering the complex. The garden designed by Andre le Notre would become famous throughout Europe.
The Versailles palace
Versailles was built by two architects named Jules Hardouin Mansart and Louis le Vau. The building’s interiors were completed under the supervision of the famous painter Charles le Brun. In 1682, the castle was ready for the transportation of the court of 25,000 people. Versailles has 700 rooms, 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, and 67 staircases.
The etiquette inside the palace was made more polite and was defined by strict principles that have not been seen until then. Daily work begins with the King’s “informal” awakening; The servants revolve around the “Sun King” like the planets that line up, and each woman and man would perform the role tailored to them.
At least 100 palace members were entering the king’s bedroom, one after another, in six groups on a social scale, each of which was at a lower level than before. The highest nobles watched the king get out of bed, and those who came last were happy to witness a small moment towards the end of the King’s dressing.
All these little ceremonies had an important political purpose. Louis wanted too much to get the attention of the aristocracy away from the intrigues in Paris. In Versailles, the nobility had become the obedient satellites of the monarchy and spent their days with luxury entertainment, such as hunting, feast, and dance, that were endless and exhausting.
This strategy worked well. Throughout the next century, the nobility could not produce a leader who opposed the royal rule. During the time when Louis XIII was on the throne, resigning from a palace job was an indication of opposition. Similarly, getting removed from Versailles meant being dishonored. “Being away from you not only brings unhappiness but also makes me embarrassed,” a noble told to the King.
The divine rights of the kings
French chief minister Cardinal Mazarin advised Louis XIV to support the belief that kings had divine rights, as a reason to rule with absolute power. The roots of the doctrine of divine rights go back to the Middle Ages. At that time, the pope and the king were thought to be the deputies of God on earth, one of them being spiritual, and the other being the most authoritative. Because of this viewpoint, kings were only responsible to God for their actions, no one in the world could judge or oppose them.
In time, a counter-argument developed against this tradition that the king could only be crowned with the approval of the people and that he could rule with the consent of the society that formed the kingdom. The struggle between these two contradictory ideas gave birth to unusual events throughout European history. What shows the measure of the royal authority in France is that, between 1614 and 1789 not even a single French king was set a meeting with the Etats-Generaux or the national assembly. Even the biggest state problems were only examined by the king and his chosen ministers.
Some political structures that are very critical for France such as the tolerance towards Huguenots (French Protestants) who are especially skilled in the textile trade, destroyed by Louis XIV when he announced that he would repeal the 87-year-old Edict of Nantes in 1685. As a result, France lost thousands of important master craftsmen. These people immigrated to Britain and the Netherlands, France’s biggest trade rivals.
Why did Louis XIV move the palace out of Paris?
When Louis XIV was a little boy, he witnessed the bloody scene of the civil war known as the Fronde Rebellion in Paris, and during this period Parliament played a prominent role in the fight against Cardinal Mazarin and his regency council. The winner of this civil war was the absolute monarchy, but Louis is said to have learned an important lesson from this: to reduce the influence of the Parliament in Paris by shifting the administration out of the capital.
This thought may have affected Louis’ decision to build a palace outside Paris. Louis wants to have a monument built for the Bourbon Dynasty that has never had a palace or castle symbolic to its power; He was eager to express himself as the most powerful king in Europe through the terms of architecture. But Louis also loved Paris very much: Paris owes Louis the restoration of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the extensive expansion of the Louvre Museum, the arrangement of the Champ-Elysees Boulevard and the construction of the Hotel des Invalides. But there was not enough room in the capital for a palace of the size that the King portrayed in his head; therefore in 1669, he ordered to start working on the construction of the new palace in Versailles, 22 km southwest of Paris.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s reforms
During the 1660s the King of France Louis XIV’s most trusted minister was the son of a fabric merchant, named Jean-Baptiste Colbert. With the reforms he made in industry and commerce, he managed to provide the necessary funds for King’s foreign policy plans. He strengthened the Louis’ authority, making France the biggest power in Europe. Colbert believed that the world had limited resources, and the strength and future of a nation were based on its success in obtaining them. The best way to reach this goal was to export as many manufactured goods as possible. Colbert has forbidden specialists and skilled craftsmen from leaving the country for this purpose and granted privileges to foreign masters. However, just two years after his death in 1683, the annulment of the Nantes Edict would lead to abandonment of the country by the Protestant masters and craftsmen which destroyed the main positive consequences of Colbert’s smart economic policy.
How was Louis XIV’s foreign policy?
Louis XIV dreamed of France regaining its strength from the years of Charlemagne. In particular, he claimed that he was superior to the Habsburgs, who still ruled the world’s most powerful empire. Louis fought for glory for 40 years, but he did not achieve much. The War of Devolution began in 1667. After his father-in-law, the King of Spain Felipe IV’s death, Louis claimed that his wife had a right over the Spanish Netherlands. France’s victory in the war forced Habsburg Emperor Leopold I to agree on the partition of the country with Louis when the king of Spain died. But Carlos II lived until 1700 and the treaty could not be fulfilled.
Franco-Dutch War began with the invasion of the United Provinces by the Louis XIV in 1672 when Louis had seen the Calvinist Dutch Republic as an insult to its Catholic monarchy. France captured the Dutch cities; However, Leopold and Spain entered the war and the invasion resulted in a Treaty of Nijmegen in 1679. Only the Franche Comte region remained in France.
Louis followed an aggressive policy in Germany, which resulted in the Augsburg League opposition, established in 1686 by the Saxony, Savoie, Brandenburg, Sweden, Spain, Bavaria, the United Provinces and the Holy Roman-German Empire. Louis’s invasion of the Rhine-Pfalz started the War of the League of Augsburg or the War of the Grand Alliance in 1688. The war resulted in the Rijswijk Treaty in 1697, Louis’s only gain was Alsace.
War of the Spanish Succession was Louis XIV‘s last major war and it ended with great disappointment. The Duke of Marlborough received a victory at Blenheim in 1704 and this war ended the perception that France was invincible. With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France had to leave the Newfoundland and Hudson Bay regions in Canada to England.
What was the legacy of Louis XIV?
When Louis XIV died in 1715, his grandson’s five-year-old son Louis XV took the throne. During the long reign of the young King, ruled until his death in 1774, France’s power in Europe and overseas gradually decreased, while Britain gained more influence.
Louis XV was loved in the palace. He was handsome and friendly, but he was also lazy and had many mistresses like his great grandfather. He rarely participated in council discussions and was often undecided.
France was facing a crisis. As the bourgeoisie evolved, Louis XV’s discontent grew from not having a share in the country’s administration. While there was no strong leader to lead and direct national policies, the wars against England had put the France in a huge debt.
XV. Louis tried to make reforms in the last four years of his reign. His grandson Louis XVI took the throne in 1774 but the country was already moving toward a revolution that would break out in 1789.
- “There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.”
- “I could sooner reconcile all Europe than two women.”
- “The Pyrenees are no more.”
- “Every time I appoint someone to a vacant position, I make a hundred unhappy and one ungrateful.”
- “We can do all we wish while we live; afterward, we are less than the meanest.”
- “My child, you are going to be a great king; do not imitate me in the taste I have had for building, or in that I have had for war; try, on the contrary, to be at peace with your neighbors.”
- “It is impossible to please all the world.”