France: Europe’s Sun Kingdom

Some seventy years after the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre, painted above by French Huguenot painter François Dubois in 1584, France’s future King Louis XIV was born. King Louis XIV’s long reign-which was longer than the reign of any other major European country’s monarch-lasted until his death in 1715. Known as the Sun King, Louis XIV represented France’s growing centralization of power in an era of French excellence in Europe. In France’s prime the Sun King sought warfare, which he believed enhanced his glory, and led the country into multiple wars. Overall, Louis XVI’s every action pointed to his dedication to establishing an absolutist monarchy in France.

Louis XIV of France
Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Louis XIV in Majesty (1701), pictured above, paints King Louis XIV in a kind light. The Sun King encouraged various French artists and philosophers to participate heavily in the French Renaissance, as this portrait displays his appreciation of the arts. A large focus of this piece lands on Louis XIV’s legs, which stood as a symbol of his strength.

The Sun King drew much of his power from his ability to keep the old nobility at peace in a time where their grasp of power was slipping. Duc de Saint-Simon; a French soldier, diplomat, and diarist; famously took careful note of the inner workings of the King’s court. From inside Versailles, the old nobility were given residence with the royal family and those in power in order to create an illusion of importance for each member of the court. Although Duc de Saint-Simon resented the nobility of the robe and favored his fellow nobility of the sword, his memoirs of life alongside Louis XIV reveal the contentions many members of nobility made to maintain relevance.

The King’s absolutist rule drew from the teachings of Jacques Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704), who advocated for “divine right” absolutism. Bossuet and Louis XIV agreed that government was divine and the King received power directly from God. This belief in divine right justified Louis XIV’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which called for the destruction of Huguenot churches and the closing of Protestant schools. The Revocation was merely a formality, as the prosecution of Huguenots existed even before its announcement, but the King’s stubborn dedication to Catholicism cost France many of its skilled craftsmen. Huguenot craftsmen through out France fled, as they feared prosecution, and the goods France produced declined significantly in quality.

joseph werner triumph of king louis xiv
Joseph Werner’s Triumph of Louis XIV (1664), pictured above, depicts the Sun King’s dedication to royal absolutism while on the Throne in France.

The rule of Louis XIV took the beliefs of previous monarchs to a new level as the remainder of Europe looked upon a very powerful France. The King’s reach went far beyond his ability to heal scrofula with his royal touch, as Louis XIV secured direct power from the nobility and the people.



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