How was Louis XIV good for France but not for the French?

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Louis XIV was good for France in that through his controller general, Jean Baptiste Colbert, France became almost completely independent economically. Colbert was responsible for the development of a large merchant marine fleet, the elimination of domestic tariffs and an increase in foreign tariffs, and establishment of a thriving textile industry. It was under Louis' reign that the city of Quebec was established in Canada, in an attempt to make Canada part of the French empire. Colbert's efforts resulted in France being the leading industrial nation in Europe.

At the same time Louis was not good for the French people, as he was a poor financial manager. He tended to spend money quickly, primarily on fighting foreign wars and maintaining a lavish court at Versailles. He raised money by increasing taxes which were only paid by the Third Estate, or commoners. When this did not bring in enough revenue, he sold titles of nobility which became hereditary and by implication freed the holder of the title from any responsibility to pay taxes. In one Edict issued in 1696, Louis created and sold over 500 titles. This led one minister to comment:

As soon as the crown creates an office, God creates a fool willing to buy it.

By selling titles of nobility, Louis decreased his tax base, thus creating a downward spiral. More money was needed; yet there were fewer taxpayers to fund his constantly increasing debt. His poor financial practices sowed the seed which would mature into the French Revolution later. Louis famously--and correctly--commented once: "apres moi, les deluge."  (after me the flood.)

Additionally, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which had allowed French Calvinists some degree of freedom of religion. His decree revoking the Edict stated:

We now see with the proper gratitude that we owe to God…for the best and largest part of our subjects of the so-called reformed religion have embraced Catholicism, and now that, to the extent that the execution of the Edict of Nantes remains useless, we have judged that we can do nothing better to wipe out the memory of the troubles, of the confusion, of the evils that the progress of this false religion has caused our kingdom…than to revoke entirely the said Edict.

Although Louis forbade anyone from leaving the country for religious reasons, after the revocation over 200,000 people emigrated to other countries.

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