What did Louis XIV do and why? What were his accomplishments, challenges, enemies, beginning, end, contemporaries, and important actions?

Expert Answers
osurpless eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While this topic is not conducive to brevity due to the length of the Sun King's reign of 70 and more years, here are some of the points to get the topic started.

Louis XIV was the absolutist Bourbon King of France from 1643 to 1715, and history's best example espousing Bodin's theory of the divine right of kings. His word was law, controlling all aspects of the French government and society. His accomplishments include building the Palace of Versailles, which also can be seen as a challenge, as a home away from Paris was designed for luxury and to curtail any undermining efforts by the nobles, who would live at court with him. Versailles was one of many of his massive building projects, which brought opulence and respect to France, but also serious cost, which further contributed to the onerous tax burden that eventually led to the French Revolution.

Another challenge was the series of civil wars known as the Frondes; while Louis was not directly involved due to his youth, these rebellions shaped his definition of the power of the French throne, justifying Cardinal Richelieu's consolidation of Royal power even further than the theory itself. At their conclusion, Louis entered Paris in triumph; this no doubt helped his belief that the citizens appreciated the orderly nature of his reign.

Another accomplishment was his desire for colonies in the Americas; the sponsorship of La Salle's expeditions led to French exploration of the Mississippi River and the establishment of Louisiana, which was named after him. This gave France a place on the world stage, far beyond his lofty ambitions in Europe itself. Which brings us to his foes. His enemies were numerous, due to his ambition to increase France's influence in Europe through warfare. His reign involved the Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession, conflicts against the Dutch over Alsace-Lorraine and Flanders and numerous others.

Ill-advised, Louis sent his forces into the Rhineland in 1688 to claim the Palatinate for his sister-in-law Elizabeth Charlotte of Bavaria. Louis was not successful in the War of League of Augsburg, however, and although he devastated the Rhineland, the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 did not improve France. (See source)

These wars rarely accomplished much in the long run aside from causing massive war debts and destabilizing the continent.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes on the other hand brought no good at all and resulting in economic weakness due to misguided belief that France should be one faith (religion). These French Protestants (Huguenots) had lived in the country for decades and contributed their diverse economic talents in significant ways. After their persecution led to large migrations, they found a welcome home throughout Europe, especially in Prussia where their transplanted skills greatly strengthened France's rivals.

His end came naturally despite the above blunders, as the system was designed to address such threats of treason, so it can be said that France ultimately didn't so much appreciate the reign of Louis XIV as the legacy of his building projects and prestige on the international stage (Versailles recently had a large commemoration ceremony to attest to that fact). The best proof of this is his chosen successor, his great grandson the XV (he had outlived all others), ensuring that his reign would be remembered in both good and bad as indicative of the Ancien Regime, and all that it entailed. To me, it is telling that the French Revolution ultimately broke out at the end of the 18th century, as the conflicts between the different Estates had been fermenting for quite a while, proving that such a system needed only a gap in strong leadership to prompt its overthrow.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question