The reign of France's Louis XIV (1638–1715) is still the longest of any European leader. Louis enlarged the French territories significantly in a series of successful wars that made France the most powerful nation in Europe. He successfully gained an alliance with his nation's greatest enemy, Spain, and set France on a road toward political and social reforms that other nations later followed. He appeased the aristocracy by inviting them to live at Versailles, an act that reduced the possibility of rebellion; and he rid the country of the last vestiges of feudalism. He was a great patron of the arts, lovingly known as the Sun King, nearly bankrupting the royal treasury--but not the national treasury--with his financial support of painting, music and literature. Moliere was a favorite of the king, and Louis was even praised by Napoleon as "a great king... the only King of France worthy of the name"; and by Voltaire, who claimed his years on the throne were "an eternally memorable age."
Louis XIV was known as the Sun King and was the prime example of absolute monarchy in 17th and 18th century Europe. He was significant for a few reasons:
- Government control - by building the palace at Versailles and holding court there, Louis was able to control the policy-making in absolute France. The royal court served as his home, the meeting place for the state, and also a place where royal subjects would come to pay tribute to the King and attend parties. He also kept the nobles out of politics in order to try and control them, while inviting them for parties and gatherings in order to keep an eye on them.
- A desire for religious harmony - Louis was a Catholic and aimed at converting Huguenots (French Protestants). Unfortunately for the Huguenots, this meant that their schools would close, churches would be destroyed, and eventually many Huguenots fled to England.
- Wars - To increase his power, Louis put together an army of about 400,000 men. His goal was to spread the power of the Bourbon dynasty throughout Europe, so he engaged on a series of wars from the mid-17th century into the early 18th century. As a result, many countries formed an alliance to prevent Louis' army from taking too much territory in Europe. Regardless, Louis did make some territorial gains and installed a Bourbon on the Spanish throne.
- Economic disaster - Versailles, court maintenance, and wars proved to be very expensive. In order to increase exports and decrease imports, he built new industries. Additionally, he improved communication and infrastructure to help facilitate trade. His minister of finance raised taxes on foreign goods to limit imports.
At the end of his reign, Louis regretted some of his decisions. He told his successor, his 5-year-old Great Grandson:
"Soon you will be King of a great kingdom... Try to remain at peace with your neighbors. I loved war too much. Do not follow me in that or in overspending... Lighten your people's burden as soon as possible, and do what I have had the misfortune not to do myself."