What was significant about Louis XIV, and what did he do during his reign?

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Louis XIV is significant for radicially altering the balance of power in French politics: centralizing power in the monarchy and establishing a system of patronage and despotism that survived until the French Revolution.

Louis was influenced early in life by the 1648 Fronde, a civil war that erupted in response to the aristocracy's alarm over how Louis's mother and the chief minister, Mazarin, were building on Richelieu's base and taking steps to further consolidate political power wholly in the monarchy. That aristocratic revolt was defeated, paving the way for Louis's assumption of absolute power.

After Mazarin died in 1661, Louis made moves to centralize power in himself. He said "I am the state" and eschewed having a chief minister. He based his decision to act as absolute dictator on the theory of the Divine Rights of Kings, which stated that monarchs, appointed by God, had unquestioned power and ownership over the state that was divinely sanctioned (and therefore could not be legitimately challenged).

One of Louis's most notable achievements in breaking the power of the landed nobility was to build Versailles and make it the undisputed center of power and authority in France. Nobles who wanted or needed patronage—and they all did—had to essentially spend their lives at Versailles, currying favor with the king. Anyone who wanted patronage from a noble, also, therefore, had to come to Versailles to find that noble. In the past, nobles had their own courts that were centers of patronage and power, but after Versailles, these courts were severely diminished as power centers.

Consolidating power in the hands of the monarch had two unfortunate results that are a part of Louis's legacy. First, the normal tension between the monarchy and the aristocracy was undermined. Normally, in the healthy political triangle Aristotle described, aristocrats and the monarch both court the common people, both needing their backing for power. Now, the power resided so disproportionally in the hands of the monarchy that the common people's concerns were forgotten.

This led to indifference to the needs of the common people, which caused oppression. The people had no real voice in the government, which gave them no outlet as economic conditions deteriorated in the country under Louis's grandson, Louise XVI. As a blocked pipe will explode, so did France, into a revolution that stunned the world.

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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...

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