Louis XIV, King of France
Louis XIV, King of France
LOUIS XIV, KING OF FRANCE
Called the Great, or le Roi Soleil; b. Saint-Germainen-Laye, Sept. 16, 1638; d. Versailles, Sept. 1,1715. His reign of 73 years was the longest in European history and marked the political and cultural hegemony of France. As the son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, he acceded to the throne at the age of five; he first reigned under the regency of his mother, although real power was exercised by the Italian born protégé of Richelieu, Cardinal Jules mazarin. While Louis was still a minor, the civil war known as the Fronde (1648–53) broke out, first manifesting itself as a revolt of the Paris Parlement and subsequently as an uprising of the princes against the Court. This is the last feudal revolt in French history.
Mazarin's Tutelage. At an age when he should have been engaged in formal schooling, Louis was, instead, enmeshed in the tortuous and dangerous maneuvers of Mazarin. A lifelong suspicion and a conviction that all were bent upon lessening his authority are thought to have had their origin in this environment. His education was rudimentary. He became adept at horseback riding, the dance, and the hunt, but measured by even the more modest Renaissance standards he was an ignoramus. He knew no Greek, very little Latin, and history and mathematics were virtually unknown to him. In later life he astounded
foreigners with his knowledge of geography, but this he learned from practical experience, not schoolbooks. Louis's religious education was also neglected. The monarch who would be thrust into the midst of the thorniest theological controversies was taught nothing beyond the necessity for pious works and decorous behavior at religious observances. Although his formal, spiritual education was entrusted to Charles Paulin, SJ, more important in Louis's formation was his mother, who frequently attended two Masses a day and spent untold hours at the prie-dieu, but disdained formal theology. To her influence are traced the seeming pangs of conscience that followed his youthful amorous adventures. Contemporary witnesses relate his frequent but generally futile efforts to part from his mistresses. Later, fÉnelon characterized Louis's religion as superstitious, devout, and in the Spanish style.
When Mazarin died in 1661, Louis astounded the courtiers by announcing promptly and emphatically that ministerial rule was at an end and that he was taking charge of all affairs of government. His decision was widely acclaimed. For almost four decades, and in violation of the essence of monarchy, France had been ruled by ministers, one of whom had not even been Frenchborn. It was an auspicious moment in the history of France. For the first time in a century and a half, thanks largely to Richelieu, the monarchy could feel secure against its internal and external foes: the feudal nobility, Huguenots, and Hapsburgs. After imprisoning Nicolas Fouquet, the immensely wealthy superintendent of finances who had been the prime candidate to succeed Mazarin, the 23-year-old Louis turned to the able Jean Baptiste Colbert, to mastermind a program of reform unequaled in the history of the old regime. Both envisaged a France rid of all clumsy feudal survivals, unified and prosperous, united by a fine network of roads and canals, ruled according to the Cartesian ideals of order and method. But the opposition of French society to such a program was too powerful. Louis gradually lost enthusiasm for reform and turned to more bellicose means of ensuring French greatness. Colbert was thrust into the background, as the minister of war; Louvois, emerged as Louis's principal counselor.
Pursuit of Glory. Louis XIV's overriding passion was the pursuit of glory. "The love of glory goes beyond all others in my soul," he once said. He saw himself as Augustus, Constantine, and Justinian, all at the same time. In the internal administration of France, in his patronage of the arts and sciences, and in other ways, this passion had admirable results. In foreign policy, however, it led only to disaster. He fought four wars, all motivated primarily by personal and dynastic considerations. He envisioned himself the acknowledged leader of Christendom, the true successor of Charlemagne. From the start he converted this idea into a principle of international law by inflicting gratuitous humiliations upon the pope, the emperor, and the king of Spain. He also made grandiose plans for a new crusade to destroy the Ottoman power.
Military Ambitions. Louis's principal interest centered in the Spanish Netherlands. Temporarily abandoning his efforts to reestablish his wife's right to the Spanish throne, he fell back on a local right of inheritance, the droit de dévolution, which made Maria Theresa the heiress of the Belgian provinces. This provoked the War of Devolution (1667–68) with Spain. Although his armies were successful, Louis was forced to conclude peace and surrender his spoils because of the unexpected anti-French Triple Alliance, formed by Holland, England, and Sweden in 1668. Blaming John de Witt, pensioner of Holland, and further angered by the refuge given in Holland to French political pamphleteers, he declared war on the Dutch in 1672, after extensive military and diplomatic preparations that included the secret Treaty of Dover with England in 1670. After six years of costly war, the Treaties of Nimwegen (1678–79) brought terms of peace in which Spain lost Franche-Comté and lands in the Spanish Netherlands to Louis. At the height of his power, he established the Chambers of Reunion (1680–83), which exploited the loose terminology of preceding peace treaties so as to acquire additional land along the north and northeast frontiers.
After a short breathing spell, Europe was plunged into the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–97), when Louis laid claim to the Palatinate after the death, without an heir, of the Elector Charles, whose sister was the wife of Louis's brother. Louis committed a major strategic mistake by sending his armies into the Palatinate, thus allowing William of Orange to slip across the channel and receive the English crown, as the exiled James II became the unhappy guest of the French. Years of combat finally ended with the inconclusive Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.
On Nov. 1, 1700, Charles II of Spain died, after making a last-minute will in favor of Louis's grandson, Philip of Anjou, hoping desperately that this move would keep his far-flung empire intact. Instead, the Grand Alliance was renewed and extended, and in the warfare that followed, Louis XIV lost every major battle (Blenheim, 1704; Ramillies, 1706; Malplaquet, 1709). In the Treaty of Utrecht, April 11, 1713, which terminated the war, Louis won recognition for his grandson as King of Spain, but lost Newfoundland, Nova Scotia (Arcadia), and the Hudson Bay territory to England. Louis survived the Treaty of Utrecht by two melancholy years. The old monarch witnessed the death of four members of his family in the direct male line, so that only a frail great-grandson remained as his successor. On his deathbed he admitted to him, "I have loved war too much. Do not imitate me in that nor in the great expenses that I have incurred." His passing caused no great sorrow to an exhausted France.
Gallicanism. Louis's reign is conspicuous for struggles with the papacy over the limitations of ecclesiastical power in France and French power in Rome. Immediately upon his assumption of the government, difficulties arose out of the affair of the Corsican Guard, the Sorbonne thesis defending papal infallibility, and Colbert's efforts to increase the age for final religious vows. But the major quarrel came in the 1670s with the affair of the régale, the king's right to dispose of the revenues and benefices of vacant bishoprics. This ancient royal prerogative had never been disputed in the larger part of France. When a few provinces in the south of France claimed exemptions, earlier kings at least tacitly recognized them. Louis, however, intent on uniformity, extended these regalian rights in 1673 to the hitherto exempted provinces. Only two bishops opposed the move, François Étienne caulet of Pamiers and Nicolas Pavillon of Alet, men of high moral integrity. The latter soon died, leaving the elderly Caulet to face the King's ire. Caulet obtained support in 1678 from Innocent XI, newly elevated to the papal throne and conscious of the dignity of Rome and past humiliations from Louis XIV. The Pope dispatched a succession of protests to the French monarch, culminating in 1679 with a clear threat of excommunication. This was countered by a declaration of the Assembly of the Clergy in 1680 that they were "bound to His Majesty by ties that nothing can break." Caulet's diocese remained in a virtual state of siege. When Louis convoked the clergy in 1682, there was promulgated the famous declaration of the french clergy that, for the rest of the decade, strained relations between Versailles and the Vatican. Only with the death of Innocent XI in 1689 did a compromise become possible. Innocent XII in 1692 received a message from Louis that the "things ordained by my edict of 1682 … should not be observed." These Gallican Articles remained legally in force until the end of the old regime, but were a dead letter until revived by Napoleon.
The Huguenots. Louis XIV's relations with the Huguenots center upon his revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by which his grandfather, Henry IV, had granted them religious toleration on April 15, 1598. What motivated Louis's action? The Huguenots were suffering a steady attrition at the start of his reign so that, politically, they were no longer a menace. This had been proved during the Fronde, when the French Protestants remained entirely loyal to the crown. Certainly, the revocation was not the result of any deep religious feeling on the part of the King. The answer probably lies in Louis's conviction that France had to be consolidated. In the same manner that he strove to unify his state politically, economically, and culturally, he had to unify it religiously. The implied challenge of a dissident minority sect could not be tolerated. In justice to Louis XIV it should be acknowledged that the idea of tolerating a religious minority was a strange and unwelcome one in all Europe, and France was no exception. From the start of his reign, Louis was subjected to heavy pressures to solve the Protestant question. As early as 1655, the Assembly of the Clergy demanded a strict interpretation of the Edict of nantes, meaning that Protestants should be allowed no right not specifically guaranteed. As long as Colbert remained in the ascendency, no great hardships were imposed on the Huguenots. Once he was replaced by Louvois, who was not concerned about the economic impact of the persecution, Louis came under the influence of the zealous Madame de Maintenon, although historical research has absolved her of responsibility for the revocation as it was finally effected. More important were Louis's troubles with Innocent XI. He came perilously close in 1682 to going the way of Henry VIII of England, and it is contended that this anti-Huguenot move was motivated by a desire to prove his orthodoxy to the Catholic world.
In 1682, 68 French prelates issued the Avertissement Pastoral, which was, in effect, a last warning, given with Louis's approval, to abandon Calvinism. Immediately, a large number of Protestant churches were destroyed on one pretext or another, but always under the orders of the courts of law. The following year brought a short respite because of the undeclared war that Louis fought with Spain and the Emperor. By the summer of 1684, Madame de Maintenon was writing that "the King has determined to work for the complete conversion of the heretics." Officially, Louis to the end remained a staunch opponent of the use of force. It was Foucault, the obscure intendant of Béarn, who first, and without permission from Versailles, made extensive use of the dragonnades to achieve mass conversions, at least on paper. Neighboring intendants took up his example, and by the end of the summer Chancellor Le Tellier could show the King that by simple arithmetic no significant number of Huguenots was left in France. On this basis the King signed the revocation on Oct. 18, 1685, forbidding the exercise of the reformed religion in France. Despite the prohibition of emigration, about 250,000 Huguenots left France, causing serious economic repercussions. One significant consequence of the emigration was the growth of anti-French feeling in many countries of Europe, notably England, Holland, and certain German states, with the daily arrival of Huguenot refugees.
Jansenist Question. The problem of Jansenism during the reign of Louis XIV was no older than the monarch himself. Cornelius Jansen died the year Louis was born, and some of the principal elements of the controversy unfolded while the prince was still a child. The augustinus appeared in Paris in 1641 and was condemned by Urban VIII in the bull In eminenti in 1642, the same year in which Antoine arnauld's De la Fréquente Communion attacked what was universally recognized as Jesuit teaching. For the next two decades, Louis was exposed to the confusing and at times meaningless disputes made more tragic by the great goodwill and virtue of the protagonists of both sides. Louis's attitude at this time reflected the view of Cardinal Mazarin, who saw in the Jansenist movement the same elements that opposed him in the Fronde. When Louis assumed personal rule in 1661, he simply intensified Mazarin's policy. As in the case of the régale, the furor which the opposition aroused seemed disproportionate to the numbers involved. By the mid 1660s only four bishops, including Caulet of Pamiers and Pavillon of Alet, and a handful of nuns and theologians at port-royal refused to sign the formulary against Jansenist tenets. To conciliate both sides, Clement IX, weary from the conflict, drew up a compromise statement that even the four bishops and Antoine Arnauld himself could in conscience sign, thus initiating the Clementine Peace of 1669.
The peace of 30 years terminated with the emergence of the rash and intemperate Pasquier quesnel. His widely read Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament, restating virtually the whole of Jansenist theology, occasioned an intense battle of pamphlets. Louis XIV saw in revived Jansenism a challenge to his own political authority, since it merged with a movement of growing general criticism aimed at the King. Clement XI was asked by Louis XIV to pronounce formal condemnations, which appeared in the dogmatic constitutions Vineam Domini Sabaoth of July 16, 1705, and most notably in the fateful Unigenitus of Sept. 8, 1713, which censured 101 verbatim propositions of Quesnel. When the nuns of Port-Royal repeated their earlier intransigence, Louis in 1710 ordered the demolition of their ancient buildings and their dispersion. At Louis XIV's death, 2,000 people were held in jail on charges of Jansenism.
See Also: gallicanism; jansenism.
Bibliography: p. r. doolin, The Fronde (Cambridge, Mass.1935). d. ogg, Louis XIV (London 1933). j. orcibal, Louis XIV contre Innocent XI (Paris 1949); Louis XIV et les Protestants (Paris 1951). c. gÉrin, Louis XIV et le Saint-Siège, 2 v. (Paris 1894). l. o'brien, Innocent XI and the Revocation of The Edict of Nantes (Berkeley 1930). p. gaxotte, La France de Louis XIV (Paris 1946). w. c. scoville, The Persecution of the Huguenots and French Economic Development, 1680–1720 (Berkeley 1960).
[l. l. bernard]