Louis XIV, “the sun king”, is seen as one of France’s most productive and mighty monarchs. During his reign of 72 years, the longest reign in European history, he achieved many great things and made France extremely powerful. Louis XIV was one of France’s best rulers, his greatest achievements include making the central government more powerful, increasing the boundaries of France, and building one of the most extravagant palaces in the world.
After the death of Louis’ chief minister Mazarin in 1661, Louis declared he would rule France without a chief minister, something no French king had ever done (History.com Staff). His intention was to rule as an absolute monarch, believing that his power as king was derived from God and that he was responsible to God alone (History.com Staff). While Louis assumed responsibility for decision making, he understood that he must rule within the constraints of the laws and customs of his kingdom, he consulted widely with his nobles and ministers, and he met weekly with members of his high council (History.com Staff). He created an informal cabinet, which was eventually led by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, chief minister of finance (History.com Staff).
Louis wanted to get new ideas, he did this by replacing the high and wealthy nobles with nobles that came from new aristocratic families (“Minority”). Louis also made sure that the local government was placed under removable civil servants, because he feared that the high nobilities would overpower him and that’s why he relied on the new judicial nobilities because he knew they had no chance of seizing his power, this was a great way for Louis XIV to establish royal power and authority in the provinces (“Minority”). Louis helped the nobility feel like they had power and had a place by giving them offices to work in and job titles. The nobles stayed at Louis’ grand palace in Versailles so he could always watch them, and if they refused they would not get their pensions and other privileges (“Minority”). Louis still wanted the nobility to rely on him in some ways, and he also wanted to prevent them from gaining their own independent provinces (“Louis XIV of France”).
Much of the land that Louis XIV gained during his rule was obtained through war. One of the very first wars that helped him gain territory was the War of the Devolution. Louis XIV supported the idea of his first wife inheriting the Spanish Netherlands, so he invaded to help his wife (Kagan). Louis’s armies invaded Flanders and through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle he gained control of Lille, Douai, and Armentieres, all towns bordering the Spanish Netherlands (“Territorial evolution of France”). In 1672 Louis invaded the Netherlands again, but the war ended inconclusively with the Peace of Nijmwegen being signed and France gaining more territory, including the Franche-Comte (Kagan).
The Peace of Nijmwegen also gave France the forts on the Aire and Saint-Omer, Cambrai, Valenciennes and Maubeuge in Hainaut (“Territorial evolution of France”). Louis also gained control of several territories through the Truce of Ratisbon, including Luxembourg and Strasbourg, which covered the frontier and protected France from foreign invasion, but Strasbourg was the only place he got to keep after the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 (“Louis XIV of France”). Louis wanted to show his ultimate power, so he had his father’s hunting lodge transformed into an immense and extravagant palace surrounded by French and English gardens (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica).
When completed, the palace of Versailles was the largest secular structure in Europe (Kagan). The Palace of Versailles was large enough to house 6,000 companions, and the entire estate covered 2,000 acres (Dunn). Every detail of its construction was intended to glorify the king (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Landscape artist André Le Nôtre created symmetrical French gardens which expressed the power of humanity and the king over nature (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). In order to make the palace so big, Louis drained swamps and moved whole forests to create 250 acres of formal gardens, tree-lined paths, flower beds, lakes, and fountains (Dunn). The king officially moved to his extravagant palace on May 6, 1682 (Dunn). Louis had many reasons on why he wanted such an elegant palace, for one, Versailles served as the perfect setting for state affairs and for the reception of foreign dignitaries (“Louis XIV of France”).
Louis also loved his life of expensive luxury, he dressed elegantly and was always attending balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations (“Louis XIV of France”).