Louis XIV was the epitome of an absolute monarch. Through his endless wars, extreme extravagance, and absolute control over taxes and the economy, he set the example for other European powers. His absolute rule brought about both positives and negatives. By building a large army to defend and expand his borders, he alienated other empires and created enemies. Placing political power and faith in the nobility helped him rule a vast kingdom but displaced him from the common man.
His obsession with being a great conqueror expanded France to its largest in history, ut nearly bankrupted the country and resulted in losing more territory than he gained. Although Louis XIV brought many improvements to France, as well as western society, his insatiable lust for war and extravagance caused more harm than good to the French Empire. Louis XIV believed that being a conqueror was the greatest title a leader could obtain. Because of this, he would use his empire’s extreme wealth to wage constant wars with his neighbors. During his reign, he created a professional army with standardized weapons and uniforms.
He also created a rational system of training nd promotion. His army model was copied throughout Europe. Realizing that he wanted to fight on multiple fronts, he greatly increased the size of his army. This, in turn, caused other European powers to expand their armies, as well as form coalitions against the Sun King. This coalition allied against Louis resulted in multiple defeats and loss of land. At first, Louis’ wars were quite beneficial. He was able to take over a few cities and began expanding his kingdom to what he considered its natural boundaries.
More importantly, he was able to accomplish this without adding taxes to the people. But by 1684, the expansion ceased and the troubles began. He yielded territory to England, Spain, and Sweden. The wars of the next two decades did not provide any additional territories to France and strained the French resources. The French currency devalued and Louis enacted new taxes to pay for his war machine. By the time of Louis’ last war, the War of Spanish Succession, his people suffered from high taxes, crop failure and malnutrition. Once again, his was forced to surrender more territories to his enemies.
More importantly, the war crippled France economically nd by its end, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. Louis’ extravagant palace at Versailles helped him keep his empire secure but also alienated his poorer subjects. Louis successfully used his palace as a political tool to keep his empire functioning smoothly. Because he controlled the distribution or state power and wealth, nobles had to stay at Versailles and earn Louis’ favor. This was important for Louis because these nobles had authority in their ancestral lands and he needed to monitor their activities closely.
The same extravagance that enticed the obles would ultimately alienate the common man. Versailles, although a remarkable achievement, stood for elegance and power, something the peasants had little interest in. In addition, many serfs died during its construction. More importantly, when taxes increased and the empire verged on bankruptcy, Versailles stood as a horrible reminder of wasted wealth and unnecessary spending by the upper class. Lastly, Versailles represented a station in lite that the serts could never achieve. Louis ruled his lands through consuls of state, which he picked directly from the recently nnobled or upper middle class.
He wanted to make sure the peasants knew that he would never share power with them. Louis XIV had the longest reign in French history. Ruling an empire for 71 years, especially during the turbulent 17th and 18th century Europe, would be hard to do without making enemies and alienating subjects. This is especially true considering it is an absolute monarchs destiny to conquer and bring more wealth to the empire. Louis succeeded greatly in improving France’s army, wealth, and world standing – during his time French became the language of polite society, diplomacy, and earning.
Unfortunately for Louis, all empires eventually must fall, usually from the stress of time. Although his people were defeated, poor, and struggling by the end of his long reign, his legacy would live on throughout Europe. His strong example of leadership and culture would be mirrored in the empires around him. And his crowning achievement, the extravagant Versailles, may have been thought of with disdain for a brief period in history, is now enjoyed by millions of people to this day and will live on for many more generations.