Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Louis XIV: The Glory and the Misery

From The Spectator:
Louis XIV came to the throne in 1638 at the age of four with the monarchy ‘on a knife edge’ and died 72 years later with his country virtually bankrupt; but in the decades between he left a mark on France and Europe that no French king can match. As an infant his ‘voracious’ appetite took him through eight bruised and exhausted wet nurses, and whether it was women or work, his army or his pleasures, his benevolence or brutality, the same insatiable appetite would mark his whole life.
‘The neighbours of France should beware such precocious rapacity,’ the Swedish diplomat Grotius prophetically remarked of the new dauphin, but it would be some while before France and Europe found out just what they had got. On his deathbed Louis XIII had appointed his wife, Anne of Austria, regent for their infant son, and for the first years of his reign — years marked by a deep hatred of the king’s first minister, Cardinal Mazarin, rising taxes, simmering rebellion, the court’s nocturnal flight from Paris, and the spreading anarchy of the Fronde — only his youth saved Louis from the resentment that engulfed the regency. ‘Paris is in uproar,’ Mansel writes:
Princes and provinces rebel. Cities shut their gates in the king’s face. The countryside is devastated. Frenchmen claim that their kings have a duty to their subjects, as well as subjects to kings, and that obedience to kings is conditional on their observance of the law.
It was increasingly apparent, though, that as the king grew up the greatest asset that the court party had was Louis himself.  It is always difficult with Louis to penetrate the layers of sycophancy that invariably obscure the man, but what is clear is that the child who burst into tears at his first address to the Paris parlement, had developed into a paragon of youthful royalty, ‘a young Apollo’, in John Evelyn’s words, ‘of sweet yet grave countenance’, ‘affable, informal and Parisian’ when he wanted to be, and with ‘une mine fière et hautaine’ when he needed it. ‘Such is his goodness and facility of humour,’ his confessor recorded on his entry into Rouen, ‘joined to the grace of his body and the sweetness of his glance, that I know no more powerful philtre to enchain hearts. All Normandy could not tire of the sight of him.’ (Read more.)

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