Louis 14th: Nature’s Incarnate

If “Nature is God”, then the major consequence of such a state of affairs will be the deification of secular power, in general, and that of a secular Ruler, in particular. In the European Modern Era, the transition from the deification of Nature to Its incarnation manifested itself in the emergence of the so called “absolute monarchies”. The French king Louis 14th appeared as a “classical” representative of the said form of government with all its merits and demerits.

He would be compared to the sun. He himself felt one with the country entrusted to him and would do all in his power to make France richer, prettier, and larger. And what is most important, Europe’s parade of “absolute monarchies” put an end to any claims to power by the Popes of Rome.

Louis 14th de Bourbon was born on September 5th, 1638, near Paris, in the country residence of French kings. His father, Louis 13th, the “Just”, had been a son of Henry 4th, the leader of the Huguenots, who, in order to get hold of the French crown, converted to Catholicism, uttering the famous phrase: “Paris is well worth a mass”. Louis 13th was an ardent music lover: he perfectly played the harpsichord and would sing the bass line in secular and sacred choral music, which he would often compose himself. He had been taught ballet in early childhood and later would take part in ballet performances, which he would stage himself. Louis 14th’s mother, Anne “of Austria”, was a daughter of the king Philip 3d of Spain and Margaret of Austria. Louis 13th‘s relationship with his wife was rather the “discharge of a duty”, and he preferred to spend his time with his friends. Louis 13th‘s mother was Marie de’ Medici. So, the blood of virtually all basic West-European ethnoses was running through Louis 14th‘s veins.

Formally, Lous childLouis 14th began to reign in 1643, when he was under 5, immediately after his father was murdered by a Catholic fanatic. Then his mother became regent on behalf of him. However, the country was actually run by Cardinal G. Mazarin, who was the chief minister, and who had taken over the position from Cardinal Richelieu. Mazarin was the young monarch’s godfather, and he was charged with his upbringing and education. The cardinal managed it quite well, and, to some extent, became a replacement for the boy’s deceased father. Among the subjects taught to Louis were languages (French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin), mathematics, drawing, history, eloquence, and music (playing the lute, guitar, and harpsichords). Nevertheless, his capacity for knowledge was much higher than the scope supposed to be imparted to him; subsequently, Louis 14th would complain of the insufficiency of knowledge acquired during the years of his childhood, and he engaged in self-education throughout his life.

Much attention was paid to the monarch’s physical development, including gymnastics, fencing, riding, and hunting skills. When he turned 12, Louis would take part in ballet performances, where he would appear in various roles, and where he eventually found himself playing the part of the rising sun. Since childhood, he was instilled the feeling of royal dignity. At the same time, he was allowed to play with the commoners, implying that the monarch should be accessible for his subjects. The young king’s everyday life was more than modest: he was supposed to be given two sets of clothes a year, so wearing patches was not regarded as something to be ashamed of. He would sometimes be birched for disobedience. Besides, he had to turn up in the Parliament of Paris from time to time and utter prescribed words.

As a child, Louis was noted for reasonableness, and he rarely laughed. Still, he was loving and gentle by nature. He hardly remembered his father, but cherished most tender feelings toward him to the end of his life. He would call his mother “madam” only in public, while in private he would address her as “maman”. He would easily become attached to people, be it his valet, confessor, or even ordinary servants. Despite his complex relationship with Mazarin, who rather often had to resort to strictness toward his charge “for educational purposes”, Louis regarded him as his best friend, in the end. It was human sympathy, not social conditionalities, that was most important for him. Still, he was a king, so he learned to rank his duty higher than his sympathies and attachments.

In 1648, wLouis adolescenthen the monarch just turned 10, disturbances broke out in the country, which was a natural consequence of the central power’s weakening. The disturbances came to be known in modern European history as the “Fronde”, and it can also be regarded as the last outbreak of freedom in anticipation of the triumph of absolutism. The Fronde participants represented a rather mixed company: the 3d estate demanded lower taxes, while the nobility demanded the return of privileges they had earlier been stripped of, all this occurring amid peasant revolts. Besides, the danger of outside intervention arose (from Spain, in the first place). Still, the mutineers did not put forward any principal demands over how the country should be governed, but they were largely aroused by the fact that the state power was usurped by “some Italian”. The Fronde proved to be a real “school of hard knocks” for the adolescent Louis. He came to know both the treachery of friends and the hypocrisy of foes. He became aware of the royal power’s fragility as well as of that of human life. He learned not to say too much, to hide his true feelings, and to sham, if necessary.

The Fronde died down in 1652, thanks, in many respects, to adequate measures taken by the same Mazarin. Louis reached youthful age by then, so the chief minister started actively familiarizing him with state affairs. Together with Mazarin, Louis would listen to the reports made by highest-ranking officials; he would be present at the Council of State’s meetings, and eventually, would chair them. It may have been precisely at that time, when Louis, addressing one of the parliament of Paris’ meetings, in a burst of youth maximalism and trying to pass the desirable for reality, uttered his famous phrase: “The state is me” (according to other sources, this happened later on, when the above declaration was already a statement of fact). In 1660, Louis married the King of Spain’s daughter, Maria Theresa, which, again, was part of Mazarin’s plan on securing peace with Spain.

In waiting to be the actual king, Louis also managed to engage in military operations. In 1655, when he just turned 17, he took part in the Anglo-Franco-Spanish war in Flanders. There, he often risked his life and proved to be a brave soldier. Subsequently, when already at the peak of his power, Louis would not shy away from harsh conditions associated with military life: he would take part in various campaigns in person, sharing with his subjects the hardships of military service and enrapturing them by his intrepidity and coolness.

Mazarin died in 1661. Louis immediately convened the Council of State’s emergency meeting. There, he announced that from then on he would not appoint the first minister and would rule alone. The statement, although caused some murmur, but was generally welcomed. At least, the power problem was solved rightfully and unequivocally, so there remained no formal reasons for “frondism”. The new king was handsome and had the governing skills. In his manners he displayed the true royal dignity and, at the same time, he was duly accessible for his subjects.

To preveLouis-xivnt any doubt as to who’s boss, some “exemplary flagellation” was needed. Here, the king’s choice fell on the powerful and thievish head of the Parliament of Paris and finance minister N. Fouquet, who also had a claim on taking the position of chief minister. He was arrested, tried lingeringly and comprehensively, and sentenced to “eternal exile.” This is where Louis stepped in and successfully insisted on replacing the exile with imprisonment.

Louis gave managerial positions to the trusted people, earlier recommended to him by Mazarin and whose performance he had been following for a number of years. Here again, things could not be properly done without “chief minister”, although such a position was abolished. The new finance minister J.-B. Colbert became the actual chief minister under Louis. That was an exclusively good choice, and Louis would owe Colbert major accomplishments of his reign.

The choice of the sun as the guiding landmark brought Louis closer to Egyptian pharaohs. But not only that. Like pharaohs, who had built themselves pyramids, Louis immediately started building a monument to himself in conformity with the trends of his time – it was his new residence in Versailles, near Paris. The monarchial compound had the appearance of a majestic palace and park ensemble, and its construction was never completed during Louis’ lifetime.

Every minute of the king’s day was scheduled, holidays being out of the question. Louis thought he had a propensity for laziness, and he did his best to prove himself it was not so. “To reign is to labour, — he wrote, — otherwise this turns out to be ingratitude to God and tyranny to people”. By the way, the sun, which Louis chose as his emblem, was to him, first of all, a relentless toiler, who managed to endow with light and warmth the entire globe during the day.

What does it mean to labour for a king? It means to protect the freedom and property of those living in the kingdom, to observe justice and pass judgment. The point is, however, that “freedom” and “property,” strictly speaking, apply only to the king. So, the king’s labour can only be evaluated by the king himself, whereas his subjects are only supposed to unanimously accept whatever the product of his labour is. Louis’ youthful joke that “he was the state” turned out to be the real truth: nobody now speaks of the “good of the state,” but everyone speaks of the “good of the King”. The Latter’s thoughts and actions are believed to be guided by “God Himself” (viz., conformed to common sense and natural necessity). All in all, the King is God’s deputy on earth and the only Mediator between Him and the people.

Accordingly, the country’s legislative government bodies were no longer needed. City parliaments were losing their political weight. The Estates General had not been called since 1614. The royal court actually became the only supreme legislative body in the country, and those occupying positions in the court were politically most powerful. The royal court, in fact, became the country’s supreme governing body, so those occupying court positions were most powerful political figures, irrespective of their social background. The most important political and economic issues would be decided at the “royal council,” the members of which were selected by the King himself. At the local level, exercising authority were the King’s plenipotentiaries, or “intendants” (ministers) of provinces. Day-to-day problems would be solved by various “councils” and “commissions”, which were set up at various levels and permeated the country from top to bottom. The ideal form of governments, which Louis was striving to reach, had earlier been expressed by the French lawyer and poet G. Coquille: “The King is the head, while the 3 estates are the members, and together they constitute a political and mystical Body, the interconnection and unity of Which is inseparable and permanent”. That was not only a “word picture”: the French citizens were forbidden to leave the country under penalty of death, all the more, to seek employment abroad. The pertinent legislation read: “The ties of birth binding the natural citizens to their sovereign and fatherland are most close and most indissoluble of all those existing in civil society”.

Under Louis 14, a full-fledged cult of the King’s personality was formed in France, which implied worshipping Him, praising Him, as well as offering sacrifices to Him. The King’s every step, from morning awakening to going to bed, was regarded as religiously significant and would be formalized as a certain ceremony. The cult was maintained by the multitude of courtiers, whom the King would select on his own discretion. To live at the court was a supreme honour, and the courtiers were politically more powerful than many eminent nobles or government ministers. Still, according to the Western European tradition, the King was well accessible to all His subjects. Those coming to have an audience with Him would normally not be even searched, and everyone would be listened to patiently and in a courteous manner. Besides, the King could well be encountered in Versailles’ palace park, which was open for a neatly-dressed and well-behaved public. Nevertheless, those having shown disrespect to the King could be sent to a madhouse or sentenced to have their tongue cut off. Similar measures, as well as imprisonment on the only grounds of the King’s written order (lettre de cachet) would hardly surprise anyone and, as a rule, would not even cause complaints on the part of those punished.

But the deputy of what God was the King? Anyway, not of the One Whose the Pope of Rome was. Achieving complete independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the unconditional assertion of secular power was the innermost goal of Louis 14th’s reign. Here, he would avoid sudden movements: he did not urge anyone to “crush the infamy”, neither was he going to create the national church. On the contrary, he would diligently observe the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church, demand that the others should do so, and equate sacrilege with an insult to a Sovereign. And yet, Church was to him nothing more than a component of the monarchical system of government, designed to strengthen the latter; so, he would never miss a chance to place the Church at the service of the State. In particular, since Louis was God the Nature’s Incarnate, he could not figure out what monks were for, and he tried every possible way to close down all the monasteries. However, he only managed to complicate the procedure for tonsure and close down a number of monasteries on the grounds of “indebtedness.” Citing the “diving nature of royal power”, he consistently pressed for the right to appoint and dismiss the abbots and bishops, but his endeavour would continuously dash against the “divine power” of the Roman Pontiff. Nevertheless, Louis succeeded in the toughening of qualification requirements for those seeking positions in the church hierarchy. In particular, he committed the bishops to report him on their parishioners’ sentiments and aspirations, for the Sovereign must be well-informed about everything that is going on in his country (here, he anticipated the part that Stalinist Russia’s NKVD would assign to the church).

Throughout his life, Louis fought for the unity of France’s Catholic Church, which was torn by internal conflicts (Jesuitism, Gallicanism, and Jansenism), regarding this unity as an essential condition of his own power’s durability. His attitude towards Protestantism was distinctly negative, and he rightfully perceived the revival of the original Christian values as a threat to secular power. He did not persecute the Huguenots physically, but would limit their rights in any possible way and encourage their return to Catholicism. Besides, the wars, which France waged against the Catholic Spain in alliance with Protestant countries prevented Louis from turning to outright violence against Huguenots. Nevertheless, the oppression of the Huguenots was on the rise during his rule, which culminated in 1685, when the Edict of Nantes, protecting the Huguenot rights, was abolished. As for the French Catholic (Gallican) Church, Louis managed to ensure effective control over it within his country’s borders, while retaining the nominal supremacy of the Pope.

But the more territory is embraced by the sunlight, the better for all. In 1667, after carrying out reforms of the French army, the respective diplomatic moves, and also customs measures, Louis began external expansion. To start with, he tried to seize Belgium, which was then part of the Netherlands remaining under Spanish rule. However, he did not quite manage it: the Netherlands, which had already gone through a bourgeois revolution by then, concluded an alliance with Britain and Sweden, so the French offensive was halted. In 1672, Louis, having enticed Britain and Sweden away, attacked Amsterdam. However, courageous and skillful defenders of the city opened the dams, brought their fleet into action and repelled the attack. Still, France managed to snatch up another little piece of Belgium. Then Louis turned his eyes eastward, and in 1684 he took hold of the border areas of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, including the Free City of Strasbourg. But how the Sun King longed to illuminate and warm up the whole of Europe by His rays!

In 1682, Louis, together with his court, moved to Versailles. Absolute monarchy appeared before the amazed world in all its splendour. France became an “exhibition” of European cultural achievements. Academies would be set up for each type of sciences and arts. Scientists and artists, generously promoted by the King, would make their discoveries and create their masterpieces to the glory of their Patron. That was the time, when the best works were created by the playwrights Molière, Racine, and Cornell, the poets Boileau-Desprèaux and La Fontaine, and also the court composer Lully.

But, obeying the same “natural necessity”, the Sun, having reached Its zenith, begins declining, the lower the faster. Like any person, who has been in power for too long, Louis starts losing touch with reality. Surrounded by a crowd of flatterers, he was getting increasingly prone to wishful thinking. In the meantime, the maintenance of the court, patronage of sciences and arts, but most of all, the nearly uninterrupted waging of annexationist wars required considerable amounts of money, which became an exorbitant burden for the 3d estate. So, the outward glitter of the reign of Louis 14th had on its reverse side the virtual robbery of the immediate producers of material values.

Louis passed away on September 1st, 1715, at the age of 77, 72 of which he spent sitting on the throne. Until the end of his days, he felt himself to be God’s deputy on earth, whom, in a certain sense, he really was. However, the role of the “absolute monarch”, which fell to his lot, failed to completely replace a purely human constituent of his personality: he increasingly realized the “excesses” of his rule, and he would be tormented by the sense of guilt for the lawlessness and poverty, into which he had driven the majority of his subjects. At the same time, Louis did not recognize any other form of government, except monarchy. In his declining years, he was rather leaning to some more “socially-oriented” monarchy with the elements of local “self-governance“. Feeling his death was approaching, he gathered his courtiers and begged their pardon for having given them “bad examples”. Turning to his successor, his 5-year-old great-grandson, he called on him to alleviate the life of his subjects. However, all these bitter regrets and good wishes could only postpone, but not vacate the historical verdict, that had already been passed on monarchic power. France’s bourgeois revolution was just 72 years away. From the viewpoint of Truth, this meant that the religion of Nature was going to be replaced by the religion of Mind.