Louis XIV, An Absolute Absolutism

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Louis XIV of France was born to Anne of Austria and Louis XIII in 1638 after more than twenty years of childless marriage. The birth was seen as a miracle and the child was considered to be a gift from God by the people of France, and thus was named accordingly. Louis ‘le Dieudonné’ was to become one of the most powerful kings in early-modern Europe, ruling over twenty million people and reigning for over seventy years (until his death in 1715), one of the longest reigns in European history. Louis XIV was a formidable figure, in control of both the largest standing army in Europe at that time and highly complicated political system, for which he has been hailed as the propagator of “early modern state building”. His reign and in particular the longevity of his reign have frequently been questioned. E.H Kossman described Louis’s reign as “absolutism in its most perfect form”, while Briggs argued that “the absolutism of Louis XIV was often little more than a façade, behind which many of the old limitations continued to operate”. It is my belief that the exploration of the idea of ‘absolute monarchy’ could serve to obtain some clarity on the matter.
In order to fully answer this question and decide whether or not Louis XIV was in fact an absolute monarch, it is vital first to define absolutism and gain a greater understanding of the idea of ‘absolute monarchy’. Duran states that “etymologically, the term absolutism denotes a form of power which is unrestrained; more specifically it implies that no external agency can suspend or delay the action of the sovereign power”. In a similar vein, Kossman said that absolutism “was and is considered to be a historical phenomenon connected with the aggrandisement and the cen...

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... reign as follows; “The princes and nobility were oppressed, the parlements had no more power, it was obligatory to receive and register all edicts, whatever they were, since the King was so powerful and so absolute”, it can be seen from the aspects of Louis XIV’s reign discussed above that it would be too simple, and indeed almost too short-sighted to say that his monarchy was completely absolute. Of course Louis reigned with great power (as can be seen from his extensive control over his courtiers and political system), but there can be no doubt that there were certain facets of society and events which prevented this power from being completely absolute, such as the aforementioned incident with the pope. Therefore, I have reached the conclusion that with all things taken into account, despite his great power and influence Louis XIV was not an absolute monarch.

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