Spanish And French Monarchial Beliefs - The Escorial And Versailles

Spanish And French Monarchial Beliefs - The Escorial And Versailles

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The palace of Versailles was built by Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), and the Escorial was built by Philip II of Spain (1556-1598). By examining the aerial and frontal facades of these two palaces, it may be seen that there were many similarities and differences between the two kings’ perception and practice of monarchy. Each king set his own goals for his life, and concluded as to how a monarch ought to behave. Both Louis XIV and Philip II had religious duties to pay attention to, organized the distribution of power in their respective kingdoms, communicated with other countries and entities through war and diplomacy, raised militaries, and made plans for the expansion of their own beliefs, thoughts and practices. Aside from these aspects of the two kings’ beliefs and practices of monarchy, the architecture of their palaces reflected their ideals, or personal beliefs, and the interpretation made by the painters of the palaces reflects the attitudes of the two kings toward life.

The role of the king to the public during the reigns of Louis XIV of France and Philip II of Spain were not predetermined, so each king created for himself what he thought monarchy ought to be. Louis XIV and Philip II were both absolutists, and believed that they should be the supreme rulers of France and Spain, respectively. However, Louis XIV did not want to be a national symbol serving no legitimate purpose. He wished to control the military, economy, foreign affairs, and the administration of the kingdom and of justice. He believed that the king of France should be the best that France has to offer- being served by even the most powerful lords of France. Conversely, Philip II thought of himself as Catholic first, and king of Spain second. Opposite to Louis XIV, Philip II preferred to sit in the Escorial and pray, pour over records, and live more as a monk than as Louis XIV’s conception of a king. Philip II never wanted to take much of an active part in the administration of his kingdom, except for the times when he wanted to use some of his various powers. However, after he had used it for a while (waging war, raising taxes, etceteras) he would let it lay dormant and return to his documents. Nor did Philip II ever wish to control most of the Spanish economy. The parts that he did control were ones that directly affected himself or his revenues, so vital in order to keep his army of immense proportions.

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In Spain, the administration of justice was left primarily to the Inquisition, and foreign affairs were dealt with in the palaces of other kings. The only aspect of his monarchy that Philip II wished to constantly take an active part in was the military: his instrument for the re-Catholicism of Europe.

In both France and in Spain, each monarch set a different level of priority to his popularity. Louis XIV once said, “L’état, c’est moi- ‘the state is myself’”1. This is saying that Louis XIV represents the French people, government, society, and civilization- the ‘Sun King’- representing the center and the very best of France. On the other hand, Philip II only seemed to wish to be seen as a devout Catholic, at the service of the Holy See, and not caring much what other people thought of him.

Religious duties were much more evident in the life of Philip II than Louis XIV. Philip II would stay up for nights on end praying for his own salvation and the salvation of others. Inside the Escorial, there was a church and a monastery where Philip II would also commonly spend hours in every day. When not in his church, Philip II often read his Bible and other religious writings. The main goal of Philip II’s life was even religious- to re-Catholicize Europe. Although both monarchs were Catholic, religion played much less of a role in daily life at Versailles, where many secular affairs were dealt with. At Versailles, religion was not absent, but seemingly ignored commonly.

In the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, France and Spain were both rather powerful countries, but power was often distributed throughout the plutocratic aristocracies differently. Louis XIV preferred to delegate power to new nobles, or affluent bourgeois who had recently received their noble status from the king. The lords who were not hereditary nobles had not yet had enough time to gain any actual power that could be used in rebellion against the king. Philip II, however, did not diversify the existing hierarchy of power, but embraced it. Upon the building of the Escorial, many new Hidalgos were not created just to satisfy the needs of a larger bureaucracy. In addition, the Roman Catholic church even went inside the walls of the Escorial. This shows Philip II’s embrace of the existing power of the Holy See. Conversely, at the court of Versailles, Louis XIV did not make the church a significant part of his chateau, therefore removing most of the internal persuasion from the clergy. (Even if there was a large religious influence at Versailles, by the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438), the ‘Galician’ church was politically independent from the Holy See.)

Louis XIV and Philip II had some similar and some different methods for handling foreign affairs. Louis XIV deployed the French army against many different peoples, being always at war or preparing for war in order to keep peace at home, and war abroad. Philip II also deployed his armies against various people, however, he did so in order to expand the boundaries of Catholicism. Concerning diplomatic relations, Louis XIV was much more involved than Philip II. Louis XIV was always making or breaking one treaty or another, threatening war, making bribes to various German states such as Bavaria, receiving some world leader or an emissary thereof, and sticking his nose into the policies of any country that he could gain some control over. On the other hand, Philip II did not receive many emissaries or diplomats. He sent them out when need be, in order to prevent any unneeded wars, but never made much of an attempt at making alliances- at least in the quantities obtained by the French.

In some ways the two kings’ purpose for their militaries were strikingly similar. Both were created to expand the thoughts and beliefs of their chief commander (i.e. Louis XIV and Philip II, respectively), and to protect the people from whence the military came. Nonetheless, the purpose of the two militaries were also quite different. Louis XIV multiplied the number of the French men-at-arms, centralized the military and forbade anyone but the king to have a military, thus preventing war between nobles. This made the French military a very effective offensive and defensive force. Philip II, however, only bothered with his military because it was his key to the re-Catholicization of Europe. Thus, the Spanish military as more of a offensive force than a defensive force.

The expansion of Louis XIV and Philip II’s thoughts and beliefs was essential to the aspirations of each monarch. Louis XIV wished to make France appear great to all of Europe, and to establish an almost universal monarchy by obtaining the entire Spanish inheritance. On the other hand, Philip II did not wish to make much of a secular or worldly advantage by re- converting Europe to Catholicism. Therefore, both monarchs had the need to expand their own thoughts and beliefs; however, Louis XIV’s aims were secular, and Philip II’s were religious.

The architecture of the Escorial is somewhat dissimilar to that of Versailles. The Escorial is rather closed in, compact, and forbidding. This corresponds to the nature of Philip II, who was rather introverted. In the center of the Escorial lies the church, which is also the tallest building in the entire palace. The rotunda of the church seems to point toward the heavens, trying to reach God, which is also similar to the attitude of Philip II. Along the walls that enclose the Escorial lie the other ‘less important’ buildings intended to deal with secular issues. At Versailles, one has a feeling of openness, with the expansive chateau eventually funneling down to the main chateau where Louis XIV lived, the centerpiece of Versailles. This shows the importance of secular issues at Versailles, and religious issues at the Escorial.

The artists’ interpretations of Versailles and the Escorial show some similarities and differences between Louis XIV and Philip II. In the picture of the Escorial, the only things shown are the Escorial and part of Philip II’s army. Everything shown is the king’s. This symbolizes Philip II’s status as a European leader: he wasn’t much of one in anything but the military. However, the picture of Versailles includes the surrounding area, some aristocratic homes, and, in the periphery, a church. The presence of a church in the periphery signifies just about all of the religious influence at Versailles. The presence of the expansive mountains leading off into the distance demonstrates that Louis XIV was a great world leader, where his power was not only concentrated in France, but off beyond its borders. In the picture of Versailles, there is no military. This exhibits the sense of civil security felt by the Frenchmen under Louis XIV. In other words, there is no constant defensive force present, so Louis XIV must not need one. After all, the French military contained 400,000 people, there were definitely enough soldiers to guard the palace if need be. The presence of aristocratic homes signifies the Frenchmen’s awe of power and wealth. Or, more specifically stated, the french were not only held in awe of the magnificent palace of Versailles, but of the wealth and power accumulated by the French aristocracy.

The two given pictures of Versailles and the Escorial, and general knowledge of Louis XIV and Philip II, allows one to see many similarities and dissimilarities between the two kings’ conceptions and practices of monarchy. This has been demonstrated through various examples of the methods of handling administrative, military, foreign, economic, and religious affairs used by Louis XIV of France, and Philip II of Spain.
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