Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anniversary of the Grand Monarch

Today marks the 366th anniversary of the accession of His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XIV of France and of Navarre, also called the "Grand Monarch", "Louis the Great" and "the Sun King". Love him or despise him, Louis XIV remains a historical colossus who gave his name to an era, who became synonymous with a certain style of grandeur and absolutism. For much of his life he was the dominant figure in western Europe with almost every major historical event being in reaction to some action of his. As I have often said, Louis XIV was remains a hard man to like but also a hard man not to admire. He had some very good points and some very bad points but no one could dispute the fact that he mattered, that he was a force to be reckoned with and that his legacy is still felt today. Some might find it strange that a Catholic absolute monarch like Louis XIV was opposed by Rome throughout his reign and many of his most ardent fans and glowing tributes came from the ranks of liberal "enlightenment" types such as Voltaire who compared him to Augustus Caesar and called his reign the "Great Century". France reached a height and glory and greatness under his reign that has seldom if ever been seen before or since. Perhaps the most obvious reminder of the importance of Louis XIV we can still see today is in Spain where a descendant of his, a prince of the House of Bourbon, still reigns as King. Today Louis is most often seen as the quintessential absolute monarch and I think, were he alive today, he would be rather disappointed by the modern French Republic. He might smile at certain loosening of the public morals but I think he would see the country as rather too dreary for his taste, too complacent and bickering. For Louis XIV, I think, France had to be great, grand and glorious or it would not be France at all. In any event, love him or hate him (and there are reasons for both) the man who built Versailles, the man who made France the most dynamic power in Europe, who left his footprint on an era of history and whose daily life was compared with the rising and the setting of the sun, first began his reign 366 years ago today.

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