Louis XIV: Great King or Tyrant?

Louis XIV: Great King or Tyrant? (Please explain!)

  • Great King

    Votes: 34 73.9%
  • Tyrant

    Votes: 12 26.1%

  • Total voters
Sep 2016
As for the revolts, those were also remnants of the previous period. As has been discussed in this thread, then blackest mark against Louis is his policies towards the Hugenots. But he didn't create that situation. Though he might well have been seen to over-react to it.

As for the army situation, it's an old observation that all countries have one – either their own, and lacking one that of some other nation. The point of the French way of warfare beginning with Louis was to make sure the armies were NOT in France, causing havoc, but making that happen somewhere else. Which for the most part succeeded.

Really, the early modern state at the time of Louis really only had one task, and that was "national defense". (Later additions in turn have been general public education, followed by public health.) International politics could effectively be summed up as making wars, and then when successful (as was hoped) concluding favourable and profitable peaces. As for Louis record, it clearly wasn't as stellar as he might have liked, but France was still making sure someone else had to beat the brunt of being the Theatre of War.
Huguenot rebellions were suppressed in 1629 with Peace of Alais. It confirmed the basic principles of the Edict of Nantes, but differed in that it contained additional clauses, stating that the Huguenots no longer had political rights and further demanding they relinquish all cities and fortresses immediately. It ended the religious warring while granting the Huguenots amnesty and guaranteeing tolerance for the group.

Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 and persecutions of Protestants were the reasons for a revolt in the Cevennes. Villars had to offer vague concessions to the Protestants and the promise to Cavalier of a command in the royal army.

Even after the end of the Dutch War, France still fielded an army of 150 000 men. Almost all of conflicts were started by Louis. He attacked Spain in 1667, invaded Dutch Republic in 1672, continued to occupy Spanish and Imperial territories in 1680's. Serious amount of money was also spent on bribing Charles II of England and some others.

Not to mention, that France fought alone against all of Europe for 9 years and pretty much lost it's powerful fleet . For all the effort and suffering of the French in that war, Louis only managed to retain Lower Alsace and Strasbourg.
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Sep 2013
SouthWest USA
This has been a very delightful and informative thread to read.

I probably know less about Louis XIV than most other contributors to this great thread. I do understand, however, his need to centralize and consolidate his power at Versailles.

I must comment on a few points, however.

This is not a debate about the merits of French culture; rather, it is commentary specifically on Louis XIV and France during his rule

As part of my undergraduate degree in literature, I have also read works of Molière and Racine (as well as the Maxims of La Rouchefoucauld). Did I find these transformative pieces of literature? No, but then again, I might be a dullard.

Great French art work from this period? My favorite is Georges de La Tour, but probably only because his works resemble genre paintings (scenes of ordinary domestic life) from the great artists of the Dutch Golden Age from that same time.

And the Palace of Versailles? Nice vanity piece, indeed.

Being a libertarian who is leery of autocrats, I love this anecdote about the English poet and diplomat Matthew Prior's visit to Versailles:

Matthew Prior was sent to Paris in talks with Louis XIV as part of a delegation from the English King William III. During his visit to the Palace of Versailles, Prior was given a tour of Versailles in order to impress the visitor of the majesty and greatness of the Sun King. The building was filled with magnificent works of art. The walls at the gallery were covered with glorious paintings depicting Louis XIV's victories. Prior was asked by one of the French courtiers whether his master, William III, had such spectacular works of art as these at his palace. Prior replied, "No, sir. My master's actions are to be seen everywhere but in his own house."

guy also known as gaius
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Mar 2016
And the Palace of Versailles? Nice vanity piece, indeed.
It was not intended to be just a vanity piece. It served two purposes: as a palace appropriately large and grand enough outside of Paris to host the King permanently (Louis hated Paris ever since he was mobbed there be angry crowds as a child), and to contain the upper nobility in what was essentially a gilded prison. William III never had to deal with such extremely hostility and danger from the nobility as Louis XIV and his predecessors did, so comparing the two is pointless. France was a very different place than England and the Netherlands in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Sep 2013
SouthWest USA
William III never had to deal with such extremely hostility and danger from the nobility as Louis XIV and his predecessors did, so comparing the two is pointless. France was a very different place than England and the Netherlands in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Respectfully, you may want to reconsider that statement. William III (unlike his wife Mary) was never much liked by the English elite. By the mid-1690s, Louis XIV had consolidated his autocratic power and his kingdom was secure. William, on the other hand, had to face xenophobia, distrust, and multiple Jacobite betrayals and assassination plots. Because England was becoming a constitutional parliamentary monarchy, William had to deal with the interminable bickering and power politics of Whigs and Tories (including treacherous Jacobites who plotted the return of James II).

Jacobite assassination plot 1696 - Wikipedia

One of a series of plots by Jacobites to reverse the Glorious Revolution of 1688–9, the plot of 1696 had been preceded by the "Ailesbury plot" of 1691–2. Strictly the "Fenwick plot" of 1695 is distinct from the assassination plot of 1696. The successor was the proposed French invasion of Scotland of 1708
Yes, you are correct that by 1700 "France was a very different place than England ...." By then, the English people cherished their personal freedoms and liberties. They would not have tolerated an autocrat (see James II) who disregarded those rights and liberties that they now considered their birthright and inalienable. France, however, would acquiesce to the autocratic rule of a potentially despotic king with future disastrous consequences.

guy also known as gaius