The Age of Louis XIV (1643-1715)
Throughout his long reign Louis XIV (1643-1715) never lost the hold over his people he had assumed at the beginning. He worked hard to project his authority in the splendid setting of Versailles, to depict it in his arrogant motto: "Nec pluribus impar" ("None his equal"), and in his sun emblem. He buttressed his authority with the divine-right doctrines elaborated by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet and proclaimed it across Europe by force of arms. Yet he made surprisingly few institutional or administrative changes in the structure of government. Like Richelieu, Louis used the system that he had inherited and adapted it to suit his own personality and outlook. This practice may be seen first in his attitude to the machinery of central government.
The development of central government
Louis's inner council was on the model of the royal council in Richelieu's days, a High Council (Conseil d'en Haut) consisting of only three or four members and excluding the king's own relatives. Members of this council were known as ministers, but they held no formal right to the title and ceased to be minister if the king chose not to summon them. The first of these great men were Michel Le Tellier, Hugues de Lionne, and Nicolas Fouquet; but the latter was disgraced within a year, and by 1665 his place had been taken by Mazarin's former secretary, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. These three men dominated the government in the early years of Louis's personal reign, but always, as with Richelieu and Louis XIII, under the watchful and jealous eye of the king. Le Tellier had been secretary of state for military affairs under Mazarin's regime, and his greatest contribution under Louis was to reorganize the army along lines that were hardly changed until after 1789. He created a royal army that wore the king's uniform; it was commanded by his officers and was ultimately responsible to the sovereign. It was a standing army of hitherto undreamed-of size, reaching 400,000 men in times of war and requiring close regulation in matters of discipline, training, recruitment, supply, and overall organization. The success of Le Tellier and of his son Louvois, who succeeded him, goes far to explain the dominance of French arms in Europe during Louis's reign.
Lionne, the expert in foreign affairs, had been the chief French negotiator at the Peace of the Pyrenees. His effective influence with Louis is difficult to gauge; he certainly was not the sole source of advice in foreign affairs. Lionne remains a more elusive personality than his colleagues, though there can be no doubt of his importance. It should be remembered that all important matters of state were reviewed at the High Council; and the king's ministers were expected to give advice and opinions on all that was discussed, not simply on matters in the area of their particular expertise.
Colbert, however, remains the best-known of these intimate counselors. Of the 17 ministers summoned by Louis XIV to the High Council during his reign, 5 were members of the Colbert family. In 1664, Colbert was appointed superintendent of the king's buildings; in 1665, controller general of finances; in 1669, secretary of state for the navy. His capacity for work and his grasp of detail were remarkable; but he was not an original, much less a revolutionary, thinker. His chief contribution to the king's finances, like Sully's, was to make the machinery more efficient, not to substitute any new mechanisms. Colbert's first achievement was to present the king with a monthly statement of the financial situation, though his annual estimates for the following year never persuaded Louis of the need for economies if his mind was set in other directions. Yet, within 10 years of taking office, Colbert, mainly by tightening up on the tax-collecting administration and by rationalizing the gathering of indirect taxes, did succeed in producing a surplus. He turned a large part of central and northern France into a free-trade area and gave the responsibility for collecting all indirect taxes there to a new syndicate of tax farmers called the Farmers-General. Under Colbert, the total sum levied from indirect taxation rose from 36 million livres to 62 million.
In his industrial policy Colbert believed that France needed to produce for itself those manufactured goods that it was having to import. To achieve this mercantilist goal, derived from, among other sources, the ideas of Richelieu, Colbert was willing to invoke a variety of improvisations: direct subsidies, exemptions from the taille, monopoly grants, controls exercised through town guilds. Skilled foreign workmen were persuaded to settle in France and to pass on their skills to native artisans; protective tariffs were imposed. The famous tapestry works of the Gobelins family was made a state enterprise, and France became largely self-sufficient in the production of woolen cloth. Colbert also had some success in other industries, such as sugar refining, plate-glass making, and the production of silk, naval stores, and armaments. The overall results of his hard work, however, were disappointing. France underwent no industrial revolution during the reign of Louis XIV.
Much more successful were Colbert's efforts at fostering the growth of the navy. He reorganized the recruitment system on a rotary basis, whereby seamen served in the royal navy for six months in every three years. He refurbished the hospitals in each of the major ports; rebuilt the arsenals at Toulon and Rochefort; and increased the size of the navy from about 25 ships in 1661 to 144 in 1677. He also established schools of marine engineering, hydrography, and cartography. His interest in reestablishing French sea power was, in part, to challenge the commercial supremacy of the Dutch. He encouraged the building of the French mercantile marine and established a number of overseas trading companies, in particular the East India and Levant companies, neither of which had much success. He also attempted to protect French colonial interests in the West Indies and Canada.
Besides the High Council, the king's council also met for somewhat less vital matters under a variety of different guises. The Council for Dispatches (or, more loosely, the Council for the Interior; Conseil des Dépêches) had particular responsibility for home affairs, including the activities of the intendants; the Royal Council for Finances (Conseil Royal des Finances) supervised important matters affecting financial aspects of the king's domain lands. These two councils, like the High Council, were presided over by the king in person. But the royal council also met under three further titles to deal with judicial and administrative matters and not in the king's presence. The Privy Council (Conseil Privé) judged disputes between individuals or bodies and dispensed the king's supreme and final judgments. The State Council for Finances (Conseil d'état et Finances) expedited financial matters of secondary importance, while the Financial Arbitration Court (Grande Direction des Finances) was an administrative tribunal settling disputes between the state and individuals or corporations. Each of these subdivisions of the king's council contained more members than the exclusive High Council, made up of the secretaries of state and of financial and judicial experts.
The initial group composing the High Council contributed a great deal to the basic pattern of Louis's reign, particularly in military, fiscal, naval, and commercial attitudes, partly because many of those who followed as ministers came from the same tightly knit group of royal servants. The five members of the Colbert family have been mentioned; there were also three Le Telliers; and, while only one member of the Phélypeaux family, Louis II, Count de Pontchartrain, was a minister, four served as important secretaries of state. All these counselors reflected the attitude of the king himself: they worked extremely hard; they proffered advice but were under no illusions about the danger of arguing once Louis had made up his mind; and they favoured a protectionist, paternalist policy, whether in the organization of industry, the administration of the colonies, or the building up of the navy. Only toward the end of the reign, with the establishment of the Council of Commerce in 1700, did a less regulatory policy show signs of emerging.
To carry out the decisions reached in his intimate and secret High Council, Louis relied chiefly on his provincial intendants. Their powers were completely undifferentiated, and their commissions varied according to changes in royal policy. Like the ministers at the centre, they depended upon the king for their security of tenure. In the provinces they could exercise powers of police; raise military forces; regulate industrial, commercial, and agricultural matters; enforce censorship; administer the financial affairs of various communities; assign and collect taxes; and wield considerable judicial authority in civil and criminal affairs. Inevitably, these agents of the central government created considerable friction and hostility. These new men, with no local roots, answerable only to the king and acting almost invariably in an authoritarian context, were deeply resented by older royal officials, by municipal authorities and guilds, and by local parlements and estatesall of whom operated through well-established channels and according to traditional local privileges. The use of intendants, who held neither venal nor hereditary office, was one way in which the limiting effect of the sale of office on royal policies could be circumvented. The authoritarian element of Louis XIV's reign is undeniable: he was determined that no institution or social class would escape the supervision of the crown and its ministers. Thus the power of patronage, which had been exercised for generations in provincial noble households, began to lose its political significance as the king's ministers built up their own alternative administrative clienteles.
In particular, because the Frondes had remained a painful memory from his childhood, the king never allowed the great nobles a similar opportunity for revolt. Versailles became a place of surveillance for pensioned noblemen and their families whose only serious occupation was the traditional one of arms, for the pursuit of which Louis provided ample opportunities. The second rebellious group in the Frondes, the members of the Parlement of Paris, were likewise subjected to stringent controls. In 1673 Louis produced regulations stipulating that the court's remonstrances against royal enactments sent to it could in future only be made after the laws concerned had been registered. By this device the king effectively muzzled the magistrates' criticisms of royal policy. It was equally his intention to overcome the delaying tactics of the provincial courts, especially those situated close to vulnerable frontiers.
Louis's religious policy
Louis was also on his guard against religious dissent. Like most of his contemporaries, he believed that toleration had no virtue and that unity in the state was extremely difficult to maintain where two or more churches were tolerated. Consequently, especially after 1678, Louis intensified the persecution of Protestants; churches were destroyed, certain professions were put out of reach of the Huguenots, and Protestant children were taken away from their parents and brought up as Roman Catholics. The notorious practice of dragonnades, the billeting of soldiers on Protestant families with permission to behave as brutally as they wished, was introduced. Finally, in 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked in order that Louis could claim that he had succeeded where Emperor Leopold I had failedthat is, in extirpating Protestantism from his realm.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes angered Protestant Europe at a time when Louis's European designs were beginning to meet serious resistance. The revocation deprived France of a number of gifted craftsmen, sailors, and soldiers. At least 600 officers, including Marshal Friedrich, Count von Schomberg, and Henri de Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny (later the Earl of Galway), joined William of Orange, the leader of the Grand Alliance against Louis. Research, however, has reversed the earlier view that the decay of French industry at the end of Louis's reign was the direct result of the expulsion of Huguenot mercantile talent.
The same zeal for uniformity made Louis attack the Jansenists. The theological position of the Jansenists is difficult to define; but Louis, who was no theologian, was content with the simple fact that these zealous Catholics had taken up an unorthodox position that threatened the unity of the state. The movement had begun over the perennial issue of grace and free will as it was propounded in the Augustinus of Bishop Cornelius Otto Jansen, published in 1640. In 1653 Pope Innocent X condemned five propositions from Jansen's doctrine, but the movement grew in strength with notable adherents, including Jean-François-Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, and the great mathematician Blaise Pascal. In 1705 Pope Clement XI published the bull Vineam Domini, which further condemned the writings of Jansen; but the archbishop of Paris, Louis-Antoine Cardinal de Noailles, appeared ready to lead the Jansenist forces in opposition to the pope. Under the influence of his confessor, Père Michel Le Tellier, Louis decided to ask the pope for another formal condemnation of the creed. Finally, in 1713, the famous bull Unigenitus was promulgated, which, far from ending Jansenism, drove it in the following reign into a disruptive alliance with Gallicanism. Louis's real attitude in this situation is not entirely clear: certainly his policy was in keeping with his authoritarian insistence upon unity. He was suspicious of religious innovation, and his action was consistent with the increasingly orthodox and rigid mood of his last years. Yet, in seeking the pope's support in this matter, he was reversing years of bitter hostility toward Rome when, like many of his predecessors, including Francis I and Henry IV, he had leaned heavily upon the traditional Gallican doctrine.
According to that doctrine, the French king possessed the right of temporal and spiritual regalethat is, the right to nominate new bishops and to administer and draw the revenue from bishoprics while they remained vacant. In 1673 Louis extended this right to the whole of the French kingdom, which had been enlarged in the recent War of Devolution (see below), despite papal opposition. Eventually, in 1682, the Gallican Articles were published as a law of the French state, asserting that the king was in no way subject to the pope in temporal matters and could not be excommunicated and reaffirming the independence of the French church from Rome. The mutual animosity of king and pope only ended in 1693, when, following William of Orange's successful attempt to secure the English throne, Louis agreed to suspend the edict of 1682; but it was a suspension only, not a recantation. The tradition of Gallican independence remained.
Absolutism of Louis
Thus, in religious matters (except where Jansenism was concerned), in his dealings with the nobility and the Parlement, in his attitude to the economy, and in his manner of governing the country, Louis revealed a desire to exercise a paternal control of affairs that might suggest a modern dictator rather than a 17th-century king. Though such a comparison has been made, it is most misleading; neither in theoretical nor in practical terms could Louis XIV be thought of as all-powerful. First of all, the legitimacy of his position under the lawthe ancient fundamental law of successionmade him the interpreter of the law and the fount of justice in the state, not a capricious autocrat. Similarly, his kingship bestowed upon him a quasi-spiritual role, symbolized by his consecration with holy oil at his coronation, which obliged him to govern justly in accordance with the laws of God and Christian morality. He was also bound by the need to take counsel; and though he always made up his own mind, he insisted on receiving advice on all important matters of state, which further restricted any arbitrary instincts. Next, there was the essentially federal nature of the country with its collection of such peripheral provinces as Brittany, Normandy, and Provence, all retaining their own Estates and customs. Within both these pays d'état and pays d'élection (where the Estates no longer met) there was a variety of groups and corporations, not to mention individuals, with their own legally held rights, privileges, and exemptions, such as the nobility, the clergy, the towns, and the king's officers. To impose rigid uniformity in such a situation was both impossible and undreamed of by contemporaries. On the contrary, one of the king's prime obligations was to uphold and respect the myriad different rights to which his subjects laid claim.
Perhaps most of all the king was limited by financial stringency. Louis could and often did try to persuade the cities and provincial Estates to raise their contributions and the clergy to increase the size of their don gratuit ("free gift"); he also created more offices and annuities. But these were mere palliatives, and the king was forced on two occasions to introduce novel measures: in 1695 he levied a capitation, or head tax, applicable to all French laymen, even to the princes of the blood; and in 1710 a dixième (tenth) that similarly went against the interests of the privileged classes, including the clergy, by requiring a tenth to be paid to the state from all incomes. Significantly, however, Louis made it perfectly clear on both occasions that he recognized the extraordinary and temporary nature of these impositions, made necessary by the pressures of war. It was impossible to be a despot while financial resources were so precarious. The notion persisted that the king should ordinarily live off his own domain. It was also impossible while no nationwide police force existed and while the state of communications remained so poor. All these factors make it clear that a situation simply did not exist in which totalitarian government, at least by 20th-century standards, could have had any meaning.
Finally, Louis XIV remained the prisoner of France's social structure. It is sometimes alleged that the king ruled through the bourgeoisie. It is true that a number of the most distinguished families of the reign were not of ancient nobility, but their faithful and effective service to the king was rewarded in an entirely traditional wayby social elevation. Colbert's father was an unsuccessful merchant, but all his granddaughters married dukes. In other words, the opportunity to enter the highest ranks of the nobility, which had long been available in France, was simply emphasized by Louis XIV. As the greatest nobleman in France, he had no doubt that he must retain the prestige and privileges of the nobility; but he knew equally well that the nobility should not become a caste closed to ambitious and able men. He thus maintained the tradition of royal patronage, which helped to defuse social conflict.
From the beginning of his reign Louis pursued a vigorous foreign policy. Historical opinion has traditionally held that Louis sought to dominate Europe, only to meet his just deserts at the end of his reign. More recently another interpretation has emerged, which argues that Louis pursued consistent and for the most part moderate aims and pursued them successfully up to and including the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).
The starting point for the more recent interpretation is the ambiguous Peace of Münster (1648), forming part of the great European settlement of Westphalia, the terms of which subsequently became a bone of contention between Bourbon and Habsburg rulers. One of the critical issues of the treaty was the fate of the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun on the northeast frontier of France. These bishoprics, occupied by the French since 1552, were formally acquired in 1648 together with a number of towns in nearby Alsace. One of the main Habsburg aims in the War of the League of Augsburg, or War of the Grand Alliance (1689-97), and in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) was the restoration of the three bishoprics and the province of Franche-Comté, also on the eastern frontier of France, connecting Burgundy with Alsace, which Louis had acquired at the Treaties of Nijmegen (1678-79) at the end of the Dutch War (1672-78). Louis, however, was determined to hold onto the gains in Alsace, however ambiguously acquired; he also hoped to add Lorraine, to the north of Franche-Comté, to further consolidate this least secure French frontier area. Lorraine was periodically occupied by French troops, notably between 1633 and 1648 and between 1670 and 1697, and Louis sought through various exchange schemes to incorporate the territory into France. The French share of the Partition Treaties (1698, 1700) in Italy was intended as an exchange for Lorraine and not as a means of threatening English and Dutch trade with the Levant. Lorraine, however, did not become a part of France until 1766.
Louis's policy in the northeast was constant and understandable. Franche-Comté was one entry into France previously exploited by its enemies that Louis succeeded in closing in 1678. He had already closed another, the port of Dunkirk, by purchasing it from Charles II of England in 1662; a third gateway, from the southern Netherlands, was effectively barred by the military fortifications erected by his great military engineer, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, in the 1680s. The capture of Lorraine would have bolted yet one more dangerous entry. Of course the situation looked quite different from the Habsburg point of view, especially after Louis's seizure of the key city of Strassburg (French: Strasbourg) in 1681, an episode that goes to the heart of the controversial matter of his reunion policy. Following the successful Peace of Nijmegen, Louis began to employ his own judicial courts to claim sovereignty over all the dependencies of territories that he already possessed in Alsace, Franche-Comté, Metz, Toul, and Verdun. The maneuver enabled him to consolidate his control, especially over Alsace and Franche-Comté, though the legality of the claims to some of the alleged "dependencies" was extremely dubious. There was no legal justification whatever for Louis's greatest coup in the areathe seizure in September 1681 of the independent city of Strassburg. To Louis this key city, the door through which imperial armies could pass (and three times in the recently concluded war had passed) into Alsace, represented a serious threat, for Strassburg was within easy reach of the Danube valley and Vienna. His fears in this area may best be illustrated by his offer during the War of the League of Augsburg to waive his claim to the Spanish succession on condition that Nijmegen be respected; that Lorraine be absorbed into France (with proper compensations elsewhere); and that the Spanish and Austrian lands should not be united under one ruler. The Holy Roman emperor Leopold I immediately rejected these proposals. When the final climactic conflict of the reign, the War of the Spanish Succession, was proceeding so badly, Louis offered to relinquish all the gains he had made from the Spanish inheritance; but he desperately hoped to hold on to Metz, Toul, Verdun, Alsace, and Franche-Comté.
Louis's attitude toward the Dutch was less moderate and more bullying. His invasion of the Spanish Netherlands in 1667 and the ensuing War of Devolution frightened the Dutch into a Triple Alliance with England and Sweden, which led to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668). Then, in the Dutch War that followed shortly afterward (1672-78), Louis intended to warn the Dutch that France was a serious commercial competitor and to force the Dutch to give him a free hand in the Spanish Netherlands when the issue of the Spanish succession came to the fore. He learned from that war that he could never hope to incorporate a large part of the Netherlands into France against Dutch opposition; but he also continued to fear the manner in which the Dutch might try to influence the government of the Spanish Netherlands for their own economic benefit. Here again was an example of mutual hostility and suspicion in which interpretations of motives in Versailles and in The Hague were diametrically opposed. At the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697) the Dutch gained the right to keep a series of Dutch barrier fortresses within the southern Netherlands as a check against French aggression; it was Louis's seizure of these fortresses in 1701 that precipitated the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14).
That war has usually been depicted as the most significant element in an assessment of Louis's total foreign policy: for some historians, all his relations with the rest of Europe were geared to this great issue; for others, it was the final misjudgment born of overconfidence, provoked by his own ambitious miscalculations, and destined to ruin France. It is certainly true that the approaching end of the direct ruling line in Spain had interested European rulers for many years, and the Bourbon claim to a share in that rich inheritancederiving from Louis's marriage to Marie-Thérèse, elder daughter of King Philip IV of Spainwas accepted as a key factor in the situation. In 1668 Louis and Emperor Leopold I had gone so far as to sign a partition treaty, more than 30 years before the death of the last Spanish Habsburg, Charles II. No European statesman was surprised, therefore, at Louis's later concern when, after the signature of the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697, he undertook negotiations with the English king William III out of which two further partition treaties emerged. The crucial moment came when Charles II's last will was published, offering the Spanish crown, in opposition to the second Partition Treaty, to Louis's grandson Philip, Duke d'Anjou (later Philip V). Louis's decision to accept did not in itself provoke war. (There is evidence, however, that both William and the Dutch believed that Charles's will would name the Habsburg candidate, and they certainly had no intention, in the light of what it did contain, of trying to force the emperor to accept a treaty whose provisions he had always resolutely opposed.) Besides, if Louis had snubbed the Spanish offer, it would have been made to Austria, and the spectre of the restoration of Charles V's empireprobably coupled with French losses on the northeastern frontierswas intolerable. In addition, Louis had recently made peace after the War of the Grand Alliance, the hardest conflict in which he had so far been engaged, and thus had no illusions about the difficulty of overcoming another coalition under William III's leadership. One may conclude that he did not seek war. But he did make decisions that made war likely, including his recognition of the Old Pretender as James III of England, his unexplained decision to protect his grandson's right to the French throne (he was envisaging not a single, united realm of France and Spain but two Bourbon kingdoms, with the senior heir succeeding in France), his occupation of the barrier fortresses, and his seizure of the monopoly of the Spanish-American trade.
When peace was signed at Utrecht in 1713, Louis, despite the disasters of the intervening years, succeeded in holding onto the gains in Europe that he had considered vital throughout his reign, including Alsace and Strasbourg. In addition, his grandson remained king of Spain, despite all of the efforts of the Grand Alliance to replace him by their candidate, the Austrian archduke Charles (as Charles III). It is true that in the darkest time of the war, during the years 1708-10, the desperate king was ready to give up these precious gains and was prevented only by the intransigence of his opponents with their impossible demand that he should himself assist in driving his grandson from the throne of Spain. Likewise, a fortuitous change of government in England in 1710, which ushered in the Tory peace ministry, and the elevation of the Austrian archduke to the imperial title as Charles VI in 1711 weakened the unity of purpose of the Grand Alliance and enabled Louis's most effective soldier, Claude-Louis-Hector, Duke de Villars, to stage a military revival. Therefore, the relatively successful conclusion of the war from France's point of view was not entirely of Louis's own fashioning. Had events forced Louis to accept a total surrender, it would have been even more tempting for historians to blame the defeat upon the excessive ambitions of an arrogant man.
It cannot be denied that Louis was arrogant and that his arrogance aroused fear and resentment in his neighbours. Equally, he was intolerant, like most of his contemporaries, and feared by Protestant powers as the leader of a new and vengeful Counter-Reformation, an irony in view of his secret encouragement of the Turks in order to weaken the emperor. Both facets of the great king need to be borne in mind when assessing his overall foreign policy, and they help to counter any tendency to overestimate the defensive nature of his strategy. That defensive element, however, is of significance and has been largely lost sight of, especially in assessments of the reign written in English. Louis frightened Europe with his quest for la gloire, by which he meant the favourable verdict of history on his contribution to French security and territorial integrity but which his enemies interpreted more narrowly as a preoccupation with military triumphs and vainglorious display. That contemporary interpretation, still widely accepted nearly three centuries later, does less than justice to Louis's shrewd appreciation of political realities and of France's long-term interests.
French culture in the 17th century
If historians are not yet agreed on the political motives of Louis XIV, they all accept, however, the cultural and artistic significance of the epoch over which he and his two 17th-century predecessors reigned. In their different waysHenry IV's interest lay in town planning, Louis XIII's in music, and Louis XIV's in the theatre and in landscape gardeningthey all actively stimulated the emergence of great talents and were aided by such royal ministers as Richelieu and Mazarin, who were considered patrons in their own right.
From Henry IV's reign dates the rebuilding of Paris as a tasteful, ordered city, with the extensions to the Louvre and the building of the Pont Neuf and the Place Dauphine and, outside the capital, the renovations and extensions at Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Henry succeeded in making Paris what it had never been beforethe centre of polite societyand he must therefore take some credit, though he was not personally interested in such matters, for the establishment of the famous salon of Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet, which flourished from 1617 until 1665. There, men of letters mingled with the great nobility to the mutual advantage of both. The guests at her salon included the statesmen Richelieu and the Great Condé; the epigrammatist the Duke de La Rochefoucauld; the letter writer Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné; the novelist Madeleine de Scudéry; the poet François de Malherbe; and the dramatist Pierre Corneille.
Richelieu also was a key figure in the artistic and architectural development of Paris during his years in power. He was fortunate to employ the great architect Jacques Le Mercier, who built for him, close to the Louvre, the Palais-Cardinal, later the Palais-Royal; it contained two theatres and a gallery for the cardinal's objets d'art. Under the same patron, Le Mercier also built the church of the Sorbonne, where Richelieu is buried. In the world of painting, the cardinal supported Simon Vouet, who decorated the Palais-Cardinal, and Philippe de Champaigne, whose surviving portraits include famous representations of Richelieu himself. The cardinal's most notable contribution, however, was in the field of letters, with the establishment in 1634 of the Académie Française to regulate and maintain the standards of the French language. One of its first tasks was the production of a standard dictionary, a massive work published in four volumes in 1694. The Académie succeeded over the years in making the pursuit of letters socially acceptable, though still inferior to the pursuit of arms. Finally, Richelieu's great interest in the theatre persuaded him to patronize a number of dramatists, including Jean de Rotrou and Pierre Corneille. Richelieu's patronage of the arts was taken over by his great pupil Mazarin, who collected some 500 paintings. He housed them in the Palais Mazarin (now the National Library), which itself was enlarged for Mazarin by the architect François Mansart. He also commissioned Louis Le Vau to rebuild part of the medieval castle of Vincennes, thus setting him off on his successful career.
Louis XIV's patronage centred on Versailles, the great palace that also played such an important part in the political life of 17th-century France. There André Le Nôtre designed the formal gardens, which still attract a multitude of admiring visitors, as they did when they were first completed. There Jules Hardouin-Mansart added the long, familiar garden facade, and Charles Le Brun decorated the Gallery of Mirrors and the adjoining rooms of war and peace with unforgettable magnificence. There the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully devised and directed a number of musical entertainments with such success that Louis granted him noble status and the office of a royal secretary. There, too, the comic genius Molière was encouraged by the king's support; after the dramatist's death Louis was directly responsible for the establishment, in 1680, of the Comédie Française. There, finally, Louis recognized the genius of Jean Racine, whose great tragedies, from Bérénice (1670) to Iphigénie (1675), earned him membership in the Académie Française and a noble office, that of trésorier de France, from the King.
This blossoming of the arts was aided though not inspired by the patronage of kings and ministers. The artistic creations evince a strong element of order and simplicity culminating in the classical grandeur of Racine's plays and the facade of Versailles. Thus they might seem to reflect the growth of political stability and order over which Louis XIV presided. It is, however, dangerous to tie creative achievements in the arts and sciences too closely to their political environment. Moreover, there are significant counterpoints to the theme of classical order. The philosopher René Descartes's doubting, rationalistic approach to the fundamental questions of God's existence and man's relationship to God undermined the rigid adherence to revealed truths propounded by Bishop Bossuet. The Jansenist Blaise Pascal, one of the most versatile geniuses of the century, represented and defended a minority religious movement that Louis XIV believed dangerously subversive. Toward the end of his long reign, Louis encountered the fierce social criticism of Jean de La Bruyère and the skepticism of Pierre Bayle. These discordant elements draw attention to the fact that the absolute state which Versailles was intended to represent concealed tensions that would surface after the king's death. Nonetheless, the splendour of Versailles and the classical simplicity of Racine's tragedies represent a high point in creative human achievement, and it is to his credit that the king chose to be identified with them. (Encyclopaedia Britannica Article)