The dictionary definition of the word absolutism is ‘A political theory holding that all power should be vested in one ruler or other authority’. Louis XIV believed strongly in this and believed himself to be an absolute ruler. He used various ways to make his mark, beginning with the idea of absolutism as this was an attractive option when his personal rule began in 1661. He inherited this concept from his father and believed that he would be a superior ruler by following on this tradition. During the seventeenth-century, Louis constructed a great palace at Versailles, some twelve miles outside the city of Paris.
It can be argued that Louis XIV had this palace designed so as to make visible the abstract political concept of absolutism, the idea that the king exercised absolute or unlimited authority over his lands and people. ‘ Louis sustained the nobility exception from taxes but forced its members into financial dependence on the crown. The provincial nobles also lost political power. He cut local authorities and formed specialised ministries, which only his professional ministers were a part of.
When the first minister who was overseeing Louis VIX’s education died in 1661, the twenty-three-year-old king surprised everyone by announcing that he was going to be his own first minister and run the state himself. As did traditional absolutist rulers, Louis believed himself to be designed by God as the personification of the state. He thought he was the best one to decide what was best for the state. Although Louis never actually spoke the words “L’etat, c’est moi”, Louis XIV unquestionably ruled France by the feeling they expressed. His own logo was a sun and he was sometimes called “The Sun King. Louis wanted large reforms in the economic state of the country. For this Louis looked to his trusted administrator, John Baptiste Colbert. Louis gave Colbert the administration of finances, industry, business, agriculture, colonies, and art. Louis and Colbert believed that the state should govern the economic affairs of the country as well as the political affairs. He also believed that the welfare of the ruler was more important than those of individuals. Colbert applied the principals of orderliness to financial administration of the country.
He decreased direct taxes paid by the poor and increased direct taxes paid by everyone. Through this careful planning and elimination of graft within the system, Colbert tripled the amount of tax money received. For several years, under Colbert’s guidance, France enjoyed a balanced budget. Louis’ large expenditures, however, soon made the government of France deeper in debt. War drained the country’s resources and created a great need for more money. In 1695 he ordered a head tax on everyone including the nobles. In 1710 he levied a national 10% income tax.
Louis XIV imposed taxes on the nobility. This broke a long standing policy that the aristocracy received immunity from ordinary taxes, but Louis’ many ambitious projects required huge amounts of money. Louis’s economic policies were designed not only to promote economic growth, which provided more money for the state through taxes, but also to build up the state’s power. In spite of Colbert’s efforts, Louis failed to higher the level of the French economy. The government’s excessive control decreased inventiveness in business and created an unmanageable bureaucracy.
Under Colbert’s industry a navy was created. The war minister established the basics of a great French military. Colbert added more than 100 warships to the French navy. Colbert’s navy might have given France supremacy over the seas, but after Colbert’s death Louis cut the budget of the navy, allowing England to rule the seas. Louis XIV now knew that there were boundaries to absolutism and had to establish a degree of balance and harmony. But despite this Louis exercised complete personal authority over the processes of the government.
He employed secretaries of state but would not let any of them become too elevated. Louis also tried to tightened up on the council membership but found that he could not, so the councilor system remained although it was weakened. Louis XIV’s style of absolutism differed from the traditional Absolute Monarchy. He was the most powerful person in his government, but some power still existed in his advisers, ministers, and the vast bureaucracy that he created. Louis XIV’s brand of absolutism constructed an effective government bureaucracy in France.
In local administration, the split between advancing royal power and tradition was more apparent. One of the main criticisms was that by the end of Louis’ reign, his rule became increasingly disjointed. Louis VIX did not very successfully establish state in France in the 17th century. Without Colbert then France would have been at the same level of economy as it was at the very start. Louis did however successfully show his concept of personal rule to the people of France at the time but personal rule was far from ideal. Many people found themselves totally at the pity of the ruler.