Wars of Louis XIV

Jamel Ostwald

in Military History

Published online February 2012 | | DOI:

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Along with Napoleon, Louis XIV (b. 1638–d. 1715) is one of the most famous Frenchmen in history. The long-standing interest in Louis has been driven by several factors, foremost among them the king’s larger-than-life persona. Self-proclaimed Sun King (le Roi-Soleil) and builder of much-imitated Versailles, Louis’ taming of recalcitrant French nobles spawned the concept of political absolutism that has come to dominate the historiography of the 17th century. His behavior in his wars brought as much attention to himself as his political centralization and patronage of culture. His insistence that Roman and Spanish representatives beg forgiveness for altercations involving Frenchmen on foreign soil, his naval bombardment of neutral Genoa for assisting his Spanish foe, his devastation of the Palatinate: All these actions speak of a monarch eager to establish and maintain by force his reputation. Military successes over the first half of his reign cemented his reputation as the greatest (and most threatening) monarch in Europe, and his territorial conquests helped define the boundaries of modern France. As Louis would have wished, much of the historical writing on this period has revolved around him and his actions, justifying the common framing of the wars in western Europe between 1667 to 1714 as “his” wars. National schools have debated the merits and faults of Louis’ foreign policies ever since his first declaration of war, and this nationalistic bias is still present in even the most recent literature. This dominance of the Great Man school of history has perpetuated itself even as historians leave the Court of Versailles, for the standard historical writing on almost every aspect of Louis’ wars has been, until the past few decades, dominated by biographies of Great Captains who waged war for or against Louis le Grand. By the 1960s a “new military history” emerged among academic historians to supplant the Great Man biography with quantitative analysis of the social structures of military institutions. By the 1980s another wave of academic historians and political scientists had taken up the question of state formation and the role that army growth and administrative/fiscal reforms played in the creation of the modern bureaucratic state (see the article Fiscal-Military State in the Atlantic History module of Oxford Bibliographies Online). Yet these newer historiographical tendencies have failed to overtake a continued interest in the narratives of military campaigns for and against Louis. The wars of Louis XIV, much like his Court rituals, still revolve around the rise and fall of the spectacular Sun King.

Article.  12444 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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