The efforts of Henry IV and Richelieu to strengthen the French monarchy paved the way for the most powerful ruler in French history - Louis XIV. In Louis's view, he and the state were one and the same. He reportedly boasted, "L 'etat, c 'est moi," meaning, "I am the stat." Although Louis XIV became the strongest king of his time, he was only a four-year-old boy when he began his reign. When Louis became king in 1643 after the death of his father, Louis XIII, the true ruler of France was Richelieu's successor, Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin's great triumph came in 1648, with the ending of the Thirty Year's War. When Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661, the 22-year-old Louis took control of the government himself. He weakened the power of the nobles by excluding them from his councils. In contrast, he increased the power of the government agents called intendants, who collected taxes and administered justice. To keep power under central control, he made sure that local officials communicated regularly with him. Louis devoted himself to helping France attain economic, political, and cultural brilliance. No one assisted him more in achieving these goals than his minister of finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert. After Colbert's death, Louis announced a policy that slowed France's economic progress. In 1685, he canceled the Edict of Nantes, which protected the religious freedom of Huguenots. In response, thousand of Huguenot artisans and business people fled the country. Louis's policy thus robbed France of many skilled workers. Although Louis XIV stood only 5 feet 5 inches tall, his erected and dignified posture made him appear much taller. (It also helped that he wore high-heeled shoes). Louis had very strong likes and dislikes. He hated cities and loved to travel though France's countryside. The people who traveled with him were at his mercy, however, for he allowed no stopping except for his own comfort. It is small wonder that the vain Louis XIV liked too be called the Sun King. He believed that, as with the sun, all power radiated from him. In his personal finances, Louis spent a fortune to surround himself with luxury. For example, each meal was a feast. An observer claimed that the king once devoured four plates of soup, a whole pheasant, a partridge in garlic sauce, two slices of ham, a salad, a plate of pastries, fruit, and hard-boiled eggs in a single sitting. Nearly 500 cooks, waiters, and other servants worked to satisfy his tastes. Every morning, the chief valet woke Louis at 8:30. Outside the curtains of Louis's canopy bed stood at least 100 of the most privileged nobles at court. They were waiting to help the king dress. Only four would be allowed the honor of handing Louis his slippers or holding his sleeves for him. Meanwhile, outside the bedchamber, lesser nobles waited in the palace halls and hoped Louis would notice them. A kindly nod, a glance of approval, a kind word- these marks of royal attention determined whether a noble succeeded or failed. A duke recorded how Louis turned against nobles who did not come to court to flatter him. Having the nobles at the palace increased royal authority in two ways. It made the nobility totally dependent on Louis. It also took them from their homes, thereby giving more power to the intendants. Louis required hundreds of nobles to live with him at the splendid palace he built at
Versailles, about 11 miles southwest of Paris. Because of its great size, Versailles was like a small royal city. Its rich decoration and furnishings clearly showed Louis's wealth and power to everyone who came to the palace. Versailles was a center of thee arts during Louis's reign. Louis made opera and ballet more popular. He even danced the title role in the ballet The Sun King. One of his favorite writers was Moliere, who wrote some of the funniest plays in French literature. Moliere's comedies include Tartuffe, which mocks religious hypocrisy. Not since Augustus of Rome had there been a European monarch who supported the arts as much as Louis. Under Louis, the chief purpose of art was no longer to glorify God, as it had been in the Middle Ages. Nor was its purpose to glorify human potential, as it had been in the Renaissance. Now the purpose of art was to glorify the king and promote values that supported Louis's absolute rule. Under Louis, France was the most powerful country in Europe. In 1660, France had about 20 million people. This was four times as many as England and ten times as many as the Dutch republic. The French army was far ahead of other states' armies in size, training, and weaponry. In 1667, just six years after Mazarin's death, Louis invaded the Spanish Netherlands in an effort to expand France's boundaries. Through this campaign, he gained 12 towns. Encouraged by his success, he personally led an army into the Dutch Netherlands in 1672. The Dutch saved their country by opening the dikes and flooding the countryside. This was the same tactic they had used in their revolt against Spain a century earlier. The was ended in 1678 with the Treaty of Nijmegen. France gained towns and a region called Franche-Comte.