This is the two-hundred-and-ninety-seventh anniversary of the death of Louis XIV in 1715. He reigned over France for seventy-two years, which makes him the longest-reigning king of a major European state. He was a fascinating man in many ways, and certainly one of the rare men born to a throne who actually seems to have been made for leadership. Most specialists in early modern history reject the view that he was an “absolute monarch,” though that view is perhaps the only fact about him that almost everyone appears to know. It may be that they have too literal a view of “absolute” monarchy, imagining that it ought to be similar to dictatorship. In any case, I know of one medieval historian who observed, after attending a session at a conference on early modern theories of kingship, that he had only to listen for five minutes to see that the early modern view of what monarchy should be was far more absolutist than the medieval one; and that it was clear, too, that early modern kings were able to achieve absolute monarchy to a surprising degree.
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