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Le Roi Soleil

Luis XIV, the King of France (1638-1715) is one of the most prominent monarchs in European history. His reign lasted for over 70 years. Technically it was around 60 years as he inherited the throne at the age of 6. So he was able to influence the French policies and social life for many centuries ahead. He was known for running wars with basically all neighbors. He used his family ties to actively run the foreign policy. He reformed taxation and state finances. He sponsored medical treatment and social work as well as promoted the art. Having moved from Louvre to Versailles, he arranged for Louvre to be the art museum. I am sure historians would point out many other policy moves that changed the country for good or for bad. We should not forget, however, that only seventy years after the king’s death the French revolution began overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the Republic.

Luis XIV, statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, standing in front of the Louvre

For years writers and filmmakers have been fascinated by intrigues and plots of the French royal court initially in Louvre and later in Versailles. Very few realize, however, that the fact that Luis XIV established the French court as we know it was in itself a handy political move. In past times noble families from all over Europe, basically no matter the country fought for influence making wars with each other. They often plotted against their own kings. The move by Luis XIV was simple. He invited the noble or aristocratic families under his reign to practically live at or in the neighborhood of the royal premises. Having them instantly around, he controlled the plots and intrigues.

Many years ago, a friend of mine, who has lived in the Paris fashion world for sometime explained to me that Luis XIV is told to be the inventor of the fashion seasons. He encouraged the courts to change the garment according to the newest fashion trends. Besides the whole fun around the trends in fashion, this requirement was quite a political one. Instead of spending money on plots, the entire court had to continually spend it on expensive clothing. The king controlled purses of those who lived at the court but also filled in their itineraries. Another significant side effect was boosting the fashion manufacturer’s business (clothing, shoes, various appliances, and perfume) in France and abroad. The fashion industry is now a global business, but still, the fashion week in Paris is the major fashion event in the world. Paris is the capital of fashion as it used to be in times of the Roi Soleil.

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