Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
When still young, Louis XIV received condescending advice that he ought to pursue the best interests of the state. To this, he replied autocratically, “L'état, c'est moi!” Like one of the imposing state portraits of this impressive monarch by Charles Le Brun or Hyacinthe Rigaud, the response testified to Louis's imperious nature. His reign encompassed most of the seventeenth century, an era acclaimed in French memory as le grand siècle, the great century, when France enjoyed cultural and political preeminence in Europe. Reflecting the splendor of his epoch, Louis adopted the sun as his emblem, a symbol linked in classic mythology with the god Apollo, who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky to illuminate the world. Thus, Louis was known as le roi Soleil, the Sun King. When constructing his magnificent palace at Versailles to represent his personal grandeur, he emblazoned it with images of his magnificence in the arts, governance, and war.
To draw lessons from such a monarch and such an era requires care; it was another age, distant not only in years but also in principles. Yet, although Louis XIV fell victim to errors of substance and style specific to him and his times, others of his missteps still have relevance for those concerned in the United States with the formation of grand strategy in the present and future.