The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 5

The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 5

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The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 5

The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 5

Read FREE!

Excerpt

The Age of Louis XIV, though the traditional use of the phrase may warrant the adoption of it as the title of a volume covering a period of European history closely coinciding in date with his personal rule, cannot be held to possess the organic unity which belongs to the theme of our Napoleon volume. Louis XIV, though endowed with some truly royal qualities, and above all with that of knowing how to choose the chief agents of his policy at home and abroad, was himself no great statesman and nothing of a general; his monarchy was not his creation, he was without real initiative, and no intellectual effort associated with his reign was due to his personal inspiration. On the other hand, the system of absolute government, which he steadily carried on during more than half a century, and to which all the activities of the French nation were consistently, though not without struggles, accommodated, was characteristic of the whole age of which he is the most conspicuous figure. To the perfection of this system the State with which he was identified had been long advancing by what may be termed a logical process of development; and to it the large majority of rulers contemporary with himself were desirous of adhering or attaining. In the dominions of both branches of the House of Habsburg the alliance of dynastic interests with those of the Church of Rome had at different periods prevailed in the contention against what had come to be mere provincial liberties. But Spain had fallen into political as well as social decay; and the House of Austria was only gradually recovering from the disappointment of its revived dynastic ambition. Among the Princes of the Empire, however, the enfeeblement of the Imperial authority had called forth a widespread ambition to exalt their territorial power at the expense of the claim of their Estates, while in several instances, and more especially in that of Brandenburg-Prussia, they sought to mark their advance by the assumption of a royal Crown. Nor was it in central Europe alone that open imitation flattered the absolutism of . . .

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