There were several reasons for this: the intense mistrust which he had provoked amongst his neighbours; his own miscalculations; and the complex, yet unavoidable issue of the Spanish Succession. Underlying all these factors, however, was the crucial change which was taking place in international relations. Although Louis spoke the language of dynasticism, his actions frequently could only be justified in terms of reason of state. This accounts for the intense hostility and suspicion directed towards him. Earlier generations had accepted the fact that religious differences could provoke savage warfare, with the devastation of land and the destruction of cities. It has become commonplace for later generations to accept such measures and every other means to hand in order to ensure the state's security, whatever the legal or moral objections. Louis, who retained a profound belief in dynastic kingship, was only edging very slowly in this direction. But he was shifting his ground. It appeared to outraged neighbours competing in the complicated game of international relations that, in order to win, the king was changing the rules. For his own part, Louis was beginning to realize in the later years of his reign that national support could be a more effective instrument in international relations than the most legally convincing dynastic claims.
Louis XIV bequeathed a troubled inheritance to his great-grandson, Louis XV. It was, of course, a fact beyond his control that a series of deaths in the royal family resulted in the succession of a five-year-old child. On the other hand he had done little to modernize the outmoded fiscal system or to loosen the straitjacket of social conservatism, and France would suffer increasingly during the eighteenth century from a lack of flexibility in both these areas. In addition, the religious controversy stirred up by the king's support for the papal bull Unigenitus would rage on for half a century after 1715.
The king's reputation declined steadily both at home and abroad from the triumphant times of the early 1680s down to his death in 1715 and beyond. It was in 1680 that the city of Paris honoured him with the title of 'the Great' and the Collège de Clermont in the capital was renamed the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Yet thirty-five years later in the same city news of his death was greeted with relief and even with enthusiasm. Why should this be so?