Colbert's policies helped make France the wealthiest state in Europe. Yet not even his financial genius could produce enough income to support the huge costs of Louis's court and his many foreign wars.

The Royal Palace at Versailles

In the countryside near Paris, Louis XIV turned a royal hunting lodge into the immense palace of Versailles (ver SY). There, he presided over both his court and the government. Versailles became the perfect symbol of the power of the Sun King.

Louis spared no expense in making Versailles the most magnificent building in Europe. Its halls and salons displayed the finest paintings and statues. Some depicted the king as Apollo, the ancient Greek god of the sun. Chandeliers and mirrors glittered with gold. In the royal gardens, millions of flowers, trees, and fountains were set out in precise geometric patterns, reflecting royal power over nature.

Painting of a man in elaborate clothing, hat, and long curly wig, riding a horse and holding a sword on a hilltop overlooking a battle.

Louis XIV, who came to the throne at a young age, ruled France for more than 72 years. He believed in the divine right of kings and was a powerful absolute monarch.

Elaborate Court Ceremonies

Louis XIV perfected elaborate ceremonies that emphasized his own importance. Each day began in the king's bedroom with a ritual known as the levée (luh VAY), or rising. High-ranking nobles competed for the honor of holding the royal washbasin or handing the king his diamond-buckled shoes. At night, the ceremony was repeated in reverse. Wives of nobles vied to serve women of the royal family.

Rituals such as the levée served a serious purpose. French nobles were descendants of the feudal lords who had held power in medieval times. At liberty on their estates, these nobles were a threat to the power of the monarchy. By luring nobles to Versailles, Louis turned them into courtiers angling for privileges rather than rival warriors battling for power. His tactic worked because he carefully protected their prestige and continued their privilege of not paying taxes.

A Flowering of French Culture

The king and his court supported a “splendid century” of the arts. The king sponsored musical entertainments and commissioned plays by the best writers. The age of Louis XIV came to be known as the classical age of French drama.

Photo of a long hallway decorated with gold, oil murals, chandeliers, busts, mirrors and tall windows.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the most famous rooms at the Versailles Palace. This elaborate palace was the principal residence of Louis XIV and a monument to his power.

In painting, music, architecture, and decorative arts, French styles became the model for all Europe. A new form of dance drama, ballet, gained its first great popularity at the French court.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments