Henry VIII and Louis XIV were both men whose accomplishments on a national level for their respective countries of England and France were great, but whose very different personal problems gave them a negative impression in history.
The two leaders had very different ruling styles, but with a few similar themes throughout. Perhaps the best thing to look at first is their very different attitudes toward God and God¹s power in monarchy and state. Henry VIII on England grew up as a very strong Catholic, at the insistence of his mother and father. He was known to be ³a man of daily devotionals, setting an example for his people² (Canon 76). His own writings, most especially a book of Catholicism entitled The Sanctoreum earned him the title from Pope Leo III the title ³Defender of the Faith.² His book had served as an answer to the teachings of Martin Luther, a man whose principals Henry later put into effect in his very
own country, in the Protestant Reformation.
France, however, was a very strongly Catholic country where the Roman church had a great deal of influence. Louis, although supposed not to be a very fastidious devote of the religion, or any religion, took part in a minor reorganization of the Roman Catholic Church inside France. It is apparent now
that Louis basically went along with the reforms dictated by the pope in regards to religion.
In economic matters, the two rulers perhaps differed even more greatly. Henry was a fastidious economist, often commenting about the expense of things at the royal court, and taking action to have whatever the latest offense to the treasury happened to be. Louis, however, spent extravagantly, sparing no expense for himself or his nobles. His ultimate goal was once again to make the court of France the center of fashion and art once again. He created Versailles, a monstrosity of Baroque art, most of it gilded with pure gold and other precious metal. It is a sprawling country estate with an even more spectacular exterior than interior. Louis bankrupted the Treasury of France through another extrvangance as well: his wars. Louis fought four major wars. His great aim was to make himself supreme in Europe. As a start, he planned to conquer all lands west of the Rhine River. He gained several important territories, but was
always checked by the alliances that other countries formed to oppose him. In the War of Spanish Succession, England took an important part in defeating him, leading to animosity between the two countries and their respective rulers. This war, which ended in 1714, left France exhausted and weakened.
Both men had a common ability to see the goodness in other men as royal advisors. Both hired surprisingly intelligent and wise men to run their affairs for them, perhaps Henry even more than Louis XIV. One of Henry¹s chief advisors is immortalized in Shakespeare¹s ³The Life and Times of Kind Henry VIII². Cardinal Wolsey is spoken of there as ³a man such as history had never yet laid their eyes upon, a man who could have others get his own will enforced² (Shakespeare 78). Wolsey spent little time at the British court, but the time he spent was valuable. He served as chief advisor to a young, newly crowned, and impressionable King Henry. He formed Henry¹s ideas about
government, spoke for the monarch in assembly, and reputedly taught Henry everything he knew about economics from an early age. Two other advisors are also known to history as serving in Henry¹s later life, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More.
Likewise, Louis XIV, in a mark of true genius, was wise enough to appoint someone wiser than himself to run the government. He had many, and
oddly, most of their names have been erased from history. Jean Baptise Colbert, advisor to Louis in his formative years as a monarch, later wrote in prison, ³The man was a fool, but would not surround himself with other fools² (Olivier 178).
In their personal lives, the monarchs had a great number of similarities. Both Henry VIII and Louis XIV were fond of women, drink, and debate.
Henry is perhaps most famous for his six wives, and the bloody ends that most of them came to. Out of six, only two were not banished, publicly executed, or otherwise humiliated. A quick rundown: Katharine Aragon of Spain, Henry¹s first bride. She was banished from royal view and stripped of her title after she failed to produce sons and Henry fell in love with a young lady in waiting named Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn: was executed for adultery and charges of witchcraft. Jane Seymour: recorded in history as the only wife Henry truly loved. Died a few weeks after giving birth to Henry¹s much wanted son. Anne of Cleves: Princess of Germany who was not beautiful in Henry¹s eyes, and was sent away. Catherine Howard: Commoner executed for adultery. Catherine Parr: Outlived Henry.
Henry jousted in many tournaments until a leg injury prevented this type of activity. He also grew quite ill and obese in later life, but never lost his love of
sports and other athletic activities.
Louis XIV liked to watch the tournaments more than he liked to actually
participate in them. But his libidinous habits did not differ much from those of his neighbor across the Channel. He was married to Queen Marie Therese, but
reportedly had at least ten other mistresses at one time. He had three children by his wife, but supposedly twelve other illegitimate children by his mistresses.
It was, in fact, some of these personal habits that led to the downfalls of the monarchs.
Henry VIII, who had been the great ³Defender of the Faith² in his earlier years, was in a bit of a dilemma. He no longer wanted to be married to his aging wife, devoutly Catholic Katharine of Aragon. He was in love with a young lady named Anne Boleyn. Any Catholic knows that divorce is frowned upon. But in order to marry Anne, Henry needed this divorce. He broke from the Catholic church, and, with the help of Thomas Cromwell, another top advisor, created the Church of England. Unfortunately, to wipe out all cells of opposition, Henry was forced to destroy many who did not support this break with the Church.
Another thing contributing to Henry¹s downfall was his illness. Legend has it that Anne Boleyn¹s spirit took revenge on the one who had ordered her
execution. It is more likely, according tomany modern historians, that Henry had a virus much like that which his father died of. He suffered a painful end: constantly coughing up blood, and crippled by a flaring leg injury. For the last few years of his life, he was unable to govern his country well, and power fled from England.
Louis XIV had a very different problem. His difficulty was simply that he spent more than France could afford. Not only had the building of Versailles
severely disabled the Treasury, his extravagant spending on his various mistresses and illegitimate children got out of hand. He was to the point, by the end of his reign, of setting up a well-appointed and furnished estate for each of
these families. Not only that, but the Spanish War of Succession severely crippled the treasury, and Louis never could truly raised the taxes enough to cover his love of these ³little wars² and women.
Louis was known in Europe for being the longest reigning king in all of modern history. He kept court at his various palaces and fought in his wars for almost 72 years. After his cheif advisor Jean Baptiste Colbert died in 1685, the reign of the Sun King became less glorified. He forced the noble families to stay at court at Versailles, creating the problem of absentee landlords for the commoners, who lived in relative poverty compared to the great splendour of
Versailles. Louis died gradually of disease, and after his reign, political influence in France declined greatly for a number of years. However, France remembers him in a much better way than history admires Henry the VIII.
Both monarchs suffered troubled lives, and still managed to accomplish great things for England and France. Henry VIII raised scientific awareness and appreciation for art that had previously been absent from England. Louis XIV added a new dimension to the arts such as the world had never seen. His reign was known as ranking above all others in art and literature, as well as dancing. And yet, even today they are remembered for the most part their failings, Henry for his matrimonial troubles and Louis for his economic extravagances. It might do better to weigh the pros and cons of history instead of blind judgment on the basis of few facts when thinking of Henry VIII and Louis XIV.
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