Louis XIV was King of France and Navarre from 1643 to 1715. His reign was one of immense transformation. France emerged as the leading power in Europe, not just in military or political affairs, but in the arts and culture as well. Louis tamed the nobility, made immense territorial gains, and ended the traditional Spanish threat by placing his grandson on that country’s throne.

Throughout his long life, Louis had an insatiable desire for glory. Unknown to most, Louis left a significant collection of memoirs. Below are some of the most relevant lessons Louis has to teach us:

 1. Learn From History and Follow the Examples of Other Great Men

“Whoever is poorly informed cannot avoid poor thinking.”

Louis knew that he needed to learn the lessons that other men could teach. Just as we are learning from him, he learned from others:

“It is not sufficient for a prince who wishes to distinguish himself merely to know what is passing in his time, but he ought also to inform himself of every remarkable circumstance which took place at a more remote period. I considered that the knowledge of those great events which have taken place in different centuries, when meditated upon by a solid and active mind, tend to fortify reason in all important deliberations; that the example of those illustrious men which antiquity furnishes would supply useful hints for war or peace, and that an enlightened mind, intent on the ideas of those glowing virtues, would ever find a stimulus to the practice of great actions.”

2. Shut the Fuck Up

“One of the best experiences to practice is to listen oftener than to speak; for it is a difficult matter for persons who are fond of speaking to refrain from saying too much.”

Madame de Calyus, writes of him:

“He carefully examined the respective dispositions and thoughts of his hearers: he was extremely prudent: he knew how every word a monarch utters is canvassed over in public, and he often kept to himself those discoveries his penetration had enabled him to make. If important affairs were the subject in question, the most learned persons were astonished at the knowledge he displayed; they saw that he was more thoroughly conversant with the matter than they, and were charmed with the manner in which he expressed his thoughts.”

Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV (1638-1715) (oil on canvas)

3. Regulate Your Conduct Wisely

As Louis found it necessary to regulate his speech wisely, he says the same regarding one’s conduct and moral character:

“A bloody and ferocious temper is despicable in a man, and beneath the dignity of a king.”

[…]

“On every occasion declare yourself to be on the side of virtue and against vice.”

[…]

“The greater the merit and virtue of the prince, the harder the envious will try to dim his brilliance. Some faults will be attributed to him which he is entirely innocent. A sovereign cannot live too wisely or too innocently. It is not enough to provide for general affairs, but you must regulate your own morals.”

4. Make Decisions with Conviction

What separates the successful from the unsuccessful is the ability to make good decisions and follow them through. On this matter, Louis writes:

“There are often troublesome occasions which may cause you to hesitate in making a decision, but once you do, and think you have seen the best course, you must take it.”

[…]

“Uncertainty will sometimes make a prince pass painful moments; but when a reasonable time has been bestowed on the examination of an affair, he must take a determination according to his best judgment, without protracting that state of suspense any longer.”

However, Louis warned not to make decisions too hastily:

“Better to conclude our business late than to ruin it by precipitancy. Our impatience only tends to delay that which we eagerly wished forward.”

Louis_XIV,_King_of_France

5. Get off Your Ass

Louis did not make France the leading power by engaging in idle hedonism. He devoted himself to his work so much that on the same day he had an operation for an anal fistula in 1686 (an extremely serious condition at the time), he still attended his council meeting. He notes:

“You will always find in me the same perseverance in labor, the same firmness of resolution, the same love for my people, the same passion for the prosperity of my state, and the same ardor for true glory.”

Louis decided to work twice daily with various people in addition to his other work:

“I cannot tell you what fruits I immediately gathered from this decision. I could feel my spirits and courage rising. I discovered something new about myself and joyfully wondered how I could have ignored it for so long. That first shyness, which always comes with good sense and which was especially disturbing when I had to speak at some length in public, vanished in less than no time. I knew then that I was king and born for it.”

The biggest impediment to glory is doing nothing. This is suicide by stasis, and I know this intimately because that’s how I used to be. Louis warns:

“Nothing is more taxing than prolonged idleness. You will be disenchanted first with affairs, next with pleasures, and third with idleness itself. You will seek everywhere in vain for what cannot be found. That is the problem with rest and leisure without some labor to precede it.”

6. Have No Favorites

Louis, in consolidating power, made sure to elevate himself. He understood the danger of placing too much esteem even in his own family, as such attachments could prove dangerous:

“Have no attachment ever to anyone.”

[…]

“In consequence of the friendship which I entertained for my brother, I could have wished never to deny him anything, but aware of the consequence this encroachment might be, I let him know, immediately, with all possible delicacy, that I could not grant his request; that I was willing to do everything to elevate him beyond my other subjects, but that such demands which seemed to interfere with my dignity, I thought it my duty to refuse.”

LeBrun_Louis_XIV_at_Douai_in_the_War_of_Devolution_1667

7. Your True Friends Are Never Yes Men

“Love all people attached to you, do not give preference to those who flatter you most, and hold in high esteem those who for a good cause venture to displease you. They are your real friends.”

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“Praise is very delicate, and we should be careful how we are caught by its dazzling appearance, as it requires much to discern our flatterers from our real admirers.

[…]

“Supposing that we conceive ourselves deserving of which is spoken in our favor, instead of contenting ourselves with the praises which we have received, they ought to serve us as a stronger stimulus to merit new encomiums; for this is one of those mediums whereby the elevated may be distinguished from those who never rise beyond mediocrity; to behold the latter charmed with the empty noise of applause which is incessantly flattering their ears, abandoning themselves to inactivity and indolence, eager to persuade themselves that they have done enough; while the former seem never fully satisfied.”

8. Maintain The Frame of the Master

Louis was a firm believer in his divine right to rule. When it comes to maintaining this frame, Louis has much to say:

“The mistakes I have made, and which have caused me infinite trouble, have been caused by kindness, and by allowing myself to surrender too heedlessly to the advice of others.”

[…]

“Never allow yourself to be ruled. Have no favorites or prime minister. Listen to and consult with your council, but decide yourself.”

[…]

“Nothing is so dangerous as weakness, of whatever kind it be. To command others, one must raise oneself above them; and after having heard all sides one must decide on the judgment one may come to with an open mind, always keeping in view to order or do nothing unworthy of the character one bears.”

Louis also understood the psychology and arrogance of the mob. In this day and age especially, his advice is sage:

“In a popular assembly, the more you assent to, the more they grasp after: the more you caress them, the more they will despise you; and that which they are once put in possession of is retained by so many hands that you cannot deprive them of it but by extreme violence.”

[…]

“Of so many persons who compose those assemblies, the most ignorant are those who often take the greatest liberties; and if you pay any deference to their opinion on any occasion, they pretend to the right ever after to regulate your projects according to their own fancy.”

Louis Embassy

9. Never Take Serious Advice From Women

Louis had many mistresses during his reign. This combined with his astute mastery of power meant he was speaking from extensive experience:

“In the same manner as a fortified place is attacked, so is the heart of a prince. An artful woman first sets about removing all who are not in her own interests; she inspires us with suspicions against some and excites our displeasure against others, in order that she and her friends alone may be listened to; and unless we are well on our guard against these practices, we are exposed to the necessity of giving offense to every person in order to gratify her alone.

[…]

“From the instant that you allow a woman the liberty of speaking to you on affairs of importance, it is impossible but what she must mislead you. This predilection we feel for her induces us to approve of arguments that are bad in themselves. She infallibly adopts ill-timed and pernicious resolutions.

[…]

“We have no means left to escape than to forbid their speaking about any subjects, save those of pleasure and amusement, and make up our minds not to believe any of their suggestions concerning matters of business.

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“I will confess, however, that a prince whose heart is strongly possessed by love, being at the same time disposed to esteem her whom he loves, will find it hard to observe these precautions; but they are most indispensable and it is for want of their being attended to that we behold in history so many fatal instances of royal houses extinct, thrones destroyed, provinces laid waste, and empires overturned.”

10. You Alone Are Responsible For Your Fortune

Most people blame something else for the misfortunes suffer. This is a form of narcissism, because it holds the implicit belief that they are infallible. We’ve all fallen into this trap, and modern society only coddles this flaw. Louis admonishes this mindset:

“The greater part of mankind are accustomed to regulate their conduct by their humor more than by their reason, and very often have nothing to guide them in their designs but their honor and their passions, that disposition of theirs, which always remains the same, always keeps them in the same route; so that in any disorders which they see in their affairs, or any misfortunes which happen to them, they have not the good sense to seek the cause in their conduct, but they impute every evil to the simple caprices of Fortune, and do not consider that if after they had felt her first blows they had adopted a new method of acting with her, they would most assuredly have secured themselves from greater evils; for it is certain that one of the safest remedies against the changes of Fortune is to know how to change with her, and you ought not to think my son, that the firmness of which I spoke to you at other times is at all opposed to the maxim which I have established for your guidance here, as that virtue does not consist in always doing the same thing, but in doing the thing which tends to the same end.”

Equestrian_portrait_louis_xiv_1692

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