Friday 13 February 2015

King Louis 14th of France ( 1638-1715 )

 Read biography of Louis 14th by Ian Dunlop ( borrowed from the Alameda County library, Fremont, California ).

 Louis 14th is a typical example of an intelligent, hard working, brave and honest ruler who ends his reign in disaster because he did not allow his advisers, some of whom were bright and competent e.g. Colbert, Conde, Turenne and Vauban, to speak out boldly and independently when they thought the King was making major mistakes in financial, administrative or military matters.

 Louis came of age in 1656 on attaining the age of 18, but till 1661 he was guided by his Chief Minister Cardinal Mazarin. When Mazarin died in 1661 Louis decided that he would have no Chief Minister, but would rule himself. On 10th March 1661, the day after Mazarin's death, Louis summoned the princes, dukes, ministers, secretaries, etc and said " I have decided to take charge of the state in person and rely on no one. When I have need for advice I will call for it. You will issue no orders except by my command, and not sign anything, not even a passport, except with my permission, and render accounts to me personally ".

 Thus, even if a senior official thought the King was making a mistake, he did not dare to say so to him. By saying that nothing should be done without his order or permission, Louis in effect was refusing to delegate work, even in minor matters. In effect this curbed initiative even among bright officials, and tied up the ruler in work of lesser importance when he should be attending to more important functions.

 The result was that by the time he died in 1715 France's treasury was empty because of his wars ( particularly the Franco-Dutch War, The War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession ), tens of thousands of Frenchmen had died in these wars leaving behind them wailing widows and orphans cursing him, and the prestige of France, which at one time stood at the pinnacle, at a very low ebb, particularly after the defeat of the French armies at the battles of Blenheim ( 1704 ) and Ramillies ( 1706 ) at the hands of the Duke of Marlborough. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 without the slightest pretext and without the least necessity resulted in depopulating one quarter of the realm, ruining its commerce and weakening it in all its parts, and resulting in pillage by the dragoons, torture and executions of thousands of innocent persons of both sexes, and hostility of the Protestant Powers.

  We may contrast this with the attitude of another sovereign, Queen Elizabeth 1 of England ( 1533-1603 ). Soon after becoming Queen in 1558 she appointed William Cecil ( later Lord Burghley ) as her Secretary of State ( effectively, her Chief Minister ), and told him " Without respect to my private will, you will give me that counsel you think best ". Later, in December 1573 she appointed Sir Francis Walsingham as her Principal Secretary of State, and usually followed his advice, although he often criticized her for imagining she was safe from her foreign enemies.

 The result was that when Elizabeth died, England, which was a second rate power when her reign began ( France and Spain were then the big powers ), became a first rate power, and remained so till the end of the Second World War in 1945.

 A ruler or a person in authority must have good advisers, and these advisers should have the freedom to express their opinion freely and frankly before the ruler or superior, otherwise the latter is sometimes likely to make mistakes.

 There is an old adage ' Two heads are better than one '. What this really means is that however learned and intelligent a single person may be, his opinion, formed without consultation with other relevant persons, is likely to be subjective, one sided, and with his personal prejudices and predilections, and therefore wrong. But when he forms his opinion after consulting the relevant people the decision is likely to be more objective, balanced, with personal angularities rubbed off, and after taking all aspects of the matter into consideration, and therefore more likely to be correct.

 Emperor Chandragupta Maurya had Chanakya, Emperor Akbar had his navratnas, Louis 13th had Cardinal Richelieu, and Elizabeth 1 had Cecil and Walsingham. These subordinates were highly competent and upright men, and the ruler carefully listened to their advice, giving them freedom even to criticize the ruler. As a consequence these rulers were successful.

 But George the Third of England who was practically his own Prime Minister ( the nominal Prime Minister Lord North being like Manmohan Singh in the UPA government.), Kaiser Wilhelm, who sacked the experienced and competent Count Bismarck, and Louis 14th had disastrous ends.

 When India became independent, the Union Home Minister Sardar Patel called his secretaries, who were senior I.C.S. ( it had not yet become I.A.S. )  officers and told them that they should express their view freely and frankly, even knowing that it was contrary to the Minister's own view, and he would never take offence. If, on the other hand, they did not do so, he would remove them, as they would be of no use to him. This is the policy all wise rulers adopt.

 We may contrast this with the attitude of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister. She would brook no criticism, and surrounded herself with sycophants who followed the dictum " Billee oonth le gayi, to han ji han ji kehna " ( If the ruler says that a cat has carried away a camel, you should nod your head in affirmation, and say " Quite right, Your majesty, quite right ".

 When P.N. Haksar, her principal adviser, told Mrs. Gandhi  that her son Sanjay was bringing a bad name to her by his misdeeds, she got so furious that she dismissed Haksar and a raid was conducted, either on her order or on that of Sanjay, on the commercial establishment of Pandit Bros. ( Haksar's relative ) in Connaught Place in Delhi

 Louis 14th could have had a glorious reign. He initially had great achievements. He suppressed the nobles who had led the revolts of the Fronde, and created a centralized state. He patronized great artists like Moliere, Racine, La Fontaine, Le Brun, Lully, etc. But, as St. Simon writes in his memoirs "  There was nothing he liked so much as flattery, and the coarser and clumsier it was the more he relished it ".

Ultimately it was his arrogance and refusal to take good advice which brought his reign to a tragic end.

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