Louis XIV, Le Roi soleil

Louis XIV was born on September 5th in the year 1638 to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria after 23 years of barrenness. Due to his parents’ childlessness, he was regarded as a divine gift and was often referred to as the Sun King. He bore the traditional title of Dauphin and was crowned king on the 14th of May in 1643 upon his father’s death, at the young age of four years old. However, Louis XIII declared that a regency council should reign from his death, throughout his son’s youth. He did not make Anne the sole regent, which was unheard of in that time, but he did put her in charge of the council. Anne later had her husband’s decision overturned by the Parliament of Paris and placed Cardinal Mazarin in charge of the regency until Louis XIV was of age.

            Louis assumed control of the government in 1661 upon Mazarin’s death. Unfortunately, the treasury was on the verge on bankruptcy and Louis XIV took control by exiling Nicolas Fouquet, on the charge of embezzling and replaced him with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who was able to reduce the debt through more efficient taxation. Louis and Colbert were able to turn the economy around through a mercantilist administration. Louis also reformed the military, successfully curbing the ambitious nobility.

            Louis was a generous patron of the arts and the royal court. He supported several Classical French writers, many of whom are still influential in today’s world. Artists such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox and Hyacinthe Rigaud became famous under the Sun King’s protection. Louis moved the royal court to the Palace of Versailles, a converted hunting lodge, on May 6th 1682. While at Versailles, the king alone commanded attention. Some speculated that the king chose Versailles so he could more easily discover those who plotted against his reign. Another theory is that the plotting of the nobles caused Louis to hate Paris, but the many improvements he created such as the establishment of police and street-lighting disproved that theory. Louis also established the Hôtel des Invalides, a military complex and home for military officers and personal rendered infirm from injury or age, as well as the Institute de Saint-Louis, the only non-religious school for poor, noble girls.

            Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660, as part of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. They had six children, of which only the oldest, Louis, le Grand Dauphin, survived to adulthood. Despite evidence of affection early on in their marriage, Louis XIV did not remain faithful to his wife. He took many mistresses and had many illegitimate children, many of whom he married to cadet branched of the royal family. After Maria Theresa’s death in 1683, Louis married Madame de Maintenon, to whom he was much more faithful than his first wife.

            Louis XIV died six days before his 77th birthday on September 1st 1715, after a reign of 72 years. His son, the Dauphin, had predeceased him, as had his son, so the heir to the Sun King’s throne was his five-year-old great-grandson. Despite his own self-chastisement, many historians believe that Louis XIV greatly expanded the defensibility of France and applied himself to the alleviation of the burdens of his subjects. Even though it is said that the Sun King liked nothing so much as flattery, Louis goes down in history as one of the greatest monarchs of France, adding ten provinces and earning France the admiration of Europe for its success, power and sophistication.

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About mlleminor

Instructor in MCL French Division at the University of Kentucky
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