Louis XIV

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Louis XIV


Louis XIV became king at the age of four in 1643 upon the death of his father Louis XIII.

Cardinal Mazarin ruled France in the king's name until Mazarin's death in 1661, when Louis XIV, at the age of 23, became his own chief minister and ruled personally until his death in 1715.

Louis inherited the most powerful country in Europe and expanded on this power throughout his life.

Louis is the embodiment of an absolute monarch.  He is the chief example of absolutism throughout the second half of the 17th century.  This is reflected in his statement "L'Etat, c'est moi."  ( I am the state.)

When he became king, he was immensely popular.  At his death, the people of Paris jeered him because his many wars had made him unpopular.  But, he managed to preserve the power of France throughout his long rule.  While he had failed in gaining control of the Low Countries (today Belgium and The Netherlands), his grandson had become the King of Spain after the long war of the Spanish Succession although the two kingdoms could not be merged into one.

Louis XIV was known as the "Sun King" because of the splendor of his court at Versailles.

Louis XIV believed himself to be an absolute ruler.  His authority was inherited and derived from God.  He was not accountable to anyone but his own conscience.

Louis developed a large, well trained army that wore uniforms.  He administered the country through "intendants".  He showed his wealth and power by building his palace at Versailles.  He distrusted the traditional nobility because they had risen up against him while he was still a minor during the Fronde.  The created High Society at his court, where the nobility danced and intrigued to gain the favor of the king.  He turned the formerly independent nobility who had commanded armies and ruled their own provinces into the courtiers and lap dogs of the king.

Louis was a devout Catholic but saw himself as the head of the Catholic Church in France.  He revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which had given religious toleration to the Huguenots. Huguenots were forced to convert to Catholicism or go to jail.  Many emigrated to England, Netherlands, Prussia, and Russia.  Since many Huguenots belonged to the merchant and artisan classes, they took their knowledge and skills with them.  This decision may have been Louis biggest error in that it weakened France's economic position.

Louis had a finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, who , during his lifetime, strengthened the economy of France.  Mercantilism is the economic theory that is associated with absolutism.  Under mercantilism, the state (the government) encourages economic productivity through the granting of monopolies, tariffs on foreign products, and creation of overseas colonies.  The wealth of the kingdom will allow the king to raise taxes and pay for the army and the ever costly wars.  Bullionism is the idea that the wealth of a country is measured by the amount of gold in the state's vaults.  A favorable balance of trade results ultimately in an inflow of gold into the kingdom and is, therefore, to be encouraged.

War is considered to be the "sport of kings."  Louis attempted to expand his kingdom.  In particular, he would have liked to gain control over what is today Belgium (Spanish Netherlands, later Austrian Netherlands) and the Dutch Republic.  He wanted to make the Rhine river the eastern border of France.  While Louis did make small territorial gains, his larger objectives could not be realized.  The state system viewed Louis as an aggressor and alliances were formed (always involving the Dutch) to maintain the balance of power in Europe.

Louis longest war was the War of the Spanish Succession which lasted from 1701 to 1714.  It almost led to France's defeat and almost bankrupted the country.  Louis was forced to negotiate a compromise whereby his grandson would become King of Spain but he and his heirs could never combine the Spanish crown with that of France.

When Louis died in 1715, he was highly unpopular in his own country.  But throughout his life, Le Grand Monarque dominated the stage of history in France as well as in Europe.  His is the Age of Louis XIV.

Louis was also a great patron of the arts.  Moliere, La Fontaine,  and Racine lived during the Age of Louis XIV.

His absolutist system of government functioned under his two successors, almost on auto-pilot, until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.



French Wars of Religion, 1562–98, 

were a series of civil wars in France, also known as the Huguenot Wars.  See:  http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0841497.html



HENRY IV of France, 1553-1610, king of France (1589-1610)
        Edict of Nantes 1598

LOUIS XIII, 1601-1643, king of France (1610 - 1643), son of Henry IV

LOUIS XIV, 16381715, king of France (1643–1715), son of Louis XIII, personal rule after 1661

LOUIS XV, 171074, king of France (1715–74), great-grandson of King Louis XIV

LOUIS XVI, 175493, king of France (1774–92), third son of the dauphin (Louis) and Marie Josèphe of Saxony, grandson and successor of King Louis XV. Executed in 1792.


The First Bourbon:  Henry IV

HENRY IV of France, 1553-1610, king of France (1589-1610) was the first of the Bourbon line of kings.  He had been the leader of the French Protestants, the Huguenots, until the converted to Catholicism in order to secure the French Crown.  He is alleged to have said that Paris is worth a mass.  He begins what may be called the "politique" approach to religion.  In 1598, he granted the Edict of Nantes, which granted political toleration to French Huguenots.  In 1610, he was assassinated by a disgruntled Catholic.

Henry IV
by Pourbus in the Louvre Museum

Henri IV en 1610, par Pourbus, Musée du Louvre

Louis XIII under the Thumb of Marie de Medici, Cardinal Richelieu, and Cardinal Mazarin

LOUIS XIII, 160143, king of France (1610–43). He succeeded his father, Henry IV, under the regency of his mother, Marie de' Medici at the age of nine.  He married Anne of Austria in 1615 at the age of 14. Even after being declared of age in 1614, at the age of 13, he was excluded from affairs of state by his domineering mother. In 1617 he caused the assassination of her minister Concino Concini, with the aid of his own favorite, Charles d'Albert, duc de Luynes.  His mother Marie de' Medici was forced into retirement.  

He was a weak king who was always under the influence of his advisors.  Alexander Dumas novels about the Three Musketeers deal with this time period.

He was reconciled to her in 1622 and entrusted (1624) the government to her protégé, Cardinal Richelieu. In 1630, urged by his mother to discharge Richelieu, he instead sent his mother again into exile. Melancholy and retiring by nature, Louis thenceforth gave full support to Richelieu and his successor, Cardinal Mazarin. Richelieu strengthened royal authority and centralized government control. Louis's reign was remarkable for the establishment of the French Academy and for the work of St. Francis of Sales and St. Vincent de Paul in religion, René Descartes in philosophy, and Pierre Corneille in literature.


Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de (Cardinal Richelieu), 15851642, French prelate and statesman, chief minister of King Louis XIII, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Consecrated bishop of Luçon (1607), he was a delegate of the clergy to the States-General (1614). In 1616, through the favor of the king's mother, Marie de' Medici, he became a secretary of state. He went into exile with Marie after the king freed himself from her influence with the aid of the duc de Luynes. The death (1621) of Luynes and the reconciliation of Louis XIII and Marie restored Richelieu to favor. In 1622 he was made cardinal, and he became chief minister in 1624. The growing jealousy of Marie and the great nobles endangered his position, and in 1630 Marie supported a conspiracy against Richelieu. She was unable to win the king's support, however, and was exiled. Richelieu then had full control of the government. His domestic policy aimed at consolidating and centralizing royal authority, which had as its corollary the destruction of the power of the Huguenots and the great nobles. The Huguenots were humbled by the capture of La Rochelle (1628); the peace of Alais (1629) ended their special political privileges—without, however, denying them religious toleration. Conspiracies of the nobles, who invariably found a figurehead in the king's brother Gaston d'Orléans, were rigorously suppressed. In foreign affairs, Richelieu reacted against Marie de' Medici's pro-Hapsburg diplomacy in favor of the traditional French anti-Spanish and anti-Austrian policy. To this end he strengthened the army and the navy, made alliances with the Netherlands and the German Protestant states, and subsidized Gustavus II of Sweden against the Holy Roman Emperor in the Thirty Years War. In 1635 he formed an active alliance with Sweden and Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, and France entered the Thirty Years War. Although Richelieu died before the peace was signed (1648; see Westphalia, Peace of), the terms agreed to were in general conformity to his aims. In France, the war resulted in heavy taxation; this, combined with Richelieu's poor management of finances, depleted the treasury and caused dissatisfaction with his rule. Overseas, however, he encouraged commercial capitalism, organizing companies to trade in the Indies and Canada. He was a patron of the arts and the founder of the French Academy. Among his literary works are his memoirs (1650) and the Testament politique (1688, tr. 1961).


Mazarin, Jules , 160261, French statesman, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, b. Italy. His original name was Giulio Mazarini. After serving in the papal army and diplomatic service and as nuncio at the French court (1634–36), he entered the service of France and made himself valuable to King Louis XIII's chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who brought him into the council of state. Although he had received only minor orders and had never been ordained a priest, he was raised to cardinal upon the recommendation of Louis XIII (1641). After the deaths of Richelieu (1642) and Louis XIII (1643), Mazarin was the principal minister of the regent Anne of Austria. The theory that Mazarin was secretly married to the widowed queen has been widely credited. He won favorable terms for France in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), but his attempts to raise money through taxation and his centralizing policy provoked the troubles of the Fronde (1648–53), during which he was several times forced to leave France. After the defeat of the Fronde, Mazarin was securely in control of France. By clever diplomacy he strengthened the crown and negotiated the favorable Peace of the Pyrenees at the end of the war with Spain (1659).

Louis XIV:  "I am the State"



1617  Louis XIII crowned at the age of 17

1624  Cardinal Richelieu becomes principal minister

1638 Birth of the future Louis XIV

1642 Cardinal Richelieu dies. Cardinal Mazarin assumes control of France.

1643 Louis XIII dies.  Louis XIII wife, Anne of Austria, chairs a regency for her four year old son, Louis XIV, with Mazarin continuing to run the country until his death in 1661..

1643-1715  Louis XIV becomes king with Mazarin as principal minister until Maxarin's death in 1661 when Louis XIV assumes personal control at the age of twenty-three.

1682  Royal court moves to Versailles

1715  Louis XIV dies and Louis XV accedes

Portrait de Louis XIV par Hyacinthe Rigaud

Louis XIV
by Rigaud
Prado Museum. Madrid

Louis XIV
Louis XIV
The 17th century was marked by a period of exceptional power and glamour for the French Monarchy. Starting with King Louis XIII and the Cardinal Richelieu who together transformed the feudal French Monarchy to an Absolute Monarchy, by controlling the opposition of the "Grands" (the Lords) and the growing power of the Protestant (siege of La Rochelle, 1628). Mazarin, Louis XIV's regent, ended the popular revolts of La Fronde. Louis XIV, in turn, managed to keep all the Princes and Lords at his court in Versailles to better control and display his glorious power.



Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was the most powerful and opulent monarch Europe had seen since the Roman Empire. Political brilliance in this period was matched only by the genius of the writers, architects and musicians generously promoted by the royal court. Alas, all of this exuberance, including Louis XIV's endless wars, had a cost which was to be paid by the entire nation, largely impoverished towards the end of his reign. The growing resentment of the Bourgeoisie, who demanded political rights more in keeping with their expanding power and wealth, would prove to be a political challenge to the king's successors.


Le Château de Versailles






The Facade of the palace of Versailles Louis XIV built this palace in just 40 years to make it the residence of the court and the capital of France.

Its gigantic proportions (the western facade is nearly 2,000 feet wide) and the masterpieces of French artists and craftsmen were used by Louis XIV to showcase the power of the French Monarchy. Among the finest examples of this architectural splendor, do not miss the Galerie des Glaces (Gallery of Mirrors), the Salon d'Apollon, the Royal Chapel and the Petit Appartement.

Take the time to visit the park (over 200 acres) in which you'll find the Grand Trianon, Louis XIV's summer private residence and the Petit Trianon, built by Louis XV and which became Marie-Antoinette's favorite retreat.


Louis XIV and the Arts

Although he had a series of mistresses, Louis XIV finally came under the influence of Mme de Maintenon, whom he married morganatically (1684) after the queen's death. A great supporter of the arts, Louis patronized the foremost writers and artists of his time, including Molière, Jean Racine, Jean de La Fontaine, and Charles Le Brun. The architect Jules Mansart supervised the building of the lavish palace of Versailles. Because of the brilliance of his court, Louis was called “Le Roi Soleil” [the Sun King] and “Le Grand Monarque.” He was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV.


Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685

"After 1665, Louis XIV was persuaded by his Roman Catholic advisers to embark on a policy of persecuting the Protestants. By a series of edicts that narrowly interpreted the Edict of Nantes, he reduced it to a scrap of paper. Finally, in 1685, he declared that the majority of Protestants had been converted to Catholicism and that the edict of 1598, having thus become superfluous, was revoked. No French Protestants were allowed to leave the country; those who openly remained Protestants were promised the right of private worship and freedom from molestation, but the promise was not kept. Thousands fled abroad to escape the system of dragonnades, and several provinces were virtually depopulated. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes weakened the French economy by driving out a highly skilled and industrious segment of the nation, and its ruthless application increased the detestation in which England and the Protestant German states held the French king. Its object—to make France a Catholic state—was fulfilled on paper only, for many secretly remained faithful to Protestantism, while the prestige of the Roman Catholic Church suffered as a result of Louis's intolerance." http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0834814.html

Louis XIV Wars

War of Devolution 1667–68

Dutch War of 1672–78
    France and England against the Dutch.  This is the third war against the Dutch by the English.  First Dutch War, 1652 - 54; Second Dutch War, 1664 - 67; Third Dutch War 1672 - 78.

War of the League of Augsburg or War of the Grand Alliance, 1688–97

War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–14

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Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow
Senior Professor of Government and History
Updated October 10, 2009
Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016