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Louis XIV

(1638 - 1715)

Le Roi Soleil (the Sun King)

In 1637, Louis XIII was the King of France and it appeared that the Bourbon Dynasty was coming to an end. Louis and his wife, Anne of Austria had been unable to concieve a child and Louis was not in the best of health. On December 5, 1637, Louis and his entourage was planning to travel from his hunting lodge in Versailles to Saint Maur. A violent rainstorm was in progress and the Captain of the Guard suggested that he go to the Louvre instead. Louis apartment was not ready so Louis was 'forced' to spend the night with Anne. Exactly nine months later Louis XIV was born. The baby was called Louis-Dieudonne - Louis, the Gift of God.

Louis was an outstanding example of the absolute monarch. He reportedly boasted, "L'etat c'est moi" ("I am the State"). These words express the spirit of a reign in which the king claimed the highest political authority. Louis chose the sun as his royal emblem, and he liked to be called Le roi-soleil (The Sun King). Under Louis XIV, France ranked above all other European nations in art, literature, war, and statesmanship.

Louis was born at St.-Germain-en-Laye, France. He succeeded his father, Louis XIII, when he was only 4 years old. Louis XIV's mother, Anne of Austria, ruled on his behalf until 1651. Cardinal Mazarin, Louis's godfather, served as chief minister.

In 1648, the Thirty Years' War came to an end. This war strengthened France and weakened the Habsburg (or Hapsburg) rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. But Mazarin was unpopular in France, and his policies led to several years of civil disturbances called the Fronde. Many people believe that the Fronde is what drove Louis XIV to create Versailles and leave Paris.

When Mazarin died in 1661, Louis declared that he would be his own chief minister. Mazarin had taught him to choose wise counselors. The greatest of Louis's ministers was Jean Baptiste Colbert. Colbert reorganized French finance and promoted economy and industry.

Louis supported writers and artists and played a part in the growth of French literature. Historians often describe his long reign as "the Century of Louis XIV."

Louis fought four major wars. His great aim was to make himself supreme in Europe. In the first three wars, fought between 1667 and 1697, Louis hoped to recapture all lands that had ever been under French rule. He gained important territories, but his aggressive moves led other countries to form alliances against him. In the fourth war, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Louis fought to protect his grandson Philip V's right to be king of Spain. To this day, the descendents of Louis XIV are on the throne in Spain.

Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660, but he was more attracted to mistresses. His first mistress was Louise de Valliere. His second mistress was Madame de Montespan. He had more children with here than anyone his wife included. Louis XIV's last mistress was Madame de Maintenon. He secretly married her after Maria Theresa died in 1683. They never had any children. She was very religous and she belived it was here duty to save the kings soul. She worked hard to make Louis more religous and it seem that she succeded. Madame de Maintenon approved of Louis's harsh treatment of the French Protestants, who were called Huguenots. Since 1598, the Huguenots had enjoyed religious toleration and privileges under the Edict of Nantes. In 1685, Louis revoked this edict. The government persecuted the Huguenots savagely in an effort to compel them to change their religion. Many thousands of Huguenots fled the country. Those who left included numerous craftworkers and business people.

At one point in Louis' life, he had a son, grandson, and great grandson all alive with succession rights to the throne. One by one, they died and finally he was left with only his great grandson alive. He would succeed Louis to the throne and become Louis XV.

This painting by Rigaud hangs in the Louvre

Good books to read if you are interested:

Rouvroy, Louis. Historical Memoirs of the Duc de St. Simon - Many translations

Bernier, Olivier. Louis XIV

Bluche, Francois. Louis XIV

Mitford, Nancy. The Sun King

Durant, Will & Ariel. The Age of Louis XIV

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