- For the musical group of the same name, see Louis XIV (band).
Louis XIV (Louis-Dieudonné) (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) reigned as King of France and King of Navarre from May 14, 1643 until his death. He inherited the Crown at the age of four: he did not actually assume personal control of the government until the death of his chief minister, Jules Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Louis XIV, known as The Sun King (French: Le Roi Soleil) and as Louis the Great (French: Louis le Grand), ruled France for seventy-two years — a longer reign than any other French or other "major" European monarch. Louis attempted to increase the power of France in Europe, fighting four major wars: the War of Devolution, the Dutch War, the War of the Grand Alliance, and the War of the Spanish Succession. He worked successfully to create an absolutist and centralised state; historians and political scientists often cite him as an example of an enlightened despot. He allegedly (but probably apocryphally) once remarked, "L'état, c'est moi!" ("I am the state!"). Louis XIV became the archetype of an absolute monarch.
With his birth at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1638, his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, who had been childless for twenty-three years, regarded him as a divine gift. (These circumstances have led some to postulate a different biological father for the boy, rather than Louis XIII.) He was christened "Louis-Dieudonné" (the latter word meaning "God-given"), and received the titles premier fils de France ("First Son of France") and the more traditional title Dauphin de Viennois.
Louis XIII and Anne had a second child, Philippe I, Duc d'Orléans, in 1640. Louis XIII, however, mistrusted his wife; he sought to prevent her from gaining influence over the realm after his death. Nevertheless, when Louis XIII died and the four-year-old Louis XIV ascended the throne on May 14, 1643, Anne became Regent. She entrusted all power to her chief minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin, whom most French political circles despised — in part as a non-Frenchman.
At the same time as the Thirty Years' War ended in 1648, a French civil war, known as the Fronde, began. Cardinal Mazarin continued the centralization policies of his predecessor, Armand Cardinal Richelieu. He attempted to augment the power of the Crown at the expense of the nobility. In 1648, he levied a tax on the members of the Parlement, a court whose judges comprised mostly nobles or high clergymen. The members of the Parlement not only refused to pay, but also pronounced all of Cardinal Mazarin's earlier financial edicts void. When Cardinal Mazarin arrested the members of the Parlement, Paris broke into rioting and insurrection. Louis and his courtiers had to flee from the city. Shortly thereafter, the signing of the Peace of Westphalia released the French army under Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé to return to the aid of Louis and of his royal court. By January 1649, the Prince de Condé had started besieging Paris; the subsequent Peace of Rueil temporarily ended the conflict.
France had continued involvement in war, however, against Spain. The French received aid in this military effort from England, then governed by the military dictator Oliver Cromwell. The Anglo-French alliance achieved victory in 1658 at the Battle of the Dunes. The subsequent Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) fixed the border between France and Spain at the Pyrenees. Under the same treaty, Louis XIV became engaged to marry the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, Maria Theresa (Marie Thérèse). The marriage occurred in 1660; under the treaty, Maria agreed to renounce all claim to the Spanish Throne. Spain had agreed to pay a large dowry (50,000 gold écus), but failed to complete payment.
Officially, Louis's mother's Regency ended when Louis turned thirteen in 1651. Louis XIV, however, continued to allow Cardinal Mazarin to control the affairs of state. Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661, and political circles expected his replacement by Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de Belle-Isle, the Superintendent of Finance. Instead, Fouquet was removed and imprisoned on account of his failure to properly manage the nation's finances. Louis announced that he would not appoint a new chief minister; instead he would govern the realm by himself. His most trusted advisors, the members of the conseil d'en haut (High Council), included the most influential ministers Jean-Baptiste Colbert (for internal affairs), Hugues de Lionne (for foreign affairs), and François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (for war). Louis excluded the higher nobility from the conseil, leading the aristocratic diarist Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon to refer to the reign as the "reign of the lowborn bourgeoisie."
The French treasury stood close to bankruptcy when Louis XIV assumed power in 1661. Louis proved an incredibly extravagant spender, dispensing huge sums of money to finance the royal court. He operated as a patron of the arts, funding literary and cultural figures such as Molière, Charles Le Brun, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. He also brought the Académie française under his control, and became its "Protector". He spent money on improving the Musée du Louvre.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert gained appointment as Controller-General in 1665. He reduced the national debt through more efficient taxation. His principal taxation devices included the aides, the douanes, the gabelle, and the taille. The aides and douanes were customs duties, the gabelle a tax on salt, and the taille a tax on land. Colbert, however, did not abolish the tax exemption claimed by the nobility and the clergy. Nonetheless, he improved the methods of tax collection then in use.
Colbert also had wide-ranging plans to improve France through commerce. His administration ordained new industries and encouraged manufacturers and inventors. Colbert also made improvements to the navy, to the highways and to the waterways of France. He ranks as one of the fathers of the school of thought regarding trade known as mercantilism — in fact, France called "mercantilism" Colbertisme.
Louis XIV ordered the construction of the complex known as the Hôtel des Invalides to provide a home for officers who had served him loyally in the army but whom either injury or age had rendered infirm. Louis considered its construction one of the greatest achievements of his reign.
War and the Low Countries
After Louis's father-in-law, Philip IV of Spain, died in 1665, his son (by his second wife), a sickly and mentally retarded child, became Charles II of Spain. Louis claimed that Brabant, a Spanish territory in the Low Countries, had "devolved" to his wife, Maria Theresa, Charles II's half-sister. Louis made the legal argument that the custom of Brabant required that a child should not suffer from his or her father's remarriage. He personally participated in the battles of the subsequent War of Devolution, which broke out in 1667. Louis saw as his primary enemy not Spain (which had little interest in Brabant and other Belgian territories), but the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (the Netherlands).
Problems internal to the United Provinces aided Louis's designs on the Low Countries. The most prominent political figure in the United Provinces at the time, Johan de Witt, feared that power might come into the hands of William III, Prince of Orange. De Witt saw a naval war with France as potentially manageable, but a war on land would have allowed William III's army to intervene. Thus, France easily conquered both Flanders and the Franche-Comté. To protect itself from further French aggression, the United Provinces joined the Triple Alliance, with England and Sweden, in 1668. Faced with the joint naval and commercial power of England and the United Provinces, Louis agreed to make peace. Under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), France retained Flanders, but surrendered the Franche-Comté to Spain.
The Triple Alliance did not last very long. In 1670, Charles II secretly signed the Treaty of Dover, entering into a coalition with France; the two nations declared war on the United Provinces in 1672. Louis XIV's aggression forced Johan de Witt to resign, and allowed William III, Prince of Orange to take power. William III entered into an alliance with Spain, causing England to withdraw in 1674. William even married Mary, the niece of the English King Charles II. A peace was therefore hastened, and accomplished in 1678 with the Treaty of Nijmegen. Louis gained more territory in the Low Countries, and regained the Franche-Comté.
The Treaty of Nijmegen improved France's influence in Europe, but did not satisfy Louis XIV. Louis dismissed his foreign minister, Simon Arnaud, Marquis de Pomponne , in 1679. He also kept up his army, but accomplished further increases in territory through judicial processes instead of military ones. Louis claimed that the territories ceded to him in previous treaties ought to be ceded along with all their dependencies and all lands which had formerly belonged to them, but had separated over the years. French "courts of reunion" were appointed to ascertain which territories belonged to France; the French troops later occupied them. The annexation of these lesser territories, however, was not Louis's primary aim. Louis actually desired to gain Strasbourg, an important strategic outpost. Strasbourg was a part of Alsace, but had not been ceded with the rest of Alsace in the Peace of Westphalia. It was nonetheless occupied by the French in 1681 under Louis's new legal pretext.
Height of power
During the early 1680s, Louis greatly increased his influence. French colonies abroad were growing in size. Louis was in the process of reinforcing the traditional Gallicanism, a doctrine limiting the authority of the Pope in France. Furthermore, Louis began to diminish the power of the nobility and clergy.
In pursuance of his absolutist aims, Louis attempted to increase his influence over the Church. He convened an assembly of clergymen in November 1681. Before it was dissolved in June 1682, it had agreed to the Declaration of the Clergy of France . The power of the King of France was increased, and the power of the Pope reduced. The Pope was not allowed to send papal legates to France without the King's consent; those legates, furthermore, required further approval before they could exercise their power. Bishops were not to leave France without the royal approbation; no government officials could be excommunicated for acts committed in pursuance of their duties. The King was allowed to enact ecclesiastical laws, and all regulations made by the Pope were deemed invalid in France without the assent of the monarch. The Declaration, however, was not accepted by the Pope.
Louis attempted to reduce the influence of the nobility, continuing the work of Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin. He believed that his power would prevail only if he filled the high executive offices with commoners: he could not destroy the influence of a great nobleman, but could reduce a commoner to a nonentity by dismissing him. Thus Louis forced the nobles to serve him ceremonially as courtiers, whilst he appointed commoners as ministers and regional governors. As courtiers, the nobles grew ever weaker. Louis had converted the Chateau of Versailles outside Paris into a lavish royal palace; he moved there along with the royal court on May 6, 1682. Court life centred on grandeur; courtiers had to display expensive luxuries, to dress with suitable magnificence and to constantly attend balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations. Thus, many noblemen had perforce either to give up all influence, or to depend entirely on the King for grants and subsidies. Instead of exercising power, the nobles vied for the honour of dining at the King's table or the privilege of carrying a candlestick as the King retired to his bedroom. Louis had several reasons for building Versailles. Most painfully obviously: he disliked Paris. During the nobility-led Fronde rebellion, insurgents captured the young Louis and held him hostage. He decided to build himself a residence outside Paris so he could observe the goings-on of all of his country. Versailles also served as a dazzling setting for state affairs and for receptions of foreign dignitaries.
Louis XIV's most important minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, died in 1683. Colbert exercised a tremendous influence on the royal coffers — the royal revenue tripled under his supervision. The people of France, however, generally remained poor, and did not always reap the benefits of Colbert's plans.
By 1685, Louis stood at the height of his power. One of France's chief rivals, the Holy Roman Empire, was crippled whilst fighting the Ottoman Empire in the War of the Holy League. The Ottoman Grand Vizier had almost captured Vienna, but at the last moment King Jan III Sobieski led an army of Polish, German and Austrian forces to final victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. In the meantime, Louis XIV had acquired control of several territories, including Luxembourg. After repelling the Ottoman attack on Vienna, the Holy Roman Empire's army was free, but the Emperor nevertheless did not attempt to regain the territories annexed by Louis XIV.
Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's second wife
Louis's queen, Maria Theresa, also died in 1683. Louis had not remained faithful to her: his mistresses included Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, Marquise of Montespan. He proved, however, more faithful to his second wife, Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. The marriage between Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon, which occurred in late 1685, was kept a secret. Madame de Maintenon, once a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism. It is believed that she vigorously promoted the persecution of the Protestants, and that she urged Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes (1598), which granted a degree of religious freedom to the Huguenots (the members of the Protestant Reformed Church). Louis himself supported such a plan; he believed that, in order to achieve absolute power, he had to first achieve a religiously unified nation — specifically a Catholic one. He had already begun the persecution of the Huguenots by excluding them from public office and by quartering soldiers in their homes.
Louis continued his attempt to achieve a religiously united France by issuing an Edict in March 1685. The Edict affected the French colonies, and expelled all Jews from them. The public practice of any religion except Catholicism became prohibited. The Code Noir also granted sanction to slavery, but no person could own a slave in the French colonies unless a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and a Catholic priest had to baptise each slave.
In October 1685, Louis increased the persecution of the Huguenots by issuing the Edict of Fontainebleau, revoking the Edict of Nantes. The new edict banished from the realm any Protestant minister who refused to convert to Roman Catholicism. Protestant schools and institutions were banned. Children born into Protestant families were to be forcibly baptised by Roman Catholic priests, and Protestant places of worship were demolished. The Edict precluded individuals from publicly practising or exercising the religion, but not from merely believing in it. The Edict provided "liberty is granted to the said persons of the Pretended Reformed Religion [Protestantism] … on condition of not engaging in the exercise of the said religion, or of meeting under pretext of prayers or religious services." Although the Edict formally denied Huguenots permission to leave France, 200,000 of them left in any event, taking with them all their skills in commerce and trade. The Edict proved economically damaging, and Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban, one of Louis XIV's most influential ministers, publicly condemned the measure.
Louis may have acted against the Huguenots to foster a mutual hatred between Catholics and Protestants in Europe, thereby hoping to discourage any alliances between nations of varying faiths. If he indeed had this aim, the plan failed utterly. In 1686, both Catholic and Protestant rulers joined the League of Augsburg, designed to check Louis's ambitions. The coalition included the Holy Roman Emperor and several of the German states that formed part of the Empire — most notably the Palatinate, Bavaria, and Brandenburg. The United Provinces, Spain, and Sweden also joined the League.
Louis sent his troops into the Palatinate in 1688. Ostensibly, the army had the task of supporting the claims of Louis's sister-in-law, Charlotte Elizabeth, Duchesse d'Orléans , to the Crown of the Palatinate. (The Duchesse d'Orléans' nephew had died in 1685, and the Crown had gone, not to her, but to the junior Neuburg branch of the family.) The invasion had the actual aim, however, of applying diplomatic pressure and forcing the Palatinate to leave the League of Augsburg.
Louis's activities united the German princes behind the Holy Roman Emperor. Louis had expected that England, under the Catholic James II, would remain neutral. In 1689, however, the Glorious Revolution resulted in the deposition of James II and his replacement by his daughter, Mary II, who ruled jointly with her husband, William III (William of Orange). As William had developed an enmity with Louis XIV during the Dutch War, England joined the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the Grand Alliance.
The campaigns of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697) at first proceeded generally favorably for France. The forces of the Holy Roman Emperor proved ineffective, as many Imperial troops concentrated on fighting the Ottoman Empire. Louis XIV aided James II in his attempt to retake the English crown, but unsuccessfully; James lost his last stronghold, Ireland, in 1690. England could then devote more of its funds and troops to the war on the continent. An Anglo-Dutch naval fleet decimated Louis XIV's navy at La Hougue in 1692. The war continued for five more years, but ended with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Louis XIV surrendered Luxembourg and all other territories he had seized since the end of the Dutch War in 1679, but retained Strasbourg. Louis also undertook to recognise William III and Mary II as Sovereigns of England, and assured them that he would no longer assist James II.
The Spanish Succession
The great matter of succession to the Spanish Throne dominated Europe following the Peace of Ryswick. The Spanish King Charles II, severely invalided, could not father an heir. The Spanish inheritance offerred a much-sought prize — Charles II ruled not only Spain, but also Naples, Sicily, Milan, the Spanish Netherlands and a vast colonial empire—in all, twenty-two different realms.
Both France and the Holy Roman Empire vied for the Spanish Crown. Both Louis XIV and the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I had close family ties the Spanish royal family; Louis as the son of the elder daughter of Philip III of Spain and as the husband of the elder daughter of Philip IV of Spain; Leopold as the son of the younger daughter of Philip III and as the husband of the younger daughter of Philip IV. The French might have had a slight advantage because Anne of Austria and Maria Thérèse had seniority over their respective sisters.
Many European powers feared that if either France or the Holy Roman Empire came to control Spain, the balance of power in Europe would be threatened. The English King William III proposed another candidate, the Bavarian Prince Joseph Ferdinand. Under the First Partition Treaty, it was agreed that the Bavarian prince would inherit Spain, with the territories in Italy and the Low Countries being divided between France and the Empire. Spain, however, had not been consulted, and vehemently resisted the dismemberment of its territories. The Spanish royal court insisted on maintaining the glory of the Spanish Empire. When the Treaty became known to Charles II in 1698, he settled on Joseph Ferdinand as his heir, assigning to him the entire Spanish inheritance.
The entire issue opened up again when smallpox claimed the Bavarian prince six months later. The Spanish royal court was intent on keeping the great Spanish Empire united, and acknowledged that such a goal could be accomplished only by selecting a member of either the French Bourbon Dynasty or the Imperial Habsburg Dynasty. Charles II chose the Habsburgs, settling on the Emperor Leopold's younger son, the Archduke Charles. Ignoring the decision of the Spanish, Louis XIV and William III signed a second treaty, allowing the Archduke Charles to take Spain, the Low Countries and the Spanish colonies, whilst Louis XIV's son, Louis de France, Dauphin de Viennois would inherit the territories in Italy.
In 1700, as he lay dying, Charles II unexpectedly interfered in the affair. He sought to prevent Spain from uniting with either France or the Holy Roman Empire. The whole of the Spanish territory was to go to the Dauphin's younger son, Philip, Duc d'Anjou. If the Duc d'Anjou were to inherit the French Crown, then the Spanish Crown would go to the Dauphin's next son, Charles, Duc de Berry, and thereafter to the Archduke Charles.
Louis XIV thus faced a difficult choice: he could have agreed to a partition and to peace in Europe, or he could have accepted the whole Spanish inheritance but alienated the other European nations. Louis assured William III that he would fulfill the terms of their previous treaty and partition the Spanish dominions. Later on, however, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Torcy (nephew of Jean-Baptiste Colbert) advised Louis XIV that even if France accepted a portion of the Spanish inheritance, a war with the Holy Roman Empire would ensue. Louis agreed that if a war occurred in any event, it would be more profitable to accept the whole of the Spanish inheritance. Consequently, when Charles II died on November 1, 1700, Philip, Duc d'Anjou became Philip V, King of Spain.
Louis XIV's opponents reluctantly accepted Philip V as King of Spain. Louis, however, acted too aggressively. In 1701, he cut off English imports to France. Moreover, Louis ceased to acknowledge William III as King of England, instead supporting the claim of James II's son and heir, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender"). England consequently entered into an alliance with the United Provinces, the Holy Roman Empire and most German states. Bavaria, Portugal and Savoy aided Louis XIV and Philip V.
The subsequent War of Succession continued for most of the remainder of Louis XIV's reign. France had some initial success, but Marlborough's victory at the Battle of Blenheim (13 August 1704) forced her into a defensive posture. Bavaria ceased her involvement in the war, and Portugal and Savoy joined the opposite side. The endeavour proved costly for Louis XIV; by 1709, he had lost almost all of the power France had amassed during his reign. Whilst it became clear that France could not conquer the entire Spanish inheritance, it also seemed clear that its opponents could not overthrow Philip V in Spain.
Louis XIV and Philip V made peace with Great Britain and the United Provinces in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Peace with the Holy Roman Empire came with the Treaty of Baden in 1714. The general settlement recognised Philip V as King of Spain and ruler of the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Spain's territory in the Low Countries and Italy went to the Empire. Louis, furthermore, agreed to end his support for the Old Pretender's claims to the throne of Great Britain.
Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 of gangrene, a few days before his seventy-seventh birth anniversary. His body lies in the Saint Denis Basilica in Paris.
Almost all of Louis XIV's legitimate children died during childhood. The only one to survive to adulthood, his eldest son, Louis, Dauphin de Viennois, known as "The Grand Dauphin" died in 1711, leaving three children. The eldest of those, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, died in 1712. Thus Louis XIV's five-year-old great-grandson, the son of the duc de Bourgogne, succeeded to the throne and reigned as Louis XV.
Louis XIV sought to restrict the power of his nephew, Philip II, Duc d'Orléans, who by law would become Regent for the prospective Louis XV. He instead preferred to transfer power to his illegitimate son by Madame de Montespan, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duc du Maine . Louis XIV's will provided that the Duc du Maine would act as the guardian of Louis XV and Commander of the Royal Guards. The Duc d'Orléans, however, ensured the anulment of Louis XIV's will in court. The Duc du Maine, stripped of the title prince du sang (Prince of the Blood) and of the command of the Royal Guards, went to prison, while the Duc d'Orléans ruled as sole Regent.
Louis XIV placed France in a dominant position in Europe. Even with several great alliances opposing him, he could continue to increase French territory. For his vigorous promotion of French national greatness, Louis XIV became known as the "Sun King". Voltaire compared him to Caesar Augustus and called his reign an "eternally memorable age". The Duc de Saint-Simon offered the following assessment: "There was nothing he liked so much as flattery, or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it … His vanity, which was perpetually nourished – for even preachers used to praise him to his face from the pulpit – was the cause of the aggrandisement of his Ministers."
At the same time, however, Louis's efforts did not bring prosperity to the common people of France. His numerous wars and extravagant palaces effectively bankrupted the nation, forcing him to levy high taxes on the peasants. As the nobility and clergy had exemption from paying these taxes, the peasantry came to resent them. The peasantry also opposed the royal absolutism established by Louis. The French Revolution picked up on such sentiments in 1789.
Louis XIV achieved his dream of putting a member of the Bourbon Dynasty on the throne of Spain. The House of Bourbon retained the Crown of Spain for the remainder of the eighteenth century, but experienced overthrow and restoration several times after 1808. The present Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos I, descends from Louis XIV.
In 1682, the explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle named the basin of the Mississippi River in North America "Louisiane" in honour of Louis XIV. Both the Louisiana Territory and the State of Louisiana in the United States formed part of Louisiane.
Louis XIV features in the d'Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas. The plot of the last of the three Romances, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, involves a fictional twin brother of Louis XIV who tries to displace the King. In The Man in the Iron Mask, a 1929 movie based on The Vicomte de Bragelonne, William Blakewell portrayed Louis and his twin. Louis Hayward played the twins in a 1939 remake, and Leonardo DiCaprio did the same in a 1998 remake.
Louis XIV had a long-lasting impact on childbirth, instigating years of belief that women should give birth lying on a table with their legs in stirrups. This came about after he commanded the construction of a viewing table so that he could have a better view of the birth of one of his mistress's children. When word got around of the king's decision, "lesser mortals" quickly copied the practice, and saw it as the preferred position for many years.
Style and arms
Louis XIV had the formal style: "Louis XIV, par la grâce de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre," or "Louis XIV, by the Grace of God King of France and Navarre." He bore the arms Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) impaling Gules on a chain in cross saltire and orle Or an emerald Proper (for Navarre).
| Louis, the Grand Dauphin || 1661 || April, 1711 ||
|Marie-Anne de France, Fille de France||November 16, 1664||December 26, 1664||
|Marie-Therese de France, Fille de France||January 2, 1667||March 1, 1672||
|Philippe-Charles de France, Fils de France, Duc d'Anjou||August 5, 1668||July 10, 1671||
|Louis-François de France, Fils de France, Duc d'Anjou||June 14, 1672||November 4, 1672||