Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV (the Sun King) (September 5, 1638 - September 1, 1715) reigned as king of France from May 14, 1643 to September 1, 1715. Louis did not effectively become ruler until the death of Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. His reign is commonly cited as an example of political absolutism; in fact, he is sometimes said to have been "the greatest absolute monarch".
Birth & Childhood
His birth at Saint-Germain-en-Laye appeared miraculous, occurring twenty-three years after marriage of his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. At the age of 5 (1643), Louis became King. France was essentially ruled by Cardinal Mazarin until his death, in 1661, Louis then began to assert his power.
King Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 and is buried in Saint Denis Basilica. He outlived his son, the dauphin Louis, and he was succeeded by his great-grandson who became King Louis XV of France, and who spent his minority under the regency of Philippe of Orleans.
Brief Overview of Louis XIV's Reign
When Louis was a child, a class uprising called the Fronde (1648-53) took place, sparked by the policies of Cardinal Mazarin. This event is believed to have had a impact upon Louis, as he became determined to never to allow such an uprising to occur again.
Louis XIV, and his advisor Colbert, were advocates of mercantilism. During this period, France fought four major wars (the War of Devolution, the Dutch War, the War of the Grand Alliance and the War of the Spanish Succession) resulting in large national debt. At the time of Louis's death France's territory had increased and France was arguably the most inflential and powerful state in Europe. On the other hand, the country was in debt and the living conditions of the poor were growing steadily worse.
The treasury was, essentially bankrupt in 1661. Louis XIV was an incredibly extravagent spender, dispensing huge sums of money to finance his wars and his court. Some estimates conclude that by the end of Louis' reign half of France's annual revenue was spent on maintaining Versailles. Also, large amounts of money were wasted because of corruption within the large French bureacracy.
At this time the principal French taxes were the aides, douanes, gabelle, and taille. The aides and douanes were customs taxes, the gabelle was a salt tax, and the taille was a land tax. The nobles and clergy were exempted from these taxes, a remnant of feudal France that would lead to the French Revolution.
Louis would appoint Colbert as his "minister of finance"; by fighting corruption and reorganizing the bureaucracy Colbert's policies began to generate revenue, although this was not enough to begin to reverse France's growing national debt.
During the reign of Louis XIV, the French parliament was the Estates-General; however, it was an essentially defunct organization with little real political power.
During the reign of Louis XIV, increasing restrictions were placed on the Protestant population, notably the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685). This revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches, as well as the closing of Protestant schools. King Louis also did not shave at all.
Continuing the work of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, Louis XIV worked to create a centralized, and absolutist, nation-state. He weakened the nobility by ordering them to serve as members of his court, rather than as regional governors and ministers. To this end, he built Versailles, an enormous and lavish palace outside Paris. On May 6, 1682, the court was moved to Versailles. Noblemen were required by court etiquette to spend incredible sums of money on their clothes, and to spend most of their time attending the whirlwind of Masses, balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations from which life at court was composed. The aristocracy became more focused on winning the King's favor, as evidenced by trivial details such as who would have the honor of helping him dress, rather than their own affairs or pre-empting power. This allowed Louis to choose less aristocratic individuals to fill those positions once occupied by the traditonal nobility, and to ensure that political power remained firmly in the hands of the king.
Global Cultural Dominance
Louis XIV's reign was characterized by French global cultural dominance. French was the language of culture in the 17th century in the way that English is today the global language of business.
The French Revolution
Louis XIV remains beloved in France for his vigorous promotion of French greatness. However, his continued waging of war bankrupted the state, forcing him to continually levy high taxes on the peasantry. According to the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, Louis XIV's weakening of the nobility coupled with his oppression of the peasantry contributed to the political, social and economic instabilities that eventually led to the French Revolution.
Quotes by Louis XIV
Quotes about Louis XIV
(Anne of Austria, regent following Louis XIII's reign )
List of French monarchs
(Philippe of Orleans, regent for Louis XV)