Louis XIV of France

From New World Encyclopedia

Louis XIV, The Sun King, (1638–1715), by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)

Louis XIV (Louis-Dieudonné) (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) ruled as King of France and of Navarre from May 14, 1643 until his death just prior to his 77 birthday. He acceded to the throne a few months before his fifth birthday, but did not assume actual personal control of the government until the death of his first minister (premier minister), Jules Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Louis XIV, known as The Sun King (in French Le Roi Soleil) or as Louis the Great (in French Louis le Grand, or simply Le Grand Monarque, "the Great Monarch"), ruled France for 72 years—the longest reign of any French or other major European monarch. Louis XIV increased the power and influence of France in Europe, fighting three major wars—the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession—and two minor conflicts—the War of Devolution, and the War of the Reunions.

Under his reign, France achieved not only political and military pre-eminence, but also cultural dominance with various cultural figures such as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Lully, Rigaud, Le Brun and Le Nôtre. These cultural achievements contributed to the prestige of France, its people, its language and its king. As one of France's greatest kings, Louis XIV worked successfully to create an absolutist and centralized state. Louis XIV became the archetype of an absolute monarch. The phrase "L'État, c'est moi" ("I am the State") is frequently attributed to him, though this is considered by historians to be a historical inaccuracy and is more likely to have been conceived by political opponents as a way of confirming the stereotypical view of the absolutism he represented. Quite contrary to that apocryphal quote, Louis XIV is actually reported to have said on his death bed: "Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours." ("I am going away, but the State will always remain").

Early years, Regency and war

When he was born at the royal Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1638, Louis XIV's parents, Louis XIII of France and Anne of Austria, who had been childless for 23 years, regarded him as a divine gift; hence he was christened "Louis-Dieudonné" ("Dieudonné" meaning "God-given"); he also received the titles premier fils de France ("First Son of France") and the traditional title Dauphin. The blood of many of Europe's royal houses ran through Louis's veins, including members of the Medici and Habsburg dynasties. He could trace his paternal lineage in unbroken male succession from Saint Louis, King of France.

Louis XIII and Anne had a second child, Philippe de France, duc d'Anjou (soon to be Philippe I, duc d'Orléans) in 1640. Louis XIII, however, did not trust his wife's ability to govern France after his death, so decreed that a regency council, headed by Anne, should rule in his son's name during his minority. However, when Louis XIII died and Louis XIV succeeded him on May 14, 1643, Anne had her husband's will annulled, did away with the Council and made herself sole Regent. She entrusted power to her chief minister, the Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin, who was despised in most French political circles because of his alien non-French background (although he had already become a naturalized French subject).

The Thirty Years' War, which had commenced in the previous reign, ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, masterminded by Mazarin. This peace ensured Dutch independence from Spain and the independence of the German princes in the Empire. It marked the pinnacle of Swedish power and influence in German and European affairs. However, it was France who had the most to gain from the terms of the peace. Austria ceded to France all Habsburg lands and claims in Alsace and the petty German states, eager to dislodge themselves from Habsburg domination, placed themselves under French protection, leading to the further dissolution of Imperial power. The Peace of Westphalia humiliated Habsburg ambitions in the Holy Roman Empire and Europe and laid rest to the idea of the Empire having secular dominion over the entire Christendom.

Europe after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648

Just as the Thirty Years' War ended, a French civil war, known as the Fronde, which effectively curbed the French ability to make good the advantages gained in the Peace of Westphalia, commenced. Cardinal Mazarin continued the policies of centralization pursued by his predecessor, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, seeking to augment the power of the Crown at the expense of the nobility. In 1648, he sought to levy a tax on the members of the parliament, a court whose judges comprised mostly nobles or high clergymen. The members of the parliament not only refused to comply, but also ordered all of Cardinal Mazarin's earlier financial edicts burned. When Cardinal Mazarin arrested certain members of the parliament, Paris erupted in rioting and insurrection. A mob of angry Parisians broke into the royal palace and demanded to see their king. Led into the royal bedchamber, they gazed upon Louis XIV, who was feigning sleep, and quietly departed. Prompted by the possible danger to the royal family and the monarchy, Anne fled Paris with the king and his courtiers. Shortly thereafter, the signing of the Peace of Westphalia allowed the French army under Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé to return to the aid of Louis XIV and of his royal court. By January 1649 the prince de Condé had started besieging rebellious Paris; the subsequent Peace of Rueil temporarily ended the conflict.

After the first Fronde (Fronde Parlementaire) ended, the second Fronde, that of the princes, began in 1650. Nobles of all ranks, from princes of the Blood Royal and cousins of the king to nobles of legitimated royal descent and nobles of ancient families, participated in the rebellion against royal rule. Even the clergy was represented by Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz. The result of these tumultuous times, when the Queen Mother reputedly sold her jewels to feed her children, was a king filled with a permanent distrust for the nobility and the mob.

End of war and personal reign

The war with Spain continued. The French received aid in this military effort from England and were then governed by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. The Anglo-French alliance achieved victory in 1658 with the Battle of the Dunes. The subsequent Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, fixed the border between France and Spain at the Pyrenees; according to its terms, Spain ceded various provinces and towns to France in the Spanish Netherlands and Roussillon. The treaty signaled a change in the balance of power with the decline of Spain and the rise of France. By the abovementioned treaty, Louis XIV became engaged to marry the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, Maria Theresa (Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche). They were married on June 9, 1660; under the terms of the marriage contract, upon and in return for the full payment of a large dowry (fifty thousand gold écus), to be paid in three installments, Maria Theresa would find herself satisfied and agree to renounce all claims to the Spanish Monarchy and its territories. The dowry, however, was left unpaid since Spain was bankrupt, thus theoretically rendering the renunciation null and void.

The wedding ceremony of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse at Saint-Jean-de-Luz

The French treasury, after a long war, stood close to bankruptcy when Louis XIV assumed personal control of the reins of government in 1661 upon the death of his premier minister. Louis XIV, after having eliminated Nicolas Fouquet and abolishing his position of Surintendant des Finances, appointed Jean-Baptiste Colbert as Contrôleur-Général des Finances in 1665. While it is true that Fouquet had committed no financial indiscretions which Mazarin had not committed before him or Colbert would after him, and that he had, during the war with Spain and the Fronde, effectively performed his duties as Surintendant des Finances and had been a loyal supporter of the king, his growing ambition to take the place of Richelieu and Mazarin as Premier Ministre was such that Louis had to rid himself of him if he was to rule alone.

The commencement of Louis's personal reign was marked by a series of administrative and fiscal reforms. Colbert reduced the national debt through more efficient taxation. His principal means of taxation 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. While Colbert did not abolish the historic tax exemption enjoyed by the nobility and clergy, he did improve the methods of tax collection then in use. He also had wide-ranging plans to strengthen France through commerce and trade. His administration ordained new industries and encouraged manufacturers and inventors, such as the Lyons silk manufactures and the Manufacture des Gobelins, which produced, and still produces, tapestries. He also brought professional manufacturers and artisans from all over Europe, such as glassmakers from Murano, or ironworkers from Sweden, or ship-builders from the United Provinces. In this manner, he sought to decrease French dependence on foreign imported goods while increasing French exports and hence to decrease the flow of gold and silver out of France. Colbert made improvements to the navy in order to increase French naval prestige and to gain control of the high seas in times of war and of peace. He also made improvements to the merchant marine and the highways and waterways of France to remove, at least partially, control of French commerce from Dutch hands and to decrease the costs and time of transporting goods around the kingdom. Outside of France, Colbert supported and encouraged the development of colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia not only to provide markets for French exports, but also to provide resources for French industries. He ranks as one of the fathers of the school of thought regarding trade and economics known as mercantilism—in fact, France calls "mercantilism" Colbertisme, and his policies effectively increased the state revenue for the king.

Silver coin of Louis XIV, dated 1674.
The inscription in Latin on the obverse reads "LVDOVICUS XIIII
D[EI] GRA[TIA]" and on the reverse "FRAN[CIA] ET NAVARRAE REX" (translated into English as "LOUIS XIIII (Louis XIV), BY THE GRACE OF GOD, KING OF FRANCE AND OF NAVARRE").

While Colbert, his family, clients, and allies at court focused on the economy and maritime matters, another faction at court, with Michel Le Tellier and his son François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois at its head, turned their attention to matters military. By creating these two opposing factions, Louis XIV sought to play them against one another and thus create a sense of checks-and-balances ensuring that no one group would attain such power and influence at court as to destabilize his reign. Le Tellier and Louvois had an important role to play in the government, curbing the spirit of independence of the nobility at court and in the army. Gone were the days when army generals, without regard to the bigger political and diplomatic picture, protracted war at the frontier and disobeyed orders coming from the capital, while quarrelling and bickering with each other over rank and status. Gone too were the days when positions of seniority and rank in the army were the sole possession of the old aristocracy. Louvois, in particular, pledged himself to modernizing the army, organizing it into a new professional, disciplined, and well-trained force. He sought to contrive and direct campaigns and devoted himself to providing for the soldiers' material well-being and morale, and he did so admirably. Like Colbert and Louis XIV, Louvois was exceedingly hard-working. Louvois was one of the greatest of the rare class of excellent war ministers, comparable to Lazare Carnot.

Louis XIV, King of France

Louis also instituted various legal reforms. The major legal code, both civil and criminal, formulated by Louis XIV, the Code Louis, or the ordonnances sur la réformation de la justice civile et criminelle, also played a large part in France's legal history as it was the basis for Napoleon I's Code Napoléon, which is itself the basis for the modern French legal codes. It sought to provide France with a single system of law where there were two, customary law in the north and Roman law in the south. The Code Forestier sought to control and oversee the forestry industry in France, protecting forests from destruction. The Code Noir granted sanction to slavery (though it did extend a measure of humanity to the practice such as prohibiting the separation of families), but no person could disown a slave in the French colonies unless he were a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and a Catholic priest had to baptise each slave.

The Sun King was a generous spender, dispensing large sums of money to finance the royal court. He brought the Académie Française under his patronage, and became its "Protector." He also operated as a patron of the arts, funding literary and cultural figures such as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (more popularly known as "Molière"), Charles Le Brun, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. It was under his reign and patronage that Classical French literature flourished with such writers as Molière, who mastered the art of comic satire and whose works still have a major impact on modern French literature and culture, Jean Racine, whose stylistic elegance is considered exceptional in its harmony, simplicity, and poetry, or Jean de La Fontaine, the most famous French fabulist whose works are to this day learned by generations of French students. The visual arts also found in Louis XIV the ultimate patron, for he funded and commissioned various artists, such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox, André Le Nôtre, and Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose works became famed throughout Europe. In music, composers and musicians like Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, and François Couperin occupied the scene. Lully introduced opera to France and founded French Opera and, with Molière, popularized the Comédie-Ballet, while Couperin's famous book L'Art de toucher le clavecin greatly influenced Bach, Strauss, and Maurice Ravel.

The colonnade of the Louvre

Louis XIV ordered the construction of the military complex known as the Hôtel des Invalides to provide a home for officers and soldiers who had served him loyally in the army, but whom either injury or age had rendered infirm. While methods of pharmaceuticals at the time were quite elementary, the Hôtel des Invalides pioneered new treatments frequently and set a new standard for the rather barbarous hospice treatment styles of the period. Louis XIV considered its construction one of the greatest achievements of his reign, which, along with the Chateau de Versailles, is one of the largest and most extravagant monuments in Europe, extolling a king and his country.

He also improved the Palais du Louvre, as well as many other royal residences. Originally, when planning additions to the Louvre, Louis XIV had hired Gian Lorenzo Bernini as architect. However, his plans for the Louvre would have called for the destruction of much of the existing structure, replacing it with a most awkward-looking Italian summer villa in the centre of Paris. In his place, Louis chose the French architect Claude Perrault, whose work on the "Perrault Wing" of the Louvre is widely-celebrated. Against a shadowed void, and with pavilions at either end, the simplicity of the ground-floor basement is set off by the rhythmically paired Corinthian columns and crowned by a distinctly non-French classical roof. Through the center rose a pedimented triumphal arch entrance. Perrault's restrained classicizing baroque Louvre would provide a model for grand edifices throughout Europe and America for ages.

War in the Low Countries

After Louis XIV's father-in-law and uncle, Philip IV of Spain, died in 1665, Philip IV's son by his second wife became Charles II of Spain. Louis XIV claimed that Brabant, a territory in the Low Countries ruled by the King of Spain, had "devolved" to his wife, Marie-Thérèse, Charles II's elder half-sister by their father's first marriage. He argued that the custom of Brabant required that a child should not suffer from his or her father's remarriage, hence having precedence in inheritance over children of the second or subsequent marriages. Louis personally participated in the campaigns of the ensuing War of Devolution, which broke out in 1667.

Problems internal to the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (the Netherlands) aided Louis XIV's designs on the Low Countries. The most prominent political figure in the United Provinces at the time, Johan de Witt, Grand Pensionary, feared the ambition of the young William III, Prince of Orange, who in seeking to seize control might thus deprive De Witt of supreme power in the Republic and restore the House of Orange to the influence it had hitherto enjoyed until the death of William II, Prince of Orange. Therefore, with the United Provinces in internal conflict between supporters of De Witt and those of William of Orange, the "States faction" and the "Orange faction" respectively, and with England preoccupied in the Second Anglo-Dutch War with the Dutch, who were being supported, in accordance with the terms of the treaties signed between them, by their ally, Louis XIV, France easily conquered both Flanders and Franche-Comté. Shocked by the rapidity of French successes and fearful of the future, the United Provinces turned on their former friends and put aside their differences with England and, when joined by Sweden, formed a Triple Alliance in 1668. Faced with the threat of the spread of war and having signed a secret treaty partitioning the Spanish succession with the emperor, the other major claimant, Louis XIV agreed to make peace. Under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), France retained Flanders, including the great fortress of Lille, but returned Franche-Comté to Spain.

The Triple Alliance did not last. In 1670, Charles II, lured by French bribes and pensions, signed the secret Treaty of Dover, entering into an alliance with France; the two kingdoms, along with certain Rhineland German princes, declared war on the United Provinces in 1672, sparking the Franco-Dutch War. The rapid invasion and occupation of most of the Netherlands precipitated a coup, which toppled De Witt and allowed William III, Prince of Orange, to seize power. William III entered into an alliance with Spain, the emperor, and the rest of the Empire; and a treaty of peace with England was signed in 1674, the result of which was England's withdrawal from the war and the marriage between William III, Prince of Orange, and the Princess Mary, niece of the English King Charles II. Facing a possible Imperial advance on his flank while in the Low Countries in that year, Louis XIV ordered his army to withdraw to more defensible positions.

Despite these diplomatic and military reverses, the war continued with brilliant French victories against the overwhelming forces of the opposing coalition. In a matter of weeks in 1674, the Spanish territory of Franche Comté fell to the French armies under the eyes of the king, while Condé defeated a much larger combined army, with Austrian, Spanish, and Dutch contingents, under the Prince of Orange, preventing them from descending on Paris. In the winter of 1674–1675, the outnumbered Turenne, through a most daring and brilliant of campaigns, inflicted defeat upon the Imperial armies under Montecuccoli, drove them out of Alsace and back across the Rhine, and recovered the province for Louis XIV. Through a series of feints, marches, and counter-marches towards the end of the war, Louis XIV led his army to besiege and capture Ghent, an action which dissuaded Charles II and his English Parliament from declaring war upon France and which allowed him, in a very superior position, to force the allies to the negotiating table. After six years, Europe was exhausted by war and peace negotiations commenced, being accomplished in 1678 with the Treaty of Nijmegen. While Louis XIV returned all captured Dutch territory, he gained more towns and associated lands in the Spanish Netherlands and retained Franche-Comté, which had been captured by Louis and his army in a matter of weeks. As he was in a position to make demands which were much more exorbitant, Louis's actions were celebrated as evidence of his virtues of moderation in victory.

Reception of Le Grand Condé at Versailles, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1878)

The Treaty of Nijmegen further increased France's influence in Europe, but did not satisfy Louis XIV. The king dismissed his foreign minister, Simon Arnauld, marquis de Pomponne, in 1679, as he was viewed as having compromised too much with the allies and for being too much of a pacifist. Louis XIV also kept up his army, but instead of pursuing his claims through purely military action, he utilized judicial processes to accomplish further territorial aggrandizement. Thanks to the ambiguous nature of treaties of the time, Louis was able to claim that the territories ceded to him in previous treaties ought to be ceded along with all their dependencies and lands which had formerly belonged to them, but had separated over the years, which had in fact been stipulated in the peace treaties. French Chambers of Reunion were appointed to ascertain which territories formally belonged to France; the French troops later occupied them. The annexation of these lesser territories was designed to give France a more defensible frontier, the "pré carré" suggested by Vauban. Louis sought to gain cities such as Luxembourg for its strategic offensive and defensive position on the frontier, as well as Casale, which would give him access to the Po River Valley in the heart of Northern Italy. Louis also desired to gain Strasbourg, an important strategic outpost through which various Imperial armies had in the previous wars crossed over the Rhine to invade France. Strasbourg was a part of Alsace, but had not been ceded with the rest of Habsburg-ruled Alsace in the Peace of Westphalia. It was nonetheless occupied by the French in 1681 under Louis's new legal pretext, and, along with other occupied territories, such as Luxembourg and Casale, was ceded to France for a period of 20 years by the Truce of Ratisbon.

Height of power in the 1680s

Louis XIV in 1684

By the early 1680s, Louis XIV had greatly augmented his and France's influence and power in Europe and the world. Louis XIV's most famous minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who died in 1683, exercised a tremendous influence on the royal treasury and coffers—the royal revenue had tripled under his supervision. The princes of Europe began to imitate France and Louis XIV in everything from taste in art, food, and fashion to political systems; many even took to taking official mistresses simply because it was done at Versailles. Outside Europe, French colonies abroad were multiplying in the Americas, Asia,and Africa, while diplomatic relations had been initiated with countries as far abroad as Siam, India, and Persia. For example, in 1682, the explorer René Robert Cavelier de La Salle claimed and named the basin of the Mississippi River in North America "Louisiane" in honor of Louis XIV (Both the Louisiana Territory and the State of Louisiana in the United States are derivations of Louisiane), while French Jesuits and missionaries could be seen at the Manchu Court in China.

In France too, Louis XIV succeeded in establishing and increasing the influence and central authority of the King of France at the expense of the Church and the nobles. Louis sought to reinforce traditional Gallicanism, a doctrine limiting the authority of the Pope in France. He convened an assembly of clergymen (Assemblée du Clergé) 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 in contrast to the power of the Pope, which was reduced. The Pope was not allowed to send papal legates to France without the king's consent; such legates as could enter France, 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; and no appeal could be made to the Pope without the approval of the king. 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 for obvious reasons.

Equestrian statue of Louis XIV at Château of Versailles

Louis also achieved immense control over the Second Estate, that is of the nobility, in France by essentially attaching much of the higher nobility to his orbit at his palace at Versailles, requiring them to spend the majority of the year under his close watch instead of in their own local communities and power-bases plotting rebellion and insurrection. It was only in this way were they able to gain pensions and privileges necessary to their rank. He entertained his permanent visitors with extravagant parties and other distractions, which were significant factors contributing to Louis's power and control over his hitherto unruly nobility. Thus, Louis was continuing the work of the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. He, as a result of the experiences derived from the Fronde, believed that his power would prevail only if he filled the high executive offices with commoners, or at least members of the relatively newer aristocracy (the "noblesse de robe"), because, he believed, while he could reduce a commoner to a nonentity by simply dismissing him, he could not destroy the influence of a great nobleman of ancient lineage as easily. Thus Louis XIV forced the older aristocracy to serve him ceremonially as courtiers, whilst he appointed commoners or newer nobles as ministers and regional intendants. As courtiers, the power of the great nobles grew ever weaker. The diminution of the power of the high aristocracy could be witnessed in the lack of such rebellions as the Fronde after Louis XIV. In fact, the victory of the Crown over the nobles finally achieved under Louis XIV ensured that the Fronde was the last major civil war to plague France until the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Age.

Louis XIV had the Château of Versailles outside Paris, originally a hunting lodge built by his father, converted into a spectacular royal palace in a series of four major and distinct building campaigns. By the end of the third building campaign, the Château had taken on most of the appearance that it retains to this day, except for the Royal Chapel which was added in the last decade of the reign. He officially moved there, along with the royal court, on May 6, 1682. Louis had several reasons for creating such a symbol of extravagant opulence and stately grandeur and for shifting the seat of the monarch. The assertion that he did so because he hated Paris, however, is flawed, as he did not cease to embellish his capital with glorious monuments while improving and developing it. Versailles served as a dazzling and awe-inspiring setting for state affairs and for the reception of foreign dignitaries, where the attention was not shared with the capital and the people, but was assumed solely by the person of the king. Court life centered on magnificence; courtiers lived lives of expensive luxury, dressed with suitable magnificence and constantly attended 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 and potentially creating trouble, the nobles vied for the honor of dining at the king's table or the privilege of carrying a candlestick as the king retired to his bedroom.

By 1685, Louis XIV stood at the peak of his power. One of France's chief rivals, the Holy Roman Empire, was occupied in fighting the Ottoman Empire in the War of the Holy League, which began in 1683 and lasted until 1699. The Ottoman Grand Vizier had almost captured Vienna, but at the last moment King John III Sobieski of Poland led an army of Polish, German, and Austrian forces to final victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. In the meantime, Louis XIV, by the Truce of Ratisbon, had acquired control of several territories, including Luxembourg and Strasbourg, which covered the frontier and protected France from foreign invasion. After repelling the Ottoman attack on Vienna, the Holy Roman Empire was no longer in grave imminent danger from the Turks, but the emperor nevertheless did not attempt to regain the territories annexed by Louis XIV, but rather acquiesced to the fait accompli of the Truce. After having his city bombarded by the French in 1685 from the sea as punishment for having supported the Spanish and having granted them use of Genoese ships in the Franco-Dutch War, the Doge of Genoa traveled to Versailles where he was received amidst courtly magnificence and made his apologies and peace to Louis XIV.

Louis XIV's Queen, Marie-Thérèse, died in 1683. He remarked on her demise that her death was the only occasion at which she had caused him anguish. Although he was said to have performed his marital duties every night, he had not remained utterly faithful to her for long after their union in 1660. His mistresses included Louise de la Valliere, duchesse de Vaujours, Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, marquise de Montespan, and Marie-Angelique de Scoraille, duchesse de Fontanges. As a result, he produced many illegitimate children, later inter-marrying them into families of the highest pedigree, even into branches of the Royal family itself. Many scions of these resultant illegitimate royal cadet branches would go on to claim positions of power and influence in the next century. 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 probably occurred in late 1685, was secret and morganatic, and would last to his death.

Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's second wife

Madame de Maintenon, once a Protestant, had converted to Roman Catholicism. It was once 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. However, this view of her participation is now being questioned. Louis XIV himself supported such a plan; he believed, along with the rest of Europe, Catholic or Protestant, that, in order to achieve national unity, he had to first achieve a religiously unified nation—specifically a Catholic one in his case. This was enshrined in the principle of "cuius regio, eius religio," which defined religious policy throughout Europe since its establishment by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. He had already begun the persecution of the Huguenots by quartering soldiers in their homes, though it was theoretically within his feudal rights, and hence legal, to do so with any of his subjects.

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 Roman Catholicism became prohibited. In October 1685 Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, revoking that of Nantes, on the pretext that the near-extinction of Protestantism and Protestants in France made any edict granting them privileges redundant. 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 baptized by Roman Catholic priests, and Protestant places of worship were demolished. The edict precluded individuals from publicly practicing 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, about two hundred thousand of them left in any case, taking with them their skills in commerce and trade. The edict proved economically damaging though not ruinous. While Sébastien Le Prestre, seigneur de Vauban, one of Louis XIV's most influential generals, publicly condemned the measure, its proclamation was widely celebrated throughout France.

The League of Augsburg

The wider political and diplomatic result of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, however, was the provocation of increased anti-French sentiment in Protestant countries. In 1686, both Catholic and Protestant rulers joined in the League of Augsburg, ostensibly a defensive pact to protect the Rhine, but really designed as an offensive alliance against France. 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 adhered to the League.

Louis XIV sent his troops into the Palatinate in 1688 after the ultimatum to the German princes to ratify the Truce of Ratisbon and confirm his possession of annexed territories, as well as to recognize his sister-in-law's claims, expired. Ostensibly, the army had the task of supporting the claims of Louis XIV's sister-in-law, Charlotte-Elizabeth, duchesse d'Orléans, to the Palatinate. (The duchesse d'Orléans's brother, Charles II, Elector Palatine had died in 1685 and the committal 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, thus weakening the League.

Louis XIV'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 1688, however, the "Glorious Revolution" resulted in the deposition of James II and his replacement by his daughter, Mary II of England, who ruled jointly with her husband, William III of England (the Prince of Orange). As William III had developed hostility toward Louis XIV during the Dutch War, he pushed England into the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the Grand Alliance.

Louis XIV at the siege of Namur

The campaigns of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697) generally proceeded favorably for France. The forces of the Holy Roman Emperor proved ineffective, as many Imperial troops still concentrated on fighting the Ottoman Empire and the Imperials generally took to the field much later than the French. Thus France could accumulate a string of victories from Flanders in the north to the Rhine Valley in the east to Italy and Spain in the south, as well as on the high seas and in the colonies. Louis XIV aided James II in his attempt to regain the British crown, but the Stuart king was unsuccessful, losing his last stronghold in Ireland a year after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Williamite England could then devote more of its funds and troops to the war on the continent. Nonetheless, despite the size of the opposing coalition, which encompassed most of Europe, French forces in Flanders under the famous pupil of the Great Condé, François Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville, duc de Piney (called the duc de Luxembourg), crushed the allied armies at the Battle of Fleurus in the same year as the Battle of the Boyne, as well as at the Battle of Steenkerque (1692) and the Battle of Neerwinden (1693). Under the personal supervision of Louis XIV, the French army captured Mons in 1691 and the hitherto impregnable fortress of Namur in 1692. Thus, with the capture of Charleroi by Luxembourg in 1693 after the victory at Neerwinden, France gained the forward defensive line of the Sambre. At the battles of Marsaglia and Staffarde, France was victorious over the allied forces under Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, overrunning his dominion and reducing the territory under his effective command to merely the area around Turin. In the southeast, along the Pyrenees, the Battle of the Ter opened Catalonia to French invasion. The French naval victory at the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690, however, was offset by the Anglo-Dutch naval victory at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hougue in 1692. However, neither side was able to entirely defeat the opposing navy. The war continued for four more years, until the Duke of Savoy signed a separate peace and subsequent alliance with France in 1696, undertaking to join with French arms in a capture of the Milanese and allowing French armies in Italy to reinforce others; one of these reinforced armies, that of Spain, captured Barcelona.

Marshal de Luxembourg.

The War of the Grand Alliance eventually ended with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Louis XIV surrendered Luxembourg and all other "Réunion" territories he had seized since the end of the Dutch War in 1679, but retained Strasbourg, assuring the Rhine as the border between France and the Empire. He also gained de jure recognition of his hitherto de facto possession of Haiti, as well as the return of Pondicherry and Acadia. Louis also undertook to recognize William III and Mary II as Joint Sovereigns of Great Britain and Ireland, and assured them that he would no longer assist James II; at the same time he renounced intervention in the electorate of Cologne and claims to the Palatinate in return for financial compensation. However, he secured the dissolution of the Grand Alliance by manipulating the internal rivalries and suspicions of the member states; in so doing, he divided his enemies and broke their power since no one state on its own could be thought capable of taking on France. Spain recovered Catalonia and the many territories lost, both in this war and the previous one (War of the Reunions), in the Low Countries. Louis XIV returned Lorraine to her duke, but on terms which allowed French passage at any time and which severely restricted the Duke's political maneuverability. The Dutch were allowed to garrison forts in the Spanish Netherlands, the "Barrier," to protect themselves against possible French aggression. The generous terms of the treaty were seen as concessions to Spain designed to foster pro-French sentiment, which would eventually lead Charles II, King of Spain to declare Philippe de France, duc d'Anjou (Louis's grandson) his heir. Moreover, despite such seemingly disadvantageous terms in the Treaty of Ryswick, French influence was still at such a height in all of Europe that Louis XIV could offer his cousin, François Louis de Bourbon, prince de Conti, the Polish Crown, duly have him elected by the Sejm and proclaimed as King of Poland by the Polish primate, Michał Radziejowski. However, Conti's own tardiness in proceeding to Poland claiming the throne allowed his rival, Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony to seize the throne and have himself crowned king.

The Spanish Succession

The great matter of the succession to the Spanish Monarchy dominated European foreign affairs following the Peace of Ryswick. The Spanish King Charles II, severely incapacitated, could not father an heir. The Spanish inheritance offered a much sought-after prize for Charles II ruled not only Spain, but also Naples, Sicily, the Milanese, the Spanish Netherlands, and a vast colonial empire—in all, 22 different realms.

France and Austria were the main claimants to the throne, both of which had close family ties to the Spanish royal family. Philippe, duc d'Anjou (later Philip V of Spain), the French claimant, was the great-grandson of the eldest daughter of Philip III of Spain, Anne of Austria, and the grandson of the eldest daughter of Philip IV of Spain, Marie-Thérèse of Austria. The only bar to inheritance lay with their renunciation to the throne, which in the case of Marie-Thérèse, however, was legally null and void as other terms of the treaty had not been fulfilled by Spain. Charles, Archduke of Austria (later Holy Roman Emperor), and the younger son of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor by Charles’s third marriage to Elenor of Neuburg, claimed the throne through his paternal grandmother, Maria Anna of Spain, who was the youngest daughter of Philip III; this claim was not, however, tainted by any renunciation. Purely on the basis of the laws of primogeniture, however, France had the best claims since they were derived from the eldest daughters.

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. Thus, both the Dutch and the English preferred another candidate, the Bavarian prince Joseph Ferdinand, who was the grandson of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor through his first wife Margaret Theresa of Spain, younger daughter of Philip IV. Under the terms of 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 the Houses of France and Austria. Spain, however, had not been consulted, and vehemently resisted the dismemberment of its empire. The Spanish royal court insisted on maintaining the entirety of the Spanish Empire. When the Treaty became known to Charles II in 1698, he settled on Joseph Ferdinand as his sole 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 vast Spanish Empire united under one head, and acknowledged that such a goal could be accomplished only by selecting a member either of the House of France or of Austria. Charles II, under pressure from his German wife, chose the House of Austria, settling on the Emperor'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 eldest son and heir, Louis de France, Dauphin de Viennois would inherit the territories in Italy, with a mind to exchange them for Savoy or Lorraine.

In 1700, as he lay upon his deathbed, Charles II unexpectedly interfered in the affair. He sought to prevent Spain from uniting with either France or the Holy Roman Empire, but, based on his past experience of French superiority in arms, considered France as more capable of preserving the empire in its entirety. The whole of the Spanish inheritance was thus to be offered to the Dauphin's younger son, Philippe, duc d'Anjou. In the event of his refusal or inability to accede, it would be offered to the Dauphin's third son, Charles, duc de Berry, and thereafter to the Archduke Charles. If all these princes refused the Crown, it would be offered to the House of Savoy, distantly related to the Spanish royal family.

Louis XIV thus faced a difficult choice: he could have agreed to a partition and to possible peace in Europe, or he could have accepted the whole Spanish inheritance but alienated the other European nations. Louis XIV originally assured William III that he would fulfill the terms of their previous treaty and partition the Spanish dominions. Later, 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 almost certainly ensue; and William III had made it very clear that he had signed the Partition Treaties to avoid war, not make it, hence he would not assist France in a war to obtain the territories granted her by those treaties. Louis XIV 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, Philippe duc d'Anjou became Philip V, King of Spain.

Louis XIV's opponents reluctantly accepted Philip V as King of Spain. Louis XIV, however, acted too precipitately. In 1701 he transferred the "Asiento," a permit to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies, to France, with potentially damaging consequences for British trade. Moreover, Louis XIV ceased to acknowledge William III as King of Great Britain and Ireland upon the death of James II, instead acclaiming as king James II's son and, in truth, proper heir, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender"). Furthermore, Louis XIV sent forces into the Spanish Netherlands to secure its loyalty to Philip V and to garrison the Spanish forts, which had long been garrisoned by Dutch troops as part of the "Barrier" protecting the United Provinces from potential French aggression. The result was the further alienation of both Britain and the United Provinces, which were both at that time under the rule of William III. Consequently, another Grand Alliance was formed between Great Britain, the United Provinces, the Emperor, and many of the petty states within the Holy Roman Empire. French diplomacy, however, secured as allies for Louis XIV and Philip V, Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy.

The subsequent War of the Spanish Succession continued for most of the remainder of Louis XIV's reign. It began with Imperial aggression in Italy even before war was officially declared. France had some initial success, nearly capturing Vienna, but the victory of Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy at the Battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704, as well as other reverses, such as the Battle of Ramillies, the Battle of Turin, and the Battle of Oudenarde, showed that the myth of French invincibility was broken. Military defeats coupled with famine and mounting debt forced France into a defensive posture. Bavaria was flung out of the war, being partitioned between the Palatinate and Austria and its elector, Maximilian II Emanuel, were forced to flee to the Spanish Netherlands after its conquest following the Battle of Blenheim. Portugal and Savoy subsequently defected to the opposing side. The war proved costly for Louis XIV. With the Battle of Ramillies and that of Oudenarde, Franco-Spanish forces were driven humiliatingly out of the Spanish Netherlands and the Battle of Turin forced Louis XIV to evacuate what few forces remained to him in Italy. By 1709 Louis was grievously weakened and was willing to sue for peace at nearly any cost, even to return all lands and territories ceded to him during his reign and to return to the frontiers of the Peace of Westphalia, signed more than 60 years prior. Nonetheless, the terms dictated by the allies were so harsh, including demands that he attack his own grandson alone to force the latter to accept the humiliating peace terms, that war continued. Whilst it became clear that France could not retain the entire Spanish inheritance, it also seemed clear that its opponents could not overthrow Philip V in Spain after the definitive Franco-Spanish victory of the Battle of Almansa, and those of Villaviciosa and Brihuega, which drove the allies out of the central Spanish provinces. Furthermore, the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709 showed that it was neither easy nor cheap to defeat the French, for while the Allies gained the field, they did so led by their admirable general, Claude Louis Hector de Villars, duc de Villars and at an abominable cost, losing 25, 000 men, twice that of the French. The Battle of Denain, where Villars led French forces in 1712 to a decisive victory over the Allies under Prince Eugene of Savoy, turned the war in favor of Louis XIV, recovering much lost territory and pride.

Map of France after the death of Louis XIV

The death of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, who had succeeded his father Leopold I in 1705, made the prospect of an empire as large as that of Charles V being ruled by the Archduke Charles dangerously possible. This was, to Great Britain, as undesirable as a union of France and Spain. Thus, preliminaries were signed between Great Britain and France in the pursuit of peace. Louis XIV and Philip V eventually made peace with Great Britain and the United Provinces in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Peace with the emperor and the Holy Roman Empire came with the Treaty of Rastatt and that of Baden in 1714 respectively. The crucial interval between Utrecht and Rastatt-Baden allowed Louis XIV to capture Landau and Freiburg, permitting him to negotiate from a better position, one of strength, with the emperor and the Empire. The general settlement recognized Philip V as King of Spain and ruler of the Spanish colonies. Spain's territory in the Low Countries and Italy were partitioned between Austria and Savoy, while Gibraltar and Minorca were retained by Great Britain. Louis XIV, furthermore, agreed to end his support for the Old Pretender's claims to the throne of Great Britain. France was also obliged to cede the colonies and possessions of Newfoundland, Rupert's Land, and Acadia in the Americas to Great Britain, while retaining Île-Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island). However, most of those continental territories lost in the devastating defeats in the Low Countries and were returned, despite Allied persistence and pressure to the contrary. France also received further territories to which it had a claim such as the principality of Orange, as well as the Ubaye Valley, which covered the passes through the Alps from Italy. The grandiose schemes of the Allies to turn back French expansion in Europe came to naught. Moreover, France was shown to be able to protect her allies with the rehabilitation and restoration of the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel, to his lands, titles and dignities.


Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 of gangrene, a few days before his 77 birthday. His body lies in the Saint Denis Basilica in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris. He had reigned for 72 years, making his the longest reign in the recorded history of Europe. Almost all of Louis XIV's legitimate children died during childhood. The only one to survive to adulthood, his eldest son, Louis de France, Dauphin de Viennois, known as "Le Grand Dauphin," predeceased Louis XIV in 1711, leaving three children. The eldest of these children, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, died in 1712, soon to be followed by Bourgogne's eldest son, Louis, duc de Bretagne. Thus Louis XIV's five-year-old great-grandson Louis, duc d'Anjou, the younger son of the duc de Bourgogne, and Dauphin upon the death of his grandfather, father and elder brother, succeeded to the throne and was to reign as Louis XV of France.

Louis XIV with Louis le Grand Dauphin, Louis, Duc de Bourgogne, and Louis, Duc d'Anjou

Louis XIV sought to restrict the power of his nephew, Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, who as closest surviving legitimate relative in France would become Regent for the prospective Louis XV. Louis XIV instead preferred to transfer some power to his illegitimate son by Madame de Montespan, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine and created a regency council like that established by Louis XIII in anticipation of Louis XIV's own minority. Louis XIV's will provided that the duc du Maine would act as the guardian of Louis XV, superintendent of the young king's education and Commander of the Royal Guards. The duc d'Orléans, however, ensured the annulment of Louis XIV's will in Parliament, bribing the Parliamentarians to do so with the return of their privileges which Louis XIV had so tirelessly abolished. The duc du Maine was stripped of the title Prince du Sang Royal (Prince of the Blood Royal), which had been given to him and his brother, Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, by the king. This act has been viewed by some as the king's attempt to break the constitution of ancien régime France; that is to say, the customary laws of the kingdom. On the other hand, it is also possible that this was simply the case of a dying man giving in to his wife and son. The duc du Maine was also stripped of the command of the Royal Guards, but retained his position as superintendent, while the duc d'Orléans ruled as sole Regent. Toulouse, by remaining aloof from these court intrigues, managed to retain his privileges, unlike his brother.


Louis XIV placed a member of the House of France on the throne of Spain, effectively ending the centuries-old threat and menace that had arisen from that quarter of Europe since the days of Charles V. 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. None the less, to this day, the Spanish monarch is descended from Louis XIV.

Louis’s numerous wars and extravagant palaces and châteaux effectively bankrupted the state, forcing him to levy higher taxes on the peasants and incurring large state debts from various financiers as the nobility and clergy had exemption from paying these taxes and contributing to public funds. Yet it was the state, not the country, which was impoverished. As a whole, France remained prosperous.

Growth of France under Louis XIV (1643–1715)

Louis XIV made France preeminent in Europe, giving it ten new provinces and an overseas empire, as well as cultural and linguistic influence all over Europe. Even with several great European alliances opposing him, he continued to increase French territory, power, and influence. As a result of these military victories as well as cultural accomplishments, Europe would admire France and her culture, food, way-of-life, etc.; the French language would become the lingua franca for the entire European elite as faraway as Romanov Russia; various German princelings would seek to copy Louis’s mode of life and living to their great expense. Europe of the Enlightenment would look to Louis XIV's reign as an example of enlightened rule and strive to emulate him in all things as much as possible. Fond of flattery, Louis XIV became known as the "Sun King" or "The Great Monarch." Voltaire, the apostle of the Enlightenment, compared him to Augustus and called his reign an "eternally memorable age," dubbing "the Age of Louis XIV" "Le Grand Siècle" (“the Great Century”).

Legitimate Issue

Name Birth Death
Louis de France, Fils de France, le Grand Dauphin 1 November 1661 April 14, 1711
Anne-Élisabeth de France, Fille de France November 18, 1662 December 30, 1662
Marie-Anne de France, Fille de France November 16, 1664 December 26, 1664
Marie-Thérèse de France, Fille de France, la Petite Madame 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

Further reading

External links

All links retrieved November 3, 2022.

Preceded by:
Louis XIII
King of France
May 14, 1643–September 1, 1715
Succeeded by:
Louis XV


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