Louis XIV, King of France

Picture of Louis XIV Louis XIV, 1638-1715


Louis XIV of France had the longest reign in European history (1643-1715). He became king at the age of four years on the death of his father, Louis XIII.

Louis XIV of France was born September 5, 1638, in the twenty-third year of the marriage of King Louis XIII of France and his Spanish Hapsburg queen Anne of Austria. This pregnancy, which happened in the face of an estrangement of long standing between the King and Queen, was widely considered miraculous. The child was christened Louis-Dieudonné--Louis, the God-given.

Louis XIII died May 14, 1643, when his son was not even five years old. The king's will stipulated that the care of young Louis be divided between his mother and his uncle, Gaston d'Orléans. However, Anne successfully challenged the will and became sole Regent. Her alliance with the unpopular Prime Minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin, undermined her initial popularity with the French nobility and paved the way for the uprising among the nobles called the Fronde.

The circumstances of his upbringing shaped the king that Louis was to become. Far from being a spoiled and indulged child of privilege, he and his younger brother, Philippe, endured poverty, misfortune, fear, humiliation, cold and hunger as his mother and the French Parlement squabbled over control of the royal Treasury and the other trappings of power. On two occasions, the royal family were driven out of Paris, and at one point Louis and his mother were held under house arrest in the royal palace. As a child, Louis learned by example that weakness, indecisiveness, unwise choice of allies and too much trust were a recipe for disaster.

Louis XIV came of age Sept. 5, 1651, on his thirteenth birthday, and was crowned three years later on June 7, 1654. Although he took a personal interest in matters of state even at that early age, he continued to defer to his mother and Mazarin until the Prime Minister's death.

It was during this period, in February of 1653, that Louis first encountered Jean-Baptiste Lully. Louis, who inherited both musical talent and dancing ability from his father, danced six roles in a production of Isaac Benserade's Ballet de la nuit in which the young composer also performed. Louis' later nickname of the "Sun King" derived originally from his performance as the Sun in this ballet.

During this period Louis also embarked on his first serious love affair, with Mazarin's niece Marie Mancini. This liaison, the first of many, was interrupted by Louis' political marriage on June 3, 1660 to his cousin, the Infanta Marie-Thérese of Spain. This marriage, which sealed the Peace of the Pyrenees concluding a long war with Spain, made Louis one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe.

After Mazarin died the following year, the young king astonished everyone by announcing that he would take over the responsibilities of government himself. This was a profound and, to many in the French court, disturbing break with tradition. Even more disturbing, he chose as his ministers and advisors, not members of the nobility and the royal family, but people he could control. Despite widespread skepticism, however, Louis proved to be a serious and dedicated ruler, taking a personal interest in all aspects of the monarchy from the weddings of royal family members to supervision of the Treasury. His diligence, while it earned him the disapproval of the nobles who condemned such mundane concerns as "bourgeois," helped to bring the national budget into balance. Finance minister: Colbert. General: Louvois.

Achievements: centralized government. Balanced the budget (temporarily).

Patron of the arts: Jean-Baptiste Molière (dramatist), Charles Lebrun (artist), Louis Le Vau (architect), Jules Mansart (??), Jean-Baptiste Lully (music). Academies for painting and sculpture (1663), inscriptions (1663), Paris Observatory (1667), academies of architecture (1671) and music (1672). Academie Française under royal control in 1671.

Buildings: Louvre (Claude Perrault). Versailles (moved there in 1682).

Wars: War of Devolution against the Spanish Netherlands (1667-68), belonged to his Spanish wife because the dowry had never been paid. Got territory in Flanders. Anglo-Dutch War (1672-78). More territory in Flanders.

Decline began with death of Colbert (1683). 1685: revoked the Edict of Nantes; Huguenots jumped ship. 1688: big war with everybody in sight (9-year war of the Grand Alliance). Barely got out with his skin intact. Treaty of Rijswijk (1697). War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) to keep his grandson on the throne. Peace of Utrecht: France retained earlier conquests, Spanish empire divided between Philip V and Charles VI. Crowns of France and Spain to remain separate.

1683: married Madame de Maintenon. Many deaths; all but two of his descendents: Philip V and Louis XV (L's great-grandson).

d. Sept. 1, 1715.

The close relationship between Lully and Louis XIV had a large part in the development of French opera. The King was the primary patron of opera, and all Lully's operas included preludes praising the monarchy. Louis suggested a number of the plots for the operas to Lully, notably those whose subject matter centers around the conflict between glory and duty on the one hand, and love on the other. In his published scores, Lully always included a preface dedicating the work to his patron.


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