Saturday, May 11, 2019

Rise and Fall of King Louis XIV

To write about the life of King Louis XIV (1623 – 1715, r. 1651 – 1715) paralleled writing of a novel. He did not became the most renowned King of France for nothing. His reign had tumultuous event that shaped French and world history.

Early Life

Born in September 5, 1623, Louis XIV was the son of the King of France Louis XIII (r. 1610 – 1643) and Queen Anne of Austria. Louis came to the world as a miracle for his parents’ 23-year barren marriage. For this Louis Dieudonne called the Dauphine or Prince “The Gift of God.” French people loathed Queen Anne for being a Hapsburg and unable to produce an heir until Louis came then followed 2 years later by another son Philippe, future Duc d’Orleans.

Though, he received excellent education in many fields from warfare to dancing, he had been a neglected child, he said to have almost drowned because lack of supervision. Nonetheless, his mother instilled to her piety towards Catholicism that shaped his social and religious policy during his reign.

Rise to Power


France fell in sorrow in 1643 with the death of King Louis XIII. Louis ascended as King at the age of 4, thus a regency would rule under his name until he reach adulthood. His father prepared a council to rule during the regency, but Queen Anne had other ideas. The Queen had the will of the late King declared void and took the regency for herself and her close confident and later Chief Minister Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin.
Cardinal Mazarin
The nobles supported the voiding of the will thinking their privileges and autonomy would be recognized by the new regency. The Queen and the Cardinal disappointed them and combined with mistrust of a Hapsburg regent and her foreign advisor, the nobility rose up in revolt in 1648. It triggered a civil war that came to be known as the Fronde (1648 – 1653). The conflict went into critical phase for the Bourbons when the royal family fled Paris for their safety. This traumatized Louis that developed suspicion and mistrust towards the nobility and Paris.
Battle between the Fronde Forces of the
Prince de Conde and loyalist of Queen Anne
Eventually, Mazarin rallied the royalist to victory in 1653. By then, Louis had emerged from the regency in 1651 to take his rightful position as King. Nonetheless, trusting in the talents of the Cardinal and in debt to Mazarin, Louis allowed the Chief Minister to continue in his role until his demise in 1661.

In between 1651 to 1661, Mazarin secured a peace treaty to end a long conflict called the Franco-Spanish War (1635 – 1659), a peace cemented with the marriage of Louis XIV to the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, Marie Therese (1638 – 1683). At that point, Louis began his life as a father and husband. The marriage resulted to 6 children, however, only one survived into adulthood, the Grand Dauphin Louis (1661 – 1711). This showed Louis’ capability to father an heir, but same could not be said as a faithful husband.

Louis’ Private Life

Louis came to be known as one of history’s greatest womanizers, a vice supported, welcomed, and even cheered by the nobility and the French people. Back then, the French expected their Kings to have mistresses as a show of strength, energy, and virility that came to describe the whole Kingdom. Louis fathered illegitimate children, like those from one of his mistresses Louise de la Valliere. The position of Mistress came to be envied and fought over by any means. Such as the case of Madam de Montespan, another mistress of Louis who got embroiled in a scandal called Affair of the Poisons that involved murder and sorcery for the sake of keeping her place as Louis’ woman. 
Madam de Montespan
“L’Etat, c’est moi” (The State is me)

Cardinal Mazarin passed away in 1661. Louis shocked the court by abolishing the office of Chief Minister and placed state affairs in his hands. Thereafter, the King held absolute power and gave his energy in governing the Kingdom. He worked for 8 hours a day and became a perfectionist micromanager. He oversaw every detail of a proposal and dictated rules and laws even for small affairs such as road construction.

Louis’ brazen action came as an act of consolidation of power as well as manifestation of his belief of himself as God’s chosen representative to rule France. Such belief renewed absolutist rule of monarchy in France which other monarchs followed throughout Europe. Many credited him of saying “L’Etat, c’est moi” or I am the State. This egocentric style of rule came also to be visible in his beloved nickname “Roi-Soleil” or the Sun King – where France, if not the world, revolves around him.
Louis XIV by Rigaud Hyacinthe
With this attitude, he also manipulated the nobility towards pacification. He believe in the saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Instead of allowing nobles to roam their estates, ruling and training their armies, he had them reside where he reside. He kept them busy watching him waking up, dressing for the day, eating meals, undressing for the night, sleeping in the night. He made his life a show to distract the nobles. Over time, power and influence based not on military and political prowess, but of talents in flattery and appreciation of the King. Intrigue and gossip became the weapon instead of soldiers in the field. It, hereby weakened the nobility as a political threat to the monarchy.

Economic Policies

Louis wanted to secure his rule over France and then towards lands beyond his kingdom’s borders. In order to do so required huge sums of money and a self-reliant economy. In this matter, Louis placed his trust in a talented man – Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619 – 1683).
Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Colbert followed the principle of mercantilism prevailing across Europe. Mercantilism measured an economy’s wealth base on the amount of precious metal (gold or silver) it possessed. Therefore, Colbert limited the amount of importation and directed the Kingdom towards self-reliance. This led to the development of local industries such as the case of silk and porcelain. Those that cannot be replicated sourced from colonies across the globe – fur from the Americas and spices from India.

Military Achievements

Reform and Administration

Louis strengthen the military to maintain internal security and to achieve his territorial ambitions. In this matter, equivalent to Colbert in the economy, Louis relied in the father and son tandem of Michel le Tellier and Francois-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois. The le Telliers expanded the French army to a sheer size of 100,000 during peaceful times and to about 400,000 in war times. They made the French military professional basing promotion through merit and establishing fixed salaries. They compelled the soldiers to be loyal to the Kingdom and the King and not to their liege lords. They also upgraded the military’s weaponry introducing the bayonet and flintlock rifles. They created an efficient and organized military logistic, which became a political weapon as the le Telliers withheld supplies to units of rogue officers suspected of being critical to the King.
Francois-Michel le Tellier

Louis XIV’s reign also earned notoriety for the numerous wars he fought. His first war began in 1667 with the War of Devolution (1667 – 1668) where France launched an invasion of the Spanish Netherlands. He did so under the pretext of taking the region as an inheritance of his Queen Marie Louise. The War, however, soured as a coalition of great powers, including the English, Swedes, and the Holy Roman Empire pressured France to back down.
Louis XIV Visiting the Siege of Douai
Eventually, Louis determined to expand to the Low Countries and in 1672 began the Franco-Dutch War (1672 – 1678). France annexed Flanders, Louraine, and the Franche-Compte. The initial success of the war came with the support of Charles II of England, a fellow absolutist monarch. Louis followed up his invasion with expansion of French sphere of Influence to the Rhinelands through diplomatic and legal means through the use of “Chambers of Reunion.” By 1678, France had expanded its border and solidified the Kingdom’s status as a superpower and Louis’ as the most powerful man in Europe.
Battle of Palermo, French-Dutch War (1676)
The War of the Grand Alliance (1688 – 1697), meanwhile, came as a conflict aimed in containing the advancement of France. Otherwise known as the War of the League of Augsburg, numerous European powers including Spain, Holy Roman Empire, and later England stopped French advancement to the Rhineland. Though by the wars end, French territory remained intact, its finances and economy suffered heavily.
Battle of Almansa, Spanish Succession War (1707)
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714) became the last major conflict Louis embroiled during the latter years of his reign. Louis defended his grandson Philip of Anjou’s claim to the Spain after King Charles II passed away childless. The French King saw it as opportunity to secure the southern French border by having a Bourbon King placed in the Spanish throne instead of a rival Habsburg. Louis, however, had a dilemma: place a Bourbon King in Spain and Europe would mobilize to stop him or keep Spain a Habsburg dominion while allowing France to recover. Louis decided that the former option offered greater rewards compare to the risk that the latter that would result to France’s isolation. Indeed, France’s enemies mobilized. Louis faced a great coalition of countries that included England, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire followed later by Prussia and Portugal. By the wars end, the war cost Louis and France huge in death and resources. France suffered from famine and the Kingdom’s debt grew and continued to plague the French economy until 1791.

Cultural Legacy

A cultured king Louis portrayed himself with his talents and taste for the arts. As a Prince, Louis studied music and dancing. He also showed interest in dramas, ballet, operas, and appreciated literature and visual arts. He also sponsored the French Academy charged with the study and development of the French language.
Louis XIV and Moliere
Artist surrounded Louis. He hosted writers such as Moliere and painters like Charles le Brun. Jean-Baptiste Lully played in Louis’ court. Finally, he hired architects such as Louis La Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart to design and expand his most iconic construction project of his reign – the Palace of Versailles.
Palace of Versaille (1668)
The Palace of Versailles came synonymous to Louis XIV. Louis wanted to escape Paris due to his experience during the Fronde. He decided to expand his father’s old hunting lodge in the suburb outside Paris called Versailles. Following Louis La Vau’s design, the small hunting lodge became enveloped by buildings design from the vogue style of the era Baroque. Louis ordered his court to move into the new palace and in 1682 he effectively declared it the capital.  In 1678, the work for the Hall of Mirrors designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart began. The iconic room hosted tumultuous events in history, for example, the declaration of the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I in 1919. Versailles became a standard for later palaces becoming a benchmark for splendor and style. It turned into the most lasting monument of Louis XIV’s reign. However, the palace’s cost added strain to the finances. Furthermore, it allowed Kings to live and rule though safe, but away from the problems and needs of the common French people. It became gilded cage that became the undoing of the Bourbon monarch as seen after the 1791 Revolution.

Social Policy

Madame de Maintenon
Louis’s social policy coincided with religious policy. As absolute monarch, he had the power over the lives of millions of his French subjects. French society during Louis’ time included division in wealth and power (nobility, clergy, and peasants) and division in religion between Catholics and Protestants called Huguenots. Louis became divisive King when he persecuted the Huguenots during his reign.

Influences to the King’s extreme Catholic piety stemmed from his deeply religious mother and his determination to strengthen the unity of the Kingdom under one religion. Moreover, with the death of his Queen Marie Therese in 1683, he took a secret wife, the Marquise de Maintenon, another extremely religious woman in Louis’ life, influenced him to go against the Huguenots. In 1685, Louis revoke the Edict of Nantes of 1598 that secured religious freedom in the country for the Huguenots. He then issued a new Edict of Fontainebleau that institutionalized state persecution of the Protestants.

The Edict of Fontainebleau drove the Huguenots underground. It ordered the destruction of Protestant churches and schools, the expulsion of Protestant clergy, and force conversion or at least coercion to convert Protestants to Catholicism. Louis used the military to force Huguenot communities to convert to Catholicism. He also banned Protestants from leaving the country, but many escape anyway finding their way to England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and German states. The exodus of thousands of Huguenots out of the country created a brain drain. Skilled labor, mostly Protestants, left the country and brought with them techniques and skills might have contributed to the economic and technological advancement of France.

Demise and Death

Louis turned into a widower in 1683 with the death of his Queen Marie-Therese. In 1684, however, he decided to secretly marry his new mistress Madam de Maintenon, a pious woman who once served as his illegitimate children’s governess. In his 60’s, Louis turned religious fearing the damnation of hell and fell to the influence of his new secret wife. The relation led to the Edict of Fontainebleau that promoted persecution. Days of his energetic lifestyle and passions set.

Domestic affairs in the late years of Louis deteriorated, especially in administration. The 1680’s and 90’s saw the death of many great minds in Louis government – Colbert (1683), Michel le Tellier (1685) and Francois Michel le Tellier (1691). Louis had been surrounded by flatterers and sycophants that he appointed men based on their skills in flattering rather than competency. In other words, inept officials ruled the kingdom by the late years of Louis. Worst, some officials fought with each other with encouragement from Louis himself to keep them in check and prevent them from becoming a threat. Hence, they spend more time in destroying each other rather than solving problems especially the growing debt of the kingdom.

International affairs also turned against Louis during the 1680’s. Habsburg became once again a threat in the east after they push back the Ottomans in 1689 in the Battle of Mohacs. The seas also became dangerous for the French when William of Orange overthrew James II. Thus, by War of Spanish Succession, France needed to avoid further isolation by controlling Spain.

Family deaths also plagued Louis in the 1700’s. Most importantly, his brother Philippe, Duke of Orleans, passed away in 1701. A decade later, in 1711, his son, the Grand Dauphin Louis passed away. The death of his relatives disheartened Louis.

Death finally came to Louis in September 1, 1715. His long 72-year reign came to an end and became a record for the longest reign of a ruling European monarch then. His grandson Louis, a 5 year old boy, ascended as King Louis XV.

Legacy of Louis XIV

Louis XIV ruled France based in his personal will. Traumatized by his childhood, he weakened the nobility and established an absolute monarchy that many of his contemporaries emulated and admired. With right person in the government, France became strong economically and military. His wars, however, gained mixed result. Some wars led to glory and territorial expansion of France, while later wars led to misery and debt that dented French finance throughout the 18th century. His support of the arts made France a leader in taste and style. Voltaire in his work about Louis XIV even stated that once the Italians called those beyond Italy barbarians, but by time of the Sun King it turned around.

The 1680’s, however, became a turning point. Good men in government passed away. Incompetence among officials rose. Louis new wife convinced him to enact a state sponsored persecution of Protestants, putting an end to centuries of religious tolerance and freedom. In the international stage, things went bad for France as it seem the whole continent turned France. Eventually, with old age, ailments, and grief from the death of his relatives, Louis XIV passed away a different man from the one who had ordered the Palace of Versailles and led his troops to war.

"Louvois, Fran├žois Michel Le Tellier, marquis de." Accessed May 10, 2019. URL:

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Anne of Austria." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 10, 2019. URL:

Erlanger, Philippe. "Louis XIV." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 10, 2019. URL: Editors. "Louis XIV." History. Accessed May 11, 2019. URL:

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.