Louis XIV of France

Louis XIVKing of France and of NavarreBy Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)
Louis XIV
King of France and of Navarre
By Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)
French Monarchy-
Capetian Dynasty
(Bourbon branch)

Henry IV
   Louis XIII
   Christine Marie
   Nicholas Henry
   Gaston, Duke of Orléans
Louis XIII
   Louis XIV
   Philippe, Duke of Orléans
Louis XIV
   Louis, the Grand Dauphin
   Philippe-Charles, Duc d'Anjou
   Louis-François, Duc d'Anjou
   Louis, Duke of Burgundy
   King Philip V of Spain
   Charles, Duke of Berry
Great Grandchildren
   Louis, Duke of Brittany
   Louis XV
Louis XV
   Louis, Dauphin
   Marie Adélaïde
   Alexandrine-Jeanne d'Etiolles
   Louis XVI
   Louis XVIII
   Charles X
Louis XVI
   Louis-Joseph, Dauphin
   Louis XVII
Louis XVII
Charles X
   Louis XIX, Duke of Angoulême
   Charles, Duke of Berry
   Henry V, comte de Chambord

Louis XIV (Louis-Dieudonné) (September 5, 1638September 1, 1715), reigned as King of France and of Navarre from May 14, 1643 until his death at the age of 77. 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 ministre"), 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 seventy-two 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 pre-dominance with various figures such as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Lully, Rigaud, Le Brun and Le Nôtre. These cultural achievements contributed to the prestige of France, her people, her language and her king. 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, but the State shall always remain").

Early years, Regency and war

On his birth at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1638 his parents Louis XIII of France and Anne of Austria, who had been childless for twenty-three years, regarded him as a divine gift; hence he was christened "Louis-Dieudonné" (the latter word meaning "God-given"); he also received the titles premier fils de France ("First Son of France") as well as the more traditional title Dauphin de Viennois. Louis XIV came from a multicultural background since his paternal grandparents were Henry IV of France and Marie de' Medici, who were French and Italian respectively. His maternal grandparents were Philip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria, both Habsburgs.

Louis XIII and Anne had a second child, Philippe d'Anjou (soon to be Philippe I, Duc d'Orléans) in 1640. Louis XIII, however, did not trust in his wife's ability to govern France upon his demise. Thus he decreed that a regency council, of which Anne was head, should rule in his son's name during his minority; this would have diminished the Queen Mother's power. Nevertheless, when Louis XIII died, and the five-year-old Louis XIV ascended the throne on May 14, 1643, Anne annulled Louis XIII's will in Parlement, did away with the council and became sole Regent. She entrusted power to her chief minister, the Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin, whom most French political circles despised because of his non-French background (although he had already become a naturalised French subject).

Louis XIV as a young child
Louis XIV as a young child

As the Thirty Years' War ended, in 1648, a French civil war, known as the Fronde, 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 Parlement, a court whose judges comprised mostly nobles or high clergymen. The members of the Parlement 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 Parlement, 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 released the French army under 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, like Gaston Jean-Baptiste, Duc d'Orléans, his daughter, Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, Duchesse de Montpensier, Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, Armand de Bourbon-Condé, Prince de Conti, and Anne-Geneviève de Bourbon-Condé, Duchesse de Longueville, to nobles of ancient families, like François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Frédéric-Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon, his brother, Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne, and Marie de Rohan-Montbazon, Duchesse de Chevreuse, and nobles of legitimated royal descent, like Henri II d'Orléans, Duc de Longueville, and François de Vendôme, Duc de Beaufort, 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

War with Spain, however, continued. The French received aid in this military effort from England, 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 (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; and the treaty signalled 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 (1621–65), Maria Theresa (Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche). They were married on June 9, 1660; under the terms of the marriage contract, upon the full payment of a large dowry (50,000 gold écus), to be paid in three instalments, Maria Theresa would 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 young King Louis XIV, winner of wars and of hearts
The young King Louis XIV, winner of wars and of hearts

The French treasury, after a long war, stood close to bankruptcy when Louis XIV assumed, upon the death of his Premier Ministre, personal control of the reins of government in 1661. Louis XIV appointed Jean-Baptiste Colbert as Contrôleur-Général des Finances in 1665. 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.

Monarchical Styles of
King Louis XIV
Par la grâce de Dieu, Roi de France et de Navarre
Reference style His Most Christian Majesty
Spoken style Your Most Christian Majesty
Alternative style Monsieur Le Roi

Colbert also had wide-ranging plans to strengthen France through commerce and trade. His administration ordained new industries and encouraged manufacturers and inventors. Colbert also made improvements to the navy, to the merchant marine, to the highways and to the waterways of France. 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.

The Sun King proved an incredibly generous spender, dispensing large sums of money to finance the royal court. He operated as a patron of the arts, funding literary and cultural figures such as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (or "Molière"), Charles Le Brun, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. He also brought the Académie Française under his patronage, and became its "Protector".

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 Château du Louvre, as well as many other royal residences.

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.

Growth of France under The Sun King—1659–1681.
Growth of France under The Sun King—16591681.

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 that power might fall into the hands of the young William III, Prince of Orange. De Witt saw a naval war with France as potentially manageable, but a war on land would have allowed intervention by William III's army, raising him to power. Thus, with the United Provinces in internal conflict between supporters of de Witt and William of Orange, coupled with English engagement in war with the Dutch, France easily conquered both Flanders and Franche-Comté. Shocked by the rapidity of French successes and fearful of the future, the United Provinces joined with England and Sweden in 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 very long. 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 declared war on the United Provinces in 1672. The rapid invasion and occupation of nearly all the Netherlands, bar Amsterdam, 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 and the Empire, and signed a treaty with England causing her to withdraw in 1674. William III even married Mary, the niece of the English King Charles II. Despite these diplomatic reverses, the war continued with brilliant French victories against the overwhelming forces of the opposing coalition. Nevertheless, 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 in a matter of weeks.

The Treaty of Nijmegen increased further 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. Louis XIV also kept up his army, but instead of pursuing his claims through purely military action, he utilised 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. 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 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 XIV's new legal pretext.

Height of power in the 1680s

By the early 1680s, Louis XIV had greatly augmented 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 tripled under his supervision. The princes of Europe began to imitate France in everything. French colonies abroad were multiplying in the Americas, Asia and Africa, while diplomatic relations had been initiated with countries as far afield as Siam and Persia. For example, the explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed and named, in 1682, 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), while French Jesuits could be seen at the Manchu Court in China. Louis XIV was also in the process of reinforcing the traditional Gallicanism, a doctrine limiting the authority of the Pope in France. Furthermore, Louis XIV began to diminish the power of the nobility and clergy. He achieved immense control over the second estate (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 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' power and control over his unruly nobility.

Louis XIV hence attempted to increase his influence over the Church. 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.

Moreover, Louis XIV also attempted to reduce the influence of the nobility, 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 while he could reduce a commoner to a nonentity by dismissing him, he could not destroy the influence of a great nobleman. 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 Revolution and the Napoleonic Age.

Louis XIV had the Chateau of Versailles outside Paris, originally a hunting lodge built by his father, converted into a spectacular royal palace; 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 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 king. Court life centered on grandeur; 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 honour of dining at the king's table or the privilege of carrying a candlestick as the king retired to his bedroom.

Louis also instituted various legal reforms. 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 major legal code formulated by Louis XIV, the Code Louis, 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.

By 1685, Louis XIV stood at the apogee 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 (1683–99). 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. After repelling the Ottoman attack on Vienna, the Holy Roman Empire was no longer in grave danger from the Turks, but the Emperor nevertheless did not attempt to regain the territories annexed by Louis XIV.

Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's second wife
Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's second wife

Louis XIV's Queen, Marie-Thérèse, died a year later in 1683. 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. 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 probably in late 1685, was morganatic.

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 (the members of the Protestant Reformed Church). 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 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, about 200,000 of them left in any case, taking with them their skills in commerce and trade. The Edict proved economically damaging though not ruinous; and 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 to provoke 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 recognise 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 nephew had died in 1685, and the comital 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, and thus weakening it.

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 (Prince of Orange). As William III had developed an enmity against Louis XIV during the Dutch War, he pushed England into the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the Grand Alliance.

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 Germans 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 her funds and troops to the war on the continent. Nonetheless, despite the size of the opposing coalition, French forces in Flanders 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. At the battles of Marsaglia and Staffarde, France was victorious over the allied forces under Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, overrunning his dominion. 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; but 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.

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. 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 recognise 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. 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 that allowed French passage at any time. 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, Duc d'Anjou (Louis' grandson) his heir.

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, twenty-two 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 younger son of Leopold I by his third marriage (with Elenor of Neuburg), claimed the throne through his paternal grandmother, 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, William III, King of Great Britain and Ireland and Stadholder of the Netherlands, preferred another candidate, the Bavarian Prince Joseph Ferdinand, who was the grandson of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor through his first wife Margaret 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, failing which 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 fulfil 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 almost certainly ensue; and William III had made it very clear he would not assist France in a war to obtain the territories granted her by the Partition 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 James II's son and proper heir, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender"), King. 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. Consequently, an alliance was formed between Great Britain, the United Provinces, the Holy Roman Empire and most German states. Bavaria, Portugal and Savoy were allied with Louis XIV and Philip V.

The subsequent War of the Spanish Succession continued for most of the remainder of Louis XIV's reign. It began with Imperial aggression 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 (13 August 1704), as well as other reverses such as the Battle of Ramillies and the Battle of Oudenarde coupled with famine and mounting debt forced her into a defensive posture. Bavaria was flung out of the war after her conquest following the Battle of Blenheim, and Portugal and Savoy subsequently defected to the opposite side. The war proved costly for Louis XIV; by 1709, he was grievously weakened and had to sue for peace. Nonetheless, the terms dictated by the allies were so oppresive 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.

The death of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor and elder son of Leopold I 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 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 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 colonies in the Americas to Great Britain, however, most of her continental possessions, lost in the devastating defeats in the Low Countries, were returned to her; she also received further territories to which she had a claim such as the principality of Orange.


Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 of gangrene, a few days before his seventy-seventh birthday. His body lies in the Saint Denis Basilica in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris. He had reigned for 72 years. 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 "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 sought to restrict the power of his nephew, Philip 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 Parlement, bribing the Parlementaires 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 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), and 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 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. His numerous wars and extravagant palaces and châteaux effectively bankrupted the state (though it must also be said that France was able to recover in a matter of years), forcing him to levy higher taxes on the peasants as the nobility and clergy had exemption from paying these taxes.

On the whole, nevertheless, Louis XIV placed France in the predominant and preeminent position in Europe, giving her ten new provinces and an empire. Even with several great European alliances opposing him, he continued to triumph and 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. Europe of the Enlightenment would look to Louis XIV's reign as an example and strive to emulate him as much as possible. However, the Duc de Saint-Simon, who did not like Louis XIV, 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." Nonetheless, even the German Leibniz, who was a Protestant, could call him "one of the greatest kings that ever was". For his vigorous promotion of French national greatness, 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" the "Great Century" ("Le Grand Siècle").

Depictions of Louis XIV in fiction

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 XIV and his twin. Louis Hayward played the twins in a 1939 remake, Richard Chamberlain portrayed them in 1977, and Leonardo DiCaprio did the same in a 1998 remake.

The Moon and the Sun, a 1997 Nebula Award-winning science fiction novel by Vonda N. McIntyre, is set in the court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century.

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).

Depictions in entertainment

Legitimate issue

Name Birth Death Notes
Louis de France, Fils de France, le Grand Dauphin 1 November 1661 14 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  



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  • Burke, Peter En kung blir till (Swedish translation of The fabrication of a king, 1992)
  • Goyau, G. (1910). "Louis XIV". The Catholic Encyclopedia. (Volume IX). New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Cambridge Modern History vol 5 The Age of Louis XIV (1908)
  • Holt, Mack P., "Louis XIV." The New Book of Knowledge. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2005
  • Steingrad, E. (2004). "Louis XIV."
  • Wolf, J. B. (1968). Louis XIV. New York: Norton.

Preceded by:
Louis XIII
King of France
Succeeded by:
Louis XV

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