Born on September 5, 1638, Louis was destined to be one of the greatest kings in history, standing at the peak of monarchs' abolitionist power.

Louis XIV's father, Louis XIII found it hard to maintain power through most of his reign. Until 1638 he was without an heir, which meant the nobles wielded a strong influence over him because if the king died and a proper heir couldn't be found quickly, the nobles could easily take power. The king knew this and, afraid this would be the case, wanted the noble of his choosing to become king. Thus he had to yield to some of their wishes in order to keep them on his side. Secondly, Louis XIII was constantly at war and thus financially strained. Another way for the nobles, one of the king's greatest problems, to weasel more power from the king. Thirdly, he was advised by Cardinal Richelieu, the antagonist in The Three Musketeers. The people had come to despise the advice of these foreign advisors, but Louis, somewhat unwilling to rule, left many decisions to Richelieu, which further weakened Louis’s power.

Unlike his father, Louis XIV had an heir early on and France was prosperous, if not always peaceful, for much of his career. He also was highly suspicious of letting any foreign rule in any position. Ultimately, he had no advisor.

CIVIL WAR

After Louis XIII death in 1643, the 'foreign rule' of Louis XIV's mother, Anne of Austria, and her Italian chief minister, Jules Cardinal Mazarin, began. It was highly unpopular. Thus, when the king died nobles and merchants wishing to take power, led a revolt called the Fronde, began to gain strength. In 1649, after Mazarin tried to arrest leaders of Parlement, civil war broke out. The resulting peace treaty gave the Fronde increased influence in Parlement. More civil wars followed in 1650 when The Great Condé, a general turned rebellious when he didn't receive more power, was arrested.

During this period, Mazarin, Anne, and Louis XIV were forced to take refuge outside of Paris. Louis was then tutored by Bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, who was a strong supporter of divine right. He would eventually justify this claim with evidence from the Bible, stating that kings were like the Pope: only answerable to God. These ideas, no doubt, had an influence over Louis’s later claims to divine right.

While out of Paris, Jean-Baptiste Colbert became Mazarin’s agent in Paris. In 1651 Anne joined the Old Fronde, the Parisian party and those who supported Condé, in an attempt to divide the Fronde. At the same time she ordered an indictment against Condé, which persuaded him to switch from the Old Fronde to the new. However, when a third civil war broke out in 1651, even though Condé had Spanish support, he was unable to win and Louis XIV entered Paris as king on October 21, 1652.

GAINING POWER

Louis XIV declared himself officially able to manage his own affairs at the age of twenty-one in 1661. He quickly realized that publicity was a fast and easy way to create a strong image of himself that he could use to get what he wanted. To get this image he rewarded and praised those who glorified him. Colbert—who had been recommended to the king by Mazarin to manage the king’s private affairs as well as general administration of the kingdom—also set about commissioning writers, historians, and artists to glorify Louis XIV. He had his face printed on coins, the sun falling on him and then his subjects, implying that the king was the people’s sun. The idea of Louis being the Sun King first began in 1953 when he starred in the play Ballet de la Nuit and was often compared to the sun.

Like many rulers before him, after coming to power he created numerous reform measures so as to make the peasants believe he was going to better their lives. However, these could be, and were, forgotten. But, with Colbert’s help, Louis did attempt to stimulate manufacturing, agriculture, and home and foreign trade. He especially focused on industries that dealt with luxuries. He worked with boosting foreign trade by supporting overseas trading companies and then declaring certain port cities as commercial centers. This was only particularly successful in the West Indies with the sugar plantations.

One of the kings' biggest obstacles in keeping absolute control over the country was the church, which for many years was a much more prominent power than the king. However, Louis already had the right to chose all clergy members. Although in theory he had to appeal to the Pope for confirmation, the Pope never refused those the king chose. Thus, Louis was able to pick clergy who would be loyal to him and not Rome.

Louis also used his strong belief in Divine Right, that it was God had put him on the throne and he was therefore God’s representative. Along with the reasoning of Louis's former tutor, this idea came from the kings being anointed with holy water at their coronations. Because Louis believed in this, he believed treason was blasphemy and could be punished as such. He also thought it was his right to be an absolute monarch. Thus he was on a higher plane then the rest of his country. Although he also believed that he was not put on the throne for himself, but to better France and help his people. Not that he wasn't going to live a rich and fine life while he could, but this fine life was justified if he helped his people.

Nobility

Another of the kings' greatest obstacles was the nobles, which the kings had battled with for centuries. The old way of governing was that a royal family governed each province. Many had created internal tolls, which Louis attempted to end, although not entirely successfully. He divided the country into districts so goods shipped through the area would be toll-free, but it wasn’t effective.

Nobel families were often more concerned with increasing their own power and wealth than serving the king. They passed laws, which were supposed to pass through a governor—a representative of the king—of the town, but he rarely, if ever, refused them. To limit the power of the nobles and increase his own, Louis XIV sent intendants to each providence. Intendants were direct representatives of the king and thus served him and not themselves. To ensure the intendants’ loyalty he never picked nobles, but those just a step under the nobles, who had enough wealth and experience to do the job well, but didn’t have the necessary wealth to survive with the king’s aid. This meant the intendant were finally willing to reject laws the nobles tried to pass if they believed they were not in the best interest of the king. Intendants had been used during Louis XIII’s reign, but when the Fronde took over, the idea was destroyed, the intendants lost the power they had and rarely did the job they were given. Louis XIV’s goal, and success, was to reverse this.

To decrease the noble’s power even further, Louis, in one of his brilliant tactics in history, brought all the nobles to court, which was originally in Paris, but was soon moved to Versailles because of Louis’s distaste with the city. He hadn’t liked the city since the Fronde had driven him out of it.

In the beginning, Louis attempt to bring the nobles to court was not so successful. But as time went on it became more and more true. Firstly, most, if not all, of the nobles eventually fell into dept and to continue spending as they did, they would need to loan money from the king. If they had been away from court for an extended period of time, and thus possibly searching for a way to limit the king’s power, the king would refuse royal favors. Louis created a Gold Circle of the most loyal and obedient nobles. He would present rewards, which were more to wound those who didn't receive them then to honor those who did. Those that performed Louis’s bidding were quickly raised to the heights of society.

During the Fronde's rule entertainment was not encouraged, but under Louis's reign Paris became the center of elaborate balls, festivals, and plays. Louis adored the arts, hunting, and banquets—Louis himself was extremely gluttonous and by the end of his reign he had a huge problem with gout. The court became the absolute center of fashion and gossip. To stay informed on government affairs, scandalous and official, one had to stay in court.

Many of the festivals took place outside, which allowed anyone dressed reasonably well inside to, at the very least, watch the festivities. One of these events was the carrousel, an event with several teams, one head by the king, one by his brother Monsieur, anther by the duc de Guise and another by the head of the House of Lorraine. The event took place between the Palace of the Tuileries and the Louvre, the king’s main palace until Versailles was built. Each team represented an 'exotic' and far away country, like Africa or America. Of course most of the players had never been to any of these countries and in reality the whole point of the tournament was so the nobles would spend so much time and money on the elaborate and expensive costumes that they wouldn't have time for anything else.

Thus it was that attending the king's balls and festivals meant not only new clothes, but new carriages and enough money to gamble the night away. Some might even gamble away half a year’s income in one night. All of this made the king rich and led to the unbreakable cycle as noble after noble fell into dept.

Nobles were also not allowed to hold high offices, so they were instead kept busy with dress codes and high-stakes gambling. The afternoon could be spent hunting, riding, or strolling in the gardens and evenings were a time for entertainment in the salons, often being plays, concerts or gambling. Although Louis drew most of the court to the palace, especially once he built Versailles and was able to house a great many more people, not all nobles came to court as some were too poor and others preferred to build their influence at their local estates.


A description of the king's day

(see Life as a Courtier)

At eight the valet de chambre, who alone had slept in the royal chamber, awoke the king. The chief physician, chief surgeon, and the nurse entered then. The nurse kissed the king while the others rubbed the king and usually changed his shirt, because he sweated a lot. In the quarter, the grand chamberlain and the grandes entrees, being the privileged courtiers, were called. They presented holy water at the head of the bed. If they wanted to speak to the king, that was the time. Then these gentlemen left. There was a short religious service and the king called the gentlemen back. One gave him his dressing-gown and more privileged courtiers entered. The king put on his own shoes and stockings, shaved every other day, and always wore a short wig, even in bed.

Once dressed, he prayed at the side of his bed—clergy present kneeling, cardinals without pillows, and the laity still standing. The captain of the guards stood behind the balustrade and then the king passed into his cabinet. Everyone in office and the privileged courtiers followed him there. The king told those present what the rest of his day would be. Those present then left while the Court waited in the gallery.

During this time the king gave more audiences, spoke secretly, or spent some time by himself. Then the king went to mass where his musicians sang an anthem. The king then spent some time in entertainment and called the council. This finished the morning.

On Sundays, Wednesdays, and usually Mondays the king had a council of state. On Tuesdays and Saturdays there was a finance council. Usually only one of these was held any given day and not often on Thursdays or Fridays. Once or twice a month Monday was for a council of despatches, but this was often shortened by the order the Secretaries of State took from the king. Thursday mornings were usually filled with secret audiences with the king or time with Madame de Maintenon’s.

When there was nothing in the morning, dinner—modern day lunch—was had early. It was usually eaten at one. Sometimes it was postponed if councils ran long. During dinner the king ate by himself in his chamber on a square table in front of a window. At the least he had four courses, including fruit. Once the dinner was prepared several couriers entered.

Once the king finished he went back to his cabinet. Distinguished people could talk to him then, but few ever followed him in. There he feed his dogs, then changed before a couple distinguished guests whom the first gentlemen allowed in. The king then left by the back stairs to the coach. Anyone who wanted to speak with him could as he walked.

Hardly being sensitive to heat cold, or rain he was rarely sustained from going abroad. He went for hunting one or more times a week, shooting in his parks one or two times a week, or walking in his gardens for exercise and to see his workers. Sometimes he would picnic with ladies in the forest or walk with his entire court.

Once he returned back from walks or drives anyone could speak to him as soon as he left his coach until he reached the staircase. He changed again and rest ni his cabinet for about an hour. Then he went to Madame de Maintenon’s and on the way anyone could speak to him.

At ten he ate supper. The captain of the guard would announce him before he entered. A quart of an hour after the king arrived anyone could speak with him again. Supper was always grand. The royal household—being his sons and daughters—as well as courtiers and ladies were there, sitting or standing. Then the king retired, fed his dogs, said goodnight, went to his chamber and said his prayers, then undressed around midnight.

He was always dressed, then, in lightly embroidered brown. It was never embroidered on the edge and sometimes had nothing but a gold button or black velvet. He wore always a vest of cloth of red, blue or green satin, which was very much embroidered. He didn’t wear rings or jewels, except in the buckles of shoes, garters, and hat, which was trimmed with a Spanish point and had a white feather.

(Bell; Howell. Daily Life in the Court of Louis XIV. Charles E. Merrill Publish Co., 1985)


To retain the power he had gained over the noble, he continued to press that nobles had to be at court if they were to be favored. Though Louis encouraged nobles to speak with him, he required them to go through elaborate court etiquette. Names were entered on long waiting lists. Times of rising and dressing for the king were an especially good time or on the way to bed, when a very privileged noble would be allowed to carry the king’s candle along beside him. Because nobles were banned from governing in Louis's government, the time nobles had to speak privately to the king were extremely important for the nobles.

However, the king did work with nobles to keep order and often supported them and their local authority. Yet he kept a striking absolutism image with his huge armies and bureaucracies which allowed him, unlike previous rulers, to enforce his power.

GOVERNING

Although Louis was seen as a fun loving king, he also understood the importance of governing. Twice a day he spent several hours working with others in the government, attempting to solve the kingdom’s problems. He made sure ministers would always be able to talk to him if they had need. Though many government positions were bought, Louis made sure to consult experts whenever possible. He also looked into local opinions and local parliaments before enacting laws.

Louis and his advisors were mercantilists. Louis’s first financial advisor, Colbert, was set on attacking the most powerful areas of the world: the United Provinces. To raise the finances and army that would be needed, Colbert wanted to raise taxes and encourage trade by setting up bases in India, North America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Colbert’s policies were one of a large army, which would eventually be increased to one of the largest in Europe. Colbert would eventually engage France in several wars.

In other matters, Louis was also against all the power being in one person’s hands outside of himself. He refused a Prime Minister and to make sure the power was indeed focused on him, he would check in on his ministers at odd times. These ministers were like intendents, in that they were not nobles and therefore depended on the king for money.

Also, Louis had some problems with Parlement. Having come to power after the Fronde, he deeply resented Parlements attempts at gaining power. When in 1666 it attempted to resist one of his decrees, he quickly squashed the resistance and passed the decree anyway. As positions in Parlement were bought he used that as a source of revenue. Unfortunately, once in office the members had to be paid and those in Parlement often dodged taxes, which created an influx being spent on Parlement members. They also gave him trouble with religion, especially since much of its populace was of Jansenism, which Louis sought to destroy. To remedy this, he forbade or overruled most of Parlement’s efforts to stop his decrees. Similarly, peasant uprisings were brutally suppressed. Publishers were censured and the over time intendants’ power was increased, especially as army recruiters.

In Louis’s judicial branch were himself, the Chancellor, and several ministers. France had the greatest population in Europe, which allowed his armed forces, led by marquis of Louvois, to eventually rise to the largest in Europe. France was one of the greatest military forces until the 1800s.

Louis believed that no matter how misled or incorrect a king was it was their subjects’ duty to remain loyal and not rebel. Thus it was also the king’s responsibility to make sure his subjects did not rebel and, if they were misled, correct them.

Religion

Louis was not a tolerant ruler when it came to religion. He believed in uniformity of his religion, Catholicism. He was not pleased by the Protestants who live in France as he believed they were evil and intolerable. Around 1661 anti-Protestantism began to rise. Some wanted action, but Louis, against violence, began by simply refusing Protestants favors. However, in 1685 he repealed the Edict of Nantes and forced the one million Huguenots, French Calvinists, to either leave—which about four-fifth did—or convert to Catholicism. The Edict of Nantes had been passed by Henry IV, giving Huguenots some basic rights: They could worship except in court or within Paris, schools, universities, certain cities, and special tribunals. Richelieu had begun to repeal this law while he supported Louis XIII and Louis XIV finished the job. Like Spain had done, Louis was attempting to unify France by expelling certain religions.

And he suppressed Jansentsts, who believed in original sin and predestination—the belief that God had already chosen who would be saved and who wouldn’t—despite the fact that the influential Arnauld family were of that religion. The Jansentsts had challenged Church ritual practices and been condemned by Rome already and Louis was troubled by the magistrates—royal officers in parlement—who was swiftly joining Jansenism. Louis had the Jansenists’ headquarters and the Abbey of Port Royal destroyed. The only reason the pope didn’t eventually pass a bill condemning Jansenism was Louis’s death in 1715.

FOREIGN POLICY

Louis main goal in foreign policy was to expand French boarders to assert authority over other European states and protect France from the Habsburg Empires on their two sides, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. However, this caused other European countries to form strong alliances against him. For many years Louis relied on Colbert and the war Colbert was planning against the Dutch, who Louis also had a particular distate of because they were merchants, protestant and republicans. When Colbert’s war failed Louis looked more to Louvois, who pushed him to take territory on the Holy Roman Empire front. In one of his few campaigns for land that didn’t result in warfare, to obtain the Spanish port town Dunkerque, instead of waging war, Louis offered Carlos II (Charles II) five million. Carlos accepted. Louis kept his fleet in Dunkerque as it was a well-fortified town and if Carlos ever tried to attack France, it would be difficult.

Louis made many claims in the Holy Roman Empire, but many were small, which allowed him to eventually take a large section of the Holy Roman Empire. This was also because the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was busy fighting the Turks on the Eastern front. Eventually, however, a league was formed to restrain Louis’s power.

When he started to lose territory Louis, in 1690, removed Louvois in hopes of creating peace. But the war continued for another seven years. The economy began to struggle in the 1690s. Famines reduced tax revenues and the work force while the rest of Europe prepared to attack France again. Though Louis had the largest army in Europe of 400,000 men, Leopold and William believed it could be easily defeated.

WARFARE

Louis’s policy of expansionism carried France part way through the 1700s, but would eventually devastate France.

The War of Devolution from 1667 to 1668, began because of French claims to Spanish Belgian, or Spanish Netherland, and Franche-Comté territory. Louis’s claims came through his wife, the daughter of Philip IV of Spain. To end this claim, England, Sweden, and the United Provinces formed the triple alliance against Louis, but Louis defeated Spain in the end.

Colbert at this time was still set on the United Provinces. He knew a land attack would be futile, so he pressed for a strong navy, and then suggested to Louis in 1672—and the action was taken—that France invaded the United Provinces and their leaders the House of Orange. The economic rivals of France, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Lorraine, and Brandenburg allied against Louis and at the end of the war little territory changed hands.

The Nine Years’ War began in 1689 and lasted until 1697. Colbert had been replaced by Louvois, who had a strong policy of expansion, by this time. The Nine Years’ War began as France expanded into the Holy Roman Emperor. Originally France had had no difficulty taking small pieces of territory from Germany because the Holy Roman Emperor was preoccupied with the Ottoman Empire. But once the Holy Roman Empire managed to push the Ottomans away from their boarders after the siege of Vienna, they could focus on France. England, Spain, Sweden, Bavaria, Saxony, the United Provinces, and Palatinate formed the League of Augsburg against Louis, eventually inducing a stalemate.

England was especially problematic in this war. When William of Orange came to the throne he was not so willing to comply to Louis’s demands and was constantly pushing for a war against France. William was both king of England and the Dutch United Provinces. Therefore, for the first time in many years, England had an army on the continent. Along with the fight for the Holy Roman Empire, France and England battled out in North America in the section of the Nine Year’s War known as King William’s War. The end of the war brought about the first episode when Louis had to comply to other’s wishes.

The War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714 began because Philip of Anjoy, Louis XIV’s grandson, was chosen as king of Spain. England, the United Provinces, and the Holy Roman Emperor formed by the Grand Alliance, led by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. This alliance was formed as these powers feared that by uniting Spain and France the balance of power in Europe would be upset. The war ended with the Treaty of Utretch.

This attack was set in motion when Charles II died without heir in 1700. As Louis struggled in the Spanish Succession War and famine continued to plague the country, he managed to retain his hold on his subjects. His borders remained the same during the war and his grandson would still be the Spanish heir, but he couldn’t unite Spain with France.

Four years later Louis was involved in the devastating and humiliating War of the Spanish Succession. The war reveled many of France’s limits. Despite Louis belief that he could take all of Europe, he did not have the economic or military support.

This league was led by William III of the United Provinces and Emperor Leopold, who was, by 1683, succeeding in his war with the Turks. William would eventually take the English throne and in 1688 the league went to war against Louis.

MISTRESSES

It seems that in history, great power means that one could be unfaithful to their wife as often as they want. And Louis was no exception. His wife was Marie Thérèse, daughter of Elizabeth of France and Philip IV of Spain. He respected her and slept with her regularly—they had six children, only one of which survived past childhood, and then died, before his father, in 1711—but Louis found no problem in being unfaithful. Marie of course was expected to be always faithful, which she most likely was.

One of the king's first mistresses was Madame, his brother's wife, Henriette Stuart. Although Henriette was more than happy to oblige, neither the queen nor the king's brother were happy. The king's brother, Mounsieur Pilippe, was often outspoken, but it had been made sure that his boldness had become, to an extent, a scandal. This allowed that he would never be able to lead a war against Louis.

Louis's attraction soon moved on to one of Madame's ladies in waiting, Mlle de la Valieer. Madame herself encouraged Louis, realizing that he would therefore be able to visit her more often without placing any blame on herself. She also suspected Louis would soon forget Mlle and return to her. The queen thought the match impossible as she never expected Louis would ever be courting someone not in a royal household and the only woman that disapproved was Louis's mother disapproved.

After 1680 and his wife was dead, he married his mistress, Madame de Maintenon. Around this time he became less athletic, he had always enjoyed riding horseback and would in the end be carried along beside the horses, and much more faithful to his wife. He also grew increasingly more pious and in 1685 he upped his persecution of French Protestants.

See Versailles

AFTER

Despite Louis amazing state building, which made France the envy of Europe, his reign had many short comings. Rent and taxes rose and in some areas population declined. But, cycling famine and plague ended as officials began to supply starving areas with food and suppress plague by keeping it isolated. The church set itself up for educating and hiring more dedicated priests who would help stop outbreaks of irrational ideas such as witchcraft.

Louis had left amazing debts, which France struggled to pay off. The problem was solved by Scottish John Law, who suggested central banks. The banks would issue paper notes, increase credit, and support investment in trading companies. Though it originally succeeded with investors getting profits from Louisiana in North America, the stock was pushed too high and the scheme collapsed in 1720.

After Louis died the nobles reasserted themselves as the powerful leaders they had been before him. Louis heir, unfortunately for the kingship, was his grandson and still very young. Though the duke of Orleans, Louis XIV’s nephew, reigned as regent until 1723, he didn’t have the power Louis had had. The duke also restored Parlement, which would never surrender to the monarch again. But, at least for his grandson’s reign, Louis had set up France as a dominant power.

Works Referenced

Bernier, Olivier. _Louis XIV: A Royal Life_. New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Chambers, Mortimer; Grew, Raymond; Herlihy, David; Rabb, Theodore K.; Woloch, Isser. _The Western Experience: Sixth Edition_. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.
"History and Society: Jean-Baptiste Colbert." _Britannica Online Encyclopedia_. <http://www.britannica.com>.
"History and Society: The Fronde." _Britannica Online Encyclopedia_. <http://www.britannica.com>.