Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV was King of France (1643-1715). His childhood was marked by rebellion. He extended and established his monarchy to the extent that he became the embodiment of absolute monarchy in France. As we will see, it was that outstanding figure who taught Louis XIV the imperial way and led him to the peak of the French monarchy.

 It was Louis XVI, not Louis XIV, who was executed in the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was the queen of Louis XVI.

Life of Louis XIV

 Louis XIV was a Bourbon king, the eldest son of Louis XIII. Louis XIV would be succeeded by his great-grandson Louis XV.

 When Louis XIV was five years old, his father died and he ascended the throne of France as Louis XIV. In his place as a boy, his mother became regent and chose Jules Mazarin as her vizier. Louis could not obtain real power until Mazarin’s death. Nevertheless, Mazarin taught him politics and diplomacy in order to make him a grand monarch.

 Mazarin had held real power in France as Prime Minister since the reign of Louis XIII. Mazarin carried out policies aimed at strengthening and expanding the French monarchy. This led to the development of an absolute monarchy in France. However, Mazarin sacrificed the privileges and benefits of the nobility in extending royal power. Finally, their dissatisfaction reached its peak. The nobles revolted against Mazarin and the royal power. This is known as the Fronde. Because of this experience in his childhood, Louis became a suspicious person. In particular, he did not trust the great nobles and favored the minor nobles who were under his patronage.

 In 1653, the Fronde finally died down. Louis and Mazarin returned to Paris and regained real power. Under Mazarin’s leadership, France won the war against Spain. Spain was one of the most powerful countries in Western Europe in the first half of the 17th century. France, England, and other countries tried to suppress Spanish power. France won this battle against Spain and concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. One of the terms of the treaty was a political marriage between Louis XIV and Maria Teresa, Princess of Spain. This political marriage would later be used as the justification for France’s war of expansion.

 The absolute monarchy

 After Mazarin’s death, Louis XIV’s rule began in 1661. In other words, Louis himself took real power and conducted politics. This was rather exceptional in Europe at that time. For it was common practice for monarchs to delegate political power to their favorites. However, Louis continued to exercise real power until his death in 1715.

 Until then, a centralized bureaucratic state had been established in France by the outstanding viziers Mazarin and Richelieu. This was a time when the power of the king’s central government did not extend to every part of France enough. The nobles and cities of each region held real power, at least partially., in their own fiefdoms. Richelieu and Mazarin attempted to seize these powers and place them under the authority of the king. They succeeded, and an absolute monarchy was established. Louis XIV was at the top of the heap.

 It is not known whether Louis XIV himself said, “I am the State”. But he established a monarchy that embodied this phrase. However, Louis did not fully realize the idea of absolute monarchy.

 Louis positioned himself as the Sun King and tried to make the nobility and the people accept his royal authority as something majestic. To this end, he tried to subdue them mentally with extravagant ceremonies and feasts.

 Louis also became a patron of various arts. Academies of painting, sculpture, and architecture were created and supported by the royal authority. Outstanding foreign artists were also employed. Louis was also passionate about music and dance.They were particularly successful in the field of architecture. The Palace of Versailles, completed by architects Le Vau and Le Brun, is a prime example. The Palace of Versailles was the new royal residence of France. Louis XIV also promoted the development of learning by creating the Académie des Sciences. However, he also established a system of censorship.

 As king, Louis XIV tried to maintain a firm grip on religious authority in France. For the Christianity itself was a kind of high authority at that time.

 Externally, Louis claimed that the Pope had no authority over the French Church. Since the Middle Ages, the Pope had claimed to have universal authority over the entire Christian Church. In France, however, opposition to the universal authority of the pope began in the early 14th century. It began during the reign of the famous medieval pope Boniface VIII. This movement is called Gallicanism. Louis XIV developed it.

 Domestically, Louis suppressed Jansenism. Jansenism was a sect that originated with a theologian named Jansen. For exemple, Pascal was a Jansenist. However, Louis’ policy of repression did not work.

 In addition, Louis suppressed Protestantism in France. In the 16th century, a disastrous religious war broke out between Catholics and Calvinist Protestants in France. At the end of the 16th century, the Edict of Nantes was issued by Henri IV. This ended the war and allowed Calvinist Protestants to practice their faith. However, this policy of toleration gradually became a lost cause. Finally, in 1685, Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, repealing the Edict of Nantes. He intensified the suppression of Protestantism. As a result, many Protestants went into exile in the Dutch republic and other countries. Many princes at home and abroad came to oppose Louis because of this policy.

 Economy and War

 On the economic front, Louis first appointed Colbert as Intendant of Finances. The period in which they lived was known as the “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century” because of the bad weather and other problems. Food and other commodities could not be produced adequately, and epidemics spread, causing great damage to society and the economy. Under such circumstances, Colbert implemented policies to foster domestic industry and profit from overseas trade, and achieved a certain degree of success. The Dutch republic, then one of the European powerful countries, was its model and rival.

 Louis launched wars against Flanders and the Dutch republic to expand its territory in the north. He won the war , acquiring, among others, Franche-Comté and Artois at the Peace of Nijmegen in 1678. But the enormous cost of the war weighed heavily on France and frustrated Colbert’s policies.

 Instead of maritime expansion, Louis sought to expand his power on the European continent. Under the leadership of Le Tellier, he sought to strengthen his land forces. Louis’ expansionist policies provoked neighboring countries. The Holy Roman Emperor, England, and others began to build alliances. 1688 finally saw the formation of the League of Augsburg and the start of the War of the League of Augsburg. This was a war between France and other European nations. The above-mentioned persecution of Protestants in France was also a factor in the war. The Peace of Ryswick in 1697 restored the borders of France to what they had been in 1679.

 Finally, France had the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The above-mentioned political marriage of Louis XIV led to the accession of his grandson Philippe to the throne as King Felipe V of Spain. However, in order to prevent the union of the two great powers, England and the Dutch republic launched wars against France and Spain. This ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

 The Treaty of Utrecht strengthened British dominance. Britain gained the right to supply slaves (asiento) to the Spanish colonies and developed as a maritime empire.

 In the last years of Louis XIV’s reign, France was gradually worn down by repeated wars, rebellions, and bad weather. Louis was at war for 31 years of his long reign. Most of his motives were economic. At least two months of every year were spent in military action. As a result, French territory expanded. But it was economically exhausting.

Louis XIV

☆ Travel and sightseeing places in France of Louis XIV: Palace of Versailles

 The Palace of Versailles in France is recommended as a historic sightseeing spot related to Louis XIV. It takes about one hour from Paris by train.

 The buildings of the Palace of Versailles were originally built by the French royal family as a hunting pavilion. As a royal palace, the Tuileries Palace already existed in Paris. Catherine de Medicis had it built. It was Louis XIV who had the Palace of Versailles enlarged and turned it into a royal residence. After his death, the palace continued to be enlarged.

 Versailles is home to a variety of excellent paintings. Many of them depicting the Palace of Versailles are also on display, allowing visitors to see how the palace has changed over time. The interior of Versailles itself is elaborately decorated, with motifs from classical antiquity.

 The Palace of Versailles itself is quite large, but the gardens attached to it are the most impressive. The servants of the princes and nobles who lived in the palace established villages in the immediate vicinity of the palace. These sites were later developed into gardens. Therefore, the grounds of the garden are vast. A kind of minibus runs through the garden. Of course, the gardens are not only vast, but also elaborately designed.

 Figures associated with Louis XIV

Mazarin: Prime Minister of Louis XIV. Together with Richelieu, who was also a vizier, he prepared the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV. Surprisingly, he was originally an Italian clergyman. How, then, did he come to France and rise to the position of Prime Minister?

Louis XV: Great-grandson of Louis XIV and the next king of France. After the golden age of Louis XIV had passed, what kind of era did Louis XV usher in for France?

Recommended or Selected References

千葉治男『ルイ14世 : フランス絶対王政の虚実』清水書院, 2018
佐々木真『ルイ14世期の戦争と芸術 : 生みだされる王権のイメージ』作品社, 2016

Philip Mansel, King of the world : the life of Louis XIV, Penguin, 2022

Hall Bjørnstad, The dream of absolutism : Louis XIV and the logic of modernity, University of Chicago Press, 2021