The Unparalleled Reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France

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• Part 2: Absolute Power
• Part 3: War after War

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Part 1: Born into Royalty

Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, was Europe's most powerful monarch in the 17th Century. He reigned for 72 years and oversaw his country's development into an economic and military powerhouse.

Louis XIV and mother

He was born on Sept. 5, 1638, at St. Germain-en-Laye. His father was King Louis XIII, and his mother was Anne of Austria. The king died when young Louis was just 4, and the boy ascended the throne, with his mother acting as regent and Cardinal Mazarin, the king's chief minister, continuing in that role. Mazarin was Louis' tutor and taught him all he could about history, politics, and the arts from Mazarin and other tutors.

A series of rebellions against the king's mother and chief minister known as the Fronde threatened the rule and safety of all three of them. Twice, rebellious soldiers drove the royal family out of Paris; on another occasion, they were under house arrest in the Paris royal palace. The five-year Fronde wrecked the country's finances and soured Louis' opinion of his people in general and of Paris in particular. As a result, he spent more and more time out of the capital.

Louis had been born during the latter stages of the Thirty Years War, a religious conflict that enveloped nearly the entirety of Europe and was ended by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It took another 11 years to end armed conflict with Spain; the Peace of the Pyrenees was concluded in 1659.

Louis XIV in 1660

Louis was 22 in 1660 when he married Maria Thérèse, whose father was King Philip IV of Spain. It was this marriage that helped cement the peace between France and Spain. They had six children, only one of whom survived past the age of 5. (As a young lad, Louis had fallen in love with Mazarin's niece, Marie Mancini. Opposition from Mazarin and Louis' mother nixed the relationship.)

The very next year marked a turning point in the king's life. Cardinal Mazarin died, in 1661, and Louis decided not to replace him. Rather than have a chief minister, as most of his predecessors had done, Louis XIV declared that he would be his own chief minister. Further, he declared himself an absolute monarch, answering only to God. This is when he took the name the Sun King, with its accompanying solar image. This was the genesis of his most famous quote, "L'état, c'est moi." (Whether he actually said it remains uncertain.) Louis' mother died of cancer in 1666; she had retired to a convent when Louis assumed total power.

Next page > Absolute Power > Page 1, 2, 3

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David White