“Louis XIV” and “Louis Quatorze” redirect here. For other uses, see Louis XIV (disambiguation) and Louis Quatorze (disambiguation).
Louis XIV (5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715), known as Louis the Great (Louis le Grand) or the Sun King (le Roi Soleil), was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who reigned as King of France from 1643 until his death in 1715. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country in European history. In the age of absolutism in Europe, Louis XIV’s France was a leader in the growing centralization of power.
Louis began his personal rule of France in 1661, after the death of his chief minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin. An adherent of the concept of the divine right of kings, which advocates the divine origin of monarchical rule, Louis continued his predecessors’ work of creating a centralized state governed from the capital. He sought to eliminate the remnants of feudalism persisting in parts of France and, by compelling many members of the nobility to inhabit his lavish Palace of Versailles (formerly a hunting lodge belonging to Louis’ father), succeeded in pacifying the aristocracy, many members of which had participated in the Fronde rebellion during Louis’ minority. By these means he became one of the most powerful French monarchs and consolidated a system of absolute monarchical rule in France that endured until the French Revolution.
Louis encouraged and benefited from the work of prominent political, military, and cultural figures such as Mazarin, Colbert, Louvois, the Grand Condé, Turenne, and Vauban, as well as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Lully, Marais, Le Brun, Rigaud, Bossuet, Le Vau, Mansart, Charles and Claude Perrault, and Le Nôtre. Under his rule, the Edict of Nantes, which granted rights to Huguenots, was abolished. The revocation effectively forced Huguenots to emigrate or convert in a wave of dragonnades, which managed to virtually destroy the French Protestant minority.
During Louis’ reign, France was the leading European power, and it fought three major wars: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession. There were also two lesser conflicts: the War of Devolution and the War of the Reunions. Warfare defined Louis XIV’s foreign policies, and his personality shaped his approach. Impelled “by a mix of commerce, revenge, and pique”, Louis sensed that warfare was the ideal way to enhance his glory. In peacetime he concentrated on preparing for the next war. He taught his diplomats that their job was to create tactical and strategic advantages for the French military.
Louis XIV was born on 5 September 1638 in the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. He was named Louis Dieudonné (Louis the God-given) and bore the traditional title of French heirs apparent: Dauphin. At the time of his birth, his parents had been married for 23 years. His mother had experienced four stillbirths between 1619 and 1631. Leading contemporaries thus regarded him as a divine gift and his birth a miracle of God.
Sensing imminent death, Louis XIII decided to put his affairs in order in the spring of 1643, when Louis XIV was four years old. In defiance of custom, which would have made Queen Anne the sole Regent of France, the king decreed that a regency council would rule on his son’s behalf. His lack of faith in Queen Anne’s political abilities was his primary rationale. He did, however, make the concession of appointing her head of the council.
Louis’ relationship with his mother was uncommonly affectionate for the time. Contemporaries and eyewitnesses claimed that the Queen would spend all her time with Louis. Both were greatly interested in food and theatre, and it is highly likely that Louis developed these interests through his close relationship with his mother. This long-lasting and loving relationship can be evidenced by excerpts in Louis’ journal entries, such as:
“Nature was responsible for the first knots which tied me to my mother. But attachments formed later by shared qualities of the spirit are far more difficult to break than those formed merely by blood.”
It was his mother who gave Louis his belief in the absolute and divine power of his monarchical rule.
In 1646, Nicolas V de Villeroy became the young king’s tutor. Louis XIV became friends with Villeroy’s young children, particularly François de Villeroy, and divided his time between the Palais-Royal and the nearby Hotel de Villeroy.
Minority and the Fronde
Further information: Franco-Spanish War (1635–59)
On 14 May 1643, with Louis XIII dead, Queen Anne had her husband’s will annulled by the Parlement de Paris (a judicial body comprising mostly nobles and high clergymen). This action abolished the regency council and made Anne sole Regent of France. Anne exiled some of her husband’s ministers (Chavigny, Bouthilier), and she nominated Brienne as her minister of foreign affairs; she also nominated Saint Vincent de Paul as her spiritual adviser, which helped her deal with religious policy and the Jansenism question.
Anne kept the direction of religious policy strongly in her hand until 1661; her most important political decisions were to nominate Cardinal Mazarin as her chief minister and her continuation of her late husband’s and Cardinal Richelieu‘s policy, despite their persecution of her, for the sake of her son. Anne wanted to give her son an absolute authority and a victorious kingdom. Her rationales for choosing Mazarin were mainly his ability and his total dependence on her, at least until 1653 when she was no longer regent. Anne protected Mazarin by arresting and exiling her followers who conspired against him in 1643: the Duke of Beaufort and Marie de Rohan. She left the direction of the daily administration of policy to Cardinal Mazarin.
The best example of Anne’s statesmanship and the partial change in her heart towards her native Spain is seen in her keeping of one of Richelieu’s men, the Chancellor of France Pierre Séguier, in his post. Séguier was the person who had interrogated Anne in 1637, treating her like a “common criminal” as she described her treatment following the discovery that she was giving military secrets and information to Spain. Anne was virtually under house arrest for a number of years during her husband’s rule, and was physically searched and almost insulted by the chancellor according to certain sources. By keeping him in his post, Anne was giving a sign that the interests of France and her son Louis were the guiding spirit of all her political and legal actions. Though not necessarily opposed to Spain, she sought to end the war with a French victory, in order to establish a lasting peace between the Catholic nations.
The Queen also gave a partial Catholic orientation to French foreign policy. This was felt by the Netherlands, France’s Protestant ally, which negotiated a separate peace with Spain in 1648.
In 1648, Anne and Mazarin successfully negotiated the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. Its terms ensured Dutch independence from Spain, awarded some autonomy to the various German princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and granted Sweden seats on the Imperial Diet and territories to control the mouths of the Oder, Elbe, and Weser rivers. France, however, profited most from the settlement. Austria, ruled by the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand III, ceded all Habsburg lands and claims in Alsace to France and acknowledged her de facto sovereignty over the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Verdun, and Toul. Moreover, eager to emancipate themselves from Habsburg domination, petty German states sought French protection. This anticipated the formation of the 1658 League of the Rhine, leading to the further diminution of Imperial power.
As the Thirty Years’ War came to an end, a civil war known as the Fronde (after the slings used to smash windows) erupted in France. It effectively checked France’s ability to exploit the Peace of Westphalia. Anne and Mazarin had largely pursued the policies of Cardinal Richelieu, augmenting the Crown’s power at the expense of the nobility and the Parlements. Anne interfered much more in internal policy than foreign affairs; she was a very proud queen who insisted on the divine rights of the King of France.
All this led her to advocate a forceful policy in all matters relating to the King’s authority, in a manner that was much more radical than the one proposed by Mazarin. The Cardinal depended totally on Anne’s support and had to use all his influence on the Queen to avoid nullifying, but to restrain some of her radical actions. Anne imprisoned any aristocrat or member of parliament who challenged her will; her main aim was to transfer to her son an absolute authority in the matters of finance and justice. One of the leaders of the Parlement of Paris, whom she had jailed, died in prison.
The Frondeurs, political heirs of the disaffected feudal aristocracy, sought to protect their traditional feudal privileges from the increasingly centralized royal government. Furthermore, they believed their traditional influence and authority was being usurped by the recently ennobled bureaucrats (the Noblesse de Robe, or “nobility of the robe”), who administered the kingdom and on whom the monarchy increasingly began to rely. This belief intensified the nobles’ resentment.
In 1648, Anne and Mazarin attempted to tax members of the Parlement de Paris. The members refused to comply and ordered all of the king’s earlier financial edicts burned. Buoyed by the victory of Louis, duc d’Enghien (later known as le Grand Condé) at the Battle of Lens, Mazarin, on Queen Anne’s insistence, arrested certain members in a show of force. The most important arrest, from Anne’s point of view, concerned Pierre Broussel, one of the most important leaders in the Parlement de Paris.
People in France were complaining about the expansion of royal authority, the high rate of taxation, and the reduction of the authority of the Parlement de Paris and other regional representative entities. Paris erupted in rioting as a result, and Anne was forced, under intense pressure, to free Broussel.
Moreover, 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, who was feigning sleep, were appeased, and then quietly departed. The threat to the royal family prompted Anne to flee Paris with the king and his courtiers.
Shortly thereafter, the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia allowed Condé’s army to return to aid Louis and his court. Condé’s family was close to Anne at that time, and he agreed to help her attempt to restore the king’s authority.
The queen’s army, headed by Condé, attacked the rebels in Paris; the rebels were under the political control of Anne’s old friend Marie de Rohan. Beaufort, who had escaped from the prison where Anne had incarcerated him five years before, was the military leader in Paris, under the nominal control of Conti. After a few battles, a political compromise was reached; the Peace of Rueil was signed, and the court returned to Paris.
Unfortunately for Anne, her partial victory depended on Condé, who wanted to control the queen and destroy Mazarin’s influence. It was Condé’s sister who pushed him to turn against the queen.
After striking a deal with her old friend Marie de Rohan, who was able to impose the nomination of Charles de l’Aubespine, marquis de Châteauneuf as minister of justice, Anne arrested Condé, his brother Armand de Bourbon, Prince of Conti, and the husband of their sister Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, duchess of Longueville. This situation did not last long, and Mazarin’s unpopularity led to the creation of a coalition headed mainly by Marie de Rohan and the duchess of Longueville. This aristocratic coalition was strong enough to liberate the princes, exile Mazarin, and impose a condition of virtual house arrest on Queen Anne.
All these events were witnessed by Louis and largely explained his later distrust of Paris and the higher aristocracy  “In one sense, Louis’ childhood came to an end with the outbreak of the Fronde. It was not only that life became insecure and unpleasant – a fate meted out to many children in all ages – but that Louis had to be taken into the confidence of his mother and Mazarin and political and military matters of which he could have no deep understanding”. “The family home became at times a near-prison when Paris had to be abandoned, not in carefree outings to other chateaux but in humiliating flights”. The royal family was driven out of Paris twice in this manner, and at one point Louis XIV and Anne were held under virtual arrest in the royal palace in Paris. The Fronde years planted in Louis a hatred of Paris and a consequent determination to move out of the ancient capital as soon as possible, never to return.
Just as the first Fronde (the Fronde parlementaire of 1648–1649) ended, a second one (the Fronde des princes of 1650–1653) began. Unlike that which preceded it, tales of sordid intrigue and half-hearted warfare characterized this second phase of upper-class insurrection. To the aristocracy, this rebellion represented a protest against and a reversal of their political demotion from vassals to courtiers. It was headed by the highest-ranking French nobles, among them Louis’ uncle Gaston, Duke of Orléans and first cousin Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier, known as la Grande Mademoiselle; Princes of the Blood such as Condé, his brother Armand, Prince of Conti, and their sister the Duchess of Longueville; dukes of legitimised royal descent, such as Henri, Duke of Longueville, and François, Duke of Beaufort; so-called “foreign princes” such as Frédéric Maurice, Duke of Bouillon, his brother Marshal Turenne, and Marie de Rohan, Duchess of Chevreuse; and scions of France’s oldest families, such as François de La Rochefoucauld.
Queen Anne played the most important role in defeating the Fronde because she wanted to transfer absolute authority to her son. In addition, most of the princes refused to deal with Mazarin, who went into exile for a number of years. The Frondeurs claimed to act on Louis’ behalf, and in his real interest against his mother and Mazarin.
Queen Anne had a very close relationship with the Cardinal, and many observers believed that Mazarin became Louis XIV’s stepfather by a secret marriage to Queen Anne. However, Louis’ coming-of-age and subsequent coronation deprived them of the Frondeurs‘ pretext for revolt. The Fronde thus gradually lost steam and ended in 1653, when Mazarin returned triumphantly from exile. From that time until his death, Mazarin was in charge of foreign and financial policy without the daily supervision of Anne, who was no longer regent.
During this period, Louis fell in love with Mazarin’s niece Marie Mancini, but Anne and Mazarin ended the king’s infatuation by sending Mancini away from court to be married in Italy. While Mazarin might have been tempted for a short period of time to marry his niece to the King of France, Queen Anne was absolutely against this; she wanted to marry her son to the daughter of her brother, Philip IV of Spain, for both dynastic and political reasons. Mazarin soon supported the Queen’s position because he knew that her support for his power and his foreign policy depended on making peace with Spain from a strong position and on the Spanish marriage. Additionally, Mazarin’s relations with Marie Mancini were not good, and he did not trust her to support his position. All of Louis’ tears and his supplications to his mother did not make her change her mind; the Spanish marriage was very important both for its role in ending the war between France and Spain, and because many of the claims and objectives of Louis’ foreign policy in the next 50 years would be based on this marriage.
Personal reign and reforms
Coming of age and early reforms
Louis XIV was declared to have reached the age of majority on 7 September 1651. On the death of Mazarin, in March 1661, Louis assumed personal control of the reins of government and astonished his court by declaring that he would rule without a chief minister: “Up to this moment I have been pleased to entrust the government of my affairs to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself. You [he was talking to the secretaries and ministers of state] will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to seal no orders except by my command . . . I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport . . . without my command; to render account to me personally each day and to favor no one”. Louis was able to capitalize on the widespread public yearning for law and order, that resulted from prolonged foreign wars and domestic civil strife, to further consolidate central political authority and reform at the expense of the feudal aristocracy. Praising his ability to choose and encourage men of talent, the historian Chateaubriand noted: “it is the voice of genius of all kinds which sounds from the tomb of Louis”.
Louis began his personal reign with administrative and fiscal reforms. In 1661, the treasury verged on bankruptcy. To rectify the situation, Louis chose Jean-Baptiste Colbert as Controller-General of Finances in 1665. However, Louis first had to neutralize Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances, in order to give Colbert a free hand. Although Fouquet’s financial indiscretions were not very different from Mazarin’s before him or Colbert’s after him, his ambition was worrying to Louis. He had, for example, built an opulent château at Vaux-le-Vicomte where he entertained Louis and his court ostentatiously, as if he were wealthier than the king himself. The court was left with the impression that the vast sums of money needed to support his lifestyle could only have been obtained through embezzlement of government funds.
Fouquet appeared eager to succeed Mazarin and Richelieu in assuming power, and he indiscreetly purchased and privately fortified the remote island of Belle Île. These acts sealed his doom. Fouquet was charged with embezzlement. The Parlement found him guilty and sentenced him to exile. However, Louis altered the sentence to life-imprisonment and abolished Fouquet’s post.
With Fouquet dismissed, Colbert reduced the national debt through more efficient taxation. The principal taxes included the aides and douanes (both customs duties), the gabelle (a tax on salt), and the taille (a tax on land).The taille was reduced at first; financial officials were forced to keep regular accounts, auctioning certain taxes instead of selling them privately to a favored few, revising inventories and removing unauthorized exemptions (for example, in 1661 only 10 per cent from the royal domain reached the King). Reform proved difficult because the taille was levied by officers of the Crown who had purchased their post at a high price: punishment of abuses necessarily lowered the value of the post. Nevertheless, excellent results were achieved: the deficit of 1661 turned into a surplus in 1666. The interest on the debt was reduced from 52 million to 24 million livres. The taille was reduced to 42 million in 1661 and 35 million in 1665; finally the revenue from indirect taxation progressed from 26 million to 55 million. The revenues of the royal domain were raised from 80,000 livres in 1661 to 5,5 million livres in 1671. In 1661, the receipts were equivalent to 26 million British pounds, of which 10 million reached the treasury. The expenditure was around 18 million pounds, leaving a deficit of 8 million. In 1667, the net receipts had risen to 20 million pounds sterling, while expenditure had fallen to 11 million, leaving a surplus of 9 million pounds.
To support the reorganized and enlarged army, the panoply of Versailles, and the growing civil administration, the king needed a good deal of money. Finance had always been the weak spot in the French monarchy: methods of collecting taxes were costly and inefficient; direct taxes passed through the hands of many intermediate officials; and indirect taxes were collected by private concessionaries, called tax farmers, who made a substantial profit. Consequently, the state always received far less than what the taxpayers actually paid.
The main weakness arose from an old bargain between the French crown and nobility: the king might raise taxes without consent if only he refrained from taxing the nobles. Only the “unprivileged” classes paid direct taxes, and this term came to mean the peasants only, since many bourgeois, in one way or another, obtained exemptions.
The system was outrageously unjust in throwing a heavy tax burden on the poor and helpless. Later, after 1700, the French ministers who were supported by Louis’ secret wife Madame De Maintenon, were able to convince the king to change his fiscal policy. Louis was willing enough to tax the nobles but was unwilling to fall under their control, and only towards the close of his reign, under extreme stress of war, was he able, for the first time in French history, to impose direct taxes on the aristocratic elements of the population. This was a step toward equality before the law and toward sound public finance, but so many concessions and exemptions were won by nobles and bourgeois that the reform lost much of its value.
Louis and Colbert also had wide-ranging plans to bolster French commerce and trade. Colbert’s mercantilist administration established new industries and encouraged manufacturers and inventors, such as the Lyon silk manufacturers and the Gobelins manufactory, a producer of tapestries. He invited manufacturers and artisans from all over Europe to France, such as Murano glassmakers, Swedish ironworkers, and Dutch shipbuilders. In this way, he aimed to decrease foreign imports while increasing French exports, hence reducing the net outflow of precious metals from France.
Louis instituted reforms in military administration through Michel le Tellier and the latter’s son François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois. They helped to curb the independent spirit of the nobility, imposing order on them at court and in the army. Gone were the days when generals protracted war at the frontiers while bickering over precedence and ignoring orders from the capital and the larger politico-diplomatic picture. The old military aristocracy (the Noblesse d’épée, or “nobility of the sword”) ceased to have a monopoly over senior military positions and rank. Louvois, in particular, pledged to modernize the army and re-organize it into a professional, disciplined, well-trained force. He was devoted to the soldiers’ material well-being and morale, and even tried to direct campaigns.
Relations with the major colonies
Legal matters did not escape Louis’ attention, as is reflected in the numerous “Great Ordinances” he enacted. Pre-revolutionary France was a patchwork of legal systems, with as many legal customs as there were provinces, and two co-existing legal traditions—customary law in the north and Roman civil law in the south. The ‘Grande Ordonnance de Procédure Civile’ of 1667, also known as the Code Louis, was a comprehensive legal code attempting a uniform regulation of civil procedure throughout legally irregular France. Among other things, it prescribed baptismal, marriage and death records in the state’s registers, not the church’s, and it strictly regulated the right of the Parlements to remonstrate. The Code Louis played an important part in French legal history as the basis for the Napoleonic code, itself derived from many modern legal codes.
One of Louis’ more infamous decrees was the Grande Ordonnance sur les Colonies of 1685, also known as the Code Noir (“black code”). Although it sanctioned slavery, it attempted to humanise the practice by prohibiting the separation of families. Additionally, in the colonies, only Roman Catholics could own slaves, and these had to be baptised.
Louis ruled through a number of councils:
- Conseil d’en haut (“High Council”, concerning the most important matters of state)—composed of the king, the crown prince, the contrôleur général des finances (minister of finances), and the secretaries of state in charge of various departments. The members of that council were called ministers of state.
- Conseil des dépêches (“Council of Messages”, concerning notices and administrative reports from the provinces).
- Conseil de Conscience (“Council of Conscience”, concerning religious affairs and episcopal appointments).
- Conseil royal des finances (“Royal Council of Finances”) who was headed by the “chef du conseil des finances” (an honorary post in most cases)—this was one of the few posts in the council that was opened to the high aristocracy.
Early wars in the Low Countries
The death of King Philip IV of Spain, in 1665, precipitated the War of Devolution. In 1660, Louis had married Philip IV’s eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, as one of the provisions of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. The marriage treaty specified that Maria Theresa was to renounce all claims to Spanish territory for herself and all her descendants. Mazarin and Lionne, however, made the renunciation conditional on the full payment of a Spanish dowry of 500,000 écus. The dowry was never paid and would later play a part persuading Charles II of Spain to leave his empire to Philip, Duke of Anjou (later Philip V of Spain), the grandson of Louis and Maria Theresa.
The War of Devolution did not focus on the payment of the dowry, rather, the lack of payment was what Louis XIV used as a pretext for nullifying Maria Theresa’s renunciation of her claims, allowing the land to “devolve” to him. In the Brabant (the location of the land in dispute), children of first marriages traditionally were not disadvantaged by their parents’ remarriages and still inherited property. Louis’ wife was Philip IV’s daughter by his first marriage, while the new King of Spain, Charles II, was his son by a subsequent marriage. Thus, Brabant allegedly “devolved” to Maria Theresa. This excuse allowed France to attack the Spanish Netherlands.
Relations with the Dutch
Internal problems in the Dutch Republic aided Louis’ designs. The most prominent politician in the Dutch Republic at the time, the “Grand Pensionary” Johan de Witt, feared the ambition of the young William III, Prince of Orange, specifically dispossession of his supreme power and the restoration of the House of Orange to the influence it had enjoyed before the death of William II, Prince of Orange. The Dutch were thus initially more preoccupied with domestic affairs than the French advance into Spanish territory. Moreover, the French were nominally their allies against the English in the ongoing Second Anglo-Dutch War. Shocked by the rapidity of French successes and fearful of the future, the Dutch decided to abandon their nominal allies and made peace with England. Joined by Sweden, the English and Dutch formed a Triple Alliance in 1668. The threat of an escalation of the conflict in the Low Countries and a secret treaty partitioning the Spanish succession with Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, the other major claimant to the throne of Spain, induced Louis to make peace.
The Triple Alliance did not last very long. In 1670, French gold bought the adherence of Charles II of England to the secret Treaty of Dover. France and England, along with certain Rhineland princes, declared war on the Dutch Republic in 1672, igniting the Franco-Dutch War. The rapid invasion and occupation of most of the Netherlands precipitated a coup that toppled De Witt and brought William III to power.
In 1674, when France lost the assistance of England, which sued for peace by the Treaty of Westminster, William III received the help of Spain, the Emperor Leopold I, and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite these diplomatic reversals, the French continued to triumph against overwhelming opposing forces. Within a few weeks, in 1674, French forces led by Louis captured all of the Spanish-held Franche-Comté. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Condé trounced William III’s coalition army of Austrians, Dutchmen, and Spaniards at the Battle of Seneffe, and prevented him from descending on Paris. Another outnumbered general, Turenne, conducted a daring and brilliant campaign in the winter of 1674–1675 against the Imperial armies under Raimondo Montecuccoli, driving them back across the Rhine river out of Alsace, which had been invaded. Through a series of feints, marches, and counter-marches in 1678, Louis besieged and captured Ghent.
By placing Louis in a military position far superior to his enemies’, these victories brought the war to a speedy end. Six years of war had exhausted Europe, and peace negotiations were soon concluded in 1678 with the Treaty of Nijmegen. Although Louis returned all the Dutch territory he had captured, he retained the Franche-Comté and gained more land in the Spanish Netherlands.
The conclusion of a general peace permitted Louis to intervene in the Scanian War in 1679, on behalf of his ally Sweden. He forced Brandenburg-Prussia to the peace table at the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and imposed peace on Denmark-Norway by the Treaty of Fontainebleau and the Peace of Lund, all concluded in 1679.
|Silver coin of Louis XIV, dated 1674|
|Obverse. The Latin inscription is LVDOVICVS XIIII D[EI] GRA[TIA] (“Louis XIV, by the grace of God”).||Reverse. The Latin inscription is FRAN[CIÆ] ET NAVARRÆ REX 1674 (“King of France and of Navarre, 1674”).|
The successful conclusion of the Treaty of Nijmegen enhanced French influence in Europe, but Louis was still not satisfied. In 1679, he dismissed his foreign minister Simon Arnauld, marquis de Pomponne, because he was seen as having compromised too much with the allies. Louis maintained the strength of his army, but in his next series of territorial claims avoided using military force alone. Rather, he combined it with legal pretexts in his efforts to augment the boundaries of his kingdom. Contemporary treaties were intentionally phrased ambiguously. Louis established the Chambers of Reunion to determine the full extent of his rights and obligations under those treaties.
Cities and territories, such as Luxembourg and Casale, were prized for their strategic positions on the frontier and access to important waterways. Louis also sought Strasbourg, an important strategic crossing on the left bank of the Rhine and theretofore a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, annexing it and other territories in 1681. Although a part of Alsace, Strasbourg was not part of Habsburg-ruled Alsace and was thus not ceded to France in the Peace of Westphalia.
Following these annexations, Spain declared war, precipitating the War of the Reunions. However, the Spanish were rapidly defeated because the Emperor (distracted by the Great Turkish War) abandoned them, and the Dutch only supported them minimally. By the Truce of Ratisbon, in 1684, Spain was forced to acquiesce in the French occupation of most of the conquered territories, for 20 years.
Louis’ policy of the Réunions may have raised France to its greatest size and power during his reign, but it alienated much of Europe. This poor public opinion was compounded by French actions off the Barbary Coast and at Genoa. First, Louis had Algiers and Tripoli, two Barbary pirate strongholds, bombarded to obtain a favourable treaty and the liberation of Christian slaves. Next, in 1684, a punitive mission was launched against Genoa in retaliation for its support for Spain in previous wars. Although the Genoese submitted, and the Doge led an official mission of apology to Versailles, France gained a reputation for brutality and arrogance. European apprehension at growing French might and the realisation of the extent of the dragonnades’ effect (discussed below) led many states to abandon their alliance with France. Accordingly, by the late 1680s, France became increasingly isolated in Europe.
Non-European relations and the colonies
Further information: Orientalism in early modern France
French colonies multiplied in Africa, the Americas, and Asia during Louis’ reign, and French explorers made important discoveries in North America. In 1673, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette discovered the Mississippi River. In 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, followed the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the vast Mississippi basin in Louis’ name, calling it Louisiane. French trading posts were also established in India, at Chandernagore and Pondicherry, and in the Indian Ocean at Île Bourbon.
Meanwhile, diplomatic relations were initiated with distant countries. In 1669, Suleiman Aga led an Ottoman embassy to revive the old Franco-Ottoman alliance. Then, in 1682, after the reception of the Moroccan embassy of Mohammed Tenim in France, Moulay Ismail, Sultan of Morocco, allowed French consular and commercial establishments in his country. In 1699, Louis once again received a Moroccan ambassador, Abdallah bin Aisha, and in 1715, he received a Persian embassy led by Mohammad Reza Beg.
From farther afield, Siam dispatched an embassy in 1684, reciprocated by the French magnificently the next year under Alexandre, Chevalier de Chaumont. This, in turn, was succeeded by another Siamese embassy under Kosa Pan, superbly received at Versailles in 1686. Louis then sent another embassy in 1687, under Simon de la Loubère, and French influence grew at the Siamese court, which granted Mergui as a naval base to France. However, the death of Narai, King of Ayutthaya, the execution of his pro-French minister Constantine Phaulkon, and the Siege of Bangkok in 1688 ended this era of French influence.
France also attempted to participate actively in Jesuit missions to China. To break the Portuguese dominance there, Louis sent Jesuit missionaries to the court of the Kangxi Emperor in 1685: Jean de Fontaney, Joachim Bouvet, Jean-François Gerbillon, Louis Le Comte, and Claude de Visdelou). Louis also received a Chinese Jesuit, Michael Shen Fu-Tsung, at Versailles in 1684. Furthermore, Louis’ librarian and translator Arcadio Huang was Chinese.
Height of power
Centralisation of power
By the early 1680s, Louis had greatly augmented French influence in the world. Domestically, he successfully increased the influence of the crown and its authority over the church and aristocracy, thus consolidating absolute monarchy in France.
Louis initially supported traditional Gallicanism, which limited papal authority in France, and convened an Assembly of the French clergy in November 1681. Before its dissolution eight months later, the Assembly had accepted the Declaration of the Clergy of France, which increased royal authority at the expense of papal power. Without royal approval, bishops could not leave France, and appeals could not be made to the Pope. Additionally, government officials could not be excommunicated for acts committed in pursuance of their duties. Although the king could not make ecclesiastical law, all papal regulations without royal assent were invalid in France. Unsurprisingly, the pope repudiated the Declaration.
By attaching nobles to his court at Versailles, Louis achieved increased control over the French aristocracy. Apartments were built to house those willing to pay court to the king. However, the pensions and privileges necessary to live in a style appropriate to their rank were only possible by waiting constantly on Louis. For this purpose, an elaborate court ritual was created wherein the king became the centre of attention and was observed throughout the day by the public. With his excellent memory, Louis could then see who attended him at court and who was absent, facilitating the subsequent distribution of favours and positions. Another tool Louis used to control his nobility was censorship, which often involved the opening of letters to discern their author’s opinion of the government and king. Moreover, by entertaining, impressing, and domesticating them with extravagant luxury and other distractions, Louis not only cultivated public opinion of him, he also ensured the aristocracy remained under his scrutiny.
Louis’ extravagance at Versailles extended far beyond the scope of elaborate court rituals. In an excerpt from Diderot‘s Encyclopédie, Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton recounts a story in which Louis took delivery of an African elephant as a gift.
In 1668 the king of Portugal sent an elephant from the kingdom of Congo to the king of France. It was seventeen years old and measured six and a half feet from the ground to the top of its back. The elephant lived in the menagerie at Versailles for thirteen years and only grew a further foot, no doubt because the change in climate and food had stunted its growth; so it measured just seven and a half feet when the gentlemen of the Royal Academy of Sciences carried out their description of it.
This, along with the prohibition of private armies, prevented them from passing time on their own estates and in their regional power bases, from which they historically waged local wars and plotted resistance to royal authority. Louis thus compelled and seduced the old military aristocracy (the “nobility of the sword”) into becoming his ceremonial courtiers, further weakening their power. In their place, Louis raised commoners or the more recently ennobled bureaucratic aristocracy (the “nobility of the robe”). He judged that royal authority thrived more surely by filling high executive and administrative positions with these men because they could be more easily dismissed than nobles of ancient lineage, with entrenched influence. It is believed that Louis’ policies were rooted in his experiences during the Fronde, when men of high birth readily took up the rebel cause against their king, who was actually the kinsman of some. This victory of Louis’ over the nobility may have then in fact ensured the end of major civil wars in France until the French Revolution about a century later.
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Main article: Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
It has traditionally been suggested that the devout Madame de Maintenon pushed Louis to persecute Protestants and revoke the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which awarded Huguenots political and religious freedom, but her influence in the matter is now being questioned. Louis, himself, saw the persistence of Protestantism as a disgraceful reminder of royal powerlessness. After all, the Edict was the pragmatic concession of his grandfather Henry IV to end the longstanding French Wars of Religion. An additional factor in Louis’ thinking was the prevailing contemporary European principle to assure socio-political stability was cuius regio, eius religio (“whose realm, his religion”), the idea that the religion of the ruler should be the religion of the realm (as originally confirmed in central Europe in the Peace of Augsburg of 1555).
Responding to petitions, Louis initially excluded Protestants from office, constrained the meeting of synods, closed churches outside of Edict-stipulated areas, banned Protestant outdoor preachers, and prohibited domestic Protestant migration. He also disallowed Protestant-Catholic intermarriages to which third parties objected, encouraged missions to the Protestants, and rewarded converts to Catholicism. This discrimination did not encounter much Protestant resistance, and a steady conversion of Protestants occurred, especially among the noble elites.
In 1681, Louis dramatically increased his persecution of Protestants. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio generally had also meant that subjects who refused to convert could emigrate, but Louis banned emigration and effectively insisted that all Protestants must be converted. Secondly, following the proposal of René de Marillac and the Marquis of Louvois, he began quartering dragoons in Protestant homes. Although this was within his legal rights, the dragonnades inflicted severe financial strain on Protestants and atrocious abuse. Between 300,000 and 400,000 Huguenots converted, as this entailed financial rewards and exemption from the dragonnades.
On 15 October 1685, Louis issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which cited the redundancy of privileges for Protestants given their scarcity after the extensive conversions. The Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the Edict of Nantes and repealed all the privileges that arose therefrom. By his edict, Louis no longer tolerated the existence of Protestant groups, pastors, or churches in France. No further churches were to be constructed, and those already existing were to be demolished. Pastors could choose either exile or a secular life. Those Protestants who had resisted conversion were now to be baptised forcibly into the established church.
Writers have debated Louis’ reasons for issuing the Edict of Fontainebleau. He may have been seeking to placate Pope Innocent XI, with whom relations were tense and whose aid was necessary to determine the outcome of a succession crisis in the Electorate of Cologne. He may also have acted to upstage Emperor Leopold I and regain international prestige after the latter defeated the Turks without Louis’ help. Otherwise, he may simply have desired to end the remaining divisions in French society dating to the Wars of Religion by fulfilling his coronation oath to eradicate heresy.
Many historians have condemned the Edict of Fontainebleau as gravely harmful to France. In support, they cite the emigration of about 200,000 highly skilled Huguenots (roughly one-fourth of the Protestant population, or 1% of the French population) who defied royal decrees and fled France for various Protestant states, weakening the French economy and enriching that of Protestant states.
On the other hand, there are historians who view this as an exaggeration. They argue that most of France’s preeminent Protestant businessmen and industrialists converted to Catholicism and remained.
What is certain is that reaction to the Edict was mixed. Even while French Catholic leaders exulted, Pope Innocent XI still argued with Louis over Gallicanism and criticised the use of violence. Protestants across Europe were horrified at the treatment of their co-religionists, but most Catholics in France applauded the move. Nonetheless, it is indisputable that Louis’ public image in most of Europe, especially in Protestant regions, was dealt a severe blow.
In the end, however, despite renewed tensions with the Camisards of south-central France at the end of his reign, Louis may have helped ensure that his successor would experience fewer instances of the religion-based disturbances that had plagued his forebears. French society would sufficiently change by the time of his descendant, Louis XVI, to welcome tolerance in the form of the 1787 Edict of Versailles, also known as the Edict of Tolerance. This restored to non-Catholics their civil rights and the freedom to worship openly. With the advent of the French Revolution in 1789, Protestants were granted equal rights with their Roman Catholic counterparts.
League of Augsburg
Causes and conduct of the war
The War of the League of Augsburg, which lasted from 1688 to 1697, initiated a period of decline in Louis’ political and diplomatic fortunes. The conflict arose from two events in the Rhineland. First, in 1685, the Elector Palatine Charles II died. All that remained of his immediate family was Louis’ sister-in-law, Elizabeth Charlotte. German law ostensibly barred her from succeeding to her brother’s lands and electoral dignity, but it was unclear enough for arguments in favour of Elizabeth Charlotte to have a chance of success. Conversely, the princess was clearly entitled to a division of the family’s personal property. Louis pressed her claims to land and chattels, hoping the latter, at least, would be given to her. Then, in 1688, Maximilian Henry of Bavaria, Archbishop of Cologne, an ally of France, died. The archbishopric had traditionally been held by the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria. However, the Bavarian claimant to replace Maximilian Henry, Prince Joseph Clemens of Bavaria, was at that time not more than 17 years old and not even ordained. Louis sought instead to install his own candidate, William Egon of Fürstenberg, to ensure the key Rhenish state remained an ally.
In light of his foreign and domestic policies during the early 1680s, which were perceived as aggressive, Louis’ actions, fostered by the succession crises of the late 1680s, created concern and alarm in much of Europe. This led to the formation of the 1686 League of Augsburg by the Holy Roman Emperor, Spain, Sweden, Saxony, and Bavaria. Their stated intention was to return France to at least the borders agreed to in the Treaty of Nijmegen. Emperor Leopold I’s persistent refusal to convert the Truce of Ratisbon into a permanent treaty fed Louis’ fears that the Emperor would turn on France and attack the Reunions after settling his affairs in the Balkans.
Another event that Louis found threatening was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in England. Although King James II was Catholic, his two Anglican daughters, Mary and Anne, ensured the English people a Protestant succession. However, when James II’s son James was born, he took precedence in the succession over his elder sisters. This seemed to herald an era of Catholic monarchs in England. Protestant lords took up arms and called on the Dutch Prince William III of Orange, grandson of Charles I of England, to come to their aid. He sailed for England with troops despite Louis’ warning that France would regard it as a provocation. Witnessing numerous desertions and defections, even among those closest to him, James II fled England. Parliament declared the throne vacant, and offered it to James’s daughter Mary II and his son-in-law and nephew William. Vehemently anti-French, William (now William III of England) pushed his new kingdoms into war, thus transforming the League of Augsburg into the Grand Alliance. Before this happened, Louis expected William’s expedition to England to absorb his energies and those of his allies, so he dispatched troops to the Rhineland after the expiry of his ultimatum to the German princes requiring confirmation of the Truce of Ratisbon and acceptance of his demands about the succession crises. This military manoeuvre was also intended to protect his eastern provinces from Imperial invasion by depriving the enemy army of sustenance, thus explaining the pre-emptive scorched earth policy pursued in much of southwestern Germany (the “Devastation of the Palatinate”).
French armies were generally victorious throughout the war because of Imperial commitments in the Balkans, French logistical superiority, and the quality of French generals such as Condé’s famous pupil, François Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville, duc de Luxembourg. His triumphs at the Battles of Fleurus in 1690, Steenkerque in 1692, and Landen in 1693 preserved northern France from invasion.
Although an attempt to restore James II failed at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, France accumulated a string of victories from Flanders in the north, Germany in the east, and Italy and Spain in the south, to the high seas and the colonies. Louis personally supervised the captures of Mons in 1691 and Namur in 1692. Luxembourg gave France the defensive line of the Sambre by capturing Charleroi in 1693. France also overran most of the Duchy of Savoy after the battles of Marsaglia and Staffarde in 1693. While naval stalemate ensued after the French victory at the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690 and the Allied victory at Barfleur-La Hougue in 1692, the Battle of Torroella in 1694 exposed Catalonia to French invasion, culminating in the capture of Barcelona. Although the Dutch captured Pondichéry in 1693, a French raid on the Spanish treasure port of Cartagena in 1697 yielded a fortune of 10 000 000 livres.
In July 1695, the city of Namur, occupied for three years by the French, was besieged by an allied army led by William III. Louis XIV ordered the surprise destruction of a Flemish city to divert the attention of these troops. This led to the bombardment of Brussels, in which 4-5000 buildings were destroyed, including the entire city-center. The strategy failed, as Namur fell three weeks later, but harmed Louis XIV’s reputation: a century later, Napoleon deemed the bombardment “as barbarous as it was useless.”
Peace was broached by Sweden in 1690. By 1692, both sides evidently wanted peace, and secret bilateral talks began, but to no avail. Louis tried to break up the alliance against him by dealing with individual opponents, but this did not achieve its aim until 1696, when the Savoyards agreed to the Treaty of Turin and switched sides. Thereafter, members of the League of Augsburg rushed to the peace table, and negotiations for a general peace began in earnest, culminating in the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697.
Treaty of Ryswick
The Treaty of Ryswick ended the War of the League of Augsburg and disbanded the Grand Alliance. By manipulating their rivalries and suspicions, Louis divided his enemies and broke their power.
The treaty yielded many benefits for France. Louis secured permanent French sovereignty over all of Alsace, including Strasbourg, and established the Rhine as the Franco-German border (which persists to this day). Pondichéry and Acadia were returned to France, and Louis’ de facto possession of Saint-Domingue was recognised as lawful. However, he returned Catalonia and most of the Reunions.
French military superiority might have allowed him to press for more advantageous terms. Thus, his generosity to Spain with regard to Catalonia has been read as a concession to foster pro-French sentiment and may ultimately have induced King Charles II to name Louis’ grandson Philip, Duke of Anjou, as heir to the throne of Spain. In exchange for financial compensation, France renounced its interests in the Electorate of Cologne and the Palatinate. Lorraine, which had been occupied by the French since 1670, was returned to its rightful Duke Leopold, albeit with a right of way to the French military. William and Mary were recognised as joint sovereigns of the British Isles, and Louis withdrew support for James II. The Dutch were given the right to garrison forts in the Spanish Netherlands that acted as a protective barrier against possible French aggression. Though in some respects, the Treaty of Ryswick may appear a diplomatic defeat for Louis since he failed to place client rulers in control of the Palatinate or the Electorate of Cologne, he did in fact fulfill many of the aims laid down in his 1688 ultimatum. In any case, peace in 1697 was desirable to Louis, since France was exhausted from the costs of the war.
War of the Spanish Succession
Causes and build-up to the war
By the time of the Treaty of Ryswick, the Spanish succession had been a source of concern to European leaders for well over forty years. King Charles II ruled a vast empire comprising Spain, Naples, Sicily, Milan, the Spanish Netherlands, and numerous Spanish colonies. He produced no children, however, and consequently had no direct heirs.
The principal claimants to the throne of Spain belonged to the ruling families of France and Austria. The French claim derived from Louis XIV’s mother Anne of Austria (the older sister of Philip IV of Spain) and his wife Maria Theresa (Philip IV’s eldest daughter). Based on the laws of primogeniture, France had the better claim as it originated from the eldest daughters in two generations. However, their renunciation of succession rights complicated matters. In the case of Maria Theresa, nonetheless, the renunciation was considered null and void owing to Spain’s breach of her marriage contract with Louis. In contrast, no renunciations tainted the claims of the Emperor Leopold I’s son Charles, Archduke of Austria, who was a grandson of Philip III’s youngest daughter Maria Anna. The English and Dutch feared that a French or Austrian-born Spanish king would threaten the balance of power and thus preferred the Bavarian Prince Joseph Ferdinand, a grandson of Leopold I through his first wife Margaret Theresa of Spain (the younger daughter of Philip IV).
In an attempt to avoid war, Louis signed the Treaty of the Hague with William III of England in 1698. This agreement divided Spain’s Italian territories between Louis’s son le Grand Dauphin and the Archduke Charles, with the rest of the empire awarded to Joseph Ferdinand. William III consented to permitting the Dauphin’s new territories to become part of France when the latter succeeded to his father’s throne. The signatories, however, omitted to consult the ruler of these lands, and Charles II was passionately opposed to the dismemberment of his empire. In 1699, he re-confirmed his 1693 will that named Joseph Ferdinand as his sole successor.
Six months later, Joseph Ferdinand died. Therefore, in 1700, Louis and William III concluded a fresh partitioning agreement, the Treaty of London. This allocated Spain, the Low Countries, and the Spanish colonies to the Archduke. The Dauphin would receive all of Spain’s Italian territories. Charles II acknowledged that his empire could only remain undivided by bequeathing it entirely to a Frenchman or an Austrian. Under pressure from his German wife, Maria Anna of Neuburg, Charles II named the Archduke Charles as his sole heir.
Acceptance of the will of Charles II and consequences
On his deathbed in 1700, Charles II unexpectedly changed his will. The clear demonstration of French military superiority for many decades before this time, the pro-French faction at the court of Spain, and even Pope Innocent XII convinced him that France was more likely to preserve his empire intact. He thus offered the entire empire to the Dauphin’s second son Philip, Duke of Anjou, provided it remained undivided. Anjou was not in the direct line of French succession, thus his accession would not cause a Franco-Spanish union. If Anjou refused, the throne would be offered to his younger brother Charles, Duke of Berry. If the Duke of Berry declined it, it would go to the Archduke Charles, then to the distantly related House of Savoy if Charles declined it.
Louis was confronted with a difficult choice. He might agree to a partition of the Spanish possessions and avoid a general war, or accept Charles II’s will and alienate much of Europe. Initially, Louis may have been inclined to abide by the partition treaties. However, the Dauphin’s insistence persuaded Louis otherwise. Moreover, Louis’s foreign minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy, pointed out that war with the Emperor would almost certainly ensue whether Louis accepted the partition treaties or Charles II’s will. He emphasised that, should it come to war, William III was unlikely to stand by France since he “made a treaty to avoid war and did not intend to go to war to implement the treaty”. Indeed, in the event of a war, it might be preferable to be already in control of the disputed lands. Eventually, therefore, Louis decided to accept Charles II’s will. Philip, Duke of Anjou, thus became Philip V, King of Spain.
Most European rulers accepted Philip as king, though some only reluctantly. Depending on one’s views of the war as inevitable or not, Louis acted reasonably or arrogantly. He confirmed that Philip V retained his French rights despite his new Spanish position. Admittedly, he may only have been hypothesising a theoretical eventuality and not attempting a Franco-Spanish union. But his actions were certainly not read as being disinterested. Moreover, Louis sent troops to the Spanish Netherlands to evict Dutch garrisons and secure Dutch recognition of Philip V. In 1701, Philip transferred the asiento (the right to supply slaves to Spanish colonies) to France, alienating English traders. As tensions mounted, Louis decided to acknowledge James Stuart, the son of James II, as king of England on the latter’s death, infuriating William III. These actions enraged Britain and the Dutch Republic. With the Holy Roman Emperor and the petty German states, they formed another Grand Alliance and declared war on France in 1702. French diplomacy, however, secured Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy as Franco-Spanish allies.
Commencement of fighting
Even before war was officially declared, hostilities began with Imperial aggression in Italy. When finally declared, the War of the Spanish Succession would last almost until Louis’s death, at great cost to him and the kingdom of France.
The war began with French successes, however the joint talents of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and Eugene of Savoy checked these victories and broke the myth of French invincibility. The duo allowed the Palatinate and Austria to occupy Bavaria after their victory at the Battle of Blenheim. Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, had to flee to the Spanish Netherlands. The impact of this victory won the support of Portugal and Savoy. Later, the Battle of Ramillies delivered the Low Countries up to the Allies, and the Battle of Turin forced Louis to evacuate Italy, leaving it open to Allied forces. Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy met again at the Battle of Oudenarde, which enabled them to mount an invasion of France.
Defeats, famine, and mounting debt greatly weakened France. Between 1693 and 1710, over two million people died in two famines, made worse as foraging armies seized food supplies from the villages. In his desperation, Louis XIV even ordered a disastrous invasion of the English island of Guernsey in the autumn of 1704 with the aim of raiding their successful harvest. By the winter of 1708–1709, Louis was willing to accept peace at nearly any cost. He agreed that the entire Spanish empire should be surrendered to the Archduke Charles, and he also consented to return to the frontiers of the Peace of Westphalia, giving up all the territories he had acquired over sixty years of his reign. He could not speak for his grandson, however, and could not promise that Philip V would accept these terms. Thus, the Allies demanded that Louis single-handedly attack his own grandson to force these terms on him. If he could not achieve this within the year, the war would resume. Louis could not accept these terms.
The final phases of the War of the Spanish Succession demonstrated that the Allies could not maintain the Archduke Charles in Spain just as surely as France could not retain the entire Spanish inheritance for King Philip V. The Allies were definitively expelled from central Spain by the Franco-Spanish victories at the Battles of Villaviciosa and Brihuega in 1710. French forces elsewhere remained obdurate despite their defeats. The Allies suffered a Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Malplaquet with 21,000 casualties, twice that of the French. Eventually, France recovered its military pride with the decisive victory at Denain in 1712.
French military successes near the end of the war took place against the background of a changed political situation in Austria. In 1705, the Emperor Leopold I died. His elder son and successor, Joseph I, followed him in 1711. His heir was none other than the Archduke Charles, who secured control of all of his brother’s Austrian land holdings. If the Spanish empire then fell to him, it would have resurrected a domain as vast as that of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century. To the maritime powers of Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, this would have been as undesirable as a Franco-Spanish union.
Conclusion of peace
As a result of the fresh British perspective on the European balance of power, Anglo-French talks began that culminated in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht between Louis, Philip V of Spain, Anne, Queen of Great Britain, and the Dutch Republic. In 1714, after losing Landau and Freiburg, the Holy Roman Emperor also made peace with France in the Treaties of Rastatt and Baden.
In the general settlement, Philip V retained Spain and its colonies, whereas Austria received the Spanish Netherlands and divided Spanish Italy with Savoy. Britain kept Gibraltar and Minorca. Louis agreed to withdraw his support for James Stuart, son of James II and pretender to the throne of Great Britain, and ceded Newfoundland, Rupert’s Land, and Acadia in the Americas to Anne. Britain gained most from the Treaty of Utrecht, but the final terms were much more favourable to France than what was being discussed in peace negotiations in 1709 and 1710. France retained Île-Saint-Jean and Île Royale, and Louis did acquire a few minor European territories, such as the Principality of Orange and the Ubaye Valley, which covered transalpine passes into Italy. Thanks to Louis, his allies the Electors of Bavaria and Cologne were restored to their pre-war status and returned their lands.
Marriages and children
Louis and his wife Maria Theresa of Spain had six children from the marriage contracted for them in 1660. However, only one child, the eldest, survived to adulthood: Louis, le Grand Dauphin, known as Monseigneur. Maria Theresa died in 1683, whereupon Louis remarked that she had never caused him unease on any other occasion.
Despite evidence of affection early on in their marriage, Louis was never faithful to Maria Theresa. He took a series of mistresses, both official and unofficial. Among the better documented are Louise de La Vallière (with whom he had 5 children; 1661–67), Bonne de Pons d’Heudicourt (1665), Catherine Charlotte de Gramont (1665), Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan (with whom he had 7 children; 1667–80), Anne de Rohan-Chabot (1669–75), Claude de Vin des Œillets (1 child born in 1676), Isabelle de Ludres (1675–78), and Marie Angélique de Scorailles (1679–81), who died at age 19 in childbirth. Through these liaisons, he produced numerous illegitimate children, most of whom he married to members of cadet branches of the royal family.
Louis proved relatively more faithful to his second wife, Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. He first met her through her work caring for his children by Madame de Montespan, noting the care she gave to his favorite, Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine. The king was, at first, put off by her strict religious practice, but he warmed to her through her care for his children.
When he legitimized his children by Madame de Montespan on 20 December 1673, Françoise became the royal governess at Saint-Germain. As governess, she was one of very few people permitted to speak to him as an equal, without limits. It is believed that they were married secretly at Versailles on or around 10 October 1683 or January 1684. This marriage, though never announced or publicly discussed, was an open secret and lasted until his death.
Piety and religion
Louis was a pious and devout king who saw himself as the head and protector of the Gallican Church. Louis made his devotions daily regardless of where he was, following the liturgical calendar regularly. Under the influence of his very religious second wife, he became much stronger in the practice of his Catholic faith. This included the banning of opera and comedy performances during Lent.
Towards the middle and the end of his reign, the centre for the King’s religious observances was usually the Chapelle Royale at Versailles. Ostentation was a distinguishing feature of daily Mass, annual celebrations, such as those of Holy Week, and special ceremonies. Louis established the Paris Foreign Missions Society, but his informal alliance with the Ottoman Empire was criticised for undermining Christendom.
Patronage of the arts
Louis generously supported the royal court of France and those who worked under him. He brought the Académie Française under his patronage and became its “Protector”. He allowed Classical French literature to flourish by protecting such writers as Molière, Racine, and La Fontaine, whose works remain greatly influential to this day. Louis also patronised the visual arts by funding and commissioning various artists, such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox, and Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose works became famous throughout Europe. In music, composers and musicians such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, and François Couperin thrived. In 1661, Louis founded the Académie Royale de Danse, and in 1669, the Académie d’Opéra, important driving events in the evolution of ballet.
Over the course of four building campaigns, Louis converted a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII into the spectacular Palace of Versailles. With the exception of the current Royal Chapel (built near the end of Louis’ reign), the palace achieved much of its current appearance after the third building campaign, which was followed by an official move of the royal court to Versailles on 6 May 1682.
Versailles became a dazzling, awe-inspiring setting for state affairs and the reception of foreign dignitaries. At Versailles, the king alone commanded attention.
Several reasons have been suggested for the creation of the extravagant and stately palace, as well as the relocation of the monarchy’s seat. For example, the memoirist Saint-Simon speculated that Louis viewed Versailles as an isolated power center where treasonous cabals could be more readily discovered and foiled. Alternatively, there has been speculation that the revolt of the Fronde caused Louis to hate Paris, which he abandoned for a country retreat. However, his sponsorship of many public works in Paris, such as the establishment of a police force and of street-lighting, lend little credence to this theory. As a further example of his continued care for the capital, Louis constructed the Hôtel des Invalides, a military complex and home to this day for officers and soldiers rendered infirm either by injury or old age. While pharmacology was still quite rudimentary in his day, the Invalides pioneered new treatments and set new standards for hospice treatment. The conclusion of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1668, also induced Louis to demolish the northern walls of Paris in 1670 and replace them with wide tree-lined boulevards.
Louis also renovated and improved the Louvre and other royal residences. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was originally to plan additions to the Louvre; however, his plans would have meant the destruction of much of the existing structure, replacing it with an Italian summer villa in the centre of Paris. Bernini’s plans were eventually shelved in favour of Perrault’s elegant colonnade. With the relocation of the court to Versailles, the Louvre was given over to the arts and the public. During his visit from Rome, Bernini also executed a renowned portrait bust of the king.
Image and depiction
Few rulers in world history have commemorated themselves in as grand a manner as Louis. Louis used court ritual and the arts to validate and augment his control over France. With his support, Colbert established from the beginning of Louis’ personal reign a centralised and institutionalised system for creating and perpetuating the royal image. The King was thus portrayed largely in majesty or at war, notably against Spain. This portrayal of the monarch was to be found in numerous media of artistic expression, such as painting, sculpture, theatre, dance, music, and the almanacs that diffused royal propaganda to the population at large.
Evolution of royal portraiture
Over his lifetime, Louis commissioned numerous works of art to portray himself, among them over 300 formal portraits. The earliest portrayals of Louis already followed the pictorial conventions of the day in depicting the child king as the majestically royal incarnation of France. This idealisation of the monarch continued in later works, which avoided depictions of the effect of the smallpox that Louis contracted in 1647. In the 1660s, Louis began to be shown as a Roman emperor, the god Apollo, or Alexander the Great, as can be seen in many works of Charles Le Brun, such as sculpture, paintings, and the decor of major monuments.
The depiction of the king in this manner focused on allegorical or mythological attributes, instead of attempting to produce a true likeness. As Louis aged, so too did the manner in which he was depicted. Nonetheless, there was still a disparity between realistic representation and the demands of royal propaganda. There is no better illustration of this than in Hyacinthe Rigaud‘s frequently-reproduced Portrait of Louis XIV of 1701, in which a 63-year-old Louis appears to stand on a set of unnaturally young legs.
Rigaud’s portrait exemplified the height of royal portraiture during Louis’ reign. Although Rigaud crafted a credible likeness of Louis, the portrait was neither meant as an exercise in realism nor to explore Louis’ personal character. Certainly, Rigaud was concerned with detail and depicted the king’s costume with great precision, down to his shoe buckle.
However, Rigaud’s intention was to glorify the monarchy. Rigaud’s original, now housed in the Louvre, was originally meant as a gift to Louis’ grandson, Philip V of Spain. However, Louis was so pleased with the work that he kept the original and commissioned a copy to be sent to his grandson. That became the first of many copies, both in full and half-length formats, to be made by Rigaud, often with the help of his assistants. The portrait also became a model for French royal and imperial portraiture down to the time of Charles X over a century later. In his work, Rigaud proclaims Louis’ exalted royal status through his elegant stance and haughty expression, the royal regalia and throne, rich ceremonial fleur-de-lys robes, as well as the upright column in the background, which, together with the draperies, serves to frame this image of majesty.
Other works of art
In addition to portraits, Louis commissioned at least 20 statues of himself in the 1680s, to stand in Paris and provincial towns as physical manifestations of his rule. He also commissioned “war artists” to follow him on campaigns to document his military triumphs. To remind the people of these triumphs, Louis erected permanent triumphal arches in Paris and the provinces for the first time since the decline of the Roman Empire.
Louis’ reign marked the birth and infancy of the art of medallions. Sixteenth-century rulers had often issued medals in small numbers to commemorate the major events of their reigns. Louis, however, struck more than 300 to celebrate the story of the king in bronze, that were enshrined in thousands of households throughout France.
He also used tapestries as a medium of exalting the monarchy. Tapestries could be allegorical, depicting the elements or seasons, or realist, portraying royal residences or historical events. They were among the most significant means to spread royal propaganda prior to the construction of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Louis loved ballet and frequently danced in court ballets during the early half of his reign. In general, Louis was an eager dancer who performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets. This approaches the career of a professional ballet dancer.
His choices were strategic and varied. He danced four parts in three of Molière‘s comédies-ballets, which are plays accompanied by music and dance. Louis played an Egyptian in Le Mariage forcé in 1664, a Moorish gentleman in Le Sicilien in 1667, and both Neptune and Apollo in Les Amants magnifiques in 1670.
He sometimes danced leading roles which were suitably royal or godlike (such as Neptune, Apollo, or the Sun). At other times, he would adopt mundane roles before appearing at the end in the lead role. It is considered that, at all times, he provided his roles with sufficient majesty and drew the limelight with his flair for dancing. For Louis, ballet may not have merely been a tool for manipulation in his propaganda machinery. The sheer number of performances he gave as well as the diversity of roles he played may serve to indicate a deeper understanding and interest in the art form.
Besides the official depiction and image of Louis, his subjects also followed a non-official discourse consisting mainly of clandestine publications, popular songs, and rumors that provided an alternative interpretation of Louis and his government. They often focused on the miseries arising from poor government, but also carried the hope for a better future when Louis escaped the malignant influence of his ministers and mistresses, and took the government into his own hands. On the other hand, petitions addressed either directly to Louis or to his ministers exploited the traditional imagery and language of monarchy. These varying interpretations of Louis abounded in self-contradictions that reflected the people’s amalgamation of their everyday experiences with the idea of monarchy.
Alexandre Dumas portrayed Louis in his two sequels to The Three Musketeers: first as a child in Twenty Years After, then as a young man in The Vicomte de Bragelonne, in which he is a central character. The final part of the latter novel recounts the legend that a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask was actually Louis’ twin brother and has spawned numerous film adaptations generally titled The Man in the Iron Mask.
In 1910, the American historical novelist Charles Major wrote “The Little King: A Story of the Childhood of King Louis XIV”.
Louis is a major character in the 1959 historical novel “Angélique et le Roy” (“Angélique and the King”), part of the Angelique Series. The protagonist, a strong-willed lady at Versailles, rejects the King’s advances and refuses to become his mistress. A later book, the 1961 “Angélique se révolte” (“Angélique in Revolt”), details the dire consequences of her defying this powerful monarch.
Louis features significantly in Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle, specifically The Confusion, the greater part of which takes place at Versailles.
In the 39 Clues series universe, it has been noted that Louis was part of the Cahill branch, Tomas.
The film, Le Roi Danse (2000; translated: The King Dances), directed by Gérard Corbiau, reveals Louis through the eyes of Jean-Baptiste Lully, his court musician. Julian Sands portrayed Louis in Roland Jaffe’s Vatel (2000).
Alan Rickman directed, co-wrote, and stars as Louis XIV in the film, A Little Chaos, which centers on construction in the gardens of Versaille, at the time immediately before and after the death of Queen Maria Theresa.
The 15-year-old Louis XIV, as played by the Irish actor Robert Sheehan, is a major character of the short-lived historical fantasy series Young Blades from January to June 2005.
George Blagden portrays Louis XIV in the Canal+ series Versailles.
Health and death
Despite the image of a healthy and virile king that Louis sought to project, evidence exists to suggest that Louis’ health was not all that good. He had many ailments, for example, symptoms of diabetes, as confirmed in reports of suppurating periostitis in 1678, dental abscesses in 1696, along with recurring boils, fainting spells, gout, dizziness, hot flushes, and headaches.
From 1647 to 1711, the three chief physicians to the king (Antoine Vallot, Antoine d’Aquin, and Guy-Crescent Fagon) recorded all of his health problems in the Journal de Santé du Roi (Journal of the King’s Health), a daily report of his health. On 18 November 1686, Louis underwent a painful operation for an anal fistula that was performed by the surgeon Charles Felix de Tassy, who prepared a specially shaped curved scalpel for the occasion. The wound took more than two months to heal.
After 72 years on the throne, Louis died of gangrene at Versailles, on 1 September 1715, four days before his 77th birthday. Enduring much pain in his last days, he finally “yielded up his soul without any effort, like a candle going out”, while reciting the psalm Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (O Lord, make haste to help me).
His body was laid to rest in Saint-Denis Basilica outside Paris. It remained there undisturbed for about 80 years, until revolutionaries exhumed and destroyed all of the remains found in the Basilica.
Louis outlived most of his immediate legitimate family. His last surviving son, the Dauphin, died in 1711. Barely a year later, the Duke of Burgundy, the eldest of the Dauphin’s three sons and then heir to Louis, followed his father. Burgundy’s elder son, Louis, Duke of Brittany, joined them a few weeks later. Thus, on his deathbed, Louis’ heir was his five year old great-grandson, Louis, Duke of Anjou, Burgundy’s youngest son.
Louis foresaw a minority and sought to restrict the power of his nephew Philip II, Duke of Orléans who, as closest surviving legitimate relative in France, would become the prospective Louis XV’s regent. Accordingly, the king created a regency council as Louis XIII had in anticipation of his own minority, with some power vested in his illegitimate son Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duke of Maine.
Orléans, however, had Louis’ will annulled by the Parlement of Paris after his death and made himself sole regent. He stripped Maine and his brother, Louis-Alexandre, Count of Toulouse, of the rank of Prince of the Blood, which Louis had granted them, and significantly reduced Maine’s power and privileges.
According to Philippe de Dangeau‘s Journal, Louis on his deathbed advised his heir with these words:
Do not follow the bad example which I have set you; I have often undertaken war too lightly and have sustained it for vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince, and may you apply yourself principally to the alleviation of the burdens of your subjects
Some historians point out that it was a customary demonstration of piety in those days to exaggerate one’s sins. Thus they do not place much emphasis on Louis’ deathbed declarations in assessing his accomplishments. Rather, they focus on military and diplomatic successes, such as how he placed a French prince on the Spanish throne. This, they contend, ended the threat of an aggressive Spain that historically interfered in domestic French politics. These historians also emphasise the effect of Louis’ wars in expanding France’s boundaries and creating more defensible frontiers that preserved France from invasion until the Revolution.
Arguably, Louis also applied himself indirectly to “the alleviation of the burdens of [his] subjects.” For example, he patronised the arts, encouraged industry, fostered trade and commerce, and sponsored the founding of an overseas empire. Moreover, the significant reduction in civil wars and aristocratic rebellions during his reign are seen by these historians as the result of Louis’ consolidation of royal authority over feudal elites. In their analysis, his early reforms centralised France and marked the birth of the modern French state. They regard the political and military victories as well as numerous cultural achievements as the means by which Louis helped raise France to a preeminent position in Europe. Europe came to admire France for its military and cultural successes, power, and sophistication. Europeans generally began to emulate French manners, values, goods, and deportment. French became the universal language of the European elite.
Louis’ detractors have argued that his considerable foreign, military, and domestic expenditure impoverished and bankrupted France. His supporters, however, distinguish the state, which was impoverished, from France, which was not. As supporting evidence, they cite the literature of the time, such as the social commentary in Montesquieu‘s Persian Letters.
Alternatively, Louis’ critics attribute the social upheaval culminating in the French Revolution to his failure to reform French institutions while the monarchy was still secure. But, other scholars argue that there was little reason to reform institutions which largely worked well under him. They also maintain that events occurring almost 80 years after his death were not reasonably foreseeable to Louis, and that in any case, his successors had sufficient time to initiate reforms of their own.
Louis has often been criticised for his vanity. The memoirist Saint-Simon, who claimed that Louis slighted him, criticised him thusly:
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.
For his part, Voltaire saw Louis’ vanity as the cause for his bellicosity:
It is certain that he passionately wanted glory, rather than the conquests themselves. In the acquisition of Alsace and half of Flanders, and of all of Franche-Comté, what he really liked was the name he made for himself.;
Nonetheless, Louis has also received praise. The anti-Bourbon Napoleon described him not only as “a great king”, but also as “the only King of France worthy of the name”. Leibniz, the German Protestant philosopher, commended him as “one of the greatest kings that ever was”. And Lord Acton admired him as “by far the ablest man who was born in modern times on the steps of a throne”. The historian and philosopher Voltaire wrote: “His name can never be pronounced without respect and without summoning the image of an eternally memorable age”. Voltaire’s history, The Age of Louis XIV, named Louis’ reign as not only one of the four great ages in which reason and culture flourished, but the greatest ever.
In 1848, at Nuneham House, a piece of Louis’ mummified heart, taken from his tomb and kept in a silver locket by Lord Harcourt, Archbishop of York, was shown to the Dean of Westminster, William Buckland, who ate it.
Numerous quotes have been attributed to Louis XIV by legend. He supposedly said: “I am the state” (L’état, c’est moi.). But according to Merriam-Webster, there is no evidence he actually said it. He did say, “Every time I appoint someone to a vacant position, I make a hundred unhappy and one ungrateful.”  Louis is recorded by numerous eyewitnesses as having said on his deathbed: “Je m’en vais, mais l’État demeurera toujours.” (“I depart, but the State shall always remain.”)
Titles, styles, honours and arms
|Royal 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|
Titles and styles
- 5 September 1638 – 14 May 1643 His Royal Highness The Dauphin of France
- 14 May 1643 – 1 September 1715 His Most Christian Majesty The King of France
Louis’s formal style was “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 of Navarre”.
Order of Saint Louis
On 5 April 1693, Louis also founded the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis (French: Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis), a military order of chivalry. He named it after Louis IX and intended it as a reward for outstanding officers. It is notable as the first decoration that could be granted to non-nobles and is roughly the forerunner of the Légion d’honneur, with which it shares the red ribbon (though the Légion d’honneur is awarded to military personnel and civilians alike).
|Ancestors of Louis XIV of France|
Louis’ patriline is the line from which he is descended father to son.
Patrilineal descent is the principle behind membership in royal houses, as it can be traced back through the generations – which means that if King Louis were to choose an historically accurate house name it would be Robertian, as all his male-line ancestors have been of that house.
Louis’ patriline is the line from which he is descended father to son. It follows the Bourbon, Kings of France, and the Counts of Paris and Worms. This line can be traced back more than 1,200 years from Robert of Hesbaye to the present day, through Kings of France & Navarre, Spain and Two-Sicilies, Dukes of Parma and Grand-Dukes of Luxembourg, Princes of Orléans and Emperors of Brazil. It is one of the oldest in Europe.
Main article: Descendants of Louis XIV of France
This is an incomplete list of Louis XIV’s illegitimate children. He reputedly had more, but the difficulty in fully documenting all such births restricts the list only to the better-known and legitimised.
|By NN, a gardener|
|daughter||1660||unknown||She married N de la Queue, a sentry.|
|By Louise de La Vallière (6 August 1644 – 6 June 1710)|
|Charles de La Baume Le Blanc||19 December 1663||15 July 1665 (aged 1)||Not legitimised.|
|Philippe de La Baume Le Blanc||7 January 1665||1666 (aged 1)||Not legitimised.|
|Louis de La Baume Le Blanc||27 December 1665||1666 (aged 1)||Not legitimised.|
|Marie Anne de Bourbon||2 October 1666||3 May 1739 (aged 73)||Legitimised on 14 May 1667. Married Louis Armand I, Prince of Conti.|
|Louis, Count of Vermandois||3 October 1667||18 November 1683 (aged 16)||Legitimised on 20 February 1669. Held the office of Admiral of France.|
|By Françoise-Athénaïs, marquise de Montespan (5 October 1641 – 27 May 1707)|
|Louise Françoise de Bourbon||at the end of March, 1669||23 February 1672 (aged 2)|
|Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine||31 March 1670||14 May 1736 (aged 66)||Legitimised on 20 December 1673. Held numerous offices, of which: Colonel General of the Suisses et Grisons, Governor of Languedoc, General of the Galleys, and Grand Master of Artillery. Also Duke of Aumale, Count of Eu and Prince of Dombes. Had issue. Founder of the Maine Line.|
|Louis César, Count of Vexin||20 June 1672||10 January 1683 (aged 10)||Legitimised on 20 December 1673.|
|Louise Françoise de Bourbon||1 June 1673||16 June 1743||Legitimised on 20 December 1673. Married Louis III, Prince of Condé. Had issue.|
|Louise Marie Anne de Bourbon||12 November 1674||15 September 1681 (aged 6)||Legitimised in January 1676.|
|Françoise Marie de Bourbon||9 February 1677||1 February 1749||Legitimised in November 1681. Married Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, the Regent of France under Louis XV. Had issue.|
|Louis Alexandre, Count of Toulouse||6 June 1678||1 December 1737 (aged 59)||Legitimised on 22 November 1681. Held numerous offices, of which: Admiral of France, Governor of Guyenne, Governor of Brittany, and Grand Huntsman of France. Also Duke of Damville, of Rambouillet and of Penthièvre. Had issue.|
|by Claude de Vin, Mademoiselle des Œillets (1637 – 18 May 1687)|
|Louise de Maisonblanche||c. 17 June 1676||12 September 1718 (aged 42)||In 1696 she married Bernard de Prez, Baron de La Queue.|
|by Angélique de Fontanges (1661 – 28 June 1681)|
|son||January 1680||January 1680 (stillborn)|
|daughter||March 1681||March 1681 (stillborn)||Her existence is doubtful.|
- Charles de Lorme, personal medical doctor to Louis XIV
- House of France
- Levée (ceremony)
- List of French monarchs
- Outline of France
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- (Hatton 22)
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- (Hatton 18)
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- Coincidentally, at roughly the same time and for the same reasons, Japan adopted a similar policy, called sankin kōtai.
- For example, see Buckley, Veronica. Madame de Maintenon: The Secret Wife of Louis XIV. London: Bloomsbury, 2008
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- Sturdy, p. 96-97.
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- Dunlop, Ian. “Louis XIV”, p. 313, Pimlico London 2001.
- Lynn, John A., pp. 189–191.
- Lynn, John A., pp. 192–193.
- Lynn, John A.
- (in French) Cited in Cahiers bruxellois, t. III, fasc. II, 1958, by C. Terlinden. Lit.: aussi barbare qu’inutile
- Lynn, John A., p. 232.
- Lynn, John A., p. 253.
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- “Morganatic and Secret Marriages in the French Royal Family”. Retrieved 10 July 2008.: The description of the marriage as morganatic is inaccurate as French law does not define such marriages.
- John B. Wolf, Louis XIV p. 280.
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- See also Schmitter, Amy M. (2002). “Representation and the Body of Power in French Academic Painting”. Journal of the History of Ideas. 63 (3): 399–424. ISSN 0022-5037. JSTOR 3654315. doi:10.1353/jhi.2002.0027.
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- See above, section on “Height of Power.”
- Dunlop, p. 433; citing Montesquieu: “Louis established the greatness of France by building Versailles and Marly.”
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- Treasure, Geoffrey. Louis XIV (London, 2001). ISBN 0582279585
- Treasure, Geoffrey. The Making of Modern Europe, 1648–1780 (3rd ed. 2003). pp 230-96.
- Wilkinson, Rich. Louis XIV Routledge, 2007. ISBN 9780415358156
- Wolf, John B. Louis XIV (1968), the standard scholarly biography online edition