The long-awaited eldest son of Louis XIII of France and Anne of Austria, Louis XIV, the “God-given,” was born September 5, 1638, twenty-three years after his parents’ marriage. Louis XIII died in 1643, leaving his son under a regency of Anne of Austria and her advisor, Cardinal Mazarin. Louis XIV’s most powerful childhood memory was of the Fronde (1649–1653), a rebellion of the French nobility and urban elite, which drove the royal family from Paris and soured the young king on trusting the nobles and the city of Paris. In 1659–1660, France ended the last military outbreak associated with of the Thirty Years’ War with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, securing its diplomatic prestige and a Spanish bride, Marie-Thérèse of Austria, for Louis XIV.
The seventy-two-year reign of France’s Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” was the longest in European history (1643–1715). The nation’s colonies, like almost everything else in French life, were controlled from the palace at Versailles. (Chateau de Versailles, France/Lauros/Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library) In 1661, Mazarin died, and Louis XIV announced that he would be his own first minister, handling state affairs directly. With excellent advice from JeanBaptiste Colbert and Michel Le Tellier, the king made significant progress in reforming France’s corrupt tax system and modernizing its army. Louis XIV concentrated the nobles around his lavish court at Versailles, which became a cultural center for Europe, and sent intendants, or royal governors, into the provinces to represent his will. All of this boded well for a centralizing and reforming monarchy that might fundamentally alter France’s still-feudal fiscal system and tame its independent nobles.
Louis XIV inherited France’s colonies in the Caribbean and New France (at that time, confined to eastern Canada), which he treated as provinces of France, naming strong intendants such as Louis de Frontenac, and insisting that only loyal, Roman Catholic settlers emigrate. Because of his policy, French colonies were entirely controlled from Versailles and given no self-government or economic opportunities outside the royal monopolies. Under his reign, Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi, and Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, began settlement in Louisiana, but these were not profitable ventures for the monarchy. The colonies also were never used as “safety valves” for France’s religious minorities or prisoners, as Britain’s were, leaving the French colonies in Canada underpopulated and difficult to defend.
Louis XIV was fundamentally a medieval monarch; he wanted to glorify his reign rather than truly modernize the French government and its bureaucracy. In 1668, he embarked on the first of a series of expensive European wars. France had the military engineer Sébastien Vauban, who fortified the border cities at enormous expense, and the marquis de Louvois, who raised huge armies for the king. In the long run, the four decades of war, beginning in 1668, unified France’s enemies in Germany and bankrupted the treasury for little actual gain.
Louis XIV’s effort to enforce the will of the late Charles II of Spain and place his grandson Philip of Anjou on the Spanish throne turned into the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). This ended with France winning a treaty that offered it less than Louis XIV’s enemies had offered him to desist in 1700, before the war started.
Although Louis XIV lived a luxurious life with his mistresses, he was also deeply committed to the cause of Roman Catholicism, especially the Gallican Church under his authority in France. After the death of his queen, Marie-Thérèse, Louis XIV secretly married his children’s governess, the marquise de Maintenon, who pushed him toward a more austere and religious life. This resulted in his persecution of a Catholic sect, the Jansenists, who believed in predestination, and the revocation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed toleration for Protestants, in 1685. Protestant refugees, having been “dragooned” by French soldiers and driven from their homes, flooded into Britain, the Netherlands, and overseas colonies such as South Carolina, bringing with them cash and valuable trade skills.
Louis XIV is regarded as the “Sun King,” a magnificent monarch who placed France at the center of Europe as a cultural and diplomatic power. Unfortunately, his huge expenditures on war and his treatment of nobles as courtiers rather than administrators laid the foundations for crisis later in the century, and his colonial policy stifled expansion and autonomy in French territory. The government Louis XIV constructed with himself at the center worked until his death on September 1, 1715. He was succeeded by his great-grandson, the underage Louis XV. Margaret Sankey See also: Edict of Nantes, Revocation of; French; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Ashley, Maurice. Louis XIV and the Greatness of France. New York: Free Press, 1946. Goubert, Pierre. Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen. New York: Pantheon, 1970. Hatton, Ragnhild. Louis XIV and His World. New York: Putnam, 1972. Lynn, John. The French Wars 1667–1714. Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2002.