With a reign that spanned seventy-two years, Louis XIV, the famous Sun King of France, was monarch longer than any other European monarch in history. His rule brought France to great power and established France’s predominant influence throughout Europe extending even to Russia. Known for both piety and wisdom, Louis XIV is credited with centralizing the French government and doing away with the last vestiges of feudal power. His reforms helped fill French coffers and he built the grand palace at Versailles which demonstrated the greatness of his reign and his country.
The eldest son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, Louis was born in 1638 and was crowned king at the age of four upon his father’s death. During the king’s childhood, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin served as Prime Minister and greatly influenced Louis’s development and subsequent reign. Louis assumed complete control of the government upon Mazarin’s death in 1661. With a nearly bankrupt treasury, Louis enacted major reforms which reduced France’s national debt. Additional military reforms helped strengthen Louis’s reign.
France was a leading power during the reign of Louis XIV. During his reign France was engaged in the Franco-Dutch War, the War of Spanish Succession, and the War of the League of Hapsburg. Lesser conflicts included the War of Devolution and the War of Reunions. Louis XIV achieved great political success but also supported the arts by renovating the Louvre and supporting important writers, artists, and musicians of the day like Moliere, Racine, La Fontaine, Rigaud, Coysevox, Lully, and Chambonnieres. He also had more than three hundred formal portraits commissioned for himself.
Louis XIV believed in the divine right of kings and his monarchy exemplifies the image of the glorified king. Perhaps no structure better attests to the king’s grandeur than the illustrious palace of Versailles and its intricate gardens. Louis renovated other royal residences, but he also exacted improvements for France. He created the Hotel des Invalides, a military complex and home for injured and elderly veterans. He had tree-lined boulevards constructed in Paris and also established street-lighting and a police force for the city.
Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain and their union produced six children. After her death he secretly married Francoise d’Aubigne. He had several well-known mistresses and also produced many illegitimate children, many of whom married into royal branches. Although Louis’s reign is often revered, there were various episodes which marred the perfection of his monarchy such as the infamous revocation of the Edict of Nantes which had safeguarded religious and political freedoms of the Protestant Huguenots. Louis XIV died of gangrene in 1715 at Versailles and was succeeded by his great-grandson Louis VX.