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Louis XIV of France

Par la Grâce de Dieu, Roi de France et de Navarre

By the Grace of God, King of France and of Navarre

1638 - 1715


Louis XIV - King of France


Louis XIV (baptized as Louis-Dieudonné, "Louis-God-given") ruled as King of France and of Navarre. He ascended to the throne a few months before his fifth birthday, but did not assume actual personal control of the government until the death of his prime minister (Premier Ministre), the Italian Jules Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Louis remained on the throne till his death just before his seventy-seventh birthday in 1715. He reigned for seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days, the longest documented for any European monarch to date.


Jules Cardinal Mazarin


He was known as Louis the Great (in French Louis le Grand "the Great Monarch"), because, following his initial success in the Franco-Dutch War and the Treaty of Nijmegen, the Parlement de Paris decreed that all public inscriptions and statues of the king should carry that epithet attached to his name.

He is also popularly known as The Sun King (in French le Roi Soleil) because of the idea that, just as the planets revolve around the Sun, so too should France and the court revolve around him. As a result, he was commonly associated with Apollo Helios, the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. As a patron of the arts, this association was fitting because Louis was, like Apollo Musagetes, the "leader of the Muses".


Apollo Helios


Largely due to his tutor, Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Louis XIV believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Bossuet preached that kings were appointed by God, but also had a responsibility to act as such.


Jacques Benigne Bossuet


During his reign, he increased the power and influence of France in Europe, engaging in three major wars-the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession-and two minor conflicts-the War of Devolution, and the War of the Reunions.


Siege of Namur, June 1692
By Martin Jean-Baptiste le vieux


War of the Spanish Succession

At the Battle of Vigo Bay, English and Dutch destroyed a Spanish treasure fleet, capturing silver from the Spanish colonies to the value of about a Million Pounds Sterling.


War of Devolution


The political and military scene in France during his reign was filled with such illustrious names as Mazarin, Fouquet, Colbert, Michel Le Tellier, Le Tellier's son Louvois, le Grand Condé, Turenne, Vauban, Villars and Tourville. Under his reign, France achieved not only political and military pre-eminence, but also cultural dominance with various cultural figures such as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Lully, Le Brun, Rigaud, Louis Le Vau, Jules Hardouin Mansart, Claude Perrault and Le Nôtre. The cultural achievements accomplished by these figures contributed to the prestige of France, its people, its language and its king.


Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Jean-Baptiste Colbert served as the French Minister of Finance from 1665 to 1683 during the reign of King Louis XIV.


Marquis de Louvois

François Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, was the French Secretary of State for War for a significant part of the reign of Louis XIV.


I do not believe that it is an overstatement to recognize and point out the significance and importance of these two ministers and advisors of Louis XIV to the political and economic history of France and Europe. They were responsible individually first to bring economic stability to France and then make France the preeminent military power in Europe. These two developments were, of course, interrelated to one another allowing France to eventually over extend itself militarily while facing bankruptcy at the same time. Did Louis live too long and could a shorter reign have substantively impacted on the subsequent history of France especially the French Revolution and the Rise of Napoleon? I really doubt it but there is no way for me to state it as a certainty. There still remained a fundamental disparity between the Aristocracy and the rest of French Society which the Bourbon Monarchy refused to address with any degree of fairness and equity. Yes, it was a situation that very well may have called for a fair redistribution of wealth especially when it came to paying for the cost of government. It is just a thought that has contemporary value today or at least I believe it is true.

~Senex


Louis XIV worked successfully to create a centralized state governed from the capital in order to sweep away the fragmented feudalism which hitherto persisted in France, thus giving rise to the modern state. As a result of his efforts, which seemed absolutist, Louis XIV became the archetypal absolute monarch. The phrase "L'État, c'est moi" ("I am the State") is frequently attributed to him. Quite contrary to that apocryphal quote, Louis XIV is actually reported to have said on his death bed: "Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours." ("I depart, but the State shall always remain").


L'État, c'est moi


Louis XIV was born in the château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye on September 5, 1638 and bore the heir apparent's traditional title of Dauphin. His birth came after the almost twenty-three years of childlessness of his estranged parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. As a result, contemporaries regarded him as a divine gift and his birth as a miracle, and, in a show of gratitude to God for the long-awaited arrival of an heir, he was named Louis-Dieudonné ("God-given").


Louis XIII, Anne of Austria and their son Louis XIV


His ancestors came from some of Europe's most noteworthy ruling houses. His paternal grandparents were Henri IV of France and Marie de' Medici, who were French and Italian respectively; while both his maternal grandparents were Habsburgs, Philip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria. In this manner, he counted as his ancestors various historical figures, including Charles V and Frederick Barbarossa, both Holy Roman Emperors. He was also descended from the founder of Russia's first dynasty, Rurik the Viking, as well as Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, the poet Charles, Duke of Orléans, and Giovanni de' Medici, last of the great condottieri. Most importantly, he traced his paternal lineage, and hence his and his descendants' right to the throne, in unbroken legitimate male succession from Saint Louis, King of France, and through him, from Hugh Capet.

Louis XIII and Anne had a second child, Philippe I, duc d'Orléans in 1640. Unsure of Anne as regent, Louis XIII decreed that a Regency Council, of which she was named head, should rule in Louis' name in the event he succeeded to the throne before the age of majority, intending, by its existence, to prevent her from ruling as sole regent.

Nevertheless, on May 14, 1643, after Louis XIII died and his young son became Louis XIV, Anne had her husband's will annulled by the Parlement, did away with the Regency Council and became Sole Regent. She entrusted power to Cardinal Mazarin, who was despised in most French political circles because of his foreign origin, despite having already become a naturalized French subject.

The Thirty Years' War, which had commenced in the previous reign, ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, made up of the Treaties of Münster and Osnabrück, the work of Mazarin. This Peace ensured Dutch independence from Spain, awarded a degree of autonomy to the various German princes and granted Sweden territories which gave her control of the mouths of the Oder, Elbe, and Weser, as well as seats on the Reichstag. It marked the apogee of Swedish power and influence in German and European affairs. However, it was France which had the most to gain from the terms of the Peace. Austria ceded to France all Habsburg lands and claims in Alsace; and the petty German states eager to dislodge themselves from Habsburg domination placed themselves under French protection, paving the way for the formation of the League of the Rhine in 1658 and leading to the further diminution of Imperial power. The Peace of Westphalia humiliated Habsburg ambitions in Europe and laid to rest any notion that the Empire held secular dominion over all of Christendom.


Europe after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648


Louis XIV as a Young Child


In the closing years of the Thirty Years' War, a civil war, the Fronde, which effectively curbed France's ability to make good the advantages gained in the Peace of Westphalia, broke out. The Frondeurs originally sought to protect traditional feudal "liberties" from an increasingly centralized and centralizing royal government. On the other hand, Cardinal Mazarin had continued and would continue to follow the policies of centralization pursued by his predecessor, Cardinal Richelieu, seeking to augment the power of the Crown at the expense of the nobility and the Parlements. In 1648, he sought to levy a tax on the members of the Parlement de Paris, a judicial body composed mostly of nobles and high clergymen. The members of the Parlement not only refused to comply, but also ordered all of Cardinal Mazarin's earlier financial edicts burned. When Mazarin, strengthened by the news of the victory of Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé (le Grand Condé) at the Battle of Lens, arrested certain members of the Parlement in a show of force, Paris erupted in rioting and insurrection. 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 XIV, who was feigning sleep, and quietly departed. Prompted by the possible danger to the royal family and the monarchy, Anne fled Paris with the king and his courtiers. Shortly thereafter, the signing of the Peace of Westphalia allowed the French Army under Condé to return to the aid of Louis XIV and his royal court. By January 1649, Condé had started to besiege rebellious Paris; the subsequent Peace of Rueil temporarily ended the conflict.


The Fronde

After the first Fronde (Fronde parlementaire, 1648-1649) ended, the second Fronde, that of the nobles (Fronde des princes, 1650-1653) began. This second phase of upper-class insurrection was unlike that which preceded it was characterized by tales of sordid intrigue and half-hearted warfare. It was conducted by aristocrats for whom it represented a protest against and an attempt to reverse the centralization of France and their consequent demotion from vassals to courtiers. This Fronde was led by France's highest-ranking nobles, from Louis' uncle Gaston, duc d'Orléans, and first cousin, Anne d'Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier (known as la Grande Mademoiselle); to more distantly-related princes du sang such as Condé, his brother Armand de Bourbon, prince de Conti, and their sister Anne-Geneviève, duchesse de Longueville; to dukes of legitimated royal descent, like Henri II d'Orléans, duc de Longueville, and François de Bourbon-Vendôme, duc de Beaufort; and to princelings descended from foreign dynasties (known as princes étrangers), such as Frédéric Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, duc de Bouillon, and his brother, the famous Marshal of France, Henri, vicomte de Turenne, as well as Marie de Rohan-Montbazon, duchesse de Chevreuse; and scions of France's oldest families, like François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld. Even the clergy was represented by Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz.

With the coming of the Age of Louis XIV and his subsequent coronation, the Frondeurs, who could hitherto have claimed to have been acting on his behalf and in his real interests against his Regent-mother and her first minister, had lost their pretext for revolt. The Fronde thus gradually lost steam until it ended in 1653, when Mazarin returned triumphant from abroad after having fled into exile on several occasions. The result of these tumultuous times, when the Queen Mother reputedly sold her jewels to feed her children, was a king filled with a permanent distrust for the nobility and the mob.


Louis XIV: 1648


Within France, upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin, his first minister, in 1661, Louis XIV assumed personal control of the reins of government. He was able to exploit the widespread public yearning for peace and order, which had resulted from the long foreign wars and domestic civil strife, caused by events such as the Fronde and abuses of the people perpetrated by some nobles, to consolidate central authority at the feudal aristocracy's expense. Trials such as the Grands Jours d'Auvergne were used to impose order by punishing some of the most outrageous abuses by nobles, to "lift the people up from the oppression of the powerful" in the words of the Procureur-Général Denis Talon, and to increase public support for Louis' policies.

At the same time, the French treasury stood close to bankruptcy. Louis XIV eliminated Nicolas Fouquet, the Surintendant des Finances, commuting the sentence of banishment, passed by the Parlement, to imprisonment for life, and abolished Fouquet's office. Jean-Baptiste Colbert was appointed as Contrôleur-Général des Finances in 1665. To be sure, Fouquet had committed no financial indiscretions which Mazarin had not committed before him and which Colbert would not commit afterward. Moreover, Fouquet had competently and loyally discharged his duties, but his growing ambition to succeed Richelieu and Mazarin in power was such that Louis had to rid himself of him if he was to rule alone.


Nicolas Fouquet


The commencement of Louis' personal reign was marked by a series of administrative and fiscal reforms. Colbert reduced the national debt through more efficient taxation. His principal taxes included the aides, the douanes, the gabelle, and the taille. The aides and douanes were customs duties, the gabelle a tax on salt, and the taille a tax on land. While Colbert did not abolish the historic tax exemption enjoyed by the nobility and clergy, he did improve the methods of tax collection then in use.


J. B. Colbert


Colbert also had wide-ranging plans to strengthen France through commerce and trade. His administration ordained new industries and encouraged manufacturers and inventors, such as the Lyon silk manufacturers and the Manufacture des Gobelins, which produced and still produces tapestries. He also brought professional manufacturers and artisans from all over Europe, such as glassmakers from Murano, ironworkers from Sweden, and shipbuilders from the United Provinces. In this manner, he sought to decrease French dependence on foreign imported goods while increasing French exports, and hence to decrease the flow of gold and silver out of France. Outside of France, Colbert supported and encouraged the development of colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia not only to provide markets for French exports, but also to provide resources for French industries.

Colbert also made improvements to the navy to increase French naval prestige and to gain control of the high seas in times of war and of peace, improvements to the merchant marine to remove, at least partially, control of French commerce from Dutch hands, and improvements to the highways and the waterways of France which decreased the costs and time of transporting goods around the kingdom.


Silver Coin of Louis XIV dated 1674

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").


While Colbert, his family, clients and allies at court, focused on the economy and maritime matters, another faction, led by Michel Le Tellier and his son François-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, turned their attention to military matters.


Francois-Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois


Louis XIV sought to play these factions off against one another and thus create checks and balances, ensuring that no one group would attain such power and influence at court as to destabilize his reign.

Le Tellier and Louvois had an important role to play in government, curbing the independent spirit of much of the nobility at court and in the army. Gone were the days when army generals, without regard to the bigger political and diplomatic picture, protracted war at the frontiers and disobeyed orders coming from the capital, while quarrelling and bickering with each other over precedence. Gone too were the days when positions of seniority and rank in the army were the sole possession of the old military aristocracy (the noblesse d'épée). Louvois, in particular, pledged himself to modernizing the army, organizing it into a new professional, disciplined and well-trained force out of the old. He sought to contrive and direct campaigns and devoted himself to providing for the soldiers' material well-being and morale, and he did so successfully.

Louis also instituted various legal reforms. This is reflected in the sheer number of Great Ordinances enacted during his reign. The Grande Ordonnance de Procédure Civile of 1667, also known as Code Louis, was a comprehensive legal code regulating civil procedure in all of France in a uniform manner. It made it compulsory to record baptisms, marriages and burials in the registers of the State (as opposed to the registers of the Church). The Code Louis played an important part in France's legal history as it was the basis for Napoleon I's Code Napoléon, which is itself the basis for many of Western Europe's modern legal codes. It sought to provide France with a single system of law where there were two: customary law in the north, and Roman law in the south. Another important Great Ordinance was the Ordonnance Criminelle de 1670, which was an early attempt at the codification of criminal procedure in France.

One of Louis XIV's more infamous decrees was the Grande Ordonnance sur les Colonies of 1685, also known as Code Noir. It granted sanction to slavery, although it did extend a measure of humanity to the practice by prohibiting the separation of families. However, no person could own a slave in the French colonies unless he was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and a Catholic priest had to baptize each slave. Another important legal text enacted under Louis XIV was the Code Forestier, which sought to control and oversee the forestry industry in France, protecting forests from destruction.

The Sun King proved a generous spender, dispensing large sums of money to finance the royal court, and supported those who worked under him. He brought the Académie Française under his patronage, and became its "Protector". It was under his reign and indeed his patronage that Classical French Literature flourished with such writers as Molière, Jean Racine and Jean de La Fontaine whose works still hold great influence to this day.


Molière


Jean Racine


Jean de La Fontaine


The visual arts also found in Louis XIV their patron for he funded and commissioned various artists, such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox and Hyacinthe Rigaud whose works became famed throughout Europe. In music, composers and musicians like Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières and François Couperin thrived and influenced many others. Even in the art of gardening did Louis prove a patron with his support of André Le Nôtre.


Charles Le Brun


Pierre Mignard - Self Portrait


Antoine Coysevox


Hyacinthe Rigaud


Louis XIV ordered the construction of the military complex known as the "Hôtel des Invalides" to provide a home for the officers and soldiers who had served him loyally in the army, but who had been rendered infirm by either injury or age. While the practice of pharmacy was still quite elementary, les Invalides pioneered new treatments and set new standards for hospice treatment. Louis considered its construction one of the greatest achievements of his reign, which, along with the Palace of Versailles, is one of the largest and most extravagant monuments in Europe.


Hotel des Invalides


Chateau de Versailles


View of Versailles


He also improved the Louvre, as well as many other royal residences. Originally when he was planning additions to the Louvre Louis XIV had hired Gian Lorenzo Bernini as architect. However, his plans for the Louvre would have called for the destruction of much of the existing structure, replacing it with an Italian summer villa in the centre of Paris. In Bernini's place, Louis chose the French architect Claude Perrault, whose work on the "Perrault Wing" of the Louvre is widely-celebrated.


Construction - Louvre


The Colonnade of the Louvre


In June 1686, on the instruction of his secret wife Madame de Maintenon, he signed the letters patent creating the Institut de Saint-Louis at Saint-Cyr for filles pauvres de la noblesse (poor noble girls) between the ages of 7 and 20. Construction had begun two years previously. "Saint-Cyr" was at the time the only educational institution for girls in France that was not a convent. The 250 demoiselles admitted were required to provide documentary evidence of at least four generations of nobility on their father's side. Madame de Maintenon took great pleasure in this school and was finally to die there.


Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon


Louis XIV with Louis le Grand Dauphin


After Louis XIV's father-in-law and uncle, Philip IV of Spain, died in 1665, Philip IV's son (by his second wife) became Charles II of Spain. Louis XIV claimed that Brabant, a territory in the Low Countries ruled by the King of Spain, had "devolved" to his wife, Marie-Thérèse, Charles II's elder half-sister by their father's first marriage. He argued that the custom of Brabant required that a child should not suffer from his or her father's remarriage, hence having precedence in inheritance over children of the second or subsequent marriages. Louis personally participated in the campaigns of the ensuing War of Devolution, which broke out in 1667.


Johan de Witt


Problems internal to the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (the Netherlands) aided Louis XIV's designs on the Low Countries. The most prominent political figure in the United Provinces at the time, Johan de Witt, Grand Pensionary, feared the ambition of the young William III, Prince of Orange, who in seeking to seize control might thus deprive De Witt of supreme power in the Republic and restore the House of Orange to the influence it had hitherto enjoyed until the death of William II, Prince of Orange. Therefore, with the United Provinces in internal conflict between supporters of De Witt and those of William III, the "States faction" and the "Orange faction" respectively, and with England preoccupied in the Second Anglo-Dutch War with the Dutch, who were being supported, in accordance with the terms of the treaties signed between them, by their ally, Louis XIV, France easily conquered both Flanders and Franche-Comté.


William III
By Sir Godfrey Kneller


The Four Days Battle

The Royal Prince and other vessels at the Four Days Fight, 11-14 June 1666 by Abraham Storck depicts a battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In the foreground the Swiftsure with Berkeley sinks. On the right the grounded Prince Royal with Admiral Ayscue surrenders by firing white smoke; de Ruyter on the Zeven Provinciën accepts. In between the Royal Charles can just be seen with a broken mast.


Shocked by the rapidity of French successes and fearful of the future, the United Provinces turned on their former friends and put aside their differences with England and, when joined by Sweden, formed a Triple Alliance in 1668. Faced with the threat of escalation and having signed a secret treaty partitioning the Spanish succession with the Emperor, the other major claimant, Louis XIV agreed to make peace. Under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), France retained Flanders, including the great fortress of Lille, but returned Franche-Comté to Spain.

The Triple Alliance did not last very long. In 1670, Charles II, lured by French bribes and pensions, signed the secret Treaty of Dover, entering into an alliance with France; the two kingdoms, along with certain Rhineland German princes, declared war on the United Provinces in 1672, sparking off the Franco-Dutch War. The rapid invasion and occupation of most of the Netherlands precipitated a coup, which toppled De Witt and allowed William III to seize power. William III entered into an alliance with Spain, the Emperor and the rest of the Empire; and a treaty of peace with England was signed in 1674, the result of which was England's withdrawal from the war and the marriage between William III and Lady Mary, niece of the English King Charles II. Facing a possible Imperial advance on his flank while in the Low Countries in that year, Louis XIV ordered his army to withdraw to more defensible positions.

Despite these diplomatic and military reverses, the war continued with brilliant French victories against the overwhelming forces of the opposing coalition. In a matter of weeks in 1674, the Spanish territory of Franche Comté fell to the French armies under the eyes of the king; while Condé defeated a much larger combined army, with Austrian, Spanish and Dutch contingents, under the Prince of Orange, at the Battle of Seneffe, preventing them from descending on Paris. In the winter of 1674-1675, the outnumbered Turenne, through a most daring and brilliant campaign, inflicted defeat upon the Imperial armies under Raimondo Montecuccoli, drove them out of Alsace and back across the Rhine, and recovered the province for Louis XIV. Through a series of feints, marches and counter-marches towards the end of the war, Louis XIV led his army to besiege and capture Ghent, an action which dissuaded Charles II and his English Parliament from declaring war on France and which allowed Louis, in a very superior position, to force the allies to the negotiating table. After six years, Europe was exhausted by war, and peace negotiations commenced, being accomplished in 1678 with the Treaty of Nijmegen. While Louis XIV returned all captured Dutch territory, he gained more towns and associated lands in the Spanish Netherlands and retained Franche-Comté, which had been captured by Louis and his army in a matter of weeks. As he was in a position to make demands which were much more exorbitant, Louis' actions were celebrated as evidence of his moderation in victory.


Louis XIV in 1673


The Treaty of Nijmegen further increased France's influence in Europe, but did not satisfy Louis XIV. The King dismissed his foreign minister Simon Arnauld, Marquis de Pomponne in 1679, viewed as too fearful and as having compromised too much with the allies. Louis XIV also kept up his army but, instead of pursuing his claims through purely military action, utilized judicial processes to accomplish further territorial aggrandizement. Thanks to the ambiguous nature of treaties of the time, Louis was able to claim that the territories ceded to him in previous treaties ought to be ceded along with all their dependencies and lands which had formerly belonged to them, as had in fact been stipulated in the peace treaties, but had separated over the years. French Chambers of Reunion were appointed to ascertain which territories formally belonged to France; French troops later occupied them. The annexation of these territories was designed to give France a more defensible frontier, the pré carré suggested by Sébastien Le Prestre, seigneur de Vauban.

Louis sought to gain cities and territories such as Luxembourg, for its strategic offensive and defensive position on the frontier, as well as Casale, which would give him access to the Po river valley in the heart of Northern Italy. Louis also desired to gain Strasbourg, an important strategic outpost through which various Imperial armies had in the previous wars crossed over the Rhine to invade France. Strasbourg was a part of Alsace, but had not been ceded with the rest of Habsburg-ruled Alsace in the Peace of Westphalia. It was nonetheless occupied by the French in 1681 under Louis' new legal pretext, and, along with other occupied territories, such as Luxembourg and Casale, was ceded to France for a period of twenty years by the Truce of Ratisbon.


Reception of Le Grand Conde at Versailles
by Jean-Leon Gerome


By the early 1680's, Louis XIV had greatly augmented his and France's influence and power in Europe and the world. Louis XIV's famous minister, Colbert, who died in 1683, exercised a tremendous influence on the royal treasury and coffers, with royal revenue tripling under his supervision.

The Princes of Europe began to imitate France and Louis XIV in everything from taste in art, food and fashion to political systems; many even took "maîtresses-en-titre" simply because it was done at Versailles.

In the sphere of foreign affairs outside Europe, French colonies were multiplying in the Americas, Asia and Africa, while diplomatic relations had been initiated with countries as far afield as Siam (through the embassy of Chaumont), India and Persia. For example, the explorer René Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle claimed and named, in 1682, the basin of the Mississippi River in North America, "Louisiane", in honor of Louis XIV, while French Jesuits and missionaries could be seen at the court of the Manchu Emperor Kangxi in China. In France, Louis XIV received the visit of a Chinese Jesuit named Michael Shen Fu-Tsung as early as 1684, and a few years later he had a Chinese librarian and translator at his court, named Arcadio Huang.


Siamese Embassy to Louis XIV: 1686


Domestically, Louis XIV succeeded in establishing and increasing the influence and central authority of the King of France at the expense of the Church and aristocracy. He sought to reinforce traditional Gallicanism, a doctrine limiting the authority of the Pope in France, and convened an assembly of clergymen (the Assemblée du Clergé) in November 1681. Before it was dissolved in June 1682, it had agreed to the Declaration of the Clergy of France. The power of the King of France was increased in contrast to the power of the Pope, which was reduced. The Pope was not allowed to send papal legates to France without the king's consent; such legates as could enter France, furthermore, required further approval before they could exercise their power. Bishops were not to leave France without royal approval; no government officials could be excommunicated for acts committed in pursuance of their duties; and no appeal could be made to the Pope without the approval of the king. The king was allowed to enact ecclesiastical laws, and all regulations made by the Pope were deemed invalid in France without the assent of the monarch. The Declaration was not accepted by the Pope, which is not surprising given the infringements of the document upon papal authority.

Louis also achieved immense control over the Second Estate that is of the nobility, in France by attaching much of the higher nobility to his orbit at his palace at Versailles. He expected them to spend the majority of the year under his close watch instead of on their own estates and in their regional power-bases, where historically nobles waged local wars with neighbors or plotted resistance to royal authority. Only by being in constant attendance upon him were they able to gain the pensions and privileges necessary to lead lives considered appropriate to their rank. Louis entertained his permanent visitors with extravagant luxury and other distractions which helped him awe and domesticate his hitherto unruly nobility. Thus, Louis continued and perfected the work of the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin.


The House of Bourbon


As a result of the Fronde, Louis believed that his power would prevail only if he filled high executive offices with commoners, or at least members of the relatively newer bureaucratic aristocracy (the noblesse de robe), because, he believed, while he could reduce a commoner to a nonentity by simply dismissing him, he could not destroy the entrenched influence of a great nobleman of ancient lineage as easily. Thus Louis XIV half-forced, half-seduced the noblesse d'épée into serving him ceremonially as courtiers, while he appointed commoners or newer nobles as ministers and regional intendants. As courtiers, the power of the great nobles grew ever weaker. The diminution of the power of the high aristocracy could be witnessed in the lack of such rebellions as the Fronde after Louis XIV. In fact, the victory of the Crown over the nobles, finally achieved under Louis XIV, ensured that the Fronde was the last major civil war to plague France until the Revolution and the Napoleonic Age.

Louis XIV had the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, originally a hunting lodge built by his father, converted into a spectacular royal palace in a series of four major and distinct building campaigns. By the end of the third building campaign, the Château had taken on most of the appearance that it retains to this day, except for the current chapel built in the last decade of the reign. He officially moved there, along with the royal court, on May 6, 1682. Louis had several reasons for creating such a symbol of extravagant opulence and stately grandeur, and for shifting the seat of the monarch. The assertion that he did so because he hated Paris, however, is flawed as he did not cease to embellish his capital with glorious monuments while improving and developing it. On the other hand, contemporary writers such as Saint-Simon speculated that Louis viewed Versailles as an isolated power center where treasonous cabals could be more readily recognized.


Artist's Depiction of Palace Grounds


Versailles served as a dazzling and awe-inspiring setting for state affairs and for the reception of foreign dignitaries, where the attention was not shared with the capital and the people, but was assumed solely by the person of the king. Court life centered on munificence; courtiers lived lives of expensive luxury, appareled in suitable magnificence and constantly attended balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations. Thus, many noblemen had perforce either to give up the cachet and opportunities associated with sharing in the king's company, or to depend entirely on the king for the grants and subsidies necessary to do so in proper style. Instead of exercising power and potentially creating trouble, the nobles vied for the honor of dining at the king's table or the privilege of carrying a candlestick as the king retired to his bedroom.


Versailles Today


By 1685, Louis XIV stood at the apogee of his power. One of France's chief rivals, the Holy Roman Empire, was occupied in fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Great Turkish War, which began in 1683 and lasted till 1699. The Ottoman Grand Vizier had almost captured Vienna, but at the last moment John III Sobieski, King of Poland led an army of Polish and Imperial forces to victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. In the meantime, Louis XIV, by the Truce of Ratisbon, had acquired control of several territories which covered the frontier and protected France from foreign invasion. After repelling the Ottoman attack on Vienna, the Emperor was no longer in imminent danger from the Turks; nevertheless he did not attempt to regain the territories annexed by Louis XIV. Rather, he acquiesced to the fait accompli of the Truce.


Battle of Vienna - 1683


King John III Sobieski


After having his city bombarded by the French in 1685 from the sea as punishment for having supported the Spanish and having granted them use of Genoese ships in the Franco-Dutch War, the Doge of Genoa travelled to Versailles where he was received amidst courtly magnificence and made his apologies to and peace with Louis XIV.


Doge of Genoa at Versailles


Louis XIV's Queen, Marie-Thérèse, died in 1683. He remarked on her demise that on no other occasion had she ever caused him unease. Although he was said to have performed his marital duties nightly, he had not remained faithful to her for long after their union in 1660: his mistresses included Louise de la Vallière, Duchesse de Vaujours; Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart-Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan; and Marie-Angélique de Scoraille, Duchesse de Fontanges. As a result, he produced many illegitimate children, most of whom were joined in marriage with members of cadet branches of the royal family itself. These children, as well as their descendants, would go on to claim positions of power and influence in the next century.


Louise de la Valliere


Francois-Athenais de Rochechouart


Marie-Angélique de Scoraille, Duchesse de Fontanges


He proved, however, more faithful to his second wife, Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. The secret marriage between Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon - the nuptial mass probably occurred at midnight on 9/10 October 1683 in a chapel at Versailles. It was an "open secret" as it was generally known but was never discussed or announced publicly, and would last to his death.


Madame de Maintenon


Madame de Maintenon, once a Protestant, had herself converted to Roman Catholicism in her youth under some duress. It was once believed that she vigorously promoted the persecution of the Protestants, and that she urged Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes (1598), which granted a degree of religious freedom to the Huguenots. However, this view of her participation is now being questioned. It has been suggested that Marie-Thérèse, on her deathbed, had urged Louis on the subject, which, given her Spanish Catholic upbringing, is not surprising. Whatever the truth of such a proposition, Louis XIV himself clearly supported such a plan; he believed, along with the rest of Europe, Catholic or Protestant, that, in order to achieve national unity, he had to first achieve a religiously unified nation-specifically a Catholic one in his case. This was enshrined in the principle of "cuius regio, eius religio", which defined religious policy throughout Europe since its establishment, by the Peace of Augsburg, in 1555. He had already begun the persecution of the Huguenots by quartering soldiers in their homes, though it must be said that it was theoretically within his feudal rights, and hence legal, to do so with any of his subjects.


Louis XIV in 1684


Louis continued his attempt to achieve a religiously united France by issuing an edict, in March 1685, which affected the French colonies, and expelled all Jews from them. The public practice of any religion except Roman Catholicism became prohibited. In October 1685, Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, revoking that of Nantes, on the pretext that the near-extinction of Protestantism and Protestants in France made any edict granting them privileges redundant. The Edict decreed that "liberty is granted to the said persons of the Pretended Reformed Religion Protestantism ... on condition of not engaging in the exercise of the said religion, or of meeting under pretext of prayers or religious services." Thus, it precluded individuals from publicly practicing or exercising the religion, but not from merely believing in it. It banished from the realm any Protestant minister who refused to convert to Roman Catholicism. Protestant schools and institutions were banned. Children born into Protestant families were to be forcibly baptized by Roman Catholic priests, and Protestant places of worship were demolished.

Although the Edict formally denied Huguenots permission to leave France, about 200,000 of them left in any case, taking with them their skills in commerce and trade. The Edict proved economically damaging to France, though not ruinous; and while Vauban, one of Louis XIV's most influential generals, publicly condemned the measure, its proclamation was celebrated by many Catholics throughout the realm.

The wider political and diplomatic result of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, however, was to provoke increased anti-French sentiment in Protestant countries. In 1686 both Catholic and Protestant rulers joined in the League of Augsburg ostensibly a defensive pact to protect the Rhine but really designed as an offensive alliance against France. The coalition included the Holy Roman Emperor and several of the German states that formed part of the Empire - most notably the Palatinate, Bavaria, and Brandenburg. The United Provinces, Spain and Sweden also adhered to the League.

In 1685, Charles II, Elector of Palatine, the brother of Louis XIV's sister-in-law, Charlotte-Elizabeth, duchesse d'Orléans, had died. The palatine crown had gone, not to her, but to the junior Neuburg branch of the family. Louis had sought, through an ultimatum to the German princes, to have his sister-in-law's claims recognized. However, the expiry of this ultimatum and another to the German princes to ratify the Truce of Ratisbon and confirm Louis' possession of annexed territories, along with disputes over the succession to the Electorate of Cologne, lead to his sending troops into the Palatinate in 1688. Ostensibly, the army had the task of supporting the claims of Charlotte-Elizabeth to the Palatinate. The real aim, however, of the invasion was to apply pressure and force the Palatinate to leave, and thus weaken, the League of Augsburg. The troops under the command of Melac eventually executed Louis' order ("brûlez le Palatinat!") and devastated large areas of South Western Germany. This was done as a sort of scorched earth policy with the aim of preventing the larger gathering Imperial army from reaching the frontiers of France and invading Lorraine and Alsace.

Louis XIV's actions united the German princes behind the Holy Roman Emperor. Louis had expected that England, under the Catholic James II, would remain neutral. In 1688, however, the "Glorious Revolution" resulted in the deposition of James II and his replacement by his daughter, Mary II, who ruled jointly with her husband, William III, now King of England. As William III had developed an enmity against Louis XIV during the Franco-Dutch War, he pushed England into the League of Augsburg, which then became known as the Grand Alliance.


Louis XIV at the Siege of Namur


The campaigns of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697) generally proceeded favorably for France. The forces of the Holy Roman Emperor proved ineffective, as many Imperial troops were still occupied in the Balkans with the Great Turkish War, and because the Imperials generally took to the field much later than the French. Thus, France could accumulate a string of victories from Flanders in the north, to the Rhine valley in the east, to Italy and Spain in the south, as well as on the high seas and in the colonies.


Siege of Namur


Louis XIV aided James II in his attempt to regain the British crown, but the Stuart King was unsuccessful and was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. A year later, the last Jacobite stronghold, Limerick, fell to William's Forces after the Battle of Aughrim, and James' dreams of returning to the throne dissipated. William's England could then devote more of her funds and troops to the war on the Continent.


Battle of the Boyne

Battle of the Boyne between James II and William III, 11 June 1690.


Nonetheless, despite the size of the opposing coalition, which encompassed most of Europe, French forces in Flanders under the famous pupil of Condé, François Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville, duc de Luxembourg, nicknamed "le tapissier de Notre-Dame" for the number of captured enemy standards which he sent to decorate the Cathedral, crushed the allied armies at the Battle of Fleurus in the same year as the Battle of the Boyne, as well as at the Battle of Steenkerque two years later and the Battle of Landen a year after that.


The Duc de Luxembourg


Battle of Fleurus


Under the personal supervision of Louis XIV, the French army captured Mons in 1691 and the hitherto impregnable Fortress of Namur in 1692; and with the capture of Charleroi by Luxembourg in 1693 after his victory at Landen, France gained the forward defensive line of the Sambre. At the Battles of Marsaglia and of Staffarde, France was victorious over the allied forces under Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, overrunning his dominion and reducing the territory under his effective command to merely the area around Turin. In the southeast, along the Pyrenees, the Battle of Torroella opened Catalonia to French invasion. The French naval victory at the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690, however, was offset by the Anglo-Dutch naval victory at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hougue in 1692; but neither side was able to entirely defeat the opposing navy.


Siege of Namur 1692


The war continued for four more years, until the Duke of Savoy signed a separate peace and subsequent alliance with France in 1696, the Treaty of Turin, undertaking to join with French arms in a capture of the Milanese and allowing French armies in Italy to reinforce others; one of these reinforced armies, that of Spain, captured Barcelona and hastened the arrival of peace.

The War of the Grand Alliance eventually ended with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Louis XIV surrendered Luxembourg and most of the other Réunion territories he had seized since the end of the Dutch War in 1679, but retained Strasbourg, assuring the Rhine as the border between France and the Empire. He also gained de jure recognition of his hitherto de facto possession of Saint-Domingue, as well as the return of Pondicherry and Acadia. Louis undertook to recognize William III and Mary II as joint sovereigns of Great Britain and Ireland, and assured them that he would no longer assist James II; at the same time he renounced intervention in the Electorate of Cologne and claims to the Palatinate, in return for financial compensation. Louis XIV returned Lorraine to her Duke, but on terms which allowed French passage at any time and which severely restricted his political maneuverability. The Dutch were allowed to garrison forts in the Spanish Netherlands, the "Barrier", to protect themselves against possible French aggression. Spain recovered Catalonia and the many territories lost, both in this war and the previous one (War of the Reunions), in the Low Countries.


William III and Mary II of England

1688-1702 / 1688-94

Mary was displaced in the Line of Succession on the birth of her half brother, James Francis Edward, in 1688. The English, weary of James Pro-Catholic policies, and faced with the prospect that he now had a catholic heir to continue his work, invited William to England to redress the situation.

William arrived in England on 5th November, 1688. James II, deserted by many of his followers and unnerved, it is reported, by recently reading of the fates of the deposed Kings Richard II and Henry VI, fled to France. A convention was set up to determine the government of the country in January, 1689, which came to the decision that James could be said to have abdicated.

The crown was accordingly offered to Mary, however, William would not agree to rule only in his wife's name which he considered humiliating. The crown was consequently offered to William and Mary jointly. On her arrival in England, Mary was widely criticized for having no respect for the father whose throne she had come to take and she and Anne were compared to the un-filial daughters of King Lear. James himself wrote bitterly to Mary, disowning her and laying a curse upon her. A devout woman, Mary's actions bore heavily on her conscience in the years to come.

William III and Mary II formally promised to rule according to law and to be guided by Parliament. The Declaration of Rights designated the succession was to go to Mary's children, then Anne's, failing those it was to pass to any children of William (who was strictly speaking only third in line to the throne) by another marriage. It declared that no Catholic could become either sovereign or consort and imposed a new Oath of Allegiance. Secondly, it decreed that no monarch could keep a standing army in time of peace except with the consent of Parliament.


King James II of England

Forced from the Throne of England fleeing to France as a result of the Glorious Revolution.


Of similar note, Louis secured the Dissolution of the Grand Alliance by manipulating the rivalries and suspicions of its member states; in so doing, he divided his enemies and broke their power since no single state on its own was capable of taking on France. The generous terms of the treaty were seen as concessions to Spain designed to foster Pro-French sentiment, which would eventually lead Charles II, King of Spain to declare as his heir, Louis' grandson Philippe, duc d'Anjou.


Charles II of Spain


Moreover, despite such seemingly disadvantageous terms in the Treaty of Ryswick, French influence was still at such a height in all of Europe that Louis XIV could offer his cousin, François Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, the Polish crown, duly have him elected by the Sejm and proclaimed as King of Poland by the Polish primate. However, Conti's own tardiness in proceeding to Poland to claim the throne allowed a rival, Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony to have himself crowned king instead.

The great matter of the succession to the Spanish throne dominated European foreign affairs following the Peace of Ryswick. The Spanish King Charles II, severely incapacitated, could not father an heir. The Spanish inheritance offered a much sought-after prize, for Charles II ruled not only Spain, but also Naples, Sicily, the Milanese, the Spanish Netherlands and a vast colonial empire-in all, twenty-two different realms and dominions, many of which were on the periphery of France.

France and Austria were the main claimants to the throne, both of which had close family ties to the Spanish royal family. Anjou (later Philip V of Spain), the French claimant, was the great-grandson of the eldest daughter of Philip III of Spain, Anne of Austria, and the grandson of the eldest daughter of Philip IV of Spain, Marie-Thérèse. The only bar to inheritance lay in their renunciations of claims to the throne, which in the case of Marie-Thérèse, however, was considered legally null and void as other terms of the marriage treaty had not been fulfilled by Spain.


Philippe, duc d'Anjou: 1660's

As well as being the grandson of Louis XIV, he was also the second son of Louis, Dauphin of France known as the le Grand Dauphin.


Louis de France
(Le Grand Dauphin)

At the age of fifty, Louis died in 1711 of smallpox, predeceasing his father Louis XIV.

Reportedly, a prophecy told at his birth said that he would be "son of a king, father of a king, but never a king".


Charles, Archduke of Austria (later Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor) and younger son of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor by his third marriage (with Eleonore-Magdalena of Neuburg), claimed the throne through his paternal grandmother, Maria Anna of Spain, who was the youngest daughter of Philip III; this claim was not, however, tainted by any renunciation. Purely on the basis of the laws of primogeniture, however, France had the best claims since they were derived from the eldest daughters in each generation.


Charles VI
Holy Roman Emperor; King of the Romans, Bohemia, Croatia and Hungary; Archduke of Austria

Charles was born in Vienna, the second son of the Emperor Leopold I and of his third wife, Princess Eleonore-Magdalena of Palatine-Neuburg. He was given the baptismal names Karl Franz Joseph Wenceslau Balthasar Johann Anton Ignatius. His tutor was Prince Anton Florian of Liechtenstein.

Charles was the contracted heir of the Spanish Habsburgs. When Charles II of Spain made Philip V his heir, Louis XIV violated the contract. The dispute for the crown of Spain led to the War of the Spanish Succession.

After his older brother the Emperor Joseph I died suddenly in 1711, Charles returned to Austria. He succeeded immediately as King of Hungary and King of Bohemia. Later that year he was elected Holy Roman Emperor in Frankfurt.


Many European powers feared that if either France or the Emperor came to control Spain, the balance of power in Europe would be threatened. Thus, both the Dutch and the English preferred another candidate, the Bavarian prince Joseph Ferdinand, who was the grandson of Leopold I, through his first wife Margaret Theresa of Spain, younger daughter of Philip IV. Under the terms of the First Partition Treaty, it was agreed that the Bavarian prince would inherit Spain, with the territories in Italy and the Low Countries being divided between the Houses of France and Austria. Spain, however, had not been consulted, and vehemently resisted the dismemberment of its empire. The Spanish court insisted on their empire indivisible. When the Treaty became known to Charles II in 1698, he settled on Joseph Ferdinand as his sole heir, assigning to him the entire Spanish inheritance.

The entire issue opened up again when smallpox claimed the Bavarian prince six months later. The Spanish court, seeking to keep the inheritance undivided, acknowledged that they could only succeed in doing so by granting the crown to a member from either the House of France, or of Austria. Charles II, under pressure from his German wife Maria Anna of Neuburg, chose the House of Austria and her nephew, settling on the Emperor's younger son, the Archduke Charles. Ignoring this, Louis and William III signed a second treaty, that of London, allowing the Archduke Charles to take Spain, the Low Countries and the Spanish colonies, while Louis XIV's eldest son and heir, le Grand Dauphin, would inherit the territories in Italy, with a mind to exchange them for Savoy or Lorraine.

In 1700, as he lay upon his deathbed, Charles II unexpectedly interfered in the affair. He sought to prevent Spain from uniting with either France or the Empire, but, based on his past experience of French superiority in arms, considered France as more capable of preserving his empire in its entirety. The whole of the Spanish inheritance was thus offered to Anjou, the Dauphin's second son, on condition he kept it undivided. In the event of his refusal or inability to accept the inheritance, it would be offered to the Dauphin's youngest son, Charles, duc de Berry, and thereafter to the Archduke Charles. If all these princes refused the Crown, it would be offered to the House of Savoy, distantly related to the Spanish Royal Family.


Europe on the eve of the War of the Spanish Succession (1700)


Louis XIV thus faced a difficult choice: he could have agreed to a partition and to possible peace in Europe, or he could have accepted the whole Spanish inheritance but alienated the other European nations. Louis originally assured William III that he would fulfill the terms of their previous treaty and partition the Spanish dominions. However, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Torcy, the nephew of Colbert, advised Louis that even if France accepted a portion of the Spanish inheritance, a war with the Empire would almost certainly ensue; and William III had made it very clear that he had signed the Partition Treaties to avoid war, not make it, and hence would not assist France in a war to obtain the territories granted her by those treaties. Louis agreed that if a war had to occur, it would be more profitable to accept the whole of the Spanish inheritance and to fight a defensive war. Consequently, when Charles II died on November 1, 1700, Philippe, duc d'Anjou became Philip V, King of Spain.


Philip V, King of Spain


Most of the rest of Europe accepted Philip V as King of Spain, albeit reluctantly. Louis, however, acted too precipitously. In 1701, he transferred the Asiento, a permit to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies, to France, with potentially damaging consequences for British trade. Moreover, Louis ceased to acknowledge William III as King of Great Britain and Ireland upon the death of James II, instead acclaiming as King James II's son, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender").


James Francis Edward Stuart
(The Old Pretender)

Prince James, Prince of Wales (James Francis Edward Stuart; "The Old Pretender" or "The Old Chevalier"; 10 June 1688 - 1 January 1766) was the son of the deposed James II and VII. As such, he claimed the English, Scottish and Irish thrones (as James III and VIII) from the death of his father in 1701, when he was proclaimed king of England, Scotland and Ireland by his cousin Louis XIV of France.


Furthermore, Louis sent forces into the Spanish Netherlands to secure its loyalty to Philip V and to garrison the Spanish forts, which had been garrisoned by Dutch troops as part of the "Barrier" protecting the United Provinces from potential French aggression. The result was the further alienation of both Britain and the United Provinces, both then ruled by William III. Consequently, another Grand Alliance was formed between Great Britain, the United Provinces, the Emperor and many of the petty states within the Holy Roman Empire. French diplomacy, however, secured Bavaria, Portugal and Savoy as allies for Louis and Philip.

The subsequent War of the Spanish Succession continued for most of the remainder of the reign and proved costly for Louis. It began with Imperial aggression in Italy even before war was officially declared. France had some initial success, nearly capturing Vienna, but the victories of Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy showed that the myth of French invincibility was broken.


John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough


Prince Eugene of Savoy

Prince Eugene met Marlborough for the first time in 1704.
It was the start of a lifelong personal and professional friendship.


Following Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy's victory at the Battle of Blenheim, Bavaria was flung out of the war, being partitioned between the Palatinate and Austria, and her elector, Maximilian II Emanuel, forced to flee to the Spanish Netherlands. Another consequence of Blenheim was the subsequent defection of Portugal and Savoy to the opposing side. With the Battle of Ramillies and that of Oudenarde, Franco-Spanish forces were driven ignominiously out of the Spanish Netherlands; while the Battle of Turin forced Louis to evacuate what few forces remained to him in Italy.


The Battle of Blenheim


The King's Horse at the Battle of Ramillies


The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenarde


Battle of Turin


Such military defeats coupled with famine and mounting debt, forced France into a defensive posture. By 1709, Louis' position was seriously weakened, and he was willing to sue for peace at nearly any cost, even to return all lands and territories ceded to him during his reign and to return to the frontiers of the Peace of Westphalia, signed more than sixty years prior. Nonetheless, the terms dictated by the Allies were so harsh, including demands that he attack his own grandson alone to force the latter to accept the humiliating peace terms, that war continued.

While it became clear that France could not retain the entire Spanish inheritance, it also seemed evident that its opponents could not overthrow Philip V in Spain after the definitive Franco-Spanish victory of the Battle of Almansa, and those of Villaviciosa and Brihuega, which drove the allies out of the central Spanish provinces. Furthermore, the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709 showed that it was neither easy nor cheap to defeat and invade France, for while the allies gained the field, they did so at an abominable cost, losing 25 000 men, twice that of the French, led by their capable general, Claude Louis Hector, duc de Villars. The Battle of Denain in 1712 turned the war in favor of Louis XIV, when Villars led French forces to a decisive victory over the allies under Eugene of Savoy, recovering much lost territory and pride.


Battle of Almansa


Battle of Villaviciosa


Battle of Malplaquet


Battle of Denain


The death of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, who had succeeded his father Leopold I in 1705, made the prospect of an empire as large as that of Charles V being ruled by the Archduke Charles, now the Emperor, dangerously possible. This was, to Great Britain, as undesirable as a union of France and Spain.

Thus, preliminaries were signed between Great Britain and France in the pursuit of peace. Louis XIV and Philip V eventually made peace with Great Britain and the United Provinces in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Peace with the Emperor and the Holy Roman Empire came with the Treaty of Rastatt and that of Baden in 1714 respectively. The crucial interval between Utrecht and Rastatt-Baden allowed Louis XIV to capture Landau and Freiburg, permitting him to negotiate from a comparatively better position, if not from one of strength, with the Emperor and the Empire.

The general settlement recognized Philip V as King of Spain and ruler of the Spanish colonies. Spain's territory in the Low Countries and Italy were partitioned between Austria and Savoy, while Gibraltar and Minorca were retained by Great Britain.

Louis XIV, furthermore, agreed to end his support for the Old Pretender's claims to the throne of Great Britain. France was also obliged to cede the colonies and possessions of Newfoundland, Rupert's Land and Acadia in the Americas to Great Britain, while retainingÎle-Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island); however, most of those Continental territories lost in the devastating defeats in the Low Countries were returned to her, despite allied persistence and pressure to the contrary, and she also received further territories to which she had a claim such as the Principality of Orange, as well as the Ubaye Valley, which covered the passes through the Alps from Italy.

The efforts of the allies to curb and diminish French power in Europe came to naught. Moreover, France was shown to be able to protect her allies with the rehabilitation and restoration of the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel, to his lands, titles and dignities.


Western Europe - After the of Utrecht: 1713

A map depicting Western Europe's borders after the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt.


Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715, of gangrene, a few days before his seventy-seventh birthday. Almost all of Louis XIV's legitimate children had died during childhood. The only one to survive to adulthood, his eldest son, Louis de France, known as "Le Grand Dauphin", had predeceased Louis XIV in 1711, leaving three children. The eldest of these children, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, had died in 1712, soon to be followed by Bourgogne's elder son, Louis, duc de Bretagne. Thus, at Louis XIV's death, his five-year-old great-grandson Louis, duc d'Anjou, the youngest son of Bourgogne, and the Dauphin upon the death of his grandfather, father and elder brother, succeeded to the throne as Louis XV.


Anointing of Louis XV


Louis XV as a Teenager
(A Portrait by Alexis Simon Belle)


It was to this young child that Louis XIV was alleged, according to Philippe de Courcillon, Marquis de Dangeau in his Memoirs, to have said, in the manner of baroque piety:

"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".

This same Dangeau noted of his death that "he yielded up his soul without any effort, like a candle extinguishing". Louis died while saying the words of the psalm Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (O Lord, make haste to help me).

Louis XIV, noting his own old age and the youth of his heir, had anticipated a regency and had sought to restrict the power of his nephew, Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, who as closest surviving legitimate relative in France would become Regent for the prospective Louis XV. Thus, he transferred some power to his illegitimate son by Madame de Montespan, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duc du Maine and created a regency council like that established by Louis XIII in anticipation of Louis XIV's own minority.


Philippe II, duc d'Orléans

Philippe II, Duke of Orléans was a member of the royal family of France. At the death of his uncle king Louis XIV of France, he became the Regent during the minority of the new young king Louis XV, from 1715 to 1723, an era known as the Regency.


Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duc du Maine

Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine was a legitimized son of the French King Louis XIV and his Maîtresse-en-titre, the well known Madame de Montespan (1640-1707). With his wife, Anne-Louise-Bénédicte de Bourbon-Condé he was the founder of the semi-royal House of Bourbon du Maine - named after his title and his surname.


Louis XIV's will provided that Maine would act as the guardian of Louis XV, superintendent of the young king's education and Commander of the Royal Guards.

Orléans, however, obtained the annulment of Louis XIV's will in the Parlement de Paris after the latter's death. Maine was stripped of the rank of "prince du sang", which had been given him and his brother, Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, by Louis, and of the command of the Royal Guards, but retained his position as superintendent, while Orléans was to rule as sole Regent. Toulouse, by remaining aloof from these court intrigues, managed to retain his privileges (save that of "prince du sang"), unlike his brother.

Louis XIV's body lies in the Saint Denis Basilica in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris. He reigned for 72 years, making his the longest reign in the recorded history of Europe.

A member of the House of France was placed on the throne of Spain by Louis XIV, effectively ending the centuries-old threat and menace that had arisen from that quarter of Europe since the days of Charles V. The House of Bourbon retained the crown of Spain for the remainder of the eighteenth century, but experienced overthrow and restoration several times after 1808. Nonetheless, to this day, the Spanish monarch is descended from Louis XIV.

Louis' numerous wars effectively bankrupted the State (though it must also be said that France was able to recover in a matter of years), forcing him to incur large State debts from various financiers and to levy higher taxes on the peasants as the nobility and clergy had exemption from paying these taxes and contributing to public funds. Yet, it must be emphasized that it was the State and not the country which was impoverished. The wealth and prosperity of France, as a whole, could be noted in the writings of the social and political thinker and commentator Montesquieu in his satirical epistolary novel, Lettres Persanes. While the work mocks and ridicules French political, cultural and social life, it also portrays and describes the wealth, elegance and opulence of France between the end of the War of the Spanish Succession and Louis XIV's death.

On the whole, nevertheless, Louis XIV strengthened the power of the Crown relative to the traditional feudal elites, marking the beginning of the era of the modern State, and placed France in the predominant and preeminent position in Europe, giving her ten new provinces and an overseas empire, as well as cultural and linguistic influence all over Europe. Even with several great European alliances opposing him, he continued to triumph and to increase French territory, power and influence. As a result of these military victories as well as cultural accomplishments, Europe would admire France, her power, culture, exports, values and way-of-life. The French language would become the lingua franca for the entire European elite as far away as Romanov Russia; various German Princes would seek to copy his mode of life to their great expense. Europe of the Enlightenment would look to Louis XIV's reign as an example, studying his strategic use of power, emulating his elegance, and admiring his successes.

Saint-Simon, who felt slighted by Louis XIV, offered the following assessment:

"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 ... His vanity, which was perpetually nourished-for even preachers used to praise him to his face from the pulpit-was the cause of the aggrandizement of his Ministers".

However, even the German philosopher Leibniz, who was a Protestant and had no cause for flattery, could call him "one of the greatest kings that ever was"; and Napoleon, hardly a friend of the Bourbons, would describe Louis XIV as "the only King of France worthy of the name and a great king." Voltaire, the apostle of the Enlightenment, compared him to Augustus and called his reign an "eternally memorable age", dubbing the Age of Louis XIV "le Grand Siècle" (the "Great Century").


Map of France after the death of Louis XIV


His Most Christian Majesty

King Louis XIV

Par la grâce de Dieu,
Roi de France et de Navarre


This page is the work of Senex Magister

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