Louis XIV: The Sun King and His Many Loves

Louis XIV (1638-1715) was King of France and King of Navarre from 1643 until his death at age 77. He had the longest reign of any French or other major European monarch. He was known by the names of Louis the Great, Louis the Grand Monarch, and The Sun King.

He was born on 5 September 1638 at the Royal chateau in Saint-Germain-en-Laye . The son of Louis XIII and Ann of Austria was baptized with the name of Louis-Dieudonne (Gift of God) as his parents had to wait 23 years for the birth of their first son. He was a child of almost five years of age when he inherited the reign and became the king of France, but he spent his first years as monarch in the shadow of his mother and his chief ministry, Cardinal Jules Mazarin who governed the country on his behalf. At the Cardinal’s death in 1661, Louis XIV began his 72 year reign.

Louis XIV’s monarchy was characterized by the affirmation of the French cultural model in Europe; French language became the privileged language of the European nobility. The king also declared Catholicism as the official French religion but in its Gallican version, in which the Pope had less political power and was not deemed infallible. Louis XIV also began fiscal and administrative reforms that aimed at modernizing the country's economic system and reducing the national debt.

Believing in the theory of absolute monarchy and the divine origin of the kings’ power, Louis XIV worked hard to concentrate power in the figure of the king. He began to cultivate the Myth of the Sun King and show Europe his greatness by displaying the magnificence of the Versailles palace--where he moved in 1682--and the king’s court.

Le Roi Soleil, a name Louis XIV used for himself, was surrounded by artists and thinkers who gave splendor to the royal court. Under his patronage, art, music, and French literature flourished. He established the Parlement of Paris, and fought in four major wars: The War of Devolution, The Franco-Dutch War , The War of the Grand Alliance, and The War of the Spanish Succession.

Louis XIV was, however, very interested in feminine beauty; he was known to have many women whom he either married or had as a mistress. His first known love was Maria Mancini, but, although he spent with her several years, he was never able to marry her. He married instead Maria Theresa, the daughter of Felipe, the King of Spain, in 1660. With her, he had many children. Even though Louis XIV was married, he was still very attracted to other women. It was even rumored that he had an affair with the wife of his own brother, Henrietta of England. Louise de Valliere, his first mistress, gave him four children and was given the title of duchess by the king. Another mistress was Madame de Montespan who also bore the king children and was eventually replaced by Madame de Maintenon; she was the governess to Louis XIV illegitimate children. It wasn’t until the death of his wife in 1683 that Louis XIV was able to marry her secretly. The event was celebrated in 1684 but was never to be officially declared.

Louis XIV died on 1 September 1715, shortly after the Peace of Utrecht. After his death, his only remaining great grandson, Louis XV, succeeded him at the throne.

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