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History: Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, and the Palace of Versailles

Tessa Schlesinger has had a passionate interest in history since she was a young girl. French history was always her favorite...


Louis XIV Facts

  1. Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, was born on September 5, 1638
  2. Became King May 14th, 1643 when his father passed. A regent ruled while he was a child.
  3. Coronation of Louis XIV, at Reims, June 7th 1654 at the age of 16.
  4. Married Maria Teresa, princess (infanta) of Spain.
  5. March, 1661, Louix XIV took complete control of the governance of France after Mazarin, his chief minister, died.
  6. Louis XV born November, 1661. Over the next ten years, five more children born, none of whom survived.
  7. In 1661 renovations begin at the hunting lodge in Versailles in order to convert it to a palace.
  8. Took Louise De La Villiere as mistress, and between 1661 and 1667 had five children with her.
  9. 1667 - 1668 War of Devolution
  10. 1672 - Dutch War
  11. 1682 - Louis XIV set up court at the Court of Versailles, permanently leaving Paris.
  12. Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, the nurse to Louis XIV's children by his mistress Madame de Montespan, married the Sun King on October 9th, 1683 (or January, 1684) .
  13. 1688 - War of the League of Augsburg
  14. 1702 - 1715 War of the Spanish Succession
  15. Louis XIV passed on September 1st, 1715.

Louis XIV of France, also known as the Sun King, ruled France for more than seventy two years, making him the longest ruling king in European history. He was born on 5 September 1638 and died on 1 September 1715.

Politically astute, he stopped the warring between the different members of aristocracy by numbing them with entertainment at the royal court of Versailles. Politically ambitious, his many wars made France immensely powerful and added to her lands.

While Louis XIV focused on ensuring that his court was the epitome of glamour, entertainment, and focus, his real objective was to make France a great nation. He was responsible for making himself the absolute authority in France (ancient regime), increasing the territory of France. He also revoked the Edict of Nantes which resulted in the French Huguenots (Protestants) leaving France for South Africa. The sun king was aware that his policies were not of the best and always said, “After me, the deluge.”

Palace at Versailles

Palace at Versailles

Early Years of Louis XIV

Louis XIV was born on September 5, 1638, the son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Because his mother had been childless for 23 years before his birth, he was also designed the God-given - Louis dieudonnã.

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 died on May 14th, 1643 when Louis was four years old. For the next twelve years, until he turned 16, the queen was regent of France.

Although the coronation of the Sun King took place when he was 16, he only took personal control and absolute power ten years later when Mazarin, his chief minister died.

The Building of the Court at Versailles

Louis XIV wished to move his court from Paris to Versailles. Versailles was a small village, some twenty miles outside Paris. Louis XIV's father had had a hunting lodge built there in 1624.As his father had loved the area, Louis XIV often played there as a boy, and he, too, came to love the village of Versailles.

Consequently he wished to relocate his court from Paris to Versailles, and in 1661 hired Louis Le Vau, a Baroque artist, to redesign and expand the existing chateau. The chateau had a hundred rooms, and the king wished to add a further 600, bringing the total to 700 rooms.

The Sun King wish the palace to be the most prestigious and beautiful palace in the world, and as he was something of a connoisseur, he employed the greatest artists, designers, and builders of the time.

Eventually the palace came to have more than 2000 windows, 67 flights of stairs, 1250 fireplaces, and the garden park surrounding it comprised 1800 acres.

Jules Hardouin-Mansart, an architect, designed the hall of mirrors during the third upgrade (there were four separate upgrades) between 1678 and 1684. For his throne room, Louis XIV commissioned the Salon of Apollo – the Sun God – to remind people of his magnificence. It was from this room that the king came to be known as 'The Sun King.'

The palace at Versailles could accommodate 6000 people.

The palace at Versailles included a white and gold chapel, a paneled library, a clock room, and a room for the opera which was lit by some 10,000 candles.

The cost of the palace is said to have nearly bankrupted France and some 30,000 people were employed in the building of it.

Baroque décor was the fashion during the reign of Louis XIV. It was ornate, refined, detailed, with much of it in gold. In addition, furniture, paintings, tapestries, sculptures, murals, crockery and cutlery were designed and made by the best artists in the land. The garden comprised fountains, waterfalls, statues, British like formal gardens, paths with trees on either side, and a mile long canal.

Baroque, French Classicism, and Transition Styles at Versailles.

The baroque style had its beginnings in Italy and is highly decorative and flamboyant. Using finite detail, artists, architects, musicians, and dancers focused on producing grandeur. While the court was designed with many of the principles of baroque, the particular sub-section (French classicism) used at Versailles was intended to glorify Louis XIV. He saw himself as appointed by God and practiced the principles of ancien regime.

As building of the palace took place over four periods of time and several decades, there were changes in style. Initially baroque was dominant, then French classism, and finally the period of transition.

This difference in decor can be seen in the way that the earlier furniture differed from the later furniture. Initially it was exceptionally large with sculpture attached. Later marquetry became more influential with different types of woods and different colours inserted into individual pieces of furniture. André Charles Boulle was famous for his skill in marquetry.

During the period of transition, Hardouin-Mansart and Jean Bérain the Elder introduced more fantastical pieces - if less weighty.

Celebrations and Events at Versaillles

When Louis XIV took up the throne, he was already aware of the rivalry and inter-fighting between his aristocracy. In order to manage this, he implemented a policy of distraction. He entertained lavishly - so lavishly that it was spoken of throughout Europe.

His court also implemented a very strict royal protocol, even in the way the king would wake up in the morning.

The court was known for operas and ballets, and most unusually, as Louis XIV was a ballet dancer, he often danced the lead roles in the ballets composed by Moliere.

The events generally took place at the Hall of Mirrors and many thousands of courtiers attended. Some of these events would last several days, while others would stretch into a week of sumptuous entertainment. Cooking for the guests at court banquets required some 2000 cooks!

French Dress at the Court of Versailles During the Reign of Louis XIV

Fashion and Dress at court at Versailles

Dress was opulent for both men and women as can be seen in pictures below. Color was intense - reds, violet, and silver abounded. Gold was reserved for the king and for those he favored and, therefore, permitted to wear. Silks, brocades, lace, velvet, and linens were often painted on and muslins, while muslims, imported from India, were embroidered upon. These fabrics, expensive though they were, were in high demand. Dress for both men and women were highly decorative and very opulent. They were hats and wigs, and women waved fans to match dresses. The women wore a dress known as the 'Frondeuse' in the early part of the Sun King's reign and the "justacorps" in the later part of his rule.

Louis XIV Was a Ballet Dancer

Wars Fought by Louis XIV

Louis XIV fought four different wars. These were known as the Wars of Devolution, the Dutch Wars, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the war of the Spanish Succession.

Wars of Devoluiton - 1667/68

The War of Devolution (1667–1668) was short war between France and Spain over the rights to the Spanish Netherlands. Louis XIV gained a small amount of territory through this. As Marie Theresa's dowry had not been paid by the king of Spain, Louis XIV claimed the Spanish Netherlands as payment for the unpaid dowry.

Dutch Wars 1672 - 1678

This was once more about laying claim to the Spanish Netherlands.The Sun King went to war against the Dutch because he had not succeeded in previously gaining all the land in the Spanish Netherlands. A peace treaty increased French territory again - this time adding the Franche-Comté and a dozen fortified areas in the Spanish Netherlands.

War of the League of Augsburg 1688-1697

This war fought between France and and the Holy Roman Empire (led by Austria), the Dutch Republic, Spain, England and Savoy. in order to further Louis XIV's expansionist goals. When Charles II, the king of Spain died, the Sun King had visions of making Spain a French possession. This did not happen.

By the end of the war, no gains had been made to French territory.

War of the Spanish Succession 1702 - 1713

As the nine years war did not obtain the terratories that Louis XIV wished to gain for France, he once more found a pretext for war. In the end, he did not gain any territory because it was felt that he would become too powerful if he ruled both France and Spain.

The Wars of Louis XIV of France Changed the Balance of Wars in Europe

Louis XIV, Marriages and Mistresses

Louis XIV married twice - first to Marie Teresa of Spain, and after she passed to Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. His marriage to Marie Teresa was not happy, and he had numerous affairs and out-of-wedlock children. He conferred legitimacy on all his children, often granting them titles. This was out of step with the etiquette and values of the day. His second wife was also a commoner, so the marriage was never recognised, and she never became queen of France.

As a result of Louis XIV many affairs, he fathered more than a dozen illegitimate children with a number of mistresses.Louise de La Vallière gave birth to five children but only two survived. Madame de Montespan gave the king seven children.

  • Here is a list of the king's many mistresses.
  • 1653: Catherine Bellier, Baronne de Beauvais
  • 1654 - 1657 Olympe Mancini, Comtesse de Soissons
  • 1657: Anne-Madeleine de Lisle Marivault, Marquise de Calvisson
  • 1658 - 1660 Marie Mancini, Princesse de Colonna
  • 1658: Daughter of a gardener
  • 1661: Bonne de Pons, Madame d'HeudicourtY
  • 1661 - 1667: Françoise-Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, Duchesse de La Vallière*
  • 1662: Anne-Lucie de La Mothe-Houdancourt, Duchesse de Vieuville
  • 1662: Anne de Conty d'Argencourt
  • 1665: Bonne de Pons, Marquise d'Heudicourt
  • 1665: Charlotte-Catherine de Gramont, Princesse de Monaco
  • 1667 - 1681: Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan
  • 1669, 1673 - 1675 Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princesse de Soubise
  • 1670 - 1672; Lydie de Rochefort-Théobon, Comtesse de Beuvron
  • 1670 - 1672: Lydie de Rochefort-Théobon, Comtesse de Beuvron
  • 1670 - 1676 Claude de Vin des Oeillets
  • 1675 - 1677: Marie-Élisabeth de Ludres (called Isabelle), Marquise de Ludres
  • 1676 - 1677: Marie-Charlotte de Castelnau, Comtesse de Louvigny
  • 1678: Elizabeth Hamilton, Comtesse de Gramont
  • 1679 - 1681: Marie-Angélique de Scorailles de Roussille, Duchesse de Fontange
  • 1680 - 1715 Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon - the king's mistress became his second wife.
  • 1680: Diane-Gabrielle Damas de Thianges, Duchesse de Nevers
  • 1680 - 1683: Marie Madeleine Agnès de Gontaut Biron, Marquise de Nogaret
  • Year Uncertain: Louise-Élisabeth Rouxel, Mademoiselle de GranceyYear: somewhat uncertain
  • 1681: Jeanne de Rouvroy, Marquise de ChevrièresYear: 1681
  • 1681:Marie-Anne de Wurtemberg, Princesse de Wurtemberg
  • 1681: Françoise Thérèse de Voyer de Dorée, Mademoiselle d'Oré
  • 1681: Marie-Antoinette de Rouvroy, Comtesse d'Oisy
  • 1682; Marie-Rosalie de Piennes, Marquise de Châtillon
  • 1682: Madame de Saint-Martin
  • 1683: Marie-Louise de Montmorency-Laval, Duchesse de Roquelaure
  • 1683: Julie de Guenami, Mademoiselle de Châteaubriant was 15 years old when she became the king's mistress, and she was the last woman whom the king was said to have had a brief affair with.

Leonardo Di Caprio as Louis XIV in The Man with the Iron Mask

Death and Succession of Louis XIV, the Sun King, King of France.

Louis XIV died of gangrene in Versailles at the age of 76. He had come to the throne at the age of four, and had never known anything of a normal life. As he had always worked hard to ensure that there were no threats to his power, he had, in a way caused issues with his successors. His sons died either before him, or shortly after him. The sons of his sons also didn’t live to succeed Louis XIV. The only heir left was the five year old Duke of Anjou who was Louis XIV’s great grandson.

The sun king knew that there would be many troubles after him and said, "After me, the deluge."

Louis XIV is remembered for many things, but it is the Palace at Versailles, the grand entertainment, and his many mistresses that live on in the public imagination. Alexander Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers, wrote about Louis XIV in his book, The Man in the Iron Mask. Sergeanne Golan set her famous historical novel, Angelique, in the time of Louis XIV.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger


Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on July 09, 2019:

Ah yes, royalty. What would we do without them? Louis XIV began wars based on pretexts. Are we doing the same thing even without royalty?

I propose a civil service system with tests for advancement for all public positions. We would eliminate: campaigning, PAC funds, and obvious Bribery. Bribery would, of course, be illegal. Punishable by, fines, prison, and or loss of pension benefits.

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