Louis XIV, The SunKingLouis XIV was only four years old whenhe succeeded his father to the French throne. Often uncared for, he nearlydrowned because no one was watching him as he played near a pond. Thisbegan to shape in his young mind an early fear of God.
Louis’ character was also shaped by theFrench Civil War. In this, the Paris Parlement rose against the crown.
For five years, Louis would suffer fear, cold, hunger and other spirit-breakingevents. He would never forgive Paris, the nobles, or the common people.
Finally, in 1653, Cardinal Jules Mazarinwas able to end the rebellion. He began to instruct Louis on his positionas king. Even though Louis XIV was now of age, the Cardinal remained thedominant authority in French politics.
French kings gained respect as a soldier;Louis served with the French army during France’s war with Spain. His biggestbattle, however, was sacrificing his love for Mazarin’s niece for politics.
In 1660 he married the daughter of the king of Spain to bring peace betweenthe two countries.
Mazarin died March 9, 1661. On March 10,Louis claimed supreme authority in France. Not since Henry IV had sucha claim been made. Louis saw himself as God’s representative on earth,therefore, infallible. He oversaw roadbuilding, court decorum, defense,and disputes within the church.
He had the support initially of his ministers,then that of the French people. He had given France the image it desired-youthand vitality surrounded by magnificence. Louis won the favor of the noblesby making it evident that their future depended on their ability stay onhis good side. This weakened the nobility, and would eventually weakenFrance.
Louis had among his supportors a wide spectrumof individuals. Writers such as Moliere were ordered to glorify him. Monumentsrose throughout the country and Louis had palaces built in his honor. Themost elaborate was Versailles, located outside Paris. Away from disease,Versailles also isolated the king from his people. The aristocracy becamemysterious.
France was also undergoing an economicrevolution. Exports were increased, and a navy, merchant marine, and policeassociation emerged. Roads, ports and canals were being built. He invadedthe Spanish Nederlands in 1667. The restarted war between France and Spainwould be on again, off again for the remainder of Louis’ reign.
In 1668, the French army retreated underpressure from Dutch and English forces. Louis swore to defeat the Dutchand ruin their Protestant mercantile republic. He allied himself with hiscousin, Charles II of England, and invaded the Netherlands in 1672. Louiswas victorious when the Treaty of Mijmegen was signed in 1678. When theDutch were defeated, he had also defeated its allies, Spain and the HolyRoman Empire. France’s borders had expanded to the north and the east.
His navy had become as as large as that of England and Holland.
His private life was not as fortunate.
Friends had been implicated in the Affair of the Poisons, where eminentpeople had been accused of sorcery and murder. Louis ordered his courtto become discrete. The seat of Government was transferred to Versaillesin 1682. When the Queen died, he married her Mme de Maintenon, who hadbeen governess to the King’s children.
Louis did not understand the reformation,and he viewed French Protestants as threats to the throne. He revoked theEdict of Nantes, which had granted them freedom of worship. Many left France,those that remained were persecuted.
England, the Dutch, and the Holy RomanEmpire united in 1688 in the Grand Alliance to stop French expansion. Thiswar ended in 1697 with the signing of the Treaty of Rijswijk. France lostpart of its territory, and Louis lost public support. He was forced torecognize William of Orange as king of England. This went against his beliefthat the Stuarts had divine right to the throne.
Charles II, the last Habsburg king of Spaindied in 1700, and bequeathed his kingdoms to Louis’ grandson, Philip ofAnjou (Philip V). Although initially opposed to the inheritance, Louisfinally went along with it in order to prevent Spain from falling intothe hands of the Holy Roman emperor, Leopold I, who disputed Philip’s claim.
In the War of the Spanish Succession theanti-French alliance was reactivated by William of Orange. By 1709, Francewas near to losing all it had gained over the past century. Louis’ privatelife was also a wreck: his son, two grandsons, and a great grandson died.
Instead of breaking down as was expected, he held himself together. Hebore not