Society

Louis XIV of France: World Leaders in History

Also known as the "Sun King," the third King of the French Bourbons was an absolute monarch with a controversial legacy.

5. Early Life

Louis XIV was born on September 5th, 1638, in the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the son of King Louis XIII of France and Queen Anne of Austria. He was later to become known as the "Sun King". Young Louis was extremely close to his mother, Queen Anne. Because of the old age of his father, over the course of his childhood he was primed as a leader to take over his father's throne. As a result, he received a practical, rather than a scholarly, education. His godfather, Chief Minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin, tutored him in history, politics, and the arts, while his governor, Nicholas de Neufville, was appointed to keep watch over him.

4. Rise to Power

On May 14, 1643, when Louis XIV was just four years old, his father died. Louis XIV succeeded his father to the throne, becoming the third monarch of the House of Bourbon, while his mother, Queen Anne, became the Regent of France. She chose Mazarin to be her chief minister, which led to a rebellion and, later, to an all-out civil war in 1648. The civil war, which would come to be known as the Fronde, was not to be quenched until 1653. Louis XIV was declared of age in 1654, but still had to listen to Mazarin and his advice. Finally, when Mazarin died in March of 1661, Louis was able to assume personal control of the government, and declared that he would rule from then on without a chief minister.

3. Contributions

During his reign, Louis XIV established systematic reforms that effectively managed France's deficit, and promoted industrial development. He managed to improve the chaotic taxation system, and also ordered that more of the French nobility be required to pay taxes as well, in the hope of both increasing domestic revenue and making the nobles more fiscally dependent upon him and the crown. Aside from his reforms to the domestic government, Louis XIV also initiated a number of programs and institutes to develop and spread French culture. The most notable of these included the Academy of Inscriptions and Belle-Lettres was founded in 1663, followed by the Royal Academy of Music in 1666.

2. Challenges

During the early years of his reign, Spain's foreign policies and its growing hegemonic power served as great threats to France. Ambitious and determined, Louis XIV launched the War of Devolution in 1667 against the Spanish Netherlands. This war lasted but a single year, and ended when the French surrendered and gave the lands back over to Spain. He then waged waged the Franco-Dutch War from 1672 to 1678, acquiring a good deal of land in the Flanders region. These aggressive foreign measures led Spain, England, and the Holy Roman Empire to form a Grand Alliance against France. Fighting this Grand Alliance in the Nine Years' War (also known as the War of the League of Augsburg) greatly drained France's finances and manpower resources, and saw its territorial bounds reshaped as it both gained and lost lands.

1. Death and Legacy

Four days before his 77th birthday, Louis died of gangrene at Versailles, on the 1st day of September in 1715. His body was laid to rest in the Saint-Denis Basilica outside of Paris. Over the course of his 72-year-long reign, he achieved many military and diplomatic successes, which expanded France's territory and created more defensible frontiers. These transformations of the nation's size and shape largely preserved France from foreign invasion until the time of the French Revolution. The developments he promoted in culture and the arts had profound influences, and many people today attribute the global prominence of French Culture seen today to what came from these efforts. However, his massive foreign and military expenditures, as well as his equally extravagant domestic spending, impoverished the country, and is seen as directly triggering the upheavel in the decades following his death. His push for an absolute monarchy, which many of the French people experienced as tyrannical oppression, served as a major trigger for the French Revolution that would erupt at the end of the century.

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