The Life of Louix XIV

King Louis XIV of France, aka the Sun King, ranks as one of the most inept, alienated and self-centered monarchs in history.

For 54 years, he used the French government as a his board game.

He is the ultimate absolutist monarch. However, his reign was so long that France could only stabilize. So if you like extravagant, war-mongering control freaks, he's your guy.

His was the longest-spanning rule of European history. There is credit to be given to him, though -- he only fought in four wars and yet he managed to fight every country in Europe.

God's gift to France

Museum Orsay

Louis was born on 5 September 1638 Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. His was regarded as somewhat of a divine gift -- his parents had failed to have any children for about 23 years (Louis XIII was openly homosexual). Thus, he was named "Louis-Dieudonné" (Louis-God-given).

He succeeded his father on the throne at the age of four however for 18 years, Anne of Austria served as his regent, advised by Cardinal Mazarin. Louis's minority was characterized by the Fronde (1648-53) a period when the great nobles and the judges of the parlement of Paris put up an intense fight in reaction to the centralizing policies the chief minister.

As the French have a tendency to remove and then restore their kings, Louis XIV once found himself held under virtual arrest in the royal palace in Paris.

The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years' War, together with the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), which concluded prolonged warfare with Spain, made France the leading European power. Louis XIV agreed to marry to Marie Therese, the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, in 1660. If only more wars could be solved like that.

The Glory Years

However, Mazarin died in 1661. This mean Louis could absolutely control the government now. He astounded his court by becoming his own chief minister, thereby ending the long "reign of the cardinal-ministers". From 1661 to 1664 the sensational trial of the then finance minister Nicolas Fouquet took place. Corrupt and powerful he was eventually sent to prison for life. KingLouis XIV controlled his own government until his death.

An adherent of the theory of the divine right of kings, which advocates the divine origin and lack of temporal restraint of monarchical rule, Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralized state governed from the capital.

He set about reducing national debt through more efficient taxation and also bolstered commerce and trade by inviting manufacturers from all over Europe to France. He instigated reforms in the military as well as in the law, establishing a basis for the modern legal code.

Louis XIV did not neglect the arts and was a generous patron of the great literary and artistic figures of France's classical age, including Moliere, Le Brun, Le Vau and Mansart. His state established in rapid succession academies for painting and sculpture, inscriptions, French artists at Rome, and science, followed by the Paris Observatory and the academies of architecture and music.

The King's Mistresses

Luis XIV

Although Louis XIV was fond of his wife, Maria Teresa, he was far from a faithful husband. For a while he pursued his brother's wife, Henrietta of England, but during his visits to her rooms, one of her ladies-in-waiting Louise de La Vallière caught his eye.

Louise was an innocent, religious-minded girl who soon fell in love with the King, only to be caught by an attack of conscience a year into their affair.

She was re-persuaded by Louis and their affair lasted 6 years and produced 6 children.

His next mistress was Madame de Montespan who was called by some the "true Queen of France" during her romantic relationship with Louis XIV due to the pervasiveness of her influence at court during that time. A friend of Louise de La Vallière, Madame de Montespan used her position to engratiate herself with the King and become his mistress.

She bore the first of seven children in 1669 and the new-born child, a girl, Louise Françoise de Bourbon, was entrusted to one of Madame de Montespan's friends, Madame Scarron.

Affaire des Poisons

In 1673 the the couple's three living illegitimate children were recognized by Louis XIV and sent to live with Madame Scarron as well. The Affaire des Poisons, which erupted in September 1677, was to be the beginning of the end of the reign of La Montespan. She was rumoured to have poisoned the young and beautiful Duchess of Fontanges who was catching the King's eye but no evidence was ever found.

La Montespan exiled herself from court after seeing that Louis had fallen in love with the kindly and intelligent governess of their children, Madame Scarron. She was nicknamed Madame de Maintenon by the courty and proved to be a great influence over the King.

In fact the King made Madame de Maintenon his second wife in a secret ceremony in 1985 but it was not made public due to the disparity in their social status's. The Queen, Maria Teresa was devoted to her and died in her arms and the King remained faitful to her until his death in 1715.

Read about the Sun King's rather bizarre routine and court life here.