Three hundred years ago today Louis XIV died in the Palace of Versailles at the end of a reign of 72 years and 110 days, the longest of any monarch in France. Louis XIV incarnates the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime and is famous for having built the Palace of Versailles.
Louis XIV, the Sun King
In 1938 exhibitions and cultural events were organised in France for the 300th anniversary of Louis XIV’s birth. This month, 77 years later a few places including Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Maisons-Laffitte, Marly-le-Roi, Port-Marly and Versailles mark the 300th anniversary of the monarch’s death.
Louis XIV, known as the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil) by his admirers, was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (at the Henri IV Pavilion near the castle) on the 5th September 1638 and died at the Palace of Versailles on the 1st September 1715.
Louis XIV aged 10
Louis XIV aged 23
Louis XIV aged 63
As a monarch of the House of Bourbon he ruled as King of France from 1643 until his death. His reign was considered as ‘the fullest of splendour and misery’. In the 17th century, France was the leading European power.
“Like many another great man endowed with exceptional qualities, Louis XIV could have achieved tremendous and lasting benefits for his country and his people, but he allowed his great gifts to be subordinated to a selfish pride and vainglory which undermined his success, and which, after he had brought France to a high pitch of ascendancy, brought her to the verge of ruin, paved the way for the Revolution, and sealed the fate of her royalty.“
(P.E. Smythe in ‘A study of France and the French people’).
The reign of Louis XIV was distinguished by prominent men who played military, financial and cultural roles: Mazarin, Condé, Colbert, Louvois, Turenne, Vauban, Bossuet, Corneille, Boileau, La Fontaine, Le Brun, Le Nôtre, Le Vau, Lully, Mansart, Molière, Racine, Charles and Claude Perrault…
His architectural legacy is best seen at the Palace of Versailles. The former hunting lodge of Louis XIII was transformed by his son Louis XIV into a spectacular and lavish residence to serve as the Seat of his power. Other grand monuments were built by Louis including the Hôtel des Invalides and its golden dome (1679), the East wing of the Louvre, and the Canal du Midi (1681) between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
He ordered the ports of Brest and Toulon to be developed and fortified the cities of Belfort, Besançon, Briançon, and Lille with the help of Vauban. When he gained territories over his enemies, he commissioned the creation of new towns such as Neuf-Brisach in Alsace.
Three major wars were fought during the reign of the Louis the Great: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession.
It was during Louis XIV’s reign that La Salle followed the Mississippi from source to mouth and Louisiana was added to the possessions of France.
The sun was chosen by Louis XIV as his own emblem and can be seen throughout Versailles. In Ancient Times, the sun was associated with Apollo, god of music, poetry, art, light and knowledge.
In 1660, Louis XIV married Maria Theresa (1638-1683), the eldest daughter of the king of Spain and had six children. His famous mistresses were Louise de La Vallière and Françoise-Athénaïs de Montespan. After the death of Maria Theresa, Louis secretly remarried to Françoise d’Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719).
On the 1st September 1715, four days before his 77th birthday Louis XIV died of gangrene. After his death his body was buried in Saint-Denis basilica, the necropolis of the kings and queens of France. Louis XIV’s coffin was desecrated on the 14th October 1793 by the Revolutionaries and his corpse thrown in a common grave to the North of the basilica. In 1841, Louis-Philippe commissioned a cenotaph (an empty funeral monument) in the Bourbons’ commemorative chapel inside the basilica of Saint-Denis.
Louis XIV was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV who was 5 at the time.