Louis XIV the Sun King died 300 years ago today

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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.

In 2015, 77 years later a few towns marked the 300th anniversary of the monarch’s death, for instance:

The Castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye © French Moments

The Castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye © French Moments

Louis XIV, aka 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. He died at the Palace of Versailles on the 1st September 1715.

Louis XIV aged 10

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Louis XIV aged 23

Louis XIV in 1661 by Charles Le Brun

The king in 1661 by Charles Le Brun

Louis XIV aged 63

Louis XIV King of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud

The King of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud

As a monarch of the House of Bourbon he ruled as King of France from 1643 until his death. Many considered his reign as ‘the fullest of splendour and misery’. Indeed, 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’).

Louis XIV bust in the Grand Trianon © French Moments

The king’s bust in the Grand Trianon © French Moments

The great men of the king

Prominent men distinguished the reign of Louis XIV. They played military, financial and cultural roles, for instance:

  • Mazarin,
  • Condé,
  • Colbert,
  • Louvois,
  • Turenne,
  • Vauban,
  • Bossuet,
  • Corneille,
  • Boileau,
  • La Fontaine,
  • Le Brun,
  • Le Nôtre,
  • Lully
  • Le Vau,
  • Mansart,
  • Molière,
  • Racine,
  • Charles, and
  • Claude Perrault…

A great architectural legacy

His architectural legacy is best seen at the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV transformed the former hunting lodge of his father Louis XIII into a spectacular and lavish residence to serve as the Seat of his power. Louis commissioned other grand monuments such as:

  • 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.
Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV in Versailles © French Moments

Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV in Versailles © French Moments

Port cities and formidable fortified towns

The king developed the ports of Brest and Toulon 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.

Besançon Citadel © French Moments

Besançon Citadel © French Moments

Briançon Vauban © Etienne Baudon - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The fortified town of Briançon © Etienne Baudon – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

A warmonger king

Louis the Great fought three major wars:

  • 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 king

Louis XIV choose the sun as his own emblem and you’ll see it in many places in Versailles. In Ancient Times, the sun was associated with Apollo, god of music, poetry, art, light and knowledge.

Sun King emblem Palace of Versailles © French Moments

Sun King emblem, Palace of Versailles © French Moments

The king’s wife and… mistresses

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).

The King’s death

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.

On the 14th October 1793, the Revolutionaries desecrated Louis XIV’s coffin and they threw his corpse 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.

Cenotaph of Louis XIV Saint-Denis Basilica © French Moments

Cenotaph of Louis XIV in Saint-Denis basilica © French Moments

Louis XV succeeded his great-grandfather, at age 5.


Buy your online ticket to visit the Palace of Versailles and its stunning domain (Park, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, Hameau de la Reine).


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management.

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