King Louis XIV Chapter 1Louis XIV Chapter 2

Le Roy Soleil

Louis XIV is remembered as the greatest King of France. In his adolescence his character was formed by civil strife and an endless war with Spain. He became so powerful that everybody had to submit to his authority. He crushed internal opposition, had an endless string of mistresses and tried dominate the rest of Europe. The cultural effects of his reign are to a certain extent side effects of this political agenda. On this page is the life of Louis XIV till he started to rule in 1661. The rest is on the next page.

1 Events preceding the reign of Louis XIV

Louis XIV's father and grandfather

The policies of Louis XIV might perhaps be ascribed to his character but can just as well be explained by his character being formed by the early events of his reign and the events that had preceded it. It's useful to take a look at the lives of his father and grandfather in order to comprehend Louis' view of the world.

His grandfather Henry IV

The life of Louis XIV's grandfather Henry IV was dominated by the wars of religion which had started in 1562. In the midst of these Henry III had been assassinated in 1589. Thereupon the throne had fallen to the protestant leader Henry of Navarra, who became known as King Henry IV. Because Henry was a Protestant he had to convert to Catholicism and had to conquer his kingdom by arms, which led to a whole new round of bloodshed. Finally Henry IV succeeded in this and founded the Bourbon dynasty. He also put an end to the religious civil wars in 1598. The edict of Nantes signed in that same year would succeed in keeping the religious peace for years to come. Henry IV was assassinated in turn in 1610 whereupon the throne fell to the underage Louis XIII (b. 1601).

His father Louis XIII

After the accession of Louis XIII French policy was managed by Cardinal de Richelieu. It began with an official policy of reconciliation with Spain but also saw the conquest of the Protestant strong point of La Rochelle in 1628. Open conflict with Spain over the succession of Mantua would then lead to the French possession of Pignerol by the peace treaty of 1631. This peace was followed by a policy by which Richelieu covertly supported Spain's enemies up to 1635, bringing the Swedes to combat in Germany. After these were defeated Richelieu deemed it necessary to declare open war against Spain in 1635. During this conflict, that became part of the thirty years war, Richelieu died on 14 December 1642. Louis XIII died shortly after on 14 May 1643.

2 The Regency and the rule by Mazarin

2.1 Louis XIV's Birth

Louis XIII and Anne of Austria (1601-1666) had been married on 24 November 1615 and up till 1637 they had only had miscarriages. When her pregnancy became known in 1638 it of course sparked the hopes of the nation for a regular succession to the kingdom. Louis XIII strengthened these hopes by pledging himself and France to the Virgin Mary on 10 February. On 15 August the prayers and processions for a healthy delivery reached fever pitch on the occasion of the feast of Mary's assumption. On 4 September 1638 the Princesse de Condé, the Countess de Soissons, the Duchess of Vendome, la Connétable de Montmorency, the Duchess of Bouillon la Marck and others arrived at the palace of Saint Germain en Laye in order to assist at the delivery. Anne's labor began at two o'clock in the morning of the 5th, and Mass was celebrated in her chamber. At half past eleven that morning the future Louis XIV was born1.

The first governess of Louis was Françoise de Souvray Marquise Douarrière de Lansac. His wet nurse was Madame de la Giraudière wife of the King's attorney at the finance department in Orléans2. Later the circumstances of his birth became somewhat less unique by the birth of his brother Philippe I Duc d'Orléans (then only Duc d'Anjou) on 21 September 1640.

On 20 April 1643 Louis XIII sensed that he had not much longer to live announced that a regency council should govern for the King during his minority. This 'ordonnance' became law when it was registered at the parlement de Paris the next day. That same day happened the official baptism of Louis, up till then only known as Monseigneur le Dauphin. In a 21 April ceremony held in the chapel of the palace of Saint Germain en Laye (then known as the old palace) the Dauphin was named Louis. Cardinal Mazarin and the Princess of Condé became his godparents.

2.2 Louis becomes King

When Louis XIII died on 14 May 1643 Louis became King Louis XIV at age 43. Up till the time of his coronation Louis' effective rule would however not start. The first thing that happened in his reign was therefore a power struggle about the Regency. On 15 May Anne of Austria went to Paris with King Louis. On 18 May she arranged a session of the parliament with Louis present in his Lit de Justice. In this session Anne got all she wanted, because the regency and the education of the king were conferred on her. Gaston d'Orléans and the Prince Condé continued to have an official place in the regency government, but only to assist her, not to be co-regents.

2.3 Moves to the Palais-Royal

When this ceremony was hardly over when it became known that Anne of Austria had appointed Cardinal Mazarin as prime minister. For some time the Royal family then stayed at the Louvre, but the regency lead to another round of struggling with the elite. On 2 September 1643 the Duc de Beaufort was arrested on suspicion of having intentions to kill Mazarin. The cardinal therefore proposed to move the royal household. The Palais Cardinal was less open to their enemies and therefore a safer place. In the beginning of October 1643 Anne and both her children therefore went to live there4 and the palace was renamed Palais-Royal5.

2.4 Education of Louis XIV

Like all princes Louis spent his childhood in the company of women till the age of about seven. As stated above Madame de Lansac was his first 'gouvernante'. After the death of Louis XIII she was replaced by Madame de Senecé6.

In 1645/6 Louis entered the world of men when Mazarin was appointed as intendant of the royal education. Mazarin then chose the Marquis de Villeroy to be appointed as governor and below him the Abbé de Beaumont as précepteur. The marquis de Villeroy (father of the later Marshal de Villeroy) was a man proficient in military affairs, but above all knowledgeable in the internal affairs of the kingdom. The Abbé de Beaumont was also more knowledgeable in politics then in (divine) science

A very important part of this education was about Villeroy just talking about how a court worked and serving up endless examples and anecdotes. On a 'lesson' level this continued with stressing the study of history and literature, which served up the same, but then on a more abstract level. Of course there was also the study of languages (without much success), dancing and even drawing, but this was not the most important part.

Paramount in this education was the art of war. This stressed the physical aspects like horse-riding, sword-fighting, shooting and use of the pike. It also concerned the science of war and how to command an army. This meant early participation in military affairs and above all 'playing' with a vast array of military toys. All this did not mean that Anne abandoned his education all together. She continued to try and maintain the characteristics like virtue, wisdom and piety that she had instilled in his early youth7.

2.5 The first Fronde

As regards politics Cardinal Mazarin continued those of his predecessor. Internally this meant keeping the nobility submitted to the crown. Externally it meant the continuation of the war with Spain (since 1635) and the empire. This war was successful, but led to a high fiscal pressure and therefore a lot of misery to the population. Mazarin decided that at the peace talks which led to the Peace of Westphalia France would only make peace with the empire, and not with Spain.

In order to continue this war higher taxation was proposed, but refused by the Parlement de Paris. On 15 January 1648 Louis was in a Lit de Justice with the parliament in order to force it to register 7 fiscal laws. Other measures led to an even more intense struggle with the parliament and the union of the Parlement de Paris with the other Cours Souveraines. Finally the court decided to give in and on 31 July 1648 King Louis went to the parliament with his mother and had a declaration read that agreed to almost all parliamentary demands8.

After the 20 August 1648 victory by Condé over the Spanish at Lens, Mazarin felt able to overcome the resistance. On 26 August there was a Te Deum for this victory, and in the early morning Mazarin had Councilors Broussel and Blancmesnel arrested. On 27 August the chancellor was attacked in the streets by some rioters and took refuge in the Hotel de Luynes. Some companies of Guards came in and succeeded in freeing him by firing on the rioters. This enflamed the population which reacted by erecting barricades throughout Paris. Confronted with a rebellion which might march on the Palais Royal, the court gave in and freed the councillors9. The court then left Paris for Rueil, but returned after talks at Saint Germain had led to the 24/28 October declaration which again favored parliament.

The struggle then continued and in the night of 5-6 January the court abruptly left Paris for Saint Germain10. A royal army under Condé then started to blockade Paris. In Paris the population was up in arms and the command was held by Conti, in the army Turenne revolted. The blockade however succeeded in bringing Paris to its knees. This first Fronde ended with the peace of Rueil signed in March 1649. The advantage was with the government, but all rebels were pardoned11, and therefore no final solution was reached. Anne of Austria and her sons were more or less forced to return to Paris in August.

2.6 Fronde des Princes

Continued tension led to Mazarin ordering the arrest of Condé, Conti and the Longeuville on 18 January 165012. Turenne and Madame de Longueville tried to raise their retainers against the court, but their actions were made largely ineffective by Louis travelling to Normandy and Burgundy. Turenne and Madame de Longueville then allied themselves to Spain. The Princess de Condé went to Bordeaux and got the Parlement de Bordeaux on her side. Louis then travelled to Guyenne with an army and after a formal siege; Bordeaux made peace with the king. The court returned to Paris and Turenne and the Spanish were beaten at Rethel (northern France near the Meuse) in mid-December 1650.

In early 1651 parliament started to act for the freedom of the princes. On 2 February this culminated in Louis' uncle Gaston Duc d'Orléans declaring himself against Mazarin. Shortly after the cardinal left Paris. The court tried to leave too, but Gaston d'Orléans prevented this. The court was then forced to order the release of the princes, who soon arrived in Paris. Shortly after being set free the princes quarreled with Gaston and the parliament. The tension between the court and the princes mounted when on 6 July Condé left Paris for his Chateau de Saint Maur13. He then re-entered Paris with an armed retinue, but nothing final was achieved, and so Condé left to raise his party in Guyenne.

Shortly after his thirteenth birthday on 5 September 1651, King Louis was declared to be of age on the 7th. This enabled Anne of Austria to risk open civil war, and on the same day the court left for Berry and Poitou. It quickly succeeded in bringing these provinces under the authority of the court14. The queen was now free, and prepared the recall of Mazarin, who arrived in Sedan on 25 December. On 27 January 1652 the court was at Poitiers, when Mazarin arrived there with 6,000 troops. Because Gaston and the Parlement did not move, it seemed the court would restore order by suppressing Condé.

While this was happening the Duc de Nemours marched an army of German regiments borrowed from Spain to Paris in February. Parliament then openly sided with the Princes. Louis reacted by marching north and some minor battles were fought, mainly to the advantage of the king. After sending Mazarin away to Bouillion negotiations with the Parlement de Paris still failed. The Duke of Lorraine then intervened and united his army to those of the Duc de Nemours and Condé. Near Corbeil this united army faced the royal army under Turenne for a time. This prompted Louis to compromise and make peace with Gaston and the parliament, leading to his entry in Paris on 21 October15. On 22 October Louis held a Lit de Justice at the Louvre. In it were registered a general amnesty and a specific order for parliament not to treat any affair of state.

In February 1653 Mazarin returned to power. In June 1653 Condé's stronghold Seurre in Burgundy was taken16. In July Bourg (Gironde) and Libourne were besieged and taken. On 3 August the royal army entered Bordeaux, which had surrendered by treaty. The Princess of Condé and Duke of Enghien would join Condé in the Spanish Netherlands, the Prince de Conti and the Duchess of Longueville were granted amnesty. Condé's last stronghold Périgueux surrendered soon after.

In the north Louis would play a minor role in suppressing the rebellion. Together with Mazarin he went to Compiègne on 16 July, and on 19 July La Fère was brought under royal obedience by paying 50,000 ecus due to the governor. On 25 July he reviewed the army and then marched with it for a few days. After that he returned in Paris on the 30th. In September Louis again made a small journey to the north and visited Amiens. Later the action moved east, and Louis moved there too. It's hard to say why Louis made these journeys. During the Fronde there were clear security reasons forcing him to move with the court and the army. In 1653 there might have been educational or political reasons for being with the army. However that might be, this 'campaigning' was done without the risk of a stray bullet hitting the king.

2.7 Conclusion about external influences on Louis' character

In the years before his coronation Louis had been at war with Spain his whole life and had seen five years of civil war. Henry III and Henry IV had been assassinated and his own uncle and relations had plotted against him. One can easily understand that the mature Louis would see to every measure that would help insure his security against external and above all against internal foes. With that the main lines of his policy had been laid down.

3 King Louis XIV

3.1 Coronation of King Louis XIV

In early 1654 France was internally at peace, and Louis was 15 years old. This made for a good opportunity to strengthen his authority by performing the ritual of anointment and coronation of the king at Reims. On 7 June most of the upper nobility and clergy of France were assembled in the Cathedral of Reims. The bishop of Soissons anointed Louis with the sacred ampulla and crowned him with was then regarded as the crown of Charlemagne. At the time the coronation no longer had any judicial value, but it still had religious value, elevating the king above all other laymen.

After his coronation Louis XIV went on campaign and the siege of Stenay was commenced in his presence17. Later he established himself at Sedan, from whence he made frequent visits to the army, which took Stenay on 5 August 1654. Next he went near the front in order to encourage the army that lifted the siege of Arras on 25 August. This was followed by the conquest of Quesnoy.

3.2 Courts Olympia Mancini

The relation between Olympia Mancini and Louis has been described in variations ranging from innocent to sexual. Louis' attachment to her is said to have started immediately after the October 1652 peace with parliament had led to a restoration of the internal peace of the kingdom and the return of pleasures at court19. This is rather cryptic, but the fall of 1654, when Louis turned 16 might be a likely moment. Olympia was not a beauty, but looked agreeable20.

The queen knew of Louis' preference for Olympia, and it might be that at the start it was innocent enough. It's certain that it manifested itself in participating together in the events at court and Louis openly showing his preference for her. This up to that all the balls and other entertainment 'seemed to be organized only in her honor'21. If one considers that it lasted till after Louis had turned 18 in 1656, one might consider whether the relation stayed innocent all the time. In late February 1657 Olympia married Prince Eugène Maurice de Savoie-Carignan. According to some the marriage was the achievement of her ambition to become a princess22. Others say that it was organized in order to quell her affair with Louis. In order to prove this they often mention that the first child of this marriage was conceived before the marriage, but that's unlikely because Louis Thomas was born on 16 December 165823. That most agree that this affair was innocent at the time does not mean that it stayed so after her marriage.

3.3 'Campaigning' in Flanders

In 1655 Louis XIV started with a Lit de justice in parliament on 20 March. The parliament then started to verify his edicts, and for Louis this was reason to appear in parliament again, and to expressly forbid the verifications, to which the members only agreed after some modifications had been made. On 18 May the court moved Compiègne in order to be near the front and on 7 June it reached La Fère. On 18 June the siege of Landrecies was started and the Spanish army camped nearby. On 1 July the appearance of Spanish parties induced the court to flee from La Fère and to establish itself at Soissons. On 14 July Landrecies surrendered and the court returned to La Fère.

Louis now wanted to march with the army for a while. The fact that he had to have his mother's consent gives some insight in how independent he was at the time24. From 30 July to 13 August Louis marched at the head of his army. From 15 August till 19 August Condé-sur-l'Escaut was besieged. Louis then rejoined the army and went to the short siege of Saint Guislain, which he seems to have attended only from a safe distance. After that Louis was back at La Fère on the 29th. On 4 September Louis was back at the Louvre. Next he entertained the Duke of Mantua at Fontainebleau till 23 September. This was followed by 10 day fever officially caused by the fatigues of his campaign. After recovering Louis went to spend the winter in Paris.

January 1656 started with the arrival of the Duke of Modena, who was brilliantly entertained at the Louvre for almost a whole month25. In February the Princess of Orange visited. On 27 May Louis went to Compiègne and later continued to La Fère. The army started to besiege Valenciennes on 15 June. In the night of 15-16 July one of the wings of this army was totally defeated, and the siege hastily lifted. The Spanish then started to besiege Condé-sur-l'Escaut, which surrendered mid-August. From 16-23 September Louis entertained the Queen of Sweden at Compiègne. In late September Louis went to the army, but he was back in Paris on 9 October 1656.

3.4 Affair with Maria Mancini

It's not immediately clear whether Louis' had a serious love affair with Maria (Marie) Mancini, niece of Mazarin. It happened in 1658/9, right before he left for the Spanish border. After they were thus separated the affair continued by writing lots of letters to each other. Mazarin perceived this, and ensured that Maria did not see Louis again till after Louis' wife was present. This affair became very public when Les Mémoires de Madame le Princesse Marie Mancini Colonna26 were published in 1677. In them Maria Mancini states that she was removed from France and married to Colonna in order to prevent any difficulties that the love affair might generate. Pierre Bayle made this somewhat more precise by stating that: there was no doubt that Louis loved her; that she hoped to marry him and that Mazarin ended the affair27.

Was the relation between Louis and Maria a rather innocent mutual desire, or should Maria be considered as Louis' first mistress? Several authors quote her sister's statement that after their marriage Colonna was surprised to find that Maria was still a virgin28. This statement refers to the tradition about a virgin bride always bleeding on the wedding night, a tradition which was doubted even then29. It was also well known how a woman might fraud her husband into believing she had bled30. The statement therefore was not taken too seriously.

The statement does however make it clear that society believed Maria to have been the second mistress of Louis. Otherwise a statement of such doubtful value in combination with Colonna's 'surprise' would have caused a stain on Maria's reputation, in stead of repairing it to some degree.

3.5 Marriage to Maria Theresa of Spain

In 1658 the Battle of the Dunes led to England getting Dunkirk, and after that Louis seemed on his way to conquer the whole of Flanders. Peace was finally concluded in November 1659 with France getting considerable territorial advantages and Louis XIV forgiving Condé.

The marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa was a condition forced upon Spain at the Peace. As such the marriage, which took place on 9 June 1660, was purely political and had little to do with love. Maria Theresa was rather short, ugly and of very moderate intellect. To the credit of Louis XIV it's said that their first year or so was a real marriage. After that Louis would continue to sleep with her but reserve his real passion for his mistresses. Unlike other ambitious men Louis XIV would not find a counter weight in a trusted spouse who could stand up to him.


1) Les Eloges de nos Rois by Hilarion de Coste, Paris 1643, page 198 for the events surrounding Louis XIV's birth.
2) The Mercure François volume 22 Paris 1646, page 293 / 294 has the names of his governess and wet-nurse.
3) For example: Traité de la majorité de nos rois et des Regences du Royaume, Paris 1655, page 1: L'on tient en France pour loy certaine & indubitable, que iamais le Royaume n'est vacant, qu'il y a continuation de Roy à Roy que le mort faisit le vif, & que nous avons un Roy si tost que l'autre est mort. (In France one holds this to be a fundamental law: The kingdom is never vacant, and there is continuation from king to king, the death of the latest makes the next king, and we have a king the moment the previous one dies.)
4) The L'histoire du Cardinal Mazarin, book 1, Rotterdam 1695, page 209 about Mazarin proposing the move to the Palais Cardinal
5) The Palace-Royal was reconstructed in 1773 and is now the seat of the Council of State. There is little left of the original palace.
6) Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'Anne d'Autriche by Madame de Motteville, Amsterdam 1723, v. 1, page 162 has Madame de Lansac replaced by Madame de Senecé.
7) Ditto, page 354 has Motteville describing the second part of Lous'education.
8) Histoire de France sous le regne de Lois XIV by Larrey, Rotterdam 1718, v. 1 page 377 for the united parliaments and p. 383 about the declaration.
9) Mémoires sur les Briques à la mort de Louis XIII by La Rochefoucauld, Cologne 1669, page 32-39 has Broussel's arrest and release.
10) The leaflet Les Logemens de la Cour a S. Germain en Laye 1649 is about the court sheltering in the village of Saint Germain en Laye on account of troubles in Paris, but it's not sure which flight it refers to.
11) Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz edited by Aimé Champollion-Figeac, Paris, 18??, v.2 page 45 has the conditions on the peace of Rueil.
12) Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz, edited by Aimé Champollion-Figeac, v.2 page 205 has the arrest of Condé, Conti and Longueville on 18 January 1650.
13) Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz edited by Aimé Champollion-Figeac, v.3 page 122 has Condé arriving at Saint Maur on 6 July 1650.
14) Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz edited by Aimé Champollion-Figeac, v.3 page 258 has the court traveling to Bourges and Poitiers.
15) Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz edited by Aimé Champollion-Figeac, v.4 for the events of 1652.
16) Mémoires du marquis de Montglat page 402 has the siege of Seurre
17) L'Abrege de l'histoire de ce siecle de fer by Parival, Brussel originally from 1653, but continued till 1655, page 535 has: Il fut investi & les tranchées ouvertes en presance de sa majesté
19) Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'Anne d'Autriche by Motteville page 417 has Aussi-tôt que la tranquilité publique eut retabli les plaisirs dans la cour, ce prince, qui voioit les nieces du Cardinal Mazarin plus souvent que les autres, s'attacha, non à la plus belle, mais à Mademoiselle de Mancini, soeur de Madame de Mercoeur...
20) Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'Anne d'Autriche by Motteville page 418 has ...donnérent du brilliance à cette médiocre beauté.
21) Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'Anne d'Autriche by Motteville page 420 has ...& il sembloit que les Bals, les divertissements, & les Plaisirs, n'étoient faits que pous elle.
22) Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'Anne d'Autriche by Motteville page 420 has qu'elle souhaita de pouvoir proffiter plus solidement de sa faveur, par le grand & glorieux établissement qu'elle trouva en la personne du Prince Eugene.
23) L'État de la France 1686, page 685 has 16 December 1658 as date of birth for Louis Thomas de Savoye comte de Carignan.
24) Mémoires du marquis de Montglatby, page 462 has: Elle (the queen) eut grande peine à y consentir
25) Mémoires du marquis de Montglat page 1 has the arrival of the Duke of Modena
26) Les Mémoires de Madame le Princesse Marie Mancini Colonne, were published in 1677 in Cologne.
27) Réponse aux questions d'un Provincial by Pierre Bayle, page 51 has a chapter Erreurs concernant la Connétable Colonna. niece du Cardinal Mazarin
28) Mémoires de Madame la Duchesse de Mazarin by l'abbé de Saint Réal, printed Paris 1757, page 25 has: M. le Connétable qui ne croyoit pas qu'il put avoir de l'innocence dans les amours des rois, fut si ravi de trouver le contraire dans la personne de ma soeur.
29) Réponse aux questions d'un Provincial page 55: Elle (La duchesse de Mazarin) suposoit aparement une tradition dont beaucoup de Medecins se moquent

Louis XIV Chapter 2