Louis XIV of France set many historical records. Not only did he reign longer than any European monarch before or since (1643-1715), but he exemplified the concept of the absolute monarch. Ruling from his dazzling court at Versailles, Louis was known as The Sun King. France under King Louis XIV enjoyed a golden age of cultural and political supremacy over the rest of Europe. Although the nation’s influence may have declined after Louis’ death, his legacy can still be seen in modern-day France and Europe as a whole.
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Historians speculate that part of Louis XIV’s push for absolutism was a result of social unrest early in his reign. This social unrest, known as The Fronde, was a civil war in the wake of the Thirty Years War. Royal power had become increasingly concentrated thanks to the machinations of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. This power often took the form of restrictions on ancient rights of the nobility as well as increased taxes. The nobles, displeased with this state of affairs, openly rioted against Mazarin and the young King. Although Louis eventually regained power, he would forevermore be afraid of popular uprisings. WAR OF DEVOLUTION
Louis XIV involved France in numerous wars over the course of his 72-year reign. Eager to assert French control over the Spanish Netherlands, Louis concocted an elaborate scheme to justify an invasion. Louis claimed that as he had never received a full dowry for his marriage to Maria Theresa of Spain, certain territories under Spanish control “devolved” to him. Louis placed the skillful Viscount of Turenne in command of France’s armies. Turenne would go on to seize much of the Spanish Netherlands with little resistance. France’s territorial gains were officially recognized in the 1668 Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a French statesman, most famously serving as Louis’ Finance Minister. Colbert advocated for trade protectionism in conjunction with state intervention in the economy, an economic philosophy known as Colbertism. Colbert had diverse interests, and is responsible for the establishment of both the Tuileries Gardens and the Royal Academy of the Sciences.
Louis was eager to keep his nobles too busy to rebel against him. This desire was part of his motivation to build the grand court at Versailles, 60 miles from Paris. Nobles bankrupted themselves in order to maintain the lavish lifestyle expected of a courtier at Versailles. The palace was emblematic of Louis’ absolutism. The grand Hall of Mirrors demonstrates this, as well as the sumptuous interior decoration designed by French artist Charles Le Brun.
EDICT OF FONTAINBLEAU
A sorry chapter late in Louis’ reign was his passage of the Edict of Fontainbleau. Issued in 1685, the Edict of Fontainbleau unilaterally repealed the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes had granted French Protestants, known as Huguenots, the freedom to practice their religion. With the issuance of Fontainbleau, France’s brief period of religious tolerance ended. This action, coupled with Louis’ saber rattling, led to the formation of a Grand Alliance known as the League of Augsburg in opposition to him.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Louis was not one for moderation, including in his eating habits.
Murder, witchcraft, and poison: who says history is boring?
Read this article to learn more about the persecution endured by Huguenots during Louis XIV’s reign.
Want to see the interior of Versailles but can’t afford a plane ticket? Watch this video.
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