Overview

Louis XIV

(1638—1715)


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(1638–1715)

King of France (1643–1715). On his father's death in 1643, his mother Anne of Austria became regent and Mazarin chief minister. Louis survived the Fronde, was proclaimed of age in 1651, and married the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660. He took over the government on Mazarin's death in 1661 and embarked on a long period of personal rule.

Domestic policy was aimed at creating and maintaining a system of absolute rule: the king ruled unhampered by challenges from representative institutions but with the aid of ministers and councils subject to his will. The States‐General was not summoned, the Parlement largely ignored, the great nobles were generally excluded from political office, and loyal bourgeois office‐holders were promoted. Jean‐Baptiste Colbert expanded the merchant marine and the navy, and encouraged manufacturing industries and trade, though he largely failed in his attempts to improve the tax system. In the provinces the intendants established much firmer royal control. The French army became larger and more efficient; in his later years Louis was able to put between 300,000 and 400,000 men into the field. The greatest victories came in the earlier years, when the generals Turenne and Condé were available to take command. Victories were won in the War of Devolution and the Dutch War, with the French frontiers strengthened by a series of strategic territorial gains, reinforced by the fortifications of Vauban. The Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession saw France hard‐pressed as Europe united to curb Louis's aggressive policies; after 1700 France suffered a series of crushing defeats. The country was seriously impoverished by the burden of taxation.

Religious orthodoxy was strictly imposed, particularly after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) and the forced conversion of the Huguenots, at least 200,000 of whom illegally fled the country. Within the Catholic church Jansenists, Quietists, and other deviants were also persecuted. On the positive side, the achievements of the reign in literature and the arts based on the court at Versailles have given it the name Le Grand Siècle. There was, however, a marked decline in these fields during the later part of the reign, and at his death Louis XIV left a series of political, economic, and religious problems of his great‐grandson, Louis XV.


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