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Reign of Louis XIV



King Louis XIV (1638-1643-1715)


 Part man, part myth, the history of France as we know it, as it lives on at Versailles, is wrapped up in Louis XIV.  Born in 1638,23 years into his parents’ marriage, he was given the name Louis Dieudonne (God-given) as it seemed in the time leading up to his conception and birth that there would never be an heir produced by Louis XIII and Anne of Austria as their union had proven fruitless thus far. 


  Louis XIV was 4 years old when his father, Louis XIII, passed away.  His mother, Anne of Austria, became Regent of France, aided in this role by the Italian-born Jules Cardinal Mazarin.  Louis XIII’s brother Gaston, Duc d’Orleans, led a civil uprising known as the Fronde (1648-1653) against Anne of Austria, who became regent after her husband’s death.


  When Louis XIV took the reigns of power upon his majority, he worked to eliminate the factors that led to the Fronde.  One factor was that many nobles lived on their estates throughout the kingdom.  Therefore, far away, they were mostly independent -and therefore- hard to control.  Another factor was the organization of throne itself: the king was not complete master, because traditionally there was a First Minister who would manage the affairs of the state beyond what the king himself oversaw.


  So what did Louis XIV do?  After Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1660, Louis XIV let it be known that there would not be another First Minister appointed. He alone would rule France.  There would be a King’s Council with ministers to advise him and take on the work that Louis delegated to them, but the final word was always to be Louis’s alone.  Perhaps one of the most famous utterances in the world belongs to Louis XIV: “L’Etat, c’est moi (1).


  To further consolidate his power base, Louis worked throughout his reign to hobble the Court of France, wrapping it up within the world of Versailles, a gilded cage for the nobility, keeping them powerless to cause any troubles for the crown.  They could go to their estates in the provinces, but once there they were cut off from the gravy train at Versailles.  It really worked, because after Louis XIV’s death, unsuccessful attempts were made to revitalize the central government through the leadership of the nobility, who were either unwilling or unable to assume the reins of power.


  Until the Chateau of Versailles became the official residence, Louis lived at the Louvre, at the Tuileries and at Chambord.  Louis fell in love with the site of Versailles and made it into a true showpiece.  Many speculate that the difficulties of the time of the Fronde, when the population of Paris supported the civil unrest,  had soured Louis on Paris.  Distrustful of what they might do in the future, Louis decided to move the Court of France away from the untrustworthy Parisians. 


  Versailles began as a “modest” hunting lodge for Louis XIII.  This part is still extant as the center of Versailles, the Courtyard of Marble.  The rest of Versailles was layed out as an “envelope” around the original chateau.  At the time the serious plans got under way to considerably increase the size of Versailles, the hope of the architect, le Vau, was to tear it all down and start over.  However, Louis made a melodramatic speech that if they were to tear this old building down, they would then find that he, Louis, would build it back up, brick by brick with his own hands, no matter how long it might take him.  So they came up with the envelope idea.   


  There are three things that figure prominently in the legend of Louis XIV: 1) Women (Marie-Therese, Louise de La Valliere, Athenais de Montespan, Fontanges, Maintenon). 2) War (Thirty Years War, Fronde, Devolution, Dutch War, War of Spanish Succession) and 3) Construction (Versailles, Les Invalides, as well as improvements to Fountainbleau, La Louvre and Marly).   


  Louis XIV’s first true love was Marie Mancini, a niece of Cardinal Mazarin.  She was a pretty brunette and a nice girl, but she was not an appropriate bride for the king of France. She could not offer to France the strategic advantages that an alliance with a foreign princess could offer.  


  To conclude the Thirty Years War in which France and Spain were embroiled, a treaty was signed (The Treaty of the Pyrenees) which also arranged for a marriage between Louis XIV and Maria Teresa, henceforth known as Marie-Therese.  Also Marie-Therese renounced her claim to the Spanish throne and it was agreed that she was to receive a dowry of 50,000 gold ecus.  The two were married in June of 1660.


(1) The state, it is I.



Marie-Therese (1638-1683)

Queen of France 1660- 1683


  She spent the majority of her years in France in her rooms with her Spanish ladies and the dwarves she loved to be entertained by, and had little impact on the court around her.  With Louis, she had 6 children, only one of whom survived to adulthood.  She was always treated with respect by her husband, but he did not choose to spend any more time than necessary with her. At the prompting of Madame de Maintenon, Louis took to visiting Marie-Therese more regularly, and most likely the last years of her life were happier for it: Louis was treating her less like a piece of family furniture, and more like a woman. In July of 1683, Louis’ wife, Marie-Therese, passed away.  She had been a quiet, dignified queen, and he remarked that her death was the only trouble she had ever caused him.




Louise de La Valliere (1644-1710)

Mademoiselle de La Baume Le Blanc

Maitresse en titre 1661-1666


  Less than a year into this marriage, Louis began to find his attentions diverted towards a certain Mademoiselle Louise de La Valliere.  She is always described as a gentle, shy girl of 16 when she comes to court and takes up the attention of a dashing 22 year old Louis XIV.  At that time she was a lady-in-waiting to the Duchesse d’Orleans, wife of Louis’s brother Philippe who was known in Court parlance as Madame.  She and Louis had 4 children over the course of their 6 year affair, only one of whom survived into adulthood (Marie Anne, Mlle de Blois).  Their relationship had a secretive air to it, as Louis didn’t want to offend his deeply religious mother, Anne of Austria, by parading around a mistress in front of her and her niece (his wife, Marie-Therese).  Sadly, once the Queen Mother had passed, and Louis and Louise were able to be more open about their relationship, Louise wasn’t able to withstand the public eye. Although she loved Louis, she wasn’t proud of their adulterous relationship.  This made her timid.  Over the years, perhaps because of her inability to rise to the occasion, the ardor of their relationship lessened.  She called on her friend, Athena´s de Montespan, to help her entertain Louis when he visited Louise.  Louise tried to hold on to Louis by crashing a court excursion to Flanders at the start of the campaign of the War of Devoltion. Eventually she tried a couple of times to immure herself in a convent, but Louis compelled her to return.  On her third attempt to retire to a Carmelite convent she was successful and became Sister Louise de La Misericorde.


Athena´s de Rochechouart-Mortemart (1641-1707)

Marquise de  Montespan

Maitresse en titre 1666- 1680


  With Louise de La Valliere out of the way, Athena´s de Montespan was able to truly conquer Louis XIV.  Louis was, of course, willingly conquered.  Athena´s was the female version of Louis; high-born, proud, and vivacious.  As Louis came into his own and felt his kingship, she was the kind of woman he needed at his side. She was respectful of Louis without being servile.  They were together for about 15 years, and during this time they had 8 children, 6 of whom survived into adulthood.  These children were cared for in secrecy at a house in Paris on the Rue Vaugirard by Francoise Scarron, later to be known as Madame de Maintenon (in 1675, when Louis made her a Marquise, gifting her with the estate of Maintenon).


  In 1676, Louis and Athena´s split.  He spent time away on the campaign in Holland during this time of the Franco-Dutch War.  She went to Bourbon to take the cure.  They both returned to Versailles and reconciled for long enough to produce the last two of their children together. By 1680 the affair fizzled out, and although Athena´s remained at Court for several more years, she eventually retired to a convent.



Francoise d’Aubigne (1635-1719)

Marquise de Maintenon

Morganatic wife (1683-1715)


  Raised in Martinique, Francoise returned to France with her mother when her father died.  They were very poor, and when Francoise’s mother died, she was faced with the dilemma of how to survive: either she would need to enter a convent or find someone to marry.  An invalid poet named Paul Scarron became her husband for the next nine years until he died.


  During this time she became friends with Mme de Montespan, and when Mme de Montespan began to have children with Louis XIV, she asked Francoise d’Aubigne to be their governess.  She was placed in a house at a secret location where she came in occasional contact with Louis XIV.  At first he did not like her, but as he observed how much care and attention she gave to his children, he began to appreciate her company.


  Always a religious woman, she hit the right note with Louis XIV, who at this time in his life began to gravitate towards a calmer lifestyle than what he had been leading.  Athena´s was not a particularly maternal person and therefore could not mirror his change of direction.  Louis gave Francoise the estate and title of Marquise de Maintenon, and she became first lady-in-waiting to the Dauphine, Marie-Adelaide of Savoy, who arrived at the French court at the age of twelve.


  Mme de Maintenon founded the school of Saint-Cyr, near Versailles, to provide an education for girls from families of the impoverished nobility.  There were four levels, and upon graduation the girls were provided with a modest dowry if they had found a husband, or were accepted into a convent.


 She had a brother, known as the Comte d’Aubigne, who was somewhat of a thorn in her side, causing her embarrassment at the court of Versailles.  He would have terrible arguments with her over the facts that he was no higher rank than a captain of infantry, and that he had received no special appointments such as a governorship, a peerage or at least a higher ranking title.  According, to the Duc de Saint-Simon, the Comte d’Aubigne was a spendthrift who “chased after the whores at the Tuileries and everywhere else.”  Despite all this, he was generally considered to be a pleasant man, and one who enjoyed telling stories about his sister’s life before she came to court, when she was the wife of Paul Scarron.  He would rather indiscreetly refer to the King as his brother-in-law.  Spurred on by the complaints of irresponsibility, debauchery and manhandling from his wife, the situation was resolved with the Comte being confined to a community for Christian gentlemen, and his wife moving into a convent, where their expenses were paid every month, and given a small amount of spending money as well.  Madame de Maintenon took their daughter to be raised at Versailles, eventually marrying her into the Noailles family.


Louis XIV married Mme de Maintenon in a secret marriage ceremony, most likely in 1684.  It was a marriage never publicly recognized because their social stations were so unequal. When Louis XIV died she retired to the school of St. Cyr.




Other names associated with the reign of Louis XIV:


Anne of Austria (1601-1666)

    Mother of Louis XIV

    Queen Consort of France

    Regent of France (1643-1651)


Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661)

    Chief Minister of France (1642-1661)


Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680)

    Disgraced Superintendant of Finance of Louis XIV

    Owner of Vaux-le-Vicomte


Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683)

    Minister of Finance of Louis XIV

Reign of Louis XV


Coming soon



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