LOUIS XIV OF FRANCE 1643 -
Louis XIV: by the French artist Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-
xxxxxLouis XIV came to power as an absolute ruler in 1661. In a series of wars he secured France’s eastern and northern frontiers, but nearly bankrupted his nation in the process. He gained part of the Spanish Netherlands at the Treaty of Aix-
xxxxxLouis XIV was one of the most famous but not necessarily most successful of French kings. He succeeded his father Louis XIII in 1643, at the age of four, so until 1661 the government was mainly in the hands of his mother, Anne of Austria, and her chief minister, Jules Mazarin. During this period he witnessed five years of civil war and this doubtless determined his future policy. When he eventually came to the throne he was determined to keep all power in his own hands, and to enlarge his kingdom. As a result, his glittering reign was almost entirely taken up with a series of wars. Led by his generals Condé and Turenne, these secured France's eastern and northern frontiers, but by the turn of the century this long period of conflict had brought his country close to bankruptcy.
xxxxxHisxfirst major conflict, known as the War of Devolution, followed the death of his father-
xxxxxHis next target was Holland, a country which, as an absolute, Roman Catholic monarch, Louis had every reason to dislike and distrust. It was not only a republic, but a Protestant republic, and a very successful republic, waxing rich on international trade and finance, and prepared to stand in the way of his own schemes of aggrandisement. In 1672 he launched a full-
xxxxxBut the so-
xxxxxAt home, Louis' power was absolute. His statement L'État c'est moi (I am the State) was no idle boast. Nowhere was this more evident than at his stupendous palace at Versailles. Herexthe Roi de Soleil (Sun King) presided over a sumptuous, extravagant court, all made possible by the successful reforms of his financial advisor Jean Baptiste Colbert -
xxxxxLouis' decision to go it alone in 1661 was doubtless influenced by a troubled childhood. As we have seen, during his minority there were two serious uprisings against the rule of Mazarin, led by the nobles and members of the Paris law court. This civil war, known as the Parlementary and Princely Frondes, raged for five years (1648-
xxxxxDuring his long reign the king was a generous patron of the arts and sciences. In the building and decorating of Versailles, as well as other royal palaces and civic buildings, he employed and encouraged French artists like Louis Le Vau, André Le Nôtre and Charles Le Brun. He founded the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1663, the Academy of Science in 1666, and the Paris Observatory the following year. Illustrated here is a horseback exhibition at Versailles.
xxxxxHe established the Comédie Française in 1680, welcomed theatre performances at Versailles -
xxxxxIncidentally, Louis XIV was very fond of music and dancing. Indeed, it was his performance as the sun in Le Ballet de la Nuit, aged 15, that earned him the name of "The Sun King", a title which became a personal symbol of his wealth, power and splendour. ......
xxxx ...… As one would imagine, court life was not without its scandals. They came no more sensational than "the Affair of the Poisons" of 1679, when an official inquiry revealed that members of the nobility, and others, had been seeking out women fortune tellers to obtain drugs and poisons and, in some cases, to deal in black magic. In April that year a special tribunal was set up, known as the chambre ardente, and this uncovered a group of high-
xxxxxThe musician that provided much of the king's court music was the French composer Jean-
xxxxxAs the court's music master he composed ballets for Louis XIV -
xxxxxIn 1672 his career changed direction. It was in that year that, having got himself appointed director of the Académie Royale de Musique, he turned to the production of opera, a form he called "tragédie-
xxxxxIn the production of these works he created the French overture -
xxxxxIncidentally, Lully's death at the age of 54 was the result of an accident. Whilst conducting during a concert, and beating time on the floor with a heavy baton, he struck his foot. The resulting wound became infected and he died of gangrene poisoning.