Louis XIV, the 'Sun King', was king of France from 1643 to 1715 and widely held to be the greatest monarch of his age.
Louis was born on 5 September 1638 at St Germain-en-Laye. He became king at the age of four on the death of his father, Louis XIII. While Louis was a child, his mother, Anne of Austria, served as regent, assisted by Louis XIII's chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin.
Louis's early years were marked by a series of rebellions against his mother and Mazarin, which were known as the 'Fronde'. These created in him a lifelong fear of rebellion, and a dislike of Paris, prompting him to spend more and more time in Versailles, southwest of Paris. In 1660, he married Maria Theresa, daughter of Philip IV of Spain.
When Mazarin died in 1661, the 23-year-old Louis decided to rule without a chief minister. He regarded himself as an absolute monarch, with his power coming directly from God. He carefully cultivated his image and took the sun as his emblem. Between 1661 and 1689, he built a magnificent palace at Versailles and moved his government there from Paris in 1682.
In the early part of his reign, Louis worked with his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to tighten central control over the country, reviving the use of regional royal officials, 'intendants' and carrying out other financial and administrative reorganisation. Louis also expanded the French army and navy.
Louis's reign was marked by aggressive French foreign policies. After the death of his father-in-law, Louis claimed part of the Spanish Netherlands and launched the War of Dutch Devolution (1667-1668). In the Second Dutch War, he failed to crush the Dutch, led by William of Orange, but made significant territorial gains.
In 1685, Louis, a devout Catholic, revoked the Edict of Nantes which had allowed freedom of worship to French Protestants (Huguenots). Around 200,000 Huguenots, many of them skilled craftsmen, fled to Holland and England.
The last three decades of Louis's reign were marked by almost constant warfare. France was now the dominant power on the continent and other European nations felt threatened by this supremacy. The War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697), followed by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) severely strained French resources. In the War of the Spanish Succession, for the first time in nearly a century France consistently lost battles, most notably at Blenheim in 1704 and Ramillies in 1706.
Louis XIV died on 1 September 1715, shortly after the Peace of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. As his eldest son and grandson had died before him, his great-grandson succeeded him as Louis XV.
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