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Louis XIV The Sun King

Versailles chateau photo

Louis XIV was arguably one of the greatest Kings of France, certainly one of the most remembered; he was also a Machiavellian puppet master whose legacy is feted in the France of today, long after its citizens disposed of his heirs.

Louis XIV came to the throne at the age of four, May 14 1643, not long before his 5th birthday on September 5. Ruler of 19 million subjects, the child was crowned king in 1654 at the age of 15. He didn’t though have power for several more years until his godfather, mentor and Chief Minister, Cardinal Mazarin died.

He holds the record for the longest reigning monarch in Europe and ruled France for 72 years, a time of prosperity, a golden age for France on the whole, though towards the end of his reign, several wars brought debt and famine to France. Louis XIV is not usually remembered for the bad times though, but for the flourishing of arts and sciences and magnificent architecture under his rule.

By the time he died aged 77 of gangrene, just four days before his birthday, he had changed France forever.

1.  Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles

versailles-fountains

Formerly a hunting lodge, Versailles was transformed by the King into the glorious palace we know today. He preferred to live outside Paris and moved the royal court and thousands of nobles to what became the grandest, most magnificent castle in Europe at that time. There he controlled the aristocracy, laying on ever more opulent entertainment and feasts and devising ways to keep them busy vying to please him. A way to avoid them turning against him – a real keep your friends close and your enemies closer tactic.

2. Louisiana USA is named in honour of Louis XIV

Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle from Rouen claimed the interior of North America for his country in 1682 and named it Louisiana for his King. The state was purchased from France by the United States in 1803 when Napoleon agreed to an offer of $11,250,000 and for the US to assume claims of American citizens against France in the amount of $3,750,000.

louis sun king3. Not the Sun King for his sunny nature

Louis XIV was christened Louis-Dieudonné, meaning “gift of God” by his relieved parents who had waited decades to have their first child. He was brought up to believe that he was King by divine right and chose the sun for his emblem. The sun meant Apollo, God of Peace and the Arts and the heavenly body giving life to all things. The sun was seen as the embodiment of regularity, rising and setting each day. Louis XIV saw himself as a warrior hero, bringing peace to his people, protecting the arts and with his regular public levers and couchers (morning rising and evening retiring ceremonies). He was the earthly Sun God and insisted on the resemblance, carved in stone not just at Versailles but on public buildings everywhere.

4. He owned 1000 wigs

Louis XIV was quite short at 5 ft. 4 inches so the big wigs he wore (along with high heeled shoes) made him appear much taller.

5.  Louis XIV liked to eat and drink… a lot

I’ve read so many claims to fame as Louis XIV favourite wine that I can only come to the conclusion that the man liked to drink all sorts of wine. When Versailles was being built he saw some workmen drinking wine from their local town and asked to try some – he loved it and Les Riceys pink wine from Les Riceys became known as the pink wine of Kings! He also liked “Tokay” which we know as Royal Tokaji today, Champagne, white wine and red wine, Chambord, Cognac and various other tipples though I’ve never been able to find out if he liked beer!

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