The Sun King

Let's discover the emblematic figure of the French monarchy, Louis XIV, known as The Sun King.

By Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The miracle child    

Louis XIV was the son of Anne of Austria and King Louis XIII, heirs to the most powerful dynasties of the time: the Bourbons and the Habsburgs. Completely unexpected, his birth in 1638 was considered a gift from God, which earned him the name Louis-Dieudonné (Louis God given). 

Levée du siège d'Arras, contre les troupes espagnoles, en juillet-août 1654, par S. de Pontault, chevalier de Beaulieu, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 1655 Levée du siège d'Arras, contre les troupes espagnoles, en juillet-août 1654, par S. de Pontault, chevalier de Beaulieu, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 1655 (1655) by Sébastien de Pontault de Beaulieu (Artist)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The royal family    

When his father died, Louis XIV was just five years old, propelling him to the rank of future King of France. As he was too young to govern, it was his mother, Anne of Austria, who acted as regent 

while Chief Minister Mazarin was in charge of Louis XIV's political education.  

In order to unite Spain and France, he married Maria Theresa of Austria, the daughter of the King of Spain, in 1660. They had six children, but only the eldest, Louis of France, survived. In 1683, three months after the death of the Queen, he secretly married madame de Maintenon, one of his many mistresses.

Arrestation des Princes (19th century) by Martin Lavigne (Lithographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

His reign

Although very young, Louis XIV was affected by The Fronde (1648–1653), which required the royal family to leave Paris hastily and in fear. He would never forget those responsible for this revolt, the kingdom's noblemen and aristocrats, who he intended to control and monitor! 

Louis XIV (1638-1715), Roi de France et de Navarre (2nd half of the 17th century) by Gérard Edelinck (Engraver)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

After the death of Mazarin, Louis XIV began his own reign at the age of 23. His first decision was to remove the position of Chief Minister to take full control of the government. He completely reorganized the kingdom: the administration, finances, and the army were reformed.

Louis XIV (1638-1715), Roi de France et de Navarre (1701) by Based on Rigau y Ros a.k.a. Rigaud HyacintheMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Qualified as "monarch ruling by divine right," because his powers were given to him by God, the King was accountable to nobody. During his reign, he aimed to defend the Catholic faith and banned protestantism by revoking the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Armure de Louis XIV, Francesco et Giovan Battista da Garbagnate, Brescia, 1668 DétailMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The Sun King    

The sun is his emblem: the star around which the planets gravitate, like his court around him. The sun is also Apollo, god of peace, arts, and beauty. And then, in 1662, during a ballet, he appeared dressed as the sun, which earned him the name for centuries! 

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne (1611-1675), vicomte de Turenne (2nd half of the 17th century) by UnsignedMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Man of war    

During his reign, Louis XIV involved the kingdom in numerous battles. It was Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, known as Turenne, one of Louis XIII's best generals before being in his service who taught him the basics of war. 

Le siège de Maastricht en 1673 by Robert Bonnart (Engraver)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

These wars grew the territory but created distrust in neighbouring countries, which joined forces against Louis XIV. This stamp depicts the siège of Maastricht in the Netherlands in 1673. Conclusion: victory belonged to the French, but led to the death of D'Artagnan, a famous musketeer. 

The builder    

We must not forget the Sun King's role in the urbanization of Paris. During his reign, more than 200 Parisian monuments were either commissioned or redesigned. Among his most famous buildings is the Hôtel des Invalides.

Louis XIV reçoit les plans du Dôme des Invalides de Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1849) by Simon Mingasson (Painter)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Versailles    

He moved his court to Versailles in 1682. These noblemen and aristocrats received financial or social rewards for their availability to the King. Versailles became the symbol of the strength and power of Louis XIV, who controlled and monitored the nobility. 

Soldats invalides à l'exercice devant la façade de l'Hôtel des Invalides, vers 1680-1700 (between 1680 and 1720) by AnonymeMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Hôtel des Invalides    

After 30 years of war, many former soldiers (too old, ill or disabled) found themselves forced to resort to begging or stealing. The Sun King found this unbelievable! In order to show that he could care for those who served him, he decided to create a place for them: Hôtel royal des Invalides.

Établissement de l'Hôtel royal des Invalides, le marquis de Louvois présente à Louis XIV le plan devant servir à la construction de l'Hôtel des Invalides (between 1710 and 1715) by Pierre Dulin (Painter)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The King was personally involved in the development of his Hôtel des Invalides; he organized the financing from 1670, visited the construction site in 1671, and inaugurated the development in 1706. This interest is depicted by Dulin, who shown the King in front of a building under construction.

Vue en perspective de l'Hôtel royal des Invalides, vers 1680 (Ca. 1680) by Pierre Lepautre (Engraver)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Louis XIV was particularly proud of his building, writing:  "Of all the different establishments we have created during our reign, there is none more useful to the State than the Hôtel royal des Invalides. " 

Louis XIV (1638-1715), Roi de France et de Navarre (1701) by Based on Rigau y Ros a.k.a. Rigaud HyacintheMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

After ruling for 72 years, Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715. Buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, next to the great kings of France, the Sun King is one of the most famous figures from our history, a symbol of splendor, grandeur...and sometimes excess. 

Credits: Story

A story written and edited by the teams of the Army Museum. 
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