Louis XIV (1638-1715) was King of France for a whopping 72 years. As his sobriquet, “the Sun King,” suggests, Louis came to symbolize the big, bright, magnetic pomp of the French monarchy at its peak.
Behind the big parties and big hairpieces, however, the history of Louis XIV is accompanied by a scandalous canon of intrigue, sex, wine, colonial violence, war, fashion, and more sex. Get your high-heels ready for 42 decadently fun facts about Louis XIV, the Sun King of France.
42. The Preschooler King
Louis inherited the French throne when he was only four years old. That’s why his reign is so long; he got a head start on rulership.
41. OTP: Me x The Crown
For a guy with serious commitment issues when it came to romance, Louis was truly married to the throne for the long-haul. At 72 years and 110 days, his reign is the longest of any monarch of a sovereign state in European history.
40. Better Late & Great Than Never
Anne of Austria, Louis’ mother, gave birth to her eldest son later in life—she was 37 when Louis was born and had suffered stillbirths before him. Louis’ improbable survival inspired Anne and others to believe that he was truly ordained by God to flourish and rule.
39. A Bright Future
Louis XIV adopted the sun insignia to evoke how his position as the King of France was truly ordained as God’s representative in life.
38. People Die but Custody Drama Doesn’t
Louis’ mother served as his regent for the first part of his reign, as he was only a child. Anne was proactive in her rule, despite Louis’ father (whom she did not get along with) leaving provisions in his will to limit Anne’s powers over their children.
37. Asiatic Influence
France was an active participant in Jesuit missions to China. As a result, the Sun King’s court hosted several East Asian dignitaries and official members. In 1684, Louis received the Chinese Jesuit Michael Shen Fu-Tsung at Versailles. Furthermore, the king’s own librarian and translator was the Chinese émigré Arcadio Huang.
36. Going Country Style
Louis is largely credited with modernizing the remnants of feudal France into a less hierarchical but more centralized government. This was done in part by moving the court away from the city of Paris and into the country palaces of France. If nobles wanted to curry favor in government, they had to relocate to Louis’ palatial turf where he was the big fish in the small country pond.
35. Single Motherhood Is Tough in Any Era
As young Louis XIV’s regent, Queen Anne juggled the various factions of court. She did so at a great sacrifice to her safety, making unpopular decisions that at one point led to her house arrest. Young Louis was a witness to his mother’s tribulations, and it’s said that these inspired his own adult mistrust in the Paris court and its aristocracy.
34. Puppy Love Cut Short
One of Louis’ earliest romances was with Marie Mancini, the niece of his mother’s close ally Cardinal Mazarin. However, his mother would not risk them getting married, and had Mancini sent away for her own marriage in Italy.
33. Keeping It in the Family
In 1660, Maria Theresa of Spain married Louis when they were both 22. She was his first cousin.
32. Starting With a Bang (in the Bank)
In 1661, Louis assumed personal control of the government. He inherited a court on the verge of bankruptcy. The public’s perception was that figures such as Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances, had embezzled funds from the King to sustain his lifestyle (although Fouquet’s lifestyle was no more decadent than his peers). An indiscrete purchase of an island, however, sealed Fouquet’s fate and he was charged with embezzlement. Louis altered his life sentence from mere exile to life imprisonment—one of his first acts of authoritarian rule.
31. Royal Side Dishes
Although he and his first wife, Maria Theresa, shared a mutual affection, the king was never faithful to her. Louis fathered 13 illegitimate children with three other women in addition to carrying on liaisons with countless other lovers.
30. Marrying the Help
Later in life, Louis found himself taken by the piety and compassion of his children’s governess, Françoise d’Aubigné, otherwise known as “Madame de Maintenon.” He eventually married her. The union was never publicly declared, but it was an open secret at court.
29. A Tale of Two Brothers and One Wife
Historians still contest whether or not Louis had an affair with his brother’s wife, Henrietta of England. What is known for sure: Henrietta’s mother hinted at a possible union for them as youths, and the paternity of Henrietta’s first child was put in question, with Louis’s name raised as the suspected father.
28. Big Ego, Big Style
The dogmatic, self-aggrandizing aesthetic of French classicism is so associated with Louis XIV and his absolute monarchy that it’s also called simply “Style Louis XIV.”
Louis was as huge fan of ballet and even danced it himself! He performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets, often (though not always) in leading or god-like roles (of course). Throughout the 1660s, he founded the Académie Royale de Danse and the Académie d’Opéra, two critical elements in the evolution of French ballet.
26. When Life Gives You Bastards, Make Them Heirs
Later in life, Louis legitimized his illegitimate children with his main mistress, Madame de Montepsan, as heirs to the throne. In one swoop, he founded several new royalist dynasties within the French aristocracy.
25. The Original McMansion
In 1661, Louis truly transformed Versailles from a private hunting lodge into a public monument to royal opulence. The palace of more than 700 rooms became a center for French power and was officially turned into the new court in 1682.
24. Royal Intolerance
While his grandfather, Henri IV, granted some concessions to French Protestants, Louis was less tolerant. The Catholic Sun King decided that his own faith should be the only faith. He revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and replaced it with his Edict of Fontainebleau. This act destroyed Protestant churches and schools. It also forced Catholic baptisms as mandatory. These persecutions resulted in many French Protestants fleeing to elsewhere in Europe or the American colonies.
23. Louisiana’s Royal Connection
The state of Louisiana derives its name from Louis XIV. When Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the interior of land drained by the Mississippi River in 1682, he named it after the French king.
22. Look at My Guns
Louis led an aggressive foreign policy. From 1667 to 1697, his army grew from 30,000 to 400,000 soldiers in just three decades.
21. Flying Solo
Louis’s godfather and mentor, Cardinal Mazarin, died when Louis was just 22. However, Louis did not re-appoint a new chief minister. He was the first French king to fly solo in government decision-making in generations, opting to read documents and host foreign representatives by himself. This move consolidated power ever more tightly in the Sun King’s hands.
20. Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Louis was quick to start expansionist wars, but decades of death, disease, and famine left him with least a few deathbed regrets. Wanting better for his heir, he told him, “Do not follow the bad example that I have set for you. I have often undertaken war too lightly and have sustained it for vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince.”
19. Stolen Hope
The French Blue was one of Louis’s most prized possessions. A humongous diamond that gave the illusion of a sun at its center when positioned against a gold background (fitting for the Sun King), it was stolen after the French Revolution. It remerged in England as the Hope diamond, a 45.52-carat mineral that is arguably the most famous jewel in the world. Not until 2009 did experts confirm that, yes, the Hope Diamond and the French Blue are cut from the same stone.
18. Fertile Seed but Feeble Roots in This Family Tree…
As apparent from his dozen or so illegitimate children (in addition to grandkids), Louis was good at making babies. Unfortunately, he was worse at outliving them. His only surviving legitimate son died of smallpox in 1711. Measles claimed the lives of his grandson and great-grandson just one year later. He had two other grandsons, but one died in a hunting accident and then another was forced to abdicate his French claim in order to rule Spain. By the end of his life, only his sickly great-grandson remained to continue Louis’s legitimate line. This boy, the future Louis XV, inherited the throne at a young age—like Louis XIV himself—and reigned for 59 years from age of 5.
17. Move Over Dorothy; Louis Wore Them First!
As a lifelong fashionista, Louis promoted red-heeled shoes as the ultimate status symbol. For the next century, Louis’s red shoes remained a necessary finishing touch to any noble ensemble.
16. Leave Them Laughing
Although Louis has come to be a symbol of peak French monarchy, he wasn’t so popular at the time of his death. Crowds allegedly jeered at his jewelled coffin as it made its final way to church burial grounds.
15. The King’s Body: An Amusement Park of Infection
Despite the image he tried to project as a king who was as invincible and eternal as the Sun itself, Louis’s health was pretty lousy. In 1678, he showed symptoms of diabetes and he definitely had suppurating periostitis. His teeth were in bad shape, riddled with dental abscesses in 1696, and he also suffered from gout, fainting spells, and recurring boils.
14. Almost Made It!
Louis died of gangrene on the first day of September in 1715, just four days shy of his 77th birthday.
13. Exhumed in the Epilogue
Louis was buried in Saint-Dennis Basilica outside of Paris. His royal body remained undisturbed for about 80 years before being exhumed and destroyed by radicals in the French Revolution.
12. A State of Misquotation
Arguably the most well-known quote attributed to Louis XIV is the declaration, “L’état, c’est moi” (“I am the state”). This quote was denounced as archetypal in the 19th century. That makes it all the more ironic that he almost definitely said (on this deathbed in front of witnesses), “Je m’en vais, mais l’État demeurera toujours” (I depart, but the State shall always remain).
11. Papa Louis Will Protect You
Louis was a huge patron of the arts. His protection of French classical writers such as Molière, Jean Racine, and Jean La Fontaine framed him as the “Protector” of the genre’s development.
10. In the Garden of Favoritism
Athénaïs de Montespan was undoubtedly the most celebrated of the Sun King’s lovers; Louis gifted Montespan with her own château that included a staff of 1,200 gardeners and 8,000 daffodils planted in a single season.
9. Follicles in the Streets, Bald in the Sheets
The king owned over 1,000 wigs and 413 beds! Now THAT’s a thread count!
8. Imagine the Royal La toilette…
Louis had a stomach fit for a king. Upon his death, it was found that he had a stomach twice the size of an average human!
7. Le Petit Roi
The so-called Sun King did not cast a huge shadow: Louis was only 5 feet and 4 inches tall. Using a strategic combination of wigs and platforms, he made himself look almost 7 feet tall in public.
6. New France Needs Babes
You might call Louis XIV the ultimate wingman for settler-age Canada. The “Filles du Roi” (King’s Daughters) refer to the 850 single women sent across the Atlantic to “New France.” Sponsored by the king himself, each lady came with fine clothes and a generous dowry so she could marry and settle with the mostly male population to produce loyal, white, French subjects.
5. Code for Terrible
In 1685, Louis XIV passed the infamous “Code Noir”—the decree that sanctioned and normalized the conditions of slavery within the French colonial empire. It also restricted the liberties of free Black subjects. Under the law, slaves had to be baptized in the Catholic Church and all Jewish people were expelled from French holdings.
4. Looking Eastwards for Style
Trade with the “Orient” (the Middle East and other parts of Asia) flourished under Louis’s influence. He himself owned Asian textiles, porcelains, and seemed to prefer a fashion style influenced by the French imagination of what one historian described as “oriental sartorial splendor.”
3. A Boy in a Dress Means Mom Has Less Stress
Since his father died when he was young, Louis was raised incredibly close to his mother, Anne, and younger brother, Philipe. To minimize sibling rivalry, Anne raised Louis to be the “masculine” star sibling while his brother was raised in contrast to be “feminine.” Anne encouraged Philipe to dress in girls’ clothing and hair while pursuing the feminine arts, so Philipe would be less inclined towards the military sphere where he might threaten his big brother’s throne.
2. From Temp to Permanent Position
The most powerful mistress of Louis XIV was clearly Madame de Montespan. She rose to chief mistress (maistresse-en-titre) by cultivating a friendship with his current chief mistress, Louise de La Vallière, and then swooping into “temporarily” fulfil her friend’s “duties” when both Louise and the queen found themselves pregnant. To make rejection a little less embarrassing for La Vallière, he did (at first) keep the women in the same apartments, so he could visit Montespan without drawing suspicion. What a gentleman.
1. That’s a 3/10 on Yelp!
In 1848, a piece of Louis XIV’s mummified heart was placed in a silver locket by Lord Harcourt and presented to the Dean of Westminster, William Buckland, who was also a geologist. Thinking the heart to be a rock (and curious to guess what mineral), Buckland promptly shoved the body part into his mouth and accidentally ate it.
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