From musketeers to Macron: 10 remarkable facts about the Sun King, Louis XIV

King Louis XIV (1638–1715) ruled over France for 72 years, and is famed for his grand palace at Versailles and his belief in the absolute power of monarchs. Here, historian Philip Mansel shares 10 quick facts about the Sun King…

A portrait of Louis XIV in 1701.
  1. When Louis was born in 1638, he was compared to the infant Jesus. His tutor Cardinal Mazarin wrote that God had given him “all the qualities” to become the greatest king the world had ever seen.
  2. Louis witnessed five years of rebellion during his reign, from 1648–53. At one point, Parisian dissidents invaded his palace to check he was in bed, and not about to escape. Two of his predecessors, Henri III, and his grandfather Henri IV, had been murdered, in 1589 and 1610 respectively.
  3. Louis went on campaign in northern or eastern France every summer in wartime. Some of the 80 frontier fortresses he built were still being used during the Second World War.
  4. Louis had his finance minister Nicolas Fouquet arrested by musketeers under D’Artagnan (the hero of The Three Musketeers). Fouquet spent around a decade in solitary confinement. The servant he was allowed, Eustache Dauger, wore a mask – the original man in the iron mask, who has inspired numerous novels and films.
  5. From 1671 to his death in 1715, Louis never slept in Paris. No other king has shunned his capital so completely. His main residence became the palace he built at Versailles, the largest and most luxurious in Europe.
  6. More than 150,000 Protestants fled France following Louis’ revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had given Protestants the right to worship. In doing so France impoverished itself and enriched its rivals. Helped by an influx of French Protestants, London became larger than Paris.
  7. Louis inadvertently helped his great enemy William of Orange invade England in 1688. By launching an invasion of the Holy Roman Empire across the Rhine, the French king left the coast clear for William to seize the English crown from Louis’ ally James II and VII.
  8. Following defeat to the British general the Duke of Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), Louis’ France was only saved by its forts, its resilience and a change of government in England.
  9. Louis had many mistresses and fathered more than 10 illegitimate children. After the death of his first wife in 1683, he married Madame de Maintenon in secret, for love. Together they founded the best girls’ school of the age, at Saint-Cyr in 1686.
  10. He was both loved and hated by his people. Watching Louis’ funeral procession in 1715, some Parisians rejoiced and played music. Presidents of the Fifth Republic from De Gaulle to Macron, however, regard him as a role model.
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Philip Mansel is a historian, and the author of numerous books about the history of France and the Ottoman empire. His latest book, King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV, was published by Allen Lane in July

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These facts first appeared in the Christmas 2019 issue of BBC History Magazine