Imagine that instead of getting ready to start school at a tender age, somebody handed you the keys to the kingdom. That's what happened to Louis XIV, the French king who inherited the throne at only four years old after his father died. Louis XIV, also known as the “Sun King,” enjoyed the longest reign of any French monarch or European sovereign in history, which spanned a total of 72 years from 1643 to 1715.
Ascension to the Throne
Born on September 5, 1638, Louis XIV became a French king less than five years later when his father passed away on May 14, 1643. Though he was technically king since the age of four, Louis XIV didn't take official control of the French government until the age of 23 after his godfather, Chief Minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin, died. Mazarin had held the true power from 1643 until his death in 1661, but he was largely unpopular with the nobility and judiciary.
Characteristics of His Rule
King Louis XIV had his own vision about how to reform France, and once he assumed responsibility for the kingdom in 1661, he set out to turn this vision into a reality. During his rule, Louis XIV implemented a variety of administrative reforms designed to bring order and stability to the French government. The Sun King was known for creating programs and institutes that helped promote the arts in French culture. He was also notorious for his rather overbearing approach to foreign policy, through which he used military force to expand territorial claims and position France as a threat to other European nations.
Historical Events of King Louis XIV’s Era
King Louis XIV’s reign was a time replete with war. The Fronde was a series of French civil wars that took place between 1648 and 1653. There were also many religious wars fought in France during the 16th century between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Another notable event during the Sun King’s rule included his movement of the entire court to the Palace of Versailles, which was a move that helped to consolidate the king’s power as he no longer relied on Chief ministers. Versailles became the seat of political power for King Louis XIV and remains a symbol of absolute monarchy to this day.
King Louis XIV dubbed himself the Sun King because, as the central power in France, he believed that his subjects revolved around him the way the planets revolve around the sun. An absolute monarchy is one in which the king is God’s representative on Earth, giving him absolute power that's free from all restraints. He created a centralized state that gave him complete power over the French government. King Louis XIV was an absolute monarch because he answered only to God.