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Louis XIV's Reign & the French Expansion

Louis XIV's Reign & the French Expansion
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  • 0:01 Louis XIV's France
  • 0:37 Early Years and…
  • 2:35 French Expansion
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore Louis XIV's long reign in France, his style of personal rule, his vanity, and the wars he fought to expand French territory and influence in Europe.

Louis XIV's France

The Sun is about as constant a thing as there is in the world. Having burned for several billion years already with relatively the same intensity, it will likely burn for a few billion more, long after you, I, or any of our distant relatives are alive. So, to be so powerful and confident to nickname yourself after the sun would take quite a lot of braggadocio, wouldn't it? Someone who possessed all of these things and more was the self-proclaimed 'Sun King,' Louis XIV of France. In this lesson, we'll explore Louis' reign and the expansion of French territory under his rule.

Early Years and Domestic Policy

Louis XIV was born in 1638. He became King of France at only four-and-a-half years old. Naturally, no country - not even France - allowed a four-year-old to substantively rule an entire country, so young Louis had help: from his mother, Anne of Austria, and also from Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Louis XIII's top advisor. With just a child on the throne, France's regional lords and provincial governments tested the limits of their power. In fact, a series of rebellions plagued France's hinterlands in the 1640s and 1650s, known collectively as the Fronde. At one point, Paris itself was taken by a regional lord, and Cardinal Mazarin was exiled until the coup was turned back.

The instability Louis witnessed during his youth helped to shape his belief in a strong central government and in concentrating political power in the monarchy. When Louis came of age and began ruling for himself in the 1660s, he immediately began reforming tax systems, legal codes, military protocols and other affairs of state to aggrandize himself at the expense of regional powers. For example, whereas the French army was often commanded by the most senior noble in the camp, Louis changed this to a more meritocratic system and one in which the king himself could command appointments directly. Louis further altered legal codes over the course of a decade, a series of reforms now known as the Grand Ordinances.

In addition to being a practical reformer in legal and military matters, Louis was also a great patron of the arts and a lover of ostentation. Many of the great 17th-century French painters and writers were at one time employed personally by Louis, including Le Brun and Molière. The atmosphere of Louis XIV's French court is perhaps best exemplified by the enormous Palace of Versailles, a sprawling 250-acre estate, which Louis built at the height of his power. The enormous palace was built ten miles outside of Paris, and inclusion in the monarchy's inner circle there required an invitation, often won only through opulent displays and expensive gifts to the King.

French Expansion

While Louis was busy consolidating his authority in France and enriching the monarchy, he was also looking to expand French influence and territory abroad. Louis wasted few chances to grab territory. One such chance presented itself when a technicality in the Flemish laws of inheritance allowed Louis semi-legal justification to claim the Spanish Netherlands from Spain after the death of Philip IV in 1665.

Sending French troops into Flanders and the Franche-Comté, Louis and France kept part of Flanders when peace was settled in 1668. Not content with a few cities in Flanders, Louis again sent French troops into border territories, this time fighting the Dutch Republic and other nations in the 1670s. When the dust was settled, France had acquired the Dutch city of Maastricht and the Franche-Comté, a territory, which, like many of Louis' acquisitions, remains part of France today.

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