The Reign of Louis XIV in France: Accomplishments & Influence

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  • 0:07 Louis XIV and France
  • 0:45 Loius's Minority and…
  • 2:37 Centralization of Authority
  • 4:40 French Court and Culture
  • 6:03 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 the reign of Louis XIV in France. Domestically, Louis revolutionized numerous facets of French government and administration over his 72-year reign.

Louis XIV and France

Discussions over who was America's greatest president can often produce wildly different conclusions. Some might say the first president, George Washington, was best, while others will likely point to Abraham Lincoln. Still, other admirers of 20th-century history might claim it was Franklin Roosevelt, since he saw the country through the Great Depression and World War II.

While this lively debate exists in America, there is little discussion as to the greatest - or, at least, the most influential - king of early modern France. Louis XIV, the self-named 'Sun King', who was often referred to as Louis the Great, reigned for over 70 years in 17th- and 18th-century France.

Louis' Minority and the Fronde

Louis was born to his father, Louis XIII of France, and his mother, Anne of Austria, in September 1638 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Just a few years later, Louis XIII fell ill and died, and his young son became Louis XIV, King of France, at only four-and-a-half years old. Obviously, Louis could not rule at four, and in his stead, his mother, Anne of Austria, was considered ruler and the King's regent. Despite her official title, practical power in the French government was wielded by Louis XIII's chief advisor, Cardinal Jules Mazarin. Mazarin was also Louis XIV's godfather and in charge of grooming Louis XIV to rule once he was of age, and Mazarin saw to it that the young king received a firm grounding in the arts of history, politics, and statecraft.

In addition to aiding Louis' development, Mazarin was forced to contend with a series of rebellions in the late 1640s and early 1650s that became known as the Fronde. Mazarin was intent on centralizing political authority in France in the monarchy, and this largely came at the expense of the provincial parlements and local nobles. The Fronde was largely a reaction to this usurpation of provincial authority. It was a highly confusing episode in French history, with numerous minor and major rebellions breaking out throughout Paris and the countryside, and Mazarin and the French forces often playing a reactionary role.

French nobles, like the Princes of Condé and Conti, attempted to subvert Mazarin in Paris through subterfuge and intrigue, only to later raise rebellions in the countryside. The Prince of Condé was actually successful in taking Paris and exiling Mazarin in the summer of 1652, though the Fronde was eventually put down when Henri, Viscount of Turenne, chased the Prince of Condé's troops from Paris to the Spanish Netherlands. Louis XIV reentered Paris in autumn 1652, and in 1653, he recalled Mazarin from exile.

Centralization of Authority

The Fronde is an important episode in the history of France and the young reign of Louis XIV. Many historians believe it played an important role in Louis' belief in an absolute, divine-right monarchy and a highly centralized bureaucracy. Indeed, no constitutional reform or safeguards against royal authority was achieved by the Fronde - if anything, absolutist monarchical rule returned stronger than ever.

Though Louis was now of age, Mazarin still controlled the government for Louis until Mazarin's death in 1661. Upon taking control of the government, Louis began an ambitious series of fiscal and administrative reforms. With France nearly broke after financing several wars at home and abroad, Louis made his trusted advisor, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances. Ancient taxes owed to the French monarchy, whose collection methods had fallen into disrepair, such as those on salt and land, were exploited by Colbert to enrich Louis and the monarchy.

Louis' military and administrative reforms further sapped the nobility of the authority it had traditionally held. Under Louis, the command and appointment system received a makeover. Nobles in France traditionally retained direct control of their own forces - regardless of directives from the central command in Paris - with the senior command in a pan-French effort being given to the oldest or most senior noble. Under Louis, the system of military appointments became more meritocratic, based on the ability of each commander, and the command structure was more readily centralized in the monarchy.

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