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King Louis XIV

Louis XIV (1638-1715), king of France (1643-1715), was born at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Louis, third monarch of the Bourbon family. He ruled for 72 years, the longest reign in European history. He was the unexpected child of King Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, who had not had children in their 22-year marriage. He was christened Louis Dieudonné (literally, “gift of God”). In 1643, before his fifth birthday, his father died, and Louis inherited the crown of France, which was internally divided, militarily exhausted, and nearly bankrupt. While Louis was a child, his mother served as regent, ruling France in his place. She was assisted by Jules Cardinal Mazarin, the Italian financier who had been the principal minister of Louis XIII. Mazarin had guided the nation through the later stages of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Louis married Marie-Thérèse, out of diplomatic necessity, she was the eldest daughter of King Philip IV of Spain.The marriage was arranged via a treaty that explicitly excluded Marie's heirs from inheriting the Spanish crown once Philip had paid her dowry. However, the full dowry was never paid. Consequently, Louis refused to relinquish his family's claim to the Spanish inheritance, a claim that was to influence French policy later in Louis's reign.

After Mazarin died in 1661, Louis declared that henceforth he would rule France without a chief minister, something no French king had done in living memory. He intended to rule as an absolute monarch, believing that his power as king was derived from God and that he was responsible to God alone. He took the sun as his emblem and connected himself to its radiant image. Portraits, woodcuts, and engravings of the king portrayed as the Greek sun god Apollo poured from Parisian workshops.

On the domestic front, Louis strengthened the central government's control over the diverse regions of France, incorporating his territorial gains into a united state. On the other hand, he provoked controversy when he restored Catholic religious unity by revoking the Edict of Nantes and repressing Protestantism. Unfortunately many of Louis's policies, both domestic and foreign, caused great hardship to ordinary people, many of whom suffered starvation, fled their homeland, or lived in terror of persecution.

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