Saturday, June 19, 2010


A review of John B. Wolf’s Louis XIV (1968)

(Rating 4 of 5)

Born in the last years of his father reign, Prince Louis was considered special right from birth. The new Dauphin—heir to the French throne—was dubbed a miracle child. His birth denied his uncle Gaston de France, the Duke of Orleans, of throne to which he had been standing as heir presumptive for almost thirty years. Two years after he was born a younger brother, Philippe, the Duke of Anjou, joined him. In 1643, his father had died and Louis, who was only four, was now the King of France. John Wolf brilliantly lays out the life and reign—which are practically the same—in a decent narrative.

(The miracle child who becomes king)

(The man who would have been king if not for a miracle child, Gaston de France, Duke of Orleans)

During the few decades before he was born, France was under the rule of his father King Louis XIII. The most important member of King Louis XIII’s council was his ‘prime minister’ Cardinal Richelieu who helped the King create a powerful and centralized state. This would be a great asset to France’s next monarch.

(King Louis XIII, father and predecessor)

(Cardinal Richelieu)

“There is a famous story, probably untrue, that the child, returning from the ceremony to his father’s bedside where the king asked him his name, replied, ‘Louis XIV’. ‘Not yet, not yet!’ replied the sad king. The memoirists repeat this story so faithfully that it must have had a wide circulation, but it is improbable that either Louis or his father ever referred to themselves with a numeral; perhaps the story is one of those that should have happened even if it did not.” p.11

When King Louis XIV came to throne as a child, his mother Queen Anne would take charge as the Queen Regent. The Queen and her new boyfriend, the Cardinal Mazarin, would govern the Kingdom and raise the King. During the regency, they would fight off rebellions, arrange alliances, and prepare the King to govern the nation as an adult.

(Queen Anne, the Queen Regent and mother)

(Cardinal Mazarin)

King Louis XIV would have longest reign of any monarch. At the time he takes power, Wolf’s narrative starts to become a little choppy. He stops telling the story chronologically and starts telling it categorically. Louis, as the King, would become a great patron of the arts. The King would protect and support writers, painters, and performers. Louis was so found of ballet that he would participate himself in the first half of his reign. Louis would also be a believer in the ‘divine right of kings’ that is kings were put on Earth by God and were accountable only to Him. If a King acted evil then God would send to him to Hell when he died, so if he wanted to go to Heaven he would have to be a just king.

(King Louis XIV as a young man)

“In his Memoirs Louis explains that he carefully picked his trusted ministers for their merit and probable usefulness. His critics chide him for claiming for his choices on the ground that all the men were in his entourage when Mazarin died. We have already noted that this quite misses the point. Even though Mazarin might have indicated the men who could best serve the state, Louis had to make the decision to employ them. There were many men in his entourage who would have been willing, indeed eager, to become his advisers and his tools; a man of lesser capacity would have thought twice before taking strong men as confidants. Louis’s great merit was exactly in this: he chose men senior to himself in experience as well as age, men with an expert knowledge of the problems of the kingdom rather than ‘yes men’ who might have flattered him by their submission. This young men who informed the world that he intended to govern his kingdom was no vain ‘know-it-all’ who wished to be surrounded by flatterers and sycophants.” p.147

Louis XIV would involve his nation in a war with the Netherlands. The Franco-Dutch War had many positive and negative effects for the King and his country. France would gain a good deal of territory however he would himself with a new rival the young William III, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. Ultimately, William would take advantage of the political situation in Europe to ‘invade’ England and seize the throne away from King Louis's Catholic cousin, King James II*, and place himself on it.

(King Louis XIV as an active king)

Wolf also tells how the King revoked the Edit of Nantes. The King’s grandfather, King Henry IV, created the Edit in order to aid and protect protestant Christians from persecution. King Louis XIV decided that France was to be a Catholic nation again and his subjects would either convert or get out.

King Louis XIV would marry a Spanish princess, named Marie Theresa. The new Queen of France was said to be woman of great beauty but also extreme stupidity. The King and the Queen would have many children together but only one would live to adulthood, Louis, the Dauphin of France. Unfortunately, the son seemed to inherit all of his mother’s bad traits including lack of intelligence. It seems that consistent inbreeding may have been the cause. The French, Spanish, and Austrian royal families marrying to many times my have caused this, the Queen’s brother King Charles II of Spain was deformed and mentally unwell. Further evidence is the King’s illegitimate sons were all healthy and strong.

(Queen Maria Teresa, wife of the king, and their son the Dauphin)

When his son became a man, King Louis would betroth him to a German** princess, named Marie Anna. This seemed to have worked for sons of the Dauphin seemed to process none of his negative traits. Indeed, the oldest, Prince Louis, the Duke of Burgundy, seemed to have a lot of potential. He was then married to an Italian*** princess, named Maria Adelaide, who would have sons with him. This gave King Louis a good deal of security for the future of his throne. Unfortunately, in 1683 he lost his Queen, to which he marked that death was the only way his wife had ever displeased him.

(Royal succession secure, The King (center) The Dauphin (behind the King), the Duke of Burgundy (right), the pregnant Duchess of Burgundy (left), and the Duke and Duchess's first born son.)

Since the King had so many heirs, he decided he could spare one. After the death of his brother-in-law, King Charles II of Spain, in 1700, he decided make a play, to gain that throne for his royal house. Realizing Europe would never allow a unification of Spain and France under one monarch, instead of pressing the claims of the Dauphin of France for the Spanish throne, King Louis had him renounce them in favor of the Dauphin’s second son, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Anjou. This would then involve France in the war of Spanish Succession. This would be costly for France but it would successfully but a Bourbon prince upon the throne of Spain. The descendants of King Phillip V of Spain rule Spain to this day.

(King Charles II of Spain, proof of what damage incest over generations can cause)

(King Phillip V of Spain, King Louis XIV's grandson)

(King Phillip V's descendant and current King of Spain, Juan Carols I)

“French historians favorable to the king assert that it was quite unnecessary for Louis to assure Europe that the crowns of France and Spain would not be worn by the same man. Just as the Grand Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy resigned their rights to the throne of Spain when Phillip mounted it, so would future princes ‘adjust’ the will of God so that the burden would not be too great for one man. It is all well and good to argue this way, but such talk does not change the fact that this proclamation was a bold, brash, arrogant challenge to the Europe that had written the partition treaties, and particularly to William of Orange and the men who had placed him on the English throne. It not only defied their policies but also boldly asserted that God, not Europe, would decide the fate of the Bourbon succession in both Spain and France.” p.511

(The later years of King Louis XIV)

After six decades of successful rule, King Louis XIV would run into one last crisis. The crisis of who would replace the King when he died. In 1711, Louis, the Dauphin of France, who had stood as the heir apparent for almost fifty years, died. In some ways, this was not too tragic. The Dauphin had always been some thing short of an idiot, he would not have a good ruler, and this would allow his young dashing son the Duke of Burgundy, now the new Dauphin of France could advance to the throne earlier. However in 1712, the Dauphine caught the measles, and the new Dauphin stayed by her bedside but she died and he got the disease. He died shortly there after, but not before, he had accidentally infected his two sons. The now five-year-old new Dauphin fought his life for three weeks before dying. His younger brother, now the fourth dauphin in four years, was the heir. After the surveying child, was the King of Spain, for the French throne.

(King Louis XV as a child, great-grandson and successor)

(King Louis XV as an adult)

Fortunately, for all involved, that child lived, and he would follow his great-grandfather on to the throne of France as King Louis XV. In this work, John B. Wolf describes in great detail the challenges and triumphs that the King of France, known as Louis XIV, was able to achieve in the longest reign on record.

*Who also happens to be William’s father-in-law.

**Although formally the Holy Roman Empire, Germany was more like a group of little countries as opposed to one big county. This meant there were many royals for the other families of Europe to marry, regardless of religion. This is primarily the reason so many royal families from Britain to Russia would be more German then of their native countries.

***Italy like Germany was a bunch of little countries at the time and provided for a good deal of potential marriages for the great powers.

{Video is from a documentary about the The Palace of Versailles, where King Louis XIV lived.}

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article at anytime, regardless how long ago I posted it. I will most likely respond.