46 — Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV

a.k.a: Le Roi-Soleil

Occupation: King

Born: 1638

Died: 1715

Brief Description:
In 1638, after 23 years of marriage, Anne of Austria finally gave birth to a child, leading contemporaries to regard him as a divine gift and Louis XIV (only the Dauphin at the time) was named Louis-Dieudonne as a consequence. Louis XIII died at the end of the Thirty Years War when his son was only four years old so his mother ruled as regent until her son could claim his throne.
When Louis XIV came into power, France was going through turbulent times and so, he did not live the privileged life of a king-to-be.

In 1660, at the age of 22, Louis married the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, Marie-Therese, in order to seal the peace treaty after the Thirty Years War. But despite their 6 children and the evidence of affection early on in their marriage, Louis wasn’t devoted to his wife and took many mistresses, both official and unofficial, during his lifetime.
One year later, Cardinal Mazarin, who had been like a father to Louis, died and Louis XIV became King of France. Louis XIV ruled as an absolute monarch of France and involved himself in all matters of state. His statement “L’etat, c’est moi.” is very representative of the way he ran his government.

During Louis’ reign, France fought three majors wars (the Dutch War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Palatinate) as well as two lesser wars (the War of Devolution and the War of the Reunions) and gained land as a result of these conflicts. But even though France spent most of its years under the reign of Louis XIV fighting wars, it also flourished culturally during these same years. By bringing the Academie Francaise under his patronage, he became its protector, protecting writers such as Moliere, Racine and La Fontaine, whose work remain greatly influential to this day. He also supported music and the visual arts. But perhaps the most spectacular of his achievements remains the Palais de Versailles, which was originally a hunting lodge built by his father and where he eventually relocated his court, thus giving the Louvre to the arts and the public.

He died of gangrene in 1715 after 72 years on the throne. His great-grandson, Louis Duke of Anjou, became his successor (Louis XV) since his son, grandson and eldest great-grandson had all predeceased him.

Why he’s on the list:
Louis XIV put in place the Code Louis, which was later used as a basis for the Napoleonic Code, which itself is still used today as the basis for many modern legal codes. And Napoleon himself, who was anti-Bourbon (Louis XIV was of the House of Bourbon), described him as “the only King of France worthy of the name”.

I love absolute monarchies and I hate democracies. Of course, absolute monarchies are double-edged swords as monarchs can lead their kingdoms to greatness but also to ruin depending on their characters, philosophies and visions. But at least there’s a slight chance it might work. Democracies, on the other hand, never work as politics and personal interests inevitably get in the way of good judgement. I am using democracy here only as a modern example for the other end of the spectrum. In contrast, Louis adhered to the theory of the divine rights of kings, became the most powerful French monarch and consolidated a system of absolute monarchical rule. This, me likey!

But what I like most, even though Louis XIV was often criticized for it, was his vanity. It is said that “there was nothing he liked so much as flattery, or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it”. He cultivated his public image and the idealization of the monarch by having himself depicted as Roman Emperors, as Gods and even as Alexander The Great. And if you still don’t think vanity’s cool, just check the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, it’s enough to understand why he’s on this list.

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