Places to visit

King Louis XIV 1638 - 1715

Louis XIV wearing his famous red-plumed hat in battle near the Bruges canal 1667

young Louis XIV's mistress, Louise de Vallière, 1663

Longest reigning French king
Louis was a child of 4 when his father died, but he was not allowed to rule until he became 13. The young king soon showed himself to be an autocratic “hands-on” ruler. All his life, he worked hard at being king. He believed it was his job to make France great by personal attention to detail - “l’état, c’est moi.”- I am the state.

Pursuit of Glory
Every spring Louis would lead the French army to besiege border towns in Spanish Netherlands. He enjoyed taking much of the Court with him, so could spend evenings with the ladies and playing cards. He insisted that the Queen and his mistress came too, even if they were pregnant.

By day he fought with the army. His generals had to flatter the king, make him believe he was a military genius, that he took detailed control over the conduct of the wars.
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LouisXIV and CharlesI of England

Charles I reigned 1625 - 1649 - another royal portrait on horseback. A generation before Louis XIV, Charles' also believed in the "divine right of kings" to rule. But his attempt to establish an all-powerful monarchy across the channel failed. It led to the English Civil War, Charles I lost his throne and was beheaded.

Devastation of siege warfare
1. Siege of Tournai - soldiers with pikes advance on the town along a protective trench. 2. Siege of Namur
Contemporary pictures show the devastation caused by decades of siege warfare that ravaged what is now Nord-Pas de Calais and Belgium. The Spanish build walls and earthworks to defend their towns. They cleared the surrounding countryside, so attackers had no shelter and could be raked with cannon and musket fire.

Triumphal entry into Arras 1667

Early success
Louis was able to pour the wealth of France into maintaining a large and well-equipped army. He had good generals, and in the early decades was very successful. Louis most enjoyed taking the surrender at the end of the siege, when the defeated garrison marched out:
“bag and baggage, drums beating, flags flying, matches lit, bullet in the cheek.” He would take the salute, watched admiringly by the ladies of the Court.
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French expansion into the Spanish Netherlands

Timeline- Louis XIV

1638 - born
1648 - Dutch Republic officially separated from Spanish Netherlands
1659 - Treaty of Pyrenees (with Spain): Arras area (Artois) became French
1660 - married Maria Teresa, daughter of Spanish king Philip IV.
- wars with Spain, campaigns in Netherlands
- secret Treaty of Dover with English king Charles II to fight the Dutch and restore Roman Catholicism to England - which did not happen.
- Peace of Nijmigen: Hainaut and Cambrai area became French. Vauban started building fortifications ("pre-carré").
1682 - official opening of Versailles palace
1685 - revokes Edict of Nantes, slaughter of Huguenots.
- War over Louis' claims to parts of eastern Germany; resisted by the "League of Augsberg"
1697 - Peace of Ryswick: France lost its gains in Germany.
1700 - death of Spanish king
1701-13 - the War of the Spanish Succession. Allied armies led by Marlborough from England, Holland, Prussia and Austria defeated France at Blenheim [1704] and several other battles.
- Lille captured from France, after heroic defence of Boufflers; Dunkerque attacked.
1713 - Treaty of Utrecht: border between France and Netherlands settled.



France - inherited by Louis XIV


captured by 1659 - Dunkerque was taken from Spain by Cromwell 1658, sold to France by Charles II in 1662.


captured by 1680


captured by 1680, given back 1713


1713 boundary of France


remaining under Spanish control


Spain recognised the independence of the northern Low Countries as the Dutch Republic in 1648

MAP: French expansion into the crumbling Spanish empire in the Low Countries during the reign of Louis XIV

1. William of Orange, Dutch prince and English king, who led opposition to French expansion into the Netherlands.
2. They both fought over the territories of Spanish king Carlos II - who died in 1700, leaving his crown and empire (including Spain and the Spanish Netherlands) to Louis XIV's grandson. This provoked a war in which European royals defeated France, ending in the Treaty of Utrecht - which made sure France and Spain remained separate.
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The Palace of Versailles - a fatal extravagance?
The king in old age. Along with endless wars, building Versailles and other palaces swallowed enormous amounts of France's tax revenues
Louis loved hunting, and in 1661 (age 23) decided to build a transform the small royal hunting lodge at Versailles outside Paris into a magnificent palace with huge elaborate gardens and fountains. This demonstrated the glory of his reign to the whole of Europe, but on top of endless wars was a heavy burden for French taxpayers. The palace was never finished, but in 1682 it became the official residence of the king (now 44), seat of government, and the Court.
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Patron of the Arts
The Court was used to being lavishly entertained by operas - then a new invention;poems, and plays by writers such as Molière (1622-73). The "sun king" nickname came from a part Louis played on stage.

On several days a week, Versailles was open to the public - who could wander in and admire the finest works of art in Europe, and stand and stare at the king's family having supper. Crowds came out from Paris. Entry was free, provided you were decently dressed. Fashion demanded you wore a sword, which could be hired at the gate.

Verdict of History
Louis's rule was not always wise: his four wars gained France valuable territories, including Nord - Pas de Calais - but were costly in money and lives. The wars, his extravagant palaces, and the persecution of the Huguenots left a troubled and impoverished country. His centralised rule and huge debts sowed the seeds of the Revolution in the next century.
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LouisXIV and Charles II - secretly working together
Young Louis XIV sheltered Charles I's son when he escaped into exile. After Charles II regained the English throne in 1660, he was constantly short of money. The wealthy and powerful French king gave weak Charles big subsidies. Charles II fought the Dutch: he siezed their American colony of New Amsterdam and called it New York; they burnt his fleet in the Medway. Meanwhile Louis conquered Flanders. In England, many suspected Charles II of trying to restore Roman Catholicism. They were right: in 1670, he signed a secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV, but could not make it happen.


Places to visit:
Historic Fortifications Network - trails in fortified towns

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Related background information
Vauban - Louis XIV's military engineer: masterminded sieges, and designed new fortifications
Jean Bart - the most famous of Louis XIV's corsairs dased in Dunkerque - who carried Louis' wars to the high seas
William III of Orange - Louis XIV's Dutch enemy
Huguenots - Protestant refugees
French Revolution
History of Flanders




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