Louis XIV | The Canadian Encyclopedia

article

Louis XIV

King Louis XIV, king of France (born 5 September 1638 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France; died 1 September 1715 in Versailles, France). Louis XIV was the longest-reigning monarch in European and Canadian history, serving as the king of France for 72 years (from 1643 to 1715) — nearly two years longer than the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1663, Louis XIV assumed direct control of New France as a Crown Colony, sponsoring increased immigration (see Filles du Roi), regulating the fur trade and creating a stronger French military presence in the region (see Carignan-Salières Regiment). Despite these efforts, Louis XIV’s military and diplomatic endeavours — including repeated wars with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), as well as the War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaty of Utrecht — shifted the balance of power in North America. This created the eventual conditions for the British conquest of New France with the support of the Iroquois during the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63.

Painting of King Louis XIV of France

Accession to the Throne

The future King Louis XIV was born at the royal residence of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (now the Museum of National Archeology), just outside of Paris, and was the elder of the two sons of King Louis XIII of France and Anne of Austria. Anne was the daughter of King Philip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria, both of whom were members of the powerful Austrian Habsburg dynasty. The infant prince was christened Louis-Dieudonné, which was French for “gift of God,” because his parents had been married for more than 20 years before his birth. For the first few years of his life, Louis was the Dauphin — the heir to the French throne. In 1643, Louis XIII died of tuberculosis and his four-and-a-half--year-old son, the Dauphin Louis, succeeded to the throne as Louis XIV, with his mother as regent.

Louis XIV’s early reign was characterized by political disorder known as The Fronde. This was a series of uprisings and civil wars, first by local officials and then by the nobility, that challenged the increasing centralization of the French state and the power of intendants (agents of the monarch) to overrule legal decisions granted by local parlements (law courts). The young king was forced to flee Paris twice as a child, which may have shaped his later determination to move his court to Versailles and rule as an absolute monarch. Louis XIV came of age to rule in his own right without a regent on 7 September 1651, though he continued to be advised by his mother and her own adviser, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, during the 1650s. Louis XIV’s coronation took place at Reims Cathedral on 7 June 1654.

Marriage and Children

On 9 June 1660, Louis XIV married his double first cousin Maria Theresa of Spain (also known as Maria Theresa of Austria). Maria Theresa was the daughter of Louis XIV’s maternal uncle King Philip IV of Spain and his paternal aunt Elisabeth of France. Louis XIV and Maria Theresa had six children, only one of whom, Louis (known as Le Grand Dauphin), survived to adulthood. Louis XIV also had more than a dozen children outside his marriage, later legitimizing two of his children with Louise de La Vallière and six of his children with Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, marquise de Montespan. Following the death of Maria Theresa in 1683, he secretly married his children’s governess, Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon.

Absolutism and Empire

Louis XIV was an absolute monarch who allegedly declared “L'État, c’est moi” (“I am the state” or, literally, “The state, that is me”) in response to a challenge to his authority by the parlements. At the celebrations following the birth of his heir, Louis XIV adopted the sun as his emblem, becoming known as the “Sun King.” He dismissed and arrested his superintendent of finances, Nicolas Fouquet, in 1661 and took charge of the treasury himself, appointing intendants to collect revenues and implement his policies throughout France. The king’s efforts at centralization, however, were impeded by strong local cultures and languages in regions such as Provence and Brittany, as well as difficulty in enforcing his edicts in remote rural regions of France.

Louis XIV was also concerned with France’s overseas empire and tried to bring new territories under the direct control of the crown rather than private companies of French merchants and traders. In 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, travelled up the Mississippi River and claimed the river basin for France, naming this region Louisiana in honour of the King.

Early illustration of the palace of Versailles

Versailles

In 1682, Louis XIV moved his court and government to the Palace of Versailles, about 22 km southwest of Paris. Versailles was the site of a hunting lodge during the reign of Louis XIII. Inspired by former finance minister Fouquet’s château at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Louis XIV rebuilt Versailles as a spectacular baroque palace with a vast network of ornamental gardens and fountains. It remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Versailles became a political and cultural centre and influenced the architecture of other palaces across Europe, including the Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Versailles enabled Louis XIV to concentrate power at his court, with the French nobility travelling to Versailles to wait on the monarch rather than maintaining their own centres of power at their country estates. Versailles was also the setting for receptions of foreign ambassadors, projecting an image of French royal authority to the wider world. Among the ambassadors who visited Versailles was a delegation of the Huron-Wendat people, which may have included Kondiaronk.

The Defense of New France

Louis XIV was concerned that the population of New France was not expanding in comparison to the rapidly growing British colonies along the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States. In 1661, Pierre Boucher, former governor of Trois-Rivières, visited France to petition the king for greater French military support to defend New France against the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). The European population of New France was under siege, with many being killed in Iroquois raids between 1645 and 1665, and the colony’s future was in doubt.

In 1663, Louis XIV disbanded the Company of One Hundred Associates and made New France a Crown Colony, appointing a governor (Daniel de Rémy de Courcelle), intendant (Jean Talon) and military commander (Alexandre de Prouville, marquis de Tracy). They reported directly to the king, organized the defense of the colony, reorganized the local administration, regulated the fur trade and encouraged the growth of agriculture and industry.

In 1665, the King sent four companies of the Carignan-Salières Regiment to defend New France from the Iroquois. They consisted of 1,200 soldiers with experience fighting in French campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. Seigneuries were offered to military officers, and soldiers were ordered to remain in New France. Louis XIV decreed, “The King desires that the soldiers of Carignan Regiment remain in the country, offering each of them the means to set himself up and even to help him procure some cleared land.”

The arrival of the troops was well received in New France. Marie de l’Incarnation, founder of the religious order of the Ursulines in Canada, wrote to her son Claude, a Benedictine monk, “All the vessels have arrived and have brought us the rest of the army with the most distinguished persons that the King has sent to save the country.”

The French worked closely with their allies, the Huron-Wendat, against the Iroquois. The distribution of medals with Louis XIV’s image to Huron-Wendat leaders emphasized the importance of the personal relationship between the French monarch and his Indigenous allies to the development of New France. Conflict with the Iroquois continued until the Great Peace of Montreal of 1701.

Arrival of the Brides (Filles du roi)

The Filles du Roi

In 1666, the European population of New France was two-thirds male and consisted mainly of soldiers, fur traders and clergy. There was little emigration from France. The main group interested in settling abroad, French Protestant Huguenots, had been expelled following Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, but they were forbidden from settling in New France and instead relocated to the Netherlands, Great Britain, Prussia and the Thirteen Colonies. To increase the French population of New France, Louis XIV provided dowries for more than 770 young women to emigrate from France between 1663 and 1673 and marry settlers in New France. These young women became known as the Filles du Roi (or “the King’s daughters”), as it was traditionally a father’s duty to provide a dowry for his daughter’s marriage. In 1670, intendant Jean Talon reported to the king that this effort had been successful: “The girls sent over last year are married and almost all are pregnant or have had children.”

The War of the Spanish Succession

Louis XIV spent much of his reign at war with other European powers, with lasting consequences for his overseas empire, including New France. In 1700, the last Habsburg monarch of Spain, King Charles II, died without children. Both Louis XIV’s mother and wife had been Spanish Habsburg princesses, and he designated his grandson, the Duke of Anjou, as Charles II’s successor to become Philip V of Spain. Although he was the second of the three sons of Louis (Le Grand Dauphin) and therefore not expected to succeed to the French throne, the English government objected to both France and Spain being ruled by members of the French House of Bourbon. Instead, England backed an Austrian Habsburg candidate for the Spanish throne, Archduke Charles (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI). The result of this dispute was the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted from 1701 to 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed.

In North America, the conflict was known as the second French and Indian War, or “Queen Anne’s War,” after Louis XIV’s main adversary, British monarch Queen Anne. The British captured Port Royal — in what is now Nova Scotia — following a siege in 1710 and renamed the settlement Annapolis Royal after Queen Anne.

The Treaty of Utrecht — which ended the War of the Spanish Succession — recognized Louis XIV’s grandson Philip, Duke of Anjou, as King Philip V of Spain on the condition that he renounce his place in the French royal line of succession. But it also ceded significant territory in the global French and Spanish empires to Great Britain, shaping the eventual course of Canadian history. France lost its colonies in Newfoundland and Acadia to Britain but retained Cape Breton Island, which would become the site of the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Death

Louis XIV was predeceased by his son Louis (known as Le Grand Dauphin), who died of smallpox in 1711, as well as his grandsons Louis, Duke of Burgundy, who died in 1712, and Charles, Duke of Berry, who died in a hunting accident in 1714, and his elder great-grandson, Louis, Duke of Brittany, who died of measles in 1712. Louis XIV died of gangrene in 1715 — four days before his 77th birthday — after having given his blessing to his five-year-old great-grandson, Louis, Duke of Anjou, the only surviving son of the late Louis (known as Le Petit Dauphin). Louis, the Duke of Anjou, succeeded to the throne as King Louis XV — the monarch who would lose New France to Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63).

Bust of Louis XIV

Legacy in Canada

Place Royale in Quebec City — the site of a weekly market from the 17th to 19th century — was named after Louis XIV. A bust of the king was erected at its centre in 1686 by intendant Jean Bochart de Champigny, but it was removed because local merchants complained that it disrupted traffic in the marketplace. A new bust of Louis XIV was installed in the 1930s in Place Royale, which has become a popular tourist attraction. Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island was named after Louis XIV and became the site of the Fortress of Louisbourg, which was constructed in the reign of his successor, Louis XV. Much of the French-Canadian population in present-day Quebec is descended from the Filles du Roi sponsored by Louis XIV.

Further Reading

Quebec City
collection
New France