King Louis XIV - French History - Louis XIV of France
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Louis XIV

Louis XIV
Louis XIV

August 2016 - When Anne of Austria decided to retire, in 1661 AD, her son Louis XIV took over ruling France. Louis was 23 years old when he took power. Like his mother, Louis was most interested in getting more power away from the rich lords, and making France into one strong united country.

So Louis built an enormous, beautiful palace for himself at Versailles outside of Paris. Like Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan, Louis XIV made the rich lords all move to Versailles, where he could keep an eye on them, instead of letting them live on their own land. He made it seem like a huge party - he did throw a lot of parties - but it also gave Louis more power.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles,
where they held the big parties

Louis also did other things to get more power. He wrote new laws so all of France would have the same laws. He raised taxes and built himself a stronger army, and he made it illegal for the rich lords to have their own armies. Louis, who hated Oliver Cromwell and his support of the Puritans in England, tried to make everyone in France be Catholic. He tossed out the religious freedom allowed by his grandfather, Henry IV.

Early in his reign, Louis fought Spain and got control of much of the Netherlands. He fought the Iroquois (weakened by smallpox) and took over some of their land, too. Later on, by setting his grandson on the throne of Spain, Louis effectively got control not only of Spain but also of Spain's colonies in North and South America: Florida, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Texas, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, etc. Louis also seized land from the Cree, the Mississippians and other Native American people and sent French people to live on their land, which he re-named Louisiana after himself. Finally, Louis sent Jesuit priests to the Empress Xiaozhuan in China, and began the French colonization of South India and South-East Asia. In order to make more stuff in Europe, and buy less from Central Asia on the Silk Road, Louis XIV started the Gobelins and Beauvais factories in France to make luxury tapestries, and the Nevers and Sevres factories to make porcelain.

Louis lived to be almost 80 years old. He was king for such a long time that all his sons and even his grandsons (except for Philip of Spain) died. When Louis died in 1715, his great-nephew Philippe d'Orleans took power, ruling as regent for Louis' great-grandson, Louis XV (whose mother had also died, so she couldn't be regent).

More about Louis XV and Louis XVI

Bibliography and further reading about Louis XIV:

More about Louis XV and Louis XVI
Ottoman Empire
Safavid Iran
Russia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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