Louis XIV: The Sun King

25 May, 2023 940 History of Europe

In 1661 the 23 year-old French king Louis the XIV had been on the throne for 18 years when his chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, died. Louis is reported to have said to his ministers, “It is now time that I govern my affairs myself. You will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them [but] I order you to seal no orders except by my command… I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport, without my command, and to render account to me personally each day”

So began the personal rule of Louis XIV, which lasted a further 54 years until his death in 1715. From his newly-built palace at Versailles, Louis was able to project an image of himself as the centre of gravity around which all of France revolved: it’s no accident that he became known as the Sun King. He centralized power to the extent he was able to say ‘L’etat c’est moi’: I am the state. Under his rule France became the leading diplomatic, military and cultural power in Europe.

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  • Catriona Seth 5 episodes
    Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford
  • Guy Rowlands No other episodes
    Professor of Early Modern History at the University of St Andrews
  • Penny Roberts 3 episodes
    Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Warwick

Reading list

  • The State in Early Modern France
    James B. Collins (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2009) Google Books →
  • Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King
    Lady Antonia Fraser (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007) Google Books →
  • Le Roi-Soleil et Dieu
    Alexandre Maral (Perrin, 2012) Google Books →
  • The Sun King
    Nancy Mitford (Hamish Hamilton, 1966) Google Books →
  • Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon
    Lucy Norton (trans. and ed.) (Prion Books, 1999) Google Books →
  • Louis XIV
    Jean-Christian Petitfils (Perrin, 2002) Google Books →
  • Louis XIV
    David Sturdy (Palgrave Macmillan, 1998) Google Books →
  • Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles
    Josephine Wilkinson (Amberley, 2019) Google Books →
  • Louis XIV
    John B. Wolf (W. W. Norton, 1974 and other editions available ) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m001m4v6

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001m4v6

Auto-category: 944.03 (France - Louis XIV, 1643-1715)