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Who is the Sun King?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Sun King, also known as Louis XIV, was a 17th century French monarch who is widely regarded as one of the finest rulers in French history. Under the reign of the Sun King, France became a major power in Europe, with the prestige of the nation increasing thanks to extensive advances in culture under Louis XIV. Louis XIV is also known as the Great Monarch, in a reference to the considerable changes he wrought in France during his 72 year reign.

King Louis was born in 1638 to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. His father died when he was almost five years old, leading his mother to take control of the French throne as his regent, with the assistance of Cardinal Mazarin, a man who was disliked because of his Italian background. France was embroiled in social turmoil and a war in the early years of the King's reign, with the war ultimately ending in a treaty which included the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain. One year later, in 1661, the Sun King took personal control of the French government.

When Louis XIV assumed power, he began instituting major reforms in the French government almost immediately. By taking personal control, he cut out many players in government, including the French nobility, ruling as an absolute monarch. He radically reformed the French legal system, increased rates of taxation, and contributed extensively to culture and the arts in France. One of his lasting achievements was construction of the palace of Versailles, an iconic piece of French architecture.

The king adopted the sun as his personal icon, coming to be known as the Sun King. The Palace at Versailles includes a room decorated with sun motifs, and iconic representations of the sun were also laid out into the plans for his gardens. The Sun King was also well known for wearing lavish, festive garments which included jewels and other ornaments, causing him to shine like the sun. His lavish spending on French arts and culture led to a flowering of philosophy, artistic expression, and other cultural accomplishments.

Under the Sun King, France experienced several military victories, as well as expanding and consolidating its control. The Sun King also managed to put Philip V, a member of the French royal house, onto the throne of Spain, assuring that Spain and France would have peaceful relations. Many historians credit the Sun King with laying the groundwork for the modern French state, and his reign is often thought of as a golden age in French history.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BigBloom — On Feb 02, 2011

Louis XIV once dressed as the Sun King and danced in a live performance for hours. This quirky behavior indicated that he identified himself with the old sun gods. The sun is a mythological symbol of creativity and new life. France experienced a lot of creative power in this period.

By Renegade — On Jan 31, 2011

The Sun King proved to be a figurehead for France, and an important representation of the culture. He was, however, the pinnacle of old snobby French aristocracy, which had lost its sense of noblesse oblige, and propagated a system of exploitation. France seems to have a history of trading one bad monarch for a worse one.

By SilentBlue — On Jan 29, 2011

Louis the XV was a spendthrift who didn't care about the troubles he was leaving for future generations. He famously stated "apres moi le deluge," which means "after me, the flood," meaning that the flood of troubles he had caused would not affect him after death, and were not his problem. He lived only for himself. This paved the way for the French revolution.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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