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The Boy - King

Everyone who has left us a verbal picture of Louis as a child was impressed by his robust constitution, his solemn dignity, his grace and noble appearance. The child very early showed the reserved self-possession that was to be characteristic of the man; he seems to have looked out on the world without revealing his own feelings. And yet we must not conclude that the child-king did not behave as a child. Loménie de Brienne tells us that Louis loved to hammer his drums, trying to imitate the beat of the Swiss guards, that he had a passion for playing soldier with Madame de Salle, one of the queen's women, calling out the commands for the little troupe of children in his company. This latter is not surprising to anyone brought up during a war; the talk of adults must have been almost solely about armies, and the pageantry always featured soldiers. Children of the Thirty Years' War were like children of any other war; and in a king's court, where the colorful guards added additional military flavor, it would be even more certain that war and soldiers would be the center of their interests.

Young Louis XIV
Young Louis XIV
Anne of Austria mother of Louis and Philippe
Anne of Austria mother of Louis and Philippe
Young Louis XIV
Young Louis XIV
Louis with his younger brother Philippe
Louis with his younger brother Philippe

According to his confessor, Father Paulin, the children had daily exercises that helped to make them strong; Louis excelled in these - "He easily fatigues all his courtiers, being almost indefatigable himself." At seven he learned to shoot at a target, and soon became a crack shot, a skill that he retained most of his life. He also had some emotional difficulties. Like any small boy he jealously resented the time that Mazarin spent with his mother over affairs of state, and there is an amusing story of rivalry with his brother that resulted in each wetting the other in bed. Thus even though courtiers tended to note his more sober moments, we can assume that this king, who was "handsome as an angel", "precocious", "bright", and "dignified", was also a child and sometimes acted like one.
When he became seven years old, Louis was taken from the custody of women and placed under that of men. Anne appointed Mazarin as the supervisor of his education. In the royal commission she explained that Mazarin was the choice of the Duke of Orléans, the Prince of Condé, and, indeed, the late king himself, who in making Mazarin godfather of his son, had pointed to him for the supervision of the boy's education. The Marquis de Villeroi, a wise and honored soldier, became Louis's governor, while Dubois and La Porte were named his valets. Hardouin de Péréfixe, a scholarly clergyman who had served both Richelieu and Mazarin, became preceptor, and a battery of instructors in mathematics, writing, Spanish, Italian, drawing, fencing, horseback riding, and dancing were employed to teach the boy the skills that he would need in the world. Not all of these appointees were loyal to Mazarin. La Porte, for example, a victim of Richelieu's wrath when he had shielded Anne years before, did everything he could to undermine the cardinal. His chance came when Louis asked for fairy tales like ones the ladies used to tell him before he went to sleep; La Porte read to him sections from Histoire de France, particularly emphasizing those sections dealing with fainéant (lazy) kings. It was easy to arouse the wrath of the child-king over the behavior of these early do-nothing rulers; La Porte persuaded him that he should never become Louis le Fainéant, and seems even to have developed in him a temporary dislike for Mazarin. Someone also taught Louis a few of the anti-Mazarin songs that were current at this period, but most of the child's instruction was directed by men anxious to please the powerful mimister in every way possible. A host of critics, headed by Saint-Simon and Louis XIV himself, have voiced disapproval of the education that these men gave the king. Their collective judgments, however, may be somewhat unfair, for despit the civil desorder of the Fronde that broke out when Louis was only ten and disrupted the regularity of his instruction, Louis at twelve had learned to speak and write elegant French, he could handle Italian easily,and he had enough Spanish to get along in that language. His handwriting left much to desired, but he could write, and he knew as much mathematics as a king needed. He had become an excellent horseman, a skillful fencer,and an accomplished dancer; his natural grace and physical coordination my have accounted for these athletic accomplishments, but the teachers should be given some credit.. He also had acquired a little Latin - enough to translate Caesar's "Gallic Wars" as a surprise for his teacher, bur not enough to allow him any real access to the ideas or literature of classical antiquity. Perhaps the most important accomplishment of this early period was the fact that Louis learned to speak French properly when one consider the violence that Anne (native language Spanish) and Mazarin (native language Italian) did to the French tongue, it is surprising that the boy learned it without a thick accent.

The Grand Dauphin

Louis, called le Grand Dauphin and Monsieur (1661-1711), eldest son of Louis XIV of France and Maria-Theresa of Spain. He was given command of armies in Rhine campaign (1688) and in Flanders (1693) in the War of League of Augsburg and aided Villars in War of Spanish Succession (1709-10).

Louis (Dauphin) and his family (1687)

Queen Maria-Thérèse with young dauphin

Louis with relatives

Philipp V of Spain, Louis' grandson

In 1679, he married Marie Christine of Bavaria. He was father of three children: Louis, duc de Bourgogne, 1682-1712. (the father of Louis XV) ; Philip V of Spain, 1683-1746.; Charles, duc de Berry, 1686-1714.
Le Grand Dauphin,died of smallpox in 1711, aged fifty. His son and heir, the crippled Duc de Bourgogne, died one year later, and the throne was inherited by his infant grandson Louis (XV) in 1715.

His aunt, Élisabeth Charlotte of the Palatine, Duchess of Orleans ("Liselotte", wife of Philippe, Louis' brother) gave the following account : "It is impossible to describe the Grand Dauphin. He feared nothing more in this world than to become king, not so much out of tendresse towards his father, than out of dread to rule; he was frightfully lazy, could sit the whole long day on a bed or chaise à bras, tap a cane against his shoes and utter not a single work; never in his life would he offer his opinion on anything, but if he happened to talk once in a year, he spoke well and in noble terms"

He loved art and was it's greatest protector and collector at the court after his father. His rooms looked like museum - finest and refined sculptures and paintings were to find there.

Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, Princess Palatine

When Henriette (Henriette of England, first wife of Philippe d'Orleans, Louis XIV's brother) died, a "place" was indeed vacant (Louis' remark -"There is a place vacant"- has become famous), French diplomacy cast about to find a suitable princess. The choice fell upon Elizabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, she is known to us as La Palatine, or Madame, or simply as Liselotte. Some writers have suggested that the marriage was made with the idea of claiming a share of the Palatinate inheritance, which in fact did happen, but a glance at the documents that were used to establish these claims a decade later will show that at the time of the marriage the French had no idea about the complexities of German feudal law and no serious concern for the inheritance of the Palatinate.

Philippe d'Orleans, Louis' brother

Elisabeth-Charlotte, his second wife

Henriette of England, fist Philippe's wife and Louis' lover

Philippe d'Orleans, Louis' brother

If we look at the marriage contract, it would seem that the jewels and vessels of silver and gold that the princess brought with her to France were of primary importance: the collar of pearls (fifty-four in number) the four watches (one set with diamonds), the bracelets, pins, earrings, and the silver and gold vessels were all carefully enumerated. Several of them must have been very beautiful. But Liselotte was not a bejeweled beauty; she was a big-boned, broad-faced, buxom, outspoken lady-married to Monsieur who used rouge, wore ribbons and lace, and loved jewelry. He walked in mincing steps; she prescribed a two-league walk in case of illness.

When Philippe first saw her, his question was the obvious one, "How can I sleep with her?" Her first question we don not know, but her voluminous correspondence, in which she was often brutally outspoken about her opinions, gives us the answer to many of the later ones.
La Palatine was to be a fixture in the French court for the rest of the reign. From her letters it is clear that she, like so many women, fell in love with king; Louis did come off quite handsomely when compared with his brother. There is no indication at all that Louis ever responded to his sister-in-law's secret affection. Liselotte was the center of the small German circle in the court; she participated in all the court events, from the hunt to the balls. When her Heidelberg was destroyed by the king's order, she wept; when her son had to marry the king's legitimized daughter (by de Montespan), she suffered and carried on terribly; her hates seem stronger than her loves, and the historian is cautioned to use her letters carefully.

Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse as parents

At the beginning of 1670s the queen was almost in despair: her husband was unfaithful, and children of the mistresses flourished while her own died. Louis' legitimate children died one by one until only the eldest, the Grand Dauphin, remained. The little girls, named after the queen mother (Elizabeth-Anne, Anne-Thérèse, Marie-Anne), all died shortly after birth. Her second son, the Duke of Anjou, lived a little longer, but he died before reaching the age of three. These children were all buried with great pomp in the crypt at Saint-Denis; their deaths were a great tragedy to the queen, who understood that her most important role at court was the bearing of children to support the dynasty. It is difficult to measure Louis' paternal feelings. In the Bibliothèque Nationale there is a little packet of letters that he wrote to Madame de la Motte, the governess of his legitimate children. They are nearly all formal replies to her letters about the health of her charges: Louis expressed his satisfaction with the "perfect health" of his sons; with the fact that they had arrived at Copiègne where everyone knew "the air was better"; that the dauphin had been sage (an American father would say "a good boy"); that the fever that "has given me room to worry" had now passed; that the king was satisfied with the good Madame de la Motte and wanted her to know it. The illness that took the life of the Duke of Anjou obviously caused Louis much concern. The first letter mentioning it came June 16, 1671 - the king was well aware of the grave situation. He sent his personal physicians, continued to write and demand news, and finally went to Saint-Germain himself. The child died on July 12, 1671. But Louis was accustomed to death. If one follows the royal family from year to year it soon becomes evident that very few went by without death's striking someone in the house of Bourbon, mostly children under five. Visconti may not be far wrong when he writes that the royal children were killed by their physicians and surgeons who, prompt to bleed them, quickly ended their lives, and yet we know that seventeenth century children died easily even without the aid of physicians.
Louis took an interest in the education and the welfare of his son (Grand Dauphin). His Mémoires were presumably composed as advice to the dauphin, and we find many other traces of the king's concern for the boy's spiritual as well as his secular education. The letters that passed between them, however, are stiff and formal. "I was very happy for the letter that you wrote me," he writes to the dauphin, aged eleven. "It appears you wish to see me and that you have some feelings for the things that concern my person, and the advantages of the church. Continue in this attitude and strengthen yourself in sentiments that are worthy of a dauphin and my son. ... Your father hopes for nothing more than to see you worthy of that which you should someday become." His roundabout way of saying it may indicate that Louis is quite willing to see that day postponed. It certainly is a letter from a king to his heir rather than from a father to a son. The letter that he wrote to Bossuet in May of 1676 is in the same tone: "... regarding my son, I recommend to you always to cultivate his mind with the necessary carefor him to understand his duties toward himself, toward me, and above all toward God."


© Elena Steingrad     2000 -

the image of Louis XIV in the menu is taken from PC-Game "Versailles II" created by Cryo Interactive Entertainment. See the description of that game under "Software" for more information.

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