Troubled Magnificence: France under Louis XIV

An exhibition in the Long Room of the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, looks at different aspects of French life in the seventeenth century including taxation, warfare, trade and religion. It is entirely drawn from the very rich visual and textual resources of Trinity College Library which has the finest collection of seventeenth century French books in Ireland.
It displays extensive visual and textual exhibits covering Government, Law, Warfare, Army, Navy, Religion, Literary Culture, Arts and Sciences with magnificent prints, including maps, and early printed books that are the property of Trinity College Library, Dublin.
France under Louis XIV
Known as the Sun King because of the splendour of his reign, Louis XIV (1638-1715) reigned as King of France from 1643 until his death. His youth was dominated by Cardinal Mazarin (1602-61) after whose death Louis allowed no single minister to dominate. He was a firm supporter of the divine right of kings, a political principle starting in the middle ages, claiming that monarchs are responsible only to God and that their subjects owe them unquestioning obedience. He is remembered for his claim l’état c’est moi (I am the state).
His patronage of the artists, including writers Corneille, Molière and Racine, added to the magnificence of his court. In 1660 he married Maria Theresa (1638-83), the daughter of Philip IV of Spain. His mistresses included Mme de Montespan (1641-1707) and then Mme de Maintenon (c.1635-1719) whom he secretly married after Maria Theresa’s death.
Abroad France became the dominant power in Europe during Louis’ reign, although many wars in which he involved France left it almost bankrupt. France was further weakened by his Revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes (1589) that, in common with many countries, ended tolerance of religious non-conformists, driving many into exile. In France they were the Huguenots who chose to settle elsewhere in Europe, North America or South Africa. A first permanent, settlement was established in Ireland late 1660s under the patronage of the Duke of Ormond, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who provided employment for them as weavers in Dublin.
The Louis Quartoze style of late seventeenth century interior design was developed to establish a French national style. The formal baroque furniture was richly gilded or veneered for such regal settings as the Palace of Versailles, the residence of French kings from 1678 to 1769. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), signed in the Palace, demanded compensation from Germany after World War I and established the League of Nations.
Troubled Magnificence
Louis had succeeded to the throne at the age of four in 1643. At thirteen he ceased to be a minor and the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria, ended. Her chief minister (and one of Louis’ godfathers), Cardinal Mazarin, continued in office and acted as mentor to the young king until his death in 1661. Thereafter Louis took personal charge of government for the rest of his reign.
The ‘Cavalcade Procession of Louis XIV to the Parlement’ in Paris, on 7 September 1651, marked his formal assumption of leadership. The English exile John Evelyn observed the scene: ‘the King himselfe like a young Apollo was in a sute so covered with rich embrodry, that one could perceive nothing of the stuff under it, going almost the whole way with his hat in hand saluting the Ladys and Acclamators who had fill’d the Windos with their beauty, and the aire with Vive le Roy’.
Ita Marguet
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a visit to the exhibition (12 October 2011 – 1 April 2012), Trinity College, Dublin. A richly illustrated brochure titled Troubled Magnificence: France under Louis XIV is on sale at the Library shop.