It’s hard to say what the French Monarchy is more famous for: its legendary decadence or its brutal and violent end. From the days of the extravagant and powerful Sun King, to the French Revolution that saw the centuries-old institution fall, the history of the kings and queens of France is filled with drama, intrigue, warfare, and death. Read on to discover more about the scandalous French Monarchy.
1. Salute the Sun
Louis XIV (1638-1715) was King of France for a whopping 72 years. As his sobriquet, “the Sun King,” suggests, Louis came to symbolize the big, bright, magnetic pomp of the French monarchy at its peak.
2. The Preschooler King
Louis inherited the French throne when he was only four years old. That’s why his reign is so long; he got a head start on rulership.
3. OTP: Me x The Crown
For a guy with serious commitment issues when it came to romance, Louis was truly married to the throne for the long-haul. At 72 years and 110 days, his reign is the longest of any monarch of a sovereign state in European history.
4. Better Late & Great Than Never
Anne of Austria, Louis’ mother, gave birth to her eldest son later in life—she was 37 when Louis was born and had suffered stillbirths before him. Louis’ improbable survival inspired Anne and others to believe that he was truly ordained by God to flourish and rule.
5. A Bright Future
Louis XIV adopted the sun insignia to evoke how his position as the King of France was truly ordained as God’s representative in life.
6. Royal Side Dishes
Although he and his first wife, Maria Theresa, shared a mutual affection, the king was never faithful to her. Louis fathered 13 illegitimate children with three other women in addition to carrying on liaisons with countless other lovers.
7. Marrying the Help
Later in life, Louis found himself taken by the piety and compassion of his children’s governess, Françoise d’Aubigné, otherwise known as “Madame de Maintenon.” He eventually married her. The union was never publicly declared, but it was an open secret at court.
Louis was a huge fan of ballet and even danced it himself! He performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets, often (though not always) in leading or god-like roles (of course). Throughout the 1660s, he founded the Académie Royale de Danse and the Académie d’Opéra, two critical elements in the evolution of French ballet.
9. The Original McMansion
In 1661, Louis transformed Versailles from a private hunting lodge into a public monument to royal opulence. The palace of more than 700 rooms became a center for French power and was officially turned into the new court in 1682.
10. Louisiana’s Royal Connection
The state of Louisiana derives its name from Louis XIV. When Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the interior of land drained by the Mississippi River in 1682, he named it after the French king.
11. Stolen Hope
The French Blue was one of Louis’s most prized possessions. A humongous diamond that gave the illusion of a sun at its center when positioned against a gold background (fitting for the Sun King), it was stolen after the French Revolution. It reemerged in England as the Hope diamond, a 45.52-carat mineral that is arguably the most famous jewel in the world.
Not until 2009 did experts confirm that, yes, the Hope Diamond and the French Blue were cut from the same stone.
12. Move Over Dorothy; Louis Wore Them First!
As a lifelong fashionista, Louis promoted red-heeled shoes as the ultimate status symbol. For the next century, Louis’s red shoes remained a necessary finishing touch to any noble ensemble.
13. Exhumed in the Epilogue
After dying of gangrene in 1715, Louis was buried in Saint-Dennis Basilica outside of Paris. His royal body remained undisturbed for about 80 years before being exhumed and destroyed by radicals in the French Revolution.
14. Follicles in the Streets, Bald in the Sheets
The king owned over 1,000 wigs and 413 beds! Now THAT’s a thread count!
15. From Temp to Permanent Position
The most powerful mistress of Louis XIV was clearly Madame de Montespan. She rose to chief mistress (maistresse-en-titre) by cultivating a friendship with his current chief mistress, Louise de La Vallière, and then swooping in to “temporarily” fulfill her friend’s “duties” when both Louise and the queen found themselves pregnant.
To make rejection a little less embarrassing for La Vallière, he did (at first) keep the women in the same apartments, so he could visit Montespan without drawing suspicion. What a gentleman.
16. Every Tree Starts Somewhere
Montespan was no upstart. She was born on October 5, 1640, to one of the most ancient noble families in France, the House of Rochechouart. As the king’s mistress, her legitimized children with him would go on themselves to found royal houses in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, and Portugal.