Famous Men of Modern Times - John Haaren

Louis XIV


After the death of Richelieu, in 1642, Louis XIII, king of France, followed the advice of his great prime minister and called Cardinal Mazarin to fill his place.

But Louis XIII lived only six months after Richelieu passed away. He died in 1643, and his son Louis XIV succeeded him as king.

Louis XIV had the longest and most brilliant reign in the history of France; and the French people have always called him "The Grand Monarch."

He was born in 1638, and became king when he was but five years old. His mother governed the kingdom, as regent, until he was thirteen; but Mazarin was retained in office, and quickly became the real ruler of France.

Mazarin was a great statesman, but he was determined to have his own way. Many of the things he did cost a great deal of money; and so he made the people of France pay very heavy taxes, and this caused them to dislike him exceedingly.

Finally they became so discontented that they began a revolt known as the War of the Fronde, which means the War of the Sling. The name was given to ridicule the revolting party who were chiefly peasants; and who were too poor to buy proper arms. They were compared to the disorderly boys of Paris who sometimes fought with slings, and the name arose in that way.

This war lasted four years, and at its close Mazarin was dismissed. But he was soon put into office again, and had even more power than before.

As a boy Louis XIV was more fond of military exercises than of study. He took great delight in handling swords and beating drums. The boys belonging to some of the noble families of France were the playmates of the young king; and he formed them into a company of soldiers, and spent some time every day in drilling them.

In 1651, when he reached the age of thirteen, he took the government into his own hands, but Mazarin remained prime minister.

Turenne and Louis XIV


One of the first things Louis did, after declaring himself king, was to go with General Turenne into the South of France upon a military expedition. He was greatly pleased with life in the army and came back to Paris enthusiastic about military tactics.

"General Turenne," said the young king, "when I make war you must lead my troops."

"I deeply thank you, Sire, for your good opinion of me," replied the famous general. "I should be glad indeed to have command of Your Majesty's army in any war in which you may be engaged."

"Well, general," said Louis, "I feel sure that I shall have lots of wars; and you must be ready to help me."

Years afterwards Louis's words came true. He carried on many wars; and in some of them Turenne won fame as one of the greatest commanders of his time.

Louis saw that Mazarin was managing the affairs of the nation with great skill; so he allowed him to do as he thought best, while His Majesty devoted himself to a life of pleasure.

But in 1661, when Louis was twenty-three, Mazarin died. The day after Mazarin's death the officers of the government assembled at the palace, all eager to know which of them was to be the new prime minister.

"To whom shall we speak in the future about the business of the kingdom?" asked one of them.

"To me," answered the king. "Hereafter I shall be my own prime minister."

After thus taking matters into his own hands he reigned for more than fifty years. He placed in control of the different departments of the government the best men he could find; and one of his officers, the famous Colbert, managed the money matters of the kingdom in such a manner as to make his name illustrious for all time. He made the taxes less burdensome to the people; and, at the same time, he so fostered the industries of the kingdom that the revenue was greatly increased.

Louis improved the condition of the French people. He encouraged manufacturers. He even established some factories at the expense of the government; so that, during his reign, France became famous for her woolens and carpets, her silks and tapestries.

Louis also founded schools and colleges. He improved the country roads. He began the great canal which connects the Mediterranean with the Bay of Biscay. He did all in his power to advance the welfare of the kingdom.

At Versailles, a few miles from Paris, he built the largest and most magnificent palace in France. He adorned it with paintings and statues and surrounded it with lovely gardens. There he lived in great splendor, and gathered about him a large company of talented men and beautiful women.

The Louvre, the Trianon, the Tuileries, and some other of the most beautiful buildings for which Paris is still noted were also built during his reign.

In 1685, Louis revoked the famous Edict of Nantes, under which Henry of Navarre had granted religious liberty to the French people.

In consequence over three hundred thousand Protestants left France. They carried with them their tools and their trades and moved into other countries. More than forty thousand of them settled in England, where they were received with open arms.

In his later life Louis had the same fondness for war as in his youth; and during nearly fifteen years he was engaged in wars with various European nations.

His army was large and thoroughly disciplined. He had also a navy which made France powerful on the ocean. He used to say with great pride, "I can fight the world equally well on the sea or on the land."

Wars were fought with Spain, Holland, England, Germany, and other nations, and brilliant victories were won.

These successes delighted the French people, and they almost adored their "Grand Monarch." Louis XIV became almost as much the terror of Europe as did Napoleon about a hundred years later; and then the decline began.

Among the men who helped to break down the military glory of Louis XIV, was Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Prince Eugene was born in Paris, in 1663. As soon as he was old enough for military service he asked King Louis to make him an officer in the French army.

Louis was not friendly to Eugene's mother, and the request of the young prince was refused. Indignant at this, Eugene left France; but he was determined to be a soldier somewhere.

He was twenty years old when the Turks laid siege to Vienna, and he was among the soldiers who helped to drive them back. His bravery brought him into notice, and he rapidly rose from rank to rank. At twenty-one he was a colonel, at twenty-two a major general, and at twenty-four a lieutenant general.

After serving in numerous battles against the Turks, Prince Eugene was sent, in command of an Austrian force, into Northern Italy, where Louis NIV was threatening the province of Savoy.

Eugene now had one of the great satisfactions of his life.

When Louis had refused him a commission in the French army he had said that he would never again enter France except as a conqueror. After several victories in Italy, he marched into France, captured several towns, and returned to Italy laden with great plunder, thus making good his word.

But the most important thing achieved by Eugene and his allies during this war with Louis was the capture of a strongly fortified town called Casal (ka' sal). This town stood near the borders of France and Italy, and commanded the easiest and most frequently traveled pass between the two countries.

When the town was taken, Eugene made it one of the conditions of surrender that its fortifications should be destroyed and never rebuilt.

Yet this did not prevent Louis XIV from making other attempts to capture Northern Italy; and Prince Eugene afterwards served in two other long wars that were successfully fought in its defense.

Battle Blenheim.


Louis continued fighting against Italy, Bavaria, and the Netherlands, and kept all Europe in a state of turmoil.

Then came the great battle of Blenheim (blen'im), in 1704.

Louis had made himself so obnoxious, and had become so dreaded, that a great league of the European nations was formed against him.

In the battle of Blenheim the English, under the Duke of Marlborough, united their forces with those of the Austrians under Prince Eugene.

The defeat of Louis XIV, on this occasion, was one of the most disastrous ever suffered by the French; and it greatly encouraged those who were defending the liberties of Europe. Louis's power in Bavaria and Holland was shattered, and his armies were never again so much of a terror as they had been.

Louis did not, however, give up at once. Fighting continued for about ten years longer; but there were no further victories for France.

When the war was ended, in 1713, by the peace of Utrecht (u' trekt), the French were obliged to give up to the British, Acadia, the Hudson's Bay Territory and Newfoundland. Austria also was given possession of some of the territory which had been held by France.

A year later, in 1714, by the Treaty of Rastatt (ras tat), it was agreed that all the different nations which had been engaged in the war should have just what belonged to them before the war began.

The glory of France and her "Grand Monarch" had departed. He lived only a little more than two years after peace was proclaimed.

He died on September 1, 1715, at the age of seventy-seven, having reigned seventy-two years.