Born on 5 September 1638, and known as the Sun King, Louis XIV, the king of France from 14 May 1643 until he died in 1715, reigned over a period of unparalleled prosperity in which France emerged as the leading European power and a leader in the arts and sciences. Although his mother regarded him as a divine gift as she had experienced four stillbirths between 1619 and 1631, he was a neglected child given over to the care of servants and once narrowly escaped drowning in a pond as he was unattended. But in his later life, he proved himself as one of the greatest French kings as he consolidated the Crown's control over the great lords, proved his passion for justice, and went on two crusades. He had extended the frontier of France in the north by annexing part of Flanders, while his fleet equaled those of England and Holland.
From his time, the nobility ceased to be an important factor in French politics, which in the past had weakened the nation in some respects. He personally wanted to control everything from court etiquette to troop movements, and not the smallest detail escaped his attention. He was instrumental in changing the appearance of Paris as the towns were decorated, monuments were erected, and the king energetically devoted himself to build the magnificent Palace of Versailles, accused of having ruined the nation financially, and the monarchy became increasingly isolated from the people.
Louis XIV had an intense attraction toward feminine beauty and had a real eye for the opposite sex in his personal life. Throughout his life, he had a myriad of affairs before, during, and after his marriage to Queen Marie Thérèse. When he reached 15 years of age, his mother, Anne of Austria, decided it was time for her son to become a man, and she selected one of her ladies in waiting, the none too buxom and none too ambitious 39-year-old Catherine Bellier, otherwise known as One-eyed Kate, to educate him in the ways of the bedroom. As the nickname suggests, the lady was missing an eye and not a real beauty by the 17th Century standards. According to the instructions, one autumn day in 1853, she dressed seductively and stripped when the King was alone in his room. What happened next is left to the imaginations, but the fact is, she did a satisfying job, and was rewarded. In the following years, Louis visited her frequently as he had plenty to learn and sometimes even several times a day.
Marie Mancini, the first love of Louis XIV, was the niece of Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister to Louis XIII. Although Cardinal Mazarin was her uncle, the cardinal, and Anne, the mother of the king, both were horrified at the possibility of the King making such a comparatively lowly marriage and vehemently opposed to this union. Finally, the brief encounter between the King and the princess ended after their last meeting on 22 June 1659.
After that, she was banished from the court into exile, and Louis’ marriage was arranged to his cousin, Maria Theresa of Spain, to end the lengthy war between France and Spain. Although Louis intended to marry Marie Mancini, their relationship was never consummated. Louis and Maria Theresa were married on 9 June 1660 at the church of St Jean the Baptist, and as Louis wanted to consummate the marriage as quickly as possible, the queen’s mother-in-law and aunt arranged for it. However, Louis was never faithful to Maria Theresa as he took a series of mistresses, both official and unofficial, and despite her fame for her virtue and piety, Maria was often neglected by the court. She had six children with Louise, and only one of them, the eldest, survived to adulthood. She died in 1683.
Louise de Valliere, the first official mistress of Louis XIV, lived at the Court from 1661 to 1674. Although she was neither a striking beauty nor naturally brilliant and was afflicted with a limp, with her blonde hair, soft blue eyes, and sweet smiles, she had qualities that attracted attention. She was the Maid of honour to Princess Henrietta Anne of England, who was married to Philippe I, brother of Louis XIV. However, the friendly relationship of the extremely attractive Henrietta with her brother-in-law created a scandal and fed rumours of a romantic affair. Even, it was rumoured that the father of her first child was, in fact, the king’s child, not Philippe’s. Louise de Valliere joined Princess Henrietta at the Fontainebleau Court, completely ignorant of being part of a ploy to attract the King’s attention as a way to cover the scandal between the King and his sister-in-law.
The plan clicked as the King fell under the spell of the young innocent girl. He was conquered by her riding skills and hunting tastes, her dancing skills, her taste for music and singing, and her knowledge of books and literature. During her first pregnancy, Louise de Valliere was removed from her service and established in lodging in the Palais Royal and gave birth to a son on 19 December 1663. She had four children with Louis XIV, two of whom survived and were legitimized. After the death of his mother, Anne of Austria, in 1666, the King recognized their two children and awarded Louise de Valliere the title of Duchess of Vaujours and La Vallière.
However, ashamed of being a mistress, a mother, and a duchess, Louise de Valliere suffered from the exposure of her adultery and wanted to withdraw to a convent. Finally, when after years of forced cohabitation, she was allowed by the King to leave the Court, she entered the Carmelite convent on Rue Saint-Jacques in 1674, took the name Sister Louise of Mercy and kept her distance from her children, living a penitent’s life until she died in 1710.
During his affair with Louise de Valliere, Louis XIV became involved in a short affair with Bonne de Pons, also known as La Grande Louve or the Grand She-Wolf, who was appointed the lady-in-waiting of Princess Henrietta, the Duchess of Orleans in 1661. Although the affair was a minor and temporary connection, she was removed from the court. However, she bounced back in 1668 in capacity of her marriage to a court official, but her relationship with the king was not resumed, as by that time he became the lover of her cousin Madame de Montespan whose beauty, including the curling hair and large blue eyes, dazzled contemporaries.
Francois-Athenais de Rochechouart de Mortemart, better known as Madame de Montespan, was the most celebrated Chief Royal Mistress of Louis XIV. As a member of the Queen’s household, she first met the King in the early 1660s, but she had to keep her patience until 1667 when she first danced with Louis XIV at a ball hosted by the king's younger brother, and the King fell under her spell.
Although Louise de La Vallière knew that Montespan was trying to conquer the King's heart, she underestimated Montespan as she cleverly cultivated friendships with both Louise and Queen Maria Theresa. When both ladies were pregnant, they asked Montespan to help them entertain the King during private dinners. It was a blunder on the part of those two ladies as Montespan did not miss the opportunity and utilized it to cultivate an intimate relationship with the King. It is said that to seduce the King, she once obligingly dropping her towel when she spotted Louis spying on her while she showered. Soon she was moved into a prestigious apartment, connected to the apartments of the King and her official mistress so that the King could have access to both. Shortly after that, humiliated Louise de La Vallière took refuge in the Carmelite convent, and Madame de Montespan became the king’s official mistress. They had seven children together, and six of those children were legitimated by the King from 1673 onwards.
During his involvement with Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV had sexual relationships with several women which include Anne de Rohan-Chabot (1669-1675), a French noble and wife of the Prince of Soubise; Claude de Vin des Ceillet, a favourite companion of Madame de Montespan who gave birth to a son of the King in 1676; Isabelle de Ludres, a French noble and royal mistress of the King in 1675-1676; and Marie Angélique de Scorailles, a noblewoman and a lady-in-waiting of the King’s sister-in-law who caught the attention of the Sun King and began an affair with him in 1679. Described as the most beautiful girl ever to come to Versailles, Marie Angélique de Scorailles became the King's mistress at the age of eighteen when he was forty. Unfortunately, she died two years later, most probably as a result of complications arising from childbirth.
For many years, Madame de Montespan struggled to maintain the upper hand over her rivals, but gradually Louis XIV excluded her from his private chambers and life at court. Added to her agony, she was caught up in the vast Affair of the Poisons, a major scandalous murder scandal in France, in which several fortune-tellers and alchemists were rounded up, suspected of making money by divinations or future predictions, séances or a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead, especially through the agency of a medium. They were also accused of selling aphrodisiacs, a substance that increases sexual desire, sexual pleasure, or sexual behavior, and some inheritance powders, a mild word substituting poison. During the process, several prominent members of the aristocracy were implicated. It was also claimed that Montespan had bought aphrodisiacs and worked with a priest to perform black masses to gain and keep the king's favour over rival lovers. Although there was no evidence against her, it harmed her already eroded reputation, and with a dejected heart she retired from the court in 1691 and moved to the convent of Saint-Joseph in Paris.
By that time, Françoise d’Aubigné, the governess to Madame de Montespan’s children, who later became Madame de Maintenon in 1675, has won the heart of the King with her sweetness and charm. It is believed that following the death of Maria Theresa, they were secretly married during the night of 9th and 10th October 1683 at Versailles, and though the marriage was never announced or publicly discussed, it was an open secret that lasted until the death of the King. He proved relatively more faithful to his second wife, who subsequently became one of his closest advisers and it is certain is that he was never been so passionate about any mistress as he was about Madame de Maintenon.
Through his various sexual involvements, Louis XIV produced numerous illegitimate children, most of whom were married to different branches of the royal family.