The authority of Louis XIV

The authority of Louis XIV

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Title: Louis XIV holding the seals in the presence of the Councilors of State and the Masters of Requests.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 110 - Width 128

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Christian Jean

Picture reference: 84-001262 / MV5638

Louis XIV holding the seals in the presence of the Councilors of State and the Masters of Requests.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Christian Jean

Publication date: January 2013

Professor at the University of Paris X Nanterre

Historical context

Since the painter of the canvas and the date of its creation could not be identified, it is difficult to establish precisely its conditions of development. He then entrusted this post to Étienne Aligre, whom he appointed Keeper of the Seals on April 24, 1672 and then Chancellor on January 8, 1674.

Image Analysis

Louis XIV himself presides over the affixing of the seals

It is difficult to identify where this assembly is held. Surprisingly, the door to the room is ajar, since the secrecy of deliberations is an absolute golden rule. The Ionic pilasters make up an imposing decoration. On either side of the door, two niches shelter the statues of Justice (on the left) armed with a sword and scales, and of Prudence (on the right) who holds a mirror with one hand and the other a snake. These two virtues must preside over the deliberations of the Council, for good government is that of the sage.

The king, seated to the left and still wearing his hat, presides over the session at the top of a very long table around which the composition is organized. The painter put the king in value by illuminating his whole person and more especially his face and his long white lace tie. The finger the sovereign points to the table suggests authority and command.

Seated next to the King and according to their rank, are represented the Councilors of State while the Masters of Requests remain standing. In the background, standing, the King’s Secretaries also attend the Council. Usually bought at a high price, the charge they hold allows them entry. The king expects from them reports on the problems of the provinces, the armies, the administration in general. They are thus introduced to the management of the kingdom. It is in this pool that the king recruits his intendants. In the background and to the right stand, standing and uncovered, three gentlemen. After the troubles of the Fronde (1648-1653), Louis XIV dismissed the great figures of his government, preferring nobles from the robe, competent and entirely devoted to himself and to the country.

At the end of the table, four figures, in wigs and uncovered, work to seal the royal acts. One of them, the wax heater, is responsible for affixing the king's seal to the deeds. In principle, he does not know how to read so that the secret is strictly kept. He reports directly to the Chancellor.


The personal government of Louis XIV

From the death of Mazarin on March 9, 1661, the young Louis XIV personally took charge of the kingdom's affairs. Following the advice of the cardinal, he does not choose a principal minister. From then on, it will be up to him to preside himself over the weekly meetings of the Council, where the councilors of state, ministers and secretaries of state sit ex officio. The great figures of the kingdom, dismissed after the Fronde, only come when invited by the sovereign. This "king's profession", Louis XIV will exercise it with constancy until the end of his reign.

The monarch does not decide anything on his own. He agrees with the majority of advisers. Certain decisions have sometimes resulted in several meetings of the Council, not to mention specific consultations with a particular minister or a particular adviser. In November 1700, the old king, who nevertheless had very long experience, summoned his Council for several days in a row before launching into the war of succession in Spain. Opinions were divided. But aware, as Pontchartrain told him, that, in any case, the situation would lead to war, the king made the choice, on November 16, 1700, to enforce Charles II's will. The latter, who died childless, designated Louis XIV's second grandson, Philippe, Duke of Anjou, as his successor to the throne of Spain.

  • Louis XIV
  • monarchical court
  • absolute monarchy
  • Great Century


Michel ANTOINE, The King's Council under Louis XV, Geneva, Droz, 1970.

Guy CABOURDIN and Georges VIARD, Historical lexicon of Ancien Régime France, Paris, Armand Colin 1978.

Nicolas LE ROUX, The King's Favor. Mignons and courtiers at the time of the last Valois around 1547-around 1589, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 2000.

Roland MOUSNIER, The King's Council from Louis XII to the Revolution, Paris, P.U.F., 1970.

To cite this article

Hélène DUCCINI, "The authority of Louis XIV"

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