When a Child Becomes a King



This best shot is a Sun King Mirror, which we made during our visit to the art museum to see Great Expectations – Aristocratic Children in European Portraiture. To a real mom, the portraits of Louis XIII of France, Louis XIV of France, Charles I of England, and Charles II of Spain display a baffling era when children played a heavy role in the country’s kingdom, diplomacy and bloodline preservation. Girls were forced to marry and bear children at early ages to forge a protective bond between kingdoms. These children wore heavy robes, jewels, feathered gold-rimmed crowns and amulets, to protect them from harm. I’m sure these heavy garments made it tough for the miniature royalty to run around, climb cabinets for the good stuff, and catch toads.


As I struggled to keep my older boys engaged in this most “boring” of endeavors, looking at art, while preventing my four-year-old from depositing the oil from his fingers on the priceless artwork, I read about the five-year old who became King.

Horror instantly filled my mind. What kinds of tragedies would befall a nation if one of my children, at the age of five, were forced to be King? My kids, and as it turns out, Louis the XIV (1638-1715), did run France into the ground. The real tragedy, I later discover, concerns the control-issues this kid-king had over the the royal bathtub.

Born September 5, 1638, King Louis XIV, also known as King Louie, was the official King on May 14, 1643, a few months before his fifth birthday. Of course, he did not have total control until he was 23, with the death of his First Minister, the Italian Jules Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Still, don’t you think this tiny kid-king wielded consider power over what came out of the royal kitchen?

King Louis was also known as the “Sun King” (Le Roi Soleil). Like all narcissistic children, King Louie believed the universe revolved around him. So, he believed that just as the planets revolve around the Sun, so too should the people of France and the Court revolve around him. The Sun King’s mirror is a symbol of King Louie’s Hall of Mirrors that he had built in the Palace of Versailles, which the King transformed from what was once an old hunting lodge.



The hall of mirrors features seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357.

So, what became of the country, ruled by the child King, who had immense wealth at his disposal and commanded the mightiest army in Europe?

  • King Louis took three baths during his entire 77 years of life. Once when he was baptized. His second bath happened when his mistress requested that he take one. (Can’t even begin to think about that one.) Third, when a doctor lanced a boil on his bottom and he was ordered to soak in the tub.
  • At the end of his reign, he had successfully exhausted the country to the verge of bankruptcy, resulting from his wars and his own personal extravagance. And Toys R Us wasn’t even invented yet.
  • It has been said about him, that “there was nothing he liked so much as flattery, or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it. “His vanity, which was perpetually nourished, for even preachers used to praise him to his face from the pulpit, was the cause of the aggrandizement of his Ministers.” Just a tad bet narcissistic… as any child usually is.
  • Yet, there were some bright sides to King Louie’s reign: He did strengthen the country, and placed France in a preeminent position in Europe.
  • Still, even Napoleon said, described Louis XIV as “the only king of France worthy of the name” and “a great king.”

Does anyone find it a bit ironic that after living a good, long life of 77 years, King Louis, the child King, died of smallpox?


King Louis XIV, with his brother.

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11 comments on “When a Child Becomes a King
  1. Have you seen the Showtime series The Tudors? While it’s definitely not kid friendly, it’s a fascinating look at the life of the royals, how marriage and children and a woman’s ability to bear sons changed the fate of Europe.

    And the bath thing astounds me. I make my children bathe everyday. Did he not have a good nanny figure to scrub behind his ears and make sure his fingernails were clean?

  2. This is an interesting post in the light of our recent visit to see ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (OK a totally different era but…whateva). The BA is fascinated by history and the strange ways in which our forebears lived. It is amazing to think of girls the age of my BA marrying and producing children to seal blood lines. Our kids don’t know they’re born!!!

  3. cce — I would love that. I’m semi-wrapped into the John Adams thing. Don’t you think the nannies would have certain STANDARDS when it comes to cleanliness? But you know how the French are.
    arizaphale… the Boleyn girls are always a source of fascination. I haven’t seen that yet… on the list.

  4. It’s always amazing to consider how differently children were viewed a few hundred years ago. All I can say is, thank goodness for regents–I’m trying to imagine my 5 yo son ruling a country!

    Louis must have had a particular dislike for bathing, because rich people even in the middle ages bathed semi-regularly, AFAIK.

    I’m looking forward to taking my kids to those kinds of hands-on activities at museums, now that they’re older (most programs seem to be for 4 or 5 and up).

  5. Beautiful shot of the mirrors. And what a great bit of history too – I love learning about things like that, thanks so much for sharing!

  6. i’m so grossed out by the fact that he only had 3 baths in his entire life…
    i think, based on that fact alone, my 4 year old will start his reign!!

  7. Not “Louie”. The name is pronounced pretty much that way – emphasis on the second syllable – but it is NOT spelled that way in French. Only English spells it so (I think it’s more an American version than anything). Most of my American friends pronounce “Louis” as “Lewis” which is right in their country, but most definitely not for a Frenchman! 🙂

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