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Royal history: ‘top’ five kings of France named Louis

There were 17 King Louis of France (or thereabouts). Nick Inman lists his favourite five and why they are important

Louis IX, who became Saint Louis, reigned 1226-1270 and lead two crusades Pic: jorisvo /Shutterstock

You may have noticed that there have been a lot of men called King Louis of France. 

The exact number is debated. 

Seventeen Louis (in English you have to add another S sound to make the plural) ruled France; but there was also a child claimant (Louis XVII); and the last Louis was only king for a few minutes, giving him time to get his wig powdered but not to do any ruling. 

Only an expert historian would be interested in sorting all the Louis out and telling you about their achievements.  

I am going to make it easy for you and give you the top five you need to know about. 

It’s a shame, I suppose, to ignore the other Louis with their gloriously descriptive epithets – Louis the Fat, Louis the Stammerer, Louis the Quarreler (or the Headstrong or the Stubborn) and Louis the Lazy – but these five are enough Louis for anyone to handle.

1. Louis I, dubbed the Fair, Pious or Debonair, king of the Franks (reigned 813–840)

I’ve included him because his number is easy to remember. He was the son of Charlemagne and while he took part in the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors he had to fight three civil wars at home.

2. Louis IX, usually known as Saint Louis (reigned 1226-1270)

The archetypal Christian ruler, admired for his virtue and piety. 

He was such a zealot that he led two Crusades against the Muslims but he died ignominiously of dysentery while on campaign.

3. Louis XIV Le Roi Soleil - the Sun King (reigned 1643-1715)  

If you are only going to remember one Louis, make it this one. He ruled for a whopping 72 years and left us with the Chateau de Versailles. 

He saw out 6 English kings and queens during this time as well as the two Lord Protectors of the Interregnum. 

4. Louis XVI (reigned 1774–1792) should perhaps be called Louis the Unfortunate or Louis the Miscalculating

The French Revolution happened on his watch and to begin with royalists didn’t see the danger. 

No one was thinking of making the country a republic. 

Louis might have survived had he been able to accept the new job title of constitutional monarch. 

Instead, he conspired with foreign powers to restore the absolute monarchy and tried to escape the country as if he didn’t like his revolting people very much. 

He was tried, deposed and beheaded by guillotine.

5. Louis XVIII, the Desired (reigned 1814-1824) 

The brother of the executed Louis XVI he lived in exile for a long time and had to be restored to the throne twice – once on the forced abdication of Napoleon and again on Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

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