In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Louis XIII, King of France

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Childhood, Regency, and Early Personal Rule
  • Foreign Policy and War
  • Religion
  • Culture and the Arts

Renaissance and Reformation Louis XIII, King of France
Eric Nelson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0385


Louis XIII has received considerably less scholarly attention, especially in English, than either his father, Henri IV, the founder of the Bourbon royal line, or his son Louis XIV, who ruled over France as the “Sun King” at the height of the Ancien Régime. One reason for this relative neglect has been the focus of historians on Louis’s powerful first minister, Cardinal Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, historians typically cast Louis as the dedicated but less-talented partner in Richelieu’s efforts to unite France and make it a leading power in Europe. More recently, some scholars have developed a greater appreciation for Louis, arguing that he was a more effective and powerful ruler than traditionally portrayed, and that Richelieu worked with the king rather than effectively ruling from behind the throne. What is not in dispute is that Louis reigned during an important period in French history. His father had brought an uneasy peace to the kingdom after decades of religious civil war, but his assassination in 1610, when Louis was nine years old, left France with a child king. From 1610 to 1617, Louis’s mother, Marie de Medici, governed as his regent during a period of increasing political disorder and social unrest. Then, in 1617, Louis seized his throne in a dramatic royal coup d’etat signaled by the assassination of his mother’s favorite, Concino Concini, the maréchal d’Ancre. The political life of the kingdom in the 1620s was punctuated by a series of wars with the Protestant minority in France, which concluded with royal victory formalized in the Peace of Alès, and factional struggles at court that only ended with Richelieu’s clear victory over his opponents during the Day of the Dupes in 1630. The final decade of Louis’s rule brought both foreign conflict, as French armies intervened directly in the Thirty Years’ War, and a concerted effort to increase the power of royal government at home, in part to raise the resources for war. Louis’s reign also coincided with an intense period of religious and cultural development in the kingdom, which he contributed to. Louis died in May 1643, just months after the death of Richelieu.

General Overviews

There are a number of excellent surveys of early modern France in English. The selection chosen here provides a variety of perspectives and emphases. The first two chapters of Collins 2009 examine statecraft and government during Louis XIII’s reign, while the last two chapters of Holt 2002 provide excellent overviews of political and religious developments in the first half of the 17th century. Bercé 1996 explores the political history of France during the reigns of Henri IV, Louis XIII, and the regency years of Louis XIV, while Beik 2009 examines social and cultural developments in the kingdom from the 16th through 18th centuries. Bergin and Brockliss 1992 is an accessible collection of essays by leading scholars on important aspects of France during Louis’s lifetime. Despite its age, Tapié 1975 remains a useful and well-balanced survey of political developments during the reign of Louis XIII.

  • Beik, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    The best single survey of social and cultural developments in France from the 16th–18th centuries, this text is organized into thematic chapters on such topics as population, rural society, the nobility, cities, warfare, and religious life.

  • Bercé, Yves-Marie. The Birth of Absolutism: A History of France, 1598–1661. Translated by Richard Rex. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-24383-9

    Originally published in French as La naissance dramatique de l’absolutisme, 1598–1661 (Paris: Seuil, 1992), this survey examines the emergence of Bourbon France. It focuses primarily on political and governmental developments contextualizing Louis’s contributions to the emergence of a new more “absolutist” 17th-century French state.

  • Bergin, Joseph, and Laurence Brockliss. Richelieu and His Age. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

    This collection of eight essays by prominent historians, many of whom went on to publish monographs on the topics explored in this collection, examines the French church, royal favorites, foreign policy, government reform, royal finances, the army, arts, and education during the reign of Louis XIII.

  • Collins, James B. The State in Early Modern France. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    This survey focuses on the development of the French state from the accession of Henri IV to the French Revolution. Collins examines the reign of Louis XIII in the context of longer-term developments that created a mature form of the French monarchical state by the end of the 17th century.

  • Holt, Mack P., ed. Renaissance and Reformation France, 1500–1648. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Comprising eight thematic chapters written by leading scholars in the field, this survey provides an excellent introductory overview for undergraduates. The final two chapters focus on religious and political developments during the first half of the 17th century.

  • Tapié, Victor-Lucien. France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu. Translated by D. M. Lockie. New York: Praeger, 1975.

    This classic account traces chronologically the political history of Louis XIII’s reign. It was originally published in French as La France de Louis XIII et de Richelieu (2d ed., Paris: Flammarion, 1967). The annotated bibliography by the author and the bibliographical aid created by the translator of this text are excellent guides to primary sources and older secondary studies in the field.

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