Saint Vincent’s Reading List LXI: The Coronation of Louis XIV

Le Sacre et Couronnement de Louys XIV, Roy de France et de Navarre. Reims: Chez la Veuve François Bernard, 1654.

Call number: SpC.944.033 R363s 1654

 

The Coronation of Louis XIVVincent de Paul had been called to comfort Louis XIII as he lay dying in May of 1643. When Louis died on May 10th he was succeeded by his five-year-old son, Louis XIV. A regency was immediately established under queen consort Anne of Austria, ably aided by Cardinal Mazarin. The regency ushered in the last great era of internal political instability in 17th-century France. The parlementary forces and dissident nobles saw an opportunity to try to improve their positions vis-à-vis increasingly absolutist royal tendencies. This instability would lead to the great Civil War of the Fronde. Opposition forces could still profess loyalty to the king while accusing Anne and Mazarin of acting against the interests of the king and the kingdom. On 7 June 1654, the coronation of Louis XIV took place at the cathedral of Reims. The last vestiges of parlementary and noble opposition were on the verge of defeat.

The ancient coronation ceremonial for the French kings traced its mythic roots back to the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remy at the end of the fifth century. The most important part of the complex hierarchical ceremony was not the coronation, or the investiture of any of the other royal regalia and symbols, but rather the sacral anointing. The ceremony fully reinforced the connection between royal and divine authority in the sacred person of the anointed king. Noble and ecclesiastical peers all had their designated and symbolic roles in the ceremony. The king wore the tunic, dalmatic and chasuble as vestments for parts of the ceremony, and he received communion under both species, a privilege usually only reserved for the priest at Mass.

Of particular interest are the prayers which accompany each part of the ceremony. These carefully crafted prayers are not just liturgical, but also “constitutional” in that they lay out quite explicitly the link between God’s sovereign power and paternal authority, and the King’s. The temporal and sacral definitions of France as a Christian monarchy become one and the same in the person of the king. For the subjects of the king, their obedience to royal authority and their respect for the sacred person of the king become inseparable from their identity and responsibilities as Christians.

Vincent’s own veneration for the sacred person and authority of the king is well known and well documented.

The present volume is dedicated to Anne of Austria and published under the authority of the cathedral chapter of Reims. It describes every element of the coronation and each of the officials and their roles, gives the text of all of the Latin prayers, and (most interestingly) translates all of the Latin prayers into French so that there could be no doubt as to their content and constitutional importance.

 

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St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.

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