Please note that the Internet Explorer (IE) desktop application ended support on June 2022. To improve your experience and get an optimal website display, we recommend you to upgrade to Microsoft Edge browser.

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Reading time: 10'49"

Many of the Kings of France shared an interest in the same hobby: hunting. That’s no secret!

However, some also developed a special penchant for one discipline or another and devoted themselves to it extravagantly. Whether it was a genuine interest, hobbyhorse, leaning, or even passion, or whether it was merely all just for show, only the individual in question could possibly say.

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Louis XI the Prudent

The zoologist

  • House of Valois
  • Reign: 1461 to 1483
  • Predecessor: Charles VII
  • Successor: Charles VIII


Louis XI remains a relatively mysterious king with an undeniably scandalous reputation. However, he is known for his love of animals – a passion which remained with him his whole life.

Coin France

Louis XI, Blanc au Soleil, Paris, EF(40-45), Silver, Gadoury:30

It was his mother, Marie of Anjou, who passed on her love of birds to him. He had four huge aviaries in which he reportedly kept, among other things, birds of prey, owls, peacocks, gulls, and other fowl. He took care to feed and look after them himself.

He was also extremely fond of horses and dogs, with which he surrounded himself at court. His particular favorites were hunting dogs. It is said that they would have their paws bathed and that their food was carefully supervised by apothecaries.

However, this is a passion which also needs to be put into perspective.

It’s not exactly like Louis XI founded the WWF... Towards the end of his life, believing himself to be suffering from leprosy (in reality a senile dermatosis), Louis XI sent a certain George the Greek to Cape Verde to fetch him back some tortoises, as it was said that bathing in their blood could cure the ailment. Unfortunately, Louis XI died before his emissary returned and thus never had the opportunity to savor one of these special baths of very dubious effectiveness.

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Francis I

The Renaissance literary person

  • House of Valois
  • Reign: 1515 to 1547
  • Predecessor: Louis XII
  • Successor: Henry II


At the time, a strong interest in the art of letters was not met with approval if you were born a gentleman, in line for the throne or a soldier. Francis I broke with convention.

Coin France

François Ier, Teston, 1515-1547, Lyon, EF(40-45), Silver

He had a grandfather who loved poetry, a father who was very well read and knowledgeable about painting, and, finally, a sister, Marguerite, who with her Heptaméron became of the first female figures of French literature, so his family tree basically predisposed him to this path.

Upon becoming king, he set about improving the royal library, practiced patronage, and encouraged the study and teaching of ancient languages. In 1530, at the urging of Guillaume Budé, he founded the Collège de lecteurs royaux (College of royal readers) (later expanded to teach other disciplines and known as the Collège de France since 1870).

The king also prided himself on his ability to write a few well-crafted verses and maxims. Imprisoned in Madrid following the disastrous Battle of Pavia he composed:

  • « Vaincu je fus et rendu prisonnier.
  • Parmi le camp en tous lieux fus mené.
  • Pour me montrer, ça et là promené. »


  • (Defeated I was and made a prisoner.
  • Led among the camp in all places.
  • Led here and there to show myself.)
Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Catherine de’ Medici

The black queen

  • House of Medici / House of Valois by alliance
  • Reign as regent: 1560 to 1563
  • Predecessor: Henry II (her spouse)
  • Successor: Charles IX

The queen, then regent, was passionate about astrology, esotericism, and the occult sciences. She surrounded herself with renowned experts, notably Cosimo Ruggeri and also the famous Nostradamus.

France Medal

Catherine de Médicis, Galerie du Louvre, 1972, Thiébaud

She even had a sort of observatory built at the top the Tour du Foix tower at the Château de Blois for the Florentine astrologer, where she would accompany him to observe the stars and compile horoscopes.

The very same Ruggeri made a more or less cryptic prophecy (depending on your perspective) regarding her death: “You will die close to Saint-Germain.”

Determined to avoid the unavoidable, the queen regent carefully avoided visiting Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, and even Saint-Germain-des-Prés from that date forth.

Alas, at the venerable age of 70, sick but sure of what she was doing since she was safe at Château de Blois, Catherine de’ Medici nevertheless called for a priest (it can’t hurt surely...).

However, it turned out that his name was...Julien de Saint-German.

She passed away but a few hours later.

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Henry IV the Green Gallant

The site manager

  • House of Bourbon
  • Reign: 1589 to 1610
  • Predecessor: Henry III
  • Successor: Louis XIII


Although “Good King Henry” displayed a relatively limited interest in the arts, he was passionate on the other hand about architecture, tradesmen, and construction workers.

Nothing brightened up his day like a visit to a construction site. His curiosity and interest were such that he could spend the whole morning there sitting on a rock under the glaring sun just watching.

Coin France

Henri IV, 1/2 Franc, 1602, Amiens, Rare, VF(30-35), Silver

He would climb the scaffolding, call out to the masons and painters, and talk at length about it with his guests. He simply never tired of the subject.

Although he was not directly responsible for any major construction works himself, he did improve, embellish, revise, and extend the work of his predecessors. Fontainebleau, Saint-Germain, the Louvre, and the Tuileries Garden all show signs of his interest. He also completed the Pont Neuf bridge, which was cleared of its dwellings and equipped with a sidewalk from that point on. Finally, he created public spaces in Paris such as the Place Royale and Place Dauphine.

More a foreman and builder than an architect, he asserted and claimed:

“I do three things far from avarice, as I make war, I make love and I build.”

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Louis XIII the Just

The music-loving painter

  • House of Bourbon
  • Reign: 1610 to 1643
  • Predecessor: Henry IV
  • Successor: Louis XIV


If, like his father, Louis XIII proved not to be particularly enthusiastic about the arts, he certainly made up for it with a true passion for horses and the art of war.

Coin France

Louis XIII, 1/2 Louis d'or à la grosse tête, 1/2 Louis d'or

Of an austere, sometimes melancholic, and deeply pious nature, the king was more inclined to working with his hands than studying. He was a great fan of exercise in the great outdoors. He loved hunting, riding, forging, weaving wicker, distilling perfumes, and cooking.

Nevertheless, he also appreciated certain forms of art, notably painting and music, often wielding a paintbrush over the course of his life. And, just like Francis I in his time for writing, he introduced the court and the people to the art of painting. He was a patron and granted patents and pensions.

In the same vein, music was also a true passion of his.

He founded Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (The King’s 24 Violin-Family Instruments), also known as the Grande Bande (Big Band), and personally oversaw the recruitment of its members. He also composed many songs, ballads, and tunes, which were later played at court. It is also said that he was a good singer with an excellent set of pipes on him.

“Most of the tunes sung there, confirmed La Grande Mademoiselle, Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, niece of the king, referring to the concerts given at court, were of his own composition – he even wrote the words.”

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Louis XIV the Great

The majestic dancer

  • House of Bourbon
  • Reign: 1643 to 1715
  • Predecessor: Louis XIII
  • Successor: Louis XV

Though Louis XIV may be a sort of synthesis of his predecessors, curious about everything, relentless, detail-oriented, and a lover of perfection, dealing with war as well as the arts, architecture as well as gastronomy and gardening, there was undeniably one field in which he was unrivaled: dance.

Coin France

Louis XIV, Louis d’or à la tête virile, 1680, Paris

Once could even say that he had two careers at once in his youth: king and distinguished dancer.

He developed his taste for dancing at an early age:

“Even as a child, reported Madame de Motteville, confidante of Anne of Austria, he was already an admirable dancer.”

By the age of 17, he was training morning and night every day, sometimes until very late. He delighted and entertained his own court in numerous ballets. At the age of 32, he gave his last performance in Les amants magnifiques (The magnificent lovers) and bade farewell to the stage.

Like any self-respecting professional dancer, he left the stage behind at the top of his career and virtuosity. It was a short-lived but flamboyant career. As for his royal career, that lasted “a little bit” longer, as we all know...

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Louis XV the Beloved

The cartographer scientist

  • House of Bourbon
  • Reign: 1715 to 1774
  • Predecessor: Louis XIV
  • Successor: Louis XVI

This rather secretive and introverted king, difficult to understand, was the antithesis of his exuberant sunshine of a great-grandfather. It can be said that he was also nothing like Louis XIII, as he was more or less averse to music or painting.

Coin France

Louis XV, Écu au bandeau, Ecu, 1767, Lyon, VF(30-35), Silver

On the other hand, he was very skilled at and interested in the sciences. In the Age of Enlightenment, one can say that he was well of his time. Mathematics, astronomy, physics, natural sciences, anything went...

There are two physics cabinets at his castles of La Muette and Choisy. In addition, he created a natural history cabinet (the future French Museum of Natural History), the management of which he entrusted to the renowned Count of Buffon. He also had a passion for medicine and led a real public health campaign, including founding the French Royal Academy of Surgery.

France Medal

Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Sciences & Technologies

Just like Henry IV and his masons, Louis XV broke his usual reserve when talking with scientists. Curious, interested, he asked questions, informed himself, and got involved.

Furthermore, he was not averse to history or geography.

In 1746, he commissioned César-François Cassini de Thury to compile the very first civil map of the kingdom (the “Cassini map”). When his son passed away, it was in the company of the same Cassini, locked up in his map room, that the king would take his mind off things and mourn.

Top 8 passions of the kings of France

Louis XVI

The luckless artisan

  • House of Bourbon
  • Reign: 1774 to 1792
  • Predecessor: Louis XV
  • Successor: Louis XVIII (in 1814)

Despite his reputation as a “weakling”, if one digs around a little, Louis XVI turns out to be deeper than he appears at first glance. He was known to have a keen interest in reading – especially plays – as well as a strong penchant for science and mechanics.

Coin France

Louis XVI, Double louis d'or au buste habillé, 2 Louis D'or

In 1783, he witnessed the first hot air balloon flight at Versailles by the Montgolfier brothers. He also founded the French Academy of Medicine. In this respect, he is the worthy descendant of his grandfather Louis XV.

France Medal

Frères Montgolfiers, Premier vol en montgolfière, Sciences &

He also had a passion for geography and mastered the subject excellently. The anecdote may be familiar to you: shortly before climbing the scaffold, he asked “Is there any news of Monsieur de La Pérouse?” whom he had sent on a scientific exploration in the Pacific a few years earlier.

Louis XVI donnant ses instructions à La Pérouse par Nicolas-André Monsiau

“Louis XVI giving instructions to La Pérouse” by Nicolas-André Monsiau (1817)

And yet, despite being an avid reader of James Cook, he only saw the sea for the first time in his life in 1786 on a voyage to Cherbourg.

Like Louis XV, and even before Louis XIII, he was fond of working with his hands. His taste for locksmithing and mechanics is well known. He also elevated craftsmanship to an art form. His workshop and his royal hands bore original creations, secret locks, and other elaborately decorated works.

When speaking of Louis XVI, it is impossible not to take note of the irony of history since he was beheaded by the guillotine that he himself had helped to improve.

The last kings of France also had a number of passions. Louis-Philippe, for example, was a great lover of travel...

If you wish to find out more on the subject, we can highly recommend the excellent and fascinating work by the historian Jean-François Solnon: “Le goût des rois” (The Taste of Kings).

Translation: Michael Wright


  • “Triumphal Entry of Henry IV into Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens (1627-1630)
  • “Louis XI” by Jacob de Litemont (circa 1470)
  • “Francis I” by Jean Clouet (circa 1515)
  • “Catherine de’ Médici” by François Clouet (circa 1560)
  • “Henry IV” by Frans Pourbus the Younger (1610)
  • “Louis XIII” by Philippe de Champaigne (circa 1635)
  • “Louis XIV” by Pierre Mignard (circa 1700)
  • “Louis XV” by Jean-Marc Nattier (1745)
  • “Louis XVI” by Alexandre Roslin (circa 1782)
  • “Louis XVI giving instructions to La Pérouse” by Nicolas-André Monsiau (1817)


Selection published on 23/08/2023