Louis XV

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Louis XV
Portrait of King Louis XV
Portrait by Louis-Michel van Loo, c. 1763
King of France
Reign1 September 1715 – 10 May 1774
Coronation25 October 1722
Reims Cathedral
PredecessorLouis XIV
SuccessorLouis XVI
RegentPhilippe II, Duke of Orléans (1715–1723)
Chief ministers
See list
Born(1710-02-15)15 February 1710
Royal Basilica
, Saint Denis, France
(m. 1725; died 1768)
among others...
Louis XV's signature

Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), known as Louis the Beloved (French: le Bien-Aimé),

King of France from 1 September 1715 until his death in 1774. He succeeded his great-grandfather Louis XIV at the age of five. Until he reached maturity (then defined as his 13th birthday) in 1723, the kingdom was ruled by his grand-uncle Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, as Regent of France. Cardinal Fleury
was chief minister from 1726 until his death in 1743, at which time the king took sole control of the kingdom.

His reign of almost 59 years (from 1715 to 1774) was the second longest in the history of France, exceeded only by his predecessor, Louis XIV, who had ruled for 72 years (from 1643 to 1715).[2] In 1748, Louis returned the Austrian Netherlands, won at the Battle of Fontenoy of 1745. He ceded New France in North America to Great Britain and Spain at the conclusion of the disastrous Seven Years' War in 1763. He incorporated the territories of the Duchy of Lorraine and the Corsican Republic into the Kingdom of France. Historians generally criticize his reign, citing how reports of his corruption embarrassed the monarchy, while his wars drained the treasury and produced little gain. A minority of scholars dispute this view, arguing that it is the result of revolutionary propaganda. His grandson and successor Louis XVI would inherit a kingdom in need of financial and political reform which would ultimately lead to the French Revolution of 1789.

Early life and the Regency (1710–1723)

Louis XV was the great-grandson of

Le Grand Dauphin, was expected to assume the throne upon the old king's death. Next in line to the throne behind the Grand Dauphin was his eldest son- Louis's father Le Petit Dauphin and then Louis's elder brother, a child named Louis Duke of Brittany. Disease, however, steered the line of succession forward three generations and sideways: on 14 April 1711 the Grand Dauphin, died of smallpox,[3] and less than a year later, on 12 February 1712 the future king's mother, Marie Adélaïde, who had been stricken with measles, died, followed six days later by Louis's father, her devoted husband who would not leave her side during her illness. With the death of both the Grand and Petit dauphins, Louis's elder brother immediately became Dauphin of France, but just over two weeks further still, on 7 March, it was found that both the elder Louis and the younger Louis had also contracted measles. The two brothers were treated in the traditional way, with bloodletting. On the night of 8–9 March, the new Dauphin, age five, died from the combination of the disease and the treatment. The governess of Louis, Madame de Ventadour, forbade the doctors to bleed the two year old Duke of Anjou by hiding him in a palace closet where she cared for him alone; where he survived despite being very ill.[4] When Louis XIV himself finally died on 1 September 1715, Louis, at the age of five, trembling and crying and against all probability, inherited the throne as Louis XV.[5]

According to Charles V's royal ordinance of 1374 the Kingdom of France must be governed by a regent until a given king had reached the age of 13.

Madame de Montespan
), who was in the council and who, because of a dramatic change in the laws of succession instituted by Louis XIV, and, as his oldest surviving male descendant, could now legally become king if the legitimate direct line of succession became extinguished. In August 1714, shortly before his own death, the King rewrote his will to restrict the powers of the regent; it stipulated that the nation was to be governed by a Regency Council made up of fourteen members until the new king reached the age of majority. Philippe, nephew of Louis XIV, was named president of this Council, but other members included the Duke of Maine and at least seven of his well-known allies. According to the will, all decisions were to be made by majority vote, meaning that the president could always be outvoted by Maine's party and effectively allowing Maine to rule France for the next eight years.

Philippe saw the trap. The

Parlement of Paris, an assembly of French nobles among whom Philippe had many friends, was the only judicial body in France with the authority to have this portion of the deceased King's will annulled, and immediately after the King's death Philippe approached the Parlement requesting that they do just this.[8] In exchange for their support he agreed to restore to the Parlement its droit de remontrance (right of remonstrance) – the right to challenge a king's decisions – which had been removed by Louis XIV. The droit de remontrance would impair the monarchy's functioning and marked the beginning of a conflict between the Parlement and King which contributed to the French Revolution in 1789.[9]
In the mean time, however, the will was annulled and Philippe was installed as Regent with full powers to act in the name of the King in all matters.

On 9 September 1715, Philippe had the young King transported away from the court in Versailles to Paris, where the Regent had his own residence in the

François de Villeroy, the 73-year-old Duke and Maréchal de France, named as his governor in Louis XIV's will of August 1714. Villeroy instructed the young King in court etiquette, taught him how to review a regiment, and how to receive royal visitors. His guests included the Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1717; at their first meeting and contrary to ordinary protocol between such great rulers, the two-meter-tall Tsar greeted Louis by picking him up under the arms and giving him a kiss. Louis also learned the skills of horseback riding and hunting, which became great passions.[10] In 1720, following the example of Louis XIV, Villeroy had the young Louis dance in public in two ballets-- once at the Tuileries Palace on 24 February 1720, and then again in The Ballet des Elements on 31 December 1721.[11] The shy Louis was terrified of these performances, and never danced in another ballet.[12]

The King's tutor was the Abbé André-Hercule de Fleury, the bishop of Fréjus (and later to become Cardinal de Fleury), who saw that he was instructed in Latin, Italian, history and geography, astronomy, mathematics and drawing, and cartography. The King had charmed the visiting Russian Tsar in 1717 by identifying the major rivers, cities and geographic features of Russia. In his later life the King retained his passion for science and geography; he created departments in physics (1769) and mechanics (1773) at the Collège de France,[13] and he sponsored the first complete and accurate map of France, the Cartes de Cassini.[14] Besides his academic studies, he received a practical education in government. Beginning in 1720 he attended the regular meetings of the Regency Council.

One economic crisis disrupted the Regency; the Scottish economist and banker John Law was named controller-general of finances. In May 1716, he opened the Banque Générale Privée ("General Private Bank"), which soon became the Banque Royal. It was mostly funded by the government, and was one of the earliest banks to issue paper money, which he promised could be exchanged for gold.[15] He also persuaded wealthy Parisians to invest in the Mississippi Company, a scheme for the colonization of the French territory of Louisiana. The stock of the company first soared and then collapsed in 1720, taking the bank with it. Law fled France, and wealthy Parisians became reluctant to make further investments or trust any currency but gold.[16]

In 1719, France, in alliance with Britain and the Dutch Republic, declared war on Spain. Spain was defeated on both land and sea, and quickly sought peace. A Franco-Spanish treaty was signed on 27 March 1721. The two governments proposed to unite their royal families by marrying Louis to Mariana Victoria of Spain, the seven-year-old daughter of Philip V of Spain, who was himself a grandson of Louis XIV. The marriage contract was signed on 25 November, and the future bride came to France and took up residence in the Louvre. However, after the death of the Regent, in 1725, the new Prime Minister decided she was too young to have children soon enough, and she was sent back to Spain.[17] During the rest of the Regency, France was at peace, and in 1720, the Regent decreed an official silence on religious conflicts.[18] Montesquieu and Voltaire published their first works, and the Age of Enlightenment in France quietly began.[19]

Government of the Duke of Bourbon (1723–1726)

On 15 June 1722, as Louis approached his thirteenth birthday, the year of his majority, he left Paris and moved back to Versailles, where he had happy memories of his childhood, but where he was far from the reach of public opinion. On 25 October, Louis was crowned King at the

Cathedral of Reims.[20] On 15 February 1723, the king's majority was declared by the Parlement of Paris, officially ending the regency. Philippe continued to manage the government, and took the title of Prime Minister in August 1723, but while visiting his mistress, far from the court and medical care, he died in December of the same year. Following the advice of his preceptor Fleury, Louis XV appointed his cousin Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon
, to replace the late Duke of Orléans as prime minister.

Marriage and children

Carle Van Loo

One of the first priorities of the Duke of Bourbon was to find a bride for the King, to assure the continuity of the monarchy, and especially to prevent the succession to the throne of the Orléans branch of the family, the rivals of his branch.

Stanislaus I
, the deposed king of Poland, was chosen.

The marriage was celebrated in September 1725 when the king was 15 and Marie was 22. Louis was said to have fallen in love with Marie instantly, and

Abbey of Fontevrault

Marie was a pious and timid Queen who spent most of her time secluded with her own courtiers. She was a musician, read extensively, and played social games with her courtiers. After 1737, she did not share her bed with the King. She was deeply upset by the death of her son the Dauphin in 1765, and died on 24 June 1768.[25]

Unigenitus, Jansenism and religious conflict

One of the first serious conflicts that disturbed the early reign of Louis XV was a battle within the Catholic Church over a

Parlement de Paris
, the assembly of the nobles. Despite the protests, on 24 March 1730 Cardinal Fleury persuaded the King to issue a decree that Unigenitus was the law of France as well as that of the Church.

The government and church imposed repressive measures. On 27 April 1732, the Archbishop of Paris threatened to excommunicate any member of the Church who read the Jansenist journal, Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques. The Parlement was strictly forbidden to discuss religious questions, preventing them from opposing the Unigenitus bull. Priests who did not accept Unigenitus were denied the authority to administer last rites to the dying.[26] A new tax, the cinquantième, was levied against religious figures who had previously been exempted from taxation. Jansenists and Protestants were threatened with prison and banishment.[27] As a result of these repressive acts, religious dissent remained an issue throughout the King's reign.

Tension grew between the Duke of Bourbon and Cardinal de Fleury over the King's favor. The Duke's rigid and cold personality did not appeal to the young King, who turned to his old tutor for advice on how to run the affairs of state. When the King insisted that Fleury was to be included in all meetings between himself and the Duke of Bourbon, the Duke was infuriated and began to undermine Fleury's position at court. When the King became aware of the Duke's intrigue, he abruptly dismissed him and replaced him with Fleury.[28]

Rule with Cardinal de Fleury (1726–1743)

Finances and control of dissent

Cardinal de Fleury by Hyacinthe Rigaud

From 1726 until his death in 1743, Fleury effectively ruled France with the king's assent. Fleury dictated the choices to be made, and encouraged the king's indecision and flattered his pride. He forbade the king to discuss politics with the Queen. In order to save on court expenses, he sent the youngest four daughters of the king to be educated at the Abbey of Fontevrault. On the surface it was the most peaceful and prosperous period of the reign of Louis XV, but it was built upon a growing volcano of opposition, particularly from the noble members of the Parlements, who saw their privileges and power reduced. Fleury made the Papal doctrine Unigenitus part of French law and forbade any debate in Parlement, which caused the silent opposition to grow. He also downplayed the importance of the French Navy, which would prove be a fatal mistake in future conflicts.[29]

Fleury showed the King the virtues of a stable government; he kept the same Minister of War, Bauyn d'Angervilliers, and controller of the currency, Philibert Orry, for twelve years, and his minister of foreign affairs, Germain Louis Chauvelin, for ten years. His minister of the Navy and household of the King, the Conte de Maurepas, was in office the entire period. In all he had just thirteen ministers over the course of nineteen years, while the King, in his last thirty-one years, employed forty-three.[30]

Louis's Controller-General of Finances Michel Robert Le Peletier des Forts (1726–1730), stabilized the French currency, though he was expelled for enriching himself in 1730. His successor, Philibert Orry, substantially reduced the debt caused by the War of the Spanish Succession, and simplified and made more fair the tax system, though he still had to depend upon the unpopular dixieme, or tax of the tenth of the revenue of every citizen. Orry managed, in the last two years of Fleury's government, to balance the royal budget, an accomplishment never again repeated during the rest of the reign.[31]

Fleury's government expanded commerce, both within France and with the rest of the world. Transportation and shipping were improved with the completion of the Saint-Quentin canal (linking the

Escaut River and the Low Countries, and the systematic building of a national road network. By the middle of the 18th century, France had the most modern and extensive road network in the world. The Council of Commerce stimulated trade, and French foreign maritime trade increased from 80 to 308 million livres between 1716 and 1748.[32]

The Government continued its policy of religious repression, aimed at the Jansenists and the so-called "Gallicans" in Parlements of nobles. After the dismissal of 139 members of provincial parlements for opposing the official government and papal doctrine of Unigenitus, the Parlement of Paris had to register the Unigenitus papal bull and was forbidden to hear religious cases in the future.[33]

Foreign relations – New alliances; the War of the Polish Succession

In the first years of his governance, Fleury and his foreign minister Germain Louis Chauvelin sought to maintain the peace by maintaining the French alliance with Great Britain, despite their colonial rivalry in North America and the West Indies. They also rebuilt the alliance with Spain, which had been shaken by the anger of the Spanish King when Louis refused to marry the Spanish infanta. The birth of the king's male heir in 1729 dispelled the risks of a succession crisis in France. However, new powers were emerging on the European stage, particularly Russia under Peter the Great and his successor, Catherine. The Habsburg monarchy under Charles VI was assembling a scattered but impressive empire as far as Serbia in southeastern Europe with territories taken from the Ottoman Empire, and from Spain, acquiring the Austrian Netherlands, Milan and the Kingdom of Naples.[34]

A new coalition against France began to assemble in eastern Europe, sealed by a defensive treaty signed on 6 August 1726 between Prussia, Russia and Austria. In 1732 the coalition came into direct conflict with France over the succession to the

Stanislaus I Leszczyński, the father of the Queen of France. In the same year Russia, Prussia and Austria signed a secret agreement to exclude Stanislaus from the throne, and put forward another candidate, Augustus III, son of the deceased Polish king. The death of Augustus on 1 February 1733, with two heirs claiming the throne, sparked the War of the Polish Succession. Stanislaus traveled to Warsaw, where he was elected and crowned on 12 September. Empress Anna of Russia immediately marched her regiments into Poland to support her candidate. Stanislaus was forced to flee to the fortified port of Danzig, while on 5 October Augustus III was crowned in Warsaw.[35]

Stanislaus I Leszczyński
, father-in-law of Louis XV and briefly King of Poland

Cardinal Fleury responded with a carefully orchestrated campaign of diplomacy. He first won assurances from Britain and Holland that they would not interfere in the war, while lining up alliances with Spain and Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia in exchange for pieces of the Habsburg monarchy. On 10 October 1733, Louis formally declared war against Austria. A French army occupied the Duchy of Lorraine, while another crossed the Alps and captured Milan on 3 November, handing it over to the King of Sardinia.[36] Fleury was less energetic in his actions to restore the Polish throne to Stanislaus, who was blockaded by the Russian navy and army in Danzig. Instead of sending the largest part of the French fleet from its station off Copenhagen to Danzig, he ordered it to return to Brest and sent only a small squadron with two thousand soldiers, which after a fierce action was sunk by the Russians. On 3 July Stanislaus was forced to flee again, in disguise, to Prussia, where he became the guest of King Frederick William I of Prussia in the castle of Königsberg.

To bring the war to an end, Fleury and Charles VI negotiated an ingenious diplomatic solution.

Francis III, Duke of Lorraine, left Lorraine for Vienna, where he married Maria Theresa, the heir presumptive to the Habsburg thrones. The vacant throne of Lorraine was to be occupied by Stanislaus, who abandoned his claim to the Polish throne. Upon the death of Stanislaus, the Duchy of Lorraine and Bar would become part of France. Francis, as the future emperor, would be compensated for the loss of Lorraine by the granting of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The King of Sardinia would be compensated with certain territories in Lombardy. The marriage of Francis of Lorraine and Maria Theresa took place in 1736, and the other exchanges took place in turn. With the death of Stanislaus in 1766, Lorraine and the neighboring Duchy of Bar became part of France.[37][38]

In September 1739, Fleury scored another diplomatic success. France's mediation in the war between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire led to the Treaty of Belgrade (September 1739), which favoured the Ottoman Empire, beneficiary of a Franco-Ottoman alliance against the Habsburgs since the early 16th century. As a result, the Ottoman Empire in 1740 renewed the French capitulations, which marked the supremacy of French trade in the Middle East. With these successes, Louis XV's prestige reached its highest point. In 1740 Frederick William I of Prussia declared "Since the Treaty of Vienna France is the arbiter of Europe."[39]

War of the Austrian Succession

On 29 October 1740, a courier brought the news to the King, who was hunting in Fontainebleau, that the Emperor Charles VI was dead, and his daughter Maria Theresa was set to succeed him. After two days of reflection, Louis declared, "In these circumstances, I don't want to get involved at all. I will remain with my hands in my pockets, unless of course they want to elect a Protestant emperor."[40] This attitude did not please France's allies, who saw an opportunity to take parts of the Habsburg empire, or Louis's generals, who for a century had won glory fighting Austria. The King in Prussia had died on 31 May and was succeeded by his son Frederick the Great, a military genius with ambitions to expand Prussia's borders. The Elector Charles Albert of Bavaria, supported by Frederick, challenged the succession of Maria Theresa, and on 17 December 1740 Frederick invaded the Austrian province of Silesia. The elderly Cardinal Fleury had too little energy left to oppose this war.

Fleury sent his highest ranking general, Charles Louis Auguste Fouquet, duc de Belle-Isle, the Maréchal de Belle-Isle, the grandson of Nicolas Fouquet, the famous disgraced controller of finances of Louis XIV, as his ambassador to the Diet of Frankfurt, with instructions to avoid a war by supporting the candidacy of the Elector of Bavaria to the Austrian throne. Instead, the Maréchal, who detested the Austrians, made an agreement to join with the Prussians against Austria, and the war began.[41] French and Bavarian armies quickly captured Linz and laid siege to Prague. On 10 April 1741 Frederick won a major victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Mollwitz. On 18 May, Fleury assembled a new alliance combining France, Prussia, Spain and Bavaria, later joined by Poland and Sardinia. However, in 1742, the balance of the war shifted against France. The German-born British King, George II, who was also the Elector of Hanover, joined the war on the side of Austria and personally took charge of his soldiers fighting the French in Germany. Maria Theresa's Hungarian army recaptured Linz and marched into Bavaria as far as Munich. In June, Frederick of Prussia withdrew from the alliance with France, after gaining the Duchies of Silesia from the Austrians. Belleville had to abandon Prague, with a loss of eight thousand men. For seven years, France was engaged in a costly war with constantly shifting alliances. Orry, the superintendent of French finance, was forced to reinstate the highly unpopular dixieme tax to fund the war. Cardinal de Fleury did not live to see the end of the conflict; he died on 29 January 1743, and thereafter Louis ruled alone.[42]

Battle of Lauffeldt
(2 July 1747)

The war in Germany was not going well; the French and Bavarian forces were faced with the combined armies of Austria, Saxony, Holland, Sardinia and Hanover. The army of the Duke of Noailles was defeated by a force of British, Hessian and Hanover soldiers led by George II at the Battle of Dettingen, and in September French forces were compelled to abandon Germany.[43]

In 1744, the Austrian Netherlands became the primary battlefield of the war, and the French position began to improve. Frederick the Great decided to rejoin the war on the French side. Louis XV left Versailles to lead his armies in the Netherlands in person, and French field command was given to the German-born Maréchal

Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley
as a reward for his victories.

Personal government (1743–1757)

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour