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Louis XV of France

Louis XV (February 15, 1710 - May 10, 1774) was king of France from 1715-74. He was born at the Palace of Versailles. Until the royal legal age of maturity at fourteen, his uncle, Philippe d'Orléans, acted as Regent. Cardinal Fleury, until his death (1743), acted as the chief minister of France.

The son of Louis, Duke of Burgundy and Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, and great-grandson of King Louis XIV, Louis was part of the Bourbon Dynasty. At age two, his father, mother and brother all died within one week, leaving him heir to the French throne. He was crowned King of France at the age of five in the Cathedral at Reims.

Louis XV

His great-grandfather, Louis XIV, had left France in a financial mess and in a general decline. Louis XV failed to overcome the fiscal problems, mainly due to his chronic indecision and lack of commitment. At Versailles, the King and the nobility surrounding him showed signs of boredom that symbolized a monarchy in steady decline. Worse, Louis seemed to be aware of the forces of anti-monarchism which were threatening his family's rule and yet he failed to do anything to stop them. Popular legend has it that Louis even predicted, "After us, comes the deluge." It proved to be a chillingly accurate prediction that Louis XV could have done something to prevent.

King Louis expended a great deal of energy on the hunt and the pursuit of women. He was married in his teens to a devout Polish princess, Marie Leszczynska, and the couple had many children (see below). But the King was persistently (and notoriously) unfaithful. Some of his mistresses, such as Madame de Pompadour, and the former prostitute Madame du Barry, are as well-known as the King himself, and his affairs with all five Mailly-Nesle sisters is documented by the formal agreements he entered into. With age, Louis developed a penchant for young girls, keeping several at a time in a house known as the Parc aux Cerfs ("Deer Park").

At first he was known popularly as Louis XV, Le Bien-aimé (the well-beloved) after a near-death illness in Metz in 1744 when the entire country prayed for his recovery. However, his weak and ineffective rule was a contributing factor of the general decline that culminated with the French Revolution. Popular faith in the monarchy was shaken by the scandals of Louis' private life, and by the end of his life he had become the well-hated. In 1757, would-be assassin Robert Damiens entered Versailles and stabbed him in the side with a penknife.

In 1743, France entered the War of the Austrian Succession. During Louis' reign Corsica and Lorraine were won, but a few years later, King Louis XV lost the huge colonial empire as a result of the Seven Years' War with Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the Seven Years' War, was one of the most humiliating episodes of the French monarchy. France abandoned India, Canada, and the west bank of the Mississippi River. Although France still held New Orleans, lands west of the Mississippi, and Guadeloupe, it was this defeat and signing of the treaty that marked the first stage of a total abandonment of the New World. France's foreign policies were a dismal failure; its prestige dramatically sank.

King Louis XV died of smallpox at the Palace of Versailles. He was the first Bourbon whose heart was not cut out as tradition demanded and placed in a special coffer. Instead, alcohol was poured into his coffin and his remains were soaked in quicklime. In a near-surreptitious late night ceremony attended by only one courtier, the body was taken to the cemetery at Saint Denis Basilica.

Because Louis XV's son the dauphin had died nine years earlier, Louis's grandson ascended to the throne as King Louis XVI.

The King's mismanagement of the financial situation and his scandalous private-life undermined the entire French monarchy, and the problems of Louis XV's reign would haunt (and eventually destroy) the lives of his successors - Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Two of Louis's other grandchildren also became kings of France - Louis XVIII and Charles X.

Marriage and Children

Preceded by:
Louis XIV
King of France Succeeded by:
Louis XVI
King of Navarre

Last updated: 11-08-2004 11:19:24