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Louis XV
Louis XV by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1730
Preceded by Louis XIV
Succeeded by Louis XVI
Personal details
Born (1710-02-15)15 February 1710
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 10 May 1774(1774-05-10) (aged 64)
Palace of Versailles, France
Spouse(s) Marie Leszczyńska
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Signature of Louis XV in 1753 at the wedding of the Prince of Condé and Charlotte de Rohan

Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), known as Louis the Well beloved (Louis le bien aimé) was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather Louis XIV at the age of five. Until he reached maturity in 1723, his kingdom was ruled by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, his first cousin twice removed, as Regent of France. Cardinal Fleury was his chief minister from 1726 until the Cardinal's death in 1743, at which time the young king took over sole control of the kingdom.

During his reign, Louis's government returned the Austrian Netherlands, won at the Battle of Fontenoy of 1745, but given back to Austria by the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748, and ceded most of New France to Great Britain at the conclusion of the Seven Years' War in 1763. His reign also saw the incorporation of the territories of Lorraine and Corsica into the kingdom of France.

Some scholars believe Louis XV's decisions damaged the power of France, weakened the treasury, discredited the absolute monarchy, and may have contributed to the French Revolution, which broke out 15 years after his death.[1][2] Other scholars argue that this reputation is based on propaganda meant to justify the French Revolution, and, by dismissing the Parlement of Paris and reforming the tax code, Louis set France on a path of stability late in his reign. He was succeeded by his grandson Louis XVI in 1774.

Background and early life[]

Nicolas de Largillière 003

Louis XV with his father Louis Duke of Burgundy,his grandfather Louis Le Grand Dauphin and his great-grandfather King Louis XIV

Louis XV was born in the Palace of Versailles on 15 February 1710 during the reign of his great-grandfather Louis XIV. His grandfather, Louis Le Grand Dauphin, had three sons with his wife Marie Anne Victoire of Bavaria: Louis, Duke of Burgundy; Philippe, Duke of Anjou (who became King of Spain); and Charles, Duke of Berry. Louis XV was the third son of the Duke of Burgundy and his wife Marie Adélaïde of Savoy, the eldest daughter of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, and Anne Marie d'Orléans. At birth, Louis XV received a customary title for younger sons of the French royal family: Duke of Anjou.

Demi Louis Louis XV le Bien Aimé

Half-Louis de Noailles during Louis XV

In April 1711, Louis Le Grand Dauphin suddenly died, making Louis XV's father, the Duke of Burgundy, the new dauphin. At that time, Burgundy had two living sons, Louis, Duke of Brittany, and his youngest son, the future Louis XV.

A year later, Marie Adélaïde, Duchess of Burgundy, contracted smallpox (or measles) and died on 12 February 1712. Her husband, said to be heartbroken by her death, died the same week, also having contracted smallpox. Within a week of his death, it was clear that the couple's two children had also been infected. The elder son was repeatedly treated by bloodletting in an unsuccessful effort to save him. Fearing that the Dauphin would die, the Court had both the Dauphin and the Duke of Anjou baptised. The Dauphin died the same day, 8 March 1712. His younger brother, the Duke of Anjou, was personally treated by his governess, Madame de Ventadour, who forbade any bloodletting. As a result, he survived the smallpox, and became first in the line of succession to his great-grandfather Louis XIV at the age of two.

Louis XIV's will[]

Sacre de Louis XV

Anointing of Louis XV.

On 1 September 1715, Louis XIV died of gangrene after having reigned for 72 years.

In August 1714, Louis XIV made a will stipulating 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, Duke of Orléans, nephew of Louis XIV, was named president of the council, but all decisions were to be taken by majority vote. The composition of the council, which included Louis XIV's legitimised sons the Duke of Maine and Count of Toulouse and various members of Louis XIV's administration, meant that the Duke of Orléans would often be outvoted.

Philippe, Duke of Orléans[]

As regent, Orléans conducted affairs of state from his Palais Royal. The young Louis XV was moved to the modern lodgings attached to the medieval fortress of Vincennes, located 7 km/4.5 miles east of Paris in the Forest of Vincennes. The air was deemed more wholesome than in Paris. A few weeks later with winter, the young king was moved to the Tuileries Palace near the Palais Royal.

Hyacinthe Rigaud 009

Louis XV as a child in coronation robes, portrait by Rigaud


By French royal tradition, princes were put in the care of men when they reached their seventh birthday. Louis was taken from his governess, Madame de Ventadour, in February 1717, and placed in the care of the Francois de Villeroy, who had been designated as his governor in Louis XIV's will of August 1714. (Duke François de Neufville de Villeroy was a lifetime friend of Louis XIV - they had spend their childhoon together at the Hôtel de Villeroy (today private residences and expo center Cremerie de Paris) and the Palais Royal. Francois de Villeroy (more rarely spelled Villeroi) served under the formal authority of the Duke of Maine, who was charged with overseeing the king's education. He was aided by André-Hercule de Fleury (later to become Cardinal de Fleury), who served as the king's tutor.[citation needed]

Fleury gave the king an excellent education, and he was also taught by renowned professors such as the geographer Guillaume Delisle.[citation needed] Louis XV had an inquisitive and open-minded nature. An avid reader, he developed eclectic tastes. Later in life he advocated the creation of departments in physics (1769) and mechanics (1773) at the Collège de France.[citation needed]

Betrothal and marriage[]

File:Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain.jpg

Infanta Maria Anna Victoria of Spain, to whom Louis was engaged.

In 1721, Louis XV was betrothed to his first cousin, the Infanta Maria Anna Victoria of Spain, but the eleven-year-old king was not interested in the arrival of his future wife, the three-year-old Spanish Infanta. In June 1722, the king and the court returned to Versailles, where they would stay until the end of the reign. In October of the same year, Louis XV was officially crowned in Reims Cathedral.

On 15 February 1723, the king's majority was declared by the Parlement of Paris. This ended the regency. Initially, Louis XV left the Duke of Orléans in charge of state affairs. He was made first minister on the death of Cardinal Dubois in August 1723; he himself died in December of the same year. Following the advice of Fleury, Louis XV appointed his cousin Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon, to replace the late Duke of Orléans.

The Duke of Bourbon was worried about the health of the young king. His primary motivation was a desire to prevent the family of the late regent, the House of Orléans, from ascending to the throne should the king die, as he considered Orléans family his enemy. The king was quite frail as a boy, and several alerts led to concern for his life. There was also concern that the Spanish infanta was too young to produce an heir. To remedy this situation, the Duke of Bourbon set about choosing a European princess old enough to produce an heir.

Eventually, the 21-year-old Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of Stanisław Leszczyński, the deposed king of Poland, was chosen. A poor and plain-looking princess who had followed her father's misfortunes, she was said to be virtuous. The marriage was celebrated in September 1725. It soon produced many children. In September 1729, at the end of her third pregnancy, the queen finally gave birth to a male child, an heir to the throne, the dauphin Louis (1729–1765). The birth of a long-awaited heir, which ensured the survival of the dynasty for the first time since 1712, was welcomed with tremendous joy and celebration in all spheres of French society. The young king became extremely popular at the time.

Dismissal of Bourbon and the Ministry of Fleury[]

The ministry of the Duke of Bourbon pursued policies that resulted in serious economic and social problems in France. These included the persecution of Protestants; monetary manipulations; the creation of new taxes, such as the fiftieth (cinquantième) in 1725; and tolerance of high grain prices. As a result of Bourbon's rising unpopularity, the king dismissed him in 1726. The king selected his former tutor, Cardinal Fleury, to replace him.

From 1726 until his death in 1743, Cardinal Fleury ruled France with the king's assent. It was the most peaceful and prosperous part of the reign of Louis XV, despite some unrest caused by the Parlements and the Jansenists. After the financial and social disruptions suffered at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, the rule of Fleury is seen by historians as a period of "recovery." The king's role in the decisions of the Fleury government is unclear, but he did support him against the intrigues of the court and the conspiracies of the courtiers.

Louis XV France by Louis-Michel van Loo 002

Louis XV, by Louis Michel van Loo, (Château de Versailles).

With the help of controllers-general of finances Michel Robert Le Peletier des Forts (1726–1730) and Philibert Orry (1730–1745), Fleury stabilized the French currency and balanced the budget in 1738. Economic expansion was a major goal of the government. Communications were improved with the completion of the Saint-Quentin canal (linking the Oise and Somme rivers) in 1738, which was later extended to 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.

Engineers from the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées built modern highways, many of which are still in use today, that stretched from Paris to the most distant borders of France. The Council of Commerce stimulated trade, and French foreign maritime trade increased from 80 to 308 million livres between 1716 and 1748. Rigid Colbertist laws left over from the previous reign hindered industrial development, however.

The power of the absolute monarchy was manifested by its suppression of Jansenist and Gallican religious opposition. The troubles caused by the convulsionaries of the Saint-Médard graveyard in Paris (a group of Jansenists claiming that miracles took place in this graveyard) were put to an end in 1732. As for the Gallican opposition, after the dismissal of 139 members of provincial parlements, the Parlement of Paris had to register the Unigenitus papal bull and was forbidden to hear religious cases in the future.

In foreign relations, Fleury sought peace by attempting to maintain alliance with England and pursuing reconciliation with Spain. The birth of a male heir in 1729 dispelled the risks of a succession crisis and the possibility of war with Spain.

In 1733, on the advice of his secretary of state for foreign affairs Germain Louis Chauvelin, the king abandoned Fleury's peace policy to intervene in the War of the Polish Succession. In addition to attempting to restore his father-in-law Stanisław Leszczyński to the Polish throne, the king also hoped to wrest the long-coveted Duchy of Lorraine from its duke, Francis III. The duke's expected marriage to Maria Theresa of Austria, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, would bring Austrian power dangerously close to the French border. In the end, the half-hearted French intervention did not allow Stanisław to recover his former throne in Poland.

Treaty of Vienna[]

Mehmed Effendi 1721

Ottoman ambassador Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi Efendi in Paris in 1721 (engraving)

In the west, however, French troops rapidly overran Lorraine, and peace was restored as early as 1735. By the Treaty of Vienna (November 1738), Stanisław was compensated for the loss of his Polish throne with the duchy of Lorraine, which would eventually pass to King Louis as his son-in-law, while Duke Francis III of Lorraine was made heir to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany as compensation for the loss of Lorraine. The war cost France very little compared to the financial and human drains of Louis XIV's wars and was a clear success for French diplomacy. The acquisition of Lorraine (effective in 1766 at Stanisław's death) was to be the last territorial expansion of France on the continent before the French Revolution.

Shortly after this favourable result, 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.

The War of the Austrian Succession and first signs of unpopularity[]

The Battle of Fontenoy, 11th May 1745

The Battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, showing Maurice de Saxe presenting the captured British and Dutch prisoners and colours to Louis XV and the dauphin

Bataille de Lawfeld, 2 juillet 1747

Battle of Lawfeld, 2 July 1747 : Louis XV pointing out the village of Lawfeld to Maurice de Saxe

In 1740, the death of Emperor Charles VI and his succession by his daughter Maria Theresa started the European War of the Austrian Succession. Sensing the vulnerability of Maria Theresa's position, King Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded the Austrian province of Silesia in hopes of annexing it permanently. The elderly Cardinal Fleury had too little energy left to oppose this war, which was strongly supported by the anti-Austrian party at court. Renewing the cycle of conflicts so typical of Louis XIV's reign, the king entered the war in 1741 on the side of Prussia in hopes of pursuing its own anti-Austrian foreign policy goals. The war would last seven years. Fleury did not live to see the end of the war. After Fleury's death, in January 1743, the king followed his predecessor's example (at the death of Cardinal Mazarin) of ruling from then on without a first minister.

Initially, France experienced military success despite the king's loss of his trusted advisor. In alliance with the Prussians against the Austrians, British, and Dutch, the French were able to savor a series of major victories at the Battles of Fontenoy (1745), Rocoux (1746), and Lauffeld (1747). The Battle of Fontenoy, won by Maurice de Saxe, is still remembered as one of the most decisive French victories against the British. In 1746 French forces besieged and occupied Brussels, which Louis entered in triumph. By 1748, France occupied the entire Austrian Netherlands (modern-day Belgium), then the wealthiest area of Europe, and appeared on its way to fulfilling its traditional dream of extending its north-eastern border to the Rhine.

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[]

Despite his victory, Louis XV, who wanted to appear as an arbiter and not as a conqueror, agreed to restore all his conquests back to the defeated enemies with chivalry at the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, arguing that he was "king of France, not a shopkeeper." He felt content to rule a nearly hexagon-shaped kingdom, which he called his pré carré (i.e. "square field"), a term still used in French politics today. He thought it better to cultivate the pré carré rather than trying to expand it. The attitude of the king was hailed in Europe, and he became known overnight the "arbiter of Europe". This decision, largely misunderstood by his generals and by the French people, made the king unpopular at home. The news that the king had restored the Southern Netherlands to Austria was met with disbelief and bitterness. The French obtained so little of what they fought for that they adopted the expressions Bête comme la paix ("Stupid as the peace") and Travailler pour le roi de Prusse ("To work for the king of Prussia", i.e. working for nothing).

Louis's popularity was also threatened by public exposure of his marital infidelities, which likely could have been kept concealed had France not entered the War of the Austrian Succession. Louis had enjoyed a good deal of happiness with his wife, but he resented her failure to produce a good supply of male children (only one male child, the Dauphin Louis, survived among her many offspring). In 1734, for the first time, the queen complained to her father about the king's infidelities. The king took mistresses, a recognized practice at the time, while the queen took refuge in religion and charities. The designation maîtresse-en-titre ("official mistress") was a court position that was sometimes retained even if the king and his mistress ceased being lovers. In the 1730s, Louis began a series of love affairs with four sisters of the Mailly-Nesle family that are documented by the formal agreements into which he entered: Diane Adélaïde de Mailly (his first mistress), Louise Julie de Mailly, Pauline Félicité de Mailly, and Marie Anne de Mailly.

In June 1744, the king left Versailles for the front in order to take personal command of his armies fighting in the War of the Austrian Succession. This otherwise popular move was marred by the king's indiscreet decision to bring along Marie Anne de Mailly, whom he had ennobled as the Duchess of Châteauroux. In August, the king fell gravely ill in Metz. Death appeared imminent, and public prayers were held all across France to ask God to save the king from a certain death.

Pressed by the anti-absolutist dévot party at court, the king's chaplain refused to give him absolution unless the king renounced his mistress. The king's confession was distributed publicly, which embarrassed him and tarnished the prestige of the monarchy. Although Louis's recovery earned him the epithet "well-beloved" from a public relieved by his survival, the events at Metz diminished his standing. The military successes of the War of the Austrian Succession inclined the French public to overlook Louis's adulteries, but after 1748, in the wake of the anger over the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, pamphlets against the king's mistresses became increasingly widely published and read.

Madame de Pompadour[]

François Boucher 019

Madame de Pompadour, by François Boucher, ca. 1750

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, later the Marquise de Pompadour, who met Louis XV in February 1745 at a masked ball given in honour of the marriage of the Dauphin, was the most famous mistress of the reign, and also the most honourable one. She was the daughter of a chief agent of the powerful Paris family of financiers who became embroiled in the intrigue that ousted the Duke of Bourbon as a state minister in favour of Cardinal Fleury. A beautiful woman, she was educated, cultured, intelligent, and sincerely attached to the king. Nonetheless, she possessed one major shortcoming in everyone's eyes: she was a commoner, from the bourgeoisie, and even worse, a commoner who meddled in royal politics.

The public had generally accepted the mistresses of Louis XIV, who, apart from Madame de Maintenon, were all chosen in the highest spheres of the aristocracy and had very little influence on the government. But that the king would thus compromise himself with a commoner was felt to be a disgrace. Soon there were libels published called poissonnades, a word akin to "fish stew" meant to be a pun on Pompadour's family name, Poisson, which means "fish" in French.

Despite her critics, the Marquise de Pompadour had an undeniable influence on the flourishing of French arts during the reign of Louis XV, a reign that is often considered to represent the pinnacle of French architecture and interior design (see: Louis Quinze). A patron of the arts, the Marquise amassed a considerable amount of furniture and objets d'art at her various estates. She was responsible for the tremendous growth of the porcelain manufactory of Sèvres, which became one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in Europe, and her commissions ensured the living of artists and families of craftsmen for many years. She was also a prominent patron of architecture, responsible for the building of the Place Louis XV (now called the Place de la Concorde) and the École Militaire in Paris, both designed by her protégé Ange-Jacques Gabriel. Her efforts to establish the École Militaire demonstrated her commitment to the training of officers from poor families of the aristocracy.

The Marquise was a political liberal at heart, and she steadily defended the Encyclopédie against the attacks from the Church. She was also a supporter of Enlightenment philosophy and tried to win the king over to its new ideas, albeit not quite as successfully as she hoped. She was criticised for the lavish display of luxury at her various estates, although her wealthy family of financiers in many instances gave money to the government and saved the monarchy from bankruptcy. She bequeathed all her estates to the state, and they reverted to the crown at her death.

The Marquise de Pompadour was officially settled on the third floor (second storey) of the Palace of Versailles in small but comfortable apartments that can still be visited today. There, she organised fine suppers for the king with carefully selected guests, far from the pomp and etiquette of the court. The atmosphere in these private quarters was so relaxed that the king was said to serve coffee during the suppers. She often entertained the king, trying to relieve him from the state of boredom in which the court often plunged him. The king, who liked a more bourgeois lifestyle than his forefather Louis XIV, found in the private apartments of the Marquise de Pompadour, located above his own office and bedchamber, the intimacy and reassuring feminine presence of which he had been deprived during his childhood.

The Marquise, who was reportedly in frail health, was no more than a friend to the king after 1750. Although their sexual relationship stopped, she remained his close confidante until her death, quite a feat in the history of royal mistresses. She, more than anyone else, was adept at understanding the complex and demanding personality of the king. After 1750, the king was mired in a series of short-lived love affairs and sexual relationships, hiding his temporary conquests in a small mansion at the Parc-aux-Cerfs ("Stags' Park") at Versailles, whose most famous occupant was Marie-Louise O'Murphy. Legend later enormously exaggerated the events occurring at the Parc-aux-Cerfs, contributing to the dark reputation still associated with Louis XV's name today. In fact, the king's womanising behavior was not very different from that of many of his illustrious ancestors, such as Kings Francis I, Henry IV, and Louis XIV, to say nothing of other European monarchs such as Charles II of England.

First attempt at reform[]

Head of King Louis XV by François Lemoyne

Portrait of Louis XV, ca. 1730.

Starting in 1743 with the death of Fleury, the king ruled alone without a first minister. He had read many times the instructions of Louis XIV: "Listen to the people, seek advice from your Council, but decide alone." His political correspondence reveals his deep knowledge of public affairs as well as the soundness of his judgment. Most government work was conducted in committees of ministers that met without the king. The king reviewed policy only in the Conseil d'en haut, the High Council, which was composed of the king, the Dauphin, the chancellor, the finance minister, and the foreign minister. Created by Louis XIV, the council was in charge of state policy regarding religion, diplomacy, and war. There, he let various political factions oppose each other and vie for influence and power: on the broadest level, the dévot party, led by the Comte d'Argenson, secretary of state for war, opposed the parti philosophique, which supported Enlightenment philosophy and was led by finance minister Jean Baptiste de Machault D'Arnouville.

The parti philosophique was supported by the Marquise de Pompadour, who acted as a sort of minister without portfolio from the time she became royal mistress in 1745 until her death in 1764. The Marquise was in favour of reforms. Supported by her clan of financiers (Pâris-Duverney, Montmartel, etc.), she obtained from the king the appointment of ministers (such as the foreign minister François Joachim de Pierre de Bernis in 1757), as well as their dismissal (such as Philippe Orry in 1745 and the Navy secretary Maurepas in 1749). On her advice, the king supported the policy of fiscal justice designed by Machault d'Arnouville. In order to finance the budget deficit, which amounted to 100 million livres in 1745, Machault d'Arnouville created a tax on the twentieth of all revenues that affected the privileged classes as well as commoners.

This breach in the privileged status of the aristocracy and the clergy, normally exempt from taxes, was a first in French history, although it had already been advocated by men such as Vauban under Louis XIV. However, the new tax was received with violent protest from the privileged classes sitting in the estates of the few provinces that still retained the right to decide over taxation (most provinces had long lost their provincial estates and the right to decide over taxation). The new tax was also opposed by the clergy and by the parlements. Pressed and eventually won over by his entourage at court, the king gave in and exempted the clergy from the twentieth in 1751. Eventually, the twentieth became a mere increase in the already existing taille, the most important direct tax of the monarchy from which privileged classes were exempted. It was the first defeat in the "taxation war" waged against the privileged classes.

As a result of these attempts at reform, the Parlement of Paris, using the quarrel between the clergy and the Jansenists as a pretext, addressed remonstrances to the king in April 1753. In these remonstrances, the Parlement, which was made up of privileged aristocrats and ennobled commoners, proclaimed itself the "natural defender of the fundamental laws of the kingdom" against the arbitrariness of the monarchy.

Seven Years' War[]

By 1755, a new European conflict was brewing. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle turned out to be only a sort of truce in the conflict between Austria and Prussia over the province of Silesia, and France and Britain were quarreling seriously over colonial possessions. Indeed, the French and British were fighting without a declaration of war in a conflict known as the French and Indian War of 1754-1763. In 1755, the British seized 300 French merchant ships in violation of international law. A few months later, on 16 January 1756, Great Britain and Prussia, enemies in the War of the Austrian Succession, signed a treaty of "neutrality".

Frederick the Great had abandoned his French ally during the War of Austrian Succession by signing a separate peace treaty with Austria in December 1745. At the same time, French officials realized that the Habsburg empire of Maria Theresa of Austria was no longer the danger it had been in the heyday of the Habsburgs, back in the 16th and 17th centuries, when they controlled Spain and much of the rest of Europe and presented a formidable challenge to France. The new dangerous power looming on the horizon was Prussia. In a "diplomatic revolution", the king overruled his ministers and signed the Treaty of Versailles with Austria on 1 April 1756, and put an end to more than 200 years of conflict with the Habsburgs. The new Franco-Austrian Alliance would last intermittently for the next thirty-five years.

Louis apparently expected that his alliance with Austria would prevent another war on the continent by confronting Prussia with two continental powers arrayed against him instead of just one, as had been the way during the War of the Austrian Succession. He was mistaken. Austria was determined to retrieve Silesia from Prussian control. At the end of August 1756, having learned that Austria was negotiating to enlist Russia against him, Frederick the Great invaded Saxony without a declaration of war. He soon defeated the unprepared Saxon and Austrian armies and occupied the whole of the country. The younger daughter of the Saxon ruler, Augustus III, was the dauphin's wife, and his elder daughter was married to Charles VII of Naples, a Bourbon cousin. Frederick's treatment of the Polish–Saxon royal family was seen as uncommonly disrespectful. Moreover, Augustus' wife Maria Josepha, mother of the dauphine Marie-Joséphe of Saxony, died in 1757 from a stroke that some in France attributed to maltreatment, without evidence. Rumours of Frederick's actions shocked the French and inflamed public opinion against Prussia. The dauphine had a miscarriage as a result of the news coming from Saxony. Meanwhile, Britain declared war on France on 18 May 1756.

The French military successes of the War of the Austrian Succession were not repeated in the Seven Years' War, except for a few temporary victories such as the Battle of Minorca of 1756. A French invasion of Hanover in 1757 resulted in a counter-attack led by Ferdinand of Brunswick the following year that saw them driven out of the electorate. Plans for an invasion of Britain in 1759 were never carried out due to catastrophic naval defeats. French forces suffered disaster after disaster against the British in North America, India, and Africa. The 1763 Treaty of Paris with Great Britain forced France to surrender almost all of New France and drastically curtail its political influence in India. The French navy was crippled, but France suffered no territorial losses on the continent of Europe by the terms of the Treaty of Hubertusberg of 1763 with Prussia.

Louis XV ;Carle van Loo

Louis XV, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1748).

Assassination attempt[]

On 5 January 1757, would-be assassin Robert-François Damiens entered the Palace of Versailles, as did thousands of people every day, to petition the king. At 6 pm, as night had fallen on a cold Versailles covered in snow, the king, who was visiting his daughter, left her apartments to return to the Grand Trianon, where he was staying. As he was walking in the Marble Courtyard between two lines of guards lighting the way with torches, headed toward his carriage (which was waiting at the edge of the Marble Courtyard), Damiens emerged from the dark, passed through the guards, and stabbed the king in the side with a penknife.


Robert-François Damiens, by Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1757).

The 8.1 cm (3.2 inch) blade entered the king's body between the fourth and fifth ribs. The king, who was bleeding, remained calm and called for a confessor as he thought he would die. Thoughts of poison came to his mind. At the sight of the queen, who had come in a hurry, he asked for forgiveness for his misbehaviour. However, the king survived. He was probably saved by the thick layers of clothes he wore on that cold day, which cushioned the blade, protecting the internal organs. Allegedly, the blade penetrated only 1 cm (0.4 inch) into the king's body, leading Voltaire to mock what he called a "pinprick".

Tried by the Parlement of Paris, Damiens was tortured and executed on the Place de Grève on 28 March 1757.

Later life[]

Silver Ecu of Louis XV, struck 1764
File:Louis XV of France Coin.jpg
Obverse: (Latin) LUDOVICUS XV DEI GRATIA FRANCIAE ET NAVARRAE REX or in English, "Louis XV, By the Grace of God, King of France and Navarre" Reverse: (Latin) SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTVM 1764, or in English, "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord, 1764"

After the assassination attempt, and at Pompadour's instigation, the king dismissed two ministers: the Comte d'Argenson, secretary of state for war, and Machault d'Arnouville, keeper of the seals (justice minister) and before that controller-general of finances. To help coordinate the government of France, he appointed the Duke of Choiseul as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Reforms would resume only with the dismissal of Choiseul in 1771. In that year, Louis XV installed a so-called Triumvirate consisting of René Nicolas de Maupeou as Chancellor of France and Minister of Justice, Joseph Marie Terray as Minister of Finance, and Emmanuel-Armand de Richelieu, duc d'Aiguillon, as Minister for Foreign Affairs. They fought against the Parlements and had the judiciary run by the Council of State. Louis XVI restored the Parlements and removed the triumvirs from their posts.

Louis and his ministers were unhappy about Great Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War and in the years following the Treaty of Paris they began drawing up a long-term plan that would involve the construction of a larger navy and the formation of an anti-British coalition of states that would lead to an eventual war of revenge with the goal of regaining France's lost overseas colonies. Choiseul was the leading advocate of this scheme, and he was prepared to go to war with Britain over the Falkland Islands in 1770. Louis, however, did not believe that France was ready for war at that time and dismissed Choiseul instead.

Throughout the second half of his reign, Louis XV endured conflict and intrigue from his children, particularly his son Louis (the dauphin), and his eldest surviving daughter, Adélaïde. The intrigue of family politics took place within the environs of Versailles, an environment that was under his control. Louis XV used his court to oversee and counter his children's politics and intrigues. Louis XV remodeled the spaces at Versailles to communicate his satisfaction and displeasure with his children and other members of the court.[3]


Louis XV died on 10 May 1774 of smallpox at the Palace of Versailles.[4] He was the first Bourbon ruler whose heart was not, as tradition demanded, cut out and placed in a special coffer.[citation needed] The body was not embalmed for fear of contamination; instead, alcohol was poured into the coffin.[5] The remains were also soaked in quicklime.[6] In a surreptitious late-night ceremony attended by only one courtier, the body was taken to the Saint Denis Basilica.[citation needed]

Louis's death saw the French monarchy at its nadir in political, financial and moral terms.[7] Since Louis XV's son Louis had died nine years earlier, the throne passed to his grandson, the conventional and unimaginative Louis XVI. Two of Louis XV's other grandsons, Louis XVIII and Charles X, would occupy the throne of France after the fall of Napoleon I.

Image, public opinion and history[]

Edmé Bouchardon - Study for the Equestrian Statue of Louis XV - WGA02875

Edmé Bouchardon's sketch for the Equestrian Statue of Louis XV.

Edmé Bouchardon's equestrian statue of Louis XV was originally conceived to commemorate the monarch's victorious role in the War of the Austrian Succession. He portrayed the king as peacemaker. It was not unveiled until 1763, following France's defeat in the Seven Years' War. Designed as a symbol of loyalty to the king, Bouchardon's work was used by the Crown for a public relations event staged to restore public confidence in a monarchy in decline. It used art as propaganda on a grand scale.[8] This statue was located on the Place Louis XV and was torn down during the Revolution.

Many scholars argue that Louis was unequal to the high expectations of his subjects. Harris says that, "Historians have depicted this ruler as one of the weakest of the Bourbons, a do-nothing king who left affairs of state to ministers while indulging in his hobbies of hunting and womanizing."[9] Harris adds that ministers rose and fell according to his mistresses' opinions, seriously undermining the prestige of the monarchy.

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, the leader of the French Annales School, notes the king was handsome, athletic, intelligent and an excellent hunter, but that he disappointed the people. He did not keep up the practice of Mass and performing his religious obligations to the people. Le Roy Ladurie says the people felt he had reduced the sacred nature of the monarchy, and thereby diminished himself.[10]

According to Kenneth N. Jassie and Jeffrey Merrick, contemporary songs, poems, and public declarations typically portrayed a king as "master," unblemished "Christian," and benevolent provider ("baker"). Young Louis's failings were attributed to inexperience and manipulation by his handlers. Jassie and Merrick argue that the king's troubles mounted steadily, and the people blamed and ridiculed his debauchery. The king ignored the famines and crises of the nation. The people reviled the king in popular protest, and finally celebrated his death. The monarchy survived—for a while—but Louis XV left his successor with a damaging legacy of popular discontent.[11]

Some sermons on his death in 1774 praised the monarch and went out of their way to excuse his faults. Jeffrey Merrick writes, "But those ecclesiastics who not only raised their eyebrows over the sins of the Beloved but also expressed doubts about his policies reflected the corporate attitude of the First Estate more accurately." They prayed the new king would restore morality at court and better serve the will of God.[12]

The financial strain imposed by these wars and by the excesses of the royal court, and the consequent dissatisfaction with the monarchy, contributed to the national unrest which culminated in the French Revolution of 1789.[13] The historian Colin Jones argues that Louis XV left France with serious financial difficulties: "The military disasters of the Seven Years War led to acute state financial crisis.".[14] Ultimately, he writes, Louis XV failed to overcome these fiscal problems, mainly because he was incapable of putting together conflicting parties and interests in his entourage. Although aware of the forces of anti-monarchism threatening his family's rule, he did not do anything to stop them.[15]

Two scholars of the 1980s defended Louis XV. Olivier Bernier in his 1984 biography argues that Louis was both popular and a leader in reforming France. In his 64-year reign, no foreign army crossed the French border, and her people were not threatened by conquest. He was known popularly as Le Bien-aimé (the well-beloved). Many of his subjects prayed for his recovery during his serious illness in Metz in 1744. His dismissal of the Parlement of Paris and his chief minister, Choisieul, in 1771, were attempts to wrest control of government from those Louis considered corrupt. He changed the tax code to try to balance the national budget. Bernier argues that these acts would have avoided the French Revolution, but his successor, Louis XVI, reversed his policies.[16] Guy Chaussinand-Nogaret, wrote that Louis XV's tarnished reputation was created fifteen years after his death, to justify the French Revolution, and that the nobility during his reign were competent.[17]

E.H. Gombrich, better known as an art historian, wrote in 2005, "Louis XV and Louis XVI, the Sun King's [Louis XIV] successors, were incompetent, and content merely to imitate their great predecessor's outward show of power. The pomp and magnificence remained....Finance ministers soon became expert swindlers, cheating and extorting on a grand scale. The peasants worked till they dropped and citizens were forced to pay huge taxes."[18]

Jeffrey Merrick claims that his weak and ineffective rule accelerated the general decline that culminated in the French Revolution in 1789. The king was a notorious womaniser; the monarch's virility was supposed to be another way in which his power was manifested. Nevertheless, Merrick writes, popular faith in the monarchy was shaken by the scandals of Louis’s private life and by the end of his life he had become despised.[19]

Historians agree that in terms of culture and art, France reached a high point under Louis XV. However, he was blamed for the many diplomatic, military and economic reverses. His reign was marked by ministerial instability while his "prestige was ruined by military failure and colonial losses," concludes Jean-Denis Lepage.[20]

Popular legend holds that Louis said, "After me, the flood" ("Après moi, le déluge"). This quotation is attributed to Madame de Pompadour, although it is not certain that even she ever said it.[21]

Louis XV in popular culture[]

Louis XV has been featured as an historical figure in many films about the French Revolution era, especially those about the lives of Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry.

Portrayal in film[]

Film Year Actor as Madame du Barry as Marie Antoinette
Madame Du Barry 1917 Charles Clary Theda Bara none
Madame DuBarry 1919 Emil Jannings Pola Negri none
Du Barry, Woman of Passion 1931 William Farnum Norma Talmadge none
Madame Du Barry 1934 Reginald Owen Dolores del Río Anita Louise
Marie Antoinette 1938 John Barrymore Gladys George Norma Shearer
DuBarry Was a Lady 1943 Red Skelton Lucille Ball none
Black Magic 1949 Robert Atkins Margot Grahame Nancy Guild
Madame du Barry 1954 Daniel Ivernel Martine Carol Isabelle Pia
"The Rose of Versailles" 1979 Hisashi Katsuda Yoshiko Kimiya Miyuki Ueda
"Le Chevalier D'eon" 2006 Jay Hickman none none
Marie Antoinette 2006 Rip Torn Asia Argento Kirsten Dunst


Illegitimate issue[]

  • He acted as stepfather to Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour's only child, Alexandrine-Jeanne Le Normant d'Étiolles (10 August 1744 – 14 June 1754)
  • He had a daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (Paris, May 1754 – Paris, 6 September 1774, bur Paris), with Marie-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily. In 1773, Agathe married René Jean de La Tour du Pin, marquis de la Charce (Paris, 26 July 1750 – 1781); they had no children.[22]
  • Louis XV may have had other illegitimate children, but paternity has not been established.

Titles, styles, honours and arms[]

Titles and styles[]

  • 15 February 1710 – 8 March 1712 His Royal Highness The Duke of Anjou
  • 8 March 1712 – 1 September 1715 His Royal Highness The Dauphin of France
  • 1 September 1715 – 10 May 1774 His Majesty The King


See also[]

  • List of French monarchs
  • Cabriole leg
  • Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul
  • Suppression of the Jesuits
  • Louis heel, a shoe heel shape named after Louis XV.
  • Mesdames de France
  • The French Army 1600–1900
  • Outline of France


  1. Colin Jones, "Scholarly bibliography" (2002)
  2. "Louis XV", BBC History
  3. Kevin L. Justus, "Gilded Palace, Gilded Playpen: Louis XV's Use of Palatial Space to Control His Rebellious Children and Their Politics," Journal of Family History 1996 21(4): 470–495. Issn: 0363-1990
  4. Bauer, Susan Wise, The Story of the World: Early modern times, from Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners, (Peace Hill Press Inc., 2004), 206.
  5. Mme Campan, Memoirs of the private life of Marie Antoinette, queen of France, 2nd edition, Vol. I (London, 1823), 75-76.
  6. Bauer, 206
  7. Andrew Hussey (2008). Paris: The Secret History. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 172. 
  8. Stephen Rombouts, "Art as Propaganda in Eighteenth-century France: the Paradox of Edme Bouchardon's Louis XV". Eighteenth-century Studies, 1993–1994 27(2): 255–282. in JSTOR
  9. Robert D. Harris, "Review," American Historical Review (1987) 92#2 p. 426
  10. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Ancien Regime: A History of France, 1610 - 1774 (1998) pp 320-23
  11. Kenneth N. Jassie and Jeffrey Merrick, "We Don't Have a King: Popular Protest and the Image of the Illegitimate King in the Reign of Louis XV," Consortium on Revolutionary Europe 1750–1850: Proceedings 1994 23: 211–219. Issn: 0093-2574
  12. Jeffrey Merrick, "Politics in the Pulpit: Ecclesiastical Discourse on the Death of Louis XV," History of European Ideas 1986 7(2): 149–160. Issn: 0191-6599
  13. BBC History : Louis XV ((1710-1774))
  14. Colin Jones, "The Other Cheek," History Today (Nov 2011) 61#11 pp 18-24
  15. Jones (2002) p, 124, 132–33, 147
  16. Olivier Bernier, Louis the Beloved: The Life of Louis XV (1984), pp. 218-52
  17. Chaussinard-Nogaret, Guy. The French Nobility in the Eighteenth Century: From Feudalism to Enlightenment, Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press, 1985
  18. E. H. Gombrich (2005). A Little History of the World. Yale U.P.. p. 216. 
  19. Jeffrey Merrick, "Politics in the Pulpit: Ecclesiastical Discourse on the Death of Louis XV," History of European Ideas 1986 7(2): 149–160
  20. Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage (2009). French Fortifications, 1715-1815: An Illustrated History. McFarland. p. 6. 
  21. Jones (2002) p. 236
  22. Algrant, Christine Pevitt, Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France, Grove Press, 2002, p. 163.


  1. Duke of Saint-Simon, Mémoires, Book 12, Chapter 15. [1]
  2. Marquis Philippe de Dangeau, Journal; 1856–60, Paris; XVI, 136; in Olivier Bernier, Louis the Beloved, The Life of Louis XV: 1984, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company. p. 3.
  3. The scene is described in Olivier Bernier, Louis the Beloved, The Life of Louis XV: 1984, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company. p. 17.

Further reading[]

  • Bernier, Olivier. Louis the Beloved: The Life of Louis XV (1984) 261 pp.
  • Engels, Jens Ivo. "Denigrer, Esperer, Assumer La Realite. Le Roi de France perçu par ses Sujets, 1680–1750" ["Disparaging, Hoping, Taking on Reality: the French King as Perceived by His Subjects, 1680–1750"]. Revue D'histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 2003 50(3): 96–126.
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon, 1715–99 (2002). excerpt and text search
  • Justus, Kevin Lane. "A Fractured Mirror: The Royal Portraiture of Louis XV and the Search for a Successful Image through Architecture, or, Versailles Is the Thing in Which We Will Catch the Character of the King." PhD dissertation U. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 2002. 417 pp. DAI 2003 63(11): 3766-A. DA3070864 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Ancien Regime: A History of France 1610–1774 (1999), survey by leader of the Annales School excerpt and text search
  • Perkins, James Breck. France under Louis XV (2 vol 1897) online vol 1; online vol 2
  • Woodbridge, John D. Revolt in Prerevolutionary France: The Prince de Conti's Conspiracy against Louis XV (1995). 242 pp.
  • Scholarly bibliography by Colin Jones (2002)


  • Haslip, Joan. Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty. (1992). 224 pp.
  • Jones, Colin. Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress. London: National Gallery Publ., 2002. 176 pp.
  • Lever, Evelyne. Madame de Pompadour. (2002). 320 pp.
  • Mitford, Nancy. Madame de Pompadour (1954) 312pp.

Primary sources[]

  • Du Barry, Jeanne Vaubernier, Jeanne Baecu. Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry: With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV (1903) online edition; also excerpt and text search


Louis XV of France
House of Bourbon
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 15 February 1710 Died: 10 May 1774
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis XIV
King of France and Navarre
1 September 1715 – 10 May 1774
Succeeded by
Louis XVI
French royalty
Preceded by
Dauphin of France
8 March 1712 – 1 September 1715
Succeeded by
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