Louis XV Part I : Childhood and early reign


Louis XV “ le Bien-Aimé “ ( the Well-Beloved ) was King of France and Navarre from the 1st of September 1715 until his death in May 1774.

Louis de France, of the Bourbon house, was born during the reign of King Louis XIV, his great-grandfather. Louis, titled Duke of Anjou at his birth the 15th of February 1710, is the son of the Petit Dauphin, also named Louis de France and Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie. The future Louis XV is the fourth in line to the succession ( after his grandfather, father and older brother ).

Unfortunately, the end of Louis XIV’s reign is marked by a series of death in the royal family which will even led the Sun King to cry in public. In 1711, the Dauphin died of smallpox, followed the next year by his son the Duke of Burgundy and daughter-in-law Marie-Adélaïde, taken by measles. Still in the year 1712, the future Louis XV and his older brother the young Duke of Brittany contracted measles, Brittany died the 8th of March 1712 and at the age of two, Louis de France is an orphan and the heir of an old King, once the most powerful monarch of Europe.

Despite having survived the measles, the young Dauphin’s health is fragile. He often fell ill but his governess prevented the doctors to bleed him repetitively, which abused could kill him like his brother. At the age of four, the Sun King considered that his heir was ready to be given a preceptor, an abbot who taught him how to read, write and the basics of history, geography and religious teaching. At the age of five, he started to learn the art of dancing as well as many other teachings.

In 1715, the Sun King then 76 years old ordered his young heir to be present with him in ceremonial matters in order to make him used to public life. Louis de France, five years old, met several ambassadors ( the most notable meeting was with the Persian Ambassador ), participated in military parades. Louis XIV died the first September 1715, letting a five year old King in charge of a world power. Six days before taking his last breath, the Sun King had a long conversation with his heir, explaining to him the important matter that he will play in his life. The most notable part of this conversation was the advice given by Louis XIV, not to make the same mistakes he himself did during his reign :

 Your happiness depends on your submission to God and the care you will take on your people. To achieve this task, you have to avoid war as much as you can, war is the ruin of the people. Do not follow the terrible example I gave you on this matter, I too often waged war without much forethought and continued it due to vanity. Do not imitate me, be a pacifist prince and make your principal care the relief of your subjects

Louis de France is now Louis XV and had his first tasks as King during the days following the death of his late great-grandfather. But at the age of five, King Louis was not expected to rule on his own and the power is given to a regent, Philippe de France, Duke of Orléans.

With the death of Louis XIV, Louis XV is now the last of a direct line and France will have to wait years before seeing the birth of an heir. The Sun King, considering that the end of his line could be a possibility should the young King dies before having a male son, changed the succession laws and legitimized his illegitimates sons but the Regent, broke these laws and as a cousin of the young monarch, became the heir of the French throne.

The Regent did not followed all the instructions the Sun King had let him. He weakened the absolute monarchy but gave Louis XV the opportunity to appear publicly many times in Paris, which population will soon learn to love and give him the nickname of the Well-Beloved. With a weak monarchy during the regency and the memories of the difficult beginning of Louis XIV’s reign ( the Fronde ), the Regent moved the King and his court back to Paris ( instead of Versailles ) and gave back to the parliament the power the late King had taken away. The parliamentarians, mostly composed of wealthy persons, were more powerful than before and had the task to represent the people. They can address the King their disapproval of royal decisions or cease all kind of activities ( similar to a strike ).

In 1721, the Regent fought Spain and forced the Spanish monarch to renounce his claims on France and Louis XV is betrothed to the Infanta Mariana Victoria. During the regency, France also changed alliances and sought treaties with unusual nations such as Britain, the Netherlands or Austria. Louis XV is crowned following the usual ceremonies at the cathedral of Reims the 25th of October 1722 when he came to age at 13 years old. The next year saw the death of the Regent, the Duke of Orléans and despite being able to take in charge the kingdom, the 13 years old King decides to let the Duke of Bourbon, a distant cousin but close advisor, in charge of the government.

For Bourbon, one of his first task would be to make sure the young monarch produces an heir. His Majesty’s weak health has always been a threat to the perpetuity of the Bourbon royal line and should he die without an heir, the throne would go to another branch of the family, the Orléans. In 1725, the government decides to break the betrothal with the Princess of Spain Mariana Victoria, she is too young for the King and it would take many years before she comes of age. Then began an amazing process of searching Princesses. A list of all single Princess of Europe is made in a book and, because of many criteria , is little by little reduced. The names of older Princesses are quickly taken away, those who are not catholic as well, the one who are suspected of infertility ( or weak fertility ) do not meet the requirements…Etc. The Princess chosen to marry the King of France is Maria Leszczyńska, daughter of the deposed Polish King Stanisław Leszczyński . At first, the position of the Princess does not make everyone happy in France, but the King agrees to the union the 5th of September 1725. 15 years old King Louis XV and 22 years old Princess Maria Leszczyńska celebrate their wedding at the castle of Fontainebleau. The worries about the status of Maria quickly disappeared, her charity and the fondness the King had for her made the new Queen popular.

Soon after his wedding with the Polish Princess, King Louis XV decides to take charge of his Kingdom by himself, following many instructions his predecessor left him. During the regency and the years Louis XV let others rule in his stead,  the absolute monarchy was heavily weakened.
From now on, the King, helped by the Cardinal André Hercule de Fleury, will rule France…

To be continued