Louis XV was king of France from 1715 to 1774. He was nicknamed ‘the Well-Beloved’.
Louis was born at Versailles on 15 February 1710. Because he had two older brothers (though only one survived to adulthood) and both his father and grandfather were still alive, nobody ever thought Louis would become king.
A scourge of disease
Louis’ grandfather caught smallpox and died in 1711 when the boy was just one year old. On the 12th February, 1712, his mother caught the measles and died, followed four days later by his father.
On the 7th March, Louis and his older brother were both diagnosed with measles. At the time, the usual treatment was blood letting.
His older brother did not survive the blood-letting and Louis himself would have died had his governess not put a stop to it. With the death of his brother, Louis became the dauphin – next in line to succeed the throne of France. When he was just five years old, his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, died.
Louis the child became the King of France.
His Majesty the Child
A small child cannot rule. He needed a regent – someone to rule in his place. His cousin, the Duke of Orleans became Regent.
The Regent quickly moved King Louis away from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. There he was under the care of his governor – Francois de Vileroy – and a tutor by the name of Andre-Hercule de Fleury who would one day be Louis’ chief minister. There, the young king learned languages, history, geography, mathematics and music. His passions were science and geography.
He was so inspired by his studies that he opened departments in the College of France dedicated to science and geography; he even sponsored the first ever accurate map of France!
His Own Reign
On 15th February 1723, Louis was thirteen and deemed old enough to reign. He was crowned King, officially ending the Regency. The Regent became prime minister and continued to rule the government because Louis was not very interested in government business.
Marriage and Children
After the coronation, the first order of business was to find the king a wife to produce as many royal sons as possible. 23-year-old Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of the once- king of Poland, was chosen to marry the now 15-year-old king.
Together they had ten children; eight daughters and two sons (one of whom survived to adulthood). The King and his bride were not particularly close though they seemed to get along well enough. Queen Marie was a deeply religious woman who spent much of her time at prayer or hosting small music parties while the king was more interested in hunting and finding new mistresses.
Reign of Mistresses
Because Louis was not particularly interested in government, he did not spend much time running the country. He was heavily influenced by a series of favourites, particularly his mistresses Madame de Pompadour and, after Pompadour’s death in 1764, the Comtesse du Barry. He became well known among the people as inexperienced and far too easily swayed by the whims of his mistresses. Soon, people began to loose faith in his ability to rule.
Rivalry of Mme du Barry and Marie Antoinette
To seal an alliance with Austria after a long-drawn-out war, archduchess Marie Antoinette was brought to France to marry Louis’ grandson, the future Louis XVI. Little Marie Antoinette was only fourteen at the time and caused the king a great many issues in her rivalry against his mistress, Madame du Barry.
Having been brought up by such a formidable mother, Marie Antoinette was firmly against the idea of mistresses. She refused to speak to Madame du Barry and actively excluded her from parties and social gatherings. The whole court was divided between the younger, newer nobles who supported Louis’ mistress and the older, more devout nobles who supported Marie Antoinette.
This rivalry went on for two years. Louis even considered breaking the alliance with Austria and sending Marie Antoinette home, but the women eventually made peace – much to the pleasure of the king.
Decades of war, most especially the Seven Years War against Austria, left France deeply in debt. Louis did nothing to resolve this debt; in fact his extravagant life at court only added to the problem.
However, despite his failings, Louis managed to keep peace within France – no foreign armies crossed the French border during his 59-year reign.
In 1774 Louis caught smallpox. He was attended by his mistress, Madame du Barry, and his three remaining daughters known collectively as Mesdames Tantes.
He died on the 10th May, 1774, and was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI.