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Became king of France in 1715, Louis XV aroused hope and enthusiasm throughout the kingdom. The beginning of the reign is presented under the best auspices and the young king receives the nickname of Beloved. A few decades later, the mood is very different. Loss of Canada, Louisiana and the Indies following the disastrous Seven Years' War, expensive festivals, influence of his mistresses, reforms too timid or too late ... the reproaches are legion. Of a vague character, Louis XV proved incapable of promoting the reforms necessary to modernize the country and meet the new aspirations of his subjects. Royal absolutism is in crisis and the seeds of the French Revolution are planted.
Louis XV the Beloved
Born in Versailles on February 15, 1710, the future Louis XV is the great-grandson of Louis XIV and the son of the Duke of Burgundy. He became king on September 1, 1715, and settled in the Tuileries in 1716 during the regency of Philippe of Orleans. It was entrusted to the good care of Madame de Ventadour and Marshal de Villeroy, as well as to Cardinal de Fleury, to whom Louis owed his excellent education and an interest in science and technology, which he would encourage during his reign.
Louis XV came of age in 1723 the year of the death of the Duke of Orleans. Married to Marie Leszczynska, daughter of the King of Poland, in 1725, he left responsibility for business for a long time to Cardinal Fleury, his tutor. This period is the most prosperous of the reign. Resisting the opposition of the Parliament of Paris and the Jansenists, Fleury strives to restore the balance of public finances, promoting the development of the economy and colonial trade (Atlantic treaty, triangular trade).
Pacifist, he leads a policy of peace abroad. but let himself be drawn into the War of the Polish Succession (1723-1738) to support the king's stepfather, Stanislas Leszczynski. The Treaty of Vienna (1738) put an end to the conflict and the Duchy of Lorraine was bequeathed to France upon the death of Stanislas in 1766.
Then, in 1740, the War of the Austrian Succession broke out, which was marked by the useless victory of Fontenoy (1745) and which ended in 1748 with the unconquered peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Louis XV has long been criticized for having "worked for the King of Prussia", his ally and sole beneficiary of the conflict.
The Pompadour coregency
Fleury's death in 1743 led Louis XV to take more interest in the conduct of the kingdom: he announced his intention to govern personally and did not appoint a Prime Minister. With a fragile and withdrawn personality, he quickly came under the influence of his many favorites, in particular that of the Duchess of Châteauroux and the Marquise de Pompadour, of bourgeois origin. The latter, beautiful, intelligent and cultivated, is a woman of power, a friend of the encyclopedists and a regular at the salons of the Age of Enlightenment. For nearly twenty years, the Pompadour acted like a true sovereign: it made and defeated ministers, advised ambassadors, overturned alliances, corresponded with the military. His initiatives are far from happy and his influence with the king is mainly content to flatter the weaknesses of the monarch.
France then experienced a period of internal divisions, caused by the opposition of the parliament to the fiscal policy of the king (who wanted to make the privileged pay to provide new income to the state) and to his religious policy. In addition, several ministers want to keep Madame de Pompadour away and prevent France from getting too far involved with Austria in a new European war.
Symbol of the monarch's growing unpopularity, the king is the object of an inconsequential attack that leaves the kingdom indifferent. On February 5, 1757, the son of a family of ruined farmers, Robert François Damiens, wishing to remind the king of his duties towards his subjects, gave Louis XV a knife. Condemned as a regicide, he suffered a harsh torture: his hand was burnt with molten lead and was quartered at the Place de Grève.
The Seven Years' War
The colonial rivalries between France and England were such that, in 1755, the English boarded several hundred French merchant ships and in 1756 allied themselves with the Prussia of Frederick II, while Louis XV signed the same year with Marie - Therese of Austria the Treaty of Versailles. It was the start of the Seven Years' War which was to unfold on two fronts: in the Holy Empire and overseas. In Germany, after the invasion of Saxony by Frederick II and the alliance of France and Austria with Russia and Sweden, the Prussians were driven out of Bohemia, beaten at Kloster Zeven, then victorious at Rossbach and Leuthen (1757). Then, in 1759, the Russians crushed the Prussian army in Kunersdorf and occupied Berlin in 1760. But the advent of Tsar Peter III led to the signing in 1762 of a separate peace between Russia and Prussia.
Quebec "/> France then gets bogged down in a conflict which is going very badly, especially since, in the second theater of operations, the French troops suffer defeat after defeat: after having recaptured Menorca invaded by the French, the English fleet cut France off from its colonies. In Canada, Montcalm, which lost the valley of the St. Lawrence, then Quebec, was killed at the battle of Abraham (1759); Montreal capitulated (1760). In India, Dupleix, governor of Chandemagor, previously consolidated the French positions with the local princes by exchanging military protection for commercial privileges granted to the East India Company. He first effectively fought the English, the fleet of La Bourdonnais succeeding in seizing Madras in 1746; but Dupleix was recalled in 1754, and the French troops commanded by Thomas Lally, Baron de Tollendal, in difficulty, were forced to capitulate in Pondicherry (1762).
Finally, while France tries to lean on Spain, England occupies Florida and Cuba. We must resign ourselves to dealing. By the Treaty of Paris (February 1763), France left to England Canada, part of Louisiana and the West Indies, its possessions in Senegal, and compensated Spain by ceding the rest of Louisiana to England. France keeps Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue, but only keeps five defenseless counters in India (Pondicherry, Chandemagor, Karikal, Mahé and Yanaon). The British now have a free hand in America and India, while the elites in France are unaware of the long-term consequences of these catastrophic losses.
A difficult end of reign
After the successive deaths of the Marquise de Pompadour (1764) - who will be replaced by the Comtesse du Barry -, of the Dauphin (1765) and of the Queen (1768), Louis XV, isolated, had to face a double opposition: that privileged classes, hostile to tax reforms, and that of the Jansenists, allied to the Gallican parliamentarians (for an autonomy of the Church of France from Rome), fighting against the Roman party (Catholics who claim the total submission of the Church to the Pope) and denouncing royal absolutism.
In 1661, the arrival in business of Choiseul, who was to remain in power until 1770, corresponded to a relative improvement. Linked with the philosophers, protector of the Encyclopedia, fairly well regarded by parliamentary circles, Choiseul set about carrying out a series of large-scale reforms, notably within the navy and the army, and bought Corsica by France, even if he could not prevent the second partition of Poland.
Rather ambiguous in his choices, Choiseul nevertheless allowed the rebellion against royal power to develop and his benevolence towards parliamentarians (he endorsed the banishment of the Jesuits from the kingdom of France in 1767) ended up increasing disproportionately the arrogance of this real counter-power. When Choiseul left, fired in 1770, partly for displeasing the king's new mistress, Madame du Barry, the parliamentary crisis was more pressing than ever.
The king then hardened his position, calling on Maupeou, Terray and d'Aiguillon to impose a reorganization of finances, and to bring the parliaments in line (suppression of that of Paris in 1771). At the same time, liberal ideas in economic matters lead to the freedom of trade in "grains, flour and vegetables throughout the kingdom" (1763-1764), causing real riots in many towns and villages, with the abolition of the monopoly of the Compagnie des Indes (created by Law) and to the edicts of Triage and Closure (1767-1771), favoring individual agricultural property.
Louis XV did not succeed in reducing internal opposition, nor in reforming economic structures in depth, coming up against too many privileges and acquired positions. The loss of the first French colonial empire will be hardly compensated by the reunification of Lorraine with France and the acquisition of Corsica
The last days of Louis XV
In this month of April 1774, Louis XV is 64 years old and is in Trianon. Upon waking up on April 27, he had pain in his leg, a severe headache, and chills. Lunch is disgusting to him, it tastes like nothing. Even the hunting party does not delight him, he stays in his car and is very cold. The Duke of Cröy who accompanies him is worried, saying "the king is ill".
His first surgeon, Mr. de la Martinière, diagnosed a serious fever and insisted that the king return to Versailles "Sire, it is in Versailles that we must be sick". Ignoring Mme du Barry's advice, the surgeon organized the transport: under his coat, in a dressing gown, the king got into his car. His bed is made in haste, a camp bed is set up next to it. This is where he will end his days ...
The first doctor and the first surgeon consult each other and decree a treatment with the application of flies on the temples and the administration of opium. The King's Night is catastrophic. The next day, the medical men bleed him, but no improvement was visible. They are considering a second, or even a third bleeding if necessary. Louis XV knows what this means: after the third bloodletting, he will have to receive the last sacraments. These medical men are powerless, do not know what remedy to suggest and ask for the help of two colleagues: the doctor of Mme du Barry and a famous doctor from Paris. But no one can put a name on this evil.
Smallpox is declared
On the night of April 28 to 29, the king's face was covered with a rash, these are the symptoms of smallpox. The name is pronounced! Mr. de La Martinière dares to declare "that he regarded the king as lost". The royal family is asked not to approach and the rumor runs throughout the castle; from the servant to the courtier, everyone knows.
The king is surprised "it's smallpox, it's astonishing". Doctors try to reassure him by mentioning that "it looks like a relapse of chickenpox" that the king contracted a long time ago. In fact, he had been affected by this disease in 1728, but only slightly. Yet the monarch knows that survival is almost impossible because his two twin daughters died of this disease.
From this moment, the three last daughters of the king follow one another at his bedside during the day, the Countess du Barry ensures the night. The king's condition deteriorated and from May 1, the countess began to move her beautiful jewels, her papers and her most beautiful things; she knows that if the king disappears, she will have no protector. At Court and throughout Paris, the forty-hour prayer begins. The Archbishop of Paris arrives to confess the king, but without result: Louis XV does not accept it. On May 2, the sovereign's face and body were so full of pimples that the Duke of Cröy wrote “his head is red and as big as a bushel of the mass of smallpox”. On May 3, there is a small improvement and in a renewed hope, Louis XV wants to take care of the fate of the countess. He asks the Duke of Aiguillon, Secretary of State, to welcome Mme du Barry to her country house in Rueil and then talks with her one last time "now that I know my condition, I owe myself to God and to my people. So you must retire on time ". The countess, in tears, leaves Versailles for good.
The last duties of the king
On May 4, after mass celebrated in the king's chamber, the archbishop spoke with him. On the 5th, his confessor moved not far from the royal chamber just in case. But the king does not manage to confess, his fainting and his wounds prevent him from having a clear mind for this final act. Finally, on the night of May 6, he asks the abbot to come, then wishes to receive his daughters one last time. At 7 am, he had the Blessed Sacrament administered. Only the clergy are authorized to approach the patient, his daughters remain on the threshold of the room, the dauphine in the next room, the dauphin and his two other grandsons are asked to settle on the ground floor of the castle. .
After going to confession, the king feels calmer, accepts his fate calmly, and Mr. de la Martinière even notices a slight improvement. But on May 8, his condition suddenly worsened, the king was delirious, gangrene broke out, the infection became widespread. The servants begin to flee. On May 9, the agony is interminable, his eyelids are closed with so many scabs, his face is swollen and almost black, the king, who remains conscious, wonders how long his agony will last. He remembers that the agony of Henri II lasted ten days, that of Louis XIII six weeks and that of Louis XIV two weeks!
The Beloved is dead
As is customary, on the night of May 9 to 10, a lighted candle is placed on the balcony of the royal chamber, it will be blown out as soon as the king's death is noted. At 3 am, the king sees nothing more. At noon, he is unconscious and only the ecclesiastics pray around him, no one else is allowed to stay, the members of the Court and of the government are stationed at the threshold of the room whose doors are wide open, since the death of a sovereign must be public.
Between 3.15 p.m. and 3.30 p.m., the king expires. The candle is out. According to the protocol, the chamberlain wearing a hat with black feathers, appears at the window and writes "the king is dead", then changing his headgear for a hat with white feathers, reappears to announce "long live the king. ". As always in such circumstances, the courtiers flock to the apartments of the new sovereign.
Louis XV's discreet funeral
Still according to custom, embalming must be performed, the heart mummified and carried to a church in France. But faced with the state of the body, the men of medicine refuse: there is no embalming and the heart remains in its place. Workers put "these plagued remains" into beer, as written by Mme de Campan, Marie-Antoinette's maid. A single abbot watches over the dead man, carefully standing far away and carrying a handkerchief under his nose, the stench reigns in the room. No big ceremony is planned, the coffin leaves Versailles during the night, escorted by around forty guards and pages, towards the Saint Denis basilica. Only an official accompanies them, it is the childhood companion of Louis XV, Prince Charles de Rohan-Soubise. The funeral takes place on May 12; Parisians are indifferent; the provincials are much sadder and organize a large number of services for the repose of the king's soul.
His grandson the Duke of Berry succeeded him under the name of Louis XVI.
- Louis XV, biography of Jean-Christian Petitfils Perrin, 2014.
- Louis XV: Le Bien-Aimé, by Georges Bordonove. Pygmalion, 2013.