Louis XV (king of France)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Louis XV (king of France)

Louis XV, 1710–74, king of France (1715–74), great-grandson and successor of King Louis XIV, son of Louis, titular duke of Burgundy, and Marie Adelaide of Savoy.

Early Reign

Louis succeeded to the throne with Philippe II, duc d'Orléans (see Orléans, family) as regent. After the regent died (1723), the king was guided by André Hercule de Fleury, his main adviser from 1726. When Fleury died in 1743, the king decided not to appoint a chief minister. Louis, however, lacked both the will and interest to govern forcefully, and his reign was influenced by a succession of favorites. Of these, Mme de Pompadour and her adherents were the most important and were in favor from the 1730s until 1764. The comtesse Du Barry was installed in 1768 and retained her influence until the king's death.

Foreign Affairs

While Louis was king, France was involved in a series of wars. As a result of the king's marriage (1725) to Marie Leszcynska, France took part in the War of the Polish Succession (see Polish Succession, War of the), and eventually obtained (1766) the duchy of Lorraine for its efforts. Louis's diplomacy, which was often conducted secretly by the king's personal agents rather than through his official ministers, involved France in the War of the Austrian Succession against Austria (see Austrian Succession, War of the) and, after a switch of alliances that realigned (1756) France with Austria, in the Seven Years War. The Treaty of Paris (see Paris, Treaty of, 1763), ending the Seven Years War, marked the loss of most of France's colonial empire and a low point in French prestige on the Continent.

Domestic Policies

The domestic abuses of Louis XIV's rule and the disastrous financial policy of the regency were partly liquidated by Fleury, but the extravagances of Louis XV's court, the expense of warfare, and the defeat of attempts at reform left the monarchy weak by the time of the king's death. Efforts to reform the inequitable tax system failed, as did the attempt by René Nicolas de Maupeou to suppress opposition to reform from the parlement.

Throughout Louis's reign, the aristocracy asserted more influence, and the upper bourgeoisie gained more financial power. The country knew general prosperity, but the government was near bankruptcy. The apathy of Louis XV in the face of these problems found expression in the saying "Après moi le déluge" [after me, the flood], wrongly attributed to the king himself. The failure of the monarchy to solve its fiscal difficulties led directly to the French Revolution during the reign of Louis's successor, Louis XVI.

Bibliography

See P. Gaxotte, Louis the Fifteenth and His Times (1934); G. P. Gooch, Louis XV; the Monarchy in Decline (1956); A. Cobban, A History of Modern France, Vol. I (1957, repr. 1969).

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