Birth of Louis XV of France

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Birth of Louis XV of France


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


For a king to be directly followed on his throne by his great-grandson is rare indeed and the boy born in the Palace of Versailles that day was an unlikely candidate. France was still in the grip of Louis XIV, the Sun King, now 72 and the richest and most powerful ruler in Europe. His heir was his only surviving legitimate son, the Dauphin Louis. His heir in turn was his son Louis, Duke of Burgundy, whose wife was the delightful Marie-Adelaide, 'the Rose of Savoy.' She was a child bride when they were married in 1697 and she brought a welcome girlishness and sparkle to Versailles. She and her husband fell rapturously in love and at court provided an unusual spectacle of matrimonial happiness. When she bore their first son, still another Louis, the Sun King pointed out that he was the first king of France ever to have a great-grandson while himself still in working order. Their second son, born in 1710, was christened Louis yet again and the succession seemed fully assured.

Death proved to have other ideas. The Dauphin Louis died at the age of 49 in 1711. To the relief of some at Versailles, the likeable and intelligent 28-year-old Duke of Burgundy was now the heir to Louis XIV. In February 1712, however, Marie-Adelaide died of measles and her devoted husband, who apparently insisted on remaining at her bedside throughout, also came down with the disease and died before the end of the week, followed by their eldest son, who died early in March.

His younger brother caught the disease as well, but his aristocratic governess, Madame de Ventadour, hid him in a room in the enormous palace and kept him out of the way of the royal doctors while she treated him herself. He recovered and, bereft of his parents and brother at the age of two, he was heir to France. From then on he called Madame de Ventadour 'Maman'.

In August of 1715 it became clear that Louis XIV was dying, after the longest reign in French history. Confined to his bed in Versailles and suffering agonies from gangrene, on August 26th he had his five-year-old heir brought to him and told him that he would soon be king and should avoid making war wherever possible and take good care of his subjects, summing the message up as: 'Do not copy me.' Five days later, at 8.20 on the morning of September 1st the Sun King slipped quietly away 'like a candle flickering out', a courtier said. …

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