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Louis XV

Louis XV of France, the great-grandson of Louis XIV, was born at Fontainebleau the 15th of February, 1710. Death had been busy in the royal family of France in the last years of Louis XIV's life, and when he died he was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV, then only five years old. Louis became king on the 1st of September, 1715, the Duke of Orleans, a nephew of Louis XIV, being then appointed regent. The minority of Louis was a period of scandalous corruption in morals and politics. As chief of the Council of Regency and superintendent of the king's education, Louis Henri (Duc De Bourbon), Prince of Conde, robbed the public treasury and extorted huge bribes. Made prime minister in 1723, he persecuted the Protestants and granted exorbitant privileges to the India Company, in which he held shares, and was entirely controlled by his mistress, the Marquise de Prie. Seldom does history make mention of a King more averse to business, or more unacquainted with the affairs of his kingdom than Louis XV.

At the close of the regency of the Duke of Orleans the old regime in France was still in full vigor: the government of the country, the general social and intellectual condition of the people, were such as they long had been. Fifty-one years later, Louis XV. ended his inglorious reign; the old regime was then on the verge of dissolution, the beliefs and hopes of the French people had suffered more change than in the century preceding, the economical condition of the country had been greatly modified; a new literature had arisen, new ideas were found in books, were discussed in the salons, and were debated on the streets; the demand was widespread for new social conditions, for laws which should improve the lot of the poor, and should allow to all a greater freedom of thought and action. In this altered society the government still preserved the same outward form, but it needed no prophet to discern that institutions, which seemed as firmly rooted as those of the Medes and Persians when Louis XIV. was proclaimed the Great, were nearing their end when Louis XV. lay on his death-bed.

In the early part of his reign, he left every thing to Cardinal Fleury. The king declared, in imitation ot Louis XIV., that he would be his own prime minister, but Louis XV. lived chiefly to follow his pleasures, and the real ruler of I France was Fleury, who held charge of affairs till 1743.

With the death of Louis XIV, France closed a long period in her history beginning with the accession of Henry IV.-a period characterized in her internal history by the final completion of the absolute monarchy in fact and in theory, and in her external history by the attempt to humble the House of Hapsburg and to advance France to the dictatorship of Europe. The monarchy was now ideally absolute, but the dictatorship had not been gained. With the accession of Louis XV, France enters upon a new period of her history-she had been gradually entering upon it for the last twenty-five years, but it is more than another twenty-five years before she is really conscious of the change. It was an age in which her great rival was no longer Austria but England, and in which the prize at stake was not the dictatorship of Europe but the colonial empire of the world.

Louis XV came to the throne at the very dawn of an age of world politics, when those interests were beginning to arise which were by degrees to dwarf merely European issues into comparative insignificance, and to determine alliances, not by religious or dynastic considerations nor even by those of European balance of power, but by the interests of commerce and of colonial expansion. The failure of France to awake to this momentous change had already allowed England to make most dangerous advances. The odds, however, were still, in appearance at least, in favor of France. But the slow awakening of France in the next generation was fatal. Before the nation was fully alive to the situation its advantages had all been swept away, and England - the British Empire - had become so powerful that further rivalry seemed almost hopeless.

The duke of Choiseul was chief minister of France for some years. He was a skillful diplomatist, and, with the exception of Turgot, probably the ablest French minister between Louis XIV. and the Revolution ; but his ministry was not a success at home or abroad. France was now in a condition, exhausted with heavy burdens and eaten with abuses, where no ministry could be successful without the entire reconstruction of the state. Only the very highest statesmanship, backed by the long and steady support of the king, could have accomplished Reform such a reconstruction, and this was an impossible combination in the France of the last half of the eighteenth century. It would have been an impossible combination even if the France of that age had been plentifully supplied with statesmen of the highest abilities. A war which began between the French and Austrians in 1733 was waged on the Rhine and in Italy until 1735. Hostilities were suspended by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

There was a long period in which one could justly say that Mme. de Pompadour reigned in France ; she controlled the conduct of the king, she dictated the choice of ministers, she decided the policy of the state. It was in the years of peace following the close of the war of the Austrian Succession that the power and glory of the favorite were at their height; it was at this time that she ceased to be the king's mistress to become his confidential adviser, his prime minister without the title, and that she exercised her greatest influence on the sovereign and on society. In 1747, her theatre opened its doors with a representation of Tartuffe, and during the six years of its existence it was an object of more interest to the king and the court' than the condition of the French marine- or the growth of the French colonies.

About this period Louis ceased to take an active part in the government, withdrew his residence from his capital, secluded himself at Versailles, and abandoned himself to scandalous vices in the harem called the "Pare aux Cerfs." During all his life, he probably suffered more from ennui than any other man in Europe. The explanation was simple, and was found in the indolence and selfishness of his character ; his defects brought their own punishment; he was interested in nothing and he cared for no one, and, therefore, he was bored by everything and everybody. Louis XV was a king who readily resigned himself to whatever course seemed easiest at the moment, with the comfortable reflection that things would last as they were as long as he, and that his successor must look out for himself.

Louis XV died in May, 1774, leaving the kingdom impoverished, oppressed, and demoralized. He was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:45:22 ZULU