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LOUIS XV.

died in 1683, Madame de Maintenon shortly afterwards (in 1684) became the king’s wife, though this was never officially declared. Under her influence the court lost most of its gaiety, and religion came to exercise much control over the life and the policy of the king.

The first years of the king’s rule were marked by the great schemes of Colbert for the financial, commercial, industrial and naval reorganization of France, and in these schemes Louis took a deep interest. But in 1667 began the long series of wars, which lasted with little real intermission to the end of the reign (see France). In the steps that led to these wars and in their conduct the egotistic ambition and the vanity of the king played an important part; though he never showed real military skill and took no share in any military operations except in certain sieges. The War of Devolution (cr the Queen’s War) in 1667-68 to enforce the queen’s claim to certain districts in the Spanish Netherlands, led to the Dutch War (1672-78), and in both these wars the supremacy of the French armies was clearly apparent. The next decade (1678–1688) was the real turning-point in the history of the reign, and the strength of France was seriously diminished. The chief cause of this is to be found in the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The church had always opposed this settlement and had succeeded in altering it in many points. Now the new religious zeal and the autocratic temper of Louis XIV. came to the support of the church. The French Huguenots found their privileges decreased, and then, in 1685, the edict was altogether withdrawn. The results were ruinous to France. It was not only that she lost many thousands of her best citizens, but this blow against Protestantism deprived her of those Protestant alliances in Europe which had been in the past her great diplomatic support. Then the English Revolution came in 1688 and changed England from a wavering ally into the most determined of the enemies of France.

The war with the Grand Alliance, of which King William III. was the heart and soul, lasted from 1688 to 1697; and the treaty of Ryswick, which brought it to an end, deprived France of certain territories on her frontier. But Louis saw in the Spanish question a chance of more than making up for this loss. The Spanish king Charles II. was dying, and the future of the possessions of Spain was doubtful. The astute diplomacy of Louis succeeded in winning the inheritance for his grandson Philip. But this involved France and Europe in an immense war (1700) and by the peace of Utrecht (1713), though the French prince retained the Spanish crown, France had again to make concessions of territory.

Louis XIV. had shown wonderful tenacity of purpose during this disastrous war, and sometimes a nobler and more national spirit than during the years of his triumphs. But the condition of France was terrible. She was burdened with debt; the reforms of Colbert were ruined; and opposition to the king’s régime began to make itself felt. Peace brought some relief to France, but the last years of the king’s life were gloomy in the extreme. His numerous descendants seemed at-one time to place the succession beyong all difficulty. But his eldest son, the dauphin, died in April 1711; his eldest grandson the duke of Burgundy in February 1712; and his great-grandson the duke of Brittany in March 1712. The heir to the throne was now the duke of Burgundy’s son, the duke of Anjou, afterwards Louis XV. The king died on the first of September 1715, after the longest recorded reign in European history. The judgment of posterity has not repeated the flattering verdict of his contemporaries; but he remains the model of a great king in all that concerns the externals of kingship.

The reign of Louis XIV. is particularly rich in memoirs describing the life of the court. The chief are Madame de Motteville’s memoirs for the period of the Fronde, and the letters of Madame de Sévigné and the memoirs of Saint-Simon for the later period. The king's ideas are best seen in the Mémoires de Louis X I V. pour l'instruction du dauphin (edited by Dreyss, 2 vols.). His private life is revealed in the letters of Madame de Maintenon and in those of Madame, Duchesse d'Orléans. Of the ordinary historians of France Michelet is fullest on the Private life of the king. Mention may also be made of Voltaire, Siécle de Louis XIV.; P. Clément, Histoire de la vie et de l'administration de Colbert; Sainte-Beuve, Causeries de lundi. Full bibliographies of the reign will be found in G. Monod's Bibliographie de l’histoire de France; vol. v. (“The Age of Louis XIV.”)'of the Cambridge Modern History; and vol. vi. (“ Louis XIV.") of the Histoire générale of Lavisse and Rambaud.  (A. J. G.*) 


LOUIS XV. (1710–1774), king of France, was the great-grand-son of Louis XIV. and the third son of Louis, duke of Burgundy, and Marie Adelaide, princess of Savoy. The first son had died in 1705, and in 1712 the second son, the duke of Brittany, as well as his father and mother, was carried off by a mysterious disease. Louis was thus unexpectedly brought into the line of the succession, and was only five years old when Louis XIV. died. The dead king had endeavoured by his will to control the administration even after his death by a carefully selected council of regency, in which the duke of Orleans should have only the nominal presidency; but with the help of the parlement of Paris the arrangement was at once set aside, and the duke was declared regent with full traditional powers. The duke had capacity, but his life was so licentious that what influence he had upon the king was for evil. Fleury, bishop of Fréjus, was appointed his tutor, and the little king was sincerely attached to him. The king attained his legal majority at the age of thirteen, shortly before the death of the duke of Orleans. His first minister was the incapable duke of Bourbon, who in 1725 procured the repudiation of the Spanish princess, to whom the king had been betrothed, and his marriage to Maria Leszczynska, daughter of the exiled king of Poland, then resident in Alsace. In 1726 the duke of Bourbon was displaced by the king’s tutor, Bishop (afterwards Cardinal) Fleury, who exercised almost absolute power, for the king took little interest in affairs of state. His administration was successful and peaceful until the year 1734, when a disputed succession in Poland brought about the interference of France on behalf of the queen’s father. France was unsuccessful in her immediate object, but at the peace of Vienna (1735) secured the possession of Lorraine. Up to this point the reign had been prosperous; but from this time on it is a record of declining national strength, which was not compensated by some days of military glory. Fleury’s great age (he died still in office at the age of ninety) prevented him from really controlling the policy of France and of Europe. In I74O the war of the Austrian Succession broke out and France drifted into it as an ally of Frederick of Prussia and the enemy of England, and of Maria Theresa of Austria.

On Fleury’s death in 1743 no one took his place, and the king professed to adopt the example of Louis XIV. and to establish a personal autocracy. But he was not strong enough in will or intellect to give unity to the administration. The marquis d’Argenson writes that at the council table, Louis “opened his mouth, said little and thought not at all,” and again that “under the appearance of personal monarchy it was really anarchy that reigned.” He had followed too in his domestic life the example of his predecessors. The queen for some time seems to have secured his affections, and she bore him seven children. But soon we hear of the royal mistresses. The first to acquire notoriety was the duchess of Châteauroux, the third sister of one family who held this position. She was at least in part the cause of the only moment of popularity which the king enjoyed. She urged him to take part personally in the war. France had just received a humiliating check at Dettingen, and the invasion of the north-eastern frontier was feared. The king went to Metz in 1744, and his presence there did something to ward off the danger. While the nation felt genuine gratitude for his energy and its success, he was reported to have fallen dangerously ill. The king, of whom it was said that the fear of hell was the only part of religion which had any reality for him, now dismissed the duchess of Châteauroux and promised amendment. Prayers were offered everywhere for his recovery, and the country was swept by a delirium of loyal enthusiasm, which conferred on him the title of Louis le bien aimé. But his future life disappointed all these hopes. The duchess of Châteauroux died in the same year, but her place was taken in 1745 by Madame de Pompadour. This woman had philanthropic impulses and some real interest in art and