Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV
King Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV, the King of France was born in 1638 at St.
Germain-en-Laye France. Louis XIV succeeded his father
Louis XIII, when he was only four. Anne of Austria ruled on
his behalf until 1651. He ruled from 1643 to 1715 (72 years
the longest reign in modern European history). He was
styled the Grand Monarch, and his brilliant court at
Versailles became a model and the despair of other less rich
and powerful princes who accepted his theory of absolute
monarch. Until 1661 the government was largely in the
hands of the wily Italian Cardinal Mazarin. At the Cardinal's
death Louis declared that he would be his own Prime
Minister. From then on he worked faithfully at his "trade of
a King". Mazarin had taught him to choose wise counselors.
The greatest of Louis' ministers was Jean Baptiste Colbert.
Colbert reorganized French Finance and promoted economy
Louis fought in four major wars. His great aim was to make himself supreme in Europe. A
passion for fame and a desire to increase French territory in Europe were the leading
motives of Louis XIV. He neglected the opportunities to gain an empire in America and
India and involved France in wars that ruined the country financially and paved the way for
the outbreak of the French Revolution. In the first of three wars fought between 1667 and
1697, Louis hoped to recapture all lands that had ever been under French rule. He gained
important territories, but his aggressive move led other countries to form alliances against
him. In the fourth war the War of the Spanish Succession, Louis fought to protect his
grandson Phillip V's right to be King of Spain.
By the mid 17th century increased activity by the English in Newfoundland caused concern
for the French. The French had no intention of allowing the English to interfere with their
fishing activities as the fish trade was of great importance to France's economy. King Louis
XIV of France reacted to the English's presence by giving the order that a colony be
established at Placentia, France's principle fishing base in Newfoundland and
communication link with New France.
After 1685, Louis' reign was less glorious than in earlier years. Colbert, who died in 1683,
could no longer prevent the King from fighting wars and plunging the country into debt.
Louis built a magnificant palace at Versailles, where he and his court lived in luxury. King Louis XIV died in 1715 and he was succeeded by Louis XV, his great-grandson.
The reign of Louis XV (1723-1774)
On the death of the regent, Louis XV acceded to the throne. But the real power was held first by the
Duke of Bourbon, then by Cardinal de Fleury, who managed to redress the economy. In 1730, the
clergy refused Christian burial to the famous actress Adrienne Lecouvreur, whose body was thrown
on the city dump. Louis XV governed by himself between 1743 and 1758.
The same year as the
disastrous Battle of Rossbach (1757), the publication of the Encyclopedia was forbidden. The king
entrusted the ruling of the kingdom to the Duke of Choiseul, who indirectly favoured parliament and
the philosophers' opposition. In 1770, with the arrival of the Maupeou, Aiguillon and Terray
triumvirate, tougher measures were taken. A growing interest in all forms of science developed and
would be pursued under the following reign. France's cultural influence had never been so
profound (Voltaire was summoned to the court of Frederick II of Prussia), but, in foreign affairs,
despite a number of military successes, the nation appeared politically weakened, as the loss of
Canada in 1763 was to prove.
The Marquise de Pompadour became the king's mistress in 1745, the year in which Voltaire was
appointed historiographer to the king. She was to play an important role in the domain of arts and
letters. She secured a post for her brother, the Marquis de Marigny, as Administrator of Royal
Residences. Carefully prepared for his new duties, the latter judiciously gave commissions to artists
of the rocaille style, like Boucher and Fragonard, as well as to more classical artists, like Greuze,
Vernet, CarleVan Loo and Vien.
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