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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 and industry.

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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