Louis XV, king of France, great-grandson and successor of the preceding, born in Versailles, Feb. 15, 1710, died there, May 10,1774. He was the third son of Louis, duke of Burgundy, and of Maria Adelaide of Savoy. He bore at first the title of duke of Anjou, and afterward, his elder brothers having died, of dauphin. The will of Louis XIV. had provided that during the minority of his successor the kingdom should be governed by a regency, with the duke of Orleans, cousin of the young king, at its head. The duke, however, induced the parliament of Paris to set aside the will and declare him sole regent as first prince of the blood. • The regent at first restored to the parliament some of the rights which it had lost in the preceding reigns, and took measures to promote agriculture, commerce, and the other public interests. Though the intrigues of Cardinal Alberoni, the ambitious and able Spanish minister, drove France into war with Spain (1719-'21), the policy of the regent was on the whole pacific.
He engaged with eagerness in the financial and commercial schemes of Law, which finally threw the country into confusion and produced almost universal bankruptcy. (See Law, John.) In 1723 Louis was declared to be of age, and the regent became prime minister; but he died the same year, and was succeeded by the duke of Bourbon, and he in turn by Cardinal Fleury, who had been tutor to the king in childhood, and had won the love and confidence of his pupil. In September, 1725, the king was married to Maria Leszczynski, daughter of Stanislas, ex-king of Poland, a princess of little personal beauty, but of amiable disposition and most exemplary and pious life. The policy of Fleury was even more pacific than that of the duke of Orleans. He was so averse to war, that even when compelled to undertake it he carried it on without vigor and with most reluctant acquiescence in the necessary expenditures. He labored incessantly to preserve peace among his neighbors, and hostilities in Europe were repeatedly averted by his mediation. In 1733 Augustus II. of Poland died, and Stanislas, the father-in-law of Louis, claimed the vacant throne.
His pretensions were supported by France, and those of Frederick Augustus of Saxony by Austria and Russia. This led to war (1733-'5), in which the French armies won several victories; and though Stanislas failed to recover the kingdom of Poland, he acquired the duchy of Lorraine. The war was closed by the treaty of Vienna, Nov. 18, 1738. On the death of the emperor Charles VI. of Germany in 1740, Louis, who had some claims himself to the succession, maintained the claims of Charles Albert, elector of Bavaria, against those of Maria Theresa, who was supported by England. The French armies were at first beaten and driven out of Bohemia and Bavaria, and the navy, which had been neglected by the parsimonious Fleury, suffered greatly from the English fleets. Louis himself took the field in May, 1744, and the genius of Marshal Saxe restored the honor of the French arms in the victories of Fontenoy, Raucoux, and Lawfeldt, by which the Austrian Netherlands were almost entirely conquered (1745-'7). The war was ended by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, Oct. 18, 1748, and resulted in no gain to France but military fame, though the treaty gave her back Louisburg in America, which had been taken by the New Englanders in 1745. For several years after his marriage Louis had shown a regard for chastity and decency unusual among the mon-archs of Europe at that period; but about 1737 his profligate courtiers had systematically exerted themselves to corrupt his principles and his life.
They ultimately succeeded, and Louis plunged into the grossest debauchery. Multitudes of ladies became suitors for the royal favor, and the highest nobles of France emulated each other in their endeavors to have the honor of pandering to the appetites of the monarch. The queen was wholly neglected, and the history of the government soon became intimately connected with the changes of the king's mistresses. The most noted of these were Chateauroux, Pompadour, and Du Barry. The debaucheries of the king culminated at length in the establishment at Versailles of the parc aux cerfs, or deer park, as it was facetiously called, a harem in which were kept for the pleasures of the king a number of young girls enticed or torn from their homes by the royal agents. They were changed in rapid succession, and Louis spent much of his time in teaching them to read and write, and in instructing them in religious matters. He was in the habit of praying with them, and after he became tired of their charms took pains to have them married, and gave them each a considerable dower.
In 1756 disputes with England about the boundaries of the French and English territories in America resulted in the seven years' war (1756-'63), in which France lost Quebec and Canada by the victory of Wolfe over Montcalm, Sept. 13-18, 1759, lost India by the victories of Clive, and lost her navy by the victories of Hawke and other English admirals. The French armies were beaten at Rossbach and at Minden; and at last, by the peace of Paris, in February, 1763, France ceded to England Canada, Nova Scotia, all the rest of her possessions in North America east of the Mississippi, and the islands of Grenada, Dominica, and Tobago in the West Indies. She came out of the contest humiliated and disgraced, with her finances exhausted and her foreign commerce nearly destroyed. During the war an attempt by a fanatic named Da-miens to assassinate the king revived for a time the popularity of Louis; but the unfortunate issue of the contest and the ensuing distress tended much to alienate the people from the crown. Internally the kingdom was greatly disturbed by contests between the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, growing out of attempts on the part of the clergy to enforce the papal bull Unigenitus, which were resisted by the parliaments.
The king was at length induced to banish the Jesuits, whose quarrel with the Jansenists had fomented these dissensions. The parliament of Provence having issued a decree depriving the pope of Avignon and the county of Venaissin, which had long belonged to the holy see, Louis seized those territories in 1708. In the same year Genoa ceded Corsica to France, though the French troops did not succeed in subduing the island till the following year. The rest of this reign was occupied by struggles between the king and the parliaments, in which the royal authority finally triumphed. Louis, however, did not long enjoy his triumph. A young girl with whom he had a transient amour communicated to him the smallpox, which, together with a shameful malady from which he was already suffering, caused his death in a few days. His personal vices and his misgovernment had prepared the way for the overthrow of the monarchy, which carried with it to destruction his successor. Louis XV. was himself fully aware of the perilous state of the kingdom, and his only anxiety in his latter years was that the tottering fabric should last as long as he did.
His lusts and extravagances and his needless and costly wars had exhausted the treasury and increased the burden of debt and taxation; and as all the taxes and imposts pressed entirely upon the citizens and peasants, while the wealthy nobles and the clergy were exempt, the middle classes were heavily burdened, especially as the government did not collect the. revenues itself, but sold them to the extortionate and unscrupulous farmers general. In the midst, however, of the national distress and the general confusion of affairs, a great intellectual movement was apparent in France during this reign, and the third estate, as the middle classes were called, gradually acquired by its wealth and intelligence a considerable degree of social and political influence. A spirit of boldness, mingled with levity in thought and intellectual speculation, was strikingly manifested in conversation and literature. Everything was doubted, everything attacked, and the shameless corruption which pervaded both church and state provoked a criticism whose searching inquiry spared neither religion nor social order nor the political organization of the country.
The skeptical tendency of the times manifested itself in great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, D'Alembert, Con-dillac, and Helvetius, and in works like the great Dictionnaire encyclopedique, which produced an immense agitation in the public mind. The excesses of the court and of the clergy, exposed and satirized by the wits and authors, debased the monarchy and the church in the eyes of the people, and brought about an intellectual revolution, which was the precursor and the cause of the political revolution which took place in the succeeding reign.