“I am the Sin King”
“I have forgiven myself royally”
Louis XV (that's 'the fifteenth,' for anyone brought up on Hollywood blockbusters) (XV February 1710 – 10 May 1774)) was King of France from 17-XV to 1774. He became absolute monarch at the age of five, taking firm control of his country with his pudgy little hands from his senile Great Grand Pappy King Louis XIV. Louis liked furniture, which is why he is also known as 'Louis Quinze' for his chairs and sofas. He is the inventor of the king-sized mattress.
This Louis sequential is usually classified as one of France's worst kings, managing to lose a succession of wars against Great Britain, Prussia and even the raddled Hapsburg Empire of Austria. The country fell into a deep debt, though unnoticed by Louis, who was too busy chasing petticoats around the Palace of Versailles.
Why did it go wrong?
Little Louie became king as his grandfather Louis the Dauphin and father Louis 'a bottle of Burgundy a day' had died before him, as well as two older brothers both called Louis. By coincidence, Louis became King at the same age as Louis XIV had back in 1643; to wit, five years of age, assuming absolute control of France a bit before assuming absolute toilet training, and a full decade before Greta Thunberg would assume absolute control of hers.
Like his great grand pappy Louis XV employed cardinals. The Sun King had Cardinal Marzipan to keep his britches clean and the Sin King employed Cardinal Flunky to do a similar job for him. Unlike old Louie, young Louie got bored with a cardinal as his main minister and instead chose the one who could wear the tallest wig at Versailles. This game was won by Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Duchesse de Pompadour who had warmed the King's toes in bed. Preferring to go by the name of Madame Pompadour, Louis XV gave her the job. She was also known as 'Little Richard'.
Louis dabbled in politics now and again, dismissing a minister here, starting a war there. He sometimes checked on the army and navy, but more than anything else, this needy little boy just wanted to be loved. His entire family had been swept away by smallpox like a bunch of worthless aboriginals, so he placed their cremated remains inside the cushions of his furniture to always be close to them. Luckily for him, his governess (Charlotte de La Motte Houdancourt, Duchess of Ventadour — and yes, this will be on the test) didn't believe in the cutting-edge science of bloodletting, and unlike his older brother, he survived. Louis was treated like the little sun, around whom everything orbits, and changes his diapers, also those of his seven-year-old wife, Maria Anna Victoria of Spain. Alas, things didn't work out for the celebrity couple's politically arranged, preteen romance, and a diplomatic rift developed between Spain and France due to history's biggest grade-school divorce.
A five-year-old King requires a regent to make actual governing decisions beyond whether to eat the potatoes on the plate.
- The first regent was his cousin Philippe Duke of Orleans. He entertained hopes that Louis would choke to death on his Frosties and that he would become king. But Louis survived and it was Philippe who conked out.
- Then Uncle Philippe (the Bourbon family were limited with name choices), who had been King of Spain since 1700 as Felipe V resigned his throne there and planned to visit Versailles to see if he could somehow contrive for his great nephew to drown in an ornamental pond. But then Felipe got the call back from Madrid, as his own successor had suddenly died. The little bugger survived again.
- Having had enough of uncles and cousins, Louis empowered a man in a skirt: Cardinal Fleury. A bit of a flusterer at the best of times, at least Fleury advised the young king to avoid war unless he was absolutely sure of winning. He also contrived for Louis to marry the daughter of the ex-King of Poland (a man called Stan or 'Stanislaus'). The marriage was a poke-in-the-eye aimed at the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire in general. In 1733, this lead to war with Austria, which ended well for Louis, at least compared to later conflicts. Stan lost Poland (again) but got Lorraine as compensation. Louis would get that when his father-in-law died, though it would be a 30-year wait for territorial success to come France's way.
War of the Austrian Succession
The war over Poland had barely ended when Austria had a new monarch. The Bourbons and Hapsburgs had long hated each other and now the latter had finally run out of male heirs, meaning the title of Holy Roman Emperor was up for grabs. Fleury objected to war, so Louis had him sacked for senility (he was already nearly 90) and brought in his lover, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson (now known as 'Fish Face') as his new First Mistress — in effect, Prime Minister. History knows her as Madame 'Fifi' de Pompadour. Fifi was sexy, purred when she talked, and smoked six packets of Galoises a day. She started the first hair salon at Étiolles.
The war with Austria brought in the British, whose fleets routinely got the better of the French tubs. Not so on the battlefield, so after eight years of warring, peace was declared. France had spent a fortune and got precisely...nothing. Not so much as a city or an island. France's ally Prussia kept Silesia, which they had nabbed off Austria whilst the British were closing in on French North Canada (the modern-day Québec).
Battle for Pompadour's bed
Louis was unperturbed. The war had been fun and France had won military victories against the British and Austrians. But his greatest defeat was in the bedroom. Madame Pompadour discharged Louis from her bed and changed the locks. She was angry with French failure and blamed Prussian king Frederick the Great for hoodwinking his ally. She wanted France to change her policy and suggested a new grand alliance to Maria Theresa (now Holy Roman Empress thanks to her husband, the Emperor Francis Quiche of Lorriane) and Empress Elizabeth of Russia.
Louis wasn't so sure. His family had been at war for nearly 300 years with the Hapsburgs over the control of Europe and now 'Fishy' had this wheeze up her corset? It took some convincing, but eventually a deal was done. France and Austria (and Russia) became allies, and Louis's critics in the aristocracy and clergy forgot about raising taxes with the promise of greater spoils of war.
The Seven Years
On paper, the Seven Years' War looked simple. Prussia had no allies except Britain — and they only cared for Hanover because King George II had been born there and sent picture postcards whenever he went back. What followed was not just another failure but one of epic size:
- Prussia decimated the French army.
- The British sent Louis's fleet to the bottom of the sea.
- France lost Canada for good, leaving thousands of Canucks to fend for themselves against polar bears and poutine.
- Russia defected and then sat out the war.
- The Austrians proved to be useless, and even Spain joining in made no difference.
Madame Pompadour took this as a personal rebuff and turned up her toes. Louis had rotten fruit thrown at his coach when the terms of the defeat were learnt.
However, Louis persisted with the Austrian alliance and invited Maria Theresa's youngest daughter, Marie Antoinette, to finish her French lessons in Paris. The old lecher considered exercising his 'first pawing' rights to the young Austrian princess but eventually gave her to his heir. (This was his grandson Louis — later Louis XVI, his wretched son Louis the Dauphin (Louis XV I/II) having already shuffled off his mortal coil.)
Louis died in 1774 in the bed of his last mistress, Madame Du Barry. He was 64, a reasonable age for a king who had picked up the moniker 'Louis the Well Beloved' though by of who or what was never explained. By the time of his death, France had lost much of her once-vast overseas colonies, had a bad balance of trade, and was no longer considered a mighty military power. An absurd bronze equestrian statue of Louis XV was erected in Paris, and then came down during the French Revolution when the metal was recycled as spoons. Many of Louis's old friends, girlfriends, and family lost their heads in that event, but not Louis; he was already dead, buried, and ridiculed. The Sin City King.