Louis XV of France  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774) ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. After he acceded the throne at the age of five, his great-uncle, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the Kingdom until Louis' majority in 1723. Cardinal de Fleury was his chief minister from 1726 until his death in 1743, at which time the young king took over control of the State. Louis XV was a member of the House of Bourbon.

Louis enjoyed a favorable reputation at the beginning of his reign and earned the epithet "le Bien-Aimé" ("the Beloved"). In time, the debauchery of his court, the return of the Austrian Netherlands (which was gained following the Battle of Fontenoy) at Aix-la-Chapelle, and the cession of New France at the conclusion of the Seven Years' War led Louis to become one of the most unpopular kings in the history of France. He was succeeded by his grandson Louis XVI.

His ill-advised financial policies damaged the power of France, weakened the treasury, discredited the monarchy, and arguably led to the French Revolution which broke out 15 years after his death.

Image and public opinion

Edme Bouchardon's equestrian statue of Louis XV was originally conceived to commemorate the monarch's victorious role in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and artistically executed to display a benign representation of the king as peacemaker. However it was, ironically, unveiled in 1763 following France's defeat in the Seven Years War. Bouchardon's work designed to be a powerful symbol of loyalty to the king became the centerpiece of a public relations event staged to restore public confidence in a monarchy in decline using art as propaganda on a grand scale.

Louis was unequal to the high expectations of his subjects. Contemporary songs, poems, and public declarations looked for a king who was absolute "master," unblemished "Christian," and benevolent provider ("baker"). Young Louis's failings were attributed to inexperience and manipulation by unscrupulous handlers. As his troubled reign progressed, his debauched private life was revealed and famine repeatedly battered France; the people withdrew their respect, reviled the sycophant king, and ultimately celebrated his demise. The institution of monarchy was intact, but Louis XV saddled his successor with a damaging legacy of popular discontent.

The many sermons on his death in 1774 praised the monarch and went out of its way to excuse his faults. But those ecclesiastics who not only raised their eyebrows over the sins of the Beloved but also expressed doubts about his policies reflected the corporate attitude of the First Estate more accurately. They hoped his successor would restore morals and serve the will of God, which they claimed the role of interpreting.

The financial strain imposed by these wars and by the excesses of the royal court, and the consequent dissatisfaction with the monarchy, contributed to the national unrest which culminated in the French Revolution of 1789. Louis died at Versailles on May 10, 1774.

Louis XIV had left France with serious financial difficulties. Ultimately, Louis XV failed to overcome these fiscal problems, mainly because he was incapable of putting together conflicting parties and interests in his entourage. Worse, Louis seemed to be aware of the forces of anti-monarchism threatening his family's rule and yet failed to do anything to stop them.

At first, he was known popularly as Le Bien-aimé (the well-beloved) and after a near-death illness in Metz in 1744 many of his subjects prayed for his recovery. His weak and ineffective rule accelerated the general decline that culminated in the French Revolution in 1789. The king was a notorious womaniser, although this was expected in a king; the monarch's virility was supposed to be another way in which his power was manifested. Nevertheless, popular faith in the monarchy was shaken by the scandals of Louis’s private life and by the end of his life he had become the well-loved.

Louis XV in popular culture

The character of Louis XV has appeared in many French Revolution-era films, especially films about the lives of Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry.

Portrayal in film

Film Year Actor as Madame du Barry as Marie Antoinette
Madame Du Barry 1917 Charles Clary Theda Bara none
Madame DuBarry 1919 Emil Jannings Pola Negri none
Du Barry, Woman of Passion 1931 William Farnum Norma Talmadge none
Madame Du Barry 1934 Reginald Owen Dolores del Río Anita Louise
Marie Antoinette 1938 John Barrymore Gladys George Norma Shearer
DuBarry Was a Lady 1943 Red Skelton Lucille Ball none
Black Magic 1949 Robert Atkins Margot Grahame Nancy Guild
Madame du Barry 1954 Daniel Ivernel Martine Carol Isabelle Pia
"The Rose of Versailles" 1979 Hisashi Katsuda Yoshiko Kimiya Miyuki Ueda
"Le Chevalier D'eon" 2006 Jay Hickman none none
Marie Antoinette 2006 Rip Torn Asia Argento Kirsten Dunst

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Louis XV of France" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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