Louis XV, King of France

King Louis XV of France was known as “the Well-Beloved,” although he apparently did little to earn the name. He reigned for nearly 60 years over an unstable country whose financial and political decline culminated in the French Revolution. Culturally, Louis XV helped usher in the rococo period and the beginning of the Enlightenment.

Louis’ Early Days

Louis XV was born on February 15, 1710. The great-grandson of Louis XIV, his parents were Louis, the duc de Bourgogne and Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy. Louis’ parents and brother died in quick succession when he was only two, leaving him the sole heir to the Sun King. Upon the king’s death in 1715, Louis XV inherited the throne at the age of 5. Philippe II, the duc d’Orléans, ruled as regent until February 1723.

Upon the death of Orléans in 1723, Louis made the duc de Bourbon-Condé his chief minister, who ended the king’s betrothal to the young Spanish Infanta and arranged a marriage with the daughter of the dethroned Polish king instead. In 1726, Louis replaced Bourbon with his tutor, Bishop André-Hercule de Fleury, who held the post until his death in 1743. Afterward, the king ruled without a chief minister.

Sources in this Story

King Louis XV’s Reign

France was on a path to financial decline that began during Louis XIV’s reign and culminated with the decadent era of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. The country’s nobility, though given more power under Louis XV, failed to govern adequately. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Louis XV himself was “too indolent and lacking in self-confidence to coordinate the activities of his secretaries of state and give firm direction to national policy.”

Overall, the king was considered “lazy, lecherous and indecisive,” described Time. After giving birth to 10 children, the queen cared little about satisfying her husband or promoting his interests, and the king had many mistresses and lovers throughout his lifetime.

Prominent among these women was the Marquise de Pompadour, a Parisian with a passion for salons and theatrical performances. The Marquise shared and fostered Louis XV’s patronage of French art and artisans, making the rococo style fashionable. The result was that although Louis XV had little political influence, he had a powerful impact on French culture.

The Man and His Work

During this time, France was also entering the Enlightenment. As the Library of Congress exhibit “Creating French Culture” notes, a “‘counter-cultural’ revolution” under Louis XV and Louis XVI “unleashed Enlightenment ideas and values which tore away at the theatrical and courtly foundations that Richelieu and Louis XIV had given the state.”

The “increased role of the press, of reports of scientific and commercial activities, of exploration and discoveries, as well as the weekly meetings of academies and salons energized literary, artistic, and artisan circles.”

The Rest of the Story

As he grew older, Louis XV lost political power, and the advice of the marquise and others was not always productive. His ministers largely took control of major situations such as the annexation of Corsica in 1768. The king died on May 10, 1774, of smallpox and was buried at St. Denis Basilica in Paris.

This article was originally written by Liz Colville; it was updated January 3, 2017.