Louis XIV’s political testament

The last years of the reign of Louis XIV were marked by a horrendous series of untimely deaths in the royal family: his son, the Grand Dauphin, then his beloved grandson and granddaughter-in-law, and his great-grandson, the little Duc de Bretagne. Another of Louis XIV grandsons, the Duc de Berry, would die in a hunting accident two years later. The other remaining grandson had become King Philip V of Spain and renounced his claims to the throne of France.

Of that personal and dynastic catastrophe, the sole surviving heir to the Sun King was a bright, dark-eyed toddler, the future Louis XV. Like his parents and elder brother, he caught a nasty fever during the winter of 1712, but his governess, the Duchesse de Ventadour, had the presence of mind to protect him from the lethal ministrations of the Court physicians. She was content to wrap him warmly and coddle him. Thanks to her, the orphan survived.

Louis XV as a child by Augustin Justinat

Louis XV as a child by Augustin Justinat

The new little Dauphin adored both the good Duchess, whom he called Maman, and his great-grandfather the King. But even Louis XIV was losing his strength and stamina, and the family hecatomb had made him very much aware of his own impending death.

One day, when the King was 77, the five-year old Dauphin was called to his great-grandfather’s bedside. The King embraced and kissed the child, and spoke thus:

Sweatheart, you are going to be a great King, but all of your happiness will depend on your submission to God and the care you will have of your people. For that, you must to the best of your abilities avoid waging war: it is the ruin of the people. Do not follow the poor example I set for you in this regard; I often commenced war too lightly and continued it out of vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful ruler, and let your main concern be the relief of your subjects’ sufferings.

Six days later, on the 1st of September 1715, the Sun King died, after a reign of 72 years, one of the longest in history. Once again in his short life, the child felt utterly bereft. He became King of France under the name of Louis XV.

Did he heed his predecessor’s advice during his own very long reign? That is another story…

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