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 succeeded to 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.
Louis XV was born in the Palace of Versailles on 15 February 1710, during the reign of his great-grandfather Louis XIV. He was the third son of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Marie Adélaïde of Savoy. At birth, he received the customary title of younger sons, the "Duke of Anjou". Moreover, as a great-grandson of the reigning king, he was a "Petit-Fils de France". Le Grand Dauphin, the only surviving legitimate son of Louis XIV, had, with his wife, Marie Anne Victoire of Bavaria, three sons, Burgundy (Louis XV's father), Philippe, Duke of Anjou (who became King of Spain) and Charles, Duke of Berry.
Louis' mother, Marie Adélaïde of Savoy was the eldest daughter of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy and Anne Marie d'Orléans. Through her mother, Marie Adélaïde was the granddaughter of Philippe of France, younger brother of Louis XIV, and was the second cousin of her husband, Burgundy. She was betrothed to him by the Treaty of Turin in 1695, and they married in December 1697. Marie Adélaïde was a very lively young woman who had revitalized and rejuvenated the Court of the aging Louis XIV and she had become the centre of attraction in Versailles. This recent marriage, combined with a royal family that had produced six male heirs in three generations (one son, three grandsons, and two great-grandsons from his oldest grandson), seemed to ensure the prospects of the House of Bourbon and the line of succession. The vitality of the French royal line at the time is shown by Louis XIV's statement that he was the first King of France to have, while still healthy and capable of ruling on his own, a great-grandson born to him.
However, subsequent events caused a number of members of the French royal family to be removed from the picture. In 1700, Philippe, Duke of Anjou, Louis' uncle, became King of Spain as Philip V, inheriting the crown through the claims of his grandmother, Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV and a Spanish Infanta. Upon his accession, Louis XIV had perfunctorily confirmed in the Parlement of Paris Philip V's rights to the French throne, which as a matter of France's Ancien Régime constitutional laws of succession could not be altered or removed. As a result, European fears of a Franco-Spanish union had increased and the War of the Spanish Succession had occurred. The war had not been proceeding smoothly for France and the chances of peace on terms allowing Philip V to govern Spain while at the same time retaining his right to the French throne were slight. These chances would appear even worse as a result of the events of 1711–12.
In April 1711, the Grand Dauphin suddenly died, making the Burgundy the new Dauphin. This, in itself, while unfortunate, was not great cause for concern since Burgundy still had two sons, Louis, Duke of Bretagne and the future Louis XV. This changed less than a year later when Marie Adélaïde contracted smallpox (or measles) and died on 12 February 1712. Her husband, who had reputedly remained by her side all through her sickness, was heartbroken by the death of his wife and died before the end of the week of the same disease. Within a week of his death, it was clear that the couple's two children had been infected. The elder son, Bretagne, was repeatedly treated by bloodletting in an effort to save him. This effort was unsuccessful and he died on 8 March 1712. His younger brother, the Duke of Anjou, was personally treated by his governess, Madame de Ventadour, who forbade any bloodletting. Finally, the Duke of Berry, youngest son of the Grand Dauphin and, after the death of his elder brother, the likely regent of the latest Dauphin, died in a 1714 hunting accident.
As a result of these deaths, the fate of the dynasty now lay in the survival of a four-year-old child. The death of this child would leave Louis XIV with two possible successors: Philip V or Philippe d'Orléans, the nephew of Louis XIV and the first cousin of the late Grand Dauphin. However, Philip V had, as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht, renounced all rights to the French succession. Nevertheless. Phillip V claimed that, according to the French Law of Succession, any legitimate descendant of Hugh Capet could not be deprived of his rights to the throne. Because most European powers at the time saw the direct union of France and Spain under one ruler as a significant threat, the prospect of such a union threatened to unleash another European war in addition to a civil war in France.
As a young child Louis XV was made aware of the heavy responsibility that rested on his shoulders. He was now an orphan, with no surviving siblings, no legitimate uncles or aunts except for Philip V, and no legitimate first cousins (except those in Madrid). His only close relation was the Duke of Orléans, Louis XIV's nephew and son-in-law.
On 1 September 1715, Louis XIV died of gangrene after having reigned for 72 years. In August 1714, he made a will which granted a prominent role in the anticipated regency to his sons by his mistress, Madame de Montespan: Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine and Louis Alexandre, Count of Toulouse, who had been legitimated at the insistence of Louis's second wife, Madame de Maintenon.
The will enhanced the positions of Toulouse and the elder son, Maine, at the expense of the man who was expected to become regent and rule France until Louis XV reached adulthood, Philippe d'Orléans, son of Louis XIV's younger brother. The will stipulated that until the new king reached the age of majority, the nation was to be governed by a Regency Council made up of fourteen members. The Duke of Orléans was named president of the council, but all decisions were to be taken by majority vote. The composition of the council, including Maine, Toulouse, and various members of Louis XIV's administration, meant that Orléans was often outvoted.
The content of the will had become known before Louis XIV died, and the various factions had already begun the process of gaining supporters. Orléans enjoyed the support of many amongst the old sword nobility (noblesse d'épée), descending from medieval knights, as opposed to the noblesse de robe, the new aristocracy of recently ennobled lawyers and civil servants. Louis XIV had often excluded the noblesse d'épée from government in favour of commoners from the bourgeoisie who often entered the noblesse de robe and whom he could control better. Thus the noblesse d'épée yearned for a change of policy more favourable to them, and were greatly displeased with the legitimisation of Maine and Toulouse, which they regarded as an affront to the traditional rules of inheritance.
The Parlement of Paris, another political entity which Louis XIV had shut out of power, also supported the Orléans regency and hoped that a change of course in the government would increase its influence. Religion was also a factor. Madame de Maintenon was a supporter of the Jesuits, the Pope, and the Pope's controversial Bull Unigenitus, which was a 1713 papal bull directed against the Jansenists, a Catholic group popular in France who were deemed to have Protestant tendencies. Orléans, by contrast, was supported by the Jansenists and the Gallicans (French Catholics who wanted their church to be more independent from Rome) who hoped he would dislodge the Jesuit-Papist group from power after his accession to the regency.