After a week of agonising pain, four days before his 77th birthday, Louis XIV died in Versailles just after 8.15 am on 1 September. He had been king for 72 years, the longest reign in the history of France. A new reign, which would be almost as long (1715-1774), was about to begin: that of Louis XV.
The story of Louis XIV’s death is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. His health started to decline on 10 August 1715 upon his return from a hunting trip in Marly, when he felt sharp pains in his leg. Fagon, his doctor, diagnosed sciatica. But the pain was always in the same place, and shortly afterwards black marks appeared, indicating senile gangrene. Despite excruciating pain, the king carried on with his daily routine without flinching, fully intending to do his duty to the end. The veteran monarch seemed unshakeable, to the great admiration of all the courtiers. However, on 25 August, the day of Saint Louis, he was forced to remain in bed, and thereafter never left his bedchamber.
The gangrene worsened, and on the 26th it had spread to his bone. The doctors were powerless. That same day the king received his five-year-old great-grandson, the future Louis XV, to give him advice. He recommended him to lighten the burden on the people and avoid going to war as much as possible, declaring: “It is the ruin of the peoples.” Aware of his own sins, the sovereign, whose foreign policy had rested entirely on waging war, asked his grandson to remain “a peaceful prince”.
The king took longer than expected to die. Three times he bade farewell to Mme de Maintenon, and twice to the Court. On 29 August a man who claimed to have a miracle cure, one Brun, was granted permission to approach the royal bed. The king did feel better afterwards, but the damage had been done, and on 30 and 31 August he began to drift in and out of consciousness. On the morning of 1 September he died. For eight days his body was displayed in the Mercury Room, and on the 9th was transported to Saint-Denis, the burial place of the kings of France.
Following the king’s death family quarrels broke out. A Regency Council had been created by the king to counteract the power of Philippe II of Orléans, Louis XIV’s nephew, who would be Regent until the future Louis XV came of age. On 2 September Philippe II went through the Parlement de Paris to annul the king’s will and made himself sole Regent, and a week later the Court left Versailles for Vincennes and remained there until December. Philippe II governed from his residence in the Palais-Royal and moved the young king into the Tuileries. Philip V of Spain, however, had not fully renounced his claim to the French throne despite the provisions of the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Another war was on the horizon and, with it, a reversal of European alliances…
The same day the king received his five-year-old great-grandson, the future Louis XV, to give him advice. He recommended him to lighten the burden on the people and avoid going to war as much as possible, declaring: “It is the ruin of the peoples.” Aware of his sins in this regard, the sovereign asked his grandson to remain “a peaceful prince”.