King of France (1710-1774)
After becoming king in 1715, the young Louis XV, known as the “Beloved”, decided in 1722 to reinstall the government and court in the Château de Versailles, abandoned since the death of Louis XIV. In 1725, he married Marie Leszczinska and fathered an heir to the throne. Passionately interested in science and botany, he enriched the gardens of the Château and commissioned the building of the Petit Trianon palace for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour.
Son of the duc de Bourgogne and Marie-Adelaïde of Savoy, great-grandson of Louis XIV, Louis XV became the Dauphin on the death of his father in 1712, and then king at the age of 5, in 1715, on the death of Louis XIV. His education, directed by the Governor General, Maréchal de Villeroy, and by his tutor, Cardinal de Fleury, developed his interest in the exact sciences, botany, medicine, astronomy, geography and history. His tutor, the duc d’Orléans, Regent of the kingdom, gave him practical training in political affairs. From the age of 10 he attended the government council meetings.
Crowned at Reims in 1722, Louis XV then reinstalled the government and the court at Versailles, abandoned by the state since the death of Louis XIV. While he re-used the apartments of the king for the state functions, he had his own private quarters, designed by the architect Gabriel, where he took refuge from the crowds and the pomp and ceremony of court life.
The King and the royal family
Although Louis XV was betrothed in 1721 to the heiress of Spain, she was subsequently dropped from his matrimonial projects, regarded as too young to provide a royal heir. In 1725, the king married Marie Leszczinska, princess of Poland, who was seven years older than him. The king and queen had ten children, born between 1727 and 1737. Six daughters and one son, the Dauphin, survived into adult age. They spent their childhood in the Prince’s wing, the present Aile du Midi. Then the Dauphin, aged 6, moved into the central part of the Château where apartments were reserved for the successor to the throne on the ground floor. Louis XV picked a convent education for his youngest daughters, which was very fashionable at the time. When they were adults, the daughters of Louis XV lived with him in Versailles, except for the eldest who in 1739 married her cousin, the heir to the Spanish throne who became the duc de Parme.
A passionate interest in the sciences
A patron of learned men and engineers, Louis XV collected timepieces and precision instruments. The king’s geographers and astronomers worked to map out the country. The king encouraged maritime expeditions and offered rewards to scientific missions to bring back plant specimens from distant countries. In the King’s Garden in Paris and the Botanical Garden of the Trianon palace he oversaw the application of the classification of plants proposed by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus. The first researches into electricity also interested Louis XV. In 1746, at Versailles, the Abbé Nollet carried out before the king the experiment of the Leyden jar which produced electric discharges.
Beginning in 1732, several mistresses (“favorites”) played an important role in the king’s personal life. Madame de Pompadour resided in Versailles from 1745 until her death in 1764. The mistress and then friend and adviser of the king, she played a political role as well as wielding great influence in the field of the arts. She took the painter François Boucher under her protection and sponsored many artists such as the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. In 1763, Madame de Pompadour convinced Louis XV to build a new palace: the Petit Trianon, future residence of queen Marie-Antoinette.
A few years later, after the death of the marquise in 1768, it was the turn of Madame du Barry to become the king’s mistress. She also lived in Versailles, in a richly decorated and spacious apartment located over the king’s inner cabinets. She remained at his side until his death in 1774. Louis XV left to his grandson Louis XVI a weakened and discontented kingdom where the seeds of the French Revolution were soon to germinate.