History of King Louis XV of France



THE age of Louis XIV was an age of great men, of the arts, of culture and refinement. We have now to review that which followed it--stormy at the outset, abounding in splendor for fifty years, closing in gloom as it had begun in faction. Louis XV was an orphan and a child. It would have been a long and dangerous affair to summon the States-General to settle the powers of the regency. It was the Parliament of Paris which set aside the will of Louis XIV and declared his grandson, Philip of Orleans, possessed of the full powers.

The regent, who hoped to succeed to the throne of France, at once allied himself closely with England and broke with the Spanish court. Alberoni, the Spanish minister, bent on seizing Sicily and Sardinia, fabricated a huge plot against France and England; the plot was revealed and frustrated by the theft of certain papers which were placed in the hands of Orleans. War broke out. The English shattered the Spanish fleet at Messina; Alberoni disappeared from European politics.

The agencies which threatened to make the regency stormy were all suppressed. The public tranquillity permitted the whole population to become absorbed in a great gamble. The Scottish adventurer, John Law, was permitted to set up his bank and the Mississippi Company on a system which, kept within due limits, would have been useful. The whole of the national finances passed under Law's control. The country was flooded with paper money. At the moment when public credit was collapsing with a crash, Law was made controller-general; immediately afterwards he was an almost penniless fugitive. France had but been the victim of an epidemic which attacked England and Holland, too. An immediate consequence of the disaster was that an immense number of people were impoverished; in sum nevertheless, the whole affair resulted in a general development of commercial enterprise.

The death of Dubois, the regent's minister, in 1723, was soon followed by that of the regent himself, just after the young king attained his majority. The Duke of Bourbon succeeded to the office of first minister. Like every member of his house, Bourbon was the victim of clerical antagonism; he was supplanted and driven from the court by Fleury, the king's tutor, afterwards cardinal. Up to the age of seventy-three, Fleury was regarded as an amiable man and a charming companion; at that age he took up the task of government, which he carried on for sixteen years with unfailing prosperity.

Happily for Europe, the first minister of England, Robert Walpole, was of a like pacific character. These two men continued to maintain nearly all Europe at peace till 1733. During this period two powers were established of which Europe had scarcely heard before--Russia, raised out of barbarism by Peter the Great, and Prussia. From Russia to Spain all Europe was at peace, when the death of the King of Poland, Augustus II of Saxony, plunged it once more into those discords from which it is so rarely free.

Stanislas Leczinski, whose daughter Louis had married, was duly elected; the emperor, supported by Russia, set up Augustus, son of the late king. France, in alliance with Spain and Sardinia, attacked Austria; England and Holland did not intervene. In the outcome, Lorraine went to France (temporarily to Stanislas), its Duke Francis taking Tuscany, while Don Carlos got Naples and Sicily.

The emperor died in 1740. His daughter Maria Theresa claimed the Austrian succession, guaranteed under the Pragmatic Sanction. Other claimants, notably the Elector of Bavaria, came forward for portions of the inheritance. Frederick of Prussia claimed Silesia; on Maria Theresa's refusal, his armies entered the province in December 1740. The Prussian infantry, by converting imminent defeat into decisive victory at Molwitz, proved its worth. The battle was the signal for a general conflagration.

The marshal and the chevalier of Belleisle were the controlling force in France; they negotiated alliances with Prussia, Poland and Bavaria; and the Elector entered the Austrian territory. England, Holland and Hanover would not, or could not, move. Maria Theresa threw herself on the support of her Hungarian subjects, who espoused her cause with enthusiasm. But Frederick made himself master of Silesia, and the Elector of Bavaria, now the Emperor Charles VII, captured Prague. Now, however, dissensions arose among the victors; and Charles of Lorraine, brother-in-law of Maria Theresa, conducted an effective defensive campaign in Bohemia. The war rolled back to the Rhine. By this time France and England, though professedly merely 'auxiliaries,' had really become principals in the war, and now (January 1743) Fleury died.

Spain and England were already at war with each other before the death of Charles VII. All Europe was involved in the general turmoil. In March 1744, Louis openly declared war both on England and on the Queen of Hungary (Maria Theresa). A French force under Conti entered Italy; but the Emperor Charles VII met with reverses. Marshal Noailles succeeded in entrapping George II of England and cutting his communications; the English, however, retrieved the position by their victory at Dettingen.

SUCH was the turmoil and chaos of war and politics when Louis XV entered on his first campaign. The Emperor Charles was at Frankfort; even the validity of his imperial title was challenged. Charles of Lorraine was summoning Alsace, the three bishoprics and Franche-Comte to return to the Austrian allegiance. The English were victorious on land and masters of the sea. France herself was menaced on her German frontier. Frederick of Prussia, having secured Silesia, had already made a separate peace with Maria Theresa. Holland was threatening to join the allies.

At this moment Louis was preparing to support a Jacobite insurrection in England, and himself took command of the French armies in Flanders. This energy was followed by the capture of one Flemish fortress after another. But the Austrian successes in Alsace drew him thither, while Marshal Saxe conducted the operations in Flanders. Frederick of Prussia renewed the French alliance at Frankfort, counterbalancing the recent treaty of Worms between the allies. Frederick's sudden march on Prague reversed the military situation.

A severe illness of the king demonstrated the passionate affection with which his subjects regarded him. On his recovery he again took the field. The fluctuations in the progress of the arms of the antagonists were extraordinarily violent and rapid, and the changes of German princes from one side to the other were kaleidoscopic. The death of the emperor in January 1745 seemed to have no effect on the hostilities. France and Prussia, practically without allies, maintained the conflict, which Austria hoped to turn to her own advantage.

Marshal Saxe was now investing Tournai; he was so ill that he had to be carried on a litter. The French force was joined by the king and the dauphin. An allied army was marching to relieve the beleaguered town. Fontenoy was the scene of the battle which ensued. As the line of English regiments advanced to capture the heights they were encountered by the French Guards. "Gentlemen of the French Guard, fire!" cried Lord Charles Hay. "We never fire first; fire yourselves," came the answer. The hail of bullets brought down numbers on each side, but the English advanced as steadily as if they had been on parade. The French Guard were swept back. Nothing could break the English column; but it was unsupported. At the moment when the battle seemed lost to the French a last desperate attack was decided on. A mass of troops was hurled against the English, who were forced to fall back step by step.

But the victory was won; it opened the way to the conquest of Flanders. Both the king and the dauphin had been in the greatest personal danger, but had refused the entreaties of Marshal Saxe that they should retire.

It is remarkable that Louis at once made overtures for a peace congress, which must have been desirable to Maria Theresa, but the influence of England prevented the success of the proposals. Tournai fell, and Ghent soon afterwards, in spite of a gallant attempt on the part of the English to recover it at Mesle. Bruges, Oudenarde, Dendermont, Ostend followed suit. Louis returned to Paris.

Nevertheless, Austria prevailed at the imperial election. Francis of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and husband of Maria Theresa, became emperor, despite the protest of Prussia. Frederick's own victories, however, were crowned by his capture of Dresden; after which he again made peace for himself, and was hailed in Berlin as Frederick the Great.

It now became the object of France to use the conquest of the Netherlands as a means of obtaining what she wanted in Italy, and of Austria to obtain from France compensation for the cession of Silesia to Frederick.

In the Austrian Netherlands the success of the French arms continued; soon Holland itself was threatened. In the war in Italy, France continued to play the part of an auxiliary only. The achievements there of the Franco-Spanish forces in 1745 were nullified by Frederick's withdrawal from the war after Dresden. A series of subsequent disasters was crowned by the death of Philip V of Spain. Only by an obstinate battle were the troops enabled to evacuate Piacenza, instead of surrendering. Genoa itself was obliged to submit to the Austrians, at whose mercy Italy now lay. And, meanwhile, the squadrons of the English fleet swept the seas.

The Austrians were, with difficulty, forced back into Provence, but a sudden and violent revolution at Genoa compelled their return to Italy. Louis, master of the Austrian Netherlands, again made proposals for peace. A congress was called at Breda, but none of the other sovereigns desired peace. Holland might have made itself the peace-maker of Europe; it refused that function, and the resultant French invasion brought about the revival of the office of stadtholder, conferred on the Prince of Orange. The republic was thus converted into a monarchy somewhat less limited than those of England, Sweden and Poland.

MEANWHILE, the enterprise, the successes and the misfortunes of Prince Charles Edward in England were perhaps the most remarkable of the events which startled Europe. Despairing of French assistance under the conditions of the European war, the young prince adopted a rash design. With only seven comrades, he sailed for the shores of Scotland.

No sooner were 300 men assembled than the royal standard was raised, and the fact was communicated to the courts of France and Spain. Reaching Perth, Charles proclaimed himself regent for his father. More adherents came in. He marched on Edinburgh; the government troops withdrew to the castle and the city was in his hands. General Cope advanced against him. The Highlanders flung themselves on the English with swords and bucklers; the novel form of attack struck the foe with panic; the rout was complete; but the prince could not capture the castle. When, marching south, he reached Carlisle, London was in a ferment. When he arrived at Derby the shops and banks in London were closed.

Irish partisans of the Stewarts in France were eager to aid him by an invasion, but this was hopelessly impracticable. The Pretender, with his communications threatened, was obliged to retire from Derby. He routed the government troops at Falkirk. But the approach of Cumberland drove him to the highlands, and his supporters were shattered at Culloden.

The fate of three kingdoms was decided in a battle between two armies of 11,000 and 7,000 men respectively. The prince became a fugitive, wandering from island to island, often escaping his pursuers by a hair's breadth. At last he was able to embark for France, the arrival, presence and departure of the boats being concealed from the government by the loyalty of the people.

An immense number of executions took place, the last victim being the octogenarian Lord Lovat, who had been the prime mover in the enterprise. A young enthusiast named Painter offered to die in place of the old man--an occurrence scarcely possible outside of England. The unfortunate prince was forcibly ejected from France when peace was made.

Louis, successful wherever he was present in person with Marshal Saxe, but nowhere else, continued vain efforts to obtain peace, frustrated by the animosity of Austria and England, which now brought into the field a new ally, the Tsarina Elizabeth. Bent on seizing Maestricht, Marshal Saxe won the battle of Laufeld, but it was not sufficiently decisive. Bergen-op-Zoom, however, was captured by a surprise attack. In April 1748 the French forces concentrated on Maestricht.

Meanwhile, Commodore Anson had accomplished his great voyage round the world. It had occupied three and a half years, at the end of which Anson reached England, his ships laden with spoils to the value of pound 500,000.

It was not the English ministry but the enterprise of the New England merchants that contrived the capture of Louisburg, on the St. Lawrence, the key to the French possessions in North America. The New Englanders on their own initiative raised and equipped a force of 4,000 men; four men-of-war were sent to escort them. Louisburg fell after a siege of fifty days, and the whole French population of the colony was deported to France. The English command of the seas was so overwhelming that French maritime movements were utterly paralysed.

La Bourdonnais, however, had redeemed the honour of the French flag in India. Dupleix, governor of Pondicherri, in conjunction with La Bourdonnais, governor of Mauritius, attacked and took Madras. Dupleix, jealous of his colleague, broke the terms of the capitulation, though it was to La Bourdonnais that Madras surrendered. That great man's services were rewarded by rigorous imprisonment in the Bastille, while the charges made against him by Dupleix were investigated; he lived only long enough to learn of his acquittal. A British squadron besieged Pondicherri, but failed to take it, defended as it was with extreme skill and energy by Dupleix and Bussy.

At last, however, the fall of Maestricht was assured, and this taught Holland and the allies to accept the peace proposals which Louis had so persistently offered. The war ended with the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. The chief gains were reaped by Frederick. Europe remained divided into two camps; France, Spain, the Sicilies, Prussia and Sweden on one side; the rest on the other.





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