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The Regency

Louis XIV’s Will

On July 29, 1714, upon the insistence of his morganatic wife, the Marquise de Maintenon, Louis XIV elevated his legitimised children to the rank of Princes of the Blood, which “entitled them to inherit the crown if the legitimate lines became extinct”.

Thus, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duke of Maine and Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse were officially inserted into the line of hereditary succession following all of the legitimate, acknowledged princes du sang.

Madame de Maintenon would have preferred Felipe V, King of Spain to be Regent and Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duke of Maine to be Lieutenant Général and consequently in control.

Fearing a revival of the war, Louis XIV named Philippe II, Duke of Orléans joint President of a Regency Council, but one that would be packed with his enemies, reaching its decisions by a majority vote that was bound to go against him. The real power would be in the hands of Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, Duke of Maine, who was also appointed guardian of the young sovereign.

Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Regent of France

On August 25, 1715, a few days before his death, Louis XIV added a codicil to his will:

He sent for the Chancellor and wrote a last codicil to his will, in the presence of Mme de Maintenon. He was yielding, out of sheer fatigue, to his wife and confessor, probably with the reservation that his extraordinary action would be set aside after his death, like the will itself.

Otherwise he would have been deliberately condemning his kingdom to perpetual strife, for the codicil appointed the Duke of Maine commander of the civil and military Household, with Villeroy as his second-in-command. By this arrangement they became the sole masters of the person and residence of the King; of Paris … and all the internal and external guard; of the entire service … so much so that the Regent did not have even the shadow of the slightest authority and found himself at their mercy.

The evening of August 25, Louis XIV had a private audience with Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, his nephew and son-in-law, re-assuring him:

You will find nothing in my will that should displease you. I commend the Dauphin to you, serve him as loyally as you have served me. Do your utmost to preserve his realm. If he were to die, you would be the master. […] I have made what I believed to be the wisest and fairest arrangements for the well-being of the realm, but, since one cannot anticipate everything, if there is something to change or to reform, you will do whatever you see fit…

Louis XIV died at Versailles on September 1, 1715, and was succeeded by his five-year-old great-grandson, Louis XV. On September 2, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans went to meet the parlementaires in the Grand-Chambre du Parlement in Paris in order to have Louis XIV’s will annulled and his previous right to the regency restored.

After a break that followed a much-heated session, the Parlement abrogated the recent codicil to Louis XIV’s will and confirmed the Duke of Orléans as regent of France.

On December 30, 1715, the regent decided to bring the young Louis XV from the Château de Vincennes to the Tuileries Palace in Paris where he lived until his return to Versailles in June 1722. The regent governed from his Parisian residence, the Palais-Royal.

Philippe disapproved of the hypocrisy of Louis XIV’s reign and opposed censorship, ordering the reprinting of books banned during the reign of his uncle. Reversing his uncle’s policies again, Philippe formed an alliance with Great Britain, Austria, and the Netherlands, and fought a successful war against Spain that established the conditions of a European peace. During this time he opened up diplomatic channels with Russia which resulted in a state visit by Tsar Peter I the Great.

He acted in plays of Molière and Racine, composed an opera, and was a gifted painter and engraver. Philippe favoured Jansenism which, despite papal condemnation, was accepted by the French bishops, and he revoked Louis XIV’s compliance with the bull Unigenitus.

At first, he decreased taxation and dismissed 25,000 soldiers. But the inquisitorial measures which he had begun against the financiers led to disturbances, notably in the province of Brittany where a rebellion known as the Pontcallec Conspiracy unfolded. He countenanced the risky operations of the banker John Law, whose bankruptcy led to the Mississippi bubble, a disastrous crisis for the public and private affairs of France. It was an early example of the bursting of an economic bubble.

On June 6, 1717, under the influence of Law and the duc de Saint-Simon, the Regent persuaded the Regency Council to purchase from Thomas Pitt for £135,000 the world’s largest known diamond, a 141 carat (28.2 g) cushion brilliant, for the crown jewels of France. The diamond was known from then on as Le Régent.

From the beginning of 1721, Felipe V of Spain, and Philippe II, Duke of Orléans had been negotiating the project of three Franco-Spanish marriages in order to cement tense relations between Spain and France.

Louis XV, King of France and Navarre

The young Louis XV of France would marry the three-year-old Infanta Mariana Victoria who would thus become Queen of France; the Infante Luis would marry the fourth surviving daughter of Philippe, Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans; and the Infante Charles would be engaged to the pretty Philippine Élisabeth d’Orléans who was the fifth surviving daughter of Philippe. Only one of these marriages actually ever occurred.

In March 1721, the Infanta Mariana Victoria arrived in Paris amid much joy. Known as l’infante Reine (Queen-Infanta) while in France, she was placed in the care of the old Dowager Princess of Conti, Philippe’s sister in law, and lived in the Tuileries Palace.

In November 1721, at the age of twelve, Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans was married by proxy in Paris, Louise Élisabeth and her younger sister left for Madrid. Despite a cold reception from the Spanish royal family, especially by Elisabeth of Parma, the stepmother of her husband, she married Luis of Spain on January 20, 1722 at Lerma.

Her dowry was of 4 million livres. The last of this triple alliance was Philippine Élisabeth who never married Charles; the marriage, though never officially carried out was annulled; the French sent back Mariana Victoria and in retaliation, Louise Élisabeth and Philippine Élisabeth were sent back to France. Franco-Spanish relations only recovered in 1743 when Louis XV’s son Louis de France married Mariana Victoria’s sister Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain.

On June 15, 1722, Louis XV and the court left the Tuileries Palace for the Palace of Versailles where the young king wanted to reside. The decision had been taken by the Duke of Orléans who, after the fall of Law’s System, was feeling the loss of his personal popularity in Paris. Philippe took the apartments of his cousin the late Dauphin on the first floor of the Palace; the King’s apartments were above his.

On October 25 of that year, the twelve-year-old Louis XV was anointed King of France in the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims. At the end of the ceremony, he threw himself in the arms of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans.

In December 1722, the Regent lost his mother to whom he had always been close; the Dowager Duchess of Orléans died at Saint-Cloud at the age of seventy, with her son at her side, but he did not attend her funeral service because he had been called away on official business. Philippe was greatly affected by his mother’s death.

On the majority of the king, which was declared on 15 February 15, 1723, the Duke stepped down as regent. At the death of Cardinal Dubois on August 10 of that year, the young king offered the Duke the position of prime minister, and he remained in that office until his death a few months later.

The regent died in Versailles on December 2, 1723 in the arms of his mistress the duchesse de Falari. Louis XV mourned him greatly. The Duke of Bourbon took on the role of Prime Minister of France.