Louis, Duke of Burgundy (August 16, 1682 – February 18, 1712), was the eldest son of Louis, Grand Dauphin, and Dauphine Maria Anna and grandson of the reigning King Louis XIV of France. He was known as the “Petit Dauphin” to distinguish him from his father, who died in April 1711, when the former became the official Dauphin of France. He never reigned, as he died in 1712 while his grandfather was still on the throne. Upon the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the Duke of Burgundy’s son became Louis XV.
Louis was born in the Palace of Versailles in 1682, the eldest son of the French Dauphin, Louis, who would later be called le Grand Dauphin, and his wife, Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria, the eldest daughter of Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria and his wife Princess Henriette Adelaide of Savoy.
Her maternal grandparents were Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy and Christine Marie de Bourbon of France, the second daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de’ Medici, thus her husband the dauphin was her second cousin.
His father was the eldest son of the reigning king, Louis XIV and his wife Queen Maria Theresa of Spain born an Infanta of Spain and Portugal at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, she was the daughter of Felipe IV-III of Spain and Portugal and his wife Elisabeth de Bourbon of France daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de’ Medici.
At birth, Prince Louis received the title of Duke of Burgundy (duc de Bourgogne). In addition, as the son of the Dauphin and grandson to the king, he was a fils de France and also second in the line of succession to his grandfather, Louis XIV, after his father.
Louis grew up with his younger brothers: Philippe, Duke of Anjou, who became King Felipe V of Spain; and Charles, Duke of Berry, under the supervision of the royal governess Louise de Prie. He lost his mother when he was eight. His father, viewed as lazy and dull, never played a major role in politics.
At the age of 15, he was married to his second cousin, Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, the daughter of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy and Anne Marie d’Orléans. She was the daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, younger brother of Louis XIV, and Henrietta of England, the youngest daughter of Charles I of England, who was the daughter of Henri IV of France and his wife Maria de Medici.
This match had been decided as part of the Treaty of Turin, which ended Franco-Savoyard conflicts during the Nine Years’ War. The wedding took place on December 7, 1697 at the Palace of Versailles.
Military career and politics
In 1702, at the age of 20, Louis was admitted by his grandfather King Louis XIV to the Conseil d’en haut (High Council), which was in charge of state secrets regarding religion, diplomacy and war. His father had been admitted only at the age of 30.
In 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Louis was given command of the army in Flanders, with the experienced soldier Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, serving under him. The uncertainty as to which of the two should truly command the army led to delays and the need to refer decisions to Louis XIV.
Continued indecision led to French inactivity as messages travelled between the front and Versailles; the Allies were then able to take the initiative. The culmination of this was the Battle of Oudenarde, where Louis’s mistaken choices and reluctance to support Vendôme led to a decisive defeat for the French.
In the aftermath of the defeat, his hesitation to relieve the Siege of Lille led to the loss of the city and thereby allowed the Allies to make their first incursions onto French soil.
Louis was influenced by the dévots and was surrounded by a circle of people known as the faction de Bourgogne, notably including his old tutor François Fénelon, his old governor Paul de Beauvilliers, Duke of Saint-Aignan and his brother-in-law Charles Honoré d’Albert, Duke of Chevreuse, as well as the renowned memorialist, Louis de Rouvroy, Duke of Saint-Simon.
These high-ranking aristocrats sought a return to a monarchy less absolute and less centralised, with more powers granted to the individual provinces. Their view was that government should work through councils and intermediary organs between the king and the people.
These intermediary councils were to be made up not by commoners from the bourgeoisie (like the ministers appointed by Louis XIV) but by aristocrats who perceived themselves as the representatives of the people and would assist the king in governance and the exercise of power. Had Louis succeeded to the throne, he might have applied this concept of monarchy.
Death and legacy
Louis became Dauphin of France upon the death of his father in 1711. In February 1712, his wife contracted measles and died on February 12. Louis himself, who dearly loved his wife and who had stayed by her side throughout the fatal illness, caught the disease and died six days after her at the Château de Marly on February 18 aged 29. Both of his sons also became infected.
The elder son of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, Louis, Duke of Brittany, the latest in a series of Dauphins, succumbed on March 8, leaving his brother, the two-year-old Duke of Anjou, who was later to succeed to the throne as Louis XV.
As it was thought that the chances of survival of this frail child, now heir apparent to his seventy-three-year-old great grandfather, were minimal, a potential succession crisis loomed.
Moreover, overnight the broad hopes and squabbling of the aristocrats caused this system to fail, and it was soon abandoned in 1718 in favour of a return to absolute monarchy.