The real historical Louis XV makes most mad kings seem downright saintlike in comparison. This deranged monarch has become infamous for his scandalous affairs and for driving France to the brink of ruin. But who was the man behind the drama? Dive into the twisted history of King Louis XV and find out for yourself.
Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Those people can't hold a candle to Louis XV. He was born in probably the most lavish place in history: The Palace of Versailles during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. But despite the decadent surroundings, there was something rotten growing in France—and young Louis was at the center of it.
Like so many monarchs, Louis XV wasn't actually supposed to become king. With his uncle, father, and older brother ahead of him in the line of succession, Louis seemed destined for a cushy life of luxury as the Duke of Anjou. But royals have a tendency to turn up dead, and almost as soon as Louis was born, his relatives started dropping like flies.
The first to go was Louis' uncle, the Grand Dauphin, who passed from smallpox barely a year after Louis' birth. Alright, not time to panic yet: There was still Louis' dad and older brother, right? Yeah, about that...Losing an uncle is one thing, but even worse tragedies were about to come.
If you think Louis XV was a bad guy, you can't blame it on his parents—they didn't live long enough to help raise him. First, his mother caught the measles. The disease tore through her quickly, and Louis' father sat next to her bed the whole time. Unfortunately, that only made sure this couple met the same sad fate. Louis' mother passed from measles just days shy of Louis' second birthday, and his father followed less than a week later.
Just like that, Louis was an orphan—but just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it did. The measles wasn't done with his family yet.
Not long after Louis' parents passed, royal doctors discovered that both Louis and his older brother had contracted the same disease. It had claimed their parents, two healthy adults, so few in the court believed either child had a chance. In the end, they were half right.
Doctors tried everything to save the two young brothers—unfortunately, back then "trying everything" wasn't much. They basically just bled the two boys dry, and believe it or not, it turns out you kinda need your blood. Mere days after the diagnosis, Louis' five-year-old brother passed from a combination of the disease and his "treatment."
It seemed sure that young Louis was doomed to the same fate as the rest of his family—but Louis had something none of them had: A guardian angel.
Louis' guardian angel was Madame de Ventadour, his governess. Ventadour, apparently the lone voice of reason in all of France, realized it was probably a bad idea to slice open this two-year-old and drain his blood. She kept all knife-wielding surgeons away from the boy, and wouldn't you know it, Louis actually recovered!
It seemed like a miracle. In reality, Madame de Ventadour had just ensured that France was in for decades of chaos.
In 1715, when Louis was five, his grandfather, the Sun King, finally croaked. For the first time in 72 years, France was about to get a new monarch. With Louis XIV, France had become one of the most powerful nations in the world. How much could his grandson, the new Louis XV, do to screw that up?
It turns out, a lot.
Having a child as the King of France leads to some...interesting diplomatic situations. Take the time that the imposing Russian Tsar Peter the Great came to visit France. Upon seeing the diminutive French king, Peter joyously picked up Louis and planted a big kiss right on him. Not exactly the way the kings of two powerful nations usually greet each other—but then again, nothing was usual about the bizarre early years of Louis XV's reign.
How often do you get to see the King of France throw on some tights and dance the ballet? That's exactly what happened in 1720, when advisors forced the 10-year-old Louis to perform two public ballets at the Tuileries Palace. An extremely shy boy, Louis found the entire experience completely humiliating. He was king, yet as a child, he was still basically helpless.
But all of that was about to change.
See, even though the King of France was a snot-nosed little kid, the country made sure that he couldn't make a complete mess of things. Louis wouldn't have much real power until he came of age. Until then, his Regent and advisors ran the country—and they did a pretty good job. Under their watchful eye, France entered a new Age of Enlightenment.
Then Louis came of age, and, well...let's just say things didn't go great.
Like I said, France wasn't so crazy as to let a child-king run the country. They waited until he was a sage 13-year-old boy before they did that! That's when Louis finally took his place as the king—and what's a king without a queen? In what would definitely have been the wildest-ever season of The Bachelor, French officials compiled a list of 99 princesses from all across Europe.
In the end, only one of them could get the rose, and her name was Marie Leszczyńska, a Polish princess...The poor girl had no idea what she was in for.
The 15-year-old Louis married the 22-year-old Princess Marie in a lavish ceremony in 1725. They quickly got about doing their royal duty, and they had their first child in 1727. Queen Marie would spend the next decade in a state of perpetual pregnancy—but it wasn't long before the young parents felt the horrible pain of loss.
Though Louis and Marie ended up having 10 children, if history's taught us anything, it's that having a king for a dad is hazardous to your health. The couple's second son, the adorable little Duke of Anjou, passed at just three years old. The couple was devastated—but that didn't stop them from having four more kids in the next four years.
But if you think that having 10 kids in 10 years is a lot, you're not alone. Pretty soon, it started taking its toll.
In the beginning, the marriage of Louis and Marie seemed like a match made in heaven. Both of them were terribly shy, and they became extremely close almost immediately. For the first years of their marriage, people in the palace claimed the two of them were completely inseparable. But people change, and as time passed, their bond started to split apart at the seams.
Soon enough, this loving relationship would turn painfully cold and distant—and Louis' eyes would start to wander.
Though Louis was a shy child, being the all-powerful King of France has a way of going to your head. By the time Louis hit his 20s, he was a full-on playboy. With his wife (understandably) exhausted from a constant series of pregnancies, Louis found a new hobby: Mistresses. The first was one of his wife's ladies of the court, the stunning Louise Julie de Mailly.
And Louis didn't just secretly sleep around—no, his affairs were a whole lot more scandalous than that.
Apparently, Louis XV learned at least one thing from watching his grandfather, the Sun King: Whatever I say, goes. So when Louis wanted to make his new gal-pal Louise Julie de Mailly a Duchess, he didn't blink. Give Louis credit for one thing: The man definitely had no shame—and it was only going to get worse.
Louise Julie de Mailly was just the first in a long line of scandalous mistresses for Louis XV. Pretty soon, everyone in France knew about the king's appetites. The Duke of Luynes put it best when he said, "The King loves women, and yet there is absolutely no gallantry in his spirit." Yeah, Louis was definitely a "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am" sort of lover.
But while Louis quickly got a reputation as an incorrigible lothario, he would soon prove he could sink a whole lot lower.
Louis had started taking mistresses, but he still carried some affection for his wife. That all changed in 1738. After Queen Marie lost the child of her 11th pregnancy, her doctors told her no more nooky until her body recovered. I think we can all agree that after a decade of pregnancies, the poor woman deserved the break—but apparently, Louis didn't agree.
When the king found out, his reaction was utterly disturbing.
Queen Marie gave Louis XV ten children in ten years—and all it took was a single "No" for him to turn his back on her forever. On doctor's orders, Marie rebuked her husband's advances after her miscarriage. This was maybe the first time in his life Louis didn't get what he wanted—and he didn't take it well.
Scandalized and offended, Louis never slept with his wife again—but that's just the beginning of his cruelty.
Remember how we called Louis shameless? You don't even know the half of it. Louis' unending string of mistresses started to become something of a national embarrassment. Soon enough, the Church stepped in and tried to get Louis to at least go to confession; after all, adultery is a sin. Instead, Louis just stopped taking the sacrament and kept on sleeping around.
And if the sheer number of mistresses Louis took wasn't scandalous enough, who he chose was even more messed up.
It didn't take long for Louis to tire of Louise Julie de Mailly—but that's when his eyes strayed to her sister. Her very married sister. But what's a thing like a marriage vow to the King of France? Louis brought Pauline-Félicité de Mailly into his bed in 1740, and she was pregnant by the end of the year. Unfortunately, she would pay the ultimate price for it...
Both Pauline-Félicité de Mailly and her child died in childbirth. To be fair, Louis was pretty broken up about it. His heart wasn't completely made of stone. But, before long, he was starting to feel better and looking for a rebound. And who did he choose? Well, his last two mistresses had been sisters...so why change up the pattern now?
Not long after her sister passed, Louis XV's first mistress, Louise Julie de Mailly, made a horrible, horrible mistake: She introduced him to her other sister, Marie Anne. Louis was nothing if not predictable, and he soon had eyes only for Marie—but this sister was the dark sheep of the family.
Marie-Anne de Mailly had her sister to thank for her new relationship with the king, so how did she thank her? She had Louis ban her older sister from Versailles, of course! Apparently Marie Anne and Louise Julie did not get along. They didn't seem to have a problem sleeping with the same guy though...
For anyone keeping track, that makes three de Mailly sisters who shared Louis XV's royal bed. And if you think that people didn't notice, you're underestimating the gossips of 18th-century France. Soon enough, a sordid poem about the king's familial exploits started circulating, ending with the line: "Choosing an entire family—is that being unfaithful, or constant?"
But if diss-poems were the worst of Louis' problems, he'd have gotten off easy.
Louis XV flouted the Church's rules and slept around with whomever he liked—but when his mortality came calling, he immediately did a 180 and begged for forgiveness. While he was still with Marie Anne, he suddenly fell gravely ill. The sickness was so fast and so violent that the king was sure his time was nigh. He begged his chaplain to give him absolution, but the priest said he only would if Louis ditched his mistress.
Louis didn't think twice, and he dumped Marie Anne like a sack of hammers...until he miraculously recovered and went right back to her bed.
The king survived his brush with the grave, so he should have been happy—but he still had to pay a steep price for it: A priest recorded Louis XV's confession. He basically revealed all his deepest, darkest secrets...and now they were out there for all of France to laugh at. You'd think that this humiliation would finally make Louis change his scandalous ways.
Nope. The playboy king was just getting started.
Up to this point, all of Louis XV's mistresses had pretty much exited his life as quickly as they came in. It was going to take a special kind of woman to nail this incorrigible monarch down. Louis saw such a woman from a distance while he was returning from a hunt one day in 1745. Later, he got to meet her officially at an extravagant costume ball.
Her name was Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, but history remembers her by another name: Madame de Pompadour. Soon enough, she would hold Louis' heart in her hands—and it would make her one of the most powerful people in the world.
Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson's reputation preceded her. Rumor had it that she was the most beautiful and brilliant woman in Paris. These words eventually reached Louis XV's ear, and when he finally met her in person, she did not disappoint. Before him stood the most remarkable woman he'd ever seen. He took her to bed almost immediately, but this time, things were different.
Before, Louis changed mistresses more often than he changed hats—but not Poisson. He made her the Marquise de Pompadour, and they would stay together for twenty long years.
Madame de Pompadour didn't just share Louis' bed. She became his closest advisor, and soon enough, there were whispers that she was the real power behind the throne. Pompadour proved to be one of the most cunning political schemers in all of France—which was good for Louis, because soon enough, he was going to need all the help he could get.
While Louis liked to hide away at Versailles and focus on wetting his beak, the world beyond his palace was in chaos. All the European powers vied for an advantage, and France was right at the center of it. Since the reign of the Sun King, France held the upper hand—so when Louis declared war on Great Britain in 1756, he assumed he'd win the conflict easily.
But Louis was better with women than he was with warfare—and he was about to drive his once-dominant nation to the brink.
So began the Seven Years War between France and England. When the conflict started, France had the obvious advantage. It was David and Goliath...but we all know how that ended. Within just a few years, France had lost control of its territories in Canada and India, lost key battles on home soil, and had to completely abandon a planned invasion of England.
To say this was a disaster for Louis would be an understatement—but just when things abroad were looking grim, even worse problems sprouted up at home.
From the safety of Versailles, surrounded by mistresses and sycophants, Louis XV probably felt pretty good about himself—but in the rest of France, the people were starting to turn on him. Not only did he turn his back on the Church with his sordid affairs, but his military blunders were piling up and France's political standing was slipping.
Soon enough, the various Duchies of France turned their back on Louis completely and stopped paying taxes—and it couldn't have happened at a worse time.
The problem with fighting for seven years is that it costs a lot of money. When Louis took over the throne, France was one of the richest countries in the world—but between losing most of his overseas territories, paying his own army, and paying for the armies of his allies, by the early 1760s, Louis had pretty much bankrupted his kingdom.
He finally had to wave the white flag—and the consequences would be devastating.
The Seven Years War officially ended in 1763. Louis managed to keep the territories of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Santa Lucia...but that's about it. The whole conflict had been a fiasco, and it left France way worse off than it had been before. The end of hostilities marked the lowest point of Louis' life so far—but he was about to learn, he could sink much lower.
The winter of 1763 was particularly frigid. Maybe Louis thought he was being punished for his many failures—but the true punishment was yet to come. His beloved Madame de Pompadour caught pneumonia in the freezing temperatures, and it proved fatal. After being with Louis for 20 long years, she was suddenly ripped from his grasp.
At the time when his country needed him the most, his mistress's passing sent Louis into a dark spiral.
Madame de Pompadour was the most important person in Louis' life—yes, more important than his wife, who was still kicking around, by the way. Without his beloved mistress, Louis was completely lost. He holed himself away and ignored matters of state in his grief. Then, just when he started to recover, another devastating personal tragedy brought him to his knees once again.
Just a year after Madame de Pompadour's passing, Louis' son and heir, the Dauphin, caught tuberculosis. Within a matter of days, the prince found himself just barely clinging to life. It was a time when Louis needed to be strong for the sake of his son—but by this point, Louis was pretty much a broken man, so his reaction to his son's illness was utterly deranged.
With his son on his deathbed and his country in disarray, what did Louis XV? He secluded himself away with an eccentric astronomer and spent his days staring at the sky and making calculations. Surprisingly, that didn't help anything, and his son succumbed to his illness just before Christmas in 1765. Once again, Louis fell into a deep depression—but while his son's loss hit him hard, Louis' forgotten Queen Marie took it much, much worse.
Though she hadn't shared a bed with Louis for nearly 30 years, Queen Marie was still hanging around Versailles all this time. However, losing her son left her completely inconsolable. To make matters worse, her own father passed soon after, then so did her daughter-in-law, who had been one of her few friends in a cold and hostile court.
This constant barrage of loss eventually proved too much for the Queen, and she fell ill and passed quietly in 1768. And how did Louis mourn his long-suffering wife? By finding a new mistress, of course!
When Madame de Pompadour passed, it seemed like no woman could ever take her place in Louis' heart. Apparently, all it took was his wife passing too for Louis to decide it was time to get back on the horse. Many women vied for a place in the king's bed, but one of them rose above the rest. Her name was Jeanne Becu, better known as the infamous Madame du Barry.
While Louis' other mistresses were unpopular, Barry was a whole new level of scandal.
First, there was the fact that Madame du Barry was a full 33 years younger than the king—but that was the least of people's problems with her. More importantly, she was the daughter of a lowly seamstress. Even worse, she was born out of wedlock. If even the lowliest noble took up with her, Barry would have been scandalous—but for her to shack up with the king himself?
Louis XV had spent his entire life offending people, but this time, he went too far.
Everyone closest to Louis absolutely despised Madame du Barry. His most important minister, the Duke de Choiseul, could barely stand to be in the same room as her. His granddaughter-in-law, the future queen Marie Antoinette, called her, "The most stupid and impertinent creature imaginable." It looked as though Madame du Barry would finally be the straw that broke the camel's back and would finally make the people turn against Louis.
But in the end, they didn't get the chance.
In 1774, the 64-year-old king's doctors started to notice red spots appearing all over his royal skin. At first, they assumed he had smallpox, which actually would have been a good thing. They believed the king had already gotten the disease, which would have meant he wasn't in much danger. But, as the days began to pass, they soon realized this illness was much more serious than it had first appeared.
The boils covering Louis' body got worse and worse, no matter what his doctors did. Finally, the dark truth became clear: King Louis XV was on death's door. Despite his decades of teeing off the Church, he summoned his confessor to give him the final rights. On May 9, 1774, the Duke de Croy visited the ailing king. He took one look at the once-dashing playboy king—and he was utterly horrified by what he saw.
In the Duke de Croy's own words, the gruesome boils on King Louis XV's face made it look like he wore "a mask of bronze." Turns out, that's not something you can come back from. Mere hours after the Duke's visit, Louis succumbed to his illness.
Before he passed, Louis took the time to personally draft his own will. In that grim document, the infallible King Louis XV made a stunning confession: "If I made errors, it was not from a lack of will, but from a lack of talents..." Looks like even Louis thought he was a terrible king! Hey, the first step is admitting it.
Still, we doubt he realized how bad it was: Louis XV had permanently damaged the French monarchy, and it would never recover. His grandson, Louis XVI, would take over the throne—the same king who lost his head in the French Revolution.
King Louis XV finally kicked the bucket in 1774, but he came frightening close to dying almost 20 years earlier, in 1757. On a cold January day, Louis was stepping into his carriage when a deranged man, Robert-Francois Damiens, suddenly burst through the king's guards and stabbed his royal person. However, in a strange twist of fate, that cold winter ended up saving Louis' life.
Damiens managed to penetrate the king's defenses—but he couldn't penetrate his thick winter clothing. The knife became entangled in the heavy wool and didn't actually manage to do any fatal damage. The king's guards soon pulled the madman off of him, but Louis demanded they didn't harm him. No—he had a much more disturbing end in mind.
The king was alive, but bleeding profusely. He managed to climb the steps to his rooms to summon his doctor and a priest before fainting from blood loss. He eventually made a full recovery—but we can't say the same for his assailant. Turns out, when you shoot for the king, you'd better not miss.
Even though the French government mostly hated Louis, even back then, they still agreed that an attack on their king was an assault on France itself. They made sure Louis' will was done when they sentenced Robert-Francois Damiens to the most gruesome end they could. Damien was executed by being drawn and quartered, then officials had his remains thrown on a bonfire.
It was a horrible way to go—but Louis wasn't even done yet.
Even with Damiens reduced to ashes, Louis wasn't satisfied. He had his assailant's father, wife, and daughter all banned from France forever. Then he tracked down every last member of Damiens' remaining family and forced them to change their name.
King Louis XV's sordid reputation made him the playboy king. He flaunted countless women in front of the French court, and Madame de Pompadour was the most famous of them all. But, through the 20 years Pompadour dominated affairs at Versailles, most people didn't realize that this scandalous couple was hiding a shocking secret: They had actually stopped sleeping with each other just a few years after they got together.
People assumed Louis was just a lecherous womanizer, but in the end, he realized that Pompadour was more than just a pretty face. He kept her around for her sage advice, even long after their physical relationship ended.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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