Friday, October 8, 2010

Louis XIV and His Heirs

All the heirs represented here died before Louis did. According to author Catherine Delors:
At the center of painting, we have the third generation of the Bourbons, represented by the seated Sun King himself, clearly the focal point of the scene. He is 72 years old, obviously still hale and hearty.

The portly man in a blue suit standing behind him and leaning on the chair, is his only legitimate son, the Grand Dauphin, the 4th generation. Louis XIV had many illegitimate sons, but those were not eligible to succeed to the throne.

To the right, the young man in red is the Duc de Bourgogne, elder son of the Grand Dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV (5th generation.)

And the handsome toddler guided en lisière by his governess, the Duchess de Ventadour, is his son, the little Duc de Bretagne, great-grandson of the Sun King (6th generation.) Don’t be fooled by the dress: little boys wore them in the 18th century. See how proudly Louis XIV points at this child, the future of the Bourbon dynasty.

I often hear docents at the Wallace Collection tell visitors that this boy is the future Louis XV, successor to Louis XIV. Not so. Louis XV was a newborn in 1710. He was the mere younger brother of the toddler in the white dress, and had no place on this dynastic picture. The truth is more tragic: all the heirs pictured on this painting, all of them, would die before Louis XIV.

First the King’s son, the Grand Dauphin, died the year after this was painted, in 1711, from smallpox. Then in February 1712, it was the time of the young man in red here, the Duc de Bourgogne, right after his wife, whom he loved passionately and whose bedside he had refused to leave. Even the child in this picture, their son, died the following month, in March 1712. All three from a fever, aggravated by the Court physicians’ merciless bloodletting.

Three generations of heirs to the throne of France lost in less than a year! And the baby who would survive against all odds, and succeed Louis XIV five years later is not even represented here…

In my eyes, it makes this painting unwittingly tragic....
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7 comments:

tubbs said...

Such circumstances usually help fabricate legends (the Kennedy 'curse' comes to mind).
Are/Were there any floating around concerning the Bourbons?
That Louie's direct line in primogenture eventually died out (except for the excluded Spanish branch) - this too must have given rise to rumors and superstitions.
Have you ever read of any such stories?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, there certainly seemed to be a blight on the Bourbons. The first born son of every generation died prematurely, even up through the Restoration. Some people say that it was because Louis XIV did not consecrate France to the Sacred Heart as Our Lord had asked him through St. Margaret Mary. Such matters are beyond my scope....

Matterhorn said...

Quite ominous. The humbling of the Sun King...

tubbs said...

and is that Scarron on the left? She looks like she's got the kid on a leash! (not a bad idea for some kids)
What a wonderful painting / I've always been a fan of Louie and this picture shows him in a more relaxed, informal mode.
It took me years to see thru the Brit/Whig propaganda about him.

elena maria vidal said...

It is the Royal Governess, Madame de Ventadour.

Jack Bennett said...

One of the great what-ifs of history. What if the devout and serious Duke of Burgundy (who WAS prepared to be king and was much like the character of his great-grandson, Louis XVI) had not died, nor had his oldest son (leaving the 5-year old survivor, the eventual libertine Louis XV, to be raised by Regents). French history would probably have gone a different way and without the Revolution, so would the rest of Europe.

The North Coast said...

I too often wonder how different things might have been had the Duke of Burgundy lived and become King, instead of Louis XV with his carelessness and mistresses.

I believe France might have been spared the revolution altogether, and the man who became Louis XV might never have sat on the throne.

But, sadly, high premature mortality was the rule in pre-modern life. Most people lost at least one of their children before the age of five, and oftentimes several. We should all be extremely grateful for the advances that have raised our life expectancy past the age of 35.