Louis, Grand Dauphin
Louis, Grand Dauphin, was the eldest son of Louis XIV of France. Considered a simpleton, he lived a life of leisure most of his life. He saw brief military duty in the Nine Years' War, leading an army to defend Alsace. He also played an important, though minor, role in the Spanish succession, giving up the throne of France to make way for his son to become Philip V of Spain.
Louis, Grand Dauphin, was the eldest of six siblings and heir of Louis XIV, king of France, and Maria Theresa of Spain. Born on November 1, 1661, at the height of French power and opulence, much was expected of Louis, but he never measured up to expectations. Legend had it that a prophecy foretold he would be the son of a king and the father of a king, but never a king himself. At age 7, he was removed from the care of nannies and governesses and placed under the tutelage of several clergymen. Both his father and the tutors considered him lazy and a dullard. However, recent historical analysis indicates that he was more a victim of education malpractice that made him averse to learning.
Marriage and Military Service
Louis XIV considered several candidates to marry his son, and at age 7 Louis was betrothed to Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria. While in his teens, Louis was said to be secretly in love with his cousin, Marie Louise, but his father forced her to marry the invalid Charles II of Spain in order to forge an alliance. Louis married Maria Anna in 1680 and they had three children. Upon the birth of his firstborn, Louis was given the title Dauphin.
For the most part, Louis's life was uneventful. He had few interests of any substance, spending much of his time hunting, collecting art and seeing to his mistresses. His moniker "Grand Dauphin" was due not to any grand accomplishments, but to his rather rotund girth. He was popular with Parisians and the French people in general for his affability and generosity.
When Louis was 26, his father sent him to the Rhineland front during the Nine Years' War to shore up Louis's credentials as a leader. In his only significant military experience, Louis succeeded in leading French forces to take one of the bridgeheads across the Rhine. Louis displayed courage when he visited the soldiers in the besieged tranches to observe progress of the attack. His forces later successfully captured Philipsburg and prevented the opposing forces from invading Alsace.
Role in the Spanish Succession
Though he did not play an important role in French politics, Louis did participate in the "Conseil d'en haut" (a council of advisers to the king) and played a major role leading up to the War of Spanish Succession. In 1700 his uncle, Charles II of Spain, died with no heir. Louis, Grand Dauphin, was Charles's first cousin and considered the next in line to the throne of Spain. However, the Austrian Hapsburgs also claimed right to the Spanish crown through family ties. In order to improve the chances for a Bourbon succession, Louis gave up his rights to the Spanish throne to his second son, Philippe, duc d'Anjou, giving up Naples, Sicily and Tuscany, which would have been his had he become king. Philippe was later crowned Philip V of Spain; thus, the supposed prophecy was fulfilled.
In the last 10 years of his life, Louis, Grand Dauphin, continued his leisurely pursuits. His first wife, Maria Anna, died in 1690, and Louis married one of his lovers, Marie Émilie de Joly de Choin, in 1695. After 1700, Louis established his own court at the Château de Meudon and collected art and diamonds. He died on April 11, 1711, of smallpox at age 49, preceding his father in death.
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