Gateway to the Classics: Peeps at History: France by John Finnemore
Peeps at History: France by  John Finnemore

The House of Bourbon—III.

Once more the King of France was a child of five years old, and once more a long reign was seen, for Louis XV. sat on the throne for fifty-nine years, from 1715 to 1774. He was a very bad King, and matters went worse and worse throughout France under his rule. He spent the money of the State upon his own idle pleasures, at a time when many of his people were starving. One day as he drove into Paris, the crowds who had gathered to see him pass did not cry as usual: "Long live the King!" They yelled out savagely: "Misery, Famine, Blood!" At his council table a Minister tossed on the board a morsel of bread made from fern or bracken, and remarked: "See, Sire, this is your subjects' food."

Yet Louis never abated a jot of the taxes which the wretched starving people were called upon to pay. He even added a fresh burden, which became the most bitterly disliked of all, the hated corvée. Under the corvée, the peasants who lived near a spot where a new road was being made, were called to work upon it. Not only were they to make the road, but they were to keep it in order, and they were compelled to lend their horses and carts to fetch and carry all that was needed. For this work they were not given a single penny; the whole of it was forced labour.

There were several great wars in this reign, and much fighting with the English in India and Canada. In India the French made great headway for a time, but the English, under Clive, drove the French back, and after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, it was certain that the English would become masters of India. In 1759, James Wolfe defeated the French on the Plain of Abraham near Quebec, and thus the French power was broken in Canada. These battles took place during the great struggle known as the Seven Years' War, when Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, won much renown in battling against the armies of Louis. The war closed in 1763, and there were eleven years of peace before Louis died. But neither in war nor peace was there anything good to be said of this King, and he was lucky to die before the storm of revolution burst over his country.

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