Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Louis XV of France (ILI): Personality Type Analysis

Louis XV was King of France and Navarre from 1715, when he was five years old, until his death in 1774 at the age of sixty-four. He was the fourth king of the House of Bourbon, ascending the throne on the death of his great-grandfather, King Louis XIV (LSI). It was during his reign that France consolidated its present European borders. Unlike his immediate predecessor and successor, Louis XV's reign and legacy are controversial and are often reevaluated. While Louis XIV is easily defined as the king who relentlessly pushed for increasing the power of the monarchy and for wars aiming at expanding French territory and power, and Louis XVI (LII) is the king who ineptly drifted into revolution and lost his head, Louis XV is far more difficult to assess. He has been considered the king chiefly responsible for the collapse of the prestige of the French monarchy - thus passing on to his successor an impossible legacy - due to the scandal of his private life and the perceived failures of his foreign policy. On the other hand, it has been noted that in his reign no foreign army ever crossed into French territory; that he was far less inclined than his predecessor to engage in aggressive wars; that Louis XV was aware of the need for peaceful years of recovery and for balancing the budget; that his reign was the peak of the Enlightenment period; and that in his reign, France built the world's most extensive and modern road network. It may be fair to say that the general population was safer and more prosperous in his reign than in Louis XIV's; yet Louis XIV's reign was widely perceived as increasing France's power, greatness and glory, and Louis XV's as diminishing them. That was probably his biggest 'failing'.

Louis XV succeeded his great-grandfather as king due to the dynastic catastrophe after 1711, when Louis XIV's son, grandson and even elder great-grandson all died in quick succession of natural causes, leaving the five-year old orphan Louis XV as the next in line. During his minority, Louis XIV's nephew, the Duke d'Orleans (ILE), acted as regent. Louis XV was considered of age at 13 in 1723, but he continued to govern with prime ministers, most notably Cardinal Fleury, his former tutor as a child. After the latter's death, when the king was 33, he announced that he would follow Louis XIV's example and run the government himself, without a prime minister.

At this point, it is convenient to drop the chronological narrative and focus on Louis XV's reported and obvious traits, also in comparison to Louis XIV, whom he 'officially' was emulating. Louis XV's personality has been usually described as something like, "gloomy, shy, reluctant to form attachments", a man who obviously found it more difficult to irradiate personal authority and self-confidence than Louis XIV, despite his position as absolute monarch and being generally regarded as one of the best-looking men in France, as well as fit and athletic. Colin Jones summed up Louis's personality in his massive The Great Nation. The king had,
-- a taste for a kind of morose hedonism. Awkward and uncomfortable in formal company, the king only felt truly at home among small groups of intimates with whom he could engage in gloomy gallows humour.
Louis XV was also described as disliking formal public occasions and he actually fled from even friendly crowds. He also found it difficult to give speeches, preferring to hand a written speech to a courtier who would deliver it on his behalf. Yet, he was not exactly a timid man, formally taking command of the French army during the War of the Austrian Succession, and by all accounts, exposing himself to some danger by getting close to the field of battle. Despite his recorded dislike for interacting with crowds, in his function as commander-in-chief he was assiduous in visiting and trying to console individual wounded soldiers.  He was also an enthusiastic hunter (hunting in the sense of pursuing deer at fast speed on horseback and with hounds, not the leisurely hunting of the aristocracy in the later 19th and earlier 20th century), far more so than his predecessor Louis XIV: Louis XIV included hunting among the activities that a king was supposed to pursue, while Louis XV was a genuine enthusiast.

As far as closer, personal relationships are concerned, Louis XV showed a consistent tendency of trusting unreservedly very few people whom he knew very well (like Cardinal Fleury) and, later, Madame de Pompadour (SEE). The king seemed to alternate, throughout his life, between years of more or less consistent monogamy (first with his queen Marie Leszczyńska for a few years, then with Madame de Pompadour, finally with Madame du Barry), and periods in between where he devoted himself to casual sexual debauchery, sometimes with teenagers with whom he had no actual acquaintance. Exaggerated rumours about his depravity during those periods, even to the effect that he drank the blood of those girls, contributed to the decline in the king's personal popularity during his reign. Notably, his personal friendship with Madame de Pompadour continued for some 14 years after their physical relationship had cooled, with her exercising considerable influence and power of patronage due to the unreserved trust of the king (which also undermined his popularity).

What the above descriptions of his personality point to is a man with difficulties in both E and R, but seemingly greater familiarity with R and longing for it. That already suggests a Logical type, and also points to the Gamma or Delta quadras.

Louis's period of personal government has been described as being a bit like 'anarchy' in the sense that despite his proclaimed intentions, he never imposed his personal authority and control on his cabinet in the way that Louis XIV or even Fleury had. Louis XIV had revamped the monarchy and the court at Versailles to make it work like some sort of clock, with all the members of the court, including the king himself, as sort of puppets in a rigid daily routine around etiquette, work, mass, meals, and 'private' time, all aiming at emphasising the king's authority and higher status, with his personal comfort and convenience receiving less priority. By contrast, Louis XV clearly hated that rigid system: early in his reign, feeling obliged to emulate his great predecessor, he dutifully adopted that same system. But he gradually began to 'escape' from it with increasing frequency, following it perhaps just once a week in his later reign. Louis XV preferred to withdraw into his private apartments in the main Versailles palace (which he expanded, at the cost of public areas), or to the smaller Trianon complex in the Versailles garden. In those private areas, he mostly dropped formality and spent time with his immediate family and some intimates - even to the point of being the one to pour the tea. Yet, he never stopped the formal etiquette and routine from operating in the main palace.

What is most revealing about the above is that Louis XV preferred to gradually 'bypass' the system inherited from Louis XIV rather than merely abolishing or drastically revamping it. Just as Louis XIV had used his power as king to invent and impose that ultra-formal system, it fully lay in Louis XV's power to relax it, to abolish it, even to move the court back to Paris (as the Regent, the Duke d'Orleans, had done), that is, to re-shape the monarchy in a way in tune with his personal inclinations, just as Louis XIV had done.

That Louis XV followed the 'path of least resistance' of bypassing routines and systems he disliked, rather than facing it head-on and reshaping it, already points to weaker F than F1 or F2. Also, Louis XIV was inflexible in maintaining that system because any concessions would start to diminish the aura of authority of the king (awareness of F with E). And as he would have predicted, Louis XV's increasing neglect of that system was one of the factors leading to the decline in his personal prestige and that of the monarchy. Yet, Louis XV did care very much about maintaining the power of the monarchy and acted resolutely when he thought it was threatened in more concrete ways, as in his 1771 abolition of the political powers of the law courts (confusingly called "parlements"). This points to a man who does care about his power and authority but finds it difficult to be personally forceful about it, and who seems to overlook the E aspects of power. A low focus on E is already visible in what was reported about his personality in his entire life, as a reserved, even shy man, who preferred the company of small circles of intimates rather than grandiose events and public appearances. This again points to someone of the Gamma or Delta quadras, with R more valued than E, which was also apparently very subdued, pointing to E4 or E7, which narrows down Louis XV's likely types to ILI, SLI, ESI or EII. 

The trait mentioned above of mostly following the 'path of least resistance' rather than facing head-on the existing 'establishments' was observed in other areas. Louis XV famously preferred to bypass his own official foreign ministers by conducting what became known as the secret du Roi - the King's secret - a 'secret diplomacy' conducted by the king himself, personally, during twenty years, using direct secret correspondence with foreign powers and the use of a network of spies and secret agents. Another evidence of this trait is what happened in the aftermath of his assassination attempt, by a man named Damiens, who stabbed the king in Versailles, wounding him in a non-lethal way. The king's advisers as well as the high court - parlement - of Paris wanted  to sentence Damiens to the full punishment reserved for regicides (and applied previously to the murderer of Henry IV (ESE) in 1610), that is, death after hours of savage, agonising public torture. The king's first reaction, upon hearing the description, was of horror and inclination to pardon Damiens - yet faced with unanimous opposition, he relented and let events 'take their course'. Finally, later in his reign, he supported his finance minister in a tax reform that would reduce the tax rate, spread the tax base more evenly, and probably balance the budget - yet, faced with stiff opposition of the nobility and church, Louis sort of let it drop.

The overall picture is of man who, despite the immense authority and power inherent in his position, had extreme difficulty in actually using them when faced with direct opposition from those around him - even if he clearly thought he knew better what should be done. So his attitude was either to give up, in frustration, or to just give up the open confrontation and do it his own way - on his own. This points to a man with very weak F - especially since, it must be remembered, all he had to do was to stay firm in his decisions and wishes, and he would be obeyed. Of the above types, this makes ESI and even SLI very unlikely for Louis XV.

Unlike Louis XIV - a man more inclined to focus on details while missing the big picture, and not inclined to reading - Louis XV was, since childhood, a man of great interest in reading books about many varied subjects, and always impressing foreign ambassadors with his easy mastery of the subjects at hand. He was also deeply interested in natural sciences, asking for demonstrations of newly discovered phenomena such as electricity. His awareness of his own knowledge and ability to learn a varied number of subjects must have been one big factor in his preferring to conduct foreign policy by himself, from his desk, rather than having to rely on the established diplomatic service, and in his personal involvement in tax reform. That points to a man with considerable confidence and focus on P. That was also seen on his war policy: even after fairly victorious wars, Louis XV tended to prefer a peace that more or less restored the previous status, rather than an expansion that would be difficult to preserve; and during the Seven Years War, he quickly realised that France had no chance to defend foreign colonies in Canada and in India against the British navy, preferring to focus resources elsewhere. This realistic approach, showing a higher focus on P than on F or E, although successful, was yet another factor in the king's unpopularity: the perception that he either only lost wars, or that even when he won them, he did not gain anything for France in the end. Many people, perhaps most, missed the days of the destructive wars of Louis XIV, who at least seemed to win.

What we have is a man with almost no focus on E - either at personal or political level - with a clear need for R close relationships but also with difficulty in them; with focus and confidence in P, weakness in F but seemingly valuing it: this is shown not only by his attempts to exercise his will, but also in his preferring intense physical activity in hunting and obviously liking best strong-willed women, like the Madame de Pompadour. E4, R6, P2, F5 fit perfectly all that is known and consistent about Louis XV, pointing to ILI as his Socionics type.

To learn more about ILI, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

Sources: besides Wikipedia in French and English, The Great Nation by Colin Jones, episodes of the French documentary series Secrets d'Histoire and the excellent documentary Louis XV le Soleil Noir.

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