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Philip II, Duke of Orléans
- Philippe of Orléans -
Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Philippe Charles (August 2, 1674 - December 2, 1723) called Duke of Chartres (1674-1701), and then Duke of Orléans (1701-1723) was Regent of France from 1715 to 1723. His regency being the last in the kingdom of France, he is still commonly referred to as le Régent and his regency as la Régence.
He had his first experience of arms at the siege of Mons in 1691. He fought with distinction at Steinkerk , Neerwinden and Namur (1692-1695). During the next few years, being without employment, he studied natural science.
He was next given a command in Italy (1706) and in Spain (1707-1708) where he gained some important successes, but he cherished lofty ambitions and was suspected of wishing to take the place of Philip V on the throne of Spain. Louis XIV was angry at these pretensions, and for a long time held him in disfavour. In his will, however, he appointed him president of the council of regency of the young king Louis XV (1715).
On the death of Louis XIV (September 1, 1715), the late king's five-year-old great-grandson was crowned king Louis XV of France. The duke of Orléans went to the parlement, had the will annulled, and himself invested with absolute power, and the then forty-one-year-old Philippe became Regent.
At first he made a good use of this, counselling economy, decreasing taxation, disbanding 25,000 soldiers and restoring liberty to the persecuted Jansenists. But the inquisitorial measures which he had begun against the financiers led to disturbances. He was, moreover, weak enough to countenance the risky operations of the banker John Law (1717), whose bankruptcy, led to a disastrous crisis in the public and private affairs of France.
There existed a party of malcontents who wished to transfer the regency from Orleans to Philip V, king of Spain. A conspiracy was formed, under the inspiration of Cardinal Alberoni , first minister of Spain, and directed by the Prince of Cellamare , Spanish ambassador in France, with the complicity of the duke and duchess of Maine the legitimized son of Louis XIV; but in 1718 it was discovered and defeated. Guillaume Dubois, formerly tutor to the duke of Orleans, and now his chief minister, caused war to be declared against Spain, with the support of the emperor, and of England and Holland (Quadruple Alliance). After some successes of the French marshal, the Duke of Berwick, in Spain, and of the imperial troops in Sicily, Philip V made peace with the regent (1720).
On the majority of the king, which was declared on the isth of February 1723, the duke of Orleans resigned the supreme power; but he became first minister to the king, and remained in office till his death on December 23, 1723. He died at the Palace of Versailles and was buried in the city of his birth, Saint-Cloud.
Philippe had only one son: Louis, duke of Orléans (1703-1752).
The regent had great qualities, both brilliant and solid, which were unfortunately spoilt by an excessive taste for pleasure. His dissolute manners found only too many imitators, and the regency was one of the most corrupt periods in French history.
Philippe was a professed atheist who boasted to read the satirical works of François Rabelais inside a Bible binding during mass, and liked to hold orgies even on religious high holidays. He acted in plays of Molière and Racine, composed the music for an opera, and was a gifted painter and engraver.
A liberal and imaginative man, he was however, often weak, inconsistent and vacillating. Nonetheless, as Regent, he changed the manners of the ruler and his nobles from the hypocrisy of Louis XIV to complete candor. He was against censorship and ordered the reprinting of books banned under the reign of his uncle. Reversing his uncle's policies again, Philippe formed an alliance with England, Austria, and the Netherlands, and fought a successful war against Spain that established the conditions of a European peace.
Philippe promoted education, making the Sorbonne tuition free and opening the Royal Library to the public (1720). He is however most remembered for the debauchery he brought to Versailles and for the John Law banking scandal.
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