Major changes in France, Europe, and North America (1718–1783)
Louis XIV died in 1715 and was succeeded by his five-year-old great grandson who reigned as Louis XV until his death in 1774. In 1718, France was once again at war, as Philip II of Orléans's regency joined the War of the Quadruple Allianceagainst Spain. King Philip V of Spain had to withdraw from the conflict, confronted with the reality that Spain was no longer a great power of Europe. Under Cardinal Fleury's administration, peace was maintained as long as possible.
However, in 1733 another war broke in central Europe, this time about the Polish succession, and France joined the war against the Austrian Empire. This time there was no invasion of the Netherlands, and Britain remained neutral. As a consequence, Austria was left alone against a Franco-Spanish alliance and faced a military disaster. Peace was settled in the Treaty of Vienna (1738), according to which France would annex, through inheritance, the Duchy of Lorraine.
Two years later, in 1740, war broke out over the Austrian succession, and France seized the opportunity to join the conflict. The war played out in North America and India as well as Europe, and inconclusive terms were agreed to in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Once again, no one regarded this as a peace, but rather as a mere truce. Prussia was then becoming a new threat, as it had gained substantial territory from Austria. This led to the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, in which the alliances seen during the previous war were mostly inverted. France was now allied to Austria and Russia, while Britain was now allied to Prussia.
In the North American theatre, France was allied with various Native American peoples during the Seven Years' War and, despite a temporary success at the battles of the Great Meadows and Monongahela, French forces were defeated at the disastrous Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. In Europe, repeated French attempts to overwhelm Hanover failed. In 1762 Russia, France, and Austria were on the verge of crushing Prussia, when the Anglo-Prussian Alliance was saved by the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. At sea naval defeats against British fleets at Lagos and Quiberon Bay in 1759 and a crippling blockade forced France to keep its ships in port. Finally peace was concluded in the Treaty of Paris (1763), and France lost its North American empire.
Britain's success in the Seven Years War had allowed them to eclipse France as the leading colonial power. France sought revenge for this defeat, and under Choiseul France started to rebuild. In 1766 the French Kingdom annexed Lorraine and the following year bought Corsica from Genoa.
Having lost its colonial empire, France saw a good opportunity for revenge against Britain in signing an alliance with the Americans in 1778, and sending an army and navy that turned the American Revolution into a world war. Spain, allied to France by the Family Compact, and the Dutch Republic also joined the war on the French side. Admiral de Grasse defeated a British fleet at Chesapeake Bay while Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau and Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette joined American forces in defeating the British at Yorktown. The war was concluded by theTreaty of Paris (1783); the United States became independent. The British Royal Navy scored a major victory over France in 1782 at the Battle of the Saintes and France finished the war with huge debts and the minor gain of the island of Tobago.
While the state expanded, new Enlightenment ideas flourished. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieuproposed the separation of powers. Many other French philosophes (intellectuals) exerted philosophical influence on a continental scale, including Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose essay The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right was a catalyst for governmental and societal reform throughout Europe. Diderot's great Encyclopédie reshaped the European world view.
Astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and technology flourished. French scientists such as Antoine Lavoisierworked to replace the archaic units of weights and measures by a coherent scientific system. Lavoisier also formulated the law of Conservation of mass and discovered oxygen and hydrogen.
The "Philosophes" were 18th-century French intellectuals who dominated the French Enlightenment and were influential across Europe. Their interests were diverse, with experts in scientific, literary, philosophical and sociological matters. The ultimate goal of the philosophers was human progress; by concentrating on social and material sciences, they believed that a rational society was the only logical outcome of a freethinking and reasoned populace. They also advocatedDeism and religious tolerance. Many believed religion had been used as a source of conflict since time eternal, and that logical, rational thought was the way forward for mankind.
The philosopher Denis Diderot was Editor in Chief of the famous Enlightenment accomplishment, the 72,000 articleEncyclopédie (1751–1772). It sparked a revolution in learning throughout the enlightened world.
In the early part of the 18th century the movement was dominated by Voltaire and Montesquieu, but the movement grew in momentum as the century moved on. Overall the philosophers were inspired by the thoughts of René Descartes, the skepticism of the Libertins and the popularization of science by Bernard de Fontenelle. Sectarian dissensions within the church, the gradual weakening of the absolute monarch and the numerous wars of Louis XIV allowed their influence to spread. Between 1748 and 1751 the Philosophes reached their most influential period, asMontesquieu published Spirit of Laws (1748) and Jean Jacques Rousseau published Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750).
The leader of the French Enlightenment and a writer of enormous influence across Europe, was Voltaire(1694–1778). His many books included poems and plays; works of satire (Candide ); books on history, science, and philosophy, including numerous (anonymous) contributions to the Encyclopédie; and an extensive correspondence. A witty, tireless antagonist to the alliance between the French state and the church, he was exiled from France on a number of occasions. In exile in England he came to appreciate British thought and he popularized Isaac Newton in Europe..