Historical story

The Sad and Lonely Death of Louis XV and the Smallpox Vaccine

Last updated:2022-11-07

Portrait of Louis XV. The king died of smallpox in 1774

April 1774 :during one of the usual hunting trips near Versailles to whom he always dedicated his free moments, the elderly king of France Louis XV felt bad.

After three days spent in bed amidst moans and excruciating pain, the court doctors, who until then had not known what to do with not being able in any way to understand what dark disease the sovereign was afflicted with, realized that the royal patient his face was completely pockmarked with pustules and only then was the response clear, immediate and inexorable: smallpox.

As soon as the news spread, as expected, the palace was seized by panic:the Dolphins were made to move away and no one dared to approach the dying man, who among other things, gave off an unbearable smell.

Louis XV died on the morning of May 10 in his room, alone and without any comfort (the last favorite, Madame Du Barry , she had been expelled from the court); when it was time to render him the right funeral honors, everyone refused to put him in the coffin and it was necessary to call some garbage collectors to clean up the Parisian sewers to carry out the sad operation.

Smallpox was a contagious and very dangerous disease that claimed numerous victims at the time; in reality, in the Northern European courts, vaccination had already been adopted for some time against this terrible disease, but it had not yet started in France due to prejudices and fears.

The introduction to the French court of this life-saving practice is due to the courage of Marie Antoinette :following the advice and example of the very young queen, in fact, the members of the royal family were in turn vaccinated, and everything went in the best possible way.