19 December 1683- 9 July 1746
Felipe's upbringing and personality
In understanding Felipe's character it is important to understand his position at court before he left for Spain in December 1700. He was the son of the Grand Dauphin and Marie Anne of Bavaria. During these first 17 years of his life he was legally only third in line for the succession of the French throne, a position that would not have made him the centre of attention. To this must be added that his father, the Dauphin Louis, was a figure totally dominated by Louis XIV. Add to this the education he received from Fenelon, who stressed morality, and the general preference Louis XIV had for his bastards, and it is easy to assume that Felipe was raised to obey rather then to rule.
I think there were two sets of traits in the description of his character. The first set was that he was said to be devout, serious, and introvert, the second set that he was a manic depressive, dominated by his wives, and the Princesse Des Ursins. It is remarkable that Saint Simon writes that a similar first set of characteristics was at first also ascribed to his brother the Duke of Burgundy by the public, but that after the death of their father and his return to favor Burgundy was appreciated to be an extravert, high-spirited and very intelligent dauphin. Therefore I think it perhaps possible that Felipe was not mad/depressive by nature, but rather became so in Spain.
Philip V's first government in Madrid
On 18 February 1701 *1 Felipe V entered Madrid equipped with the good advice that Louis had not bothered to act upon himself. The prime obstacles he had to overcome in order to govern comfortably were: the antipathy of the Spanish for the French, the difference of national habits, party political interests, the general impotence of the Spanish government and the deplorable state of the nation. Another drawback was that he suddenly arrived on the scene and had neither Spanish confidants nor armed forces on which he could rely. Philip did have some French confidants, i.e. the marquis de Louville and Montviel, but these were friends rather than confidants that could help him in government. Appreciating the circumstances one can wonder whether the 17 year old Felipe was really expected to rule Spain without a devoted and experienced advisor or that Louis XIV wanted to rule Spain by controlling a weak king. Anyway: Felipe was expected to confer with the French ambassador about everything, and so his reign started under the direction of Louis XIV, Torcy and the French ambassador.
From the start it was clear that some major reforms were needed in order to get the Spanish government to function again and be able to defend its territory. Most of these measures made sense and went a long way in modernizing the government. In order to reestablish the financial situation Mister Orry was sent from France, and he accomplished a lot. On the whole the Junta led by Porto Carrero was however not capable of the action required. The control of Versailles in this early stage was perhaps illustrated by the sale of the Assiento to France for 200,000 Ecu's, a measure that favored France but could only hasten war with the Sea Powers. This first period of Felipe's government in Madrid was ended when he left for the border in order to meet his wife in November 1701.
Felipe V's first wife
One can say that behind every great man there is a great woman, but in Felipe's case one might say that nice guys get trampled on by great women. Felipe's first wife Marie Louise of Savoy had perhaps gotten a somewhat different education or might have inherited the aggressiveness of Victor Emanuel, but fact is that she wanted to be in control in the household. This had been expected and Louis XIV had attempted to counter this by having all her Piemontese company send off. This did not help though for soon Felipe was under her spell. The first avenue which Marie Louise used to dominate him was his sexual appetite. Felipe could not get enough of having intercourse with her, and she only had to refuse him for a while in order to get her way. Other monarchs would have solved this by either using force (this was perfectly acceptable at the time) or having a mistress. Felipe was too nice a person to use the former option and with the latter he had either moral problems or didn't dare to do to. Anyway, soon the little Marie Louse wore the pants in this marriage.
Philip goes to Italy
When his marriage was completed in November 1701 Felipe turned his attention to his kingdom of Aragon. He convened the Cortes and when their session ended in January he had gotten some financial support. On 8 April Philip then left for Italy where he wanted to visit his Italian possessions and win prestige on the battlefield. Marie Louise traveled to Madrid with the Princesse Des Ursins in order to be the head of the Junta, arriving there on 30 June 1702. This gave Mary Louise and Des Ursins free reign for a while, and both sat in the meetings of the Junta while it wasn't thought proper for a woman to be alone in an all male company. Under the instruction of Des Ursins Mary Louise thus started to gain the hearts and minds of her subjects.
Philip V in Madrid
Early in 1703 Philip V arrived in Madrid again. There he found three parties: Louis XIV's party headed by the new ambassador cardinal D'Estrées, the party of the Spanish grandees headed by Porto-Carrero and Mary Louise's party directed by Des Ursins. Some violent clashes finally led to cardinal D'Estrées and Louville getting recalled. A really Spanish government now emerged under the direction of Des Ursins and was even somewhat effective, but this was not to the liking of Louis XIV.
In the beginning of 1704 a reasonably effective Spanish army had been organized, and under the direction of Berwick it was to campaign against Portugal. Felipe V therefore left for the army, but now Louis XIV struck at Des Ursins: Felipe received a letter and was convinced to let Des Ursins return to France. The new ambassador the Duc de Gramont, who was to rule over the Spanish court for Louis XIV, then succeeded in removing Orry and taking other measures, but didn't get anywhere with Mary Louise. After a while Gramont however changed his opinion and began to take the side of Mary Louise, Felipe and Des Ursins.
Meanwhile the removal of Des Ursins and Orry and other personal changes had led to an almost complete breakdown of government. The return of Des Ursins in high summer of 1705 could not prevent the disasters that then followed. In October 1705 Barcelona, Catalonia and practically the whole kingdom of Valencia swung over to Charles III's side. Under the direction of Felipe V, Des Ursins and Marie Louise government did however start to recover.
Philip V chased from Madrid
As regards the campaign a siege to get Barcelona failed miserably on 12 May 1706, with Felipe personally even retreating over France. On the front with Portugal Berwick wasn't able to stop an Anglo-Portuguese army that marched on Madrid and succeeded in entering the capital on 27 June 1706. These defeats did however bring an advantage to Felipe because the Castilian population was infuriated by the appearance of Portuguese and heretics on its soil. Soon a guerilla forced the alliance to leave Madrid and retreat to Valencia loosing a lot of soldiers in the process.
Victory at Almansa
In 1707 a Franco-Spanish army led by Berwick annihilated an alliance army led by Galway on the plain of Almansa. This did a lot to secure Philip on the Spanish throne, and enabled him to retake most of the kingdom of Valencia. 1708 saw further reconquests in Catalonia and the completion of the reconquest of Valencia.
Felipe V's position challenged by the peace talks
When negotiations for peace took on a more serious character, it became clear that Louis XIV would perhaps be forced to abandon Felipe V. By this time Felipe V however thought himself so secure on the throne that he did not plan to follow any order from Versailles to return to France. When the talks came to nothing the alliance started another march on Madrid in 1710. The allies entered the capital in September but saw themselves compelled to leave again in December when they were finally beaten at Brihuega.
Peace at Utrecht
At the peace of Utrecht of 11 April 1713 Felipe's position on the Spanish throne was finally accepted. For Spain the price was high because it lost all its possessions outside of Spain proper and even Gibraltar and Minorca. Meanwhile Des Ursins continued to dominate the court and even the death of Mary Louise on 14 February 1714 did not change that.
Felipe V and Elizabeth Farnese of Parma
After Mary Louise's death Felipe V desperately wanted a new wife. Des Ursins picked Elizabeth Farnese of Parma for him. She arrived at the border late in 1714 and, probably acting on a premeditated plan, immediately chased Des Ursins from Spain. The new queen of Spain was as dominant as the former, never left from his side and soon started her rule over Felipe and over Spain. The beginning of her rule was marked by having Alberoni as prime minister. Together they tried to reconquer the lost Italian possessions for the queen's children, and they would succeed in this policy even though it led to another war.
From about 1717 onwards Felipe became increasingly ill. In 1724 he even abdicated in favor of his son Louis. When Louis died he was however compelled to take the throne again. In the later stages the queen did however keep him away from state affairs most of the time.
1) 18 February, not 19 see annotation on page 100 of tome 8 of Mémoires de Saint Simon