|Maria Giuseppina of Savoy|
That same year Louis XV died and the Dauphin became King Louis XVI of France and, in the absence of a male heir, the Count of Provence was then only one step away from the French throne. Unfortunately, this did not bring the two brothers closer together but was the cause of more bitterness. The Count of Provence, with his mastery of the classics and remarkable memory, probably did not have the highest estimation of his brother’s intelligence and wanted very much to have a seat on the king’s council. As the next in line for the throne, he felt entitled to such a position but King Louis XVI would not allow it and this offended the Count a great deal. Frustrated that his talents were not being put to use, he often left the court and spent much of his time traveling around the country. Proud and ambitious, he was more relieved than happy when the King and Queen were finally able to start having children, starting with a girl. That relief turned to disappointment when a son and heir was born in 1781. Yet, he and his younger brother the Count of Artois (future Charles X) had to stand in for the boy’s absent godfather Austrian Emperor Joseph II at the baptism of the little Dauphin.
|The count in his youth|
The political situation began to get out of hand but, while the Count of Artois took his family to the safety of Turin, the Count of Provence remained at Versailles with his big brother. Despite their differences, the French Revolution brought the two brothers together and while he had not been as helpful as he could have, when it came down to it there was no doubt that the Count supported his brother and the Kingdom of France to the utmost. He remained at his side until the attempted escape by the King and Queen to Varennes in 1791. The Count of Provence and his family left at the same time, escaping to Belgium (then the Austrian Netherlands) but, of course, the King and Queen were not so fortunate and the attempt sealed their fate. Rather too early for some, the Count declared himself regent of France on the grounds that his brother was the prisoner of the revolutionaries and could not freely rule as King. It was the beginning of many long years of exile for Provence. He soon called on the other crowned heads of Europe to rush their armies to France to rescue their fellow monarch, something which certainly made things difficult for the King but, in reality, he was already a doomed man. After the regicide of King Louis XVI, the Count of Provence declared himself regent for his nephew, the child-King Louis XVII who remained in confinement at the hands of the revolutionaries (he would ultimately be left to starve to death).
Louis XVIII tried to unite the royalist enemies of the revolutionary regime, rally the European powers and present a united front on the part of the Royal Family, which was certainly not easy. As almost all of Europe came to be dominated by Napoleon or forced to make peace with him, Louis XVIII was probably at his lowest point. Feeling he had no other choice, he wrote personally to Napoleon to try to convince him, as he had put a stop to the worst excesses of the Revolution and restored normalcy to France, to restore the legitimate monarchy. Of course, Napoleon would never do such a thing as, even as he moved to the right, he planned to supplant the Bourbons with his own dynasty rather than restore them. In return, Napoleon tried to convince Louis to renounce his own claim to the throne which, naturally, went nowhere as well. Finally, even the Czar of Russia would no longer provide safe haven to the King and he had to assume a disguise and move to Prussia in 1801, selling off personal possessions to pay for the trip. When Prussia proved unfriendly, due to French pressure, Louis returned to Russian territory as the new Czar Alexander I lifted the ban against him but was also less accommodating. The uncrowned King returned to the Baltic but planned to move to Britain as soon as possible. Later, he was advised to leave and traveled to England via Sweden.
|King Louis XVIII|
When the allied powers finally defeated Napoleon and forced him to abdicate, King Louis XVIII was obviously quite pleased but also careful as he knew, if his most ardent royalist supporters did not, that a restoration was not a forgone conclusion. The French Napoleonic government tried to establish his return on their own terms but Louis was having none of that and, thankfully, the allies supported him. Unfortunately, when the time came in 1814, Louis XVIII was unable to travel immediately and so sent his brother, the Count of Artois, ahead to secure his place as “Lieutenant General of the Kingdom”. Stranded in Britain by an attack of gout, Louis XVIII had to wait while Artois went before him and acted as ruler of the country, effectively setting up his own private government that would, regardless of their intentions, be a source of division throughout the life of the restored Kingdom of France.
|Allegory of Louis XVIII rescuing France|
Louis XVIII signed the Treaty of Paris, which aimed to go easy on the French in order to smooth the way for the restoration to more firmly establish itself. Unfortunately, it seemed that the King had scarcely got the throne warm when Napoleon escaped from exile and landed on the shores of France. At first, Louis XVIII was not too worried. The problem was that most of the army was Napoleonic veterans greatly attached to their former chief and even those units that had been disbanded had been allowed to retain their arms. One unit after another sent to confront the Corsican conqueror collapsed conspicuously into his clinch. King Louis XVIII did not panic but he was extremely worried as Napoleon swept into Paris and declared himself emperor again. The King felt very fortunate that the Bourbon monarchy had been given a second chance and was very concerned that, lost again, would not be given a third. He moved to the border and then finally crossed into Belgium (then part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands). Whether he would ever see France again was an open question. Czar Alexander I of Russia openly suggested that Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, might be given the throne instead, if and when Napoleon was defeated.
|King Louis XVIII|
This time, there were more reprisals on the part of the royalists but it is certainly understandable given how false and ungrateful their enemies had been recently. For his part, King Louis XVIII took no part in these activities but undoubtedly had little sympathy for the victims. He pressed on with trying to make his original constitutional settlement take root, this time taking a firmer hold of the army and purging it of Napoleonic elements who had proven their disloyalty. He also sought to uphold the principle of monarchial legitimacy by sending French troops into Spain in 1823 where rebellion had risen up against the Bourbon King Fernando VII. However, the King did not last long after that. His health had grown worse and worse and he probably suffered from even more ailments than we know of. He had become so fat that he lacked the strength to even hold his head up and had to have a cushion placed on his desk when he was in his office. His bitterness towards the Duke of Orleans never went away though he also feared that his immediate successor, Artois, lacked good sense, both for being too stridently reactionary (in his view) and being too friendly with the Duke of Orleans.
|King Louis XVIII|