Friday, June 28, 2013
Monarch Profile: King Louis Philippe I of the French
In his service at the front the Duke further distinguished himself, earning the command of a division and later promotion to lieutenant general. However, he also began to become at least somewhat disillusioned with the direction the revolution was taking. He even considered leaving the country when the revolutionary leadership voted to execute King Louis XVI. The Duke found this rather unsettling even though his own father, the Duke of Orleans, voted in favor of the regicide. Still, ever loyal to the army, he decided to stay until the outbreak of the Reign of Terror convinced him that the revolution had gone out of control. He first attempted to leave the country for Austrian territory but was stopped by Colonel Louis Nicolas Davout (who would go on to great fame under Napoleon). There was a brief effort to rally the troops in favor of overthrowing the National Convention and restoring the 1791 constitutional monarchy but that failed and the Duke finally left France.
In 1808 he proposed to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George III, but though the Princess was quite taken with the dashing Frenchman she refused because of the opposition of her parents to marrying a Catholic. A year later he married Princess Maria Amalia of the Two-Sicilies, daughter of King Ferdinand IV, with whom he fathered ten children. Among these many offspring, one would marry a Spanish princess, one a Duke of Wurttemberg, one a Princess of Brazil and one would become a Queen consort as wife to the first King of the Belgians. While in exile he was able to make peace with the rest of the Royal Family who, not surprisingly, considered the entire Orleans branch of the family a collection of traitors. There was likely still some lingering resentment (and not unjustly so given all the family had been through) when the Bourbon monarchy was restored to France in the person of King Louis XVIII. Still, Louis Philippe was again to be found in the liberal opposition to the government, as much because of his own personal antipathy for Louis XVIII as for his still very liberal ideas. To be fair to Louis Philippe, one can understand why he would bristle at any slight from Louis XVIII considering that the King himself had not exactly been the most reliable champion of the monarchy in the past but was more than willing to emphasize his filial piety after the fact.
King Louis Philippe wanted to preserve some part to play in government for the monarchy but also wanted to reconcile with the liberalism of the revolution. The result was a sort of republican-kingdom of France with Louis Philippe being known as the “Citizen-King” and the revolutionary tricolor replacing the traditional Bourbon white flag with the golden lilies. The Bourbon flag would never fly over France again in an official capacity. To emphasize this new direction, King Louis Philippe lived an explicitly modest lifestyle, doing away with most of the old pomp and ceremony associated with the French monarchy. His primary support came from the upper middle class and the wealthy emerging businessmen of the country who wanted enough monarchy to keep order and stability but also enough liberalism to allow them a considerable voice in government.
Eventually, even many Orleanists (as the constitutional monarchists who supported the House of Orleans were called) began to turn against the King because of the opposition they perceived on his part to representative government. In truth, King Louis Philippe was still liberal enough to be a strong supporter of representative government but he also supported the restriction of democracy based on income so that only those who owned property, and thus had an actual, tangible interest in the country, could vote. Because of this, the percentage of the population eligible to vote in the “popular monarchy” of France became quite small and opposition to the King increased more and more. It was a shift mostly from the left. The traditional royalists were not a very large group and showed little growth but their opposition was entrenched and irreconcilable. The left, on the other hand, was split between the liberal monarchists and the republicans. As time went on, more and more of the liberal monarchists began to join the republican camp. The expansion of the franchise became the rallying issue and when some hard times resulted in minor uprisings that were suppressed by the army, cries of royal tyranny began to be taken up by the professional rabble-rousers.
King Louis Philippe remains a monarch that even most monarchists would rather not talk about. He was certainly on the wrong side of things in the revolution but, given that he was only a teenager at the time, this can be attributed to his upbringing more than anything else. He was often on the wrong side and yet he was never a bad man as so many at the time were, certainly amongst the villainous creatures who brought about the revolution. What drove him apart from the revolution was the fact that he could not go along with their cruelty and inhumanity. Like many, in his youth he was more idealistic than realistic and when he came to the throne it was inevitable that he stirred up strong opposition. The simple fact was that he had no right to the Crown of France in the first place. Still, to be fair, it was not a position he actively sought or intrigued and plotted to obtain. It was effectively dumped in his lap and he had two choices; stand on principle and go down with the ship, ending the monarchy and joining Charles X in exile, or to try to make the best of a bad situation. That is basically what he did. That he was unsuccessful is not surprising as he was trying to, on some level at least, reconcile the traditional monarchy with the revolution and these two things are inherently irreconcilable and represent diametrically opposed worldviews.