Friday, June 28, 2013

Monarch Profile: King Louis Philippe I of the French

Even amongst the most ardent royalists, few French monarchs remain so controversial as King Louis Philippe I who reigned as “King of the French” from 1830 to 1848 and who was often referred to as the “Citizen King” because of his efforts to reconcile the traditional Kingdom of France with the Revolution that first brought it to ruin. This was ultimately an unsuccessful effort and it does provoke just the slightest amount of sympathy to see a monarch becoming so equally reviled by both royalists and republicans. Like many others have done, he tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one. By his actions it can, perhaps, be said that in spite of all the experience he gained in his lifetime, he never fully understood the underlying principles of either the ancien regime or the Revolution. He was born on October 6, 1773 to the Duke of Chartres, later the Duke of Orleans, Louis Philippe II and Louise Marie Adelaide de Bourbon in the Orleans family home in Paris. From an early age he was given an education that was very liberal and very much in-line with the “Enlightenment” philosophy that was quite fashionable at the time amongst the idle rich of the western world. Even in this we can see the seeds of future misfortune as these “enlightened” thinkers themselves never seemed to realize the ramifications of the ideas they were setting loose on the world.

His family was so very liberal that when the French Revolution first began to appear on the horizon the young Duke of Chartres (succeeding his father to the title in 1785) cut his teeth in the business of rebellion by helping break into a prison and the Paris home of the Duke of Orleans became a regular meeting ground for revolutionary types. The Duke himself would come to be known as “Philippe Egalite” for his pro-revolutionary stance. So, the Duke of Chartres was not being very rebellious at all but simply following the example of his elders when he joined the Jacobin Club with the full support of his father. Still, as a royal, he had other duties to perform and in 1791 took up his hereditary position as a colonel of dragoons in the French army in which he showed himself to be a quite brave, competent and conscientious officer. During his service he gained praise in some quarters and condemnation for others for personally saving two priests from an angry revolutionary mob and more universal acclaim for personally saving an engineer from drowning. There was certainly no doubting his courage. Later, when war broke out between revolutionary France and her neighbors, the Duke again showed his battlefield courage and was promoted to command a cavalry brigade in the Army of the North where he served alongside several men who would rise to the rank of Marshal of France under Napoleon.

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.

Back in Paris, the Duke of Orleans denounced his own 19-year-old son and left few doubting that he would execute his own heir for turning against the revolution. Still, he was tainted by association and soon the Duke of Orleans was arrested and later sent to the guillotine. Young Louis Philippe had a difficult time even in exile though as he was already being considered a traitor by both the royalists and the revolutionaries. He fled across Switzerland, alone and penniless before finally getting a job teaching school under an assumed name in Austria. After some unpleasantness involving an illegitimate child he fathered with a local girl, Louis Philippe left Austria and wandered around Scandinavia and even traveled to the United States, teaching French in Boston for a time and seeing much of the country. He was quite impressed by the young American republic and later tried to adapt some of the aspects of the U.S. government in France when his time came. He later went to Cuba, the Bahamas, Canada and finally to England.

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.

With other people, Louis Philippe was perfectly affable and got along well with King Charles X who succeeded to the throne in 1824, though Charles X was an ardent reactionary and as far from Louis Philippe politically as one could be. Again, despite their good relations, Louis Philippe was something of a problem for the King of France. All problems came to a head in 1830 when revolution broke out again and King Charles X, who refused to be a ceremonial monarch, abdicated in favor of his grandson with Louis Philippe entrusted with overseeing the transition. This, however, did not happen as the ringleaders thought to capitalize on the popularity of Louis Philippe the known liberal and proclaimed him king. The famous Marquis de Lafayette had been key in this movement, starting with his allying with the radicals but, though opposed to the traditional monarchy of Catholic France, they were afraid that another effort at a republic might bring on another Reign of Terror and so opted instead for a limited, “popular monarchy” under Louis Philippe. So it was that on August 9, 1830 Louis Philippe became “King of the French” in a liberal, popular monarchy, rather than “King of France and Navarre” in the traditional fashion. This meant that this was an effort to be something of a new type of monarchy, one which based its right on the support of the people rather than the sacred right of royal blood as in the past. There was little other option of course, as according to the traditional rules of succession Louis Philippe had no right to be king at all.

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.

At first, King Louis Philippe was fairly popular but his every effort to bring about greater unity only seemed to remind everyone of what he was not. Republicans would look to the odd sight of the revolutionary tricolor blowing in the breeze while a king still ruled in Paris. Monarchists saw a monarch trying to direct national affairs while basing his rule on popularity rather than the blessing of God and Louis Philippe was a monarch chosen by the people (at least some of them) rather than God as he had not been born to the position. Even when Louis Philippe tried to reconcile with the imperialists by having the remains of Napoleon returned to France for burial, the Bonapartists were certainly grateful but, as usual, only noted how Napoleon had led them to glorious conquest whereas the Citizen-King simply tried to keep his balance. To his credit, King Louis Philippe tried to do good, to at least do as he thought best. He had proven himself to be a very successful businessman in private life and many in the middle class looked to him as an example to be emulated. As such, many in the socialist opposition began referring to him as the “Bourgeois Monarch”. Royalists and republicans alike condemned his close association with bankers and industrialists and even landowners (many old families that were royalist having lost much of their property by this point in history).

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.

In effect, the middle class had begun to turn on King Louis Philippe and with most of the rest of the country supporting either the legitimist royal claimant or a return to the revolutionary republic, it all but sealed his fate. In February of 1848 revolution broke out in France yet again and, once again, in culminated in the abdication of a monarch. King Louis Philippe, wanting no repeat of the fate that befell Louis XVI (inflicted in part by his own father), abdicated in favor of his grandson, the 9-year-old Count of Paris, and left Paris in disguise, eventually going into exile in England. The government was at first willing to continue the popular monarchy but the mob would not stand for it. So, the second French Republic was proclaimed with the presidency soon going to one Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the former emperor who had imperial aspirations of his own. King Louis Philippe I, the last member of the House of Bourbon to reign over France and the last French ruler to ever hold the title of “King” lived a quiet life in exile in England until his death on August 26, 1850. He was buried there until his remains were removed to the family resting place in France in 1876.

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.

King Louis Philippe is not a monarch to my taste, nor can I wrap my mind around the idea of the sort of Kingdom of France he was trying to forge. It was neither a pure monarchy nor a pure republic. The monarchy was tainted by republicanism just as the republic was tainted by monarchism. However, unlike most who hold such a view, I cannot bring myself to hate the man himself. I do think he was trying to do the right thing in the midst of political circumstances that were far from ideal. For those inclined to hold anger against him for accepting the throne he had no right to, I can only ask that you consider what other options there were. Had he not done so it would have only meant that the second republic would have come sooner rather than later. Had he tried to restore the traditional monarchy once in place I might have more admiration for his change of heart but it surely would not have brought about anything but his own downfall as his later moves to the right ultimately did. His case is also one monarchists today should consider and familiarize themselves with because, in effect, virtually every monarch in the western world that still reigns today is in a very similar position to King Louis Philippe. They did not come to the throne in the same way of course, but all are trying to manage that same balancing act; representing an institution that is inherently opposed to the principles being espoused by every government, nearly every population and even almost every religious institution in the western world today. It is not an enviable position. They need our support and for King Louis Philippe, even if you oppose him on principle as I do, perhaps if you looked into the subject a bit more, you might find in him a prince to be pitied rather than pilloried.


  1. I am hardly a massive supporter of the July Monarchy, but Louis Philippe was in the unenviable position of trying to make the best of a bad situation, being forced to reconcile liberalism with monarchy in a country where moderates like him were and are never popular. I think that, when the inevitable restoration arrives, an Orleanist candidate will not be wearing the crown, but Orleanist ideas of constitutional monarchy and limited democracy will certainly be incorporated into the restored monarchy.

  2. It just goes to show that revolutions may be carried out by angry mobs, but it's the intellectuals and members of the upper class that start them. Even before these people supported the revolution they had spent their lives ridiculing and undermining the Ancien Regime. Imperial Russia has a similar story.

    Of course, the mobs inevitably turn on the upper class and intellectuals who supported them. Great nations aren't killed by outside enemies, they commit suicide.


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