The Last King of France: Louis-Philippe 1773 – 1850.

last king of france

The Last King of France.  Louis-Philippe 1773-1850

Louis-Philippe was just 17 at the start of the French Revolution in 1789.  His father, the Duke d’Orleans, was a staunch supporter of the Revolution, as indeed was Louis Philippe who, aged 20, led Revolutionary armies and was recognized for his skill and bravery.

Perhaps influenced by his old governess, the Countess of Genlis who was pro more equality in the peoples, Louis-Philippe was liberal in his ideas and protective of those under his command.  He had a strong sense of right and wrong and there are several stories of him putting his own life in danger while protecting others, to include saving some priests who were about to be murdered by revolutionary vagabonds.

As an army commander he became the Duke of Chartres and it is worth noting that the first name on the first column of the Arc de Triomphe is “Chartres” in recognition of his role.

last king child

Louis-Philippe grew up in a period of history that changed France forever and which had a significant impact on Europe as a whole.  These were troubled times. I think we tend to have an overall image of the French Revolution as a “down with the rich and up with the poor” thing.  But it wasn’t as simple as that.  Many members of the nobility, rich or poor, supported the revolution in its early stages, as indeed did the poor guillotined king himself (Louis XVI), but as the revolution gained momentum and more and more peasants joined in the fighting, mass hysteria and “the smell of blood” took hold, so the increase of murders and the extent of the blood-baths changed the role of the supporters … many of whom ended up being guillotined themselves, to include the Duke d’Orleans, father of Louis-Philippe.  Louis-Philippe himself, despite his brave and earnest actions, escaped the guillotine by the skin of his teeth.

last king 2  Louis-Philppe as the Duke of Chartres, with his brother (on horseback) at the Battle of Valmy.  This battle was fought against the Prussians who sided with the Girondins, ie the ones against the revolution and for the ancien regime.

Louis-Philippe would have preferred to stay and fight for something that, at first, seemed a good cause.  England (not yet called the UK) had fought on a much smaller scale under Cromwell 150 years earlier and it was time for France to make similar changes.  Why the French Revolution turned so excruciatingly blood-thirsty is difficult to say, but more about that another day.

Louis-Philippe moved first to Switzerland where he joined one of his sisters and the governess, Comtesse de Genlis.  His sister, Adelaide, was only some 10 years old.  They lived in frightening times and had to hide their identities. Spies and traitors were everywhere.  They moved constantly as the Reign of Terror in France took hold and the revolution, intended to be glorious, turned in to an evil mass-murder.  Louis-Philippe’s mother was by now in Spain, and two of his brothers in America.

Adélaide_d'Orléans[1]  Louis-Philippe’s sister, Adeliade d’Orleans, later in life.

Louis-Philippe managed to get work as a teacher, first in Switzerland and then in Finland.  He sold everything he could but, always conscious of the needs of others, kept his elderly valet and just one old horse.  He sometimes slept in a barn alongside his valet, and eventually had to sell the horse in order to get bread and some medical attention for his valet – who died shortly after. Whenever funds permitted he moved again, and travelled far and wide to places such as Cuba and Boston (the old restaurant “the Union Oyster House” in Boston, by the by, was in its time one of Louis-Philippe’s lodgings).  While in Nova Scotia he struck up a lasting friendship with the Duke of Kent and eventually, with the support and amitié of the English Royal family, he settled in Surrey, England, where he lived for fifteen years.

last king 3 standard  the King’s standard

In 1809 he married Maria of Naples and they had ten children.  Descendants of these children, in their varying guises and with varying titles, and descendants of other branches of the ancient régime are what remains of the nobility of France today – among others, the Duke of Anjou, born 1989, the Duke of Parma born 2011 and the Duke of Luxembourg born 2000.

Louis-Philippe returned to France in 1830 to be crowned king, where he reigned for eighteen years. He was a very popular king and, because of the hardship he had endured before settling in England, he understood poverty and the people, and the people liked him for it.  He was notably against traditional extravaganza of the French royalty and avoided pomp and ceremony.  But revolution seemed to be in the blood of the French people, after no less than 10 rulers in 34 years.  In 1848 there was a mini-revolution and Louis-Philippe, now well into his seventies, remembering the fate of his father and so many others,  his popularity waning,  abdicated and left France forever.

Catherine Broughton is a novelist; her books are available on Amazon  

 She is also the owner of a holiday complex in France.  Visit http://www.holidaychateaufrance.com

For an earlier blog about the French Revolution:-

 click here

Posted on 26/05/2014 by Catherine
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  • Jon Harness

    I love these in-a-nutshell articles you do. Most of us do not want to learn these things in depth, and just an idea of what happened is excellent. Thanks. Keep going!

  • Pingback: Rulers of France after the French Revolution. Been to France ? | Catherine Broughton's Blog()

  • CatherineBroughton

    Thank you Jon.

  • huw

    I came across your blog totally by chance as I was researching Louis-Philippe as last week I visited the house in Surrey (now Claremont Fan School) where he died.
    Your nutshell articles are interesting, and even tempted me to look at your holiday cottages. Maybe next year….

    As I am sure you know on February 24, 1848, to general surprise, King Louis-Philippe abdicated. Fearful of what had happened to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he quickly disguised himself and shaved his whiskers and fled Paris. Riding in an ordinary cab under the name of ‘Mr Smith’, he escaped to England and Claremont.

  • CatherineBroughton

    Hello Huw. Thanks for your comment. A sad end for royalty in France. Oddly the French are utterly obsessed with the British Royal Family and even try to include the royals of Monaco in to “French” culture. Yes, I did know about Mr Smith by the way – thanks though!

  • Martin Tidy

    I have been researching George packham from fletching in sussex1792_1872 apparently he set up a engineering works in France and saw mills under the patronage of Louise Philippe packham returned to England in 1848 revolution and was one of those who greeted Louise Philippe on his arrival at Newhaven Sussex.I think Louise was exiled to Claremont in surry where he died in 1850.have you any more info on George packham and his time in France.

    • Catherine Broughton

      Hello Martin. How interesting !! I have never heard of Packham but will look in to it.

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