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 of the proletariat 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 (the old way).

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 high time for France to make similar changes.  Why the French Revolution turned so excruciatingly blood-thirsty is difficult to say, but it was to some extent because there was so much disorganised street fighting, skirmishes and rebellions by people who couldn’t even read and write, let alone understand the ramifications of what they were doing. The English Civil War, on the other hand, was fought by two opposing armies on battle fields.

As the revolution turned ever more bloody, 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 ancien 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.  Dressed as a servant and calling himself Smith, old and weary, he headed for the sanctuary of England and never returned to France.

Interested in having a holiday in France ?  Visit  The chateau, by the by, once belonged to the lawyer of the French king Louis XIV.


Posted on 26/05/2014 by Catherine
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