Monday, November 06, 2006
He was the brother of both the executed and deposed King Louis XVI and the post-Napoleonic King Louis XVIII, as well as uncle to the young Louis XVII, who never actually assumed the throne. Before being crowned king, Charles was known as the Comte d'Artois.
He married Marie-Thérèse de Savoie, the daughter of Victor Amadeus III of Savoy, on November 16, 1773.
Louis-Antoine, duc d'Angoulême (Louis XIX) (August 6, 1775 - June 3, 1844)
Sophie (August 5, 1776 - December 5, 1783)
Charles Ferdinand, duc de Berry (January 24, 1778 - February 13, 1820)
As a young prince he was a noted womanizer, popular, well-mannered and entertaining. He struck up a firm friendship with his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette, and he was part of her social set. His affairs were numerous, and, according to the Comte d'Hezecques, few beauties were cruel to him. Later, he embarked upon a life-long love affair with the beautiful Madame de Polastron (Louise d' Esparbès de Lussan 1764-1804), sister-in-law of Marie-Antoinette's favourite lady-in-waiting, the Duchesse de Polignac. Madame de Polastron stayed with Charles for the rest of her life. Indiscretion aside, Charles was also extravagant and temperamental; but he was also a witty conversationalist, affectionate and devout.
However, Charles's unpopularity was such that he was unjustly accused of having seduced Marie-Antoinette (something which many were prepared to believe because of his scandalous love-life). As part of Marie-Antoinette's social set, Charles often appeared opposite her in their own private theatre at the Petit Trianon. They were both said to be very talented amateur actors; with Marie-Antoinette playing milkmaids, shepherdesses and country ladies and Charles playing lovers, valets and farmers.
As a father, his clear favourite was his youngest son, who most closely resembled himself in looks and personality. Relations with his eldest son, Louis-Antoine, were strained as Louis was a quiet, weak and introverted liberal with severe impotence problems and a nervous tic.
His political awakening started with the first great crisis of the monarchy in 1786, after which he headed the reactionary faction at the court of Louis XVI. Charles supported the removal of the aristocracy's financial privileges, but he was opposed to any reduction in the social privileges enjoyed by either the Church or the nobility. He believed that France's finances should be reformed without the monarchy being overthrown. In his own words, it was "time for repair, not demolition."
He also enraged the Third Estate (politicians representing the commoners) by objecting to every initiative to increase their voting power in 1789. This prompted criticism from his brother, who accused him of being plus royaliste que le roi ("more royalist than the king").
In conjunction with the Baron de Breteuil, Charles had political alliances arranged to depose the liberal prime minister, Jacques Necker. These plans backfired when Charles attempted to secure Necker's dismissal on July 11th without Breteuil's knowledge, much earlier than they had originally intended. It was the beginning of a decline in his political alliance with Breteuil, which ended in mutual loathing.
Exile during the Republic
After the fall of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 he was ordered to leave France by Louis XVI, who feared that Charles would soon be the victim of an assassination. It was also Louis's intention that Charles should represent the Monarchy abroad, and carry on the dynasty if the worst should happen.
In exile—first in Germany and then Italy—Charles feared that his brother Louis would compromise with the Revolution and betray the Monarchy. He took the disastrous decision of appointing Calonne to his council, which outraged Marie Antoinette, who had never liked him. This was an end to Charles and Marie-Antoinette's deep friendship, and Charles was left wracked with guilt after her execution in 1793. Charles' major foreign ally at this time was Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, who preferred Charles to the Baron de Breteuil, who was the opposing leader of the royalists-in-exile.
Charles later emigrated to Britain, where George III allowed him to live in Holyrood House, a royal palace in Edinburgh. He was not comfortable with the ultra-Protestant environment of the city and spent most of his time behind the palace walls, although he was by no means rude to the locals. Communication between Charles and his surviving brother, the Comte de Provence, living in Lithuania, was particularly strained once it became apparent that Charles was utterly indifferent to his brother's financial problems.
When Louise de Polastron died of consumption in 1803, Charles took a vow of perpetual chastity. His grief was intense, for he had been truly in love with her. His religious convictions strengthened and he became a devout Roman Catholic. His personal life became "entirely blameless". In his later years, he enthusiastically supported the Ultramontane movement within the Catholic Church.
Charles's wife, Marie-Thérèse, died in 1805. His eldest son, the duc d'Angouleme, was married to his cousin (also named Marie-Thérèse), who was the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Charles's other son, the Duc de Berry, secretly married an English Protestant named Amy Brown who was also a commoner. This marriage was annulled when it was discovered—probably at Charles's behest. Berry was later married to an Italian princess, and they produced the Comte de Chambord.
Restoration and reign as king of France
Charles was still living in Edinburgh in 1814 when the French monarchy was restored under his other brother, who assumed the name Louis XVIII. The two royal brothers were not especially close, since Charles viewed Louis XVIII as treacherous and irreligious.
Charles never met any of the claimants pretending to be his long-lost nephew, Louis XVII, since he was convinced the child had died in Paris in 1795.
During the reign of Louis XVIII he headed the ultra-royalist opposition, which took power after the traumatic assassination of Charles's son, the Duc du Berry. The event caused the fall of the ministry of Élie Decazes and the rise of the Comte de Villèle, who continued as chief minister after Charles became king. Emotionally, Charles never really recovered from his son's murder.
In 1824, Charles, aged 67, became king upon the death of his brother. His coronation on 28 May 1825 deliberately harked back to the Ancien Régime: the sacre du roi (consecration) was performed by the Archbishop of Rheims in his cathedral, the traditional coronation venue for French kings, amid much theatrical pomp (compare the coronation of Britain's George IV in 1820). It even featured a ceremony where Charles touched sufferers of the King's Evil, scrofula, the last time this ancient ritual was performed. This deliberate impression of royal splendour was in contrast to his predecessor and successor, neither of whom had a coronation (the only other nineteenth century French coronation was Napoleon's in 1804).
The Villèle cabinet resigned in 1827 under pressure from the liberal press. His successor, the Vicomte de Martignac, tried to steer a middle course, but in 1829 Charles appointed Prince Jules Armand de Polignac (Louise de Polastron's nephew), an ultra-reactionary, as chief minister. Polignac initiated French colonization in Algeria. His dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, his July Ordinances, which set up rigid control of the press, and his restriction of suffrage resulted in the July Revolution. The major cause of his downfall, however, was that, while he managed to keep the support of the aristocracy, the Catholic Church and even much of the peasantry, he was deeply unpopular with the Grand Orient Lodge, religious minorities and the bourgeoisie.
Charles abdicated in favor of his grandson, the Comte de Chambord, and left for England. However, the liberal, bourgeois-controlled Chamber of Deputies refused to confirm the Comte de Chambord as Henri V. In a vote largely boycotted by conservative deputies, the body declared the French throne vacant, and elevated Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orleans, to power.
After a sojourn in Britain, Charles later settled in Prague in the present-day Czech Republic. He died from cholera on November 6, 1836 in the palace of Count Michael Coronini Comberg zu Graffenberg at Gorizia, in present-day Italy, tended by his niece Marie-Thérèse. He is buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Annunciation on Kostanjevica Hill, on what is now the Slovenian side of the border in Nova Gorica.