FRANCE HISTORY, the Bourbon dinasty, french history

The bourbon dinasty in France : Henri the 4rth ( Henri IV), Louis, Maria de Medici…

France History : the Bourbon dinasty

The House of Bourbon dates back to at least the beginning of the 13th century, when the estate of Bourbon was ruled by a Lord, vassal of France. With the course of time, the House of Bourbon would become one of the most powerful ruling families of Europe, with its members becoming monarchs of Navarre, France, Spain and southern Italy and rulers of several important duchies.

The Bourbons first became an important family in 1268, with the marriage of Robert, Count of Clermont, sixth son of king Louis IX of France, to Beatrice of Burgundy, heiress to the lordship of Bourbon. Their son Louis was made duke of Bourbon in 1327. Though his line was dispossessed of the dukedom after two centuries, the junior line of the Counts of La Marche acquired the Dukedom of Vendôme.

The Bourbon-Vendôme branch became the ruling house of first Navarre (1555) and then of France (1589), under Henry de Bourbon. The Princes of Condé (Bourbon-Condé) are a cadet branch of the Bourbon-Vendômes and, in turn, are senior to the Princes of Conti (Bourbon-Conti). The Bourbons lost the throne of France for a first time in 1792 and finally in 1830 after a sixteen-year restoration. The Dukes of Orleans, are, since the 17th century, also a branch of the Bourbon royal line.

Other royal lines are descended from the French Bourbon dynasty. Philip V of Spain started the Bourbon rule of Spain, which spans from 1700-1808, 1813-1868, and 1875-1931, and again from 1975 to the present day. Nowadays, Bourbon in Spain is spelled Borbón. From this Spanish line comes the royal line of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1734-1806 and 1815-1860, and Sicily only in 1806-1816), the Bourbon-Sicilies family, and the Bourbon rulers of the Duchy of Parma.

Henry IV of France

Henry IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610) was King of France from 1589-1610, the first of the Bourbon kings of France. He was the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome and Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. Henry was born in Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in the southwest of France.Henry IV of France

On August 18 1572 Henry married Marguerite de Valois, sister of the then King Charles IX. In the same year he became king Henry III of Navarre, succeeding his mother Jeanne d’Albret, who had brought him up as a Huguenot. Jeanne herself was also a Protestant, and had declared Calvinism the religion of Navarre.

Henry’s marriage was part of a plan to help quell the French Wars of Religion. As part of this plan, he was forced to convert to Roman Catholicism on February 5, 1576, and kept in confinement, but later that year he gained his freedom and resumed Protestantism.

He became the legal heir to the French throne upon the death in 1584 of François, Duke of Alençon, brother and heir to King Henri III, who had succeeded Charles IX in 1574.

Since Henry of Navarre was a descendant of King Louis IX, King Henry III had no choice but to recognize him as the legitimate successor. (Salic law disinherited the king’s sisters and all others who could claim descent by distaff line.) In December 1588 King Henry III had the Duke of Guise and that man’s brother the Cardinal, murdered. Henry had to flee Paris and joined forces with Henri of Navarre, but died shortly thereafter.

On the death of the king in 1589, Henri of Navarre became nominally the king of France. But the Catholic League, strengthened by support from outside, especially from Spain, was strong enough to force him to the south, and he had to set about winning his kingdom by military conquest. He was victorious at Ivry and Arques, but failed to take Paris.

With the encouragement of the great love of his life, Gabrielle d’Estrée, on July 25, 1593 he declared that Paris vaut bien une messe (Paris was worth a Mass) and permanently renounced Protestantism. His entrance into the Roman Catholic Church secured for him the allegiance of the vast majority of his subjects and he was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres on February 27, 1594. In 1598, however, he declared the Edict of Nantes, which gave circumscribed toleration to the Huguenots.

Henry’s first marriage was not a happy one, and the couple remained childless. Even before Henry had succeeded to the throne in August, 1589 the two had separated, and Marguerite de Valois lived for many years in the chateau of Usson in Auvergne. After Henry had become king various advisers impressed upon him the desirability of providing an heir to the French Crown in order to avoid the problem of a disputed succession.

Henry himself favored the idea of obtaining an annulment of his first marriage and taking Gabrielle d’Estrée as a bride, who had already borne him three children. Henry’s councillors strongly opposed this idea, but the matter was resolved unexpectedly by Gabrielle d’Estrée’s sudden death in April 1599, after she had given birth prematurely to a stillborn son.

Henry IV proved to be a man of vision and courage. Instead of waging costly war to suppress opposing nobles, Henri simply paid them off. As king, he adopted policies and undertook projects to improve the lives of all subjects that would make him one of the country’s most popular rulers ever.

During his reign, Henri IV worked through his right-hand man, the faithful Maximilien de Bethune, duc de Sully (1560-1641) to regularize state finance, promote agriculture, drain swamps to create productive crop lands, undertake many public works, and encourage education as with the creation of the College Royal Louis-Le-Grand in La Fleche (today Prytanee Militaire de la Fleche).

He and Sully protected forests from further desecration, built a new system of tree-lined highways, and constructed new bridges and canals. He had a 1200m canal built in the park at the Royal Chateau at Fontainebleau (which can be fished today), and ordered the planting of pines, elms and fruit trees.

The king renewed Paris as a great city with the Pont Neuf, which still stands today, constructed over the River Seine to connect the Right and Left Banks of the city. Henri IV also had the Place Royale built (since 1800 known as Place des Vosges) and he added the Grande Galerie to the Louvre.

More than a quarter of a mile long and one hundred feet wide, this huge addition was built along the bank of the Seine River and at the time was the longest edifice of its kind in the world. King Henri IV, a promoter of the arts by all classes of peoples, invited hundreds of artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building’s lower floors. This tradition continued for another two hundred years until Emperor Napoleon I banned it.

King Henri’s vision extended beyond France and he financed the expeditions of Samuel de Champlain to North America that saw France lay claim to Canada.

Although he was a man of kindness, compassion, and good humor, and much loved by his people, King Henri IV was assassinated on 14 May, 1610 in Paris, by a fanatic called François Ravaillac, and was buried at Saint Denis Basilica. His widow, Marie de Médicis, served as Regent to their 9-year-old son, Louis XIII until 1617.

While the rest of France marks the end of monarchist rule each year on Bastille Day, in Henri’s birthplace of Pau, his reign as king of France is celebrated.

Maria de’ Medici

Maria de’ Medici (French Marie de Médicis) (April 26, 1573 – July 3, 1642) was Queen and later Regent of France.Marie de Medici

Born in Florence, Italy, she was the daughter of Francis, Grand Duke of Tuscany. In October 1600 she married Henri IV of France, as his second wife. She brought as part of her dowry, 600,000 crowns. Her eldest son, the future king Louis XIII, was born at Fontainebleau the following year.

The marriage was not a successful one. The queen feuded with Henri’s mistresses, in language that shocked French courtiers. During her husband’s lifetime Marie showed little sign of political taste or ability. Hours after Henri’s assassination in 1610 she was confirmed as Regent by the Parlement of Paris.

Not very bright, stubborn and growing obese, she was soon entirely under the influence of her unscrupulous Italian favourite, Concino Concini, who was created Marquis d’Ancre and Marshal of France. They dismissed Henri IV’s able minister the duc de Sully. Through Concini and the Regent, Italian representatives of the Roman Catholic Church hoped to force the suppression of Protestantism in France. Half Hapsburg herself, she abandoned the traditional anti-Hapsburg French policy.

Throwing her support with Spain, she arranged the marriage of both the future king Louis and his sister Elizabeth to members of the Spanish Hapsburg royal family.

Under the regent’s lax and capricious rule, the princes of the blood and the great nobles of the kingdom revolted, and the queen, too weak to assert her authority, consented (May 15, 1614) to buy off the discontented princes. The opposition was led by Henri de Bourbon~Condé, Duc D’Enghien, who pressured Marie into convoking the Estates General (1614-15), the last time they would meet in France until the opening events of the French Revolution.

In 1616 her policy was strengthened by the accession to her councils of Richelieu, who had come to the fore at the meeting of the Estates General. However, in 1617 her son Louis XIII, already several years into his legal majority, asserted his authority, ordering the assassination of Concini, and exiling the Queen to the Chateau Blois and Richelieu to his bishopric.

After two years of virtual imprisonment « in the wilderness » as she put it, she escaped from Blois in the night of 21/22 February 1619 and became the figurehead of a new aristocratic revolt headed by Gaston d’Orleans, which Louis’ forces easily dispersed.

Through the mediation of Richelieu the king was reconciled with his mother, who was allowed to hold a small court at Angers, and resumed her place in the royal council in 1621.

The portrait by Rubens (above right) was painted at this time. Marie rebuilt the Luxembourg Palace (Palais du Luxembourg) in Paris, with an extravagantly flattering cycle of paintings (see link) by Rubens as part of the luxurious decor.

After the death of his favorite, the duke of Luynes, Louis turned increasingly for guidance to Richelieu. Marie de Medici’s attempts to displace Richelieu ultimately led to her attempted coup; for a single day, the journée des dupes, November 12, 1630, she seemed to have succeeded; but the triumph of Richelieu was followed by her exile to Compiègne in 1630, from where she escaped to Brussels in 1631, and later to Cologne, where she died in 1642, scheming against Richelieu to the end.

Honoré de Balzac encapsulated the Romantic generation’s negative view:

« Marie de’ Medici, all of whose actions were prejudicial to France, has escaped the shame which ought to cover her name. Marie de’ Medici wasted the wealth amassed by Henri IV.; she never purged herself of the charge of having known of the king’s assassination; her /intimate/ was d’Epernon, who did not ward off Ravaillac’s blow, and who was proved to have known the murderer personally for a long time.

Marie’s conduct was such that she forced her son to banish her from France, where she was encouraging her other son, Gaston, to rebel; and the victory Richelieu at last won over her (on the Day of the Dupes) was due solely to the discovery the cardinal made, and imparted to Louis XIII., of secret documents relating to the death of Henri IV. » (—Essay « Catherine de Medicis »)

Louis XIII

Louis XIII (September 27, 1601 – May 14, 1643) was King of France from 1610 to 1643.King Louis XIII

Born at the Château de Fontainebleau, Louis was the first child of Henri IV and Marie de Médicis. He ascended to the throne at age nine after the assassination of his father. His mother, along with Cardinal Richelieu, acted as Regent for the minor Louis until he reached the age of sixteen, when Louis took the reins of government into his own hands.

This effectively removed Concino Concini, who had greatly influenced Marie’s policymaking, from a position of power. Under Louis’ rule, the Bourbon Dynasty continued to flourish, but the question of freedom of religion continued to haunt the country.

The brilliant and energetic Cardinal Richelieu played a major role in Louis XIII’s administration, decisively shaping the destiny of France for the next 25 years. As a result of Richelieu’s work, Louis became one of the first exemplars of an absolute ruler.

Under Louis XIII, the Hapsburgs were humiliated, a powerful navy was built, the French nobility was firmly kept in line behind their king, and the special privileges granted to the Huguenots by his father were canceled. He had the port of Le Havre modernized.

The King also did everything to reverse the trend for the promising artists of France to work and study in Italy. Louis commissioned the great artists Nicolas Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne to decorate the Luxembourg Palace. In foreign matters, Louis XIII organized the development and administration of New France, expanding the settlement of Quebec westward along the Saint Lawrence River from Quebec City to Montreal.

He was married to a Hapsburg, Princess Anne of Austria (1601-1666), daughter of King Philip III of Spain. Their marriage, like French-Austrian relationships, was never a happy one, and for most of it they lived apart. However, fulfilling her duty, after twenty years of marriage, Anne finally gave birth to a son in 1638. It is still not certain that Louis XIV is actually Louis XIII’s son.

After Louis’ death in 1643, his wife Anne acted as regent for their five-year-old son, Louis XIV.

Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria (September 22, 1601 – January 20, 1666) was Queen of France and Regent for her son, Louis XIV of France. During her relatively brief reign, Cardinal Mazarin served as France’s chief minister.Anne of Austria

She was born in Valladolid, Spain, as the daughter of Hapsburg parents, Philip III, king of Spain, and Margaret of Austria.

On November 24, 1615, she was married to King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643), part of the Bourbon Dynasty. They would have two sons, Louis (the dauphin) and Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. The marriage was not a happy one, filled with mistrust, and King Louis tried to prevent her obtaining the regency after his death.

However, in 1643 Parliament ratified her powers on his death. Their five-year-old son was crowned King Louis XIV of France. Anne assumed the regency but entrusted the government to the prime minister, Jules Mazarin, who was believed to be her lover.

With Mazarin’s support, Anne overcame the revolt led by Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. In 1651, when her son Louis XIV officially came of age, her regency legally ended. However, she kept much power and influence over her son. In 1659, the war with Spain ended. The following year, peace was cemented by the marriage of the young King Louis to Anne’s niece, the Spanish Hapsburg princess Marie-Thérèse of Austria.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV (the Sun King, pronounced « Louie Ka-torz ») (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) reigned as King of France from May 14, 1643 to September 1, 1715. Louis did not effectively become ruler until after the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661. His reign generally epitomises European absolutism; in fact, he sometimes has the reputation of « the greatest absolute monarch. »
Birth & Childhood

His birth at Saint-Germain-en-Laye appeared miraculous, occurring twenty-three years after the marriage of his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. At the age of 4 (1643), Louis technically became King, although Cardinal Mazarin would rule France as regent for another 18 years. His real assumption of power came after Mazarin’s death, in 1661.Louis XIV the Sun King

Louis XIV as King

During Louis’s adolescence, a class uprising called the Fronde (1648 – 53) took place in France, sparked by the policies of Cardinal Mazarin. This event presumably had an impact upon Louis, as he became determined never to allow such an uprising to occur again.

Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain (Marie-Thérèse d’Espagne) in 1660. She died in 1683, after which he married (morganatically) Françoise d’Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon.

Louis XIV and his advisor Colbert believed strongly in mercantilism and worked to increase France’s resources in precious metals. During this period, France fought four major wars — the War of Devolution (1667 – 1668), the Dutch War (1672 – 1678), the War of the Grand Alliance (1688 – 1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1702 – 1713) — resulting in an almost crippling national debt.

In 1674 the French government purchased the island of Martinique from a private French business concern that had acquired the island in 1635.

In 1689, King Louis passed the « Code Noir » or « Black Code, » which allowed the full use of slaves in France’s colonies.

At the time of the Louis XIV’s death, France’s territory had increased and France had become arguably the most powerful state in Europe, as well as its cultural capital. French served as the language of good taste in the 17th and 18th centuries just as English later became the global language of business.

In the 18th century, for example, the Russian nobility adopted French habits and generally spoke French rather than Russian. On the other hand, the country had sunk deeply into debt, the poor found themselves heavily taxed and living in worsening conditions, and Louis’s successors lacked the powerful memory necessary to run his court.


The French treasury stood close to bankruptcy when Louis XIV assumed power in 1661. He proved an incredibly extravagant spender, dispensing huge sums of money to finance his wars and his court. Some estimates suggest that by the end of Louis’ reign half of France’s annual revenue went to maintaining Versailles. Also, large amounts of money went missing due to corruption within the large French bureaucracy.

At this time the principal French taxation devices included the aides, the douanes, the gabelle, and the taille. The aides and douanes taxed trade through customs duties, the gabelle taxed usage of salt, and the taille taxed land.

The nobles and clergy claimed exemption from these taxes, so the peasantry and the emerging middle class (the bourgeoisie) had to pay for all — a remnant of feudal France. The outrage over this taxation would eventually fuel the French Revolution.

Louis would appoint the ingenious Colbert as his Minister of Finance. Colbert’s efforts to reduce bureaucratic corruption and reorganize the bureaucracy began to generate revenue, although this did not suffice to begin to reverse France’s growing national debt.

In 1667 Louis abolished the Livre Parisis (Paris Pound) in favor of the much more widely used Livre Tournois (Tours Pound).

Reining in the Nobles: Versailles

The construction of Versailles formed one of Louis XIV’s strategies to centralize power. Continuing the work of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, Louis XIV worked to create a centralised, and absolutist nation-state. He weakened the nobility by ordering them to serve as members of his court, rather than as regional governors and ministers.

To this end, he built Versailles, an enormous and lavish palace outside Paris. On May 6, 1682, the court moved to Versailles. Court etiquette compelled noblemen to spend incredible sums of money on their clothes, and to spend most of their time attending the whirlwind of masses, balls, dinners, performances, and celebrations which made up the routine of the court.

Louis XIV allegedly had a memory so acute that he could scan a ballroom on entry and determine exactly who was not there — so no aristocrat who depended on his favor could risk an absence. The aristocracy necessarily became dissolute, more focused on winning the King’s favor, as evidenced by trivial details such as who would have the honor of helping him dress, rather than their own regional affairs or even retaining their power.

This allowed Louis to choose less aristocratic individuals to fill those positions once occupied by the traditonal nobility, and to ensure that political power remained firmly in the hands of the king.

Reining in the Protestants: The Edict of Fontainebleau

Believing that in order to achieve absolute power he must first achieve religious unification, Louis XIV made trouble for the Protestant population, most notably through the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685). This revoked the religiously tolerant Edict of Nantes (1598) of Henri IV and ordered the destruction of (Protestant) Huguenot churches, as well as the closing of Protestant schools.

His actions drove many Huguenots to the Low Countries, Prussia, England and North America — a mistake, for the Huguenots tended to practise highly skilled crafts and, of course, their skills went with them. (In later centuries the Protestant work ethic of the Low Countries, influenced by these French refugees, would increase that region’s already considerable wealth.) For Louis XIV and his cardinals, a unified France meant a Catholic France.


King Louis XIV died on September 1, 1715 and was buried in Saint Denis Basilica in Paris. He outlived his son, the dauphin Louis, and eldest grandson. His great-grandson, who became King Louis XV of France, and who spent his minority under the regency of Philippe II of Orléans, succeeded him as king.

Grave robbers stole Louis’s heart, which came into the possession of Lord Harcourt, who sold it to the Very Reverend William Buckland, the Dean of Westminster. His son, Francis Buckland, inherited the purloined heart, and eventually ate it.

on the French Revolution (1789)

Louis XIV remains beloved in France for his vigorous promotion of French national greatness. However, his intensive waging of war bankrupted the state, forcing him continually to levy high taxes on the peasantry. According to the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, Louis XIV’s weakening of the nobility, coupled with his oppression of the peasantry, contributed to the political, social and economic instabilities that eventually led to the French Revolution.

Quotations Attributed to Louis XIV

Contrary to a stubborn legend inside and outside of France, Louis XIV never said:

* « I am the State! » — « L’état, c’est moi! » Quite the opposite, on his deathbed he is reported to have said: « I am going, but the State shall always remain » — « Je m’en vais, mais l’Etat demeurera toujours. »
* « I had no intention of sharing my authority. »
* « I urge you not to forget your duty to God….Try to remain at peace….I loved war too much….Do not follow me in that, or in overspending….Take advice in everything….Lighten your people’s burden as soon as possible….
* [D]o what I have had the misfortune not to do. » (upon his deathbed, to Louis XV — Wolf)
* « The Pyrenees are no more. » — « Il n’y a plus de Pyrénées. » — (after his grandson Philip V became King of Spain)
* « One King, One Law, and One Faith. »
* « One must work hard to reign. »
* « The interest of the State must come first. » (Memoirs for the Dauphin)
* « Up to this moment, I have been pleased to entrust the government…to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern….You will assist me…seal no orders except by my command….[R]ender account to me personally. »
* « I almost had to wait. » — J’ai failli attendre. — attributed to the King, when a carriage barely made it in time to receive him immediately

Quotations about Louis XIV

« He ceaselessly concerned himself with the most petty details…would even instruct his cooks…like novices…He…was fond of order and regularity…He was served with the utmost exactitude…[his] vanity was without limit or restraint. » — Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon

Philippe II

Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Philippe Charles (August 2, 1674 – December 2, 1723) called Duke of Chartres (1674-1701), and then Duke of Orléans (1701-1723) was Regent of France from 1715 to 1723. His regency being the last in the kingdom of France, he is still commonly referred to as le Régent and his regency as la Régence.Philippe II Duke of Orleans, Regent

He was born in Saint-Cloud, the son of Philippe I of Orléans and nephew of king Louis XIV. He married Françoise-Marie de Bourbon in 1698.

On the death of Louis XIV, the late king’s five-year-old great-grandson was crowned king Louis XV of France and the then forty-one-year-old Philippe became Regent.

Philippe was a professed atheist who read the satirical works of François Rabelais inside a Bible binding during mass, and liked to hold orgies on religious high holidays. He acted in the plays of Molière and Racine, composed the music for an opera, and was a gifted painter and engraver.

A liberal and imaginative man, he was however, often weak, inconsistent and vacillating. Nonetheless, as Regent, he changed the manners of the ruler and his nobles from the hypocrisy of Louis XIV to complete candor. He was against censorship and ordered the reprinting of books banned under the reign of his uncle.

Reversing his uncle’s policies again, Philippe formed an alliance with England, Austria, and the Netherlands, and fought a successful war against Spain that established the conditions of a European peace.

Philippe promoted education, making the Sorbonne tuition free and opening the Royal Library to the public. He is most remembered for the debauchery he brought to Versailles and for the John Law banking scandal.

He died at the Palace of Versailles and was buried in the city of his birth, Saint-Cloud.

Louis XV

Louis XV (February 15, 1710 – May 10, 1774) was king of France from 1715-74. He was born at the Palace of Versailles. Until the royal legal age of maturity at fourteen, his uncle, Philippe d’Orléans, acted as Regent. Cardinal Fleury, until his death (1743), acted as the chief minister of France.Louis XV, King of France of the Bourbon Dynasty

The son of Louis, Duke of Burgundy and Marie-Adélaide of Savoy, and great-grandson of King Louis XIV, Louis was part of the Bourbon Dynasty. At age two, his father, mother and brother all died within one week, leaving him heir to the French throne. He was crowned King of France at the age of five in the Cathedral at Reims.

His great-grandfather, Louis XIV, had left France in a financial mess and in a general decline. Louis XV worked hard but unsuccessfully to overcome the fiscal problems. At Versailles, the King and the nobility surrounding him showed signs of boredom that symbolized a monarchy in steady decline.

King Louis expended a great deal of energy on the hunt and the pursuit of women. Some of his mistresses such as Madame de Pompadour, and the former prostitute Madame du Barry, are as well-known as the King himself, and his affairs with all five Mailly-Nesle sisters is documented by the formal agreements he entered into.

With age, Louis developed a penchant for young girls, keeping several at a time in a house known as the Parc aux Cerfs (« Deer Park »).

At first he was known popularly as Louis XV, Le Bien-aimé (the well-beloved) after a near-death illness in Metz in 1744 when the entire country prayed for his recovery. However, his weak and ineffective rule was a contributing factor of the general decline that culminated with the French Revolution.

Popular faith in the monarchy was shaken by the scandals of Louis’ private life, and by the end of his life he had become the well-hated. In 1757, would-be assassin Robert Damiens entered Versailles and stabbed him in the side with a penknife.

In 1743, France entered the War of the Austrian Succession. During Louis’ reign Corsica and Lorraine were won, but a few years later, King Louis XV lost the huge colonial empire as a result of the Seven Years’ War with Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the Seven Years’ War, was one of the most humiliating episodes of the French monarchy. France abandoned India, Canada, and the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Although France still held New Orleans, lands west of the Mississippi, and Guadeloupe, it was this defeat and signing of the treaty that marked the first stage of a total abandonment of the New World. France’s foreign policies were a dismal failure; its prestige dramatically sank.

King Louis XV died of smallpox at the Palace of Versailles. He was the first Bourbon whose heart was not cut out as tradition demanded and placed in a special coffer. Instead, alcohol was poured into his coffin and his remains were soaked in quicklime. In a near-surreptitious late night ceremony attended by only one courtier, the body was taken to the cemetery at Saint Denis Basilica.

Because Louis XV’s son the dauphin had died nine years earlier, Louis’s grandson ascended to the throne as King Louis XVI.

Louis XVI

Louis XVI of France (August 23, 1754 – January 21, 1793) succeeded his grandfather (Louis XV of France) as King of France on May 10, 1774; he was crowned on June 11, 1775. His father, the Louis dauphin son of Marie Leszczynska, had died in 1765. Louis was his father’s third son by Marie Josephe of Saxony.Louis XVI, King of France from the Bourbon Dynasty

On May 16, 1770 he married Marie Antoinette, daughter of Francis I of Austria and Empress Maria Theresa, a Habsburg.

The government was deeply in debt, the radical reforms of Turgot and Malesherbes disaffected the nobles (parlements) and Turgot was dismissed and de Malesherbes resigned in 1776 to be replaced by Jacques Necker. Louis supported the American Revolution in 1778, but in the Treaty of Paris (1783) the French gained little except an addition to the country’s enormous debt.

Necker had resigned in 1781 to be replaced by de Calonne and de Brienne before being restored in 1788. A further taxes reform was sought, but the nobility resisted at the Assembly of Notables (1787).

In 1788 Louis ordered the first election of an Estates-General (États Généraux) since 1614 in order to have the monetary reforms approved. The election was one of the events that transformed the general malaise into the French Revolution, which began in June 1789.

The Third Estate had been admitted to the assembly and had proved radical, Louis’ attempts to control them resulted in the Tennis Court Oath (Jeu de Paume, June 20) and the declaration of the National Assembly. In July , an act which provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. In October the royal family were forced to move to the Tuileries palace in Paris.

Louis himself was very popular and not unobliging to the social, political and economic reforms of the Revolution. Recent scholarship has concluded that Louis suffered from clinical depression which left him prone to bouts of severe indecisiveness, during which times his wife, the less intelligent and more unpopular Queen Marie Antoinette, assumed effective responsibility for acting for the Crown.

The revolution’s principles of popular sovereignty, though central to democratic principles of later eras, marked a decisive break from the absolute monarchical principle of throne and altar that was at the heart of contemporary governance. As a result, the revolution was opposed by almost all of the previous governing elite in France, and by practically all the governments of Europe.

Leading figures in the initial revolutionary movement themselves were questioning on the principles of popular control of government, some, notably Mirabeau, secretly plotting to restore the power of the Crown in a new form of constitutionality.

However Mirabeau’s sudden death, and Louis’s depression, fatally weakened developments in that area. While Louis was nowhere near as reactionary as his right wing brothers, the comte d’Artois and the comte de Provence, and he sent repeated messages publicly and privately calling on them to halt their attempts to launch counter-coups (often through his secretly nominated regent, former minister de Brienne) he was alienated from the new government both by its challenging of the traditional role of the monarch and in its treatment of him and his family.

He was particularly irked by being kept effective prisoner in the Tuileries, where his wife was forced humiliatingly to have revolutionary soldiers in her private bedroom watching her as she slept, and by the refusal of the new regime to allow him to have Catholic confessors and priests of his choice rather than ‘constitutional priests’ created by the revolution.

On June 21, 1791, Louis attempted to flee secretly from Paris to the regions with his family in the hope of forcing a moderate swing in the revolution than was deemed possible in radical Paris but flaws in the escape plan caused sufficient delays to enable them to be recognised and captured at Varennes.

He was returned to Paris where he remained nominally as constitutional king though under effective house-arrest until 1792. Louis was officially arrested on August 13, 1792. On September 21, 1792, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic.

Louis was tried (from December 11, 1792) and convicted of treason before the National Assembly. He was sentenced to death (January 17, 1793) by guillotine with 361 votes to 288, with 72 effective abstentions.

King Louis XVI was guillotined in front of a cheering crowd on January 21, 1793. On his death, his eight-year-old son, Louis-Charles de France, automatically became to royalists and international states the de jure King Louis XVII of France, the ‘lost dauphin’.

His wife, Marie Antoinette, followed him to the guillotine on October 16, 1793

Louis XVII

Louis XVII of France (March 27, 1785 – June 8, 1795) also known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy (1785-1789), Louis-Charles, Dauphin of Viennois (1789-1791), and Louis-Charles, Prince Royal of France (1791-1793), was the son of King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette.Louis XVII, King of France

During the French Revolution, Prince Louis was imprisoned with his parents. As the eldest living son of King Louis XVI, he was proclaimed king of France on January 28, 1793 by the declaration of his uncle, « Monsieur » (Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, the Comte de Provence) issued in exile in the city of Hamm, near Dortmund, Westphalia, a territory of the Archbishop of Cologne.

The legalities of this are unclear, since France was at that time a republic. However, later the country accepted Louis-Stanislas-Xavier as Louis XVIII of France, thereby recognizing Louis XVII’s reign through the numbering of kings.

Taken from his mother in 1795, the innocent child was held at the forbidding Temple Prison to prevent any monarchist bid to free him. He stayed imprisoned at the prison for his remaining three years of life. He was ironically called a « Capet, » the family name that the revolutionaries attributed to the French royals, following their refusal of nobility titles; Hugh Capet was the founder of the ruling dynasty.

The little boy was forced into hard work as a cobbler’s assistant and was taught to curse his parents. He was officially reported to have died in the prison from what is today recognized to have been tuberculosis. Reportedly, his body was ravaged by tumors and scabies.

An autopsy was carried out on the child’s frail body at the prison. Following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, his heart was removed by the physician Philippe-Jean Pelletan, smuggled out in a handkerchief and finally preserved in alcohol. His body was buried in a mass grave. Reports, however, quickly spread that the body was not that of Louis XVII and that he had been spirited away alive by sympathizers with another child’s body left in his place.

When the monarchy was restored in 1814, hundreds of claimants came forward. Would-be royal heirs continued to pop up across Europe for decades, and some of their descendants still have small but loyal retinues of followers today. Popular candidates for the Lost Dauphin included John James Audubon, the naturalist; Eleazer Williams, a missionary from Wisconsin of Mohawk Native American descent; and Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a German clockmaker.

The heart changed hands many times. First stolen by one of Pelletan’s students, who confessed on his deathbed, asking his wife to return it to Pelletan. The student’s wife sent it to the Archbishop of Paris, where it stayed until the Revolution of 1830. It also spent some time in Spain. In 1975, it was kept in a crystal vase at the royal crypt in the Saint Denis Basilica outside Paris, burial place of his parents and many other members of France’s royal families.

Philippe Delorme, the contemporary authority on the subject, arranged for DNA testing of the heart. A Belgian genetics professor, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, and Ernst Brinkmann of Germany’s Muenster University conducted the two independent tests. After DNA comparison with that reclaimed from the hair of Marie Antoinette proved the identity of the heart in the year 2000, the remains were finally buried in the Basilica on June 8, 2004.


Louis XVIII (November 17, 1755- September 16, 1824) was King of France from 1814 until his death in 1824.Louis XVIII, King of France

Louis-Stanislas-Xavier was born on November 17, 1755 in the Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France, the fourth son of the dauphin Louis, the son of King Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. At birth, he received the title of Count of Provence but throughout most of his life he was known as « Monsieur. »

After the death of his two elder brothers and the accession of his remaining elder brother as Louis XVI of France in 1774, he became heir presumptive.

The birth of two sons to King Louis XVI, left him third in line to the throne of France. He was living in exile in Westphalia when the King was guillotined in 1793. On the king’s death, Louis-Stanislas-Xavier declared himself Regent for his nephew, the new King Louis XVII. On the 10-year-old king’s death in prison on June 8, 1795, Louis-Stanislas-Xavier proclaimed himself as King Louis XVIII.

In 1814, he gained the French throne with the assistance of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand after Napoleon’s downfall. Eventually, he fled Paris on the news of the return of Napoleon to Ghent, but returned after the Battle of Waterloo had ended Napoleon’s rule of the Hundred Days.

King Louis’ chief ministers were at first moderate, including Armand Emmanuel, Duc de Richelieu, and Élie Decazes. The ultraroyalists, led by Louis’s brother, the Comte d’Artois (later King Charles X), triumphed after the assassination of the count’s son, Charles Ferdinand, Duc du Berry. The new ministry headed by the Comte de Villèle was thoroughly reactionary.

Louis XVIII died on September 16, 1824, and was interred in the Saint Denis Basilica. His brother, the Comte d’Artois, succeeded him as Charles X.

Charles X

Charles X (October 9, 1757- November 6, 1836) was born at the Palace of Versailles son of Louis (the uncrowned dauphin, son of Marie Leszczynska) and Marie-Josèphe de Saxe. He was crowned King of France in 1824 in the cathedral at Reims and reigned until the French Revolution of 1830 when he abdicated rather than become a constitutional monarch.Charles X, Bourbon Dynasty, King of France

He was the brother of both King Louis XVI and King Louis XVIII, as well as uncle to Louis XVII

He married Marie-Thérèse de Savoie, the daughter of Victor Amadeus III of Savoy, on November 16, 1773.

As Comte d’Artois he headed the reactionary faction at the court of Louis XVI. He left France at the outbreak of the French Revolution, and stayed in England until the Bourbon restoration in 1814.

During the reign of Louis XVIII he headed the ultraroyalist opposition, which took power after the 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.

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 Jules Armand de Polignac, an ultrareactionary, 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.

Charles abdicated in favor of his grandson, the Comte de Chambord, and left for England. However, the Duc d’Orléans, whom Charles had appointed Lieutenant-General of France, was chosen as « King of the French. » He reigned as Louis Philippe.

Fleeing initially to England, he later settled in Prague and then in present-day Slovenia. He died on November 6, 1836 in the palace of Count Michael Coronini Comberg zu Graffenberg at Goritz, Illyria and is buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Annunciation, Castagnavizza, Slovenia.

Louis-Philippe of France

Louis-Philippe of France (October 6, 1773 – August 26, 1850), served as the « Orleanist » King of the French from 1830 to 1848.King Louis Philippe

Born in Paris, Louis-Philippe, as the son of Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans (known as « Philippe Égalité »), descended directly from King Louis XIII.

During the French Revolution and the ensuing regime of Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis-Philippe remained mostly outside France, traveling extensively, including in the United States where he stayed for four years in Philadelphia. His only sister, Princess Louise Marie Adelaide Eugènie d’Orléans, married in the US.

In 1809 Louis-Philippe married Princess Marie Amalie of Bourbon-Sicilies (1782-1866), daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies.

After the abdication of Napoleon, Louis-Philippe returned to live in France, claiming sympathy with the liberated citizens of the country. With the restoration of the monarchy under his cousin King Louis XVIII and then under the reign of Louis’ brother, King Charles X, the popularity of Louis-Philippe grew.

King of the French
In 1830, the July Revolution overthrew the repressive regime of Charles X. Charles abdicated in favour of his grandson, whom monarchists regarded as the legitimate Bourbon king. (Supporters of the Bourbon pretender, called ‘Henry V’, came to be called Legitimists. His grandson was offered the throne again in the 1870s but declined over a dispute over the French tricolour.)

Due to Louis-Philippe’s Republican policies and his popularity with the masses, the Chamber of Deputies ignored the wishes of the legitimists that Charles’s grandson be accepted as king and instead proclaimed Louis-Philippe as the new French king. The new monarch took the style of « King of the French », a constitutional innovation known as Popular monarchy which linked the monarch’s title to a people, not to a state, as the previous King of France’s designation did.

In 1832, his daughter, Princess Louise-Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle (1812-1850), became Belgium’s first queen when she married King Leopold I.

For a few years, Louis-Philippe ruled in a unpretentious fashion, avoiding the arrogance, pomp and lavish spending of his predecessors. Despite this outward appearance of simplicity, Louis-Philippe’s support came from the wealthy middle classes.

At first, he was much loved and called the ‘Citizen King’, but his popularity suffered as his government was perceived as increasingly conservative and monarchical. Under his management the conditions of the working classes deteriorated, and the income gap widened considerably. An economic crisis in 1847 led to the citizens of France revolting against their king once again.

On February 24, 1848, to general surprise, King Louis-Philippe abdicated in favour of his young grandson (his son and heir, Prince Ferdinand, having been killed in an accident some years earlier). Fearful of what had happened to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he quickly disguised himself and fled Paris. Riding in an ordinary cab under the name of ‘Mr Smith’, he escaped to England.

The National Assembly initially planned to accept his grandson as king. However, pulled along by the tide of public opinion, they accepted the Second Republic proclaimed in controversial circumstances at Paris City Hall. In a popular election, Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected as President. In 1851 he declared himself president for life. Within a year, he named himself Emperor Napoleon III and resurrected the concept of a « Napoleonic Empire ».

Louis-Philippe and his family lived in England until his death on August 26, 1850), in Claremont, Surrey. He is buried with his wife Amelia (April 26, 1782 – March 24, 1866) at the Chapelle Royale, the family necropolis he had built in 1816, in Dreux, France.

The Clash of the Pretenders
The clashes of 1830 and 1848 between the Legitimists and the Orleanists over who was the valid monarch had its epilogue in the 1870s when, after the fall of the Empire, the National Assembly with the support of public opinion offered a reconstituted throne to the Legitimist pretender, ‘Henry V’, the Comte de Chambord.

As he was childless, it was expected (and agreed by all but the most extreme Legitimists) that the throne would then pass to the Comte de Paris, Louis-Phillippe’s grandson, so healing the ancient rift between France’s two royal families. However Chambord, with infamous stubbornness, refused to accept unless France abandoned the flag of the revolution, the Tricolore, and replaced it with what he regarded as the flag of pre-revolutionary France.

This the National Assembly was unwilling to do. A temporary Third Republic was established, to be disestablished and replaced by a constitutional monarchy when Chambord died and the more moderate Comte de Paris became the agreed pretender. However Chambord lived far longer than expected. By the time of his death in 1883 support for the monarchy had declined, with most people accepting the Third Republic as the form of government that ‘divides us least’, in Adolphe Thiers’s words.

Thus France’s monarchical tradition came to an end, though some, notably Dwight D. Eisenhower, did suggest a monarchical restoration under a later Comte de Paris after the fall of the Vichy regime. Instead however, the Third Republic was briefly resurrected before being replaced by the Fourth Republic in 1946.

Most French monarchists regard the descendants of Louis Philippe’s grandson, who hold the title Comte de Paris, as the rightful pretender to the French throne. A small minority of Legitimists however insist on a nobleman of Spanish birth, Don Luis-Alfonso de Borbon, Duke of Anjou (to his supporters, ‘Louis XX’) as being the true legitimist pretender.

Both sides even challenged each other in the French Republic’s law courts, in 1897 and again almost a century later, in the latter case, with Henri, Comte de Paris (d. 1999) challenging the right of the Spanish-born ‘pretender’ to use the French royal title Duc d’Anjou. The French courts disagreed with the Comte de Paris and threw out his claim.

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