Charles was born in 1757 and was King of France for barely six years. He was a younger brother of Louis XVI, guillotined during the French Revolution, and also Louis XVIII, who as the Count of Provence had escaped to Brussels in 1791 at exactly the same time as his ill-fated brother attempted escape to Varennes with his family. Louis XVIII became king after Napoleon’s abdication as Emperor and was persuaded by Talleyrand (q.v.) to accept the Charter of 1814 and therefore recover the throne. It was this Louis who ran from Paris when news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba arrived, and the Hundred Days’ War began. After the Allies dealt at last with the Corsican, Louis became king again, reigning from 1814 to 1824.
Charles rushed off at the fall of the Bastille, at the beginning of the Revolution. He was the Count d’Artois then, and from exile made himself the leader of a counter-revolution. He was one of those mixtures so often found in the eighteenth century. As a youth, he gained a reputation for riotous and libertinous living, while remaining a stout Catholic. However, like many other Bourbons, he was not over-endowed with intelligence.
When France was safer he came back (1814) stating that he was an ardent pro-royalist, but he had to wait until the age of sixty-seven before he became King; once on the throne he started unravelling all the better reforms brought by the Revolution, Bonaparte, and his own brother: the Code (q.v.), the Concordat, the sale of French lands, and an improved administrative system. Instead, he kept the white flag of the Bourbons in place of the traditional Tricolour, maintained Catholicism as the state religion, and maintained the franchise for an elected Chamber of Deputies (restricted to the richest landowers).
Aristocrats who had managed to get out of France during the Revolution and had had their property confiscated were compensated by le milliard (1000 million francs). The Treasury had to find 630 million francs to expedite this. The middle classes were furious, as is natural, as this enormous sum had to be found by reducing interest on state bonds by 40%.
Under Charles, both clerical and noble influence increased many-fold, and nobles occupied the highest positions in the Army and the Administration. To cap it all, Charles chose the fervent reactionary Polignac to lead his ministry. Accepting at last that the latter was unpopular, he called an election in 1830 that was disastrous for the government. An opposition was elected numbering 274: there were only 143 government supporters.
Charles and Polignac decided not to give up yet, however, and responded on July 15 with the Four Ordinances. These brought back (a) censorship of the press, (b) reduced the number of deputies, (c) dissolved the just-elected Chamber and (d) ordered fresh elections. So France plunged into the July Revolution, Charles X lost the throne and found himself in exile again, this time permanently. He died in 1836. He was seventy-nine years old, and had been a potential or actual disaster for most of that time.
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