Louis Philippe, King of the French

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Louis Philippe, King of the French

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He was a descendant of Louis XIII (the king in The Three Musketeers), and the eldest son of the Duke of Orléans. Both father and son openly supported the French Revolution, and actually voted for the death of Louis XVI. Both liked to be called Philippe Égalité, inspired one assumes by the revolutionary chant ‘Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité. At the age of nineteen he fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) at Valmy and Jemappes, but with his commander Dumouriez plotted to restore a French monarchy, albeit a constitutional one. Unfortunately his father was blamed for this and despite his nickname of Égalité he was arrested and guillotined in 1793. Young Philippe was just twenty years old.

Exiling himself to the safety of Austria, he stayed, gaining a reputation as an homme du monde, until he returned to France in 1814, where he found himself extremely rich, mainly due to the Milliard of King Charles X. This was compensation paid officially by the government to those emigrants who had left France before or during the Revolution and had had their lands sequestered. Philippe was very much the man about town, elegantly dressed if a bit of a fop; he had ten children whom he is said to have cherished, and an easy way with the ordinary people of Paris.

Charles X was removed by the July Revolution of 1830 and Louis Philippe, after all a member of the royal Orléans family, was pronounced king by parliament, causing a certain amount of dry comment in European royal circles, but only on the understanding that parliament would be permitted to introduce legislation, and that the electorate would be doubled. Even so the newly franchised 170,000 was only 2.8% of the male population over twenty-one.

The Roman Catholic Church was recognised as such , but not as the state religion. In this Philippe imitated Napoleon Bonaparte. The nation’s flag was the Tricolore once more. Political power lay in the hands of the wealthy and landed again, as it had been before the sanguinary revolution, and execution of the king, queen and many aristocrats. Thus no change could be seen in the composition of the committees of officials who managed France. Philippe, who knew as well as anybody that he was seen as a bit of a rascal by the rest of Europe, maintained a low profile in foreign policy. He did not seize any land in Belgium when there was a chance to, nor did he accept an offer of the Belgian throne for one of his many children. When the Poles revolted against Russia in 1831 Philippe did not help them. He did get an Education Act through parliament, and also managed to put a limit on child labour, both creditable. But there were fifteen governments in ten years and this was and is a sign of instability. Workers were furious when the army was summoned to crush a violent protest of silk weavers in Lyon, and nearly 300 people were killed. Then in the same city another 300 were killed during another strike in 1834. Anarchists tried to seize power in Paris in 1839 but got no help from the Parisians.

‘Bonapartism’ could not flourish under Louis Napoleon either, as his failure to usurp Philippe in 1836 and 1840 showed. Philippe showed his mettle by avoiding war with England over the Ottoman Empire. Above all Philippe and his prime ministers were unpopular because the people thought they were unmoved and unmovable. When a restriction was placed on public meetings the middle classes organised a series of banquets at which the government was denounced and a reform of the franchise was demanded. The banqueters did not wish for revolution however, and easily accepted a parliamentary ban on a large banquet which was to be held in Paris on 22 February, 1848. Sadly, students and workers (not peaceful banqueters) got out of control (they were suffering from an economic depression) and took to the streets. The next day barricades appeared in the Boulevard des Capucines and troops fired at them, killing 52 people. Philippe apparently made no attempt to stop the soldiers piling dead bodies on open carts and dragging them through working class districts in the capital. This encouraged an enormous popular revolution.

Philippe, remembering what happened to Louis XVI and his wife, and uncertain of the loyalty or temper of his armies, abdicated instantly and went to England, where he became a country gentleman, unpopular with the landed classes; he survived this mishap and died in 1850 at the age of seventy-seven.

By | 2015-03-24T11:50:22+00:00 March 24th, 2015|French History, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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