This not very fortunate man was born in 1773, some sixteen years before the beginnings of the French Revolution. He was a descendent of Louis XIII, and the eldest son of Philippe, Duke of Orléans. Though very young, he supported the Duke in his stance with the people and against the Monarchy and the Government, being a traditional Orléanist. Both he and his father renounced their titles and called themselves Philipe Égalité.
Louis–Philippe actually fought with the Revolutionary army at Valmy and Jemappes in 1792 when he was nineteen years old, but fouled his nest by combining with his commander Dumouriez in plotting a restored monarchy. Advised to remove himself from France, he fled to Austria, leaving his father the Duke to be arrested by the Committee of Public Safety, where even the new surname Égalité did not save his princely head from falling into the basket on the scaffold. It was November, 1793.
Louis-Philippe returned from Austria a very rich man, one of the richest in Europe, and my researches have not explained why. Perhaps the reason is that he was involved in a scheme thought up by the actual king Charles X (q.v.) to provide ample compensation to émigrés whose properties had been sold during the Revolution. He rapidly mixed with Parisians, wore a silk top hat and had ten children with his wife; numberless with his mistresses.
When Charles X fell in the July Revolution, the Bourbon Dynasty came ignominiously to an end and Louis-Philippe, as an Órleans, was chosen by the government to become king. He was named simply Louis-Philippe, King of the French. It was 1830.
He promptly accepted a revised Charter which permitted the French parliament to initiate new legislation and doubled the electorate to the not oversize total of 170,000, or 2.8% of the male population. Women, who had played a very prominent part in the Revolution, still did not have the vote. Roman Catholicism ceased to be the official religion, but was recognised by Napoleon’s ‘Concordat’ as the faith of the majority of French citizens.
Louis-Philippe was by no means a charming but dumb puppet like Louis XVI. He was certain political power should be in the hands of wealthy men who did not need to be paid for their services to the country. There was no change in the elitist officials who managed the country. The management was based on the land, and was therefore handled by the aristocracy* and of course the Bourgeoisie.
King Louis-Philippe was very conscious of the fact that he was seen as an upstart, a parvenu by other ruling monarchies in Europe and he maintained a low profile in foreign policy. As examples, he made no attempt to take territory by force in Belgium when there was revolt there, refused the offer of the Belgian throne (oh that!) when it was offered to one of his sons, and turned his back when Poland was invaded by Russia in 1831.
To the rest of Europe, all classes who could read newspapers thought that there was certain instability in French politics when there were fifteen governments in ten years, but at least Louis-Philippe got through an Education Act (1833) and restriction on child labour (1841), before things started to go wrong.
Workers in the Lyon silk industry were crushed by the army after complaints were made about cuts in pay – two hundred and seventy-five people were killed; another strike in the same town produced another three hundred deaths, but when anarchists tried to take power in Paris they got no help from the Mob. Nor was there any support for Bonapartism, as shown when Louis Napoleon tried to establish himself illegally in 1836 and 1840. Louis-Philippe narrowly avoided war with England over the Ottoman Empire, but he made his minister Thiers the scapegoat and conflict was avoided.
Foreign Minister Guizot controlled the Government from 1840 without achieving any popularity, because he refused to extend the franchise to the Petite Bourgeoisie. The middle classes were discontented because they saw Louis-Philippe and Minister Guizot as ‘immobile’, as indeed they were. Restrictions were made on public meetings because of fear of what they might lead to, but banquets were oddly enough not seen as public meetings. There followed a ‘banquet campaign’ from August 1847 – February 1848, during which the government was denounced (between courses) and demands were made for franchise reform. It seems that the organisers of these ‘banquet meetings’ did not want a revolution, and when one of the political repasts was banned, the prohibition was accepted meekly enough. Peace could not last, because students, workers and the lower class population of Paris (half of which had no jobs) took to the streets. Barricades were put up, but soldiers fired into the crowd on 23 February 1848, killing fifty-two people.
The authorities were stupid enough to pile corpses on carts which were dragged through the working-class zones of Paris, a provocation serious enough to foment a huge popular uprising. Louis-Philippe at last woke up to the realisation that what had happened to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could now easily happen to him and his family. No doubt genuinely wishing to avoid bloodshed, he abdicated rapidly and left the country, establishing himself as a country gentleman in England, where he shortly died in 1850.
*Not all the aristos had been guillotined during the terror. In fact many more agricultural workers throughout France were killed with their families by the middle-class Jacobins. Louis-Philippe was the last king to rule France, though Napoleon III made himself monarch (in 1852) after being elected as President of France in 1848. He brought ruin to the French Empire by fighting the Franco-Prussian War, was deposed, and also finished his life in exile in England.