Louis XVIII of France (Louis Stanislas Xavier)

Louis XVIII of France

Louis Stanislas Xavier, styled Count of Provence from birth, was born on 17 November 1755 in the Palace of Versailles, the son of Louis, Dauphin of France, and his wife Maria Josepha of Saxony. He was the grandson of the reigning King Louis XV. As a son of the Dauphin he was a Fils de France. Louis Stanislas was christened Louis Stanislas Xavier six months after his birth in accordance with Bourbon family tradition, being nameless before his baptism. By this act, he became also a Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit. The name of Louis was bestowed because it was typical of a prince of France; Stanislas was chosen to honour his great-grandfather King Stanisław I of Poland; and Xavier was chosen for Saint Francis Xavier, whom his mother’s family held as one of their patron saints.  At the time of his birth, Louis Stanislas was fourth in line to the throne of France, behind his father and his two elder brothers: Louis Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy, and Louis Auguste, Duke of Berry. The former died in 1761, leaving Louis Auguste as heir apparent until the Dauphin’s own premature death in 1765. The two deaths elevated Louis Stanislas to second in the line of succession, while Louis Auguste acquired the title Dauphin.

Louis Stanislas found comfort in his governess, Madame de Marsan, Governess of the Children of France, as he was her favourite among his siblings. Louis Stanislas was taken away from his governess when he turned seven, the age at which the education of boys of royal blood and of the nobility was turned over to men. Antoine de Quélen de Stuer de Caussade, Duke of La Vauguyon, a friend of his father, was named his governor.  Louis Stanislas was an intelligent boy, excelling in classics. His education was of the same quality and consistency as that of his older brother, Louis Auguste, despite the fact that Louis Auguste was heir and Louis Stanislas was not. Louis Stanislas’ education was quite religious in nature; several of his teachers were men of the cloth. La Vauguyon drilled into young Louis Stanislas and his brothers the way he thought princes should “know how to withdraw themselves, to like to work,” and “to know how to reason correctly”.  In April 1771, Louis Stanislas’ education was formally concluded and his own independent household was established, which astounded contemporaries with its extravagance: in 1773, the number of servants reached 390. In the same month his household was founded, Louis was granted several titles by his grandfather, Louis XV: Duke of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Perche, and Count of Senoches. During this period of his life he was often known by the title Count of Provence.  On 17 December 1773, he was ordained as a Grand Master of the Order of St. Lazarus.

On 14 May 1771, Louis Stanislas married Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy. Marie Joséphine (as she was known in France) was a daughter of Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy (later King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia), and his wife Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain.  A luxurious ball followed the wedding on 20 May. Louis Stanislas was repulsed by his wife, who was considered ugly, tedious, and ignorant of the customs of the court of Versailles. The marriage remained unconsummated for years. Biographers disagree about the reason. The most common theories propose Louis Stanislas’ alleged impotence (according to biographer Antonia Fraser) or his unwillingness to sleep with his wife due to her poor personal hygiene. She never brushed her teeth, plucked her eyebrows, or used any perfumes. At the time of his marriage, Louis Stanislas was obese and waddled instead of walked. He never exercised and continued to eat enormous amounts of food.  Despite the fact that Louis Stanislas was not infatuated with his wife, he boasted that the two enjoyed vigorous conjugal relations – but such declarations were held in low esteem by courtiers at Versailles. He also proclaimed his wife to be pregnant merely to spite Louis Auguste and his wife Marie Antoinette, who had not yet consummated their marriage. The Dauphin and Louis Stanislas did not enjoy a harmonious relationship and often quarrelled, as did their wives. Louis Stanislas did impregnate his wife in 1774, having conquered his aversion. However, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. A second pregnancy in 1781 also miscarried, and the marriage remained childless.

On 27 April 1774, Louis XV fell ill after contracting smallpox and died the following 10 May. The Dauphin, Louis Auguste, succeeded his grandfather as King Louis XVI. As eldest brother of the king, Louis Stanislas received the title Monsieur. Louis Stanislas longed for political influence. He attempted to gain admittance to the king’s council in 1774, but failed. Louis Stanislas was left in a political limbo that he called “a gap of 12 years in my political life”. Louis XVI granted Louis Stanislas revenues from the Duchy of Alençon in December 1774. The duchy was given to enhance Louis Stanislas’ prestige, however, the appanage generated only 300,000 livres per annum, an amount much lower than it had been at its peak in the fourteenth century.  Louis Stanislas travelled more through France than other members of the royal family, who rarely left the Île-de-France. In 1774, he accompanied his sister Clotilde to Chambéry on the journey to meet her bridegroom Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, heir to the throne of Sardinia. In 1775, he visited Lyon and also his spinster aunts Adélaïde and Victoire while they were taking the waters at Vichy. The four provincial tours that Louis Stanislas took before the year 1791 amounted to a total of three months.  On 5 May 1778, Dr. Lassonne, Marie Antoinette’s private physician, confirmed her pregnancy. On 19 December 1778, the Queen gave birth to a daughter, who was named Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France and given the honorific title Madame Royale. The birth of a girl came as a relief to the Count of Provence, who kept his position as heir to Louis XVI, since Salic Law excluded women from acceding to the throne of France. However, Louis Stanislas did not remain heir to the throne much longer. On 22 October 1781, Marie Antoinette gave birth to the Dauphin Louis Joseph. Louis Stanislas and his brother, the Count of Artois, served as godfathers by proxy for Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, the queen’s brother. When Marie Antoinette gave birth to her second son, Louis Charles, in March 1785, Louis Stanislas slid further down the line of succession.  In 1780, Anne Nompar de Caumont, Countess of Balbi, entered the service of Marie Joséphine. Louis Stanislas soon fell in love with his wife’s new lady-in-waiting and installed her as his mistress, which resulted in the couple’s already small affection for each other cooling entirely. Louis Stanislas commissioned a pavilion for his mistress on a parcel that became known as the Parc Balbi at Versailles.  Louis Stanislas lived a quiet and sedentary lifestyle at this point, not having a great deal to do since his self-proclaimed political exclusion in 1774. He kept himself occupied with his vast library of over 11,000 books at Balbi’s pavilion, reading for several hours each morning. In the early 1780s, he also incurred huge debts totalling 10 million livres, which his brother Louis XVI paid.

An Assembly of Notables (the members consisted of magistrates, mayors, nobles and clergy) was convened in February 1787 to ratify the financial reforms sought by the Controller-General of Finance Charles Alexandre de Calonne. This provided the Count of Provence, who abhorred the radical reforms proposed by Calonne, the opportunity he had long been waiting for to establish himself in politics. The reforms proposed a new property tax, and new elected provincial assemblies that would have a say in local taxation. Calonne’s proposition was rejected outright by the notables, and, as a result, Louis XVI dismissed him. The Archbishop of Toulouse, Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, acquired Calonne’s ministry. Brienne attempted to salvage Calonne’s reforms, but ultimately failed to convince the notables to approve them. A frustrated Louis XVI dissolved the assembly.  Brienne’s reforms were then submitted to the Parlement of Paris in the hopes that they would be approved. (A parlement was responsible for ratifying the king’s edicts. Each province had its own parlement, but the Parlement of Paris was the most significant of all.) The Parlement of Paris refused to accept Brienne’s proposals and pronounced that any new taxation would have to be approved by an Estates-General (the nominal parliament of France). Louis XVI and Brienne took a hostile stance against this rejection, and Louis XVI had to implement a “bed of justice” (Lit de justice), which automatically registered an edict in the Parlement of Paris, to ratify the desired reforms. On 8 May, two of the leading members of the Parlement of Paris were arrested. There was rioting in Brittany, Provence, Burgundy and Béarn in reaction to their arrest. This unrest was engineered by local magistrates and nobles, who enticed the people to revolt against the Lit de Justice, which was quite unfavourable to the nobles and magistrates. The clergy also joined the provincial cause, and condemned Brienne’s tax reforms. Brienne conceded defeat in July and agreed to calling the Estates-General to meet in 1789. He resigned from his post in August and was replaced by the Swiss magnate Jacques Necker.  In November 1788, a second Assembly of Notables was convened by Jacques Necker, to consider the makeup of the next Estates-General. The Parlement de Paris recommended that the Estates should be the same as they were at the last assembly, in 1614 (this would mean that the clergy and nobility would have more representation than the Third Estate). The notables rejected the “dual representation” proposal. Louis Stanislas was the only notable to vote to increase the size of the Third Estate. Necker disregarded the notables’ judgment, and convinced Louis XVI to grant the extra representation – Louis duly obliged on 27 December.

The Estates-General were convened in May 1789 to ratify financial reforms. The Count of Provence favoured a stalwart position against the Third Estate and its demands for tax reform. On 17 June, the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly, an Assembly not of the Estates, but of the people.  Provence urged the king to act strongly against the declaration, while the king’s popular minister Jacques Necker intended to compromise with the new assembly. Louis XVI was characteristically indecisive. On 9 July, the assembly declared itself a National Constituent Assembly that would give France a Constitution. On 11 July, Louis XVI dismissed Necker, which led to widespread rioting across Paris. On 12 July, the sabre charge of the cavalry regiment of Charles-Eugène de Lorraine, prince de Lambesc, on a crowd gathered at the Tuileries gardens, sparked the Storming of the Bastille two days later.  On 16 July, the Count of Artois left France with his wife and children, along with many other courtiers. Artois and his family took up residence in Turin, the capital city of his father-in-law’s Kingdom of Sardinia, with the family of the Princes of Condé.  The Count of Provence decided to remain at Versailles. When the royal family plotted to abscond from Versailles to Metz, Provence advised the king not to leave, a suggestion he accepted.  The royal family was forced to leave the palace at Versailles on the day after The Women’s March on Versailles, 5 October 1789. They were re-located to Paris. There, the Count of Provence and his wife lodged in the Luxembourg Palace, while the rest of the royal family stayed in the Tuileries Palace. In March 1791, the National Assembly created a law outlining the regency of Louis Charles in case his father died while he was still too young to reign. This law awarded the regency to Louis Charles’ nearest male relative in France (at that time the Count of Provence), and after him, the Duke of Orléans (bypassing the Count of Artois). If Orléans were unavailable, the regency would be submitted to election.  The Count of Provence and his wife fled to the Austrian Netherlands in conjunction with the royal family’s failed Flight to Varennes in June 1791.

Louis XVIII returned to France promptly after Napoleon’s defeat to ensure his second restoration “in baggage train of the enemy”, i.e. with Wellington’s troops. The Duke of Wellington used King Louis’s person to open up the route to Paris, as some fortresses refused to surrender to the Allies, but agreed to do so for their king. King Louis arrived at Cambrai on 26 June, where he released a proclamation stating that all those who served the Emperor in the Hundred Days would not be persecuted, except for the “instigators”. It was also acknowledged that Louis XVIII’s government might have made mistakes during the First Restoration. On 29 June, a deputation of five from the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Peers approached Wellington about putting a foreign prince on the throne of France. Wellington rejected their pleas outright, declaring that “[Louis XVIII is] the best way to preserve the integrity of France”. Wellington ordered the deputies to espouse King Louis’s cause. Louis XVIII entered Paris on 8 July to a boisterous reception: the Tuileries Palace gardens were thronged with bystanders, and, according to the Duke of Wellington, the acclamation of the crowds there were so loud that evening that he could not converse with the king. Louis XVIII’s role in politics from the Hundred Days onward was voluntarily diminished; he resigned most of his duties to his council. He and his ministry embarked on a series of reforms through the summer of 1815. The king’s council, an informal group of ministers that advised Louis XVIII, was dissolved and replaced by a tighter knit privy council, the “Ministère de Roi”. Artois, Berry and Angoulême were purged from the new “ministère”, and Talleyrand was appointed as the first Président du Conseil, i.e. Prime Minister of France. On 14 July, the ministry dissolved the units of the army deemed “rebellious”. Hereditary peerage was re-established to Louis’s behest by the ministry. In August, elections for the Chamber of Deputies returned unfavourable results for Talleyrand. The ministry wished for moderate deputies, but the electorate voted almost exclusively for ultra-royalists, resulting in the so-called Chambre introuvable. The Duchess of Angoulême and the Count of Artois pressured King Louis for the dismissal of his obsolete ministry. Talleyrand tendered his resignation on 20 September. Louis XVIII chose the Duke of Richelieu to be his new Prime Minister. Richelieu was chosen because he was accepted by Louis’s family and the reactionary Chamber of Deputies. Anti-Napoleonic sentiment was high in Southern France, and this was prominently displayed in the White Terror, which saw the purge of all important Napoleonic officials from government and the execution of others. The people of France committed barbarous acts against some of these officials. Guillaume Marie Anne Brune (a Napoleonic marshal) was savagely assassinated, and his remains thrown into the Rhône River. Louis XVIII deplored such illegal acts, but vehemently supported the prosecution of those marshals that helped Napoleon in the Hundred Days. Louis XVIII’s government executed Napoleon’s Marshal Ney in December 1815 for treason. His confidants Charles François, Marquis de Bonnay, and the Duke de La Chatre advised him to inflict firm punishments on the “traitors”.  The king was reluctant to shed blood, and this greatly irritated the ultra-reactionary Chamber of Deputies, who felt that Louis XVIII was not executing enough. The government issued a proclamation of amnesty to the “traitors” in January 1816, but the trials that had already begun were finished in due course. That same declaration also banned any member of the House of Bonaparte from owning property in, or entering, France. It is estimated that between 50,000 – 80,000 officials were purged from the government during what was known as the Second White Terror.

In November 1815, Louis XVIII’s government had to sign another Treaty of Paris that formally ended Napoleon’s Hundred Days. The previous treaty had been quite favourable to France, but this one took a hard line. France’s borders were retracted to their extent at 1790. France had to pay for an army to occupy her, for at least five years, at a cost of 150 million francs per year. France also had to pay a war indemnity of 700 million francs to the allies. In 1818, the Chambers passed a military law that increased the size of the army by over 100,000. In October of the same year, Louis XVIII’s foreign minister, the Duke of Richelieu, succeeded in convincing the powers to withdraw their armies early in exchange for a sum of over 200 million francs.  Louis XVIII chose many centrist cabinets, as he wanted to appease the populace, much to the dismay of his brother, the ultra-royalist Count of Artois. Louis always dreaded the day he would die, believing that his brother, and heir, Artois, would abandon the centrist government for an ultra-royalist autocracy, which would not bring favourable results. King Louis disliked the First Prince of the Blood Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, and took every opportunity to snub him, denying him the title of “Royal Highness”, partly out of resentment for the Duke’s father’s role in voting for Louis XVI’s execution. Louis XVIII’s nephew, the Duke of Berry, was assassinated at the Paris Opera on 14 February 1820. The royal family was grief-stricken and Louis XVIII broke an ancient tradition to attend his nephew’s funeral, as previous kings of France could not have any association with death. The death of the Duke of Berry meant that the House of Orléans was more likely to succeed to the throne.

Berry was the only member of the family thought to be able to beget children. His wife gave birth to a posthumous son in September, Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, nicknamed Dieudonné (God-given) by the Bourbons because he was thought to have secured the future of the dynasty. However the Bourbon succession was still in doubt. The Chamber of Deputies proposed amending Salic law to allow the Duchess of Angoulême to accede to the throne. On 12 June 1820, the Chambers ratified legislation that increased the number of deputies from 258 to 430. The extra deputies were to be elected by the wealthiest quarter of the population in each département. These individuals now effectively had two votes. Around the same time as the “law of the two votes”, Louis XVIII began to receive visits every Wednesday from a lady named Zoé Talon, and ordered that nobody should disturb him while he was with her. It was rumoured that he inhaled snuff from her breasts, which earned her the nickname of tabatière (snuffbox). In 1823, France embarked on a military intervention in Spain, where a revolt had occurred against the King Ferdinand VII. France succeeded in crushing the rebellion, an effort headed by the Duke of Angoulême.  Louis XVIII’s health began to fail in the spring of 1824. He was suffering from obesity, gout and gangrene, both dry and wet, in his legs and spine. Louis died on 16 September 1824 surrounded by the extended royal family and some government officials. He was succeeded by his youngest brother, the Count of Artois, as Charles X.  Louis XVIII was the last French monarch, and the only one after 1774, to die while still ruling. He was interred at the Basilica of St Denis, the necropolis of French kings.

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Born

  • November, 17, 1755
  • France
  • Palace of Versailles, Versailles

Died

  • September, 16, 1824
  • France
  • Louvre Palace, Paris

Cause of Death

  • gout and gangrene

Cemetery

  • Basilica of Saint Denis
  • Saint-Denis, Paris
  • France

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