Henri d’Artois, unready to be king

Henri d’Artois, Duke of Bordeaux, circa 1833

Henri d’Artois, Duke of Bordeaux, circa 1833

Henri d’Artois, Duke of Bordeaux and Count of Chambord, was the last representative of the senior branch of the French Bourbon kings. Born to great fanfare as a presumed heir of the French throne, he lost his royal privilege when his grandfather, King Charles X, was compelled to abdicate in 1830. Henri lived the rest of his life in exile. When he did have the opportunity to reclaim his throne, he didn’t take it.

Duke of Bordeaux

Born on September 29, 1820 at the Tuileries Palace in Paris, Henri d’Artois was the son of Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry, and Maria Carolina, daughter of the King of the Two Sicilies. The Duke of Berry had been assassinated seven months earlier, so Henri’s birth was regarded as a miracle, since it meant the senior Bourbon line would continue. Henri’s great-uncle, King Louis XVIII of France, had no children. Henri’s grandfather, the Count of Artois, was first in line to the throne. The Count of Artois’s son, the Duke of Angoulême – elder brother of the Duke of Berry – was second. Since the Duke of Angoulême didn’t have any children, Henri was Angoulême’s presumed heir. Henri did have an older sister Louise (subject of next week’s post), but the Salic Law prohibited her, or any other woman, from succeeding to the throne.

Echoing the celebrations that attended the birth of Napoleon’s son nine years earlier, there were grand festivities across France. There was also a “protestation” attributed to the Duke of Orléans – head of a junior branch of Bourbons, whose position in the line of succession had been bumped by Henri’s arrival – alleging that the child was not the Duchess of Berry’s. For details, see “The Birth of the duc de Bordeaux” by François Velde.

Henri was given the title of Duke of Bordeaux, in honour of the city that had been first to proclaim the Bourbons after the overthrow of Napoleon.

[W]hen the little Duc de Bordeaux was exhibited to the public on the day of his christening – after having been baptized in water brought from the Jordan by Chateaubriand – the enormous crowd under the balcony of the Tuileries, where the child was held up by his nurse, raised such acclamations as forced even the sceptical Louis XVIII to borrow a pocket-handkerchief from Madame du Cayla. (1)

A national public subscription was set up to buy the baby an estate worthy of his rank, resulting in the purchase of the Château de Chambord, near Blois. The little boy bouncing on the Duchess of Angoulême’s lap in Napoleon in America was the royalists’ pride and joy.

He was a pretty boy, with fair hair and blue eyes, very docile, and with a sweet smile, which he had been taught to display to everybody. Lamartine and Victor Hugo both rhymed odes to him; the writers in the Drapeau Blanc and Quotidienne, which were the principal Royalist organs of the day, vied with one another in their invention of anecdotes which described him as always saying or doing good things; and by these means the boy became really a darling of loyal subjects. (2)

As an example of the anecdotes, it is said that when Henri was three or four years old he came across a worker scrubbing an outdoor salon that was about to be painted. Seeing the man sweating, Henri asked the man if the work was tiring. On being told that it was, Henri asked his attendant for a coin, which he gave to the man, telling him to buy something to refresh himself, and to drink to his health. (3)

It is also claimed that in 1824, when Louis XVIII was dying and Henri was brought to his bedside, the King laid a hand on the child’s head and said to the Count of Artois (who was about to become Charles X),

Brother, be ruled by the thought of this boy’s welfare; do nothing that will lose him his crown. (4)

One of Charles X’s first acts upon ascending the throne was to name his grandson colonel of a regiment of Hussars. Once a week the regiment was paraded before Henri in the Cours du Carrousel. On these occasions, subjects were allowed to come forward and thrust petitions into the child’s hands, so Henri could be associated with acts of royal clemency. One assumes these people were carefully vetted beforehand. Not only were all of the petitions received by Henri granted; there was also fear that the boy could be assassinated, like his father. There was a strong rivalry between partisans of the King of Rome (Napoleon’s son) and those of the Duke of Bordeaux (the Bourbon heir). Each side feared the other would knock off their young prince.

Henri had more years than the King of Rome to enjoy his childhood in the French court. Still, the idyll ended before Henri’s 10th birthday. On August 2, 1830, in response to the July Revolution in Paris, Charles X abdicated in favour of the Duke of Angoulême. Twenty minutes later, Angoulême abdicated in favour of Henri. Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orléans, was chosen as regent and charged with announcing to the Chamber of Deputies Charles X’s desire to have his grandson succeed him. This Louis Philippe did not do. Instead, at the urging of liberal deputies, he accepted the crown himself. French Legitimists (supporters of the senior Bourbons) hold that Henri reigned as King Henri V for seven days, before Louis Philippe’s swearing in as King of the French on August 9.

Count of Chambord

As the dethroned royals journeyed to Cherbourg, the port from which they would embark for England,

the little Duc de Bordeaux…stood at the window of a coach with his sister blowing pretty kisses to the crowds. The boy had not been informed as to what had happened; he was in high glee at hearing himself addressed as King and Majesty, and the rigid observance of Court etiquette during the journey kept him from guessing that he was going into exile. (5)

For two years the Bourbons lived at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where the Duke of Bordeaux could be seen riding about the city in a chaise driven by postilions with white cockades. In 1832, in response to reform agitation in Britain, they moved to Prague. That same year – in a plan reluctantly condoned by Charles X – Henri’s mother, the Duchess of Berry, secretly returned to France to try to spark a Legitimist uprising in the Midi and the Vendée in favour of her son. The plan failed. The Duchess was arrested and sent to prison at Blaye, where it became clear she was pregnant. She confessed to having privately married an Italian nobleman, Count Lucchesi-Palli. She was released from prison shortly after the birth of a daughter in May 1833.

Charles X refused to allow the Duchess of Berry to rejoin Henri and Louise, though she was allowed occasional supervised visits with the children. Visiting the Bourbons in 1833, Chateaubriand said the children had the appearance of “two gazelles hidden in the ruins.” (6) Chateaubriand attended Henri’s riding lesson.

Henri is thin, agile, well made; he is blond; he has blue eyes with a something in the left eye that resembles the look of his mother. His movements are brusque; he talks to you with frankness; he is curious and questioning; he has none of the pedantry that one gives him in the newspapers; he is a true little boy like all little boys of age 12. I complimented him on his fine appearance on a horse: ‘You haven’t seen anything,’ he told me. ‘You should see me on my black horse; he is wicked as a devil; he kicks, he throws me to the ground, I get back on, we jump the fence.’ (7)

In 1835 the family moved to Gorizia, on the Slovenian-Italian border, where Charles X died. Henri’s riding career was curtailed in 1841 when he was thrown from his horse and fractured his left thigh. This left him permanently lame, disappointing adherents who wanted him to appear in military pageants. Known as the Count of Chambord, Henri travelled through Austria, Germany and Italy, visiting the royal courts. Sir Robert Gordon, the British ambassador in Vienna, wrote to a friend:

The young King of France has been here amusing everybody. People do not know what to make of him. The other night, speaking to the Emperor, he said something so incredibly simple that the Emperor looked hard at him twice, expecting he was going to smile. (8)

Upon the Duke of Angoulême’s death in 1844, Henri became the senior Bourbon claimant to the French throne. In November 1846, Henri married his wealthy second cousin, Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria-Este, daughter of the Duke of Modena. The Duchess of Angoulême chose the bride because the House of Austria-Este was the only royal family not to have recognized Louis Philippe’s monarchy. Henri actually would have preferred to marry his wife’s younger sister, Maria Beatrix.

In 1848, when news of Louis Philippe’s fall reached him, Henri was in Venice visiting his mother. Though a number of French deputies were ready to rally around Henri, he did not take advantage of the situation, leaving the way clear for Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, the son of Napoleon’s brother Louis, to become “Prince-President” of the Second Republic. Voicing the sentiments of some disappointed Legitimists, the Marquis de la Rochejacquelein said of Henri, “He is a clown, a coward.” (9)

Henri continued to maintain a small but stately court at the castle of Frohsdorf near Vienna, to which the family had moved. Henri inherited Frohsdorf when the Duchess of Angoulême died in 1851. When Louis Napoléon became Napoleon III, he treated Henri with respect, hoping to conciliate his followers. Though some Legitimists rallied to the Second Empire, a majority remained faithful to Henri d’Artois. The Count of Chambord lived in cheerful retirement, a bon vivant with a taste for hunting and travel.

Cold feet

In the years immediately following the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870, the royalists had a majority in the National Assembly. The Orléanists agreed to support Henri’s claim to the throne, hoping that on his death he would be succeeded by their claimant, Philippe d’Orléans, the Count of Paris. With both the Legitimists and the Orléanists behind him, prospects for Henri finally ascending the throne looked bright. Royal coaches were even built for his triumphal entry to Paris (click here to see photos of them).  But Henri and his wife proved reluctant to leave their cosy set-up for the possibility of revolutionary horror. Also, although they had no children, they were not keen on paving the way for an Orléanist succession. In 1873, after initially appearing to accept the royalists’ offer, Henri said he would provide no guarantees that he accepted the tricolour flag and the principles of the French Revolution. Sticking to the principle of divine right, he would not become “king of the Revolution.” Adolphe Thiers called Henri d’Artois “the French Washington,” the man who founded the republic. (10)

Henri d’Artois died on August 24, 1883 in Frohsdorf, Austria, age 62. He was buried in the Bourbon crypt of the Church of the Annunciation of Mary, in the Kostanjevica (Castagnevizza) Monastery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia. The Times observed in its obituary:

[H]istorical truth compels the remark that the Comte de Chambord was never equal to the high destinies which his birth had prepared for him. He may have been born with talents, but his education marred them, while the mental and physical distress he experienced whenever he was instigated to a course involving personal danger surely proved that he was more fitted to wear a cowl than a crown. He will remain known in history as Henry the Unready. Fortune did more for him than she generally does for men of his stamp by offering him her spurned favours two or three times over; but it is, at least, consoling to remember that he never fretted much over the chances which he threw away. He did not pine in exile like Charles X, but had in him much of the philosophical self-contentment of Louis XVIII, with some mixture of the meditativeness which made solitude dear to Louis XVI. When he had to give up the hope of seeing children born to him, he appears to have become secretly indifferent to recovering his throne, and it is only a pity he did not avow this indifference, sparing his devoted followers much trouble and France the many worries that have resulted from useless party strife. (11) 

You might also enjoy:

Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France

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Louis XVIII: Oyster Louis

The Count of Artois, Charles X of France

  1. “The Comte de Chambord, Obituary Notice, Saturday, August 25, 1883,” in Eminent Persons: Biographies Reprinted from the Times, Vol. III (London, 1893), p. 121.
  2. Ibid., p. 122.
  3. Vie Anecdotique du Duc de Bordeaux: depuis sa naissance jusqu’à ce jour (Paris, 1832), p. 71.
  4. “The Comte de Chambord, Obituary Notice, Saturday, August 25, 1883,” p. 122.
  5. Ibid., p. 124.
  6. François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre-tombe, New Edition, Vol. VI (Paris, 1910), p. 79.
  7. Ibid., pp. 91-92.
  8. “The Comte de Chambord, Obituary Notice, Saturday, August 25, 1883,” p. 129.
  9. Ibid., p. 133.
  10. Ernest Lavisse, Philippe Sagnac, Histoire de France contemporaine depuis la revolution jusqu’à la paix de 1919: Le déclin de l’empire et l’établissement de la 3e république (1859-1875) (Paris, 1921), p. 323.
  11. “The Comte de Chambord, Obituary Notice, Saturday, August 25, 1883,” p. 139.

2 commments on “Henri d’Artois, unready to be king”

  • Lally says:

    Another wonderful blog! Apparently, when the news reached St. Helena, on 27th December 1820 Count Montholon visited the French Commissioner to congratulate him on the safe delivery of Henri. The French Commissioner suggested, quite seriously, Napoleon might be interested in a Regency with the boy!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Lally. I hadn’t heard that one. How funny. I can imagine what Napoleon’s response would have been!

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He talks to you with frankness; he is curious and questioning; he has none of the pedantry that one gives him in the newspapers; he is a true little boy.

Chateaubriand