The Count of Artois: Charles X of France

Charles Philippe, the Count of Artois – later Charles X of France – was a wastrel and a reactionary whose behaviour helped to discredit French royalty. As is evident in Napoleon in America, he became a royal pain in the side of his brother, Louis XVIII.

Charles X of France (the Count of Artois), 1826

Charles X of France (the Count of Artois) by Robert Lefèvre, 1826

Not expected to be king

Artois was born on October 9, 1757 at the Palace of Versailles. He was a member of the House of Bourbon and the grandson of King Louis XV. With his father and three older brothers ahead of him in line for the throne, no one expected Artois would ever be king. He received no formal education and led an idle and undisciplined life at court. When his grandfather died in 1774 (his father and eldest brother having already passed away), Artois’s brother became King Louis XVI.

The Don Juan of Versailles

The Count of Artois was said to be handsome, charming, generous and impulsive. He was a horseman, a gambler and a playboy – the “Don Juan” of Versailles. (1) Artois was a close friend of Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette. The two of them indulged in expensive frivolities, like the construction of the Château de Bagatelle. Their activities highlighted the gulf between the royal family and ordinary French people, and added to the unrest that sparked the French Revolution.

In November 1773 Artois married Marie Thérèse of Savoy (the sister of Louis XVIII’s wife). They had two sons: Louis Antoine, the Duke of Angoulême and Charles Ferdinand, the Duke of Berry. The marriage was a dynastic alliance rather than a love match. You can read about Artois’s true love for the married Louise de Polastron on Elena Maria Vidal’s Tea at Trianon blog.

After the storming of the Bastille in July 1789, the Count of Artois and his family left France. He lived briefly in Italy and in Germany before settling in England in 1792. The Prince Regent (later George IV) gave him a generous allowance. Artois lived in London and Edinburgh with Louise. His wife remained on the continent (she died in Austria in 1805). When Louise died of tuberculosis in 1804, Artois reportedly swore a vow of perpetual chastity and became devoted to religion. Nonetheless, it sounds like he retained some of his earlier spirit. In October 1811, Countess Harriet Granville wrote from her estate of Trentham in Staffordshire: “Monsieur forgets we are all beyond our teens and plays at bo-peep, etc. with Lady Stafford and me.” (2)

Count of Artois, 1798

The Count of Artois, by Henri-Pierre Danloux, 1798

Head of the ultra-royalists

In January 1814, the Count of Artois went to southern France to join the coalition against Napoleon. When the latter abdicated in early April, Artois acted as Lieutenant General of France until Louis XVIII could arrive from England. The Bourbons made clumsy and unpopular attempts to reverse the results of the French Revolution. When Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed in France in March 1815, he was welcomed by the French people. The royal family was again compelled to flee. They were restored to the throne a second time after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in June 1815.

During the Second Restoration Artois emerged as the leader of the ultra-royalists, the party of extreme reaction. He said he “would rather be a woodcutter than reign in the fashion of the King of England.” (3) He disliked Louis XVIII’s Charter and despised the Chambers of Deputies and Peers. French diplomat Pierre de Blacas wrote in 1815:

The Count of Artois has retained from his youth only the lack of character and the feebleness of his spirit; he has ceased to be lovable and light, brilliant and polite. The sworn enemy of liberal ideas, devout and ambitious, this prince burns with desire to become king, but king the way his forefathers were, that is to say, without a constitutional charter. (4)

After the Duke of Berry was assassinated by a fanatic in 1820, the ultra-royalists gained the upper hand. Artois had earlier set up a network of agents and collaborators across France, which functioned as a parallel government to that of Louis XVIII. The king was weary and ultimately gave up trying to resist his brother.

Artois as Charles X of France

Charles X of France

Charles X of France in his coronation robes, by François Gérard, 1825

When Louis XVIII died on September 16, 1824, the Count of Artois became King Charles X of France. At first it appeared that power had softened him. He set out to charm his people. For a while he succeeded, by loosening press censorship among other things. He held a coronation at the cathedral of Reims on May 29, 1825.

Like Louis XVIII, Charles X faced the difficult task of reconciling the old nobility with the reality that many Frenchmen had benefited from the changes brought about by the Revolution and Napoleon. He was less adroit than his brother, however. Charles X believed that nostalgia for the ancien régime was more widespread than it actually was. Determined to crush disloyalty and irreligion, he passed laws that strengthened the power of the nobility and the clergy.

In 1830, following the victory of the opposition in parliamentary elections, Charles X suspended the constitution. He dissolved the Chamber of Deputies, censored the press, restricted suffrage and called for new elections. This provoked the so-called July Revolution, a Parisian uprising against the crown. Charles was forced to abdicate on August 2. He abdicated in favour of his son, the Duke of Angoulême, who promptly abdicated in favour of  Henri d’Artois, the son of the Duke of Berry. Charles X went to England. However the Duke of Orléans, a Bourbon cousin, was chosen as “King of the French” and reigned as King Louis Philippe.

Charles settled in Prague. He then moved to what is now Slovenia. Charles X of France died of cholera on November 6, 1836, at the age of 79. His tomb is in the Bourbon crypt of the Church of the Annunciation of Mary, in the Kostanjevica (Castagnevizza) Monastery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.

You might also enjoy:

Louis XVIII: Oyster Louis

The Duke and Duchess of Angoulême

Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France

Henri d’Artois, Unready to be King

Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert

Watching French Kings Rise: The Grand Lever

What did the Duke of Wellington think of Louis XVIII? (and Charles X of France)

When the King of France Lived in England

The Palace of Saint-Cloud

  1. D.W. Brogan, The French Nation from Napoleon to Pétain, 1814-1940 (New York, 1957), p. 11.
  2. F. Leveson Gower, ed., Letters of Harriet Countess Granville, Vol. 1 (London, 1894), p. 21.
  3. Alfred Cobban, A History of Modern France, Vol. 2, 1799-1871, 2nd edition (Harmondsworth, 1965), p. 73.
  4. Mémoires et Souvenirs du Général Maximien Lamarque, Vol. II (Paris, 1835), p. 39.

18 commments on “The Count of Artois: Charles X of France”

  • lovejoy says:

    That’s nice.

  • James Walton says:

    What is it with the Bourbons and being hedonistic twits?

  • Michael says:

    King Charles the Dense. The fact that he is the only king of France who is buried on foreign soil stands as mute testimony to his unworthiness as a ruler.

  • M.V. ARTIS says:

    Great family history.

  • Daniel says:

    Excellent article!

    Anyway, one thing that I want to speculate about is this–would Charles X have been as reactionary of a monarch had his younger son the Duke of Berry had another daughter rather than a son (Henri) after his assassination in 1820? The reason that I am asking this question is because the birth of Henri (later the Count of Chambord) ensured that the succession to the French throne would remain within Charles’s immediate family long after his death. This could have perhaps paved the way for Charles to be very reactionary since he expected the throne to remain within his close family at least for decades–thus ironically paving the way for Charles’s overthrow in 1830 (an event that I strongly doubt that Charles actually expected).

    Now, think of what would have happened had the Duke of Berry had another daughter rather than a son in September 1820 (seven months after his assassination). In such a scenario, the elder branch of the House of Bourbon would have been finished relatively quickly. Louis XVIII was childless and Charles X’s only surviving son Louis-Antoine was likewise childless. Thus, in this scenario, in the long(er)-run, Charles’s designated successor would have been his distant Orleans cousin Louis-Philippe. (Yes, Louis-Philippe succeeded Charles in real life as well, but that was the result of a revolution; under the existing rules of succession, Charles’s grandson Henri should have become the new French King in 1830.) The reason that this would be relevant is that if Charles would know ahead of time that he would eventually be succeeded by the more liberal Louis-Philippe, would he have actually been willing to be as reactionary during his reign? I mean, why bother when Charles will know that Louis-Philippe is going to undo all of his reactionary policies after his (Charles’s) death?

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Thanks, Daniel. That’s an interesting scenario. My own sense is that Charles was inherently reactionary and would have been so regardless of whether or not the Duke of Berry had a son, but who knows?

  • Daniel says:

    Yeah, you might be correct in regards to this, Shannon! Of course, I wonder if Charles would have tried to repeal the Salic law in this scenario in order to prevent Louis-Philippe from acquiring the French throne after the death of Charles and his eldest son Louis-Antoine. Personally, though, I doubt it. I think that Charles was too much of a traditionalist to ever abolish the Salic law–even if this meant that Louis-Philippe would eventually become French King.

    Also, as a side note, I consider Charles’s greatest blunder to have been not at home, but abroad. I am specifically thinking of his invasion of Algiers in 1830. Charles’s domestic blunders didn’t have much of a long-term impact but France’s invasion of Algiers had an extremely long-term impact due to the fact that it allowed France to stay in Algeria for 132 years and to essentially implement something similar to an apartheid system. Then, once the Algerians wanted the French out of Algeria, the French aggressively fought back–which is why the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) was so bloody. Had Charles X known that Algeria’s Muslim population would skyrocket in the 20th and 21st centuries, maybe he wouldn’t have bothered invading Algiers in the first place. In 1830, the French-Algerian population ratio was something like 15:1 whereas now it’s only 3:2 or so.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      I also wondered whether Charles would have tried to repeal the Salic Law in that scenario and thought he probably wouldn’t. Interesting point about the invasion of Algeria. That definitely had long-term repercussions.

  • Elin says:

    Får man fråga när detta inlägg är skrivet? Jag har inte kunnat hitta det någonstans..

  • Barb Ady Potger says:

    He was my French Gr gr gr grandfather on my paternal side of the family. My grandmother Louise’s parents never married as she was tremendously wealthy and if she did she would have lost control of her wealth. However her half brother Charles was awarded the Military Cross in 1919 by King George V. Growing up my father a military man often told me that my ancestors were members of the French court.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      It’s nice to hear from you, Barb. Thanks for these additional details about your family.

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The sworn enemy of liberal ideas, devout and ambitious, this prince burns with desire to become king, but king the way his forefathers were, that is to say, without a constitutional charter.

Pierre de Blacas