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, 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. This resulted in the purchase of the Château de Chambord, near Blois.

The Duchess of Berry presents her son Henri d'Artois, Duke of Bordeaux, to the French court

The Duchess of Berry presents her son Henri d’Artois, Duke of Bordeaux, to the French court, by Charles Nicolas Lafond, 1821

Darling of loyal subjects

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 d’Artois 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. He gave this 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 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. 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, the family 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 that 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. Here 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 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. They hoped 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, Count of Chambord, photographed by Etienne Neurdein in the 1870s when Henri was in his 50s

Henri d’Artois, Count of Chambord, photographed by Etienne Neurdein in the 1870s when Henri was in his 50s

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

The Duke and Duchess of Angoulême

Louis XVIII: Oyster Louis

The Count of Artois, Charles X of France

When the King of France Lived in England

Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty

  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.

25 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!

  • Daniel says:

    I wonder if Henri would have been more willing to compromise if he would have had a son–or a younger brother, for that matter (as in, if his father the Duke of Berry would not have been assassinated in 1820). After all, it’s one thing for Henri to refuse to compromise when he knew that the Orleanists were his heirs and another thing for Henri to refuse to compromise if he would have had a son or a younger brother who would have been his heir.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    I think you’re right, Daniel – that could have made a difference to Henri’s attitude.

  • Daniel says:

    Yes, I think that it could have–but I nevertheless have some doubts about this due to the fact that Henri could not bring himself to be reconciled to the French tricolor flag. Maybe that would have changed in this scenario, but maybe not. Frankly, I think that it would have been different for Henri to reconcile himself to the tricolor in any scenario due to the fact that the tricolor symbolized the French Revolution and the executions of his great-uncle Louis XVI and Louis’s wife Marie Antoinette (as well as, of course, the subsequent Reign of Terror). Honestly, I am tempted to say that Henri’s pride probably wouldn’t have allowed him to accept the French tricolor flag even if he would have had a son and/or at least one younger brother who would have benefited from a French monarchical restoration after Henri’s death.

    Anyway, these are merely my own two cents on this issue.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    You raise some great points, Daniel. It’s an interesting question to speculate about.

  • Daniel says:

    Thanks, Shannon!

    BTW, do you know if it was Henri, his wife, or both of them that was (were?) infertile? Obviously at least one of them was infertile since they didn’t have any children (and I don’t think that Henri was gay or anything like that), but do you know which one (or if both of them were infertile)?

    Infertility did exist in both Henri’s and his wife’s families–so either one had the potential to be infertile. I was simply wondering if we know for sure.

  • Daniel says:

    BTW, Shannon, is your interest in French history limited to the late 18th and 19th centuries? Or are you also interested in earlier French history?

    I know that, had Louis XV died in 1728 or earlier, there could have been a succession crisis in France since Philip V of Spain (Louis XV’s uncle) was the senior-most Capetian male agnate but he renounced his rights to the French throne in 1713 (as well as his descendants’ rights to the French throne) and thus if Philip V’s renunciation is considered valid, the successor to the French throne in this scenario after Louis XV’s early death would have been the Duke of Orleans. Of course, Philip V might have tried to take back his renunciation in this scenario–but would the other European Great Powers have actually allowed him to do this?

    • Shannon Selin says:

      That’s another interesting scenario, Daniel. Since I don’t know that period of French history well (my interest is mainly in the late 18thC/early 19thC), I’m not in a position to speculate on how it might have played out.

  • Daniel says:

    I’ve got one more question for you, Shannon: Had Henri had at least one son and/or at least one younger brother, would the Orleanists have been as willing to support Henri’s claim to the French throne in the early 1870s as they were in real life? After all, in real life, the Orleanists supported Henri’s claim because Henri was childless and thus they were Henri’s heirs and would acquire the French throne after Henri’s death (in the event of a French monarchical restoration, of course). If Henri would have had at least one son and/or at least one younger brother, then the Orleanists would not have been Henri’s heirs and thus might have never had a chance to acquire the French throne if the French monarchy would have been restored with Henri as King.

  • Daniel says:

    So, there would have been even more odds of a French republic being established in the 1870s in this scenario (and the odds in real life were already good enough for this)?

    Also, as a side question, just how easy would it have actually been for someone to assassinate the Count of Chambord at any point during his lifetime? I’m asking theoretically here–as in, assuming that someone would have actually had the desire to do this.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Yes, by declining to put himself forward for the throne, Henri made it possible for the French Third Republic (initially envisioned as a provisional government) to continue.

      I’m not sure what security measures protected the Count of Chambord after he became an adult, but I assume a determined assassin could have got to him. His father was assassinated, as was his brother-in-law (Louise’s husband, the Duke of Parma).

  • Daniel says:

    Yep, Henri certainly deserves credit for making republican government in France very long-lasting. Had he died a decade or more earlier, we’d have likely been an Orleanist restoration in France in the early 1870s and the French monarchy survive until at least the start of World War I–with its subsequent fate depending on the outcome of the war, which might be different in this scenario due to various factors.

    Also, Yes, I’m well-aware of the assassination of Henri’s father Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry but you did remind me about the assassination of Henri’s brother-in-law the Duke of Parma. So, thanks for that reminder!

    By the way, do you know if it was Henri, his wife, or both of them who were infertile? The two of them never actually had any kids together–though Henri’s sister Louise and her husband the Duke of Parma did in fact I believe have four children together.

    It’s always interesting when a royal male line (including for former royalty) is going to go extinct since this means that, short of a change in the succession laws to allow women or female-line descendants to inherit the throne, the claim to a particular throne passes onto the most genealogically senior legitimate royal cadet branch. So, it’s always useful to have at least a couple of royal cadet branches to serve as back-ups in the event of an extinction of the main royal male line!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      I don’t know why Henri and his wife didn’t have any children. You’re right that his sister Louise and her husband had four. Good point about the value of royal cadet branches. It’s interesting that the sometimes nasty historical rivalry between members of such branches can make one forget that they’re actually related.

  • Daniel says:

    In regards to royal cadet branches, Yes, there are sometimes rivalries between them due to some cadet branches wanting more power and influence than they actually have. So, they’re useful as backups in the event that the main royal (historically male) line dies out, but if they get impatient and believe that they are never actually going to acquire the throne, then they could engage in all sorts of disruptive ways. For instance, Louis-Philippe would not have deposed the senior branch of the House of Bourbon back in 1830 had Henri never been born since without Henri, Louis-Philippe would have known that he (or at least his descendants) was eventually going to inherit the French throne in any case and would have thus likely allowed the senior branch of the House of Bourbon to reign in their final days in peace (as opposed to overthrowing them like he did in real life).

    Here’s an example of a feud and quarrel among *former* royals (and cousins) over a throne that *no longer exists*:


    This example is from Italy, but it shows that even *former and currently non-existent* thrones can still divide families even right now!

    Interestingly enough, in regards to cadet branches, the royal House of Bourbon was itself a cadet branch of the original House of Bourbon. Louis I, Duke of Bourbon had two sons, and the royal Houses of Bourbon (the one that acquired the French throne later on) is descended from Louis’s younger son James I, Count of La Marche. The elder branch of the House of Bourbon, descended from Louis’s elder son Peter I, Duke of Bourbon, became extinct in the male line back in 1527 with the death of Charles III, Duke of Bourbon. Of course, all of the Bourbons were originally descended from a cadet branch that was founded by Robert, Count of Clermont, the youngest son of French King Louis IX, I believe. Louis IX, of course, lived back in the 1200s–so, quite a while back! (Meanwhile, the Bourbons acquired the French throne in 1589 with Henry IV.)

    Anyway, do you know what exactly Henri, Count of Chambord died from/of? He was only 62 when he died, so I’m wondering if there was a known specific cause of death for him.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Very interesting, Daniel, especially about the Bourbons themselves being a cadet branch. I don’t know what Henri died of, though I’ve read that he patiently bore the agonies of his last illness, so it doesn’t sound like anything sudden.

  • Gerard C. says:

    Congratulations on such an elegant and penetrating narrative about the destiny of this baby.

  • Kevin says:

    @Daniel, @Shannon While the whole flag episode is often quoted as being Henri’s reason for refusing, the flag was simply the easiest thing to focus on.

    Mostly, his refusal was not driven by the “reluctance to leave his cosy exile” but by his hatred of the Orléans clan. The original agreement by which they would back him as candidate and he’d acknowledge them as heirs was laughably full of holes big enough to drive a coach and four through – as the contemporary saying went.

    What the Orléans were – and Chambord pointed this out in one of his letters to his good friend, Queen Isabella II of Spain – were a bunch of idiots so desperate to get back on the throne they ignored the problems with their whole idea. In 1870, there was nothing the matter with his health, while his wife had been sickly for years. There was no reason to expect that he would not outlive the comtesse. Or even that, if he did succeed to the throne of France, and requested an annulment on grounds of childlessness (valid grounds under canon law), the pope would refuse. The comtesse certainly believed that this was what would happen. When Henri refused to do this, she remarked to a lady-in-waiting “then every royalist in France should pray for my death”. By comparison, Henri’s father had been 42 years old when he was born, his maternal grandfather (Francesco I of Sicily) was 50 when his youngest child was born, Louis Philippe was 51, Louis XV’s last illegitimate child was born in 1769, a few months shy of Louis’ 60th birthday. There was absolutely nothing in their genetics that said, should he be able to remarry there would be no children. The horse-riding accident from the 1840s was not public knowledge, and it’s unlikely the Orléans would’ve been privy to such a matter or even regarded it as being of great consequence.

    What Henri also hated – and he said this in both his 1844 and 1866 manifestos – was that he would be king of a party/class. He called the idea of a king who “reigned but doesn’t rule” a foreign one, “alien to French traditions”. What the Orléans were asking him to do was to agree to be trussed up like a chicken while they ran the country in a Régence in all but name. It’s hard to believe that they sincerely thought Henri would agree to something like that.

    Henri certainly didn’t expect them to. In fact, he writes – another letter to Isabella II – that it’s a fever dream of theirs [the Orléans]. And that, in all likelihood, as soon as the regime is established, should he disagree with them, he will conveniently be assassinated by some fanatic like Ravaillac (Henri IV’s assassin) or Clément (Henri III’s). The Orléans would then have nothing standing in their way to the throne of France. While this sounds depressing and cynical, Henri wasn’t an idiot as often portrayed. In fact, I think he was possibly more realistic than the Orléans clan (who weren’t even in agreement on whether they agreed with Henri being their candidate. That was the duc de Nemours and the prince de Joinville, not the comte de Paris or his brother).

    A nice illustration – to my mind – of just how much Henri hated the Orléans and would bend over backwards to screw them over is his offer of adopting an heir. Not an Orléans or a Carlist, as would be expected. But Napoléon III’s son! He extended the offer – via their mutual friend, Queen Isabella II – to the widowed Empress Eugènie. The plan was basically as follows: Chambord would adopt Louis, Prince Imperial, as his heir. Louis would then be married to Isabella’s daughter, Pilar – since the Carlist claimant had no daughters and Louise’s children were too old or too young – and become the “rightful” king of France. He later walked back from the idea – some say he was talked out of it by the refusal from the Carlists – and wrote to Isabella saying “I am old. And people will misunderstand what I am trying to do. That I wish for us to forget what divides us.” But another touching fact is that, after the Prince Imperial was killed in Zululand, Henri sent a wreath to the funeral. Then wrote to Eugènie saying “without flattery, and having never met your son, but knowing of him only what I have heard said by others and told by the queen [Isabella II], I feel that he was the very best of us.”

    While, as Henri says, he never met the Prince Imperial, the fact is that he never lavished such praise on any other individual, Carlist or Orléanist.

    But, @Shannon it would make for a fascinating book, no?

  • Kevin says:

    @Shannon, I was wondering,
    “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). ”
    The link doesn’t seem to be working anymore, do you maybe have another link?

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Many thanks for alerting me to the broken link, Kevin. I found where the photos were moved to and updated the link, so it should work now.

  • Kevin says:

    thank you

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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.