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Charles X of France


Charles X (October 9 1757- November 6 1836) was born at the Palace of Versailles grandson of Louis XV and his Polish queen, Marie Leszczynska and son of Louis (the uncrowned dauphin) and his German wife, Maria-Josefa of Saxe. He was crowned King of France in 1824 in the cathedral at Reims and reigned until the French Revolution of 1830 when he abdicated rather than become a constitutional monarch. He was the last king of the Bourbon line.

He was the brother of both King Louis XVI and King Louis XVIII, as well as uncle to Louis XVII

He married Marie-Thérèse de Savoie, the daughter of Victor Amadeus III of Savoy, on November 16, 1773.

Their children:

  • 1) Louis-Antoine (August 6, 1775 - June 3, 1844)
  • 2) Sophie (August 5, 1776 - December 5, 1783)
  • 3) Charles-Ferdinand (January 24, 1778 - February 13, 1820)

As a young prince he was a noted womanizer, popular, well-mannered and entertaining. He struck up a firm friendship with his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette and he was part of her social set. His affairs were numerous, and according to the Comte d'Hezecques few beauties were cruel to him. Later, he embarked upon a life-long love affair with the beautiful Madame de Polastron, sister of Marie-Antoinette's favourite lady-in-waiting, the duchesse de Polignac. Madame de Palastron stayed with Charles for the rest of his life. However, Charles's unpopularity was such that he was unjustly accused of having seduced Marie-Antoinette; something which many were prepared to believe because of his scandalous love-life. As a father, his clear favourite was his youngest son, who most closely resembled himself in looks and personality. Relations with his eldest son, Louis-Antoine, were strained as Louis was a quiet, weak and introverted liberal with severe impotence problems and a nervous tick.

As part of Marie-Antoinette's social set, Artois often appeared opposite her in their own private theatre at the Petit Trianon. They were both said to be very talented amateur actors; with Marie-Antoinette playing milkmaids, shepherdesses and country ladies and Artois playing lovers, valets and farmers.

His political awakening started with the first great crisis of the monarchy in 1786, after which he headed the reactionary faction at the court of Louis XVI. Charles supported the removal of the aristocracy's financial privileges, but he was opposed to any reduction in the social privileges enjoyed by either the Church or the nobility. France's finances should be reformed, without the monarchy being overthrown. In his own words, it was "time for repair not demolition."

He also enraged the Third Estate (politicians representing the commoners) by objecting to every initiative to increase their voting-power in 1789. This prompted criticism from his brother, who accused him of being plus royaliste que le roi ("more royalist than the king".) Indiscretion aside, Charles was also extremely promiscuous, extravagant and temperamental; but he was also a witty conversationalist, affectionate and devout.

In conjunction with baron de Breteuil, Charles had political alliances arranged to depose the liberal prime minister, Jacques Necker. These plans backfired when Charles went ahead to secure Necker's dismissal on July 11th, without Breteuil's knowledge and much earlier than they had originally intended. It was the beginning of a decline in his political alliance with Breteuil, which ended in mutual loathing.

After the fall of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 he was ordered to leave France by Louis XVI, because it was feared Charles would soon be the victim of an assassination. It was also Louis's intention that Charles should represent the Monarchy abroad, and carry on the dynasty if the worst should happen.

In exile - first in Germany and then Italy - Charles feared that his brother Louis would compromise with the Revolution and betray the Monarchy. He took the disastrous decision of appointing Calonne to his council, which outraged Marie Antoinette, who had never liked him. This was an end to Charles and Marie-Antoinette's deep friendship, and Charles was left wracked with guilt after her execution in 1793. Charles' major foreign ally at this time was Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, who preferred Charles to the baron de Breteuil, who was the opposing leader of the royalists-in-exile.

Charles later emigrated to Britain, where George III allowed him to live in Holyrood House, a royal palace in Edinburgh. He was not comfortable with the ultra-Protestant environment of the city and spent most of his time behind the palace walls, although he was by no means rude to the locals. Communication between Charles and his surviving brother, the Comte de Provence, (living in Lithuania) was particularly strained once it became apparent that Charles was utterly indifferent to his brother's financial problems.

When Louise de Polastron died of consumption in 1803, Charles took a vow of perpetual chastity. His grief was intense, for he had been truly in love with her. His religious convictions strengthened and he became a devout Roman Catholic. His personal life became "entirely blameless". In his later years, he enthusiastically supported the Ultramontane movement within the Catholic Church.

Charles's wife, Marie-Therese, died in 1805. His eldest son, the duc d'Angouleme, was married to his cousin (also named Marie-Thérèse), who was the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Charles's other son, the duc de Berry, secretly married an English Protestant who was also a commoner. This marriage was annulled when it was discovered - probably at Charles's behest. Berry was later married to an Italian princess, and they produced the Comte de Chambord.

Charles was still living in Edinburgh in 1814 when the French monarchy was restored under his other brother, who assumed the name Louis XVIII. The two royal brothers were not especially close, since Charles viewed Louis XVIII as treacherous and irreligious.

Charles never met any of the claimants pretending to be his long-lost nephew, Louis XVII, since he was convinced the child had died in Paris in 1795 (see links below).

During the reign of Louis XVIII he headed the ultra-royalist opposition, which took power after the traumatic assassination of Charles's son the Duc du Berry. The event caused the fall of the ministry of Élie Decazes and the rise of the Comte de Villèle, who continued as chief minister after Charles became king. Emotionally, the king never really recovered from his son's murder.

The Villèle cabinet resigned in 1827 under pressure from the liberal press. His successor, the Vicomte de Martignac, tried to steer a middle course, but in 1829 Charles appointed Prince Jules Armand de Polignac(Louise de Polastron's nephew), an ultra-reactionary, as chief minister. Polignac initiated French colonization in Algeria. His dissolution of the chamber of deputies, his July Ordinances, which set up rigid control of the press, and his restriction of suffrage resulted in the July Revolution. The major cause of his downfall, however, was that he managed to keep the support of the aristocracy, the Catholic Church and even many members of the peasantry, but he was deeply unpopular with industrial workers and the bourgeoisie.

Charles abdicated in favor of his grandson, the Comte de Chambord, and left for England. However, his cousin Louis-Philippe did not publicise the part of Charles's abdication which nominated Chambord as his successor. Thanks to this deception, Louis-Philippe was able to take the crown for himself.

Fleeing initially to the United Kingdom, he later settled in Prague and then in present-day Slovenia. He died on November 6, 1836 in the palace of Count Michael Coronini Comberg zu Graffenberg at Goritz, Illyria and is buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Annunciation, Castagnavizza, Slovenia. His cause of death was cholera and he nursed through it by his niece, Marie-Thérèse.

External links

The character of Charles X recently appeared in a controversial Northern Irish play based on the mystery of Louis XVII. To read the author's assessment of this play, you can visit:

Preceded by:
King of France Succeeded by:

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45