1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles X. (King of France)

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CHARLES X. (1757–1836), king of France from 1824 to 1830, was the fourth child of the dauphin, son of Louis XV. and of Marie Josephe of Saxony, and consequently brother of Louis XVI. He was known before his accession as Charles Philippe, count of Artois. At the age of sixteen he married Marie Thérèse of Savoy, sister-in-law of his brother, the count of Provence (Louis XVIII.). His youth was passed in scandalous dissipation, which drew upon himself and his coterie the detestation of the people of Paris. Although lacking military tastes, he joined the French army at the siege of Gibraltar in 1772, merely for distraction. In a few years he had incurred a debt of 56 million francs, a burden assumed by the impoverished state. Prior to the Revolution he took only a minor part in politics, but when it broke out he soon became, with the queen, the chief of the reactionary party at court. In July 1789 he left France, became leader of the émigrés, and visited several of the courts of Europe in the interest of the royalist cause. After the execution of Louis XVI. he received from his brother, the count of Provence, the title of lieutenant-general of the realm, and, on the death of Louis XVII., that of “Monsieur.” In 1795 he attempted to aid the royalist rising of La Vendée, landing at the island of Yeu. But he refused to advance farther and to put himself resolutely at the head of his party, although warmly acclaimed by it, and courage failing him, he returned to England, settling first in London, then in Holyrood Palace at Edinburgh and afterwards at Hartwell. There he remained until 1813, returning to France in February 1814, and entering Paris in April, in the track of the Allies.

During the reign of his brother, Louis XVIII., he was the leader of the ultra-royalists, the party of extreme reaction. On succeeding to the throne in September 1824 the dignity of his address and his affable condescension won him a passing popularity. But his coronation at Reims, with all the gorgeous ceremonial of the old régime, proclaimed his intention of ruling, as the Most Christian King, by divine right. His first acts, indeed, allayed the worst alarms of the Liberals; but it was soon apparent that the weight of the crown would be consistently thrown into the scale of the reactionary forces. The émigrés were awarded a milliard as compensation for their confiscated lands; and Gallicans and Liberals alike were offended by measures which threw increased power into the hands of the Jesuits and Ultramontanes. In a few months there were disquieting signs of the growing unpopularity of the king. The royal princesses were insulted in the streets; and on the 29th of April 1825 Charles, when reviewing the National Guard, was met with cries from the ranks of “Down with the ministers!” His reply was, next day, a decree disbanding the citizen army.

It was not till 1829, when the result of the elections had proved the futility of Villèle’s policy of repression, that Charles consented unwillingly to try a policy of compromise. It was, however, too late. Villèle’s successor was the vicomte de Martignac, who took Decazes for his model; and in the speech from the throne Charles declared that the happiness of France depended on “the sincere union of the royal authority with the liberties consecrated by the charter.” But Charles had none of the patience and commonsense which had enabled Louis XVIII. to play with decency the part of a constitutional king. “I would rather hew wood,” he exclaimed, “than be a king under the conditions of the king of England”; and when the Liberal opposition obstructed all the measures proposed by a ministry not selected from the parliamentary majority, he lost patience. “I told you,” he said, “that there was no coming to terms with these men.” Martignac was dismissed; and Prince Jules de Polignac, the very incarnation of clericalism and reaction, was called to the helm of state.

The inevitable result was obvious to all the world. “There is no such thing as political experience,” wrote Wellington, certainly no friend of Liberalism; “with the warning of James II. before him, Charles X. was setting up a government by priests, through priests, for priests.” A formidable agitation sprang up in France, which only served to make the king more obstinate. In opening the session of 1830 he declared that he would “find the power” to overcome the obstacles placed in his path by “culpable manoeuvres.” The reply of the chambers was a protest against “the unjust distrust of the sentiment and reason of France”; whereupon they were first prorogued, and on the 16th of May dissolved. The result of the new elections was what might have been foreseen: a large increase in the Opposition; and Charles, on the advice of his ministers, determined on a virtual suspension of the constitution. On the 25th of July were issued the famous “four ordinances” which were the immediate cause of the revolution that followed.

With singular fatuity Charles had taken no precautions in view of a violent outbreak. Marshal Marmont, who commanded the scattered troops in Paris, had received no orders, beyond a jesting command from the duke of Angoulême to place them under arms “as some windows might be broken.” At the beginning of the revolution Charles was at St Cloud, whence on the news of the fighting he withdrew first to Versailles and then to Rambouillet. So little did he understand the seriousness of the situation that, when the laconic message “All is over!” was brought to him, he believed that the insurrection had been suppressed. On realizing the truth he hastily abdicated in favour of his grandson, the duke of Bordeaux (comte de Chambord), and appointed Louis Philippe, duke of Orleans, lieutenant-general of the kingdom (July 30th). But, on the news of Louis Philippe’s acceptance of the crown, he gave up the contest and began a dignified retreat to the sea-coast, followed by his suite, and surrounded by the infantry, cavalry and artillery of the guard. Beyond sending a corps of observation to follow his movements, the new government did nothing to arrest his escape. At Maintenon Charles took leave of the bulk of his troops, and proceeding with an escort of some 1200 men to Cherbourg, took ship there for England on the 16th of August. For a time he returned to Holyrood Palace at Edinburgh, which was again placed at his disposal. He died at Goritz, whither he had gone for his health, on the 6th of November 1836.

The best that can be said of Charles X. is that, if he did not know how to rule, he knew how to cease to rule. The dignity of his exit was more worthy of the ancient splendour of the royal house of France than the theatrical humility of Louis Philippe’s entrance. But Charles was an impossible monarch for the 19th century, or perhaps for any other century. He was a typical Bourbon, unable either to learn or to forget; and the closing years of his life he spent in religious austerities, intended to expiate, not his failure to grasp a great opportunity, but the comparatively venial excesses of his youth.[1]

See Achille de Vaulabelle, Chute de l’empire: histoire des deux restaurations (Paris, 1847–1857); Louis de Vielcastel, Hist. de la restauration (Paris, 1860–1878); Alphonse de Lamartine, Hist. de la restauration (Paris, 1851–1852); Louis Blanc, Hist. de dix ans, 1830–1840 (5 vols., 1842–1844); G. I. de Montbel, Derniére Époque de l’hist. de Charles X (5th ed., Paris, 1840); Théodore Anne, Mémoires, souvenirs, et anecdotes sur l’interieur du palais de Charles X et les évènements de 1815 à 1830 (2 vols., Paris, 1831); ib., Journal de Saint-Cloud a Cherbourg; Védrenne, Vie de Charles X (3 vols., Paris, 1879); Petit, Charles X (Paris, 1886); Villeneuve, Charles X et Louis XIX en exil. Mémoires inédits (Paris, 1889); Imbert de Saint-Amand, La Cour de Charles X (Paris, 1892).

  1. This, at any rate, represents the general verdict of history. It is interesting, however, to note that so liberal-minded and shrewd a critic of men as King Leopold I. of the Belgians formed a different estimate. In a letter of the 18th of November 1836 addressed to Princess (afterwards Queen) Victoria he writes:—“History will state that Louis XVIII. was a most liberal monarch, reigning with great mildness and justice to his end, but that his brother, from his despotic and harsh disposition, upset all the other had done, and lost the throne. Louis XVIII. was a clever, hard-hearted man, shackled by no principle, very proud and false. Charles X. an honest man, a kind friend, an honourable master, sincere in his opinions, and inclined to do everything that is right. That teaches us what we ought to believe in history as it is compiled according to ostensible events and results known to the generality of people.”