Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Death of Louis XVIII

To make more secure the crown of the Bourbons in France, a law was passed excluding all Bonapartes from France forever; but though in harmony with the king in some measures, the Chambers were sorely divided on other questions. It would be far too difficult to explain here the many political quarrels, and the numerous changes of ministers, in whose hands most of the responsibility of government rested; for, while the king was clever and well informed, he was far more a man of letters than of business, and had received none of the training necessary to fit him for the difficult task of ruling.

Louis XVIII. was a childless widower, far older than his years. His heir was his brother, the Count of Artois, whose eldest son, married to Louis XVI.'s daughter, was childless, too. Not to let the race die out, a marriage was arranged between the second son of the Count of Artois, called the Duke of Berry, and a daughter of the King of Naples; and it was believed that their children would in time be heirs to the French crown. The festivities of this royal wedding (1816) were the first in this reign; the king himself riding out in state to meet and welcome this new niece. Nevertheless, the honors of the Tuileries continued to be done by the Duchess of Angouleme, who was noted for her piety, the gravity of her demeanor, and a strangely hoarse voice, due, it was whispered, to her long and solitary imprisonment in the Temple.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Louis XVIII. was, besides, afflicted with the enormous appetite of his race, and therefore became so stout that he could hardly move. Each year this obesity increased, until during the last years of his life he never rose from the rolling chair in which he was moved from place to place. His brother, the Count of Artois, therefore had to represent him at court and military functions, and soon roused his jealousy by receiving the chief homage of faithful Royalists.

The birth of a granddaughter to this prince—a daughter to the Duke of Berry—proved a great disappointment, because the people wanted a son and heir. And about a year later, when the Duke of Berry was putting his wife into her carriage at the door of the opera, he was mortally wounded by an enemy of the Royalists. This assassin hoped that by thus murdering the only member of the royal family likely to have heirs, he would prevent the Bourbons from continuing to reign in France. Imagine, therefore, the delight of the Royalists when they heard soon after this that a son had been born to the Duke and Duchess of Berry! In their enthusiasm, they called the boy "The Child of Miracle," and the Child of Europe," quite as often as by his real title, the Duke of Bordeaux; and they even began a subscription to purchase for his benefit the royal castle of Chambord—then in the market. It is because they bestowed this castle upon him that this member of the royal family has since been known mostly as the Count of Chambord.

It was the year after this prince's birth that Napoleon died at fifty-one at St. Helena, his death defeating the hopes of those who had longed to see him return, and who had meanwhile been plotting and biding their time. With Napoleon I. gone, Bonapartists began to turn to his son, Napoleon II., who was a semi-prisoner at the court of Austria in his grandfather's charge. Still, this child of ten was a poor substitute for the man of genius who had made all Europe tremble, and no one was anxious to have any of his uncles govern France as regent, for none of them had shown political or military abilities. Napoleon's death at St. Helena, a prisoner, made a martyr of one who had already long been a hero, and the memoirs and letters printed by his friends, served not only to keep his memory enshrined in the hearts of Frenchmen, but to give him even greater importance dead than while alive and a prisoner.

After the conquest of France by the allied armies in 1815, the "Holy Alliance" had been formed, whereby the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia (and later France also) pledged themselves to discourage all revolutionary ideas in their own lands and elsewhere. So when the Spaniards insisted upon having a constitutional monarchy, and the Spanish Parliament detained their king a prisoner, the Holy Alliance asked France to interfere in behalf of this Bourbon by sending troops into Spain.

The French armies, under the command of the Duke of Angouleme, therefore invaded Spain, entered Madrid, followed the Spanish army southward, and after taking the Trocadero, freed the king. It is in commemoration of this glorious episode, that the Parisians erected the Trocadero, a large building where popular entertainments are now given, and one of the many show places of their beautiful city.

Meantime, the king was becoming ever more infirm, and was falling more and more under the influence of those who would fain have had him return to the absolute monarchic system. On his deathbed, suddenly realizing that his brother—bigoted and impetuous—might make a worse mess of things, the king laid his hand upon the head of the young Count of Chambord, and warningly said, "Let Charles X. carefully guard the crown of this child!"

Louis XVIII. is the author of the famous saying, "Punctuality is the politeness of kings." He was the last ruler who died and was buried in France, where he had reigned for ten years without having ever been crowned. As soon as he had breathed his last, the customary solemn announcement was made, "The king is dead!" followed after a brief but impressive pause by "Long live King Charles X."; for Louis XVI.'s second brother was now to mount the throne of France in his turn (1824).