Thursday, January 25, 2007

Louis XVIII: The Other Brother

Louis XVIII , known in his youth as the Comte de Provence, was the other brother of Louis XVI, and often his nemesis. He was not a bad looking man; his eyes radiate intelligence. Too bad he put on so much weight later on and had such a problem with gout, but then he was a gourmande and relished the delights of the table. His chef at Versailles was equal to none.

Louis XVIII was a stickler for etiquette, unlike Louis XVI, who was more easy-going. Even at exile in Courland and England, when they had few resources, Louis XVIII insisted upon the full court etiquette as if they were all still at Versailles. This was beneficial in the long run, because they were able to function as a royal household when restored to the Tuileries. He was clever with money and made sure all his family were well-provided for when he died. He was a brilliant Latin scholar and could have taught the classics at a university.

Napoleon at one point wrote to Louis XVIII in exile, begging him to renounce his claim to the throne. Louis responded with a "no" saying, "I may have lost my country, I may have lost my possessions, but I still have my honor, and with it I will die." On another occasion he said, "In this century, it is more glorious to merit a scepter than to wield it." In 1814 upon his return to France, the fat, gouty King was introduced to Napoleon's generals. They were so used to being shouted at by Napoleon that the charm and unctuous courtesy of Louis XVIII disarmed them, especially the fact that he knew their names and anecdotes of their exploits in battle. (That old-fashioned royal training!) He declared that whatever they had done for France on the field of battle, they had done for him. He won most of them over completely and they swore allegiance to him, although some later rejoined Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

After Napoleon's defeat of Waterloo, it was only the intervention of Louis XVIII that kept the allies from totally ravaging France in revenge. The Prussians threatened to blow up the Iena bridge in Paris, until Louis threatened he would come over and sit on it. His favorite author was Horace, whom he quoted extensively. He did not actively practice his faith for over thirty years, which caused his niece Marie-Therese to have great anxiety over the state of his soul. The princess prevailed upon the old king's favorite, the attractive brunette Madame du Cayla, with whom Louis XVIII played backgammon, to get him to go to confession, and he did. (This was a hard thing for Therese since she despised Mme. du Cayla.) At the moment he died in 1824, the courtiers ran from the room to greet the new king, leaving the faithful valet of Louis XVIII weeping alone by the corpse of his master. Share


Anonymous said...

Hello Again! Thanks for this description of Louis XVIII, whom some people refer to as "the perfid" brother of Louis XVI. Last Tuesday, I saw the last chapter of the Napoleon series I was watching, and it is when Louis XVIII is shown returning to Paris, after the defeat of Napoleon, and he is portrayed as a very lazy and unworried king. By the way, after the defeat of Napoleon (Christian Clavier) in Waterloo, there is a scene when Fouché (Depardieu)-the double regicide- scorns him, and Napoleon says to him: "I should have had you hang" and Fouché replies: "Well, that phrase is for you to include it in your memories". Now, how much is true that episode where Louis XVIII receives a misterious message in his chamber foretelling he would be king as the two little princes Louis Joseph Xavier and Louis Charles would not live long enough to rule? Thanks.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Maru! I saw the Napoleon series you are referring to and I thought it was good. Although Clavier was a bit "too French," I thought, such a gentleman. I still think that the BEST Napoleon was Marlon Brando in "Desiree." Brando had that untamed brute aura simmering beneath his sullen exterior. I think that what they had Fouche saying to Napoleon was true.

I do not like it when Louis XVIII is portrayed as a bumbling, lazy idiot. I may not like Louis XVIII, but I acknowledge that he was a political genius, totally devious, ruthless, and self-serving. One cannot deny his brilliance and yet they always do in such shows.

I have never heard that Louis XVIII received any such secret message. He may have sent a message to himself and then told people - he was devious enough to do something like that. He was corresponding with some of the top revolutionaries - they called him a "crowned Jacobin" and a "King Voltaire" because of his leftist connections.

May said...

When I was reading through the books of Princess Henriette of Belgium (on Marie-Amélie and Madame Elisabeth), I was struck by how gentle she was with Provence/Louis XVIII. While she mentions, with regret, that he was infected by the Enlightenment spirit, that he lacked the kindness of the rest of the family, and that he turned his wit against Marie-Antoinette, she prefers to stress his intelligence and ability. I thought she was also awfully gentle with Louis XV, making a real point of praising his grace and majestic manners and even calling him 'un brave homme.'

As far as criticizing kings goes, Henriette seems to spend more time critiquing poor Louis XVI, although he was a better person than either his brother or his grandfather. Louis XVI, we hear, had an 'upright and loyal nature' but was shy, awkward, lacking the noble manners of his grandfather, tactless with his relatives, weak in handling the revolution, and so on and so forth. When describing his signing of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Henriette seems to lose patience altogether, saying: "As always, claiming good motives, Louis XVI gave in." She is very enthusiastic about Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth, and Madame Royale, but the only time she seems thoroughly, unequivocally positive about Louis XVI is when she recounts the way he faced his death. Sorry to go on so long, but I found the contrasts in the way she portrays the various kings very interesting.