Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Decline of the Orléans Power

Philippe I d'Orléans' birth had been a another blessing to Anne of Austria and Louis XIII; although Louis XIV had been born a few years previously, child mortality meant that having a "spare" was necessary. Throughout the reign of Louis XIV, his brother remained close to the throne - especially since all but one of the legitimate children of the king died young. Had the Grand Dauphin died without leaving an heir the throne would have been inherited by Philippe if Louis had died before him.

Even though the Grand Dauphin managed to produce three sons and thus securing the line of succession the Orléans-cousins were still not far from the throne. A series of disastrous deaths in the early 1710's almost annihilated the immediate royal family. The Grand Dauphin died in 1711 and the following year saw the deaths of his son, the Duc de Bourgogne, his daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Bourgogne and his grand-son, the Duc de Bretagne.
As if that was not bad enough Charles de Bourbon - third son of the Grand Dauphin - died in 1714 and since Philippe de Bourbon had been sent to Spain as Philip V the line had all but died out - except for one. The little Duc d'Anjou was the last male heir of Louis XIV and his health was only saved due to the interference of his governess Madame de Ventadour. But saved it was and the Duc d'Anjou would grow up to be Louis XV.

Portrait of Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans in armour by Jean-Baptiste Santerre.png
Philippe II d'Orléans, the Regent

However, he was still a child when Louis XIV died in 1715. This meant that someone had to take the regency which paved the way for Philippe II d'Orléans to assume the regency. This would be the epitome of Orléans-power; the closest they would come to having a king. Once Louis XV came of age Philippe II stepped down and let the king take the reins. 

But what happened to the Orléans-family from then on?

Philippe II remained close to power and assisted the still young Louis XV but died suddenly in 1723. Three Ducs d'Orléans would follow: Louis d'Orléans, Louis-Philippe d'Orléans and Louis-Philippe II d'Orléans.

Louis d'Orléans (son of Philippe II) could have stepped into the halls of politics although he was only 20 years old when his father died. But, unlike his father, he never had an interest in politics which would prove fatal to the future power of his house. He was sent to Strasbourg where he was to stand proxy for Louis XV in the proxy wedding ceremony with Marie Leszczynska. 
The following year Louis lost his beloved wife, Joanna of Baden-Baden, which sent him into a deep grief. Over the years he would retire more and more into a deeply religious life. He was even stripped of his rank as colonel-general due to the interference of Cardinal Fleury. He would die in 1752 far removed from court and with a psyche in pieces.

Louis d'Orléans by Alexis Simon Belle, held at Rastatt.jpg
Louis d'Orléans

The family had an opportunity to regain some of its former power when it was suggested that Louis-Philippe marry Madame Henriette (daughter of Louis XV). However, Louis XV eyed the risk of the Orléans-family nearing the power they had had during the regency and refused the match. Instead, Louis-Philippe married the daughter of the Prince de Conti. Even if Louis-Philippe had been more politically aggressive it is doubtful that he would have restored his house to their previous position. As is obvious from the behaviour of Louis XV, the king was determined to keep them out of politics. Instead, Louis-Philippe threw himself into his private interests. These he had plenty of opportunity to pursue since the family were still amongst the very richest in France.

Rioult portrait after van Loo depicting Louis Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans (Versailles).jpg
Louis-Philippe

Louis-Philippe was not awarded with many titular honours during his lifetime. Louis XV only bestowed him with three official honours: the title of Lieutenant General (during the War of the Austrian Succession), the governorship of Dauphiné and a knighthood of the Saint-Esprit. 
He even sold the family's main estate of Saint-Cloud to Marie Antoinette in 1785. Louis-Philippe died the same year.



Portrait of Louis Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans (known as Philippe Égalité) in ceremonial robes of the Order of the Holy Spirit by Antoine François Callet.jpg
Louis-Philippe II

Unfortunately for Louis-Philippe II, he became Duc d'Orléans at a time of political unrest. He did, however, show a keener mind for politics but not in favour of his royal cousins. He proved himself to be sympathetic to the revolutionary cause and became known as Philippe Egalité. Perhaps he saw the revolution as an opportunity to gain more power for himself. What is certain is that he performed the ultimate betrayal when he voted for the execution of Louis XVI. 
It is not unlikely that he considered his chances of gaining political power to be greater with his kingly cousin out of the way. Should the course of events take an unexpected turn (which happened quite often at the time) and the need for a king should arise, Louis-Philippe II would be fourth in line. Before him were the young son of Louis XVI - who died in prison - and the Comtes d'Artois and de Provence.
Whatever hopes he may have had they were quickly dashed. He himself were guillotined on 6 November that same year.

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