Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans: His Death

In July of 1842, a sad event occurred. It was the accidentally death of Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans. He was the son of King Louis Philippe I and Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. He was born in his mother’s native Sicily in Palermo, on Monday 3 September 1810, during his parents’ exile and baptized Ferdinand Philippe Louis Charles Henri. Most people knew him as Ferdinand Philippe in honor of his grandfathers, Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Philippe Égalité, husband to Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon and therefore brother-in-law to the Princesse de Lamballe. However, as the oldest son, he was heir to the title Duke of Orléans and that was the name he was usually referred to at the time of his death.

Parents of Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Louis Philippe I and His Wife, Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. Public Domain.

In July of 1842 Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans was leaving Paris for St. Omer to inspect several regiments and on 13 July he traveling from the Tuileries Palace to Neuilly-sur-Seine to say goodbye to his parents. It was a bright sunny day and the carriage he was riding in was open and drawn by two horses driven by a postillion. The Duke left around twelve or twelve-thirty and within a short distance from the Port Maillot, the horses pulling the Duke’s carriage, suddenly got spooked, and despite the best efforts of the postillion, they bolted. According to the Worcester Journal:

“When the Prince Royal first perceived that postillion had lost all command over the horses, he stood up in the carriage, and looked with earnest attention along the road before him; but seeing the road clear he sat quietly down again; but rising once more, after running about 150 yards, and observing that his valet, who was in the seat behind, had disappeared, and probably fearing that the man had been thrown off by the violence of the motion, his Royal Highness took the resolution of getting out.”[1]

Death of Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans: Duke of Orléans

Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Duke of Orléans then stood up, placed his foot on the step, and jumped out of the moving carriage. Unfortunately, as he jumped, either his spurs or his sword got entangled in his traveling cloak. The result was disastrous. After the Duke jumped, he staggered and fell, suffering severe contusions to his head, leg, and wrist. In the meantime, the postillion finally got the horses under control and those who witnessed the accident rushed to help the 32-year-old Duke. He was found senseless lying on the roadside with blood pouring out of his nose, eyes, and mouth. He was carried to the nearest house, which belonged to a grocer and was located at No. 4, Chemen de la Revolte. In the meantime, immediate aid was requested from the Tuileries Palace, which speedily arrived.

Carrying the injured Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans

The injured Duke being carried to the grocer’s house. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Among the physicians who came to assist was the Duke’s physician, Dr. Pasquier, and another doctor named Dr. Baumy. One of the doctors immediately bled the Duke but it did no good as the Duke never regained consciousness. Later it was learned he had suffered a fractured head. In the meantime, word about the accident was sent to the Duke’s parents, who came quickly. The Duke’s brother, the Duke d’Aumale, also learned of the accident, and as he was over 13 miles away at Courbevoie, he immediately hired a carriage but unfortunately the carriage broke down on the way, and the Duke d’Aumale was forced to proceed on foot.

In the meantime, physicians found there was nothing they could do to save Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans:

“Under the influence of powerful medicaments the agony of the dying Prince was prolonged. Life withdrew, but slowly, and not without struggling powerfully against the utter destruction of youthful strength. For a moment respiration became more free, and the beating the pulse was perceptible. As the slightest hopes are grasped at by hearts torn with despair, this scene of desolation was interrupted by a momentary calm, but the gleam soon passed away. At four o’clock the Prince showed the unequivocal symptoms of departing life, and in another half-hour he rendered his soul to God, dying in the arms of his King and father, who at the last moment pressed his lips on the forehead of his lost child, hallowed by the tears of his afflicted mother, and the sobs and lamentations of the whole of his family.”[2]

After the Duke of Orléans’ death a melancholy scene played out as his body was then placed on a litter and conveyed by soldiers to the Chateau of Neuilly chapel. The King, Queen, the Duke’s Aunt, and the Duke d’Aumale followed on foot escorted by the 17th light regiment. Behind the litter were other members of the royal family, ministers, officers of all ranks, citizens, and some ecclesiastics reciting prayers for the dead Duke.

Deathbed of Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans

At the deathbed of the Duke. Public domain.

His remains were then removed from the chapel at Neuilly to the Cathedral of Notre Dame on 30 July. What follows is a description of that event:

“The procession began its march from the Pont de Neuilly; and was headed by the Gendarmerie of the Seine, followed by numerous bodies of troops. Six mourning coaches preceded the car which contained the heart of the prince, on each side of which rode an officer. After it came, the Archbishop of Paris and his clergy; and then followed the funeral car containing the body. … The insignia of the prince’s orders were borne on cushions by three of his aides-de-camp. Next came … the Marshal of France, and the Deputations of the Chambers of Peers and Deputies, the aides-de-camp and orderly officers of the king and princes, the Secretaire de Commandemens, and other officers of the household of the prince. The duke’s charger and his carriage closed. The princes, marshals, and admirals were in two mourning coaches; ten more contained the household officers of the king and princes. Several bodies of troops terminated the long line.”[3]

The procession passed through the Arc de Triomphe, along the Champs-Élysées, to the Place de la Concorde, past the Quays of the Tuileries, of the Louvre, of L’Ecole, the Place du Chatelet, the Pont Notre Dame, the Quay Napoleon, and the Rue Arcole, to the opening in front of Notre Dame. Upon the arrival at Notre Dame, a 21-gun salute occurred. The Duke of Orléans’s body was then placed on a special catafalque covered with black paper instead of black fabric as enough fabric could not be obtained at the time. Vespers for the dead were then performed.

Although the Duke’s death was shocking, what proved to be more shocking was the controversy that erupted after his untimely demise. He had been the heir apparent, which meant his son, 3-year-old Prince Philippe of Orléans, better known as the Count of Paris, was now the new heir apparent. However, everyone remained concerned and wanted to know what would happen if the King died during the Count of Paris’s minority and the question was, who would serve as regent to him? The main contenders were either the Count’s mother (the Duchess of Orléans, known as Hélène) or his uncle, the Duke de Nemours.

To resolve the issue an extraordinary session of the French Chambers was called on 26 July during which time the body of the Duke of Orléans lay unburied. King Louis Philippe I, accompanied by his four sons, the Duke of Nemours, the Prince of Joinville, the Duke d’Aumale, and the Duke of Montpensier, entered the session amidst shouts of “Vive le Roi.” The King was so overcome, he burst into tears, and sank into his chair and it was some time before he could proceed. At length, however, he read a speech that was well received, and at the end of his speech he stood, “crossed his arms on his heart, and in an effusion of gratitude for his reception, after bowing to the chamber, sunk back on his seat and sobbed convulsively, holding his features in his handkerchief.”[4] The twenty-five-minute meeting resulted in the Duke of Nemours resigning his right to act as regent and Hélène was proclaimed regent to her young son.

Portrait of Hélène with her son the Count of Paris by Franz Xaver Winterhalter c.1839. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When extraordinary session concluded it was pre-planned that the funeral procession would leave for Dreux were the Duke’s body would be interred in an elaborate tomb. Of these details the Morning Post reported:

“The small funeral car, which is to convey the body to Dreux, will be at the head of the procession. It is in the form of a close carriage, approaching the period of Louis XIV., crowned by a border of carved and silvered bronze. The cloth, externally and internally, is ornamented with embroidery in black silk and gold. The grand funeral car will follow. It is in the form or ordinary hearses, but constructed with great splendour. There are two allegorical figures, in silver, closing the extremity of the dome, bearing armour, and surmounted by plumes and feathers. At the angles of the roof are antique helmets, with plumes. The roof is supported by four winged genii. Behind them are trophies of tricoloured flags, and the drapery of the carriage is in black velvet and silver. The car will be drawn by six black horses, magnificently caparisoned, in the style of the middle ages. A carriage, drawn by four horses, will contain a prie-Dieu, upon which will be placed the urn containing the heart of the deceased Prince. Two ecclesiastics will be in this carriage, praying by the side of the prie-Dieu. Two other carriages, of splendid appearance, are destined for the Marshals of France and Ministers. Sixteen mourning carriages, all bearing the arms of the Prince drawn by two horses each will close the procession. The war horse of the Prince will be covered with black crape, and led by two grooms in deep mourning.”[5]

Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans funeral

Funeral procession for the Duke of Orléans. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Dreux, in the commune of Eure-et-Loir, was where the Duke’s body was taken. This was the spot where, in the 1770s, the wealthy Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre (great-grandfather to Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans) transferred nine caskets of his relatives after having sold Rambouillet (where the bodies previously rested) to Louis XVI. After having transferred his relatives, the Duke of Penthièvre then died in March 1793 and his body was laid to rest in the crypt beside them. However, shortly thereafter, a mob desecrated the crypt and threw all the bodies into a mass grave. The Duke of Penthièvre’s daughter (Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon who was grandmother to the Duke of Orléans) then had a new chapel built in 1816 on the site of the mass grave. This became the final resting place for her family, and, in 1830, her son, the King Louis Philippe I, embellished and enlarged the chapel, which was then renamed the Royal Chapel of Dreux.

In 1848, the King was deposed. Soon after Hélène appeared at the French parliament with her son hoping to claim the throne, but her claim was not accepted. She left France for Germany but continued to press the claim for the Count of Paris, saying he had the right to inherit the French throne. Royalists, however, began to favor other royal lines, particularly the line under the Count of Chambord, who was the son of Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry (son to Charles X of France).

Henri as the Count of Chambord. Public domain.


  • [1] “Death of the Duke of Orleans,” in Worcester Journal, 21 July 1842, p. 4.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Clark, William Mark, Tales of Heroism, and Record of Strange and Wonderful Adventures, 1847, p. 755.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 756.
  • [5] “The Funeral,” in the Morning Post, 25, July 1842, p. 3.

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