Louis XVI’s Sibling: Count of Artois or Charles X

Charles Philippe of France was born 9 October 1757 at the Palace of Versailles. He was the youngest son of the Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe and was known throughout most of his life as the Count of Artois (Comte d’Artois). His father died in 1765 and his mother died two years later from tuberculosis. This left Charles and his siblings — Louis Auguste (the future Louis XVI), Louis Stanislas, Count of Provence (the future Louis XVIII), Clotilde (“Madame Clotilde”), and Élisabeth (“Madame Élisabeth”) — orphans. Because the Count of Artois was the youngest, it seemed unlikely he would ever become king.

The Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe, Public Domain

The Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe. Public domain.

The Count of Artois was known to have a fiery temper and also described as light-hearted, “‘gallant and gay,’ but no Lothario, neither a Richelieu, nor belonging to the tribe of cruelly heartless voluptuaries of the Louis XV epoch.”[1] In his youth, he was also known to have embraced a life of frivolity. For instance, after the death of Louis XV, the young nobility, headed by the Count of Artois, decided to bring back into vogue costumes from the reigns of Francis I and Henri IV. To ensure it happened the Count and his group sent a petition to Marie Antoinette asking that they be allowed to “appear at her balls in the old picturesque costume, and with plumes of feathers in their hats.”[2] The request was granted, and it was reported the dress of the Count of Artois was so magnificent and his plumes so tall, it rivaled that of the queen.

Count of Artois. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The flamboyant Count of Artois also discovered gambling after he took up horse-racing with the Princesse de Lamballe’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Orléans (later Philippe Égalité). Besides losing on the horses, he began to gamble on cards, where it was said he racked up spectacular losses. One person remarked that he reveled in gambling “in a kind of skittish, skipping, grotesquely boyish kind of way,”[3] and another contemporary who visited France in the 1770s noted the Count played deep at quinze and whist and that he “lost much.”

Besides his enormous gambling debts, he was known to have spent an exorbitant amount on his country-house, the Château de Bagatelle. It was a neoclassical château with manicured French gardens in the Bois de Boulogne. He bought it in 1775, tore the hunting lodge down, and made a bet with Marie Antoinette that he could rebuild the château within three months. He won the bet. Bagatelle was completed in 63 days, although it was also estimated to have taken 800 workers and cost over three million livres.

The Count of Artois once fought a famous duel with his cousin, Louis VI Henri de Bourbon-Condé (known as the Duke of Bourbon). The incident began with an insult by the Count of Artois to the Duchess of Bourbon during a masked ball at the Opera on Shrove Tuesday in 1778. The matter continued to escalate because the Duchess wanted an apology, and the Count of Artois finally decided he needed to duel as a matter of etiquette. In the end, both duelers were no the worse for their meeting, and the Duchess of Bourbon got her apology, an effusive one.

The Count married Marie Thérèse of Savoy, a cousin to Princesse de Lamballe, at the Palace of Versailles on 16 November 1773. Unlike his brother Louis XVI, the Count almost immediately consummated his marriage to Marie Thérèse. In 1775, his wife gave birth to a boy who they named Louis Antoine and who was created Duke of Angoulême. Three years later, in 1778, a second son was born named Charles Ferdinand and given the title of Duke of Berry.

Count of Artois - his wife Marie Thérèse of Savoy, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Marie Thérèse of Savoy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite the Count of Artois being considered the most attractive member of his family, from all reports, his wife was not particularly pretty. She was described as having “fine skin and tolerable eyes; but her nose is immense and her toes turned in.”[4] One gentleman claimed she looked like a “starved witch.” Yet, for the all the criticism of her looks, one visitor reported that she was prettier than her sister, who was married to the Count of Artois’ brother, the Count of Provence. In addition, contemporaries noted Marie Thérèse barely spoke and was one of the most disliked women at court.

The Count of Artois apparently liked his wife no better than anyone else at court because within the first year of their marriage, he was reported to have been pursuing extramarital affairs. Eventually, however, he embarked on a lifelong love affair with Marie Louise d’Esparbès de Lussan, who by marriage became Louise de Polastron. She was the sister of Yolande de Polastron, and Yolande de Polastron was one of Marie Antoinette’s closest friends and better known as the Duchess of Polignac.

Count of Artois - Marie Louise d’Esparbès de Lussan, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Marie Louise d’Esparbès de Lussan. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Louise was said to be timid and gentle, and because of her many virtues, Louise won the Count of Artois’ heart. However, one woman at court claimed the Count’s mistress Louise “was not pretty, nor, strictly speaking, attractive; but she had a charm all her own, and an attraction irresistible to whomsoever was capable of perceiving it.”[5] When Louise died, he continued to mourn for her and years later he still maintained an “unsullied devotion and fidelity [to her].”[6]

When the French Revolution broke out, he fled France with his family and eventually moved to England and eventually stayed at the Scottish palace of Holyrood. Later, his brother, the Count of Provence, also escaped and on 7 July 1815, he became Louis XVIII. When he died, the Count of Artois succeeded him as Charles X on 16 April 1824 and ruled for nearly six years. However, he was unpopular with the people, and when the July Revolution occurred in 1830, it resulted in Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, becoming King of the French. Charles X was then exiled again. He died in Görz (Gorizia) from cholera on 6 November 1836 and was interred there in the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady.

Engraving of Charles X. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

References:

  • [1] Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 151, 1892, p. 430.
  • [2] Jackson, Lady Catherine Charlotte, Works, Volume 11, 1900, p. 104.
  • [3] McCarthy, Justin Huntly, The French Revolution, 1890, 164.
  • [4] Edinburgh Review, Or, Critical Journal, Volume 73, 1841, 463.
  • [5] Blackwood’s, p. 431.
  • [6] Ibid, 433.

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