Places of the French Revolution: Palais-Royal

Palais-Royal
Palais-Royal in 1641, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Palais-Royal was original known as the Palais-Cardinal. It was the personal residence of Armand Jean du Plessis, known as Cardinal Richelieu. Designs were made by his architect — Jacques Lemercier — in 1629 and construction began in 1633. It took six years of hammering and pounding to complete and was not finished until 1639. By that point, it had assumed the form of a square with a large garden in the center.

Philippe I, Duke of Chartres
Philippe I, duc de Chartres, Courtesy of Wikipedia

When the Cardinal died in 1642, the palace became the property of Louis XIII. It was at that time that it became known as the Palais-Royal. When Louis XIII died it became the residence to several people, primarily within the House of Orléans. In 1692, however, when Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, married a legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV deeded the Palais-Royal to his brother.

Eventually, the Palais-Royal came into the possession of Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. He was married to Louise Henriette de Bourbon. They were the parents of Louis Philippe II, who would later became known as Philippe Égalité. After Louis Philippe II married Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon in 1769, they moved to the Palais-Royal and made it their main residence.

Louis Philippe II, Later Philippe Égalité
Louis Philippe II, Later Philippe Égalité, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1780, five years before the Duke of Orléans died, Louis Philippe II became responsible for the Palais-Royal. At the time it was in desperate need of repairs. Louis Philippe II was also in desperate needs of funds because he was a prolific spender. With financial help from Louis XVI, Louis Philippe II decided to redesign and expand the Palais-Royal. He turned into a money-making center, which alleviated his financial problems. He also created a shopping and entertainment complex that consisted of 145 shops and included boutiques, cafes, museums, bookstores, and theatres.

When the French Revolution broke out, Philippe II, having acquired the title of Duke of Orléans after his father death, found himself opposing his cousin, Louis XVI. The Duke of Orléans began siding with revolutionaries. He also began hosting meetings at the Palais-Royal. These meetings were attended by wealthy nobles who had joined the anti-royalist Jacobin club and were interested in the ideas of Enlightenment. Thus, the meetings helped to foster an “anti-royalist” sentiment.

Palais-Royal
A Busy Palais-Royal, Public Domain

Other events were also hosted at the Palais-Royal. One event that was typical of the type of event being hosted occurred in June of 1790. A year earlier a club had formed that wanted to preserve the position of the king as a constitutional monarchy. This club became known as the Feuillants. The Feuillants wanted to celebrate the club’s first anniversary and the day that the Estates General had declared themselves the National Assembly. So, they scheduled a “grand dinner” at one of the hotels located in the Palais-Royal. The event included 190 members:

“The club dined to music [with] a choice orchestra was stationed in the room; the day was fine — a gay bright day of June — and the windows were all thrown open, so that the multitude in the Palais-Royal might hear the music and the toasts. Still farther to charm the mob or to conciliate the masters of them all, [Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de] Lafayette, [Jean Sylvain] Bailly, and the most distinguished members of the club presented themselves from time to time at the balconies and windows, ‘and saluted the public, who, in return, applauded them.'”[1]

Philippe Égalité's Son, Louis Philippe I, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Philippe Égalité’s Son, Louis Philippe I, Courtesy of Wikipedia

As the revolution became more radicalized, the Palais-Royal became known as Palais Égalité. This was because the Duke of Orléans joined with revolutionaries. Similar to them, he showed his support for the revolutionary cause by changing his name. The commune of Paris authorized him to do so on 15 September 1792. At the time it was popular for a person to give up his or her noble title and affix citoyen (for males) and citoyenne (for females) in front of their name. Philippe II also began using Égalité, which meant equality. Thus, he arrived at the name Citoyen Égalité or Philippe Égalité, as he was more frequently called.

The name of Palais Égalité only lasted for a short period of time. After Philippe Égalité’s son defected, Philippe Égalité and all the other Bourbons were rounded up and imprisoned. Philippe Égalité was then guillotined on 6 November 1793. Soon thereafter, the palace was appropriated by the State and “fell prey to the lawless license of the revolutionists; and the galleries, &c., were converted into sale-rooms, cafes, ballrooms, and apartments for gambling. A spacious hall was fitted up for the sittings of the Tribunat; and the President and the two questors lived in the palace, which was then named Palais de Tribunat.”[2]

Charles X
Charles X, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Later, the Palais-Royal served as the site for the beginning of another revolution. Besides the revolution of Philippe Égalité’s time, another minor revolution occurred in July of 1830. It became known as the July Revolution. It resulted in the overthrow of Louis XVI’s brother, Charles X, and the ascent of Égalité’s son, Louis Philippe I. This revolution was precipitated when, on the 26th of July, Charles X’s published some restrictive ordinances. The ordinances were contrary to the spirit of the Charter of 1814 that represented some of the permanent gains acquired during the French Revolution, such as equality before the law, due process, religious toleration, freedom of the press, and so forth.

Palais-Royal
Palais-Royal after the July Revolution, Public Domain

Protesters formed at the Palais-Royal, and “young men were seen mounting chairs … [appealing] to the people against the infraction of the charter, and endeavoured by violent gesticulation and inflammatory harangues to excite … their hearers.” Three days of fighting, from 27 July to 29 July, followed. Agitation ended at the Tuileries. Swiss Guards remembered the fate of their predecessors, who had fought so gallantly for Louis XVI and were murdered. This time the Swiss Guards gave up, and Louis Philippe I reigned. He served as King of the French from 1830 to 1848.

References:

  • [1] George Lillie Craik, The Pictorial History of England, Volume 6, 1847, p. 482
  • [2] The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 16, 1830, p. 234.
  • [3] Edwards, Henry Sutherland, Old and New Paris: Its History, Its People, and Its Places, Volumes 1-2, 1893, p. 169

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