King Louis XVIII of France
King Louis XVIII of France was born at the Palace of Versailles on November 17, 1755, during the reign of his grandfather, King Louis XV. He was the fifth of eight children of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony. At the time of his birth, he was 4th in line for the French throne, following his father and two living elder brothers. At his christening, he was given the names Louis Stanislas Xavier, and was styled Count of Provence from birth. He had seven siblings:
Following the death of his eldest brother in 1761, Louis Stanislas was educated along with his brother, Louis Auguste, by a series of tutors. Following his father’s death in 1765, he became second in line for the French throne. In 1771, his formal education came to an end, and he was granted his own household. He was also created Duke of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Perche and Count of Senoches, but remained styled as Count of Provence.
Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy, Countess of Provence, c1780. source: Wikipedia
A month later, on May 14, 1771, at the Palace of Versailles, Louis married Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy, the daughter of the future King Vittorio Amadeo III of Sardinia and Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. From all accounts, the marriage was far from loving, with Louis finding his bride ugly and repulsive of character. Other than several miscarriages, the couple had no children.
King Louis XV died in April 1774, and was succeeded by Louis Stanislas’s elder brother Louis Auguste, who became King Louis XVI. Louis Stanislas was the heir-presumptive to the French throne until the birth of King Louis XVI’s son in 1781. During his brother’s reign, he lived a relatively private and quiet life. He installed his mistress in a small pavilion at Versailles and spend much of his time there, developing his massive collection of books.
Louis Stanislas, Count of Provence, c1778. source: Wikipedia
Following the Storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, Louis chose to remain at Versailles, while his younger brother – the future King Charles X – left the country and settled in Sardinia. For some time, they maintained their normal lives at Versailles, but in October of that year, the entire French royal family were forced to return to Paris. Louis and his wife took up residence at the Luxembourg Palace. Finally, in June 1791, Louis and Marie Joséphine fled to the Austrian Netherlands.
The monarchy was formally abolished in September 1792, and King Louis XVI was executed the following January. After the king’s son died in 1795, Louis Stanislas became the titular King of France. In 1798, he was given the use of Jelgava Palace in Courland (now Latvia) by Tsar Paul I of Russia, in addition to a very large pension. At Jelgava, Louis Stanislas attempted to recreate the court of Versailles, and all the pomp and ceremony that entailed. He arranged for the marriage of his niece, Marie-Thérèse, and his nephew, Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême at Jelgava in 1799, and soon made efforts to begin a correspondence with Napoleon Bonaparte, in hopes of restoring the Bourbons to the French throne.
After being forced to leave Jelgava in 1801, Louis Stanislas took up residence in Warsaw (then part of southern Prussia). Two years later, Napoleon tried to force Louis to give up his rights to the French throne, which he, of course, refused. After Napoleon declared himself Emperor of the French in 1804, the Prussian King forced Louis to leave Prussian territory, and he returned to Jelgava Palace in Courland, at the invitation of the new Russian Tsar Alexander I. However, by 1807, the Tsar could no longer guarantee his safety. After briefly traveling to Sweden, Louis Stanislas moved to England where he leased Gosfield Hall in Essex. In 1808, he brought his wife to England, and the couple moved to Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire. With their rent paid by the King, the couple also enjoyed a close relationship with the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) who provided them with a very generous allowance and granted them permanent asylum in Great Britain.
In April 1814, following Napoleon’s overthrow, the French Senate restored the Bourbons to the French throne. Louis Stanislas officially became King Louis XVIII. In ill-health, he sent his younger brother, Charles, to serve as Lieutenant General of the Kingdom until the new King could arrive. King Louis XVIII arrived in Paris at the beginning of May, and immediately took up residence at the Tuileries Palace. The monarchy was much different than it had been before the Revolution. Soon after assuming the throne, and under pressure to establish a new constitution, King Louis issued the Charter of 1814, establishing a bicameral legislature and maintaining the King as Head of State. He also signed the Treaty of Paris on May 30, 1814.
King Louis XVIII, c1815. source: Wikipedia
On February 1815, Napoleon escaped from his imprisonment in Elba and returned to France. The King assumed that he would easily overcome any attempts by the former Emperor to regain the throne. However, he didn’t anticipate the large numbers of troops who would side with Napoleon. When Paris fell, the King fled the city, eventually taking up residence in the Netherlands. His exile would be short-lived. Napoleon was once again defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, and King Louis XVIII was restored to the throne.
Following his restoration, King Louis XVIII voluntarily relinquished much of his role in politics, leaving many of his responsibilities to his ministers. Having been in ill-health for much of his adult life, the King again fell ill in early 1824, suffering from gout and gangrene and extreme obesity. He died at the Louvre Palace on September 16, 1824, and is buried in the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris.
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