Monday 12 May 2014

The Life of Le Gros: Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans

Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (aka Le Gros (The Fat); Versailles, France, 12th May 1725 - Paris, France, 18th November 1785)
Louis Philippe d'Orléans by Louis-Édouard Rioult after Louis-Michel van Loo, 1839
Louis Philippe d'Orléans by Louis-Édouard Rioult after Louis-Michel van Loo, 1839

Today we welcome le Gros Louis to the salon, a man as illustrious as he was plump. Louis lived a life of wealth and privilege, but his personal life was somewhat less than perfection.

Louis d'Orléans was born in the glittering surroundings of the Palace of Versailles, the son of Louis, Duke of Orléans and his wife, Johanna of Baden-Baden. Immediately upon his birth the infant was given the title Duke of Chartres and he grew up at a somewhat precocious rate, mixing with the royal children of the ruling house of Bourbon.

When Louis Philippe was just fifteen his friendship with his cousin, Princess Henriette, blossomed into something more than playmates and the youngsters declared themselves in love. Representatives of the houses of Bourbon and Orléans met to discuss this proposed match and though the idea was given careful consideration, it was not to be. Cardinal Fleury, the influential and powerful minister employed to advise Louis XV, counselled the king against giving consent for his daughter to wed the young duke. After all, he pointed out, would this not bring the already powerful Orléans dynasty within a whisper of the throne itself? At this, Louis XV's initially positive take on the match soured somewhat; he refused his permission and young Princess never married anyone.

Louise Henriette de Bourbon-Conti by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1750
Louise Henriette de Bourbon-Conti by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1750
Instead, Louis Philippe was married off to his 17 year old cousin, Louise Henriette de Bourbon. She had been raised in a convent and would, it was hoped, make a suitable calm and composed Duchess.  However, that was not quite the case.

For a supposedly pious, innocent convent girl, the newly-created Duchess of Chartres proved surprisingly earthy and the newlyweds enjoyed a passionate honeymoon period. The couple adored one another yet their happiness was not  to last and as the teenaged Louise Henriette's behaviour at court grew more scandalous, so did she and her husband become distant. Despite this, the Duke and Duchess had three children, all of whom survived to adulthood. However. Louis Philippe's father was convinced of the illegitimacy of their offspring and refused to acknowledge the youngsters as members of his own family. In fact, the bride's own father likewise refused to acknowledge his grandchildren too as he believed his son in law incapable of fathering children.

Louis Philippe enjoyed great success on the battlefields and was decorated for his bravery and strategic thinking. When Louise Henriette died at the age of just 32 he was devastated despite their differences and entered a life of retirement and seclusion. Eventually he began a 14 year relationship with actress Étiennette Le Marquis, who would go on to bear him three further children.

Children of the Duke of Orleans by François-Hubert Drouais, 1762
Children of the Duke of Orleans by François-Hubert Drouais, 1762

He was not content to settle though and at the age of forty one married Charlotte Jeanne Béraud de La Haye de Riou, a widow who was more than a decade his junior. The morganatic marriage was approved only on condition that she never take a title nor attempt to become part of the Bourbon court, an arrangement that suited both bride and groom admirably.

Although Louis Philippe and his children did not see eye to eye on this second marriage, they were not to be at odds forever and Louis Philippe's generosity eventually saw relationships mended. His house became a magnet for intellectuals and theatricals, who flocked to his salons and he revelled in his position in such circles. Content and happy in the life he lived, Louis Philippe died peacefully at the age of sixty; at the end he was surrounded by his children and those he loved.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Unknown said...

This posts are super !!!! Love to read all this!!!!
Thank you Madame Gilflurt's!!!!

Catherine Curzon said...

A pleasure!

Mari Christian said...

Louise sounds like a character from "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"-- Cecille, who is convent raised but eventually proves an apt pupil of the rake, M. De Valmont. Sorry to digress, Madame, but your wonderful posts stimulate the mind.

Catherine Curzon said...

Digress all you wish, Mari, I love the way you make these connections. I hadn't thought of the similarities until you pointed it out!