Thursday, August 26, 2010

"A Crown of Thorns"

(*This is a follow-up to previous posts "Tragedy and Irony" and "Louis-Philippe: A Villain?", so please read those first.)

A while ago, Jorge asked me how Marie-Amélie felt about her husband's questionable taking of the French throne in 1830. I have touched upon her reaction to the July Revolution in previous posts, but I wanted to address the issue in more detail. I have tried to write this account many times in the past, without success. (There seems to be something about French history that tangles up my thoughts. Almost all the articles dealing with France on this blog have been very, very hard to write.) So, my apologies, this discussion is long overdue today, although perhaps it is appropriate, since this is the anniversary of Louis-Philippe's death. I will try my best to answer Jorge's question. I think Marie-Amélie's attitude to the sad events of 1830 can be summed up by her oft-quoted saying: "Since by God's will this Crown of Thorns has been placed on our heads, we must accept it and the duties it entails" (Dyson, p. 198).

She was, indeed, initially very distressed, and troubled in conscience, by the idea of displacing the legitimate heir to the throne, the little Henri V, grandson of Charles X. Steeped, from her earliest childhood, in the traditions of sacral, Catholic monarchy, she must also have been very upset by the liberal character of the revolution, and, in particular, by the separation of Church and State. After her husband's accession, she confided to her diary her grief at the sickening news of mobs desecrating churches, crosses and fleur-de-lis. In contrast to her sister-in-law, the formidable Madame Adelaide, who hated the senior Bourbons, for reasons of family tradition and liberal ideology, and enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of her brother's rise to power, Marie-Amélie reacted hysterically to the July Revolution. She shut herself up in her chamber, lamenting: "What a catastrophe. They will call my husband a usurper!"(Dyson, p. 193).  It was proposed that she and her sons and daughters enter the capital in state, in open carriages, but Marie-Amélie protested: "No! No! It would be repugnant to me, it would have an air of triumph, as if I were triumphing over my own relations" (Dyson, p. 196). 

People remarked upon Marie-Amélie's sorrowful appearance. She looked pale and wan, with a tear-streaked face, her usual quiet dignity quite upset. Shortly before her husband's accession, she was saddened to receive a note from her great-niece, little Louise d'Artois, sister of Henri V, saying the family counted on Marie-Amélie to use her influence in the boy-king's favor. There was, however, not much Marie-Amélie could do. Beset with scruples, she did attempt to persuade her husband to take the child in his arms and make a last appeal to the Parisians to accept and acclaim the boy as their sovereign. Louis-Philippe, however, claimed that such an attempt, in the violent political mood of the moment, would merely have provoked the murder of both himself and Henri. Revisiting the episode, in long, self-justificatory monologues, as an old man, he would insist: "I would not even have been able to cross the bridge to reach the Chamber of Deputies. They would have hurled us both into the water..."(d'Huart, p. 548). 

Despite her heartbreak, however, and pangs of remorse, Marie-Amélie gradually reconciled herself to her new position as Queen, by convincing herself that Louis-Philippe had no choice but to accept the throne, and that he was acting from motives of pure patriotism, by sacrificing his domestic peace and comfort to save France from anarchy.  In her journal, she noted that her chaplain had consoled her by telling her that her husband was obeying the call of duty, under the volatile circumstances (d'Huart, pp. 400-401). He was, nevertheless, widely branded as a treacherous usurper, and his consort did her best to persuade people otherwise, writing letters to the sovereigns of Europe in his defense. Marie-Amélie and her children would always stoutly maintain that Louis-Philippe, despite the intrigues of revolutionary conspirators on his behalf, had never wanted to become King.

Kind and compassionate, the new Queen tried to ease the sufferings of her kinswomen and friends of long standing, Marie-Thérèse, Duchesse d'Angoulême, and Caroline, Duchesse de Berry (the mother of Henri V), now on the road to exile. She herself, however, suffered profoundly from the bitter rupture in the royal family. On the next anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI, January 21, 1831, Marie-Amélie was especially haunted, not surprisingly. At the end of the day, she confided to her diary, referring to Marie-Thérèse, the daughter of Louis XVI: "My heart was close to that of my beloved, venerated, unfortunate cousin" (d'Huart, p. 408). Meanwhile, Marie-Amélie feared for the safety of her husband and children. If anyone congratulated her on her husband's accession, she replied: "I cannot see any advantages, I see only that I have lost my peaceful home life and sheltered position, and I tremble for the uncertain future of my family" (Dyson, p. 198). Her fears were proved correct by a long series of attempts to assassinate Louis-Philippe, and, finally, by the February Revolution of 1848. The Orléans family literally had to flee for their lives. 

In exile, Marie-Amélie never encouraged her family to aspire to regain the throne. She hoped, if anything, for a restoration of her great-nephew, Henri V, then known as the "Comte de Chambord." She favored a fusion between the two branches of the Bourbons. "I have occupied two stations in life," she used to say, "the first, as Queen, and the second, when Duchesse d'Orléans. Believe me, the second is the best!" (Dyson, p. 296). When her favorite son, the Duc de Nemours, wrote to her of his cordial meeting with the Comte de Chambord, Marie-Amélie expressed her joy in a touching letter: "Mon cher, bien aimé ami. I cannot tell you how great my delight was at the contents of your letter. My first impulse was to go to my prayer-desk in the chapel and return thanks to God. All the details that you give me of this reconciliation, the accomplishment of which has been for so long the object of my desires, fill me with joy, especially as I know that it is in accordance with the wishes and intentions of your beloved father" (Dyson, p. 297). Unfortunately, Marie-Amélie's daughter-in-law, Helen of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, widow of her eldest son, the tragically deceased Duc d'Orléans, did not agree. Devoted to the memory of her husband, she pressed the claims of their son, the Count of Paris.  Helen's resentment of Marie-Amélie's stance cast a pall, for a time, over her affectionate relations with her mother-in-law. 

I want to close this account with a touching anecdote from Marie-Amélie's last years. To the Duc de Nemours, who shared her religious and political principles, she confided: "Remember! When I die, you are to put on my tomb:- Here lies Marie-Amélie de Bourbon, Duchesse d'Orléans." "But, chère Majesté," her son protested, "you cannot efface history." With a tragic gesture, Marie-Amélie replied: "Alas, to my sorrow, Queen of the French." (Dyson, p. 307). 


Marie-Amélie, Queen, consort of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. Journal de Marie-Amélie, Reine des Français: 1800-1866, presented by Suzanne d'Huart, 1981.
Dyson, C. C. The life of Marie Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866. 1910. 
Kerckvoorde, Mia. Louise d'Orléans, reine oubliée. 1991.
Lassère, Madeleine. Louise reine des Belges: 1812-1850. 2006.


MadMonarchist said...

Reading this, I have even more sympathy for the Queen. Some seem to have a real problem with understanding that one can consider a situation to be far from ideal and yet still try to make the best of that situation as it presents itself.

May said...

Some aspects of her situation remind me of that of her Belgian descendants- that "far from ideal" part and the idea of being a Catholic monarch in a secular state.

Jorge said...

Thank you very much for this! I admire her even more. She was an honourable and exemplary lady.

May said...

I think the whole tragedy of her life is that she had the character to be a legitimate Queen of France, and was originally intended to be so, but the way she did come to the throne in the end was not legitimate.

Reflecting on her life and her childhood 'betrothal' (albeit informal) to the Dauphin she used to say, in her old age, with a sad irony. "I wept a great deal for my little cousin. You see, I was always meant to be Queen of France."