Charles Philippe, Count of Artois, was born at Versailles on Oct. 9, 1757. He was the fourth child of the Dauphin Louis, son of Louis XV, and Marie Josephe of Saxony. Artois devoted his youth to dissipation and extravagance. He was the leader of the reactionary clique at the court of Louis XVI. But in July 1789, with the outbreak of the French Revolution and the fall of the Bastille, he left France.
Granted asylum in England, Artois lived first in London and then at Holyrood palace in Edinburgh before establishing his residence at Hartwell. Although he undertook several diplomatic missions for the royalist cause, his contribution to the struggle against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France was insignificant. In February 1814 he returned to France; after Napoleon's abdication in April, Artois acted as his brother's envoy and signed the armistice of April 23, which restored the monarchy.
During the reign of Louis XVIII (1814-1824), Artois was the leader of the ultraroyalists, who considered the King too moderate. After the ultras gained control of the Chamber of Deputies in November 1820, Artois's political role steadily increased as he influenced legislation, foreign affairs, and the appointment of ministers. On Sept. 16, 1824, Louis XVIII died, and Artois became Charles X.
Charles's accession did not signal a radical turn toward reaction as some have asserted. The new monarch possessed many admirable qualities, among them a gracious and warm personality and a strong sense of duty. He was frugal in his tastes and generous toward others. He began his reign by abolishing censorship and by granting a broad amnesty to political prisoners. Charles, indeed, promised to rule according to the Charles, indeed, promised to rule according to the Charter, and many of the bills that he proposed became law. The law which granted an indemnity to émigrés for property confiscated during the Revolution provided a reasonable settlement to the vexing problem of nationalized lands and thereby promoted national reconciliation. The law against sacrilege was never enforced, and the primogeniture bill—defeated by the peers—would have affected only 80,000 families out of 6,000,000.
But despite his many virtues, Charles had two fatal weaknesses: impatience and a lack of judgment, especially in the choice of advisers. A staunch defender of royal prerogative, he could not accept the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. "I would rather hew wood," he once exclaimed, "than be king after the English fashion." The blunders and divisions of the ultraroyalists themselves constituted another cause of the July Revolution (July 26-Aug. 2, 1830), which overthrew the Bourbon dynasty.
On August 16 Charles sailed to England, where he again lived at Holyrood. Six years later, on Nov. 6, 1836, he died at Göritz in Styria, where he had gone for the winter.
Vincent W. Beach, Charles X of France: His Life and Times (1971), is based on British and French archival materials, and gives the most scholarly and complete account in any language. Guillaume de Bertier de Sauvigny, The Bourbon Restoration (1963 ed.; trans. 1966), gives the best defense of Charles X. The topical account by Frederick B. Artz, France under the Bourbon Restoration, 1814-1830 (1931), presents a good synthesis and has an excellent bibliography. □