LOUIS XVIII (1755–1824; ruled 1814–1815, 1815–1824), king of France.
Born Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, the Count of Provence, at Versailles on 17 November 1755, Louis XVIII ruled France after the abdication of Napoleon I (1769–1821) in April 1814 until his own death in Paris on 16 September 1824. Working to reform the monarchy in the 1780s, fighting against the Revolution while in exile between 1791 and 1814, and ruling France as a reluctant constitutional monarch from 1814 to 1824, Louis XVIII negotiated the competing legacies of the Old Regime and the French Revolution.
Louis XVIII favored projects to reform the monarchy at the Assembly of Notables (1787). Unlike his younger brother, Charles (the Count of Artois, and future Charles X; r. 1824–1830) who left France immediately after the fall of the Bastille (14 July 1789), Louis remained with the royal family until his older brother, Louis XVI (r. 1774–1792), and Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793) tried to escape and were captured at Varenne on 21 June 1791. While in exile Louis worked with Charles to persuade the European powers to invade France and to restore the monarchy. Upon Louis XVI's execution on 21 January 1793, Louis declared himself regent for the young captive Louis XVII (1785–1795). When the latter died, Louis was recognized by émigrés as the king of France. While in exile Louis married Marie-Josephine (1753–1810), who died in England in 1810, leaving no direct heirs to the throne.
When Louis was recalled to the throne in 1814 (First Restoration), it was by the Allies who had just defeated France, leaving the Bourbon monarch with the difficult task of reasserting his legitimate right to rule in a nation that had lived for twenty-five years under the tricolor flag and with a bureaucracy and legal structure that consolidated the liberal gains of the Revolution. Upon his arrival in France Louis XVIII "granted" a Charter that promised careers open to talent, the validity of biens nationaux (national properties sold off during the Revolution), and a representative government and the protection of basic individual rights; but he also delivered a speech at Saint-Ouen proclaiming the contradictory principle of his divine and historic right to the throne. Waving the white Bourbon flag, restoring honorific offices of the ancient court, and favoring returning émigrés while shunting one hundred twenty thousand of Napoleon's soldiers to half-pay, Louis XVIII gave his subjects reason to fear the return of the Old Regime. This fear was exploited by Napoleon, who escaped from Elba, rallied the nation around the tricolor flag, and sent Louis XVIII into exile until the Allies' definitive defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (this period, March 1815–July 1815, was known as the Hundred Days).
During the first years of the Second Restoration (July 1815–July 1830) Louis XVIII reassured the nation of his commitment to reconciling the legacies of the Old Regime and the Revolution. To ensure the security of the monarchy, the bureaucracy was purged of Napoleonic officials. But the king also took measures against foes on the Right; when the election of 1815 produced a resounding victory for the ultraroyalists clustering around his brother, Louis XVIII dissolved the lower chamber and called for a new election. While the king reintroduced some minor Old Regime feast days, such as Saint Louis (25 August), he never held a public coronation; while he ruled a nation whose religion was officially Catholicism, he presided over a bureaucracy that protected the freedom of religion and the biens nationaux.
After the assassination of Charles Ferdinand, the Duke of Berri (1778–1820), in February 1820, in what was presumed to be a liberal plot, Louis XVIII curtailed freedom of the press and redoubled surveillance of critics of the regime; he passed a law doubling the votes of the richest, most conservative electors in the nation; he called for military intervention against the liberal regime in Spain (1823), allying France with the most counterrevolutionary nations of the Restoration period. Yet these measures paled before the counterrevolutionary thrust of his successor Charles X's reign (1824–1830). The Sacrilege Law, the coronation at Rheims, the law indemnifying nobles and clergymen for the biens nationaux, and the July Ordinances, abrogating all of the freedoms promised in the Charter, sent French men and women to the barricades (Revolution of 1830) in defense of the moderate liberal legacies of the Revolution that Louis XVIII preserved, albeit reluctantly.
Bertier de Sauvigny, Guillaume de. La Restauration. Paris, 1955. Translated as The Bourbon Restoration (Philadelphia, 1966). Standard work on the French Restoration, with detailed attention to the political controversies defining the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X.
Kroen, Sheryl. Politics and Theater: The Crisis of Legitimacy in Restoration France, 1815–1830. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. Cultural history of the Restoration highlighting the contrast between Louis XVIII's effort to reconcile with the revolutionary legacy and the more counter-revolutionary efforts of Charles X, and the popular response to both.
Mansel, Philip. Louis XVIII. London, 1981. Good biography of the king, covering his whole life, before and during his reign.
Louis XVIII (1755-1824), the restored Bourbon king of France, reigned from 1814 to 1824. By taste and education he was a child of the Enlightenment: skeptical, secular, witty, and steeped in Voltaire.
Historians still disagree about the true character and principles of Louis XVIII. Some regard him as the epitome of moderation and statesmanship, a wise king who—like his ancestor Henry IV—wished to conciliate all factions. But for others, he was a cynical and narrow old monarch who resorted to compromise only when circumstances forced his hand. He probably had no admiration for Britain's parliamentary system, but he had astuteness enough to realize that he could not restore the Old Regime. Regarding the throne as a "comfortable armchair, " he was determined to do whatever was necessary to remain seated.
Prior to his accession Louis XVIII was known as Louis Stanislas Xavier, Count of Provence. He had emigrated in June 1791 (when his older brother Louis XVI made his abortive flight to Varennes) and had spent the next 2 decades wandering about Europe. After having sojourned in Germany, Italy, Poland, and Russia, he had repaired to England (1809), where he joined his brother the Count of Artois. In March 1814 the victorious Allies decided to restore the Bourbon dynasty, and on May 3 Louis XVIII entered Paris.
Having rejected the constitution hastily drafted by the Napoleonic Senate, Louis promulgated one of his own (June 4). The Charter of 1814 established a liberal constitutional monarchy and preserved many of the reforms of the Revolution. Disgusted by the king's program of reconciliation, some ultraroyalists talked of a coup against "King Voltaire, " and others complained that Louis had merely taken over Bonaparte's throne.
Napoleon, however, wanted it back and returned for the Hundred Days (March-June 1815), during which the court lived in exile at Ghent. After Waterloo, the Allies again restored (July 8) the Bourbons, but this time a wave of hysteria known as the White Terror seized the country and swept an ultraroyalist majority into the Chamber of Deputies. The King, however, dissolved this "Incomparable Chamber" in September 1816 and called for new elections, which the Constitutionals won.
The period from 1816 to 1820 was one of moderate reform, sponsored by the Richelieu and Decazes ministries. In 1818 the Allied indemnity was paid and the army of occupation withdrawn. A new army law opened careers to commoners with ability, and in 1819 a new press law allowed periodicals to appear without the prior consent of the government. But the rule of moderation ended in 1820, when the election of the Abbé Grégoire, a regicide, to the Chamber and the assassination of the Duke of Berry led to a reactionary backlash which returned the ultraoyalists to power. At this juncture, the obese Louis XVIII, racked by gout, virtually relinquished control of affairs to Artois and Villèle, the ultraroyalist premier. On Sept. 16, 1824, he died at the Tuileries.
There is no complete edition of Louis's letters, but some were published in the correspondence and memoirs of Lord Castlereagh, the Vicomte de Chateaubriand, Prince Metternich, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, the Comte de Villèle, the Duke of Wellington, and other contemporary statesmen. The most comprehensive studies of Louis XVIII and his time are in French. In English, J. Lucas-Dubreton, Louis XVIII (1925; trans. 1927), is an old but still useful popular systhesis. A general account is John H. Stewart, The Restoration Era in France, 1814-1830 (1968). □