Bourbon Kings

The Bourbon and Orléans Kings during Sophie’s Lifetime

 The Ancien Régime (Louis XVI)

When Sophie was born in 1779, Louis XVI (pictured above in 1785) had been king of France for five years. An “absolute monarch,” Louis was a descendant of the Bourbon dynasty of kings that had been ruling much of Europe for centuries.  He succeeded his grandfather, Louis XV, who had been an unpopular ruler and had left the French economy in a shambles. Louis realized too late that the days of the “absolute monarchy had passed and that serious reforms—political as well as economic—needed to be made in France.

In 1770, he married the 14-year-old Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette, whose father was the Holy Roman Emperor, and whose mother was the formidable Empress Maria Theresa. Louis and Marie Antoinette eventually had four children, of whom two were still alive in 1791 when the family was taken to Paris and effectively placed under house arrest. In the portrait to the left below, the queen is shown in 1779, the year Sophie was born.  In the portrait to the right, she is shown with Marie Therese, Louis Charles, and Louis Joseph, pointing to the empty bassinet of the infant Sophie, who died at 11 months of age in 1787.


Louis was guillotined in January, 1793. Marie-Antoinette followed him to the scaffold in 1794. The young dauphin, Louis-Charles (Louis XVII, though he never reigned), died at age 12 under mysterious circumstances while still in prison.  Only his sister, Marie Thérèse, survived.  Released from the Temple prison in December of 1795 at age 16, she was exiled to Vienna to be with her mother’s family. Four years later she was married to her first cousin, Louis Antoine of France, the Duke of Angoulême.

The Restoration (Louis XVIII and Charles X)

 Louis XVI was one of five children. When Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba in 1814, the older of Louis XVI’s two younger brothers was called back to France from exile to rule as a constitutional monarch.  Named Louis Stanislas Xavier, he ascended the throne as Louis XVIII (pictured above) and ruled until his death in 1824, except for the period known as “The Hundred Days,” when Napoleon attempted a return to power (March-July, 1815).

 He was succeeded by his far more conservative younger brother, Charles, who had himself crowned in Orléans as Charles X in 1824. Charles, who attempted to weaken the constitutional monarchy and return to a more “Ultra-Royalist” style of politics, was eventually overthrown by the Revolution of 1830 and lived the rest of his life in the Austrian empire. He died in 1836. One of his sons married Marie Antoinette’s daughter; the other, the Duke de Berry, was assassinated in 1820, but fathered a son who was the last Bourbon pretender to the French throne. The young Duchess de Berry sings a Rossini aria in the gardens of the Hôtel Biron in the chapter entitled

 The July Monarchy (Louis-Philippe)

King Louis Philippe was part of the Orléans branch of the Bourbon family—a more liberal group that had supported the French Revolution and voted for the guillotining of Louis XVI.  After the abdication of Charles X, he was crowned King of the French (as opposed to the King of France) and attempted to project a more folksy and bourgeois image.  He was called the Citizen King and was well liked at the beginning of his reign.  Eventually, because of economic problems and his own increasing conservatism, he was unseated by the Revolution of 1848.  He left France and lived in England until his death in 1850.  To the right of Louis-Philippe’s portrait is the cartoon referenced in the chapter entitled .


A good family tree depicting the Bourbon royals mentioned above can be found at


Recommended reading:  Marie Antoinette (Antonia Fraser)

                                             Dancing to the Precipice (Caroline Moorehead)


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