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Family Portrait, XII

The life of Louis Philippe I, King of the French, reads like a novel. Born in 1773 during the reign of Louis XV, the young prince saw the Court of Versailles, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette. He joined the ranks during the Revolution and became the youngest general in France. The son of a regicide, his father the Duke of Orléans having both supported and voted for the death of King Louis XVI, he ended up in exile, outcast and penniless. He became a professor of mathematics in Switzerland, and then explored the north, becoming the first European to reach the North Pole. He visited the United States, where a Native American tribe named him their witch doctor. He passed through Cuba on his way back to Europe where he soon married Princess Marie Amelia of Bourbon and the Two Sicilies, the daughter of Europe’s most conservative sovereign. After the fall of Napoleon he regained his status and his immense fortune before the Revolution of 1830 put him on the throne. He was seventy years old when revolution chased him from the throne and from France. He was welcomed in England and died there in 1851, while in exile, during the reign of Queen Victoria. Louis-Philippe was the only atheist monarch of the era, and was responsible for removing the cross from the royal crown.

 

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Marie Amelia of Bourbon and the Two Sicilies came from one of Europe’s most conservative royal families. She should have been horrified by Louis Philippe, who was both the son of a regicide and a former revolutionary general, yet love prevailed. The couple remained deeply united their entire lives, a rarity for the House of Orléans. Despite never wanting to be Queen, she performed her role with dignity, out of love for her husband. Marie Amelia was universally respected for her virtue and the admirable family she created.

 

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During the Revolution of 1830, King Charles X, in an attempt to save the monarchy, abdicated in favor of his grandson Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, at the time only ten or so years old. This sacrifice proved insufficient and Charles X and his family were exiled. His chance came following the fall of Napoleon III, after the Franco-Prussian War. He almost succeeded, yet his stubborn desire to replace the tricolor flag with the white fleur-de-lys embossed flag of the old monarchy cost him his chance. As one of the abbots of his supporters said, “My God, open his eyes or close them forever.” God spent many years fulfilling this wish. In the meantime, preparations had been made for his triumphant arrival in Paris, including the construction of a magnificent carriage. My grandfather, George I of Greece bought the carriage, which was used to carry the Greek royal family from the palace to the cathedral.

 

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God did not spoil Marie Theresa of Austria-Este, she was ugly, graceless, and generally dislikable. Nobody could explain the stubbornness that her husband showed when refusing the tricolor, and costing himself the chance to rule. My grandmother, the Duchess of Guise, once offered me her interpretation. “It was the countess of Chambord who pushed her husband to be so stubborn. She was aware of how ugly and unrefined she was, and she knew full well the comments of the French would be harsh. She simply didn‘t want the crown.”

 

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Royal Prince Ferdinand Philippe was the eldest son of French King Louis Philippe and heir to the throne. He was handsome, charming, intelligent, and liberal, all of which combine to make him immensely popular, even amongst the elites who were opposed to his family. He counted Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas among his friends. In 1842, at the age of 32, he died in a tragic accident, taking with him to his death the hopes of the Orléans monarchy. His interment at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was a solemn affair. This photo is unique, and contains a rather striking detail. The famous spire in between the two towers of Notre Dame is missing. It was added by the architect Viollet-le-Duc decades later under the cathedral restoration program of Napoleon III.

 

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In 1866, Queen Marie Amelia died in the Claremont chateau, which had been left at her disposal by Queen Victoria. Her children and grandchildren rushed to the estate and posed for this extraordinary photograph.

 

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Louis-Philippe Albert d’Orléans, the Count of Paris, was the heir and grandson of Louis-Philippe, and following the death of the Count of Chambord, became the head of the House of France. Unfortunately, the time for monarchy had passed. The count was an honest man, upright, and of great dignity, although lacking in charisma. He spent his life in France, and in exile, and traveled extensively, like all the Orléans.

 

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Unlike her husband, the Countess of Paris had an explosive personality. Fearless, she was known for her frank manner of speech. She was adored by her grandchildren, in particular my mother, Françoise. She loved her native Andalusia, where she could poke and prod the bullfighting bulls. My mother was often terrorized by picnics that were organized right under the nose of Miuras, the most ferocious bull. One day, she went hunting and killed six ortolans, then returned home to give birth to her youngest son, the Duke of Montpensier. She then prepared the ortolans.


by  Prince Michael of Greece