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There can’t have been many people who reacted quite as excitedly as I did to the announcement at the end of last week’s (17 September) episode of the drama Victoria (ITV) that, next week, the queen would find herself ‘toe to toe with the French king’.

I stopped knitting. Did this mean… Louis-Philippe? The July Monarchy? On Sunday night British TV?!

Most of the British audience for Victoria will, most likely, have never heard of the first and last Orleanist king of the French, despite his close connections to Britain. He sought to improve the relationship between the two countries – Victoria’s 1843 visit, depicted in this weekend’s episode of the series, was the first visit to France by a reigning British monarch since Henry VIII and Francis I met at the Field of the Cloth of Gold – and spent the last two years of his life in exile in Surrey, dying at Claremont in August 1850.

For anyone interested in mid nineteenth-century French and European history, however, Louis-Philippe is a familiar figure. My relationship with him as a historical figure has largely been in terms of my work on republicanism and revolutionary memory in nineteenth-century France, and mediated through the lens of contemporary republican caricature. I have examined literally hundreds of images of Louis-Philippe – some official, some sympathetic, most critical – and I am extremely interested to see how this man, so recognisable to me now, is portrayed on British television. (It is worth noting, though, that Louis-Philippe will be played by a French actor, Bruno Wolkowitz, who some viewers may recognise from the French political drama Spin.)

What may surprise some about Louis-Philippe, and the Orléans branch of the French royal family from which he came, are their revolutionary credentials. His father, Louis-Philippe, duke of Orléans, was a noble deputy to the Estates-General of 1789, joined with the deputies of the Third Estate in breaking away to form the National Assembly, and was elected to the National Convention in 1792. There, he adopted the name Philippe-Égalité (Philippe Equality) and sat with the radical deputies of the Mountain. In 1793, he voted for the execution of his cousin, Louis XVI.

The younger Louis-Philippe – then the duke of Chartres – served in the revolutionary armies at the battles of Valmy and Jemappes in 1792, a fact he trotted out regularly in the early years of his reign as king, as evidence of his commitment to the principles of 1789. When he transformed part of Versailles into a museum, he devoted an entire room to the battles of 1792 and included a portrait of his youthful self alongside images of revolutionary generals.


Louis-Philippe’s portrait in the room dedicated to revolutionary generals at Versailles. Smug.


Louis-Philippe’s decision to support general Dumouriez’s attempted putsch against the Convention in 1793, however, proved fateful. Considered a traitor by the revolutionary government, he did not return to France until 1814, living in exile variously in Switzerland, the United States, Havana, and England. Philippe-Égalité, meanwhile, went to the guillotine in 1793.

How, then, did the duke of Orléans end up on the French throne by the 1840s? The answer, perhaps ironically, is revolution. Three days of Parisian insurrection in late July 1830 put an end to the increasingly conservative regime of Charles X, youngest brother of Louis XVI. Charles’ abdication and flight to England created a power vacuum. Some called for a return to the republic, with Lafayette, commander of the National Guard [1] mooted as a possible leader. But the idea of a republic was a divisive one. It remained closely associated in the mainstream political imagination with the spectre of the guillotine.

In this context a constitutional monarchy headed by Louis-Philippe seemed an ideal compromise, designed to head off efforts to reinstate the republic. With his revolutionary (but moderate!) pedigree, it was hoped that Louis-Philippe would satisfy most of those who had risen up against the repressive policies of Charles X. On 31 July Louis-Philippe appeared in front of the crowd on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville (the Parisian city hall), wrapped in a tricolour [2], and embraced Lafayette. This new and improved version of a constitutional monarchy, Lafayette is supposed to have said, would be the ‘best of all possible republics’.


‘Voilà le roi qu’il nous fallait, c’est la meilleure des Républiques’ (Here is the king we need, it’s the best of all possible republics) – 1830 print showing Lafayette embracing Louis-Philippe

Louis-Philippe was one of the wealthiest men in France when he ascended the throne, but in the early years of his regime he sought to play the role of a ‘Citizen-King’. Whereas Charles X was ‘King of France’, he became ‘King of the French’. He dressed like an ordinary bourgeois, walked daily through the streets of Paris, and sent his sons to Parisian lycées rather than having them educated at court. Conscious of his status as a compromise monarch, he played up his revolutionary past and paid homage to the Napoleonic legend, culminating in the return of Napoleon’s body to France in 1840. Louis-Philippe also transformed part of the Château of Versailles into a museum to honour ‘all the glories of France’ – I have written about this in an earlier post.

It was not long, however, before opposition to Louis-Philippe’s regime began to emerge. Legitimists (those who supported the restoration of a Bourbon monarch to the throne) conspired against Orleanist rule, and in 1836 and 1840 Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew of Napoleon, later to become president of the Second Republic and Emperor Napoleon III) staged what were, quite frankly, rather embarrassing attempts at a Bonapartist coup. Louis-Philippe was regularly on the receiving end of assassination attempts – no fewer than six between 1835 and 1846. [3]

The most realistic threat to Louis-Philippe’s regime came from the republicans, who – believing that Louis-Philippe had broken his promises to protect press freedom and make the French electoral system more democratic, and struck by the corruption and greed they saw at the heart of the regime – became increasingly convinced that the revolution of 1830 was escamotée (stolen) and should be ‘remade’. Through groups like the Société des Droits de l’homme (the Society of the Rights of Man) and the press, the French republican movement grew in size, though it could never be described as a mass political organisation at this stage.

In tandem with the ‘straight’ press, republican caricature and satire launched a sustained attack on Louis-Philippe and his regime. Charles Philipon’s papers La Caricature and Le Charivari mocked and undermined the king, his ministers, and the corruption of July Monarchy politics, while celebrating the heroism of republican activists and promoting republican ideals of democracy, equality, liberty, and the rights of man. Honoré Daumier’s spectacular ‘Gargantua’, published in December 1831, depicted Louis-Philippe as the eponymous Rabelaisian giant, a disgusting figure ingesting the hard-earned wealth of the starving poor and excreting rewards for (literally) brown-nosing officials. [4]


Honoré Daumier, ‘Gargantua’ (1831). Image via Wikimedia Commons

‘Gargantua’ earned Daumier three months in jail. As the government began to clamp down on representations of Louis-Philippe in caricature, hauling Philipon and his cartoonists into court on charges of lèse-majesté [5], they became ever more creative in simultaneously depicting the king without depicting him. In November 1831 Philipon famously defended himself in court with a series of sketches, evolving from an obvious portrait of Louis-Philippe to a pear.


Philipon’s sketches from November 1831, showing the metamorphosis from Louis-Philippe (top left) to a rough pear shape. His argument to the court was that each image resembled the previous one, but that only the first was definitively ‘the king’. In so doing, Philipon raised questions about the ‘reality’ of what was being represented in graphic satire. This was ‘Ceci n’est pas un pipe’ a century early.

While the clever stunt did not save Philipon from being found guilty, the pear immediately entered popular culture as shorthand for Louis-Philippe and his regime. He was condemned to be remembered as the ‘Pear King’. [6] In 1850, Gustave Flaubert noted that he had seen ‘a pear, representing Louis-Philippe’ drawn onto the top of the Great Pyramid at Giza by a (presumably) French tourist. [7]

In 1844, Victoria returned Louis-Philippe’s hospitality, welcoming him to Windsor. Just four years later he would cross the Channel again, albeit in rather different circumstances. Like his cousin Charles X, he too had been removed from the French throne by revolution. In February 1848, Parisian protests against the banning of a banquet calling for electoral reform caught Louis-Philippe and his government off-guard. Their indecision, and the opportunism of republican politicians who saw their chance and took it, led to Louis-Philippe’s abdication and the creation of the Second French Republic. The first and last Orleanist king of France followed the well-trodden route to exile in England. Louis-Philippe and his family took up residence at Claremont, a property owned by King Leopold of Belgium (Louis-Philippe’s son-in-law) and offered to the Orleans family by Victoria.

In my book, I’ve written about how major French republican caricature journals largely ignored Louis-Philippe after his exile, perhaps in an effort to smooth over old divisions in support of the fragile Republic. Cheaper, individual prints, however, had no such compunctions about keeping the peace, and many cartoons were produced that mocked the ex-king as he entered into exile. Here is a rather appropriate one, featuring both Louis-Philippe and Victoria.


‘Louis-Philippe surpris par la Reine d’Angleterre dans le parc de Windsor’ (Louis-Philippe surprised by the Queen of England in Windsor Great Park), cartoon from 1848.

The cartoon returns to the scatological themes of images like ‘Gargantua’, showing Louis-Philippe trying to spare his blushes (and those of his horrified host) after Victoria has caught him relieving himself in Windsor Great Park. Note the top hat and umbrella: these symbols of bourgeois respectability were part of the graphic satirical shorthand for Louis-Philippe both during and after his reign, reflecting his efforts to be seen as a ‘normal’ bourgeois king.

It is interesting (and, I suspect, deliberate) that this episode of Victoria deals directly with Anglo-French relations at a time when contemporary Anglo-European relations are at their lowest ebb in some time. As I noted at the start of this piece, Louis-Philippe was keen to enhance the relationship between Britain and France during his reign, translating the British Foreign Secretary’s reference to a ‘cordial, good understanding’ as entente cordiale (which we normally use to refer to the 1904 agreement between the two countries). A painting specially commissioned to mark the entente, from 1846, features portraits of Victoria and Louis-Philippe, scenes from their visits to Windsor and the Château d’Eu (Louis-Philippe’s private country estate), as well as a painting of Victoria presenting Louis-Philippe with the Order of the Garter [8].


Projet décoratif pour l’Entente cordiale, Pruvost-Dumarchais (1846) – Louvre.

There are even two rather jolly knights, one English, and one French, reflecting ideals of cooperation and the contemporary vogue for all things medieval.


Improved Anglo-French relations did not end with Louis-Philippe, moreover. In April 1855 Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, by now Napoleon III, visited Windsor with his wife Eugénie and was, like Louis-Philippe, invested into the Order of the Garter. The imperial couple returned the favour that summer, hosting Victoria and Albert at Versailles and Saint-Cloud. In their hectic schedule, Victoria even insisted on visiting the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides – a striking gesture, given his status as bogeyman in the popular imagination of nineteenth-century Britain.

All this serves to remind us that the ‘island nation’ story of Britain, of a country that does not need – indeed, we are asked to believe, has been diametrically opposed to – its European neighbours, is fundamentally untrue. Indeed, it does a disservice to the complex historical relationship between ‘perfidious Albion’ and the Continent, especially France – a story of conquest, of antagonism, but also (and perhaps most importantly) of cooperation.

[1] Yes, America’s Favourite Fighting Frenchman, the same one.

[2] The French flag under Louis XVIII and Charles X was the white flag of the Bourbons. Louis-Philippe reinstated the tricolour, symbol of the Revolution.

[3] J.P.T. Bury, France 1814-1840, p.41.

[4] You can read more about republican caricature during the July Monarchy in my book, The republican line: caricature and French republican identity, 1830-52 (2015) and in David Kerr’s Caricature and French political culture, 1830-48: Charles Philipon and the illustrated press (2000). Elizabeth Childs’ ‘Big Trouble: Daumier, Gargantua and the censorship of political caricature’, Art Journal 51 (1992), is a great study of this image in particular.

[5] In this context lèse majesté was considered an act against the dignity of the king.

[6] This persists into the present: Sandy Petrey’s 2005 book on the rise of French realism was titled In the Court of the Pear King, and the title of this blog is borrowed from it.

[7] Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt (1972), p.54

[8] You can find out more about this painting on the website of the Château d’Eu: http://www.chateau-eu.fr/collections/projet-decoratif-pour-lentente-cordiale/