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Louis Philippe In America
The future French king asked Washington for directions and got an arduous tour of a new nation’s wilderness
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, destined to be king of the French from 1830 to 1848, spent more than three years in American exile, from 1796 to 1800. Greedily curious, he and his two younger brothers travelled many thousands of miles in the United States, from Maine to New Orleans. The original record of their journey, long vainly sought, was discovered in 1955, when Mme. Marguerite Castillan du Perron gained access to the Orléans family papers in the strong room of Coutts’s Bank, London. She found locked in that grim prison an autograph travel journal of the future king. The substance of the record she reported in her Louis-Philippe et la Révolution Française (1963). The information she provides, added to our previous knowledge and many local memories, permits us to reconstitute the noble gentlemen’s adventures. —M. B.
The dukes of Orléans, Princes of the Blood, were cousins of the Bourbon kings. For a century and a half they stood, impatient, on the lower steps of the throne, as the Bourbons produced many daughters and few .sons, and those sickly, early to quit the world. By 1790 Louis Philippe Joseph, Due d’Orléans, counted only five male Bourbons between him and the royal seat. In the Revolution he proclaimed himself a liberal, courted popularity, and, rechristened Citoyen Egalité, voted in the Convention, in January, 1793, for the execution of King Louis XVI. But liberalism could not save him; he too was guillotined in the same year, hated alike by the radicals as a rich patrician and by the world’s gentlefolk as a regicide and fratricide. All his accessible property was confiscated.
Philippe Egalité had displayed his advanced views in the education of his three sons. They were put in the charge of a remarkable woman, Mme. de Genlis, poet, novelist, musician, and theorist of education according to the doctrines of Rousseau. The boys learned by doing, by games and dramatizations. At lunch they talked only English, at dinner, Italian. They absorbed botany and German by tending their own garden plots under the eye of a monoglot German gardener. They were toughened by sports, by wearing lead-soled shoes on long walks, by sleeping on the floor with a single blanket, by carrying their own washing water to the top lloor of their château. They worked with the peasants in vintage time and practiced manual trades. Louis Philippe, the eldest, was an excellent cabinetmaker, and proudly constructed an armoire and a table with sweetly sliding drawers. He learned the elements of medicine from a surgeon and served for a time as a hospital orderly. This was an education not only for the life of privilege; it was an education for adversity, an education of foreboding. The governess “l)rought us up with ferocity,” remembered Louis Philippe; and she: “He was a prince and I made him a man, slow and 1 made him clever, a coward and I made him brave; but I could not make him generous.”
Louis-Philippe, sixteen at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, joined the left-wing jacobin Club and the freethinking Masons. He entered the army as a colonel, and as lieutenant general fought well in battles against the coalition of European powers. But the excesses of the Paris terrorists and the guillotining of King Louis XVI revolted him; in April, 1793, he Hed to the Austrian lines. He was universally distrusted, by the republicans as a renegade, by the royalists as an ex-Jacobin and son of the infamous Philippe Egalité. He was in danger. Hc was also nearly penniless, though the son of once the richest man in France. He took refuge in Switzerland under an assumed name, and with a loyal manservant, Baudoin, made a walking tour, sleeping often in barns and eating what country food the two could afford. He found a post teaching French and mathematics in a Catholic school at Reichenau. He also busied himself getting the cook with child and was discharged, not so much for his ollense against morality as for causing the breakdown of the school kitchen.
He had to wander on. Collecting some of his father’s funds from London, in 1795 he made with the devoted Baudoin a journey to Lapland and the North Cape, a very unusual tourist trip in his time. He was sheltered briefly by a missionary and left his host’s sister-in-law with a royal souvenir, male.
He spent the winter in Germany, under various aliases, while his mother negotiated a deal with the French Directory. His younger brothers, the Duc de Montpensier and the Duc de Beaujolais, were imprisoned in Marseilles. The Directory wanted them out of the way, but not necessarily dead; the vogue of the guillotine had passed. The Directory engaged to release the brothers if they would intern themselves, with Louis Philippe, in America. The arrangement was made, though there was a little money difficulty. Gouverneur Morris, who had been American minister to France, came to the rescue with an advance of $4,000 to Louis Philippe, and later increased his loan to $13,000. (The debts were repaid with interest in 1816 and 1818, when the Orleans fortunes had turned.)