In ITV’s Victoria, we see the young monarch (Jenna Coleman) and her sulky husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) take a special trip to France to have a little chat with King of the French, Louis Philippe I – played here by Bruno Wolkowitch.
The two sovereigns have a problem. England doesn’t want the French monarch to upset the political balance in Europe by arranging a “French match” and marrying his son into the Spanish royal family; Philippe doesn’t want them to upset things the other way by getting the Spanish queen to marry a German prince.
Louis Philippe was King of the French from 1830 until 1848 when revolution broke out again. He had an extremely tumultuous life until his death at the age of 76, living through the huge changes that rocked his home country.
Born in 1773 as the son of Louis Philippe II Duke of Orléans, he was still young when the French Revolution began. His father embraced the Revolution and even voted for the death of King Louis XVI, changing his own name to Philippe Égalité. But things went badly wrong.
The young Philippe became a general in the French army – but he became involved in a plot with the Austrians. When this was exposed, his father was caught up in the Reign of Terror and was executed by guillotine in 1793.
Philippe fled, and spent 21 years in exile.
In 1830, he was proclaimed king when his cousin Charles X was forced to abdicate after the July Revolution and the overthrow of the House of Bourbon.
Philippe’s regime became known as the July Monarchy. It was a liberal constitutional monarchy, and Philippe carefully proclaimed himself “King of the French” rather than “King of France”(reflecting the populist origins of his reign). At first he was a figure of unity, receiving the support of the wealthy bourgeoise and the citizens – but later he became extremely unpopular.
As economic conditions worsened in France, Philippe was forced to abdicate after the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1848. He left Paris in disguise, calling himself Mr Smith, and fled to England where he lived until his death in 1850.
What was his relationship with Queen Victoria?
Philippe was good friends with Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, who hosted him in Canada for part of his long exile. During his reign, he actively promoted friendship with Britain.
But that was jeopardised by the Affair of the Spanish Marriages.
Philippe managed to arrange for the 16-year-old Spanish Queen Isabella II to marry her close relative Francisco de Asís de Borbón (even though she didn’t really want to), on the same day as her younger sister Infanta Luisa Fernanda, 14, married Philippe’s own son Antoine d’Orléans.
This 1846 double marriage tied together Spain and France, but caused a rupture with Britain.
It went against the assurances of the French foreign minister that Luisa would not marry a French prince – at least not until her older sister had created a couple of heirs. But the French had been incensed by the sudden British support for a Coburg match, with the government suggesting one of Albert’s cousins.
After the Affair, Philippe’s regime became more conservative, going against the grain as the liberals gained ground. He was forced to abdicate two years later.
But despite that row with Britain, he was still invited to live out his remaining years in a mansion in Surrey.
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