This is The Siècle, Supplemental 12: Second Sons.
Welcome back to something I recognize has become too rare these days: an on-time episode of The Siècle. I know, I know. But I think you’re good hands for the next few months, anyway. Not only am I making good progress on Episode 29, but I’ve got several interview episodes in the can — including this one today.
You might remember Episode 26: Monsieur, which retold the story of Louis XVIII’s reign from the perspective of his younger brother, the future King Charles X who was then often referred to by an unusual honorific: “Monsieur.” That was how the French court addressed the younger brother of the king, should one exist. And not only did Charles spend many years as Monsieur, but before the Revolution so did Louis XVIII, when he was merely the younger brother of the unfortunate King Louis XVI.
Well, as it happens, Prof. Jonathan Spangler, a senior lecturer in Early Modern History at Manchester Metropolitan University in England has been studying the French institution of “Monsieur” for years. And two months ago he published a new book, titled Monsieur: Second Sons in the Monarchy of France, 1550-1800.
Left: Prof. Jonathan Spangler.
I reached out to Prof. Spangler as soon as I saw his book announcement, and was thrilled when he agreed to come on the show. What follows is our conversation, which covers both the experiences of Louis and Charles as “Monsieur,” but also the history of Monsieurs dating back to the 16th Century.
Be sure to visit thesiecle.com/supplemental12 for a link to purchase Prof. Spangler’s book, as well as for a full transcript of our conversation with links and pictures.
Now, here’s the interview.
THE SIÈCLE: Jonathan Spangler, welcome to the show!
JONATHAN SPANGLER: Hi, thank you for having me, it’s great to be part of your show.
SIÈCLE: Yes, we’re excited to learn a little bit more about the history of “Monsieur.”
SIÈCLE: Talk a little bit to start about, I guess, your research interests in general and how you got interested in this peculiar French institution.
SPANGLER: Yeah, it is a very peculiar institution. There is no other monarchy in Europe in the Early Modern or Modern era that has a specific name for its second son. Sometimes we jokingly call the second son, even in today’s monarchy in Britain, the spare. And so people call it “The Heir and the Spare,” the extra person needed in case of a tragedy and the first son dies, you need to have somebody else to take over the throne.
In France this person was called Monsieur, starting from the end of the 16th century and all the way up until the beginning of the 19th century, which is the period that you’re of course focusing on.
Below: King Louis XIV of France, circa 1700, by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
My own research background really starts from the court of Louis XIV, I’ve always been much more interested in European history more generally, not French, but when it came to choose a PhD topic, French was my working language and so it made sense to look there. I’m more interested in the court than the King himself, and so I’ve always been interested in people who surround the Sun King, people who are interacting with the King, rather than the King himself. And so, I was kind of drawn to the role of the younger brother.
So, most of my research at first focused on Philippe d’Orléans, who has become famous recently because of the television show Versailles. Out of that, then, a project grew where I thought I would look at four of the boys who are always raised in the shadow of their older brother, just in case they’re needed. And in three of the four cases they never were, and so it’s always difficult to struggle and find out where your place is in society.
SIÈCLE: This is an interesting institution. I think a lot of people who don’t closely study monarchies and different forms of government have this idea that monarchy, well it’s sort of absolute, the king is the decider and he makes all the decisions. But, of course, even though it’s not a democracy like we think of it, there’s lots of other people around the king who have influence on policy and what’s happening.
SPANGLER: That’s right. A lot of the interesting changes that have been happening since the 1990s really has been a flourishing of this new field called “Court Studies” and one of the big focuses has been on who else are the influential people in a court or in a monarchy. And so there has been lot of influence or lots of focus, certainly, on a certain monarch.
But since the advent and the rise of gender studies in the 1970s, people of course have been looking a lot more at the king’s consorts, so Queenship Studies is now a field of its own in historical studies, and the dynasty as a whole, the whole family, is now a really interesting focus for a lot of research projects in all of the European monarchies of the Medieval or Early Modern Period. So you can look at the king’s siblings, brothers and sisters, but also the king’s cousins. They will have powerful circles of their own, particularly in a country like France where they simply keep producing more and more princes. Great Britain is an interesting parallel because they don’t ever really have these parallel lines of royalty, so they, I think, have less to struggle with. France often found that these people were a bit unmanageable, too powerful, too wealthy.
SIÈCLE: I’ve told my listeners that a way to understand how the French was perceived at the time is to imagine the celebrity of the modern British royalty and then add actual political power on top of that.
SPANGLER: Yeah, well of course the British royal family had actual political power as well, up until the, I would say, middle of the 18th century. But in France it does continue well on into the Restoration period, which your podcast is focusing on.
SIÈCLE: Listeners to The Siècle are, of course, most familiar with Louis XVIII and Charles X, his younger brother, the Comte d’Artois — both of whom spent many years of their lives as Monsieur, the younger brother of the King of France. What did this role look like in the late 18th and 19th centuries when Louis and Charles were filling this role?
SPANGLER: It was always an undefined position, it wasn’t something that formally existed. So, formally they were created a “Duke of this” or a “Count of that,” they had an appanage, which was a territory that they could govern themselves. And really, the appanage was really where they drew their income from, it was a series of estates, castles, tolls, canals, often it gave them quite a lot of revenue, but it was a territorial unit. So going all the way back to the Middle Ages, the appanage was something that was created for the younger brothers of King to give them something to do, really, to keep them out of plotting in the court. The most famous of these in the Middle Ages were the Duchy of Orléans, the Duchy of Anjou, the Duchy of Burgundy, and these became extremely powerful on their own.
So over the course of the period, monarchs tried to restrict their power more and more. And so in a way they wanted to give them honours rather than power, so the title of Monsieur, in a way, began that way in the 16th and early 17th century as a signifier that this was the highest ranking person in the land, next to the King himself, and yet it was just a name, so it didn’t really come with specific revenue, or estates, or lands.
SIÈCLE: By the time you get to the 1780s or so, the Comte de Provence, the young title of Louis XVIII, didn’t actually have any feudal power over Provence, et cetera. Those Medieval legacies had gone by the wayside by then.
SPANGLER: Yes, that’s right. He did have an appanage. In fact, he was the Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Alençon, and Provence was, as you said, just a name that didn’t have any ties to the actual province of Provence in the deep south. And one of the things that I’ve tried to speculate on in my book is why exactly he was called Provence, because I couldn’t really find anywhere in an actual record around the time of his birth in the 1750s as to why he was actually called that. And the same for his brother, the Count of Artois.
Above: Louis Stanislas Xavier, the Comte de Provence and future King Louis XVIII, circa 1778, by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Below: The pre-revolutionary French provinces of Artois and Provence. Original work based on a base map by Wikimedia user Milenioscuro under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
It was also very unusual that they were given “Count” as title, since every other junior prince for the previous several centuries had been “Duke of this” or “Duke of that.” And so I had a number of speculative ideas, but they are really just ideas. I think in part the monarchy of Louis XVI, who took the throne in 1774, was really trying to reach out to its more distant provinces and, in a way, centralise. So Artois and Provence are both at the, kind of, extremes, as you will, of France and in relative terms they are newer provinces. I mean, that’s a very relative term. Provence was added to France in the 1480s and Artois was added only in the 1660s, so I suspect that that’s part of the answer.
Why were they given countships instead of dukedoms? I surmise that it’s maybe a bit of reverse psychology in saying that the monarchy in France is the grandest in Europe, or at least that’s what they wanted you to think in the 1770s, so we don’t need to give our sons lofty titles like “Archduke of Austria” or “Prince of Wales,” we can simply call them a count. And because they are Bourbons, they are therefore superior to everybody else. That’s my idea on it.
SIÈCLE: What about the etymology of this particular term, “Monsieur”? As everyone knows, “Monsieur” is the modern equivalent to “Mr.,” a generic form of address for a French male. How did this term get applied to the King’s younger brother?
SPANGLER: It started as a longer term and, like a lot of ceremonial items in the French monarchy, it was actually borrowed from the Church. If you really wanted to honour a high churchman, either a Cardinal or a Bishop, you would call him Monseigneur, which is also “My Lord.” But the slightly shortened version was just “Monsieur,” “My Lord,” and it, throughout the Middle Ages, had just meant literally that: “My Lord.” But it came to be attached as a way of heightening someone’s formal title.
So in the late 16th century, the Duke of Anjou, Henry III’s younger brother, was Monsieur Le Duc d’Anjou. In the next generation, the younger brother of Louis XIII was Monsieur Le Duc d’Orléans. And over time that was just dropped to “Monsieur.” And I think it’s the same reasoning, it’s the reverse psychology of saying “we have the simplest title, therefore it’s the grandest.”
And some of these were extended to other people as well. The wife of Monsieur is referred to as “Madame.” The King’s son, the Dauphin, is referred to simply as “Monseigneur.” The first Prince of the Blood was called “Monsieur le Prince,” or the Prince of Condé, and so on and so on. So it was a way of identifying all the members of the royal family with these very simple [names]. Probably the most famous one, and most memorable, from the 17th century, is Louis XIV’s first cousin, the unmarried Anne-Marie Louise, who was known as “La Grande Mademoiselle.”
SIÈCLE: How did the Comte de Provence and Artois, the later Louis XVIII and Charles X, how did they fit into the political systems of the time as the younger brothers of the King? Louis in the ancien régime and then Charles in the Restoration.
SPANGLER: The struggle that a younger brother had had with his older brother had often broken out into violence. So the earlier younger brothers that I look at in my study, the younger brother of Henry III, the younger brother of Louis XIII, they often went into rebellion because they felt like, as a Prince of the Blood, it was their right to have a share in the government. That was their idea about monarchy that they had inherited through the centuries, is that everyone is a descendent of the original royal founder — usually the Bourbons like to talk about Saint Louis, Louis IX — had a right to participate in government. And this clashed with the new idea of absolutism.
By the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV’s younger brother had kind of been tamed, or civilised, or given a lot of presents and toys and palaces and chateaux, so he never did go into rebellion. So when we get to the final phase of the 1780s and we’re looking at Provence and Artois, they no longer have specific political roles to play, but they are employed by their brother, the King Louis XVI, kind of as alternative mouth pieces for the monarchy. So, for example, if a new edict has to be announced in the parlement of Paris, and the King doesn’t want to do it himself, he will often give the job to one of his two younger brothers. So really they’re just sort of alternate voice pieces.
But it becomes a little bit complicated as the French monarchy careens towards revolution in the late 1780s, because it becomes clear that the Count of Provence has a bit more of a liberal agenda and really wants to make speeches and proclamations that have an effect on the changing constitution of France, or the desire for change, whereas the Count of Artois very clearly doesn’t.
And you see this very much in the Assembly of the Notables in 1787, where there are six bureaus that meet from all across France to try to discuss how to solve the great financial crisis that is bringing France to its knees. And each of the bureaus has to debate certain things, one of them being how would an estates general form in the coming years: would each of the estates have to vote separately, ie. the nobility, the clergy and the commons, with an equal vote? Or would they vote by head? That would mean, therefore, that the commons would have 90% of the vote, of course, and so the old aristocracy didn’t want that, and the old clergy didn’t want that. Anyway, that’s a long way of getting to the point of saying that the bureau that was headed by the Count of Provence, he actually proposed that they would, in fact, vote by head. Whereas the bureaux that [were] headed by all the others, including the Count of Artois, firmly rebuked this idea.
Charles-Philippe, the Comte d’Artois, 1773, by Louis-Jacques Cathelin after Jean Martial Frédou. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
So there were fault lines already, even within the royal family, in terms of politics. And Provence in particular was quite frustrated, I think, for most of his life, in that he felt that out of the three brothers, he was the reader. He was the one who liked school, who liked education, and he felt that he had ideas about the enlightenment, that he wanted to help reform the monarchy. And he felt he was cut off at every turn.
SIÈCLE: There’s a quote that Louis XVIII said later in his life, or allegedly said at any rate, responding to one of the younger brother’s, Artois’s, schemes: “How else would you have it? He conspired against Louis XVI, he conspired against me, and some day he’ll conspire against himself.1”
SPANGLER: Haha, that’s good. I didn’t know that quote! But he says a lot of these things, I think, in the years right after the restoration, when he feels extreme frustration, and knows that his brother now has a really long track record of upsetting the status quo, of upsetting the balance. So, again, if you look at the hot summer months of 1789, Louis XVI is almost paralysed with indecision. Marie Antoinette and her friends are pushing on one side, the Count of Provence and his friends are pushing on the other side. It’s either reform or reaction. And Artois is very clearly on the reaction side. He doesn’t think that there should be any reforms, the King shouldn’t give into any ideas of the people. And it becomes very clear, right after the storming of the Bastille, that Artois is very deeply unpopular, and he is one of the very first princes to leave France. Whereas Provence stays in France and stays very close to the King for the next year or two, until he also flees abroad in 1791.
Below: Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, the Comte de Provence and future King Louis XVIII of France, in 1788, by Antoine-François Callet. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
SIÈCLE: And there’s a certain amount of justice in the fact that Louis XVIII struggled with the intrigues of Artois when he was King, after having himself intrigued against his older brother back in the 1780s.
SPANGLER: Yeah, I think so, there’s not a whole lot of evidence of things that Provence did to undermine Louis XVI, I think he mostly just stayed quiet. He had tried to introduce several ideas early on, he’d sent a memorandum here and there to the King right at the beginning of the reign in the 1770s. But the Louis XVI made it clear early on that he was the king, he was the master of the family, and that he didn’t really need the advice of his younger brothers. So I think that Provence preferred mostly to just sit on his own. He built a grand library, he read books, he sponsored programs in Paris for museums, for public lectures, for reading circles, he became kind of a salon attendee himself, rather than directly undermining his brother, partly because he was always prevented from joining the council or really expressing an opinion.
SIÈCLE: When Louis XVIII himself was King, he had a more complex relationship with his “Monsieur,” with his younger brother, who was often in opposition, tacitly as least. But Louis always made a decision to include Artois in the decision making, even if Artois never got everything he wanted. Was this a reaction to the way that Louis himself had been excluded when he was the younger brother?
SPANGLER: Yes, I’m sure there’s some of that. I think that he probably felt that he had been excluded a lot in the 1770s and 1780s, and so didn’t want to exclude his younger brother. But I think he was also very pragmatic. I think, like many of the Bourbons, he was probably a bit more realistic and had now had several decades of really having to work with his brother, whether he wanted to or not. Because it was always clear in the 1790s when they were in exile, for example in Coblentz or in Hamm, that foreign powers wanted always to deal with Artois. And so Provence knew that if he wanted to be influential, he had to go with his brother or act through his brother. And I’m sure it annoyed him a lot, but I’m sure that he realised that together they could achieve something.
This, then, kind of fell apart as you get further into the period of exile when Artois moves to Great Britain and really becomes the only voice piece of the monarchy that the British government will deal with. And Provence, or now we should call him Louis XVIII, is more and more isolated from the diplomatic community in the rest of Europe. So I think that when he is restored and becomes King, he makes sure to keep Artois on side, simply because he knows that there is a huge power base of royalism and conservatism that Artois can at least voice to him on the council.
SIÈCLE: It certainly seemed like Louis would rather have Artois conspiring inside the government than going into open opposition out in the countryside.
SPANGLER: “Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer,” I guess is the old story. And that too goes back a long, long time in the history of the monarchy. The early 17th century was a period of rebellion, after rebellion, after rebellion, and it was Louis XIV who managed to create a situation at Versailles where all the grand nobility, not just his brother and cousin, but all the dukes and princes and cardinals had to live at court so that they wouldn’t be in the provinces fomenting rebellions and causing chaos. So I think that this is a little bit of a legacy of that, and Louis XVIII realised that it would just make more sense to have Artois plotting nearby.
Left: The Comte d’Artois circa 1814, as lieutenant-general of the realm, in a National Guard uniform. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I don’t think there would have been much of a chance of an actual rebellion by Artois against his brother, because I think over the centuries that I looked at of the rule of the younger brother, the main thing that they seemed to learn, painfully at first, was that in the long run everyone benefits is they all work together as a family. So dynasticism was a very strong point.
And I think Provence himself, a couple of times in the 1790s, wrote to Louis XVI at the height of the French revolution that, even though they may disagree, publicly he would always say the things that support the King. And I think that’s a very strong sense of dynasty that survives into the Restoration period and well into the 19th Century. That the head of the monarch still must be the face of monarchy, at least publicly.
Below: Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, in the uniform of a Guard-Colonel of the Hussars, circa 1817, by Louis-Joseph Noyal after François Gérard. Public domain via Wikipedia Commons.
SIÈCLE: Which accounts for some small share of the animosity towards the Orléans family during and after the revolution. Obviously they had plenty more grievances against the Orléans after Louis’s execution and all that, but the Orléans had not fallen in line.
Spanger: Yeah, that’s precisely right. The Orléans branch had really pursued its own agenda for most of the 18th century and there are numerous times where Louis XV and then Louis XVI have to try to bridle the independence of the Orléans branch. But one of the problems is that one of the great success stories of the second son is Philippe, the brother of Louis XIV, who was able to transform his fairly small appanage into an absolutely enormous one through his own financial savvy. And that’s a fairly new thing about Philippe, because he used to only be seen as a fop and a playboy, but actually the historian Nancy Nichols Barker looked at his finances and discovered that he’d actually done an amazing job of creating a fund for the Orléans branch that was independent of the crown.
SIÈCLE: By the time of the Restoration, the Duc d’Orléans was the richest person in France.
SPANGLER: Yes. So they had already been the richest person in France, really. The Duc de Penthièvre was also one of the richest men in France, another member of the royal family, and he gave his entire fortune to the Orléans branch by the 1770s, 1780s. So already the richest fortune became even richer. And then add to that, at the extinction of the branches of Conti and Condé, they also had as their heirs, by coincidence, the house of Orléans. So certainly, yes, but by 1830 they were tremendously wealthy.
SIÈCLE: We’ve talked a little bit about the ways that Provence and Artois were both in opposition and support of their older brother. What are some of these earlier Monsieurs that you’ve researched? In what ways did they support or oppose their brother, the King?
SPANGLER: The first Monsieur that I looked, and the first that was given the name and called simply “Monsieur,” is the younger brother of Henry III, who was reigning in the 1570s. And he pursued a much older style of dynasticism. Ever since the Middle Ages it had been encouraged for the younger son to go abroad and find their fortune. So whether that’s conquering Jerusalem, or Cyprus, or some Italian city-state. But he did it instead by trying to, first, marry the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. so he’s the one that audiences might recognise from the movie [Elizabeth], with Cate Blanchett, who she calls affectionately “her frog.”
That marriage didn’t happen. He then turned to the Low Countries and tried to champion their independence against Spain. And they were going call him “Prince of the Netherlands.” And this is where it comes into conflict, really, with his brother, because Henry III was trying desperately to have a policy of peace with Spain, and now suddenly his younger brother is challenging Spain directly by supporting the Dutch Revolt. So that’s the first instance.
Francis, Duke of Anjou and Alençon, 1572, artist unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The second one is much, much longer, and more introverted, and obviously we don’t have time to talk about it for hours tonight. But Louis XIII’s younger brother, Gaston, the Duke of Orleans, really felt like he was more of the son of Henry IV: the popular king, the populist king. Gaston was friendly, charming, really interested in the poor, and Louis XIII really wasn’t. And so Gaston felt that he should really try to shame and mold the government and every time that Louis XIII, and of course Cardinal Richelieu, said “no, there’s no role for you here in the government,” Gaston did go into rebellion.
Below: Gaston, duc d’Orléans, 1632 or 1634, by Anthony von Dyck. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
So there’s five or six rebellions throughout the 1630s, some long, some short, he spends over a year in exile in Brussels. And every time there’s a negotiation, he comes back together, there’s always some kind of staged, ceremonial reconciliation where the two brothers will hug and pledge forever that they will be fraternal, that they will love each other like brothers should. And then something else will set Gaston off again and he’ll go into another rebellion.
One of the key problems here is that, because Gaston has royal blood and because he is heir to the throne for so long2, he can’t be punished, really, and he can’t be executed, certainly, because he is the heir — you can’t execute the heir! And so, therefore, what Richelieu and Louis XIII are forced to do instead is execute his friends and favourites. And I think psychologically he was abused over, and over, and over again, because any time he got close to someone, they ended up dead. And there are so many executions of people who had supported Gaston during a rebellion, even the highest aristocrats in the land, like the Duke of Montmorency.
So by the end of his life, Gaston finally becomes reconciled. And I think this is where the transformation between rebellion and loyalty really happens, I would say, is in the late years of Gaston’s life, which is the late 1640s and into the 1650s. And this is the period of the Fronde, where he realises that as uncle of the new King, Louis XIV, the child king, that the dynasty works better as a whole, rather than individual pieces. So late Gaston doesn’t take up rebellion when he could have, during the Fronde.
SIÈCLE: And he could have made a real difference doing so.
SPANGLER: Yeah, I think that’s really a big turning point of his not overthrowing the government in a time when he might have been able to. So then, to finalise the story, the third Monsieur of the 17th century is Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe. And he never goes into rebellion. He’s often angry with his older brother, but he doesn’t often cross the line into physical rebellion or physical violence. He finds other ways to protest.
Left: Philippe, duc d’Orléans, late 17th Century, by Pierre Mignard I. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
For example, he refuses to allow his wife communion when he think that she and his brother, Louis, are up to no good and plotting behind his back. And it sounds a little bit strange, but that’s something that really does bring the public into noticing that something is up at Versailles. And Louis XIV does everything he can to bring his brother back in line and restore harmony into the family. So there are rebellions, but they happen in different ways.
SIÈCLE: Of course, over these centuries that you’ve studied, there wasn’t always a younger brother to the King, although there was a surprising amount of the time, perhaps. How were things different when there wasn’t a Monsieur around. Did the court politics reorient themselves in any way?
SPANGLER: The great period of absence, really, is something that I haven’t mentioned at all so far is the reign of Louis XV. Louis XV doesn’t have any siblings at all. You might remember that he was the very, very last of the great-grandsons of Louis XIV. All the other babies had died as infants and the miracle baby that survived then became Louis XV in 1715. And so he has no siblings and that does, I think, affect politics. He is a very solitary figure.
And so, in a sense, that’s probably why his cousins, the house of Orléans, are able to expand their influence politically. They kind of fill that role of the Monsieur.
Below: Louis François, Prince de Conti, mid-18th Century, by Peter Adolf Hall. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
And similarly, a cousin from a different branch, the Prince of Conti, and he comes directly into clash with the King in 1771 when Louis XV tries to rein in the independent power of the parlements. Conti stands up for them and says that the parlements need to have their own independent voice and their own independent action. And as a result, Louis XV exiles him from court and takes away a lot of his privileges.
So that, I think, is a sense of what happens when there isn’t a Monsieur, that someone steps into the breach and it’s usually the first Prince of the Blood, or someone else within the dynasty.
SIÈCLE: One of the things that I’m struck by, looking at this history and evolution of the role of Monsieur, the King’s younger brother, is the idea, sort of, of the court equivalent of the democratic principal of the “loyal opposition.” Is there anything to that?
SPANGLER: I think so. It’s hard to pin that down specifically. This is what I was getting at before with the Count of Provence. I do think he saw that as his position and he really wanted to be on the council, the King’s Council in the 1780s when things were getting difficult for the government, but was never really given then chance. I think he saw that role as the Loyal Opposition. And maybe, to a lesser extent, Artois thought the same. Although I’m less familiar with the interior thoughts of the last Monsieur during the restoration. The earlier Monsieurs, I don’t think would necessarily have considered that. I think they thought that the government needed to be a reflection of all Bourbon interests, not necessarily a binary of the King versus the Loyal Opposition. So I think only the future Louix XVIII might have voiced that kind of idea.
SIÈCLE: Interesting, because certainly the King’s brother or the King’s son can function as a natural locus for opposition within the court, if you can gather around this Number Two figure to gain protection or bolster their views when they disagree with the King or the King’s ministers.
SPANGLER: We see that quite a lot in British history more than French history. There’s quite often an alternative court, or an alternative political centre for the Prince of Wales. And sometimes it turns into real antagonism.
The most famous example is George II, reigning in the 1720s, and his son Frederick, the Prince of Wales, who had his own court at Leicester House, at what’s now Leicester Square in the centre of London. And at one point it was serious animosity between the two.
Below: Louis-Ferdinand, dauphin of France, 1765, by Alexander Roslin. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
There hasn’t really been such a thing in France. There were circles who gathered around Louis XIV’s son, the Dauphin, but they never really exercised a whole lot of political influence. I mean, obviously, this was the period of Louis XIV, the most absolute of absolutist monarchs. And then, I think, the same can be said for Louis XV’s son, the Dauphin, who never really coalesced.
Louis XV’s son, called Louis but Louis Ferdinand as he’s sometimes referred to, this is Louis XVI’s father, he was much more pious than his libertine father. So there’s a group of people who are surrounding Louis XV’s son, the Dauphin, who are much more interested in possibly restoring piety and religious morality in this Enlightenment era, which some people are seeing as a little too liberal, maybe verging on atheism. So there is usually a role that’s given to a Dauphin. And then Louis XVI’s Dauphin was always a small child.
What is interesting is to think forward and really enter into the period of the Restoration and think that Louis XVIII did have, not only his brother Artois voicing opinions, but also to try to think about what were the opinions and the voices and the political factions of the Duke of Angoulême, the Duc de Berri, Angoulême becoming the future Dauphin of course, once Charles X becomes King. Or even the role of “Madame Royale,” the Duchess of Angoulême, the surviving child of the martyred Louis XVI and the martyred Marie Antoinette. So, I think there’s quite a variety of political viewpoints going on with all these very senior princes and each, surely, having their own supporters within the court.
The French royal family, circa 1816-1820, artist unknown. From left: the Comte d’Artois, King Louis XVIII, the Duchesse de Berry, the Duchesse d’Angoulême, the Duc d’Angoulême and the Duc de Berry. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
SIÈCLE: Studying this role of Monsieur over the centuries, what’s your analysis, what’s your take on the role this played in upholding, in threatening, in changing the French monarchy during this period?
SPANGLER: I think that looking at it over the long period, one of the things it did, not very well but it attempted, was to put a break on rampant absolutism. So the fact that Louis XIII and Richelieu, who were building this totally absolute state, and then Louis XIV who then brought it to fruition, they at least had some opposition of someone saying “this isn’t right. The old aristocracy, of which I, as Prince of the Blood notionally represent, at least needs to be remembered in terms of the government of the state.” So I wouldn’t say that they were successful at doing that, but they slowed it down a bit and perhaps that prevented any worse form of despotism than you may or may not see Louis XIV’s reign as being. It’s hard to say.
The other thing that I concluded from looking at all these is that they provide a very valuable alternative outlet for patronage. So a lot of people who may not have gotten the top jobs at court, because they were not in favour with the King or the Queen, might instead have got favour from the King’s brother or the King’s sister-in-law. “Madame” also has a very important role there. It could mean that some noble courtier, who needs a job as a chamberlain or a steward or a master of the horse.
As I learned researching this, it was also a valuable source of patronage for the arts and music and theatre. In particular, this is where I found that Philippe d’Orléans, Louis XIII’s brother, had quite a lot of influence because as he aged, the Sun King became extremely dull. He lost any interest he’d had as a younger man in ballet, opera, grand festivals, grand parties. And in a way, people in the 1690s describe Versailles as being rather tomb-like, no fun, whereas his brother Philippe had a separate court at his country chateau of Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris or at his main residence at the city, called the Palais Royal. And here he had opera troupes, theatre troupes, some of the more adventurous painters. In a sense, many art and music historians have said that Philippe was much more on the cutting-edge of new forms of art in the early 18th century, which his more traditional, conservative brother wasn’t interested in. That second voice kept the French monarchy from simply ossifying and becoming stultified and conservative and almost backwards.
Fast-forward to the Count of Provence as the younger brother of Louis XVI, in the 1770s and 80s, you do see some of the same patterns where people who didn’t get patronage from the King or the Queen were able to look for alternatives from the younger brothers. They each had their favourite architects, their favourite painters. In particular, Provence was also very interested in supporting a lot of his favourite scientists and writers and philosophers. He had his own circle of friends who would meet at the Luxembourg Palace, his residence in Paris. He too was this really good alternative source of patronage.
A porcelain boiler made at the manufactory on Rue de Clignancourt, also known as “Porcelaine de Monsieur,” 1780. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license by Wikimedia user World Imaging.
I even came across this one anecdote that was specific about porcelain and how, for so many decades, the only porcelain factory that was allowed in Paris was Sèvres, the royal porcelain manufactory which was protected by royal monopoly. But Provence actually was able to support another one, based in Clignancourt, a neighbourhood in Northwest Paris, and the factory made its own porcelain, which they sometimes called “The Porcelain of Monsieur” and they would sometimes put his initials, LSX, Louis Stanislas Xavier, on the porcelain. And he even went to court a couple of times to defend their right to defy the royal monopoly. So there’s a really interesting source there. It’s not political, it’s a cultural way of being different. Not quite rebellion, but opposing a dictator of culture that the court of Versailles was sometimes seen as.
SIÈCLE: And, of course, listeners of The Siècle are very familiar with the ways in which the Comte d’Artois was often in opposition to his brother. Jonathan Spangler, thank you so much for coming on the show and talking about this role of “Monsieur” that has been so important during the restoration, as well as the preceding centuries. If listeners want to know more, you’ve got a new book out!
SPANGLER: Yes, that right. Thank you so much, I’ve really enjoyed talking about this subject, which I have been obsessed with for the last five or six years, and it finally has emerged in print. This book came out in November, so it’s fresh off of the presses, from Routledge. It’s called Monsieur: Second Sons in the Monarchy of France, 1550 to 1800. People can buy it as a softback or an e-book.
SIÈCLE: I’ll include links to purchase this book online, at thesiecle.com.
SPANGLER: I appreciate that. I hope that people like it, I wrote the book with fun in mind from looking at the four men who were “Monsieur” throughout the years and I think it will add another interesting dimension to people’s love of the history of France in the 18th and 19th century.
SIÈCLE: Jonathan Spangler, thanks for your insight.
SPANGLER: Thank you very much for having me!
As a reminder, you can visit thesiecle.com/supplemental12 for a link to purchase Prof. Spangler’s book, as well as a full transcript of this episode along with links and pictures.
I’d also like to thank historian Catherine Phipps for transcribing this episode for me.
Before I wrap up, I’d like to take this moment to thank my new patrons who’ve backed The Siècle on Patreon. The most important thing you can do to support the show is to spread the word about it, but if you feel generous, your support at patreon.com/thesiecle helps pay for my time and ever-growing research library. Since I last thanked patrons, the following people have signed up at the deputy or député level, contributing $1 per month: Markus, Robert Uniacke, Patrick McDowell, James Lovas, Gregory Sherrid, and Saerel. As always, my apologies for butchering the pronunciations of your names.
Some of you have been especially generous and signed up at the sénateur tier, giving $5 per month. The show’s new sénateurs are Ross Hensley, Kyle Parker, Piet Van de Velde, August Tierney, Tyler Monroe, Nancy Anderson, Eric Topel, Francis van Berkel and Michael Desmond.
Finally, some of you have been incredibly generous and signed up at even higher tiers. James T. is giving at the $10 level, which I call préfet or prefect. And my biggest thanks go to the ministers in The Siècle’s government: Fernando López Ojeda, Alexander Smithers and Ang.
My promise to my patrons is simple: no episode means no patronage. When I’ve fallen behind and missed a month, I pause donations and you keep your money.
Thank you again to all of you patrons, and to all my listeners, who’ve made this little hobby of mine so worthwhile. I’ve got lots of fascinating episodes teed up for the coming months, including a conversation with fellow podcaster Ben Jacobs of the Wittenberg to Westphalia podcast about everyone’s favorite mystical skin disease. Stay tuned for Supplemental 13: Scrofula.
Louis XIII married Anne of Austria in 1615, when both were just 14 years old. The two had no living children for their first 23 years of marriage, before Anne gave birth to the future Louis XIV when she was on the verge of turning 37. ↩