Orléans, French royal family

Orléans ôrlāäNˈ [key], family name of two branches of the French royal line.

The house of Valois-Orléans was founded by Louis, duc d'Orléans (see separate article), whose assassination (1407) caused the civil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians. This house ascended the French throne (1498) in the person of Louis XII, who died without male issue. Gaston, brother of Louis XIII, was made duke of Orléans (see separate article), but died without a male heir.

The modern house of Bourbon-Orléans was founded by Philippe I, duc d'Orléans, 1640–1701, a brother of King Louis XIV. A notorious libertine, Philippe was excluded from participation in state affairs, though he fought in the Dutch War and won the victory of Cassel (1677). He married (1661) Henrietta of England and, after her death, Elizabeth Charlotte of Bavaria (1671).

Philippe I's son, Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, 1674–1723, regent of France (1715–23) during the minority of Louis XV, distinguished himself in the War of the Grand Alliance and in the War of the Spanish Succession. He was known for his cynicism and immorality. The will of King Louis XIV, which made him president of the regency council, severely restricted his authority, but he had the will annulled. His rule was marked by a resurgence of the noble elements subdued by Louis XIV. Councils of state, comprising the higher nobility, were formed, but they failed, and government by ministers, or secretaries of state, was restored.

To deal with the financial crisis, Orléans called on John Law, who established a royal bank, but Law's financial schemes collapsed in 1720. Foreign affairs under the regency were conducted by Guillaume Dubois. Orléans concluded the Quadruple Alliance of 1718 and made war on Spain (1719–20). Social life during his regency reached an apex of licentiousness. The ambitions of the regent and his descendants ultimately brought the house of Orléans into open opposition to the ruling house.

See W. H. Lewis, The Scandalous Regent (1961); C. Pevitt, Philippe, Duc d'Orléans: Regent of France (1997).

The regent's great-grandson, Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans, called Philippe Égalité (see separate article), supported the French Revolution. His adherents, the Orleanists, who sought a compromise between the monarchical and the revolutionary principles, came into power by the July Revolution of 1830 and put Philippe Égalité's son Louis Philippe on the French throne. Representatives of the capitalist upper bourgeoisie, the Orleanists limited their definition of revolutionary liberty to the middle class. After the fall of Louis Philippe (1848), they continued to support the claims of his descendants, the Orleanist pretenders, who returned from exile after the fall of Napoleon III (1871). Their prospects, though high under the presidency of Marshal MacMahon, dwindled steadily, especially after the Third Republic exiled all pretenders in 1886.

Louis Philippe's eldest son, Ferdinand Philippe Louis Charles Henri, duc d'Orléans, 1810–42, took part in the French expedition to Belgium (1831–32) and in the Algerian wars (1835–40). His unfinished Campagnes de l'armée d'Afrique, 1835–39, was published in 1870. He died in a carriage accident.

Ferdinand Philippe's eldest son, Louis Philippe Albert d'Orléans, comte de Paris, 1838–94, went to the United States after his candidacy for the throne had failed in 1848 and fought for the North in the Civil War under General McClellan. Back in France in 1871, he was Orleanist pretender but relinquished his rights to the legitimist pretender, Henri de Chambord (1873). After Chambord's death (1883), he became head of the French house of Bourbon. In 1886 he was exiled by the law against pretenders. He was the author of History of the Civil War in America (tr., 4 vol., 1875–88) and other works. He died in England.

Louis Philippe Albert's brother, Robert Philippe Louis Eugène Ferdinand d'Orléans, duc de Chartres, 1840–1910, also fought in the American Civil War. In the Franco-Prussian War he served in the French army under the name Robert le Fort. After 1871 he fought in the Algerian wars, but he also was exiled in 1886. Owing to his brother's renunciation of his claims, the duke of Chartres was regarded by many Orleanists as pretender from 1873 to 1883.

Louis Philippe Robert, duc d'Orléans, 1869–1926, succeeded his father, Louis Philippe Albert, comte de Paris, as pretender in 1894. Born and educated in England, he served (1888–89) in the Indian army. An explorer, he left accounts of his wide travels. He died childless, and his claim to the French throne passed to his cousin Jean d'Orléans, duc de Guise, son of the duke of Chartres, and his heirs.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History: Biographies