Prince Philippe, Comte de Paris
Life beyond Elmbridge
On 24th August 1838 Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Duchesse d'Orleans gave birth, in Paris, to her first son, Louis-Philippe Albert d'Orleans, Comte de Paris. His father was Ferdinand Philippe Louis d'Orleans and his grandfather was King Louis-Philippe I, the 'citizen king' who had been elected to the role in July 1830 and reigned until he was deposed in 'the year of Revolutions', 1848. The Orleans family was a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, descended from King Louis XIII through the male line. With the death of his father in a carriage accident in 1842, the young Comte de Paris became heir-apparent to the French throne. With his grandfather's deposition in 1848, his mother tried to secure her son's succession but the Second Republic was declared and the Orleans family were driven into exile, first to Eisenach in Saxony and then to Claremont House in Surrey, which was lent to them by Queen Victoria. After his mother's death in 1858 the Comte de Paris set out on a long foreign tour. He returned to England in 1862 and on 30th May 1864, in a Catholic church in Kingston, he married his first cousin Marie Isabelle d'Orleans, Infanta of Spain. His uncle the Duc d'Aumale purchased York House, Twickenham for the newly married couple and the first of their eight children was born there in 1865.
The Comte de Paris' career as a writer, soldier and historian began with his travels. He went to Syria and Lebanon and published an account of the population, culture and landscape of these countries in, 'Damas et le Liban: Extraits du Journal d'un Voyage en Syrie au Printemps de 1860', (London, 1861). In 1861, the Comte and his brother the Duc de Chartres joined their uncle the Prince de Joinville in the United States (US). They came to a country torn apart by civil war and as supporters of the Union or Federal cause served under General George McClellan's command in the 'Army of the Potomac'. The Comte de Paris held the rank of Captain. He served for almost a year taking part in the siege of Yorktown in April 1862, saw the action at Williamsburg on 5 May, was with McClellan at the Battle of Fair Oaks and took part in the Battle of Gaines Mill on 27 June of the same year. The Comte returned to England in late 1862 and took a great interest in one of the consequences of the American Civil War: the cotton famine in Lancashire. Cotton could not be exported from the Southern states of the US as Union forces blockaded their ports. As a result, thousands of textile workers in Lancashire lost their jobs; the Comte de Paris publicised their plight in an article to the Revue Des Deux Mondes entitled, 'Christmas Week in Lancashire' in 1863. The literary work for which he is probably best known also stemmed from his experiences of the US Civil War - an eight volume history of the conflict entitled, 'Histoire de la guerre civile en Amerique' written between 1874 and 1889. This became a standard reference text.
After the fall of Napoleon III the newly elected National Assembly had a strong monarchist party and there seemed to be a chance that the Comte could ascend the throne. However, in 1873, at the Frohsdorf Conference in Austria it was agreed that the childless Comte de Chambord (the legitimist claimant) should be the next French monarch. The Comte de Paris retired to his French estates but the monarchy was not restored in France, partly because the conservative Comte de Chambord alienated too many of the monarchists and the Third Republic endured until 1914. When Chambord died in 1883 the Comte de Paris did not push his claim to the throne. The popularity of the Orleans family shown by the reception of the wedding of the Comte's eldest daughter to the Prince of Braganza in May 1886 so alarmed the French government that a law was passed on 11 June 1886 by which direct claimants to the throne and their heirs were expelled from France. Once more the Comte de Paris returned to England and leased Sheen House, near Richmond Park, from 1886 until 1892.
He spent his final years studying and writing. In addition to his work on English trade unionism, 'Les Associations Ouvrieres en Angleterre' (1869) he completed his account of the American Civil War and edited his father's letters. He was drawn into French politics at the end of the 1880s when he urged his followers to support the cause of General Georges Boulanger who declared that he wanted to restore the monarchy. However it is more likely that he intended to create a military dictatorship. The General did not achieve his ambition and fled the country; he committed suicide in a Brussels cemetery in 1891, close to the grave of his mistress. This seems to have been a rare lapse of judgement by the Comte de Paris.
He was held in high regard and with genuine affection by many people. During a visit to the U.S. the Comte endeared himself to the people of New Jersey when on 6th October 1890, in pouring rain, he knelt at the grave of his former commanding officer General George B. McClellan, in Trenton, the state capital. Having been urged to stay in his coach until the worst of the shower had passed the Comte replied, "No, no; I care nothing for the rain, I have been in showers of both water and bullets and I fear neither". The Comte de Paris was a man of principle who lived a purposeful and productive life when given the circumstances of his birth it would have been so easy to be consumed by disappointment and self-pity. He died at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire surrounded by his family on 8 September 1894. Major-General Schofield, the officer commanding the Army of the US recorded the following tribute to the Comte de Paris in the New York Times, 9 September 1894:
' .....found him a charming, sincere gentleman. He seemed to me
to be more democratic than autocratic in his ideas.'
An unusual, but accurate assessment of a man who would have been a king - Philippe VII of France.
Life in Elmbridge
The Comte de Paris spent his formative years in Esher where he and his brother continued their education and the Comte came to favour a constitutional monarchy for France, based on the British model. He and his wife spent part of their honeymoon at Claremont (1864) which he marked with the gift of a water pump sited in Esher High Street; a valuable source of water supply before a mains system existed. In 1850, the brothers' grand-father, the deposed King Louis-Philippe I died at Claremont and was buried in the French Royal Vault at the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Charles Borromeo in Heath Road, Weybridge. The family attended services here regularly. King Louis-Philippe I had presented a chalice of pure gold, heavily encrusted with jewels to the Chapel; this is now owned by the Diocese. Other members of the Orleans family were buried in the Royal Vault beneath the Chapel including the Comte's mother, the Duchesse d'Orleans in 1858 and his grandmother Queen Amelie in 1866.
On Thursday, 8 June 1876, the Comte de Paris supervised the removal of the family coffins from the vault, with the exception of that of the Duchesse de Nemours who was a first cousin of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A Mass was said at the Royal Vault, then the coffins were taken to Weybridge station and loaded onto a special train to take them to Southampton, from whence they were taken to Dreux in Normandy. When the Comte de Paris died in 1894 his remains were laid in King Louis-Philippe's old tomb and in 1919 the remains of his wife were laid in Queen Amelie's tomb. The Comte's burial was attended by Cardinal Vaughan and Bishop Butt of Southwark. The inscription on the Comte de Paris' tomb ended with the following heartfelt words:
'St. Louis, Roi de France, priez pour moi
St. Louis, venez me chercher,
( 'St. Louis, King of France, pray for me
St. Louis come for me,
From the depths of my heart')
The Comte and Comtesse de Paris bodies were returned to France in 1957, when their coffins were removed to the Orleans family's resting place at Dreux.
- Kate Hotino, 'The Taylors of Weybridge',( Agrinova Ltd.,1982)
- 'At His General's Grave; The Comte de Paris At M'Clellan's Grave', New York Times, 7 October 1890,
- 'Death of the Count of Paris', New York Times, 9 September 1894,
- Pamela Reading, 'How Esher Changed between 1850 and 1911', Monograph No.26: Aug.1998, Esher District and Local History Society