Victims, Authority, and Terror: The Parallel Deaths of d'orlaeans, Custine, Bailly, and Malesherbes

By George Armstrong Kelly | Go to book overview

2. The Institution of Orleans

Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d'Orléans, later Philippeshy; Egalit é, is still a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. The contours, or even the persistency, of an "Orleanist conspiracy" have never been effectively defined. D'Orléans has been more or less buried by the socialshy;quantitative concerns of modern historiography. Yet contemporaries of the French Revolution took him much more seriously than we do, because they understood the making of politics differently and because the presence of this colossal prince-plutocrat could not be avoided. His 7.5 million livres of annual rent staggered the imagination; his territorial apanage was huge; he was the nominal leader of French Freemasonry; his Palais-Royal dominated Paris as Versailles dominated France; he had the temperament and intermittent talents of a frondeur; and his ostentatious separation from the politics of the court gave credibility to the notion of a "revolution from above" where certain shrewd political bankers were investing.

Like so many privileged figures of the Old Regime, Philippe d'Orléans was essentially a creature of his milieu and the lessons of recalcitrance and opposition it taught. He stepped into the "new politics" of 1789 with seeming willingness, but without psychological preparation. Where he had conjured fronde (i.e., aristocratic rebellion), he encountered revolushy; tion; where he coyly disdained leadership, he found it seized by persons with whom he might connive in his antechambers or hire at a distance --

____________________
A NOTE ON NOMENCLATURE: The senior male member of the younger branch of the Bourbon dynasty was invariably called the Duc d'Orléans. This was Louis "le Gros" until his death in 1785; the later Philippe-Egalit é until his execution in 1793 (he had in fact renounced his title in 1792); and his son, Louis-Philippe, from 1793 until he ascended the throne in 1830. Before 1785, Egalit é was Duc de Chartres and Louis-Philippe was Duc de Valois; in 1785 the latter became Duc de Chartres.

The Comte Charles-Alexis Brulart de Genlis, husband of Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, inherited a fief and a title, the Marquis de Sillery, from his uncle in 1786. Thereafter, until his death in 1793, he was called Sillery; his wife continued to call herself the Comtesse de Genlis.

Louis-Armand Gontaud, the Duc de Lauzun, became Duc de Biron on the death of his uncle, the Maréchal de Biron, commander of the Gardes Françaises, in 1788. He was "Général Biron" during the Revolutionary war and until his execution in 1794.

I have preferred here the traditional English language spelling of Lafayette, instead of La Fayette.

-29-

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