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Louis XVIII in coronation regalia, painted in 1822 by Robert Lefèvre

Louis XVIII ( Louis XVIII Stanislas Xavier ; born November 17, 1755 in Versailles , † September 16, 1824 in the Tuileries Palace in Paris ) was King of France and Navarre from 1814 to 1824 . He was Count of Provence (1755), Duke of Anjou , Count of Maine , Perche and Senonches and Peer of France (1771), Duke of Alençon and Peer of France (1774), Duke of Brunoy and Peer of France (1775). He came from the Bourbon dynasty .

At the time of his grandfather Louis XV. he had none and at the time of his brother Louis XVI. very limited political influence. It was only shortly before the French Revolution that he received a certain political function. In exile he joined the royalist exiles, but was there for a long time in the shadow of his younger brother, who later became Charles X. After the execution of Louis XVI. as the current head of the family, he declared himself regent for his nephew Louis XVII. and after his death he claimed the title of king. In fact, his chance of being able to exercise the office was slim as long as Napoleon Bonaparte was able to stay in power. After he was overthrown by the Allies in 1814, the monarchy was restored under Ludwig . But this was not absolute, but constitutional. When Napoleon returned to power again in 1815 under the rule of the Hundred Days , Ludwig had to flee again. Only after Napoleon was finally defeated could he return.

Personally, he was more moderate and relied on comparatively liberal ministers. However, he did not succeed in keeping the ultra-royalists in check, and there was the White Terror , acts of revenge against Republicans and Bonapartists. In the end, as a result of the majority in parliament, he also had to appoint an ultra-royalist ministry - his brother and successor Charles X continued this policy from 1824 to 1830.

Signature of Louis XVIII. (July 18, 1815)

Life until the assumption of power


Louis de Bourbon, duc de Bourgogne (1682–1712)
Louis XV King of France (1710–1774)
Maria Adelaide of Savoy (1685-1712)
Louis Ferdinand de Bourbon (1729-1765)
Stanislaus I. Leszczyński (1677–1766)
Maria Leszczyńska (1703–1768)
Katharina Opalińska (1680–1747)
Louis XVIII King of France
August II. King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (1670–1733)
August III. King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (1696–1763)
Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1671–1727)
Maria Josepha of Saxony (1731–1767)
Joseph I German Emperor (1678–1711)
Maria Josepha of Austria (1699–1757)
Wilhelmine Amalie of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1673–1742)


The Duke of Berry (right) and the Count of Provence (Louis XVIII.) (Left) as children (painting from 1757 by François-Hubert Drouais )

Louis Stanislas Xavier was the fourth son of the Dauphin Ludwig Ferdinand (1729–1765) and his wife Maria Josepha of Saxony and as the younger brother of the later Louis XVI. born. Another brother was the Count of Artois, who later became Charles X.

His birth was difficult and he had health problems, so that at times he was expected to die soon. Also because it was in keeping with the tradition of the royal family, he initially only received an emergency baptism ; the actual baptism did not take place until the age of six. His second baptismal name, Stanislas, refers to his godfather and grandfather Stanislaus I. Leszczyński , Duke of Lorraine and former King of Poland. He received the name of Saint Xavier because he was greatly venerated in his mother's family.

Immediately after his birth, like his siblings, he was left in the care of a governess. He had a close relationship with her, especially after the death of his parents. Together with the brothers, he was brought up from the age of seven under the responsibility of the Duc de Vauguyon and the participation of the Bishop of Limoges . Ludwig proved to be the most talented of the brothers. The religious instructions had an effect, and Ludwig was a practicing, possibly also a believer, Catholic throughout his life.

Maria Josepha of Savoy (painting by Jean-Baptiste Gautier d'Agoty around 1775)

He was born in 1771 with Maria Josepha of Savoy , daughter of the future King Viktor Amadeus III. of Sardinia-Piedmont , married. The background was a broad marriage agreement between the two houses. His wife was not very attractive. But he treated her with respect and kindness. The marriage remained childless. This deteriorated his reputation at court and put a strain on the marriage. Ludwig had a favorite, but whether she was also his mistress is unknown.

During this time he officially began to take part in court life in Versailles . He himself had his own court since 1771, which comprised 390 people. This was unusually large for the time.

He had political influence at the time of his grandfather, Louis XV. Not. In addition to idleness and reading (he owned a large library with 11,000 volumes), he dealt with financial transactions. He participated in overseas trade, manufacturing and property speculation. A passionate eater, he was very stout from a young age. As early as 1777 he was said to be as big as a ton. Therefore he had to forego hunting to a large extent.

Under Louis XVI.

The Count of Provence during the reign of Louis XVI. around 1778

After the death of the grandfather and the accession to the throne of Louis XVI. he was referred to at court as monsieur and his wife as madame according to old tradition . Contrary to his expectations, he was not appointed to the Council of Ministers. But he played a certain role in the question of the re-admission of the Parlemente and proved to be a decidedly conservative advocate of the nobility. This led to a conflict with the king and Ludwig initially no longer played a significant political role.

This only changed in the years before the outbreak of the revolution. In 1787 he became co-chairman of the first assembly of notables , but showed himself to be politically inexperienced. At the second meeting at the end of 1788 he also chaired one of the committees and was now more confident. Only his committee advocated strengthening the Third Estate in the Estates General. This increased his public profile. During his exile, however, he distanced himself from the attitude at that time.

After the beginning of the revolution, the king called his two brothers into political deliberations. Ludwig represented mediating and moderate positions. After the storming of the Bastille , he did not go into exile like the Count of Artois, but followed Louis XVI. to Paris. In doing so, he sometimes went his own political path and at times behaved disloyally towards his brother. He took part in various intrigues. Together with Mirabeau he planned the king's escape. He also participated in a plot to murder La Fayette and others. He eventually distanced himself from the plans. To defend himself, he even appeared in a gathering of revolutionary supporters in Paris, calling himself a citizen and supporter of the revolution. The affair severely damaged Ludwig's reputation.


When in 1791 the differences of opinion between the supporters of the revolution and the royal family increased, he managed, unlike the king, to flee abroad. He went to the Austrian Netherlands and then to Koblenz . There he joined the counter-revolutionary exiles under the leadership of his brother, the Count of Artois. In 1792 he took part in the First Coalition War against the revolution on the side of the exiles . The troops he led, however, played no significant role militarily. Despite his higher rank, his influence lagged behind that of the younger brother. The brothers showed little consideration in their statements about the fate of Louis XVI.

Exile residence at Hartwell House from 1808 to 1814

With the advance of the revolutionary army, he went to Hamm with the other exiles . Life there was much easier than in Koblenz. There the brothers learned of the execution of Louis XVI in 1793. As the oldest living brother, he proclaimed the king's son to be the new King Louis XVII. He made himself the regent of France. The years that followed were marked by isolation, financial difficulties and the humiliating need to seek admission and help from various governments. Ludwig had to do this himself at the court of his father-in-law Viktor Amadeus III. experience in Turin .

After the death of Louis XVII. in 1795 he was in Verona from a few followers as Louis XVIII. proclaim king. Since then, he no longer saw himself as a private person, but as a king. He had a larger retinue, even had two ministers, and was now the focus of the family. In the following years he struck moderate tones in various declarations. He largely recognized the material and legal results of the revolution and no longer spoke of retaliation.

Due to Napoleon's triumphant advance , he had to repeatedly change his whereabouts. He declined an offer of Napoleon to let him have a territory as dishonorable. Between August 24, 1796 and February 10, 1798 he lived in Blankenburg , which belonged to the Principality of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel . Later he went to Jelgava (Eng. Mitau ) in Courland , where he was under the protection of the Russian Tsar. In the meantime he had to move to Warsaw before Tsar Alexander allowed him to return to Courland again in 1805. After all, from 1807 he lived in Hartwell House in Aylesbury near Oxford, England. There he lived as Comte de Lille , as the English forbade him to use the title of king . Nevertheless, after the death of his wife Maria Josepha von Savoyen in 1810, he succeeded in getting the British government to have his wife buried with a royal ceremony. He himself was becoming more and more obese and at times suffered from gout so badly that he was dependent on a wheelchair.

Louis XVIII as king

First restoration (1814-1815)

Allegorical representation: return of the monarchy (around 1814)

With the advance of the anti-Napoleonic alliance, Ludwig's political importance began to increase. After two decades of coalition wars, the French population finally felt aversion to Napoleon's empire . In their view, the restoration of a French kingdom at least nourished hopes for peace. Ludwig met these expectations with a declaration of February 1, 1813 . In it he affirmed that he did not want to change the administrative and judicial structures that had emerged since the revolution. He also promised to refrain from political persecution. The unity of the country, peace and happiness, the declaration claimed, were its government goals. The declaration was circulated not just in France but throughout continental Europe, probably with British support. In January 1814, citing the “will of the nation”, concrete preparations began for a return to France.

Political framework

Napoleon's abdication: Farewell to the Imperial Guard in front of Fontainebleau Palace

On March 31, 1814, the Allies (Prussia, Austria , Russia , Württemberg and Bavaria ) occupied the French capital Paris , Napoleon withdrew to the Castle of Fontainebleau . The deposition of Napoleon I was an unusual process according to the rules of the time. Usually, after a war, the defeated state had to cede territory and pay for financial compensation from the victorious powers. In the worst case, the defeated monarch was forced to abdicate in favor of a son - which Napoleon also suggested. As heir to the French Revolution , Napoleon did not come to the French throne through dynastic succession . For this reason he could not be confirmed in his lordly status by the long-established monarchies. In keeping with the zeitgeist, however, a ruler could only be “legally” removed if the state institutions revoked their recognition. The Senate had appointed Napoleon as emperor by decree of May 18, 1804. Thus only the Senate could depose Napoleon again and present the appointment of the new king as an act of will of the French nation. In this way, the future king should not have any stigma attached to a "foreign" foreign intervention that could have jeopardized the internal order in the face of burgeoning nationalism .

The Allies also recognized that a complete restoration or restoration of the political conditions from before the French Revolution was not possible. The social upheavals between 1789 and 1814 in France were too far-reaching for that. Therefore, the Allies allowed the Senate to draft a constitution in a few days . The monarch was supposed to end the revolution by partially legitimizing what the revolution had created: Fundamental freedoms such as freedom of religion and equality before the law were to be permanently enshrined. A bicameral parliament should be set up. The constitution was based on the constitution of the constitutional monarchy of 1791/92. The future French kingdom should thus place itself in a double tradition; a monarchical legitimist and a constitutional revolutionary one. It was conceived as a link between the ancien regime , the pre-revolutionary royal rule, and the achievements of the revolution.

Elected "King of the French"

Louis XVIII's column: built in Calais to commemorate the king's return to France in 1814.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand , Napoleon's former foreign minister, had a decisive influence on the decisions of the Senate as well as on the monarchs and their ministers. It was Talleyrand who convinced them that only Louis Stanislas Xavier as the younger brother of Louis XVI. could meet the criterion of a legitimate dynastic link to the ancien regime . On April 7, 1814, the Senate proclaimed Louis Stanislas Xavier "King of the French". However, Talleyrand made it a condition that Ludwig had to take an oath on the draft constitution presented to him. However, the new king did not say a word on the constitutional question for the time being.

Return to France

On April 11, 1814, Emperor Napoleon I abdicated unconditionally in the Treaty of Fontainebleau . This in no way undermined his ambition to return to the French throne. In the Treaty of Fontainebleau , the Russian Tsar Napoleon transferred the Mediterranean island of Elba . Bonaparte was supposed to continue his imperial title there and to keep a contingent of 600 men of his guard. From Elba or Napoleon's exile, a great threat to Ludwig's royal rule was to emanate. While Napoleon left the Castle of Fontainebleau on April 20, 1814 to travel to Elba, Ludwig did not set off for France until the same day because of his gout. He first drove to London, where he was greeted by a cheering crowd. On April 23, 1814, he traveled to Dover to enter his Kingdom of France on April 24, 1814 in Calais . With acclaim in most cities, it had become utterly inconceivable to send him back into exile if he refused to take the oath on the Senate constitution.

Constitutional question

Constitutional charter : Original of the Charte constitutionnelle from 1814
King Louis XVIII

In the Saint-Ouen declaration of May 2, 1814, Ludwig emphasized that he basically approved the Senate constitution. In order not to question this statement, it was important to him to downplay the changes to be made to the Senate constitution. According to the declaration by Saint-Ouen, the amendments to the Senate constitution are only necessary because many “articles are characterized by haste”. This conciliatory formulation was used to conceal the fact that Ludwig wanted to enact the constitution by virtue of his own authority. With this, Ludwig implied that he did not want to receive the French crown as a work of popular sovereignty , but that he would enact it as a monarchical act of grace. Instead of the title “King of the French” he called himself “Ludwig, by God's grace King of France and Navarre”, with which he traditionally based his legitimation on God's grace . In his opinion, the monarchy in France had never been legally abolished and could therefore not be reassigned by the Senate. It was important to Ludwig that he was now in the 19th year of his reign.

On May 22, 1814, the king convened a commission that transformed the Senate constitution into the so-called Charte constitutionnelle . Many articles, especially those that guaranteed the achievements of the Revolution and Empire, were borrowed verbatim from the Senate Constitution. The Charter constitutionnelle was promulgated on June 4, 1814. The legislative and legislative power should therefore from a parliament composed of two chambers, the House of Lords ( French Chambre des Pairs ), staffed by members of the aristocracy , which had to nominate the King and the House of Representatives after a high census suffrage elected . However, the political system represented only a fraction of the population: Only citizens who paid more than 300 francs in direct taxes and were over 30 years of age had the right to vote. Of the 26 million inhabitants, only 90,000 were actually eligible to vote.


The political climate in post-Napoleonic France was poisoned in many ways. During the French Revolution, the state had confiscated and sold the property of the nobility and clergy . Now the nobility and clergy returning to France asked for their estates back. The church denounced government officials of their revolutionary past, often with the result that they lost their posts. The 500,000-strong army was halved. Even highly decorated and experienced Napoleon officers were replaced by noble immigrants. The soldiers' pay was often cut. In addition, Ludwig had taxes increased despite poor harvests. He failed to respond to resistance in the bureaucracy and especially in the army. Against this background, Napoleon quickly managed to find support after his return from Elba.

News of Napoleon's landing on the Côte d'Azur reached the king four days late on March 5, 1815. Louis XVIII. underestimated the situation: he promised a bounty on Napoleon and ordered General Michel Ney to take Napoleon prisoner. Ney was originally promoted to the highest officer rank through Napoleon. He was meanwhile in the service of Louis XVIII. changed, but his appointment by the king did not remain undisputed. Ney claimed to Ludwig that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an "iron cage". In fact, after only a few days, Ney's regiments changed sides and advanced on Paris. On March 16, 1815, Louis XVIII. to the Chamber of Deputies in the Palais Bourbon , where he gave an emotional speech in which he appeared as a defender of freedom, peace, the constitution and the French nation. He even claimed that he would rather die at the head of his army than flee Paris. In the speech it says literally:

“I have seen my country again; I have reconciled it with the foreign powers who (...) will faithfully adhere to the treaties that have brought peace back to us. I have worked for the happiness of my people; I have received the most touching signs of his love and continue to receive them every day; could I better end my career at the age of sixty than die for the defense? "

Although by no means all officers defected to Napoleon, Ludwig lost his nerve. On March 19, 1815, the king fled Paris without notifying his ministers and contrary to his promise. Without a single shot, Napoleon was able to move into Paris a day later and take power again during the reign of the hundred days . Ludwig went into exile again, this time to Ghent . In the west of France, however, as early as May 1815, royalists or supporters of the king tried an open revolt against Napoleon's recruiting of soldiers. The fighting tied regular troops that Napoleon lacked in his campaign against the Allies in what is now Belgium. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon was finally defeated by Prussians and British in the Battle of Waterloo .

Second restoration (1815-1824)

Louis XVIII with crutches

The year 1815


The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo made possible Louis XVIII. the renewed return to France. In addition to Talleyrand, it was the former revolutionary Joseph Fouché , of all people , to whom he owed the renewed accession to the throne. Ludwig's rule was burdened by a flaw. Unlike in 1814, when the Allies withdrew their troops from France after the First Peace of Paris was concluded , in 1815 they demanded a greater guarantee of security against France. As a result, 1.23 million foreign troops occupied the French kingdom. The foreign troops were accommodated and fed at the expense of the king, who had to increase taxes to such an extent that the whole of French economic life came to a standstill. The unpopularity of the foreign soldiers spread to Louis XVIII in a heated nationalist climate. However, the king achieved considerable successes: he negotiated the reparations imposed by the Prussian military leader Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher down from 100 million to 8 million francs for the city of Paris. The demolition of the Pont d'Iéna , which reminded of the devastating Prussian defeat in the battle of Jena and Auerstedt , could Louis XVIII. with the announcement that he would stand on the bridge. To appease the Allies, he signed an edict that all streets, squares and bridges in the capital should be given the names they had borne in 1790. Probably the greatest achievement of the government, however, was to save France from territorial fragmentation.

Reconciliation policy
Palais des Tuileries ,
seat of government of Louis XVIII.

In order to secure the existence of the French monarchy permanently, Louis XVIII recognized that he had to reconcile the revolutionary and pre-revolutionary camps. For this reason, on the one hand, he adhered to the Charte constitutionnelle , renounced the traditional royal coronation in Reims and did not move the court back to Versailles . Ludwig even formed a government cabinet, which mainly consisted of politicians from the empire (Talleyrand as foreign minister and Fouché as police minister). On the other hand, Ludwig issued a proclamation threatening all who had behaved unfaithfully to their king during the reign of the Hundred Days . High-ranking officers such as Marshal Michel Ney and Colonel Charles Angélique François Huchet de La Bédoyère were shot dead. But even these measures by the king were not enough to satisfy the violent ultra-royalists.

The king retained a great deal of influence over government decisions. On Wednesday and Sunday the government council of the ministry under the supervision of Louis XVIII. to meet in the Tullerien Palace , the king's seat of government in Paris. At least once a week he worked alone with the individual ministers and had dispatches shown to him. In this way he ensured that the government was only able to act politically with his consent. Nevertheless, Ludwig was neither able nor willing to control the entire day-to-day political business of the ministry. He was only responsible for the most important decisions and mediation between the political positions.

By ordinances of July 16 and August 11, 1815, he initiated the reorganization of the French army .

White terror
The death of Marshal Michel Ney

From the parliamentary elections of August 12-22, 1815, the royalists emerged with 75% of all MPs. Although Louis XVIII. welcomed the arch-conservative majority, but was not happy about radical demands from the royalists. The election marked a new wave of so-called White Terror . The term "white terror" is derived from the white flag of the French kingdom . The tricolor , which was the official flag of the state during the French Revolution and the time of Napoleon , was used under Louis XVIII. abolished and only reintroduced in the July monarchy from 1830. In October 1815, under the white banner and with reference to the authority of the king, the royalist parliament passed a law that legalized a year of imprisonment without a verdict. Between 1815 and 1817 about 6,000 people, alleged sympathizers of the Revolution and Napoleon, were arbitrarily detained on this basis. The White Terror can be divided into three fields of action:

  • 1. a "purge" of state institutions and military leadership,
  • 2. political murders and
  • 3. Reprisals by royalist groups (house searches, arrests, blood rackets).

Between 50,000 and 80,000 officials were fired between 1815 and 1820. A quarter of all civil servants were affected by the White Terror. In southern France in particular, conditions similar to civil war broke out: Royalist gangs looted houses and shops and broke into prisons to lynch followers of Napoleon. Furthermore, prominent Napoleonic generals were brought to justice, sentenced to prison terms and in some cases to death. In addition to supporters of the Revolution and Bonapartists , Protestants were also persecuted , especially in Nimes . The king seemed powerless to face the White Terror; but in fact for Ludwig the negotiations with the Allies were more urgent than the moderating influence on the royalists.

Foreign policy framework and new government formation

The foreign policy situation in France in 1815 was complex: The background to this was that the Allies had agreed at the Congress of Vienna to only wage war to depose Napoleon and Louis XVIII. reinstall as king. De jure was Louis XVIII. or the Kingdom of France thus an ally of the Allies who, before Napoleon's return, had agreed in the First Peace of Paris on moderate territorial compensation that France had to pay. Now, after Napoleon's return, the Allies made territorial demands that went beyond the First Peace of Paris. In doing so, they snubbed Louis XVIII, who was legally considered their ally. In order to achieve mild peace conditions for France, Louis XVIII. Advocate among the Allies. Only the Russian tsarist empire came into question, since without a common border with France it saw itself least threatened by the kingdom in the future. In a letter dated September 23, 1815, the French king threatened the Russian Tsar Alexander I that he would abdicate if the Allies made demands that would go beyond the First Peace of Paris. The Tsar, in turn, saw this as an opportunity to expand Russian influence over the French government. The tsar was ready to stand up for France if the king should replace Talleyrand with a prime minister and foreign minister more comfortable with the tsar.

Assignments of territory (red) in the Second Peace of
Paris on November 20, 1815

Since Ludwig was ready to make some concessions to the Allies, Talleyrand, as Ludwig wanted, submitted his resignation on September 23, 1815, which his entire government joined. In the spirit of the Tsar, the way was clear for the formation of a new government. The king formed a moderate government under Armand Emmanuel du Plessis, duc de Richelieu . Richelieu had fled France during the revolution and served in the Russian army. With the government consisting predominantly of moderate royalists, Ludwig believed he could end the White Terror at the same time. Instead, the majority of the royalists turned their hopes on the Count of Artois , who with the National Guard also had specific means of power and was increasingly distancing himself from his older brother or the king. Because of the king's obesity and poor health, the French public expected a quick demise of Ludwig. He had to be lifted into carriages by servants and could not stand on a horse. Due to the proximity to the future king, the later Charles X, the Artois circle promised great career opportunities. The royalists, under Artois' leadership, united even more closely and developed a fixed program calling for the return of national goods , the abolition of the Constitution and Concordat of 1801, and the reintroduction of the pre-revolutionary state church. Ludwig himself continued to focus on political compromise, wishing peace and an end to the party struggles.

In the Second Paris Peace of November 20, 1815, Louis XVIII. accept the reduction of the French national territory to the borders of 1790. The Saarland, Landau and Savoy , which remained with France in the First Peace of Paris , had to be returned to Bavaria and Prussia. The Second Peace of Paris also stipulated that France had to pay 700 million francs in war indemnity, had to return looted art stored in the Louvre and had to tolerate a three-year occupation by the Allies.

Liberal phase (1816-1820)

Police prefect and most important domestic politician of Louis XVIII: Élie Decazes

The king dissolved parliament because the antagonism between the moderate government and the radical royalist parliament was insurmountable and called new elections. As Ludwig wanted, a moderate majority was also achieved through targeted influence. A constitutional party gradually developed from the moderates. Domestic politics in the liberal phase were shaped primarily by the police minister Élie Decazes , with whom the childless king maintained a paternal relationship of trust. In letters, the king referred to Decazes as "mon enfant" ("my child") or "mon fils" ("my son"). With the full support of the king in his back, Decazes was able to pursue an integration policy that was particularly favorable to the bourgeoisie . On the one hand, he saw the bourgeoisie as an important pillar of the monarchy and, on the other hand, with its moderate stance it could help to put an end to the White Terror.

Electoral law

In this sense, Ludwig supported a draft electoral law that Decazes presented to parliament on November 28, 1816. The electoral law stipulated that the elections for the Chamber of Deputies of Parliament would be spread over several days, and that the votes would be cast in the capitals of the departments . The electoral law passed by parliament on February 7, 1817, favored the urban bourgeoisie, while conservative landowners as the main voters of the ultra-royalists were disadvantaged. It was costly and time-consuming for landowners to vote in the cities. However, the electoral law did not help to stabilize the kingdom in the long term. The reason for this was the fixed annual election of a fifth of the members of parliament. Stable constellations between the political camps in parliament were therefore not possible. The majority of the population remained excluded from the option.

Response to the crisis years 1816/1817
Comparison of temperatures in 1816 with the long-term mean 1971–2000

Because of the eruption of the Tambora volcano in April 1815, a year later there was a climatic cooling in large parts of Europe. Historians speak of a “ year without a summer ”, as the ash particles dispersed in the atmosphere impaired solar radiation. As a result, there were also crop failures in the Kingdom of France. Louis XVIII was well aware that skyrocketing bread prices and a hunger crisis in the countryside had been a cause of the French Revolution of 1789. In order to avoid an escalation with the population, which could quickly have expanded into a revolution, Louis XVIII. on September 1, 1816 a general amnesty for the theft of food. Under criminal law, people who only became criminals as a result of the hunger crisis were to be distinguished from actual criminals. In many regions of France, bakeries were plundered and granaries broken into without the state taking any significant action. In fact, Ludwig succeeded in preventing the population from political protest.

Military reform

In 1818, Louis XVIII voted. and his governing council to a military reform, which coupled promotion to the highest officer's offices less to the rank of nobility and closeness to the monarch, but rather to the principle of achievement. From then on, the king could only assign a third of all ranks. Only those who had successfully attended a military school and had worked as NCOs for four years could become officers. The nobility thus de facto lost their privilege of holding the most important positions in the army. The nobility was largely replaced by a more efficient and experienced officer leadership. The military law also prevailed that with enough volunteers 40,000 troops by conscription could be confiscated.

Aachen Congress
Memorial in memory of the Aachen Congress

While Élie Decazes the French domestic policy under Louis XVIII. Richelieu dominated foreign policy. In order to increase his favor with the king, Richelieu presented himself with a favorable opportunity. In Article 5 of the Second Peace of Paris , the Allies had agreed to examine the possibility of a troop withdrawal from France after three years. On this occasion, the four allied powers Prussia, Austria, Russia and Great Britain invited Louis XVIII. to the congress in Aachen . Since the king refused to go on an arduous carriage ride for health reasons, he sent Richelieu to the congress. On October 1, 1818, the Allies decided unanimously to announce to Richelieu that the evacuation of the occupied French territory would be carried out as quickly as possible. The reparations to be paid to the Allies were reduced to 265 million francs. At the end of November 1818, the last Allied troops withdrew from France. For the French kingdom, this step meant the re-emergence of a major European power, but at the same time it was integrated into the system of the European pentarchy (Greek for five rule). France also joined the so-called Holy Alliance at the Aachen Congress , to which Prussia, Austria and Russia already belonged. The monarchical participants of the Holy Alliance committed themselves to mutual military intervention in the event of revolutions.

Crisis of the liberal phase

The electoral reform of 1817 enabled a bourgeois-liberal majority in parliament for the first time in the October 1818 elections. Yet the ultra-royalists refused to cooperate with the liberal forces. Ludwig did not succeed in taming the ultra-royalists, nor did Richelieu restrain the liberals. On December 26, 1818, Richelieu asked the king to resign. Louis XVIII accepted this decision with regret and initially continued to rely on the liberal course of his Interior and Police Minister Élie Decazes . In order to stabilize his government, the king even appointed 60 new representatives from the liberal camp for the upper house of parliament. The position of the liberals was by no means consolidated. Although Ludwig made his own political decisions, Decazes fell into disrepute in large parts of the population because of his proximity to the king.

Conservative phase (1820-1824)

Berry assassination
The assassination attempt on the Duke of Berry by Pierre Louis Louvel (contemporary illustration)

The end of the liberal phase was finally triggered by an assassination attempt. On February 14, 1820, the saddler Pierre Louis Louvel stabbed the Duke of Berry , the younger son of the future French King Charles X and nephew of Louis, with a dagger. With the murder Louvel wanted the Bourbon dynasty of Louis XVIII. wipe out. Despite the fact that he had acted as a lone perpetrator, the ultra-royalist press fueled rumors of a major conspiracy organized and commissioned by liberal leader Elie Decazes . All classes of society reacted with horror. Louis XVIII realized that given the public mood, he could no longer keep Decazes in office. After much reluctance, Louis XVIII dismissed. on February 20, 1820 Decazes from all offices. February 20, 1820 let Ludwig's policy of reconciliation fail and paved the way for the July Revolution of 1830 . In the next few years there were acts of political violence, in the course of which important parts of the previous liberalization policy were eliminated.

Reintroduction of censorship and change in voting rights

On March 31, 1820, censorship was reintroduced in France. Printed, engraved or lithographed drawings could only be published with the consent of the state. In June 1820 a change in the electoral law was carried out, which primarily favored landowners, i.e. the electorate of the royalists. The new electoral law gave France's 23,000 richest citizens a double vote. On the basis of the law, the royalists regained their majority in parliament and supported the government of Jean-Baptiste de Villèle . There were further encroachments on the freedom of the press and the higher education system.

Intervention in Spain
English caricature of Louis XVIII on the intervention in Spain (1823)

In French foreign policy, there was a military intervention in Spain in 1823 . In 1820, a coup by liberal officers forced Ferdinand VII of Spain to adopt a constitution. The Holy Alliance , to which France had belonged since the Aachen Congress of 1818, felt challenged by this event to intervene in order to restore the absolutist form of rule in Spain. Louis XVIII appointed the Duke of Angouleme commander of the intervention army that crossed the border river Bidassao on April 6, 1823 . On May 24, 1823, the French army entered Madrid without a fight. The rapid military success cemented the loyalty to the king in the army, frustrated by the defeat at Waterloo .

In 1824 the royalists were able to win the elections again and immediately implemented a new electoral law.


Louis XVIII's deathbed from the Tuileries Palace, today installed in the bedroom of Empress Marie-Louise of Austria in the Grand Trianon in Versailles

Louis XVIII Suffered from diabetes since his youth. Because of his excessive meat consumption, he was also affected by attacks of gout , which first made him dependent on crutches and then on a wheelchair. His physical clumsiness has been denounced in countless caricatures. Still, the king tried to maintain his composure. Several times he repeated the quote attributed to the Roman emperor Vespasian to those around him: "An emperor should die standing." On September 12, 1824, however, his pain became so severe that he was forced to lie down in his bed. In the previous years, Ludwig had largely withdrawn from public life. He died on September 16, 1824 on Napoleon's bed in the Tuileries Palace in Paris. The death bed of Louis XVIII. was brought to the Versailles Palace Grand Trianon for Maria Amalia of Naples-Sicily , the wife of Louis-Philippe I , where it can be visited to this day.

Louis XVIII was the last French monarch who could maintain his title of ruler until death. His remains were interred in the Cathedral of Saint-Denis . He was succeeded by his brother, the Count of Artois, when Charles X on.

Arts and Culture


For the members of the royal family executed during the French Revolution , Louis XVIII planned. the so-called atonement chapel . Shortly after his return to France in 1814, Louis XVIII ordered. the search for the bones of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinettes in the Paris Madeleine Cemetery. At this point, on the one hand, the people executed under the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde and, on the other hand, the life guards of Louis XVI who were murdered during the storming of the Tuileries . buried in mass graves. After the royal corpses had been reburied in the abbey church of Saint-Denis , on January 21, 1815, the 22nd anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI., Construction began on the expiatory church on the site of the cemetery. The altar is said to be located directly above the former grave of Louis XVI. are located. During his lifetime, Louis XVIII. never seen the church completed. The structure, built in the style of a Greek temple, was only inaugurated in 1842 under the citizen king Louis-Philippe I.

Another structural measure that was supposed to glorify the victory of the Bourbons over the French Revolution was the equestrian statue of Henry IV on the Pont Neuf . The equestrian statue was destroyed during the revolution and on the occasion of Louis XVIII. Entry into Paris on May 3, 1814, restored in plaster form. Ludwig ordered that the monument to his ancestor, who founded the Bourbon dynasty, be cast as a bronze figure. Two statues of Napoleon were used as raw material. On August 25, 1818, the equestrian statue was in the presence of Louis XVIII. revealed.


  • Hans-Ulrich Thamer : Ludwig XVIII. (1814-1824). In: The French kings and emperors of the modern age 1498-1870. Munich 1994, pp. 367-388.
  • Klaus Malettke : The Bourbons. Vol. 3 .: From Louis XVIII to Louis Philippe 1814–1848. Stuttgart 2009, pp. 1-78.
  • Wilhelm Bringmann: Louis XVIII. from France in exile. Blankenburg 1796 - 1798. Lang, Frankfurt a. M. 1995, ISBN 3-631-48525-5 .
  • Volker Sellin : The Robbed Revolution. The fall of Napoleon and the restoration in Europe. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-36251-X .

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Web links

Commons : Louis XVIII.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
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