While in exile, comte d’Artois corresponded with his faithful friend, Joseph Hyacinthe François-de-Paule de Rigaud, comte de Vaudreuil, who had also left France in July, 1789. This winter, Freeman’s will present a remarkable collection of seventy-five autograph letters from the comte d’Artois to the comte de Vaudreuil. All written between 1789 and 1805, they provide a source of invaluable information regarding one of France’s and Europe’s most troubled periods.
Upon leaving Versailles in 1789, the comte d’Artois travelled to Savoy, and then settled with his wife’s family in Turin, Italy. Yet, he faced such tremendous distress and financial needs that he constantly had to move, seeking help from various European courts. Written from numerous cities such as Liege, London, Dusseldorf, Saint Petersburg, Namur, Rotterdam or Edinburgh, these letters offer a formidable report of the tragic events that took place in France during this period, and mirror his brother and sister-in-law’s difficult situation, especially in the years 1792 and 1793.
As one peruses the beautifully conserved autograph letters, all in the comte's own hand, the reader discovers the comte’s day to day hopes and fears, plans and sentiments as he successively learned about the king’s eviction from Versailles, Austria’s stinging defeat over France, and the daily executions conducted in Paris. In a letter dated December 25, 1792, he summarizes the situation to his friend: “It is more appalling than ever. The unfortunate King is being tried at present and beyond a doubt will be condemned. Perhaps the Convention will wish to keep him as hostage, but it is still very doubtful that the Convention can shield him from the rage of the people”. During his brother’s trial, the comte d’Artois shows some hope and reports that “the firmness the king has shown to his interrogators has made a great impression on the people”. Unfortunately, the king’s bravery was not enough, and after an expedited death sentence, he was guillotined on January 21, 1793. Several months later, when he learns about “the cruel death of the queen [Marie-Antoinette]”, the comte becomes wild with pain, and forewarns his friend: “I hope for nothing but vengeance”.
In 1814, after two decades of exile marked by sorrow, bitterness and fear, the comte finally returned to France. Following Napoleon’s abdication, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, and Charles’ brother ascended the throne as Louis XVIII. After his death in 1824, Charles himself became King and was crowned as Charles X, a sovereign now remembered as excessively narrow-minded and authoritative, above all dismissive of the ideals of liberty and equality brought on by the French Revolution. Deeply marked by those years of exile, during which his family experienced the worst tragedies, Charles X perhaps simply wanted to taste the sweetness of his life as he had experienced it before 1789. As he confessed to comte Vaudreuil in a letter dated July 17, 1804: “Life was very dear to me then; now I only live to ask God to cut short my punishment and forgive me the happiness I enjoyed.”