Absolute Monarchy, Constitutional Monarchy, French Revolution, Jacobins, King Louis XVI of France, Louis Philippe II of Orleans, Marie Antoinette, Philippe Égalité, Second Estate, Tennis Court Oath, Third Estate
Philippe d’Orléans was a member of the Jacobin faction,(Republican and anti-monarchical group) and like most Jacobins during the French Revolution, he strongly adhered to the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was interested in creating a more moral and democratic form of government in France. As he grew more and more interested in Rousseau’s ideas, he began to promote Enlightenment ideas, such as the separation of church and state and limited monarchy. He also advocated and voted against feudalism and slavery.
Philippe was also a strong admirer of the British constitutional monarchy. He strongly advocated for France’s adoption of a constitutional monarchy rather than the absolute monarchy that was present in France at the time.
As the new Duke of Orléans, one of the many estates Philippe inherited from his father was the Palais-Royal, which became known as the Palais-Égalité in 1792, because he opened up its doors to all people of France, regardless of their estate (class).
Leadership in the Estates-General
Philippe d’Orléans was elected to the Estates-General by three districts: by the nobility of Paris, Villers-Cotterêts, and Crépy-en-Valois. As a noble in the Second Estate, he was the head of the liberal minority under the guidance of Adrien Duport. Although he was a member of the Second Estate, he felt a strong connection to the Third Estate, as they comprised the majority of the members in the Estates-General, yet were the most underrepresented. When the Third Estate decided to take the Tennis Court Oath and break away from the Estates-General to form the National Assembly, Philippe was one of the very first to join them and was a very important figure in the unification of the nobility and the Third Estate. In fact, he led his minority group of 47 nobles to secede from their estate and join the National Assembly.
Due to the liberal ideology that separated Philippe d’Orléans from the rest of his royal family, he always felt uncomfortable with his name. He felt that the political connotations associated with his name did not match his democratic and Enlightenment philosophies, thus he requested that the Paris Commune (French Revolution) allow his name to be changed, which was granted. Shortly after the September Massacres in 1792, he changed his surname to Égalité, (“equality” in English). As one of the three words in the motto of the French Revolution (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité), he felt that this name better represented him as a symbol of the French people and what they were fighting for.
Relationship with King Louis XVI
Although a relative of King Louis XVI, Philippe d’Orléans never maintained a positive relationship with his cousin. Upon inheriting the title of Duke of Orléans, Philippe also became the Premier Prince du Sang – the most important personage of the kingdom after the king’s immediate family. Therefore, he would be next in line to the throne should the main Bourbon line die out. For this reason, many supposed that Philippe’s goal was to take his cousin’s throne.
Philippe and the King’s wife, Marie Antoinette, also detested each other. Marie Antoinette hated him for what she viewed as treachery, hypocrisy and selfishness, and he, in turn, scorned her for her frivolous and spendthrift lifestyle. The King’s reluctance to grant Philippe a position in the army after his loss at the Battle of Ushant is said to be another reason for Philippe’s discontent with the King.
One of the most astounding events occurred when Philippe took a vote in favor of King Louis XVI’s execution. He had agreed among close friends that he would vote against his execution, but surrounded by the Montagnards, a radical faction in the National Convention, he turned on his word, to the surprise of many. A majority (75 votes) was necessary to indict the King, and an overwhelming amount of 394 votes were collected in favor of his death. The King was especially shocked by the news, stating:
“It really pains me to see that Monsieur d’Orléans, my kinsman, voted for my death.”
On April 1, 1793, a decree was voted for within the Convention, including Égalité’s vote, that condemned anyone with “strong presumptions of complicity with the enemies of Liberty.” At the time, Égalité’s son, Louis Philippe, who was a general in the French army, joined General Dumouriez in a plot to visit the Austrians, who were an enemy of France.
Although there was no evidence that convicted Égalité himself of treason, the simple relationship that his son had with Dumouriez, a traitor in the eyes of the Convention, was enough to get him and the members of the Bourbon family still in France arrested on April 7, 1793. He spent several months incarcerated at Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille until he was sent back to Paris. On November 2, 1793, he was imprisoned at the Conciergerie. Tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on November 6, he was sentenced to death, and guillotined the same day.