Gaston d’Orléans: Prince, Refugee and General

18 November 2016

Area Studies | History

Louis Philippe Marie Ferdinand Gaston d'Orléans, Comte d’Eu (to quote his full name) was born in April 1842 in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. His father, the Duc de Nemours, was the eldest living son of the King of the French, Louis Philippe; his mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was the second cousin of Queen Victoria. Louis Philippe had assumed the French throne in August 1830 in the wake of the July Revolution, but his reign ended in another revolution in February 1848. The royal family fled to Britain, where they were for the most part received sympathetically. As an exile, d’Eu was unable to serve in the French military as many of his family had done during Louis Philippe’s reign; he instead trained as an officer in the Spanish army, participating in the war with Morocco in 1859-60. His life took a further globetrotting turn when, in October 1864, he married Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil.

Brazil had recently declared war on Paraguay and Uruguay, and the former conflict was particularly brutal; around 400,000 people died in what is generally known as the Paraguayan War, or the War of the Triple Alliance (Brazil was later joined by Argentina and its erstwhile enemy Uruguay.) It remains a particularly controversial conflict to this day. The war generated significant interest in Europe, and the Foreign Office in London compiled much of the traffic it received into a printed file, for easy future reference. This volume, digitized as part of Adam Matthew Digital’s Confidential Print: Latin America 1833-1969, contains some fascinating insights into d’Eu’s role in the conflict – and indeed, British estimations of the Prince.

In January 1869, the allied forces captured Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, which was then subjected to months of looting. The Brazilian Commander, the Marquess of Caixas, resigned owing to ill-health, and was replaced by d’Eu. G.B. Mathew, the British Minister to Brazil (the head of Britain's diplomatic mission, but ranked below an Ambassador) noted on 27 March that the appointment was apparently intended to restore order.

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The new Commander-in-Chief’s approach also impressed the British Minister to Argentina;

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The Comte received praise for his efforts in securing the liberation of British subjects taken hostage in Paraguay. Foreign Secretary Lord Clarendon commended ‘the great and considerate kindness’ which these ‘sufferers’ received from d’Eu and his troops.

Crown Copyright documents © are reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Click on the above image to access this document free for 30 days.

D’Eu’s conduct in the war had won him commendation from British diplomats and the British government alike. Although several members of the exiled French royal family were popular in London high society and friends of the Queen, the praise which flows from these documents appears to be the product of genuine admiration rather than empty flattery. (It should be noted that historians have subsequently debated the nature of d’Eu’s conduct during the conflict.)

After the conclusion of the war, d’Eu was received in Brazil as a hero. He later witnessed the coup which brought an end to the Brazilian Empire in 1889, and spent much of the rest of his life in exile – an experience he shared with countless other members of deposed royal families in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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About the Author

Matt Brand

I joined Adam Matthew Digital in the autumn of 2016 as an Editorial Assistant. My main academic interests are British politics and diplomacy during the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in relation to refugees and asylum.

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