Bravery and charity in a French Prince: the Duke of Berry

December 6, 2012

The Duke of Berry appreciated his happiness all the more because his youth had been so full of trials and difficulties. Exiled from France in 1789, at the age of eleven, he did not see his native land again until 1814. He was barely sixteen when he enlisted as a volunteer in Condé’s army, and he won every advancement in rank at the sword’s point. He was bent on being present in the least skirmish as well as in battles, and when reminded that he might be wounded, exclaimed: “So much the better; that will do honor to the family.” He wrote to a woman: “War is about to begin. The princes will be in it. For the honor of the corps, it is to be hoped that some of us may be killed.” Among his comrades in arms he gained a great reputation for frankness and loyalty, boldness and courage. He preferred camp life to any other. When he was not fighting he was traveling all over Europe, where he knew the principal languages. In 1800 he visited Naples and Rome, took up the study of painting and music, and learned to play several instruments. He sang well and drew fairly, especially military subjects; he understood pictures thoroughly. He was a gentleman, a soldier, and an artist….

Carolina, Duchess of Berry and her son the Duke of Bordeaux. Painting by François Pascal Simon Gérard

The character of the Prince had changed for the better. Family life had softened his irascible temper. As he grew older he gained experience and judged men and things more wisely than in his early youth. His bluntness had become good nature; his rudeness, simplicity. “His countenance,” says M. de Lamartine, “did not reveal his intelligence and goodness until it expanded in a smile. Then, in the frank and cordial penetration of his glance, the fixed contraction of his eyelids, the wrinkles around his mouth, the abandon of his gestures, and the sincere and animated tone of his voice, one divined the wit, felt the soldier, felt the good heart.” Two eminent qualities he possessed in a high degree,— bravery and charity.

Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII, trans. Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), pp. 97-98, 139.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 236


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