Louis Stanislas Xavier, styled Count of Provence from birth, was born on 17 November 1755 in the Palace of Versailles, a younger son of Louis, Dauphin of France, and his wife Maria Josepha of Saxony. He was the grandson of the reigning King Louis XV. As a son of the Dauphin, he was a Fils de France. He was christened Louis Stanislas Xavier six months after his birth, in accordance with Bourbon family tradition, being Nameless before his baptism. By this act, he also became a Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit. The name of Louis was bestowed because it was typical of a Prince of France; Stanislas was chosen to honour his great-grandfather King Stanisław I of Poland; and Xavier was chosen for Saint Francis Xavier, whom his mother's family held as one of their patron saints.
At the time of his birth, Louis Stanislas was fourth in line to the throne of France, behind his father and his two elder brothers: Louis Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy, and Louis Auguste, Duke of Berry. The former died in 1761, leaving Louis Auguste as heir to their father until the Dauphin's own premature death in 1765. The two deaths elevated Louis Stanislas to second in the line of succession, while his brother Louis Auguste acquired the title of Dauphin.
On 17 December 1773, he was inaugurated as a Grand Master of the Order of St. Lazarus.
On 5 May 1778, Dr. Lassonne, Marie Antoinette's private physician, confirmed her pregnancy. On 19 December 1778, the Queen gave birth to a daughter, who was named Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France and given the honorific title Madame Royale. The birth of a girl came as a relief to the Count of Provence, who kept his position as heir to Louis XVI, since Salic Law excluded women from acceding to the throne of France. However, Louis Stanislas did not remain heir to the throne much longer. On 22 October 1781, Marie Antoinette gave birth to the Dauphin Louis Joseph. Louis Stanislas and his brother, the Count of Artois, served as godfathers by proxy for Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, the queen's brother. When Marie Antoinette gave birth to her second son, Louis Charles, in March 1785, Louis Stanislas slid further down the line of succession.
In 1780, Anne Nompar de Caumont, Countess of Balbi, entered the Service of Marie Joséphine. Louis Stanislas soon fell in love with his wife's new lady-in-waiting and installed her as his mistress, which resulted in the couple's already small affection for each other cooling entirely. Louis Stanislas commissioned a pavilion for his mistress on a parcel that became known as the Parc Balbi at Versailles.
An Assembly of Notables (the members consisted of magistrates, mayors, nobles and clergy) was convened in February 1787 to ratify the financial reforms sought by the Controller-General of Finance Charles Alex Andre de Calonne. This provided the Count of Provence, who abhorred the radical reforms proposed by Calonne, the opportunity he had long been waiting for to establish himself in politics. The reforms proposed a new property tax, and new elected provincial assemblies that would have a say in local taxation. Calonne's proposition was rejected outright by the notables, and, as a result, Louis XVI dismissed him. The Archbishop of Toulouse, Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, acquired Calonne's ministry. Brienne attempted to salvage Calonne's reforms, but ultimately failed to convince the notables to approve them. A frustrated Louis XVI dissolved the assembly.
In November 1788, a second Assembly of Notables was convened by Jacques Necker, to consider the makeup of the next Estates-General. The Parlement de Paris recommended that the Estates should be the same as they were at the last assembly, in 1614 (this would mean that the clergy and nobility would have more representation than the Third Estate). The notables rejected the "dual representation" proposal. Louis Stanislas was the only notable to vote to increase the size of the Third Estate. Necker disregarded the notables' judgment, and convinced Louis XVI to grant the extra representation – Louis duly obliged on 27 December.
The royal family was forced to leave the palace at Versailles on the day after The Women's March on Versailles, 5 October 1789. They were re-located to Paris. There, the Count of Provence and his wife lodged in the Luxembourg Palace, while the rest of the royal family stayed in the Tuileries Palace. In March 1791, the National Assembly created a law outlining the regency of Louis Charles in case his father died while he was still too young to reign. This law awarded the regency to Louis Charles' nearest male relative in France (at that time the Count of Provence), and after him, the Duke of Orléans (bypassing the Count of Artois). If Orléans were unavailable, the regency would be submitted to election.
When the Count of Provence arrived in the Low Countries, he proclaimed himself de facto regent of France. He exploited a document that he and Louis XVI had written before the latter's failed escape to Varennes. The document gave him the regency in the event of his brother's death or inability to perform his role as king. He would join the other princes-in-exile at Coblenz soon after his escape. It was there that he, the Count of Artois, and the Condés proclaimed that their objective was to invade France. Louis XVI was greatly annoyed by his brothers' behaviour. Provence sent emissaries to various European courts asking for financial aid, Soldiers, and munition. Artois secured a castle for the court in exile in the Electorate of Treves, where their maternal uncle, Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony, was the Archbishop-Elector. The activities of the émigrés bore fruit when the rulers of Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire gathered at Dresden. They released the Declaration of Pillnitz in August 1791, which urged Europe to intervene in France if Louis XVI or his family were threatened. Provence's endorsement of the declaration was not well received in France, either by the ordinary citizens or Louis XVI himself.
Louis XVI was executed in January 1793. This left his young son, Louis Charles, as the titular King. The princes-in-exile proclaimed Louis Charles "Louis XVII of France". The Count of Provence now unilaterally declared himself regent for his nephew, who was too young to be head of the House of Bourbon.
Louis XVIII had been vying for the custody of his niece Marie-Thérèse since her release from the Temple Tower in December 1795. He succeeded when Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, agreed to relinquish his custody of her in 1796. She had been staying in Vienna with her Habsburg relatives since January 1796. Louis XVIII moved to Blankenburg in the Duchy of Brunswick after his departure from Verona. He lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment over a shop. Louis XVIII was forced to leave Blankenburg when King Frederick william II of Prussia died. In light of this, Marie-Thérèse decided to wait a while longer before reuniting with her uncle.
Louis XVIII encouraged his niece to write her memoirs, as he wished them to be used as Bourbon propaganda. In 1796 and 1803, Louis also used the diaries of Louis XVI's final attendants in the same way. In January 1801, Tsar Paul told Louis XVIII that he could no longer live in Russia. The court at Jelgava was so low on funds that it had to auction some of its possessions to afford the journey out of Russia. Marie-Thérèse even sold a Diamond necklace that the Emperor Paul had given her as a wedding gift.
In 1798, Tsar Paul I of Russia offered Louis the use of Jelgava Palace in Courland (now Latvia). Paul I also guaranteed Louis's safety and bestowed upon him a generous pension, however, the tsar later disregarded this allowance. Marie-Thérèse finally joined Louis XVIII at Jelgava in 1799. In the winter of 1798–1799, Louis XVIII wrote a biography of Marie Antoinette titled Réflexions Historiques sur Marie Antoinette. He attempted to recreate the court life of Versailles at Jelgava, where many old courtiers lived, re-establishing all the court ceremonies, including the lever and coucher (ceremonies that accompanied waking and bedding, respectively).
Marie-Thérèse married her cousin Louis Antoine on 9 June 1799 at Jelgava Palace. Louis XVIII ordered his wife to attend the marriage ceremony in Courland without her long-time friend (and rumoured lover) Marguerite de Gourbillon. Queen Marie Joséphine lived apart from her husband in Schleswig Holstein. Louis XVIII was trying desperately to display to the world a united family front. The queen refused to leave her friend behind, with unpleasant consequences that rivalled the wedding in notoriety. Louis XVIII knew that his nephew Louis Antoine was not compatible with Marie-Thérèse. Despite this, he still pressed for the marriage, which proved to be quite unhappy and produced no children.
Marie-Thérèse persuaded Queen Louise of Prussia to give her family refuge in Prussian territory. Louise consented, but the Bourbons were forced to assume pseudonyms. With Louis XVIII using the title Comte d'Isle, named after his estate in Languedoc and at times spelt as Comte de Lille, he and his family assumed residence in Warsaw, then part of the province of South Prussia, in the Łazienki Palace from 1801 to 1804, after an arduous voyage from Jelgava. According to Wirydianna Fiszerowa, a contemporary living there at the time, the Prussian local authorities, wishing to honour the arrivals, had music played, but, wishing to give them a national and patriotic character, chose La Marseillaise, the hymn of the First French Republic with unflattering allusions to both Louis XVI and Louis XVIII. They later apologised for their mistake.
In 1803, Napoleon tried to force Louis XVIII to renounce his right to the throne of France, but Louis refused. In May 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of the French. Louis XVIII and his nephew departed for Sweden in July for a Bourbon family conference, where Louis XVIII, the comte d'Artois, and the duc d'Angoulême issued a statement condemning Napoleon's decision to declare himself Emperor. The King of Prussia issued a proclamation saying that Louis XVIII would have to leave Prussian territory, which meant leaving Warsaw. Alexander I of Russia invited Louis XVIII to resume residence in Jelgava. Louis XVIII had to live under less generous conditions than those enjoyed under Paul I, and he intended to embark for England as soon as possible.
As time went on, Louis XVIII realised that France would never accept an attempt to return to the Ancien Régime. Accordingly, he created another policy in 1805 with a view toward reclaiming his throne: a declaration that was far more liberal than his former ones. It repudiated his Declaration of Verona, promised to abolish conscription, retain Napoleon I's administrative and judicial system, reduce taxes, eliminate political prisons, and guarantee amnesty to everyone who did not oppose a Bourbon Restoration. The opinions expressed in the declaration were largely those of the Count of Avaray, Louis's closest associate in exile.
Louis XVIII was forced once again to leave Jelgava when Alexander of Russia informed him that his safety could not be guaranteed on continental Europe. In July 1807, Louis boarded a Swedish frigate to Stockholm, bringing with him only the Duke of Angoulême. Louis did not stay in Sweden for long; he arrived in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, in November 1807. He took up residence in Gosfield Hall, leased to him by the Marquess of Buckingham.
Louis brought his wife and queen, Marie Joséphine, from mainland Europe in 1808. His stay at Gosfield Hall did not last long; he soon moved to Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, where over one hundred courtiers were housed. The King paid £500 in rent each year to the owner of the estate, Sir George Lee. The Prince of Wales (the Future George IV of Great Britain) was very charitable to the exiled Bourbons. As Prince Regent, he granted them permanent right of asylum and extremely generous allowances.
The Count of Artois did not join the court-in-exile in Hartwell, preferring to continue his frivolous life in London. Louis's friend the Count of Avaray left Hartwell for Madeira in 1809, and died there in 1811. Louis replaced Avaray with the Comte de Blacas as his principal political advisor. Queen Marie Joséphine died on 13 November 1810. That same winter, Louis suffered a particularly severe attack of gout, which was a recurring Problem for him at Hartwell, and he had to take to a wheelchair.
Napoleon I embarked on an invasion of Russia in 1812. This war would prove to be the turning point in his fortunes, as the expedition failed miserably, and Napoleon was forced to retreat with an army in tatters.
In 1813, Louis XVIII issued another declaration from Hartwell. The Declaration of Hartwell was even more liberal than his Declaration of 1805, asserting that all those who served Napoleon or the Republic would not suffer repercussions for their acts, and that the original owners of the Biens nationaux (lands confiscated from the nobility and clergy during the Revolution) were to be compensated for their losses.
Louis XVIII admitted the Count of Artois and his nephews the Dukes of Angoulême and Berry into the king's council in May 1814, upon its establishment. The council was informally headed by Prince Talleyrand. Louis XVIII took a large interest in the goings-on of the Congress of Vienna (set up to redraw the map of Europe after Napoleon's demise). Talleyrand represented France at the proceedings. Louis was horrified by Prussia's intention to annex the Kingdom of Saxony, to which he was attached because his mother was born a Saxon Princess, and he was also concerned that Prussia would dominate Germany. He also wished the Duchy of Parma to be restored to the Parmese Bourbons, and not to Empress Marie Louise of France, as was being suggested by the Allies. Louis also protested the Allies' inaction in Naples, where he wanted the Napoleonic usurper Joachim Murat removed in favour of the Neapolitan Bourbons.
In November 1815, Louis XVIII's government had to sign another Treaty of Paris that formally ended Napoleon's Hundred Days. The previous treaty had been quite favourable to France, but this one took a hard line. France's borders were retracted to their extent at 1790. France had to pay for an army to occupy her, for at least five years, at a cost of 150 million francs per year. France also had to pay a war indemnity of 700 million francs to the allies.
The king was reluctant to shed blood, and this greatly irritated the ultra-reactionary Chamber of Deputies, who felt that Louis XVIII was not executing enough. The government issued a proclamation of amnesty to the “traitors” in January 1816, but the trials that had already begun were finished in due course. That same declaration also banned any member of the House of Bonaparte from owning property in, or entering, France. It is estimated that between 50,000 – 80,000 officials were purged from the government during what was known as the Second White Terror.
In 1818, the Chambers passed a military law that increased the size of the army by over 100,000. In October of the same year, Louis XVIII's foreign minister, the Duke of Richelieu, succeeded in convincing the powers to withdraw their armies early in exchange for a sum of over 200 million francs.
Berry was the only member of the family thought to be able to beget children. His wife gave birth to a posthumous son in September, Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, nicknamed Dieudonné (God-given) by the Bourbons because he was thought to have secured the Future of the dynasty. However the Bourbon succession was still in doubt. The Chamber of Deputies proposed amending Salic law to allow the Duchess of Angoulême to accede to the throne. On 12 June 1820, the Chambers ratified legislation that increased the number of deputies from 258 to 430. The extra deputies were to be elected by the wealthiest quarter of the population in each département. These individuals now effectively had two votes. Around the same time as the “law of the two votes”, Louis XVIII began to receive visits every Wednesday from a lady named Zoé Talon, and ordered that nobody should disturb him while he was with her. It was rumoured that he inhaled snuff from her breasts, which earned her the nickname of tabatière (snuffbox). In 1823, France embarked on a military intervention in Spain, where a revolt had occurred against the King Ferdinand VII. France succeeded in crushing the rebellion, an effort headed by the Duke of Angoulême.
The French line of succession upon the death of Louis XVIII in 1824.
Despite the fact that Louis Stanislas was not infatuated with his wife, he boasted that the two enjoyed vigorous conjugal relations – but such declarations were held in low esteem by courtiers at Versailles. He also proclaimed his wife to be pregnant merely to spite Louis Auguste and his wife Marie Antoinette, who had not yet consummated their marriage. The Dauphin and Louis Stanislas did not enjoy a harmonious relationship and often quarrelled, as did their wives. Louis Stanislas did impregnate his wife in 1774, having conquered his aversion. However, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. A second pregnancy in 1781 also miscarried, and the marriage remained childless.