An Unlikely Royal Playboy

20131205-145150.jpg

Despite looking in this portrait like a hobbit stuffed into a Napoleonic uniform, Prince Charles Ferdinand, Duc de Berri was surprisingly successful with the ladies. Not only is he rumored to have fathered several bastards throughout his life, two of which he acknowledged on his deathbed, but his conjugal exploits led to his early demise when he was stabbed to death in 1820 by the husband of one of his mistresses while leaving the opera with his pregnant wife. His carnal legacy offers proof of Henry Kissinger’s maxim concerning power being the ultimate, or in this guy’s case probably the only, aphrodisiac.

Born the younger son of Charles X, who was Comte d’Artois at the time, at Versailles during the final years of Louis XVl’s reign, he fled the revolution along with his family in 1792. After serving several years with different continental armies, where his frank manners made him popular with his fellow soldiers, he settled in Britain in 1801. It was while residing in the sceptered isle that he took up with the only mistress, Amy Brown Freeman, whose children he fathered he was willing to acknowledge. By 1814 he abandoned his baby momma and returned to France to grab his share of the spoils during the Bourbon restoration. He married Princess Carolina of Naples; fathered three children with her before his death, of which one daughter survived infancy; and seems to have had a happy marriage despite his constant infidelities. Although his uncle, Louis XVlll, named him commander-in-chief of Paris during the attempted return of Napoleon from Elba, so many of his troops defected to the other side during the Hundred Days War that Charles Ferdinand was forced to retire his commission in 1814.

On the night of 13 February, 1820 the Duc de Berry was exiting the Paris Opera House with his pregnant wife when Louis Louvel, a saddle maker and the husband of one of Charles Ferdinand’s latest mistresses, attacked and stabbed him. He died of his wounds the following night. According to Karl Shaw in his collection of royal misdeeds, Royal Babylon, Charles Ferdinand’s widow was visited by scores of equally pregnant maidens from Nantes shortly after his death claiming that her husband had fathered their unborn children. When she enquired of her household staff if the late Duke had ever visited Nantes and was told that he’d been there for no more than a week, she more than conceded that he could’ve easily impregnated all of those women during that length of time. Her subsequent child, the Comte de Chambord, would live to be the last direct male line heir to the Bourbon throne. He died childless.