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In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
page: 112


AIX‐LES‐BAINS is visited every year by some twenty thousand people, who pour into the little Savoyard town the newest fashions, the latest novels, and the gossip of every country on earth. And day by day a steamer crosses the lake, and takes all the more enterprising people to Hautecombe, the ancient abbey where are buried the Dukes of Savoy; and the tourists return in the sunset across the water with a confused vision of tombs and inscriptions in the church, and of two bed‐rooms in the adjacent building, furnished with extraordinarily plain simplicity; one being that of Marie Christine, a princess of the House of Naples, and the other that of her husband, Charles Felix, last Duke and King of the older branch of the House of Savoy.

Until two years ago the writer had never heard of him, and feels tolerably sure that to the reader of this page Charles Felix is equally unknown. page: 113 A more completely obliterated life it were hard to imagine, for he died childless in 1831, was succeeded by his far‐away cousin, Carlo Alberto de Carignan, and all the principles, aims, and efforts of his own strenuous life were swept away as if they had never been. The cradle of his race, and the very core of his ancient dukedom, the town of Chambèry, is a French préfêture. Hautecombe, though technically Italian, is only so by an amiable legal fiction, and his distant relatives, the King and Queen of Italy, now share Rome with the Vatican. And yet somewhere lives Charles Felix; and wherever dwells that blessed soul, it is impossible to conceive of it as having ceased to pray and labour for Savoy.

I will try to convey the impression of his life, as recounted in a volume written and sold at Hautecombe, in the hope that someone will send for the book, which only costs three francs, and is a very precious record of a fair and unusual type of human character.

The House of Savoy dates from Humbert Whitehands, a contemporary of Edward the Confessor; and for centuries its members made treaties and intermarried with the House of page: 114 France. Not merely were they known as pious people, but as remarkably holy people—five of them were in one age or another canonized by Rome; and on one occasion Pope Gregory the Sixteenth is reported to have exclaimed, “What! another beatification in the House of Savoy!” So that in judging the character of Charles Felix, this hereditary strain of devotion has to be taken into account. It limited his point of view, and was partly the secret of his great personal sanctity. It bound every part of his nature like a fine iron wire, and caused him to absolutely ignore all those wide‐spreading and inevitable changes which were rooted in theories he neither shared nor understood. Stupid, Charles Felix was not: he possessed a quick insight and a most tender heart. One feels a vain regret in realizing the apparently useless struggle against an advancing tide, which he carried on from youth to age. Living, he stood like a half‐submerged rock; dead, the waters swept over his tomb. He was but the eleventh child of a family of twelve; a mere little princeling, with no apparent chance of ever coming to any special honour, though his father was Victor page: 115 Amedeo, King of Savoy, and his mother a Spanish princess of the Bourbon line. She lost a favourite brother by small‐pox just before the birth of Charles Felix, and devoted herself with special tenderness to this little boy. After his birth came one more infant brother, so that by the time that Louis the Sixteenth had succeeded his grandfather on the throne of France, Savoy had already three little princes getting their education in Turin, and a much older Crown Prince of twenty. One baby boy had died and also two small princesses, but there still remained nine children who were mostly destined as usual to marry to France. Strange to say, one sister, wedded to the Comte de Provence, died at Gosfield Hall, in Essex, where her husband, who had become King Louis the Eighteenth, was then living in exile; this elder princess was married when Charles Felix was only six years old; and he remembered that in the midst of the wedding festivities he was taken to the theatre for the first time.

At the age of ten he saw his eldest brother, the Crown Prince, depart for Versailles, to marry Madame Clotilde de France. When the page: 116 Prince of Piedmont returned with his bride, the people of Chambèry very impolitely called out, “Oh! how fat she is! How fat she is!” and her good mother‐in‐law, sitting by her side in the royal carriage, said consolingly, “When I came here in similar circumstances the people cried out, ‘Oh! how ugly she is! How ugly she is!’” But Clotilde was good and sweet like her sister, Madame Elizabeth, and spoke tenderly to the little brothers, as Charles Felix recalls in a fragment of his lively autobiography. After the wedding, the royal children went back to Montcalieri, a country palace, and there for more than ten years they received a solid and serious education. Charles Felix is reported to have done only one naughty thing in his childhood: having had a taste of the stage at his sister’s wedding, he wanted to see it again. A theatre was attached to the palace, and on the occasion of a new piece being performed, he persuaded a page to leave open a private door, that he might peep in. He found it duly open, but alas! on the other side was a man! Charles Felix tumbled into the arms of his father!

When he was sixtieth years of age, his young‐ page: 117 est youngest sister, two years his senior, was married to a Prince of Saxony, but in the very next year, that terrible scourge of princes, the inexorable small‐pox of the eighteenth century, carried off the poor young bride. At the age of twenty Charles Felix also lost his mother, and his nature had taken the impress which it ever afterwards retained—an impress of gentle severity and holy peace. It was well for him that he was thus annealed, for days were coming when storms were to break over little Piedmont, storms which in all ranks within that kingdom were hard to bear.

The first rumble of the coming thunder came from the rolling carriage‐wheels which brought back the married children of Savoy. First to appear was the Comtesse d’Artois, bringing with her two French sons, Angoulème, sixteen years old, and Charles Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, somewhat younger. After them followed troops of emigrés, among them the Dukes of Condé and Bourbon, and the little Duc d’Enghien—three generations of a great race. They all seem to have kept Christmas together, and on Twelfth Day the page: 118 children had a cake, young Prince Maurrienne of Savoy was King, and Angoulème, oddly enough, was Queen. In March, 1791, came two very unhappy women, Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire of France, elderly and bewildered, pausing to visit their niece Clotilde on their way to Rome. Carlyle has given us in his “French Revolution” a grotesque, and, to my thinking, irreverent picture of these old daughters of Louis the Fifteenth. They were close upon sixty, just a year between them; Madame Victoire was tall and ugly, Madame Adelaide was tall and stout, but had a very kind face; both poor ladies were clad in brown stuff gowns and black fichus, and were so utterly scared by the recent scenes at Versailles, that they could hardly abide the sight of strangers, even though these strangers were royal cousins of their own. On crossing the bridge over the river which then divided the territories of France and Piedmont, they had been pursued with jeers and maledictions, while on the Italian side they were received by a guard of honour and drums and trumpets. When the carriage stopped at the gate of the palace of Chambèry, page: 119 the King of Savoy handed out Madame Adelaide, who very naturally did not know him, and in her trouble and confusion did not so much as notice the gentleman on whose arm she leant. Great was her distress when she was told he was her royal host, and that she had been wanting in due etiquette. Charles Felix kept a sort of diary, written with quaint, mild vivacity and flashes of humour. It would help us to understand those times much better than we do, if other people had done the same. His point of view was naturally quite different from that of the usual historian. He was the equal of all those of whom he spoke, naming them by their territorial titles—“D’Aosta, Maurrienne, Piedmont, Angoulème,” the latter as the “eldest of the petits d’Artois.” Poor D’Enghien (the youngest of the three Condés) cried when he went away from Chambèry. And in this old court of Sardinia all the elaborate ceremonies and frequent religious functions were kept up with the utmost care; and they are noted down, intermixed with the quaintest revelations of personal character.

In the midst of that family gathering, Charles Felix’s sister, the Comtesse D’Artois, shut herself page: 120 up in a darkened room, declaring with tears that under no circumstances would she ever return to France, but desired to go straightway into a convent. To which “the Cardinal” replied that as she had a husband and two sons she must do no such thing, and she was obliged to come out and give it up. During all this time M. de Provence and his wife, that other sister of Charles Felix, were shut up in Paris, and on the twelfth of July, 1791, Mme. d’Artois received a letter from them, which her brother abridged in his diary, describing how the Princess Josephine (Madame de Provence) stole away on a dark night, apparently from the Tuilleries, and felt her way along the garden wall until she reached a small door where waited Madame de G—. By the help of a man‐servant and that servant’s wife, the two ladies got off out of Paris, and reached Lille, picking up M. de Provence at Mons. This was coincident with the fatal flight of the royal family to Varennes. At Brussels Monsieur and Madame found their younger brother the Comte d’Artois, and the three Condés; but Madame declined to remain, and said she wished to return to her father, the King of Sardinia. page: 121 This tender but precise parent said she might come if she came by herself, and he would provide her with a court: “what was certain,” said her brother in his diary, with a faint touch of irony, “was that she had not a halfpenny, and was dying of hunger” at Brussels. She survived, however, many years, and so finally died in England.

Meantime the threatening storm drew nearer, and the poor little court of Sardinia stood like a sand castle on the shore, in face of the advancing tide. We are accustomed to read of the splendid victories of the armies of France, of the enthusiasm of the Republican troops, of the great race of soldiers bred up in their ranks, generals and marshals of France—their deeds are a poem, an undying legend of glory; their portraits are at Versailles, their names are engraven on the Arc de Triomphe. In the palace of the Tuilleries, the great central hall opening on the balcony under the clock (the familiar clock that is no more!), was known as the Salles des Marechaux. They have had their poets and their painters, and their memory will never die. But in the life of Charles Felix we page: 122 read a pathetic page of the other side of the story; how the Republic sent a revolutionary ambassador, M. de Semonville, to Turin; how quarrels were skilfully fostered; how in the winter of 1792 the King of Sardinia sent him back to France; how Paris roared, got her troops together, and finally, in September, invaded helpless little Savoy, while Austria shilly‐shallied, not sorry to see a lamb thrown to the wolf. France pounced on Savoy and Nice, and a weary struggle began which lasted on and off for four years; till Buonaparte, carrying everything before him, halted at a few days’ march from Turin, and the old monarch, Victor Amedeo, the father of so many sons, was summoned to abandon his capital. He ended by giving up Savoy, Nice, Tende, and Beuil, and not unnaturally died in a fit of apoplexy before worse came about. His eldest son, Charles Emmanuel, husband of Clotilde de France, was finally driven off the mainland to the island of Sardinia, and was escorted thither by the English fleet. Before this came to pass, and during the time of bewildering trouble, Charles Felix went on with his private diary, even so late page: 123 as 1798; but there came a day, it was the sixth o{ December, in that year, when he notes that the royal family all sat up in conclave until two o’clock in the morning. On the seventh he writes, “Vendredi. Vivalde, Ch. Bernes”—these three words and nothing more; the rest of the book is blank white paper, and he seems never to have written again. On the tenth, a Monday morning, the royal family of Sardinia set out very early by torchlight. In the darkness those who first got out of Turin waited anxiously for those who were belated. At last all the young men were got together, and the carriages started for the place of rendezvous by different roads. They intended to meet at Leghorn, but the old king, who had gone round by Florence, fell ill in that city, and there they all waited for two months; not till the twenty‐fourth of February did the English fleet take them in charge and land them in Cagliari, where the people received them with joy and greeting, and where Charles Felix was destined to dwell for sixteen years without ever revisiting his native Piedmont. He went there a young prince, he left it a man of forty, soon to be a king. How they all got on in page: 124 the interval can be shortly told, for one sorrow after another fell on the House of Savoy. The old king died on the mainland and was taken to be buried at Montcalieri. When his sons went into exile on the island, Charles Emmanuel took with him a troop of Piedmontese retainers, and settled into an old building near the cathedral of Cagliari, and made of it his palace, while the Archbishop made room for Charles Felix, who chose for his household only native Sardinians. Hardly were they all established when a little boy, son of the Duke d’Aosta, and sole male heir of all the brothers, died at the age of five. Next came the death of Maurice, Duke de Montférat, who caught a violent cold and fever on a night voyage, and perished at the age of thirty‐four. During these events the mainland of Italy was overrun by Austrians, Russians, and French. The misfortunes of Piedmont culminated in Napoleon’s famous victory at Marengo, on the 14th of June, 1800, after which Charles Felix gave his native country up for lost. The new king “Piedmont” had bad health, his dearly loved wife, Clotilde de France, had died, and he said he could no longer “bear his Crown of Thorns;” he page: 125 abdicated and went away to Rome to live, and his next brother, Victor Emmanuel, then became king. A ray of relief in the gloomy tragedy of these years is given by the passage across the scene of the well‐known Frenchman, Count Joseph de Maistre, who came and lived for a time with Charles Felix at Cagliari. The sight of his name in the sad pathetic pages is like a breath of air from the outer world.

Finally the youngest of all the brothers, the “dear, dear child” of the wise Charles Felix (but one year older) died quite suddenly, apparently of the usual fever, and this last blow quite upset the nerve of the Viceroy of Sardinia. Affection for Mauria (the Comte de Maurrienne) is the dominant note of the first half of the book; the two had been educated together, in the strict monastic manner of that old court; they had suffered insult, and what they felt to be very bitter exile in common. “Dear, dear child, I love you more than myself and more than anything else on earth,” says one letter; and in another, “They tell me to preach to you because you work too much; take care of yourself, for the whole world is not worth your little finger; you are page: 126 all that is good, and I am la cattivaria”—which seems to be patois for general worthlessness.

And so, when Mauria died, Charles Felix for the first and last time quailed before the storm. He fell into black melancholy and was got off to Rome, where he besought the Pope to favour his entering a monastery, an old and ardent desire of his youth. But the Holy Father expressed a strong desire that the Prince should remain in the world, for the House of Savoy was dwindling away visibly. He then tried to get out of being any longer Viceroy; but to this his brother the King was equally opposed; and worse befell, for he was implored to enter the marriage state! There were now but three of his brothers living; the original Prince of Piedmont, who had abdicated; Victor Emmanuel (Aosta), who had lost his only boy; and Charles Felix himself, who was by this time seven and thirty. They sent him back to Sardinia to consider the matter; and there, as ever, and more than ever, he lived the life of a saint, giving up his revenue for the poor, rounding a dispensary with a doctor and a surgeon attached, which has survived all dangers, and is still to be found at page: 127 Cagliari, and devoting time, thought, and money to education of a high order, especially medical.

Numberless little traits recounted of him, give the impression of a man of absolute rectitude and ardent piety; not clever in the ordinary sense of the word, and limited by education to one set of thoughts; but lifted above his fellows by that higher wisdom which always ends by impressing its mark upon a reluctant world.

Two years he gave to thinking and praying, and then he gave way, and wrote to his royal brother that he had made up his mind to marry, and thought he could choose no more suitable wife than the Princesse Marie Christine of Naples, the niece of Marie Antoinette, and great aunt of the Comte de Paris. But here again there was a difficulty, for the Princess, who was six‐and‐twenty, said that she on her side did not wish to marry; she had already refused several suitable alliances, and the most the ambassador could obtain from her was that she must take some time to consider; and it was six weeks before she would ratify the consent given secretly by her parents. But she did so, page: 128 and she had certainly never any cause to repent. Charles Felix wrote her a very pretty letter, in which he tells her that he will always try to make her happy, and says further that he hopes she will be pleased to accept the “seules expressions” which he is as yet allowed to make use of, when he signs himself her very affectionate cousin, Charles Felix. The short letter is perfumed with the bloom of good wishes and sincere resolves. The Pope blessed him, and prayed that he might give a numerous offspring to the House of Savoy. But, alas! Heaven denied the prayer, and a painful omen befell in the loss by shipwreck of four thousand pounds worth of diamonds, which he ordered from England for his bride. They are at the bottom of the sea! He told a friend that she had “enough of her own,” and so went off to Palermo to be married to her whom he afterwards called his “Dear Wife,” and who showed in subsequent years the firmness and real goodness of her sister Marie Amélie, the Queen of the French, and seems to have become much loved by Charles Felix.

For some years the married pair lived tranquilly in their island; lived in fact the lives page: 129 of saints, keeping a modest court and doing good with the right and the left hand. The chief incident was the stamping out of a violent epidemic fever, during which Charles Felix worked incessantly with the medical men, and when his relatives sent an English ship to fetch him away, he refused to leave, or to let her touch at the port of Cagliari and so incur quarantine. During these years poor little Piedmont floated about, a derelict on the stormy waters of European politics. Sometimes the King saw a chance of getting back to Turin, and then his hopes would be rudely upset. Austria, having married Marie Therèse to Napoleon, was no longer to be counted as a friend; the King of Naples lived in Sicily, and every change in French affairs had a contrecoup in the Italian Peninsula. During the Hundred Days, when the French Royal Family left Paris, Charles Felix did his best to keep his wife’s mind easy about her relatives, and curious paragraphs indicate their distance from the centre of affairs; Christine counting the days to prove that the bad news could not possibly, if true, have become known. But it was true nevertheless. page: 130 At last, however, Waterloo put an end to Napoleon, and under the treaties of the Allied Sovereigns the Royal Family of Piedmont all went back to Turin, after years of exile.

Now began a new state of matters, which it is extremely interesting to see from the inside. The King had no male heir, and Charles Felix, alas! had no child; and the next in succession to the throne of Savoy and Piedmont was a very far away cousin, the Prince de Carignan. We knew him many years later as Charles Albert, an heroic fighter against the Austrians, but in 1815 he was a very young man, whose father had died when he was only two years old, and he had consequently received his education from a mother who shared none of the opinions and prejudices of the old House of Savoy; she lived firstly at Dresden and afterwards at Geneva, and at the age of fifteen her son received from Bonaparte a lieutenancy in a regiment of dragoons. When the fall of the Emperor cast this youth into the bosom of the Royal Family at Turin, it may be imagined that the excellent old cousins did not know what to do with him. And yet he was the heir!

Charles Felix, in spite of his profound personal page: 131 piety, had a wider outlook on life than the rest of his House; and he was more hopeful for and indulgent to the Prince de Carignan than was the King. But for the disparity between their ages, he might probably have won him, and saved him from those associations with the Carbonari which were matters of danger in Charles Albert’s later life, when it used to be said that he was in constant fear of assassination from the companions of his youth.

The brothers married him in 1817 to a princess of Tuscany, and they tried very sincerely to hold friendly relations with the young couple; Charles Felix, in particular, did his best to soften the severer and narrower judgment of the King. Meanwhile political intrigues and popular demands were threatening to overwhelm the ancient Monarchical Constitution, and in 1821 the King felt he could bear the situation no longer, and suddenly abdicated, as had done the original Prince of Piedmont. Charles Felix, who did not lack firmness, accepted the heavy task; and for ten years he literally set his back against the wall, and fought for the old ideas and the ancient laws of Savoy. A weaker page: 132 man or a more foolish man would have succumbed from the mere worry. The hero prince “held the fort” for Jesus, King of men.

Charles Albert’s singularly unlucky career began at Novara, and ended in 1848; but during the ten years of the reign of Charles Felix he seems to have dwelt in peace with his old cousin.

There is to me something indescribably touching in the story of those ten years. The modest dignity of the royal Court, the expenses perpetually cut down in the cause of charity, the minute pains with which the people were cared for, the encouragement given to learning, the restoration of Hautecombe (though it cannot be said that the architecture rivals that of the Middle Ages), and, above all, the personal holiness of the man at the helm of the Ship of State, make a beautiful picture, however opposed to the popular English sympathy of to‐day. There is nothing in the coarse common‐sense of Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, nothing in the verbose eloquence and shady private life of Garibaldi, to compare for a moment with the character or the language of the last King of Savoy. One of the most extraordinary political page: 133 enthusiasms of modern times has resulted in our English toleration of men who, if they had been Londoners, we should not have tolerated for a year. Victor Emmanuel weeping metaphorically at the knees of the Pope, and consenting to marry his mistress lest he should die without the sacraments, and Garibaldi getting into troubles which were an open secret, and pouring forth torrents of inflated prose, seem to me very poor men indeed compared to noble, chaste, firm Charles Felix.

When he died, in 1832, they bore his coffin regally across Lake Bourget. The chants of the Water Funeral were echoed back from the mountains, and the people he had governed were stirred as when a saint is gone. And so little could the Princes of Carignan keep up the old glories of their place and state, that Savoy is now a French province, Royal Chambèry the head of a Prefecture, Nice a possession of France, and the King of Italy leads an uneasy life in his capital, overwhelmed with debt, submissive to Germany, building ironclad on ironclad to keep invaders from his shores, ruining the sublime beauty of Rome by the huge barracks which lack page: 134 inhabitants, cutting up the splendid gardens, turning out the religious orders, and indirectly fostering a mongrel society which must be seen and heard to be believed in.

Charles Felix lies at Hautecombe, on the side of the Savoyard lake, and though his laws and the principles in which they were rooted are swept away from the mountains and valleys where his ancestors had ruled for a thousand years, the life of such a man is never lived in vain.