Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Man who wanted to be King of America

I’m constantly tearing out articles that catch my interest from our local newspaper The SudOuest. This a quiet region so the paper uses a lot of non-news stories as filler.I love it when the filler piece is both local and historical. Especially anything to do with a French/American connection. A good pandemic exercise is to make a big pile of all my newspaper clippings and see what jumps out at me. Here’s a good one.

“The Man who wanted to be King of America”

I’m terrible about keeping the date attached to the clipping, but I do know that this is not an April Fool’s article. This is a factual accounting of a Frenchman that thought it would suit him to be king of the budding United States of America. Here’s how the story goes.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Charles-Francois, count de Broglie, was born in Paris. The year was 1719 and his prestigious father was head of the army of King Louis XV.  Needless to say, the well-connected boy rose quickly in the ranks, eventually becoming a general, the ambassador to Poland, and a secret agent in the service of the King. At age forty de Broglie used the dowery of his new wife, the Princess Louise de Montmorency, to purchase the county of Ruffec. (Which is in our corner of France.) This deal came with a county, a nice village, and most importantly, a title.  De Broglie was now the Marquis de Ruffec.

While de Broglie was amassing his titles and fortunes the far-flung American Colonies were organizing to break away from England and the rule of monarchy. As the English were the sworn enemies of the French, the Marquis de Broglie decided that now was a good time to encourage the king to involve France in this insurrection. He is quoted as writing,”The American colonies are destined to one day form an independent state. Sooner or later it is destined to happen.” His purpose was to help move things along.

Apparently he already had visions of grandeur of what he hoped to gain from this foreign conflict. He wrote a letter of self-promotion to the Baron Jean deKalb, a German born French general. DeKalb had already joined the Continental Army and had strong connections to Washington, Adams, Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. De Broglie wrote, “America needs a political and military leader that can impose and reunite. Someone who is capable of attracting and leading with him a considerable number of the population. You have the power to make known who you think can fulfill this position.” De Broglie’s description of who he thought would fit the bill strongly resembled himself. His pretensions and his narcism were over the top. Earlier in his life he had tried and failed to become Prime Minister of France, he had bought the title of Marquis, so why not try to be a King?

While waiting to see how his political aspirations were being received in the court of King Louis XVI de Broglie jumped into non-stop work. Between his properties in the Charente and his commitments in Paris, he worked day and night. He organized his memoirs, he schemed and presented recommendation and plans for France’s participation in the colonial revolution. He directed mines, constructed a forge for cannons and drained the swamps around his county. He kept up very good relations with all of the military suppliers of La Rochelle and Rochefort, the centers of naval power in France. These resources would come in handy when it came time to launch his ambitions in the Americas.

In May of 1776 de Broglie was part of a small group that secretly sent Versailles a plan of action for France’s involvement in the American conflict. At this point de Broglie still felt it was too early for France to send over troops. He wanted to wait until the American Congress requested France’s aid in ships, armaments, and soldiers.  All to be led, of course, by de Broglie. July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence, moved his plans forward.

 In December of 1776 de Broglie gave instructions to deKalb to lead the way for his ascension towards ruling America. DeKalb was to “suggest” the idea of de Broglie being appointed king without outrightly stating that this was was the final intention. He had even schemed up a royal procession to traverse his future kingdom. By now deKalb was distancing himself from the project, declaring de Broglie’s ideas more than a little crazy - “une folie” (a foolishness or maybe a folly).

All of this scheming and de Broglie had never even left France!  Benjamin Franklin, now the chief diplomat in Versailles, shot down de Broglie’s petition to be sent to America to “represent” France. This opposition  was the end of Charles-Francois de Broglie’s dream of becoming King of America.

Undeterred in his efforts to help the American colonies de Broglie put his energies into financing a voyage for the young Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette sailed from Bordeaux on La Victoire in March of 1777. Lafayette was to play a critical role in America’s road to independence.

De Broglie died alone in August of 1781 near his village of Ruffec. The newspaper article makes a point that neither his wife nor his children were at his funeral.

from - SudOuest, LeMag   written by Jean-Michel Selva


Jeanie said...

How interesting! I love that he financed Lafayette who helped us be without a king forever. Well, more or less. Right now, I'm kind of wishing we had a stable, centuries old monarchy over here!

Kathie K said...

Fascinating. I love stories from history such as this!