A King’s escape through Sussex

Louis-Philippe of France had a troublesome life; his father had initially supported the Revolution but when Louis-Phillipe escaped to exile he called for his execution.  There can’t be many people whose own father wanted them dead!

After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 the monarchy was restored to France and on 9th August 1830 Louise-Phillipe was declared King of France. Aware of the volatile nature of his country he announced that he would be a ‘Citizen King’ but his reign was short-lived and difficult. He was to be the last King of France.

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As the mobs in Paris increased their violence, Louis-Phillipe tried to appease them by dismissing his liberal Prime-Minister Francois Guizot but this was too late and by February 1848 his position was untenable and, fearful for his life, he abdicated and decided to flee the country.  He escaped Paris with his wife Maria and a few courtiers. They travelled to the Chateaux of Dreux in Normandy where the King shaved off his prominent whiskers and discarded his wig. A local farmer, Mr Packham provided him and his entourage with old clothes and he assumed the name ‘Mr Smith’.  Packham was an Englishman who had built a mill on land owned by the King. The royal entourage travelled to Le Havre where Packham had engaged an English steamship ‘The Empress’ to take them to England.

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The Empress – the ship used to take the King over the Channel

After a long and difficult crossing they arrived at Newhaven Harbour on Friday 2nd March.  On arrival at the port the party stepped onto the quay, the King was now an old man wearing an old green shirt and a cap, his wife wearing an old black bonnet and a black and white cloak and four other people drably dressed.

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The elaborate disguise was betrayed when they were met on the dockside by Mr Sims a Newhaven ‘landing waiter’ (customs officer), who bowed deeply and declared “Welcome to England King Louise-Phillipe – Welcome!”  He took them to the Bridge Inn where Mrs Smith had prepared rooms for them.

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The Bridge Inn    (OurNewhaven)

News of the arrival of the King soon reached the owner of the nearby Tide-Mill, William Catt.  Catt had met the King two years earlier at the Chateaux d’Eu where he had advised the monarch on milling techniques.  The King was pleased to meet Catt again and said “Ah Mr Catt we have had a fearful time of it. We have been eight days in flight and have been within two hours of being murdered, but, thank God, here we are at last on your hospitable shores.”

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William Catt

Catt offered the deposed King and Queen accommodation at his Mill House nearby but the King declined.   He withdrew to his room where he composed a letter to Queen Victoria.  This was given to a messenger with enough money to travel to Lewes where he engaged a private train to take him to London to deliver the message.  In the afternoon the King met several local people and he later entrusted Mr Packham with several bags of money to take to Brighton to exchange into Stirling and also buy some new clothes.  Mr Packham suggested that he find the King more suitable accommodation in Brighton but the King replied “I am obliged to you but the good people of this house (the Bridge Inn, Newhaven) have treated me so kindly and I am very fatigued, so I beg to decline your offer”. Later that evening the King received a personal message from Prince Albert assuring the King of his safety.

The next morning the King and Queen appeared for breakfast and dined heartily despite there being a crush of people eager to be introduced to them. These included about fifty prominent tradesmen of Brighton and Lewes including the Reverend Dr. Cary, headmaster of Lewes Grammar School who presented the King with two addresses, one in French and one in Latin each signed by the pupils of the school.  The King by this time was agitated saying “Thank you gentlemen this is most kind. I feel I am now safe in your great nation under the protection of your excellent Queen.” His own Queen appeared nervous clutching tightly to a bouquet of flowers.

The Royal party left at 10am but found it difficult to leave the Inn as hundreds of people had lined the route to the railway station where a special train had been arranged by Captain Hotham a director of the London Brighton & South Coast Railway.  Queen Victoria had offered to send her own Royal Train to Newhaven but the French monarch declined. The special train left at 11am but stopped at Lewes where there were hearty cheers from the people waiting on the platform, several of whom thrust their hand into the carriage window to shake the hand of the deposed King.

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Louis Phillipe and his wife arrive at Croydon Station

The special train went to Croydon Station where three carriages were waiting to take the King to Claremont a stately home in Esher, Surrey.  Claremont had been one of the many homes of the politician Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle who had many homes in Sussex including Lewes, Stanmer and Laughton.  (Claremont Road in Seaford is named after the house)

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The exiled King and his wife at Claremont

The house had been bought by the nation in 1816 and was a favourite retreat for Queen Victoria.  Louis-Phillipe was to die there in 1850. His wife died in the house sixteen years later.  Maria never forgot her flight from France.  She had kept and was buried in the same dress she was wearing when she had escaped via Newhaven nearly 20 years earlier.

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