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The Bourbons

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The Bourbons

The Bourbons are a familial dynasty dating from the thirteenth century. They were monarchs of France in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries and again briefly in the nineteenth century. They became monarchs in Spain in the seventeenth century and are still Kings of Spain and Grand Dukes of Luxembourg today. Few families have had such an impact on Europe's political life. Let's explore this fascinating family in-depth.

The Bourbon Dynasty: A History

The royal Bourbon dynasty began in 1272 when the French King Louis IX's son Robert, Count of Clermont, married Beatrix de Bourbon. Their son became the Duke de Bourbon. In 1555, Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, married the regnant Queen Jeanne III of Navarre. Their son, Henri, was the first Bourbon king. He was King of Navarre beginning in 1572 and then King of France starting in 1589, ruling as Henri IV until he died in 1610.

Rise and Fall of the House of Bourbon in France

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The French Bourbon family tree. Source: Shakko, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Bourbons ruled France continuously until the French Revolution. After Henry IV was murdered by a mentally unbalanced Catholic man in 1610, his nine-year-old son became Louis XIII (r. 1610-1643). King Louis XIII is best known for laying the foundation of absolutism in France alongside his chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Their sometimes ruthless reforms stabilized and increased the realm's finances, decimated by the Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598.

Louis XIII's son is probably the best-known French king of all time. King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), known as the Sun King, was the epitome of absolutist rule. He made France the center of Europe through conquest and cultural enterprises, such as building the splendid palace at Versailles. Everywhere he presented himself as God's representative on Earth, a king but also a god himself.

Louis XIV reigned so long that all his children died before him. His great-grandson thus became king after him, named Louis XV (r. 1715-1774). His grandson succeeded him, the ill-fated Louis XVI (r. 1774-1793). Louis XVI inherited a monarchy already under heavy financial strain from continuous war with Britain. His decision to aid the American revolutionaries and a series of bad harvests created a financial crisis in the 1780s. The populace lost faith in their monarchy and revolted, causing the French Revolution to begin in 1789. Louis XVI was beheaded in 1793, eliminating the French monarchy until 1815.

The Bourbons, color illustration of the Guillotine and Louis XVI, StudySmarter

The Execution of Louis XVI, anonymous eighteenth-century depiction. Source: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, France, Wikimedia Commons

After the English defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the French people welcomed back their Bourbon monarch, Louis XVI's brother Louis XVIII (r. 1815-1824). After his death, his brother succeeded him in becoming Charles X (r. 1824-1830). Charles was an unpopular king because he only seemed to care about the upper class. He passed a series of laws that only benefitted them and so angered the other classes. A revolution broke out in 1830 known as the July Revolution, where the people removed Charles X from power.

After Charles X, the people selected Louis Philippe as their king. Louis Philippe (r. 1830-1848) was a descendent of the Bourbon branch founded by Louis XIV's brother Philippe, Duke of Orleans. He was the last official king of France, although there are Bourbon claimants to the throne even today.

Prominent Members of the House of Bourbon


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The Spanish Bourbon Family Tree. Source: Shakko, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 1700, the Spanish King Carlos II died without an heir and named a Bourbon as his successor. King Philip V of Spain (r. 1700-1746) was King Louis XIV of France's grandson and related to the Spanish throne through Carlos II's eldest sister, Louis XIV's Queen Maria Theresa. Henceforth, the Spanish kings were part of the Bourbon dynasty.

The Bourbons, painting of Philip V, StudySmarter

The Bourbon Philippe, Duke of Anjou, is named Philip V of Spain by François Pascal Simon Gérard, early nineteenth century. Source: Grand Palais, France, 76-000904.

The first years of Philip's reign were locked in a bitter feud with the Habsburg dynasty, Holy Roman Emperors who ruled the Germanic empire to the east of Spain and France, known as the War of Spanish Succession. However, the Treaty of Utrecht, finalized in 1715, brought peace because it eliminated the possibility of having France and Spain merge into a single empire under one ruler. As a result, Philip renounced his ability to claim the French throne and settled in to rule Spain as its first Bourbon king.

After the brief reign of Philip's eldest son Ferdinand VI (r. 1746-1759), Philip's second son Carlos became King Carlos III (r. 1759-1788). Carlos was already King of Sicily and Naples, so when he ascended to the Spanish crown, he granted those realms to his younger son. Carlos was a reformer, and as King of Spain increased trade, stabilized the realm's finances, and promoted scientific discovery. As a result, the monarchy gained power and exerted greater control over matters of state.

The strong realm Carlos III created fell apart during the reign of his son Carlos IV (r. 1788-1808). He was forced to abdicate by Napoleon, whose brother ruled Spain until 1813. The Bourbon kings returned to power with Ferdinand VII (r. 1813-1833), whose reign saw the collapse of the Spanish empire in the Americas. He had no sons to succeed him, therefore changed the law that forbade women to inherit titles or property (Salic Law) and named his daughter Isabella heir.

Isabella II (r. 1833-1868) was only three years old when she became queen. Her mother, Maria Christina, became her regent while she grew up. However, Ferdinand VII's brother Carlos, Count of Molina, contested the succession and started a seven-year civil war. He was defeated and exiled in 1840. Isabella took control of the monarchy at thirteen in 1843, but unfortunately, her reign was marred by scandal, a loveless marriage, and war. She was deposed in 1868 during the Spanish Glorious Revolution.

Carlos of Molina painting StudySmarter

Carlos, Count of Molina, by Vincent López Portaña, early nineteenth century. Source: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Spain, Wikimedia Commons

Isabella's son became King Alfonso XII (r. 1874-1885) after the Spanish Republic collapsed in 1874. Upon his death, Alfonso's son succeeded him as Alfonso XIII (r. 1885-1931). Alfonso XIII successfully kept Spain out of the First World War but was overthrown by the emergence of the second Spanish Republic.


Philip V's son Carlos seized control of Naples and Sicily in 1734 and was declared king until he succeeded to the Spanish throne in 1759 as Carlos III. He passed the Italian crowns to his son, who became King Ferdinand IV of Naples and III of Sicily.

The Bourbons, Bourbon dynasty in Italy, StudySmarter

King Ferdinand IV of Naples and III of Sicily by Nicolas François Dun, 1805. Source: CC-PD-Mark, Wikimedia Commons

In 1816 Naples and Sicily combined into the newly created Kingdom of Two Sicilies under King Ferdinand, making him King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. His son succeeded him as King Francis I (r. 1825-1830). The Last King of the Two Sicilies was Francis I's grandson, Francis II (r. 1859-1861). In 1861 the kingdom was annexed into the Kingdom of Italy, ending the Bourbon royal line in that region.

Bourbons Today

The Bourbon Spanish monarchy ruled almost continuously until 1931 when the short-lived Spanish Republic and subsequent Spanish Civil War took over. The Civil War led to Francisco Franco's dictatorship from 1939 until he died in 1975. After Franco's death, Spain welcomed back its Bourbon monarch, Juan Carlos, who ruled until 2014, when he abdicated in favor of his son, the current King Philip VI.

The Bourbons also became Grand Dukes of Luxembourg through the 1919 marriage between Prince Felix of Bourbon and Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg. Their son Jean was the first Bourbon Grand Duke in 1964, and his son Henri is the current Grand Duke.

The Bourbons, Bourbon dynasty in Luxembourg, StudySmarter

Henri, Current Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Source: Zinneke, CC-BY-2.5, Wikimedia Commons

The Bourbons - Key takeaways

  • The Bourbons are a European royal dynasty established by Robert, Count of Clermont, and Beatrix de Bourbon in 1272.
  • The Bourbon dynasty consists of monarchs in France, Spain, Navarre, Sicily, Naples, and the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg.
  • The Bourbon dynasty did not die out when the French monarchy ended in favor of a republic in 1848.
  • The Bourbons were and are still a vital part of the European political sphere. They still represent a strong royal house in two different countries, Spain and Luxembourg.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Bourbons

The Bourbons are a familial dynasty dating from the thirteenth century. They were monarchs of France in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, and again briefly in the nineteenth century. They became monarchs in Spain in the seventeenth century and are still Kings of Spain and Grand Dukes of Luxembourg today.

Navarre, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Naples, Sicily.

King Louis XVI, the last king of France before the Revolution, was a Bourbon. He was beheaded by revolutionaries in 1793, marking the end of the monarchy until its brief return in 1814 under another Bourbon, Louis XVI's brother, Louis XVIII.

The Bourbons were part of the fabric of European monarchy in both the early modern and modern eras. They still represent a strong royal house in two different countries, Spain and Luxembourg.

The Bourbons are still kings in France and Luxembourg. The last Bourbon King of France was Louis Philippe (r. 1830-1848).

Final The Bourbons Quiz


When did the royal Bourbon dynasty begin?

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Who founded the Bourbon dynasty?

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Robert, Count of Clermont, and Beatrix de Bourbon

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Who was the first Bourbon king of France?

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Henry IV

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Who was the first Bourbon king of Spain?

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Philip V

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Who was the last Bourbon king of France?

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Louis Philippe

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Who was the first Bourbon king of an Italian Territory?

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Carlos III

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When did Naples and Sicily combine into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies?

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When did France cease being a monarchy?

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Which European realm has NOT been ruled by a Bourbon monarch?

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Why was Louis XVI overthrown?

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Bad harvests and financial crisis started the French Revolution that overthrew Louis XVI.

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