See studies by V. W. Beach (1967 and 1971).
Charles was charming, affectionate and a witty conversationalist. Despite a flurry of youthful hedonism, he was also devoutly religious. A strong belief in the Roman Catholic Church bound him closely to his younger sister, Madame Élisabeth. Charles attended the French and Spanish siege of Gibraltar as an observer in 1782, and saw the destruction of the floating batteries. As a young prince he was a noted womanizer, popular, well-mannered and entertaining. He struck up a firm friendship with his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette of Austria. The closeness of the relationship was such that he was falsely accused of having seduced Marie Antoinette by Parisian rumor mongers. As part of Marie Antoinette's social set, Charles often appeared opposite her in the private theatre of her favourite royal retreat, the Petit Trianon. They were both said to be very talented amateur actors; with Marie Antoinette playing milkmaids, shepherdesses and country ladies, and Charles playing lovers, valets and farmers. A famous story concerning the two involves the construction of the Château de Bagatelle. In 1775, Charles purchased a small hunting lodge in the Bois de Boulogne. He soon had the existing house torn down with plans to rebuild. Marie Antoinette wagered her brother-in-law that the new château could not be completed within three months. Charles engaged the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design the building. He won his bet, with Bélanger completing the house in sixty-three days. It is estimated that the project, which came to include manicured gardens, cost over two million livres. Considered the handsomest member of the royal family, his affairs were numerous. According to the comte d'Hezecques, "few beauties were cruel to him." Later, he embarked upon a life-long love affair with the beautiful Louise de Polastron (née d'Esparbès de Lussan) (1764–1804). She was the sister-in-law of Marie Antoinette's closest companion, the duchesse de Polignac. Mme de Polastron stayed with the prince for the rest of her life.
As a father, his clear favourite was his youngest son, Charles Ferdinand, duc de Berry, who most closely resembled his father in looks and personality. Relations with his eldest son, Louis-Antoine, duc d'Angoulême, were more strained as Louis-Antoine was a quiet, weak and introverted liberal with a nervous disposition.
His political awakening started with the first great crisis of the monarchy in 1786, after which he headed the reactionary faction at the court of Louis XVI. The comte d'Artois supported the removal of the aristocracy's financial privileges, but he was opposed to any reduction in the social privileges enjoyed by either the Church or the nobility. He believed that France's finances should be reformed without the monarchy being overthrown. In his own words, it was "time for repair, not demolition."
He also enraged the Third Estate (politicians representing the commoners) by objecting to every initiative to increase their voting power in 1789. This prompted criticism from his brother, who accused him of being "plus royaliste que le roi" ("more royalist than the King").
In conjunction with the baron de Breteuil, Charles had political alliances arranged to depose the liberal prime minister, Jacques Necker. These plans backfired when Charles attempted to secure Necker's dismissal on July 11th without Breteuil's knowledge, much earlier than they had originally intended. It was the beginning of a decline in his political alliance with Breteuil, which ended in mutual loathing.
After the fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 he was ordered to leave France by his brother Louis XVI, who feared that Charles would soon be the victim of an assassination due to his expressed conservatism. It was also Louis's intention that Charles should represent the Bourbon Monarchy abroad, and carry on the dynasty if the worst should happen.
In exile — first in Germany and then Italy — Charles feared that his brother, the comte de Provence, would compromise with the Revolution and betray the Monarchy. He took the disastrous decision of appointing Calonne to his council, which outraged Marie Antoinette. This was an end to Charles and Marie Antoinette's deep friendship, and Charles was left wracked with guilt after her execution in 1793. Charles's major foreign ally at this time was Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, who preferred Charles to the baron de Breteuil, who was the opposing leader of the royalists-in-exile.
The comte d'Artois later emigrated to Britain, where George III allowed him to live in Holyrood House, a royal palace in Edinburgh. He was not comfortable with the ultra-Protestant environment of the city and spent most of his time behind the palace walls, although he was by no means rude to the locals. Communication between Charles and his surviving brother, the comte de Provence, living in Russia at Mittau, was particularly strained once it became apparent that Charles was utterly indifferent to his brother's financial problems.
When Louise de Polastron died of consumption in 1804, Charles took a vow of perpetual chastity. His grief was intense, for he had been truly in love with her. His religious convictions strengthened and he became even more devout than he had been before. His personal life became "entirely blameless". In his later years, he enthusiastically supported the Ultramontane movement within the Roman Catholic Church.
His eldest son, the duc d'Angoulême, was married to his cousin Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of Austria. Charles's other son, the duc de Berry, secretly married an English Protestant named Amy Brown who was also a commoner. This marriage was annulled when it was discovered — probably at Charles's behest. Berry was later married to Princess Caroline Ferdinande Louise of the Two Sicilies, and they produced the duc de Bordeaux.
Louis died on 16 September 1824, and his brother, aged 67, succeeded him – the only normal succession of French heads of state during the 19th century.
The new king took the regnal name Charles X, thus definitively taking the position that Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, who was recognized under that name by some elements of French society in the late 16th century, was not legitimate.
Charles's coronation on 28 May 1825 deliberately harked back to the Ancien Régime: the sacre du roi (consecration) was performed by the Archbishop of Reims in his cathedral, the traditional coronation venue for French kings, amid much theatrical pomp. It even featured a ceremony where Charles touched sufferers of the King's Evil, scrofula, the last time this ancient ritual was performed. This deliberate impression of royal splendor was in contrast to his predecessor and successor, neither of whom had a coronation (the only other nineteenth century French coronations were Napoleon's in Notre Dame in 1804 and Napoleon III's, also at Notre Dame, on 30 January 1853.)
Shortly after he took the throne, he proposed (and the Chamber of Deputies passed) the Anti-Sacrilege Act that approved the death penalty for sacrilege and theft or destruction of the Host. No one was ever executed for either of these crimes during his reign but they had a powerful significance. During the reign of Louis XVIII he headed the ultra-royalist opposition, which took power after the traumatic assassination of Charles's son, the duc de Berry. The event caused the fall of the ministry of Élie Decazes and the rise of the comte de Villèle, who continued as chief minister after Charles became king. Emotionally, Charles never really recovered from his son's murder.
The Villèle cabinet resigned in 1827 under pressure from the liberal press. His successor, the vicomte de Martignac, tried to steer a middle course, but in 1829 Charles appointed prince Jules Armand de Polignac (Louise de Polastron's nephew), an ultra-reactionary, as chief minister. Polignac initiated French colonization in Algeria. His dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, his July Ordinances, which set up rigid control of the press, and his restriction of suffrage resulted in the July Revolution.
Charles abdicated on 30 July 1830 at Rambouillet in favor of his grandson, the duc de Bordeaux, and left for England. However, the liberal, bourgeois-controlled Chamber of Deputies refused to confirm the duc de Bordeaux as Henri V. In a vote largely boycotted by conservative deputies, the body declared the French throne vacant, and elevated Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans, to power.
After a sojourn in Britain, Charles later settled in Prague in the present-day Czech Republic. He died from cholera on 6 November 1836 in the palace of Count Michael Coronini von Cronberg (Graf Michele Coronini von Cronberg) in the old hamlet of Grafenberg, now in the town of Gorizia, in present-day Italy, tended by his niece Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte. He is buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Annunciation on Kostanjevica Hill, on what is now the Slovenian side of the border in Nova Gorica.