French kings after the Revolution

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French kings after the Revolution

Louis XVIII /

Louis XVIII /

Careless students of history may forget that the monarchy of France did not end with the execution of Louis XVI, last King of France before the Revolution (q.v.). There were three more to reign before the Presidency.

Louis XVIII was the brother of the guillotined Louis XVI (q.v.). He became titular regent of France after his elder brother’s beheading in 1793. He declared himself king after the death in the Temple Prison of Louis XVII, who was but ten years old. But the self-declared king was in exile in Koblenz, Germany, though he moved later to England, where he instituted a counter-revolutionary movement, not without some oppposition from the British Government, which preferred a policy of allowing sleeping dogs to lie.

Louis XVIII had to wait in England until 1814, with Napoleon Bonaparte safely (he thought) exiled on the island of Elba. Minister Talleyrand invited Louis to return to France and the throne. Once established, he issued a constitutional charter, and appointed Marshal Soult (one of the surviving marshals promoted to that rank by Bonaparte) as his Minister of War (Soult thus began a second career, political this time, which ended only with his death in 1851). There was a brief flub at this time, when Bonaparte escaped from Elba and returned to France to begin his Hundred Day War (q.v.). Louis XVIII hurried to England, but did not abdicate. Bonaparte’s brave attempt was terminated at Waterloo (1815).

The King decided to retain many if not all of Bonaparte’s reforms in the Law, administration of the country, the Church, and education, and at first showed signs of being both moderate and liberal. But then a radical murdered the king’s nephew the Duc du Berry, and Louis became less moderate, replacing liberal ministers by reactionary ones. He reduced citizens’ rights, running France into the real possibility of another revolution, but died in 1824. He was succeeded by:

Charles X was was King from 1824 to 1830, and had been a reactionary younger brother of Louis XVI. This allegedly dissolute man had been commanded to leave France in 1889, to become the leader of exiled loyalists. When his brother ascended the throne as Louis XVIII he returned to France and led the ultra-royalist party. He was not made any more popular by proclaiming the hoary (and very dangerous) Divine Right of Kings to rule (one of the causes of the English Revolution and beheading of Charles I).

The defeat of an unpopular ministry in 1830 urged him to issue the July Ordinances, establishing rigid control of the press (most unwise), dissolving a newly elected Chamber, and drastically restricting the right to vote. Inevitably, the people rebelled and Charles was forced to abdicate, and was succeeded by:

Louis-Philippe who reigned (not without uncertainties) from 1830 to 1848. He was the son of that Duc d’Orléans who during the Revolution had renounced his titles in solidarity with the ‘Committee of Public Safety’, to adopt the name Égalité though this drastic modesty had not stopped the Committee chopping off his head. Louis-Philippe did the same thing when he became King, wishing to be known as Louis-Philippe Égalité. He wished to be ‘a citizen king’. This did not impress the populace, who saw political corruption, judicial malpractice and constantly reduced rights to vote a good reason for reform.

Following 1840 the King embarked on a series of disastrous foreign ventures, making alliances with reactionary European monarchies, thus alienating the reformist and liberal opinions on which his own authority had been based. There were huge riots in February, 1848, leading to Louis Philippe’s abdication and rushing off to safety in England, where he adopted another new surname – Mr. Smith dying at a borrowed house at Claremont, Surrey in 1850. Meanwhile . . .

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became President of France’s Second Republic (the first had existed from 1792 – 1804). France had come full circle, with the 3rd son of Hortense de Beauharnais (stepdaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte) becoming President, though in 1852 he declared himself ‘Emperor of the French). The Second Republic was in position from 1848 -52. The Third, from 1870 – 1940. Then the ‘French State (under Marshal Pétain) was proclaimed, lasting from 1940 – 44 during the Nazi occupation. Afterwards the Provisional Government of the French Republic existed from 1944 – 47. Then came the Fourth Republic from 1947 – 55. Finally the Fifth Republic was established in 1958, and has lasted to the present day – forty-four years. The present incumbent is of course M. Nicholas Sarkozy.

The Presidency of France is the grandest in the world, even grander than that of the United States. The position is also more powerful. The President is permitted, indeed encouraged, to name his own Prime Minister, as in Russia. He lives in imperial splendour in a huge palace, in a style not intrinsically inferior to that of Louis Quatorze. The cost of maintaining the monarchy in the Scandinavian countries is less than that budgetted for the President of France.

Anti-monarchists around the World whose main argument is the cost, would do well to study the annual budget and expenditure of presidencies such as France, the United States, Venezuela and Argentina, not to mention the Philippines. The budget voted for the maintenance of the Kingdom of Great Britain would not keep the President of France in breeches for his footmen.

By | 2012-03-22T10:55:27+00:00 March 22nd, 2012|English History, French History|1 Comment

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

One Comment

  1. James Sties June 6, 2018 at 6:58 am - Reply

    typo? Charles X commanded to leave France in 1889?

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