Bourbons, 1814-30, So Brief ? Essay, Research Paper
Louis had, in 1814, agreed to rule by the terms of the Charter drawn up by his representatives and those of the Napoleonic establishment. Its liberal appearance was helpful if at times misleading, but religious and personal freedom and equality before the law, freedom of opinion and security of property from confiscation were all reassuring for those who had benefitted from the last 25 years of change. The parliament that was set up had little freedom of action and was elected on a very narrow franchise based on property qualifications. The Charter however ensured the acquiescense of the middle ranks of French society who had a great wish for stability but much to lose in any full scale reaction to restore the Ancien Regime. Louis was also assissted by the exhaustion and the apathy brought on by the appaling cost, in lives and taxes, of Napoleon’s adventures. This gave him time to establish his regime. His mistakes were trivial, flags and the like, but his dangers great. The Assembly elected in 1815 was dominated by the Ultras who now organised the ‘White Terror’ of revenge against known Bonapartists and Republicans. At this point Louis could well, with Ultra support, have carried out a coup to restore the power and trappings of the Ancien Regime. To his great credit he turned his back on this temptation and, by supporting the moderate ministry of Decazes from 1816 to 1820, probably played the key role in the successful restoration of the Bourbons as a regime which was acceptable to enough Frenchmen to ensure its survival. He was assisted by good harvests and general economic recovery but his own good sense in limiting, so far as he was able, the excesses of the privileged survivors of pre-revolutionary France, has been given l ess then just recognition in the restoration of the Bourbon regime. The assassination of Louis’ nephew the Duke de Berri marked a turning point, for from 1820 Louis, older and a sick man, proved unable to resist reactionary pressure. By the time of his death in 1824 the regime had a less liberal appearance and the way was already marked for the full royalist reaction which Charles X intended to mount. The end of the Bourbons may simply be explained in the suggestion that, in his eagerness to restore the full glory of the Ancien Regime, Charles X forgot the Revolution and failed to realise that it had created strong feelings in France that would resist any apparent attempt to restore the past. Charles’ early policies were foolish and provocative: the coronation in the ancient religious form, the dramatic increase in the powers of the Catholic Church, the generous compensation for the returning nobility who had lost their lands, all aroused the suspicions of the urban middle class who were further outraged by reductions in the interest paid on their government investments. In all this Charles had dangerously narrowed the basis of his support but had not yet endangered his throne. Indeed all might have been well, with the appointment in 1828 of the moderate Martignac as Chief Minister, for sensible moderation might still have kept him the support of the middle classes. In 1829 however Charles turned his back on any attempt to hold the loyalty of the new France when he appointed the Ultra of Ultras, Prince Polignac as his Chief Minister, a man who sought his policies in the realms of religious mysticism. Much of the blame for what followed must rest with Charles for, when even the narrowly based Assembly called for Polignac to be dismissed, Charles dissolved the Assembly. The elections which followed provided an even more recalcitrant Assembly with more opposition members and so Charles suspended the constitution and, in the Ordinances of St. Cloud created a new one under which less than one in a thousand of the population would have the vote. The basis of his support in France, as demonstrated by this episode, could hardly have been narrower. With moderate policies all those who had a vested interest in stability, notably the middle classes and perhaps the peasants, would have continued to tolerate the Bourbon regime. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Charles X had, perversely and blindly, thrown all this away. Unlike his brother he had not been prepared to compromise with the new forces in post-Revolutionary France. This is not however the total explanation of the downfall of the regime in 1830. It was not those who had once had some share in political life under Louis XVIII, and who now saw Charles snatching this and perhaps other liberties away, who now drove the last Bourbon from the throne of France. This role fell to the working classes of Paris, made desperate by worsening economic times. In the last fifteen years Paris had grown enormously through immigration from the countryside, thousands could find no work and faced starvation. They raised the barricades in the streets and shouted for revolution and in three days they had won. Neither the army nor Charles himself had any stomach for a fight and soon lost control of the capital to the mob. It might be argued that Charles lost his throne because he failed to ensure the loyalty and availability of his army before he embarked on a deliberately provocative series of policies. With equal validity it could be argued that the Regime’s failure to ease the economic plight of those outside the political system, and especially the Parisian working class amongst them, did more to bring about his downfall than any of his reactionary political proposals. What the latter did ensure was that none would be found to take up the regime’s cause when the moment of crisis came. Charles’ personal failure to offer resistance to the tide of events simply ensured the Bourbon regime ended swiftly and with the minimum of bloodshed.