Bourbon Restoration

Consecration of Charles X as king of France in the Cathedral of Reims
Consecration of Charles X as king of France in the Cathedral of Reims

During the French Revolution, the French monarchy was officially abolished on September 21, 1792, by the revolutionary National Convention. With the radical Jacobin party of Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, and Georges Danton in control of the Convention, King Louis XVI was condemned to death and sent to the guillotine on January 21, 1793.

His son, whom French monarchists considered Louis XVII, died in June 1795 in prison, either the victim of neglect or beatings by his jailors. Although the monarchy in France was officially abolished, the Bourbon dynasty continued in exile with others who had fled the increasingly radicalized revolutionaries. Due to the death of Louis XVII, the older brother of Louis XVI, the comte de Provence, assumed the title of King Louis XVIII.

During the early years of the Revolution, the comte de Provence participated in the National Assembly, as did the other royal princes, the princes of the blood. Sensing the growing radicalization of the revolutionaries, however, he fled France in June 1791, at the time that Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, attempted to escape, only to be captured by the revolutionaries.

Luckily, the comte de Provence had taken a different route and went to Coblenz. He was undoubtedly one of the émigrés with whom Louis XVI intrigued during the Revolution to help him regain his throne. It was the discovery of Louis XVI’s secret correspondence, deemed proof of treason by the radical Jacobins, that was a major reason for his execution.

Throughout the years of the Revolution, the comte de Provence pursued his own interests, with little interest in Louis XVI’s safety. The Revolution and the period of the Napoleonic Wars were unkind to Louis XVIII, when he was compelled to rely on the hospitality of other rulers.

At the same time, his brother, the comte d’Artois, pursued a conflicting plan from his refuge in London, thus making the Bourbon dynasty a two-headed beast. The comte de Provence remained in Great Britain until Napoleon I’s defeat and abdication on April 11, 1814.

Due to the astute negotiations of a diplomat who had switched allegiances to the Bourbons, the victorious allies accepted Louis XVIII as king of France. On May 2, 1814, he entered Paris in triumph.

Although he greeted the French people with great promises, Louis XVIII alienated the French army. When Napoleon escaped from exile on February 26, 1815, and landed in France, Louis XVIII knew that the army would never support him against Napoleon.

So he fled to the Austrian Netherlands, and Napoleon triumphantly entered Paris on March 20, 1815. However, the European crowns were determined to keep Napoleon from ruling France again.

On June 18, 1815, near the town of Waterloo in the Austrian Netherlands, Napoleon was decisively defeated by the British and Prussian armies. Forced to abdicate a second time, Napoleon was this time sent away to Saint Helena, far out in the Atlantic, where he died in May 1821.

The nature of Louis XVIII’s rule indicates that he supported absolutism. In 1815 he signed the Holy Alliance with Prussia, Austria, and Russia, with the intention of quelling any resurgence of the political liberalism that was the strongest legacy of the French Revolution.

The Holy Alliance was expanded to the Quintuple Alliance in 1822, with the addition of England. These European monarchies represented a conservative ideology backed by military might.

On September 16, 1824, Louis XVIII died, and the crown passed to his brother, the comte d’Artois, who assumed the throne as King Charles X. Charles X was a very different king than his brother had been. He wanted to see a reactionary reconstruction of France.

In March 1830 the liberal Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the French Assembly, passed a vote of no confidence on the actions of Charles X’s chief minister, Polignac. In response, Charles X dissolved the Chamber and called for new elections. But when the new Chamber deputies were sworn in, they held the same opposition as the one Charles had dissolved.

Abandoning any pretext of supporting the parliamentary system, on July 26, 1830, Charles X issued four drastic decrees. Known as the July Ordinances, they dissolved the new Chamber, imposed strict censorship of the press, limited voting rights to certain favorable groups and businessmen, and called for a new election.

The effect of the July Ordinances was cataclysmic. The very next day, revolutionary disturbances broke out in Paris. From July 27 to July 29, the revolutionaries raised barricades in Paris and battled the police and the soldiers.

Most soldiers refused to fire on the crowd. Charles X, having no desire to go to the guillotine, quickly abdicated and sought refuge, for the second time in his life, in England.

The marquis de Lafayette, who had played important roles in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution, found a solution to the political crisis. Using his still immense popularity, he offered the French people to replace Charles X with Louis-Philippe, the duc d’Orléans, who had fought with the armies of the French Revolution.

With the promise that the duc d’Orléans would respect the charter of 1814, the Chamber of Deputies offered him the crown on August 7, 1830. Louis-Philippe would now rule France as the “citizen king.”