After the Battle of Waterloo and the end of Napoleon’s “Hundred Days” France was deeply divided and deeply scarred from over twenty-five years of war, political upheaval, and revolution. The nobles who had emigrated from France during the revolution made their way back with vengeance on their minds. The Bonapartists were left with a sense of loss and powerlessness. Liberals and republicans were still wary that all reforms accomplished over the last quarter century was threatened to cease to exist under a restored bourbon monarchy. Thus, when Louis XVIII took the throne, the France that he had once known had permanently changed, and there was no going back. A moderate and conciliatory political system was put in place to hopefully heal the divided country under a restored monarchy.

Louis’ new government was based upon a charter, not a constitution, that conceded the privileged three-estate system of the Ancien Regime while still vesting power in the King as sovereign. Louis the XVIII was the King of France and not the King of the French. Under the Charter, religious freedom was granted but Catholicism was still the state religion. A representative government was granted, but only 110,000 of the wealthiest men had the right to vote.[1] More positions in the government was open to men of merit instead of men of privilege, and the sale of Biens Nationaux during the French Revolution, former lands of emigrated nobles and the Catholic church, was legitimized despite the complaints of the conservative Ultras.

The delicate compromise of the Charter was damaged when Napoleon returned for the Hundred Days as many officials of the Charter government fell back to Napoleons side which prompted a reactionary phase after Waterloo by the conservative Ultras. The White Terror, white being the color of the Bourbons, purged the government of Napoleon sympathizers and quarter to a third of French officials left their positions.[2] A wave of radical conservatism pushed through France; Michael Rapport describes, “Bans of royalist peasants and artisans killed around 200 people, while 3000 were imprisoned without trial and thousands more were put into flight. Moreover, the elections to the Chamber of Deputies were held in this feverish atmosphere and the ultra-royalists won a majority of seats.”[3]

King Louis XVIII did not trust the systems of representative government that he laid out in the Charter and dissolved parliament in April 1816.[4] The king passed the Law of General Security allowing political dissenters to be arrested, and a ‘double vote law’ that gave even more electoral power to the wealthiest of French subjects.[5] Upon the death of King Louis XVIII in 1824, his brother Charles X took power. Charles was even more conservative than his brother and passed laws that restricted rights and censored criticism. Charles fought hard against liberal demands for reforms until the Revolution of 1830, where the last of the Bourbon kings fled France as a new liberal constitutional monarchy under King Louis Phillipe took their place.


Bibliography

Rapport, Michael. Nineteenth Century Europe. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.

Suggested Reading

Salmi, Hannu. Nineteenth-Century Europe: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2008.


Sources Cited

  • [1] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 62.
  • [2] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 61-62.
  • [3] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 62.
  • [4] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 62.
  • [5] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 62.