Louis XVIII’s policy of peaceful coexistence paves the way for the French Republic

November 29, 2012

Louis XVIII of France

In bringing men of the most widely diverse parties around him, Louis XVIII had required them to respect each other. Any allusion to former disputes would have been severely repressed. Political quarrels, so heated elsewhere, were extinguished on the threshold of the Tuileries, where reigned those ancient traditions of politeness, so long the boast of French society. When they met in small parties away from the palace, the émigrés and ultras gave way to their customary wranglings, but their behavior at the Tuileries was always irreproachable. Though a man might cordially hate M. Decazes, yet he was respectful to him, because M. Decazes was the minister of the King.

Élie Decazes, 1st duc Decazes and 1st Duke of Glücksbierg

As an epoch of transition and amalgamation between the most widely diverse elements, the Restoration is assuredly one of the most singular periods in history. Two rival worlds encounter each other here: the last glimmer of the Old Régime and the dawn of the parliamentary system; the fusion between French ideas and English manners; the conflict between religious minds and the Voltairians, between the partisans of throne and altar and the revolutionists; between the white flag and the tricolor. From the social, political, and literary point of view, never had there been such a brilliant shower of sparks produced by the concussion of beliefs, opinions, principles, and ideas. But such debates were impossible at court, where the soldiers of Condé’s army lived in perfect harmony with the volunteer republicans of 1792. The promotion of the marshals of France, which took place on the occasion of the Duke of Berry’s marriage, contained four titularies: two émigrés,—the Duke of Coigny and the Count Vioménil, and two soldiers of the Revolution and the Empire,—Bournonville and Clarke, each of whom had been Minister of War, one during the Terror, and the other during the last days of Napoleon’s reign.

Charles-Joseph-Hyacinthe du Houx, Baron of Vioménil

Among those of the Old Régime who presented themselves at court a mingled feeling of satisfaction and of bitterness prevailed. They were glad to have recovered their houses and castles, their titles and honors. Past catastrophes gave a special savor to the moral and material well-being they enjoyed after so many trials. It pleased them to have been proved in the right against both republicans and imperialists. They said to themselves: I saw how it would be. My predictions are fulfilled. The usurper is at Saint Helena. The regicides are in exile. The old aristocracy has risen to life again although its enemies believed it dead. The Faubourg Saint-Germain sets the fashion. Bonaparte’s quondam generals are very proud of being chamberlains or chief equerries of the King. The marshals think more of the blue ribbon of the order of the Holy Ghost than of the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor. The former officers of the imperial guard aspire after the cross of Saint Louis.

François de Franquetot de Coigny, Duke of Coigny

But the joy of the royalists was not unmixed. They found their triumph incomplete. It was quite another sort of Restoration that they had imagined. Louis XVIII was not a king according to their own hearts. They would have accused him of Bonapartism and Jacobinism if they had dared. They thought him ungrateful toward the émigrés and Vendéans. While the five children of Cathelineau, the commander-in-chief of the Vendéan army, vegetated in poverty, Robespierre’s sister received an annual pension of six thousand francs. The government did not even pay the expenses of the last campaign in Vendée, that of 1815, which had, nevertheless, been undertaken only by the King’s command, and they had to be met by the officers. And yet at the same time, the arrears due for the expenses of the Republic and the Empire, and even those of the Hundred Days, were paid without examination. To the émigrés a government which did not restore national property to its former owners was simply a continuation of the Revolution. The most discontented of all were perhaps Louis XVIII’s companions in exile, the courtiers of Mittau and Hartwell, who, having been present in time of trial thought they had a right to form part of the triumph. These could not console themselves for the preferment of a Pasquier, a Mounier, a Portalis, a Siméon, a Decazes. The favors heaped by the King upon Napoleon’s favorites seemed to them an insult to monarchy, a blow aimed at royalty by the King himself. They could hardly conceal their exasperations under an enforced politeness….

Louis XVIII

While the ultras maintained that Louis XVIII, a prisoner in his own palace, was delivered up to the tyranny of his ministers, the sovereign considered himself perfectly free at the Tuileries, and derided the fury of the extreme monarchists. After the elections, Chateaubriand wrote in a rage: “Bonaparte made use of revolutionists while despising them; now, people want to use and honor them. The royalists are in consternation at this. Could they have believed that apostles of legitimacy would be sought among such agents? Could they possibly understand such an inversion of ideas? The Jacobins have issued from their dens, uttering howls of joy that have been heard by their brethren throughout Europe; they have presented themselves at the elections full of surprise to see themselves caressed as the real upholders of monarchy.”

Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII, trans. Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), pp. 90-95.

 

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