The Bourbon Restoration (II)

A few more questions answered

Large, bright room with armed guards, a king, and his entourage walking from one door to another

Charles X Crossing the Tau Room, Etienne-Joseph Bouhot, 1827

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The Bourbon Restoration

So what was it?

The simplest explanation possible:

The Bourbon Restoration was the return of the House of Bourbon to the French throne.

This is Part 2. Part 1 is here.

A note about the term: In English, "The Restoration" almost always refers to England in 1660; the end of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth and the return of Charles II, head of the House of Stuart, as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The return of the Bourbons to the French throne is usually called "the Bourbon Restoration."

In French, of course, the return of the Bourbons is called la Restauration, and the return of the Stuarts in England is la Restauration anglaise.

An executioner holds up Louis XVI

The execution of Louis XVI on what is now the Place de la Concorde, January 1793

If the Bourbon Restoration was the return of the House of Bourbon to the French throne, that implies (even loosely) several things:

  • At some point in history, the Bourbons ruled France
  • Something happened for them to lose power
  • Someone helped them
  • Eventually, France returned to a monarchy
  • A Bourbon was once again king

At some point in history, the Bourbons ruled France. As we saw in Part 1, prior to the Restoration, Bourbons ruled France from 1589 to 1792.

Something happened for them to lose power. The French Revolution began in July, 1789. In September of 1792, the Revolutionary government abolished the monarchy. A few months later, it executed Louis XVI.

A young Napoleon surrounded by men yelling and looking concerned

Bonaparte's coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, Year VIII (Nov 9, 1799)

Someone helped them. After a coup d'état in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself named "First Consul." In 1804, the Senate declared him "Emperor of the French." The European powers - led by England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, loathed Napoleon. They attacked him everywhere they could.

Eventually, France returned to a monarchy. When Napoleon was finally defeated - not at Waterloo in June 1815, but over a year before, in the spring of 1814 - the Allied governments decided Europe would be better off if France were a hereditary monarchy... just like it had been.

A Bourbon was once again king. Several candidates were considered for the throne, but eventually the Allies determined the Bourbons should return power. France would be in "timeout" like a naughty child, but if it meant a restored reign, the Bourbons were cool with sitting in the corner.

Many important and interesting things happened during the Restoration, they just didn't rise to the level of drama, audacity, and mind-fuck of the Revolution and the Empire.

Why haven't I heard much about it?

In my opinion, there are two reasons:

  • After covering the French Revolution (which was one of the most confusing, important time periods in Western history), and Napoleon's Empire (a grand narrative, incredible in a different way), history teachers don't want to spend even more time on France. 1789 to 1815 is enough.
  • When compared to the twenty-five years that preceded it, nothing interesting or important happened during the Restoration. Even in a class on French history, little time is devoted to it. Lots of time on the Revolution, lots of time on the Empire, a brief mention of the Restoration, maybe a little bit on the July Monarchy... and then onto the socialist revolutions of 1848. This may have changed over the last twenty years, but I doubt it.

Nothing important happened?

Of course, that's not true. Many important and interesting things happened during the Restoration, they just didn't rise to the level of drama, audacity, and mind-fuck of the Revolution and the Empire - admittedly, a high bar - or they weren't "important" in the political and military sense.

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