| French revolutions
|| Getting mixed up with all those kings ?
The USA had one Revolution
but the French had several, some of them very violent and bloody.
Why ? One could say that the national inability to change progressively
and the reluctance to consensus (read more about the
French and change) makes change unavoidable other than through
violent leaps. In the French collective memory, each of these
revolutions is associated with a major progress or a lost paradise
(and not only on the Left-Wing political side). After these major
dramas, the French society is very similar, by all standards,
to the other European countries which did not go through this
kind of ordeal but the French sincerely believe that without
these revolutions, they would not enjoy what they consider important
(democracy, protection, vacations, etc...). Among these revolutions :
(literally : the sling) in 1648 is the first French urban revolution,
to be followed by several others. It largely explains the haughty
and autoritarian attitude of Sun King Louis 14th who went through
it as a child.
"The" big French
Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille (July
14, 1789) ; after two years, the attempt to build a constitutional
monarchy (like in England) failed, due to the stupidity of poor
king Louis 16th and the intransigence of the revolutionary "Jacobins" ; the king (and a few thousands others) was beheaded, the
war was declared on Europe, the "Convention" put
an end to the old society and established the bases of the republic
; after a year of craziness in the name of liberty and purity
(the "Terreur") under Robespierre "the Uncorruptible", a calmer (and corrupt) government (the "Directoire") was established in 1794 and most French citizens were
happy to see a young and brilliant general, Napoleon Bonaparte,
re-establish order and peace in 1799. Then he too became crazy
and attacked the whole of Europe, but this is another story.
It is a fact that most of French democracy comes from the Revolution,
whatever its excesses.
The July Revolution :
After Napoleon, the kings came back with Louis 18th (1814) but
in 1830, King Charles 10th was so stupidly reactionary that a
brief revolution in July 1830 ("les Trois Glorieuses")
replaced him by King Louis-Philippe 1rst who tried, once again
to build a constitutional monarchy ;
The 1848 Revolution :
in 1848, the ideas of republic and socialism were flourishing
all over Europe : the king was banished and replaced by the (second)
French republic ; the nephew of Napoleon was elected president
and two years later after a coup, he became Emperor under the name Napoleon
When touring in France, you may
get confused with all those Louis and Charles. Here are a few
facts to help you situate roughly what century they belong to
and what they are known for !
Remarkably enough, France had
only three dynasties of kings over a period of 15 centuries
: the Mérovingiens (from Clovis, who became Christian
in 496 and who is the very first French king) then the Carolingiens
(from Pépin le Bref, i.e. The Short, crowned in
752) and finally the Capétiens (from Hugues Capet who
became king in 987 : this dynasty lasted until 1848).
Almost all of these kings were
buried in the Basilique Royale de Saint-Denis, near Paris, which is definitely worth
Napoleon tried to found a dynasty, but only his nephew
became emperor in 1852 (after a coup) and was booted out in 1870
More to come
Question : why does the current
Constitution refer to "the Fifth Republic" ? The
First Republic was founded by the Revolution and King Louis XVI
was dismissed, then came Napoleon and later a Restoration of
Royalty ; in 1848 (another revolution) the Second Republic was
established and disappeared with a coup by Napoleon III ; in
1870, the Third republic was proclaimed after the war was lost
against Germany, it collapsed in 1940 after another lost war
against Germany ; the Fourth Republic, founded in 1944, was succeeded
by the Fifth Republic after a major constitutional change conceived
by Charles de Gaulle who was recalled to put an end to the Algerian war.
Question : what was the relation
between the kings and Paris ? Since the very beginning, the
history of France is the history of kings trying to unite its
very diverse elements into a unified nation ; this why the state
is still so strong and this is also why Paris has so many prestigious
monuments to illustrate the glory of the king and the power of
the state (see historical
Paris). The kings were afraid of the population of Paris
and its frequent riots and they often decided to live outside
Paris (Loire chateaux, Versailles, Fontainebleau).
Fourteen kings to remember
The guillotine (credit)
DID YOU KNOW THAT .... The guillotine was invented in 1790 by a humanist and philanthropist, Doctor Guillottin, who wanted to put and end to the very cruel and inhuman treatments then used for executions, with a very quick and more efficient process...
of the king
achievement (or failure)
monuments of the style of each king
| Charles Irst
Charlemagne Le Grand
|| The first
"European Statesman", founder of the Holy Empire, he
is also a German hero
|| Saint Philibert
de Grand-Lieu (near Nantes), Sainte Radegonde (Poitiers)
| Louis IX Saint
|| The greatest
king of Middle Age, he died in Tunis on his way back from the
|| Sainte Chapelle
(Paris), Notre-Dame (Paris), the walled city of Carcassonne,...
| Philippe IV
|| Famous for
destroying the Order of Temple
|| The Conciergerie
The Commune in 1871:
a modern sovereign for domestic affairs, Napoleon 3rd was obsessed
with the desire to emulate his uncle Napoleon in his foreign policy which
was very adventurous (see the stupid war in Mexico 1862-1867)
and led to a defeat against Germany in 1870 ; after the war,
some idealistic socialists wanted to build a perfect Communist
society in Paris ; it was the Commune de Paris, which lasted
three months and ended into a blood bath. The Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre was built by the Right Wing regime which followed "in expiation of the sins of La Commune". The Commune is associated with one of the most beautiful French songs, Le Temps des Cerises : listen to it ;
The Front Populaire in
1936 is considered the origin of social modernity in France
; after the victory of the Left in the elections and huge strikes all over the country,
it established the obligation for employers to grant paid vacations
and pay for pensions and other social benefits ; most European
countries enjoy these benefits as well, getting them through
simple parliamentary processes, but this way is considered boring
by the French....
The May 1968 Movement
is a soft form of revolution which led, after two months of strikes
and demonstrations to some major changes in the French society
and an adaptation to modern times (divorce, abortion, relation
between the young and their elders, etc) ; here again, why millions
of strikers and demonstrators?
Today, a political leader, Olivier
Besancenot (5% of the vote in 2007),
who says he wants to found a revolutionary movement to abolish
capitalism is not sent to an insane asylum but invited in TV
talk shows ....
| Charles VII
|| Jeanne d'Arc,
by restoring hope for France in the long Franco-English war,
gave him access to the throne
|| Chinon Castle,
| Louis XI
|| Through ruse
and briberies, he built France almost to her present size, after
a long fight with the Duke of Burgundy
|| Hospices de
of the artists (including Leonardo da Vinci), the illustration
of the Renaissance king
Blois and many of the Renaissance castles in the Loire Valley
| Henri IV
|| After his
own conversion to catholicism, he put an end to the war between
the Catholics and the Protestants, probably the most popular
of all French kings ; he had countless love affairs
|| The Pont-Neuf
DID YOU KNOW THAT....? American historian Steven
Englund observed in Le Monde, December 2, 2004, that even after
two centuries, English and French historians still do not agree
about Napoleon. On one side, Anglo-Saxon detractors are
incapable of understanding what was unique about Napoleon's power
and the good he did ; on the other side, the French have elevated
him to a cult figure while underestimating the mud and spilled
blood. What is lacking on both sides, (particularly the Anglo-Saxon
side), says Englund, is the ability to admit ambivalence and
Landmarks of the French revolution
- July 14, 1789 : the storming of La Bastille
- August 4, 1790 : the abolition of the privileges of nobility and church
- August 26,1789 : Declaration des Droits de l'Homme (Bill of Rights)
- July 14,1790 : Fete de la Federation and Lafayette a national heroe
- June 21,1791 : King Louis 16 tries to escape and is arrested in Varenne
- September 20, 1792 : victory of Valmy against a coalition of European monarchies
- September 21, 1792 : abolition of Monarchy and proclamation of the Republic
- January 21, 1793 : Louis 16 executed
- June 2, 1793 : beginning of the "Terreur"
- July 27-28, 1794 : "9 Thermidor", Robespierre and the leaders of the Terreur governement executed
- November 9, 1799 : "18 Brumaire", Napoleon Bonaparte takes power, end of the Revolution
A few examples of ultra-conservative or quasi-revolutionnary surges ...
In 2014, the local, then the European elections, with a spectacular progression of the Extreme-Right party Front National (to 25-30% of the votes), created a shock in France and in other European countries. Will a party with dangerous quasi-fascist roots,such a selfish vision of the country and such absolutely stupid economic ideas be in a position where it would have access to power in a modern democracy? A quick look in the rear-view mirror shows that such phenomena are not unfrequent but, thankfully, do not last long :
- In the early 1950s, a party created by Pierre Poujade, a shop-keeper in a small town, represented almost 10% of ther Chamber (the Poujadistes) ; the party was created and disappeared in 4 or 5 years ;
- In the 1930s, veterans of WW1 created movements ("les Ligues"), with millions of members, against the parliamentary Republic ; after the attack of the Chamber of Deputy in the February 6, 1934 riot, where dozens of rioters and police were killed, they were dissolved and disappeared ;
- In the 1880s, the republican regime was still weak and General Boulanger became such a popular figure that it looked like he and his millions of followers (the Boulangistes) would found a new regime but he fell in love, refused a coup d'Etat, fled abroad and ultimately killed himself on the grave of his beloved mistress ;
- More to come ...
for his Prime Minister, the powerful Cardinal de Richelieu
des Vosges (Paris), Luxembourg Palace (Paris),...
XIV Le Roi Soleil (The Sun King)
very symbol of "Grandeur", he subdued the nobility
by transforming its members into his puppets in Versailles
Castle, Place Vendôme (Paris), the Invalides (Paris), ...
XV Le Bien Aimé
king of the XVIIIth Century arts which spread all over Europe,
he lost the American possessions of France (Canada)
de la Concorde (Paris), any XVIIIth Century palace, ...
nice fellow but a poor king, he was beheaded and his wife Marie
Monceau (Paris), ...
most prestigious of all, he modernized France after the Revolution,
he won many battles and lost the final one at Waterloo ; he sold
Louisiana (a poor deal for France!)
(most recent part of the) Louvre (Paris), Arch of Triumph (Paris)
|| The only attempt
(and failure) of a Constitutional king in France
|| The "galeries"
(malls) off the Grands Boulevards (Paris), ...
| Napoleon IIIrd
|| The nephew
of Bonaparte, he was elected President of the Republic and proclaimed
himself Emperor two years later
Garnier (Paris), the total renovation of Paris by Baron Haussmann,
who transformed a medieval city into the city we have now,...
See the style in furniture and in castles associated to some of rthose kings.
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Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books:
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
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