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Louis XVIII


Louis XVIII in France
Louis XVIII in France

The collapse of the First Empire led to a quick succession of regimes and revolutions until 1875. This instability was rooted in the deep political divisions left by the French Revolution, divisions relating to the structure of government, the role of the church, and the distribution of wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution.

The First Empire was followed by the Bourbon Restoration under Louis XVIII. It is often said that the leaders of the Restoration tried to “turn the clock back to 1789,” but they were well aware that that was impossible. Too many institutions of the Old Regime had been destroyed, and too many new ones had survived Napoleon’s passing. Not only was a new system of law and administration in place, but a double-chambered legislature henceforth provided at least some balance to executive authority. Instead, the leaders of the Restoration sought to reinstitute the power and authority of the nobility and the elite clergy, groups that had suffered grievous losses during the previous quarter of a century. They also wanted to make the new institutions work to their advantage. Louis realized that he had to make some concessions to those who had supported the French Revolution. Thus in 1814 he proclaimed—not as a matter of natural right but as the concession of a divine-right king—a charter with weak guarantees of basic civil liberties.

But after the Hundred Days, the brief period in 1815 when Napoleon returned to office, extreme ultraroyalists convinced Louis to purge the administration of its revolutionary personnel. At the same time, conservatives unleashed a wave of terror against political undesirables in the countryside. Ultraroyalists decisively won the first round of elections, but their hold was broken in the elections that Louis called in 1816.

These elections were won by a loose coalition of liberals, who supported the moderate reforms of the revolution but not popular democracy. They continued to increase their influence until 1820, when the king’s nephew was assassinated. Then the ultraroyalists, who blamed the assassination on the liberals, returned to power, where they remained for most of the Restoration. Their position was enhanced when a supporter of their agenda, Charles X, became king in 1824 upon Louis’s death.

Charles’s coronation


Charles’s coronation at Reims in 1825 with most of the medieval trimmings was followed by other gestures that recalled the Old Regime, including legislation (never enforced) to punish sacrilegious acts. A relatively modest law was passed compensating émigrés for property confiscated during the revolution. But disputes over leadership and the role of the papacy in the French Catholic Church split the ultraroyalists, allowing moderate royalists and liberals to gain seats in the elections of 1827.

Charles made temporary concessions to the moderates, but in 1829 he installed an ultraroyalist ministry under the hated chief minister, Jules de Polignac. Polignac offended both the center and the left, leading to a fight in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower legislative house, in 1830. When the king called for new elections, the ministry was decisively repudiated at the polls. Charles responded by signing the July Ordinances, which dismissed the new Chamber of Deputies even before it met, restricted the right to vote, and limited freedom of the press. Despite a military victory in Algeria that led to its annexation by France, Charles’ government was doomed. The July Ordinances touched off a revolution in Paris that drove Charles from the throne. The Restoration was over. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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