Thursday, October 31, 2013

Flag Flaps, Part II, France

Most monarchists are aware of the occasion on which the restoration of the Kingdom of France came to naught because of a dispute over the national flag. HRH Henri of Artois, Count of Chambord, the grandson of King Charles X, who should have been King Henri V of France, was offered the chance of reclaiming his birthright but turned it down because of the refusal of the National Assembly to revert the national flag to the white flag with the golden lilies that had flown during the days of the old Bourbon Kingdom of France. This resulted in the establishment of the Third French Republic, which many thought would last only as long as the life of the Count of Chambord after whose death the monarchy could be restored under the more compromising Count of Paris. As we know, that never happened and France has remained staunchly republican ever since. Needless to say, this caused no small amount of controversy, not just in France but for concerned people around the world and even among monarchists to this day. Upon hearing the news Pope Pius IX famously lamented, “And all that, all that for a napkin!” Many monarchists have the same attitude even today, rather disgruntled that such an opportunity was lost over a flag.

Certainly, a case can be made that the count was being unnecessarily rigid. The French tricolor of blue-white-red was, itself, not without monarchist connections. It was actually first adopted late in the reign of King Louis XVI when he had been, rather coerced, into making France a limited, constitutional monarchy. Many took it at the time as a compromise flag and, although it obviously came to be associated with the revolution and the republic it created, the tricolor was technically the last flag of the original Kingdom of France. It also remained the national flag during the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was the national flag of the popular monarchy of King Louis Philippe and, most recently, had been the flag of the Second French Empire of Louis Napoleon III. It was after the defeat and downfall of Napoleon III that the royalists gained a majority in the National Assembly and the Count of Chambord was offered the throne. At that time, odd as it may seem today, the tricolor had actually been the national flag of more monarchial regimes in France than republican ones. There was also an effort made to compromise with the count to persuade him to accept the throne by which the tricolor would remain the national flag but the fleur-de-lis would be established in law as his personal royal standard. The count still said “non”.

an alternative, royalist version, of the tricolor
I have been asked my opinion on this issue numerous times and it is at this point that I have to say that, in my view, the count should have accepted that compromis, learned to live with the tricolor and allowed the restoration of the Kingdom of France. A genuine effort had been made to accommodate his views and as most monarchists know, it is so rare as to be downright miraculous for any monarchy to be restored once it has fallen and, in my view, it would have been best to accept the situation as it was and not make the perfect the enemy of the good. The French people, even at that time, had experienced a great deal of momentous history under the tricolor. French troops, even royalist ones, had bled and died under the tricolor and it was probably too much to expect that it just be tossed aside as much as ardent royalists (like myself) would wish it could be. It had become, perhaps because of the many regimes that made use of it, associated with France itself rather than just the first and second French republics. It had also been the flag of the empire and I have seen many devoted, right-thinking royalists remain completely unable to grasp why the empire had been so popular with so many people and, to a limited extent, can pull on French heartstrings even today. In the latter years of the Kingdom of France, one must remember, France had suffered a number of setbacks, usually at the hands of Britain. The morale of the nation was rather low and yet, despite ultimately ending in disaster, under Napoleon and the tricolor, France had come surging back to dominate almost the whole of Europe for a time. Also under Napoleon III the French once again became a prominent world power and that is something that the general public would not easily dismiss. It was probably unrealistic to expect or demand that all that had happened under the tricolor be suddenly shoved aside to have a King again.

For all of those reasons, I think the count should have taken the deal and perhaps he could have managed to have the flag changed later. All that being said though, I think I understand why the count was so unwilling to compromise and it is why I cannot have that negative a view of the man in spite of him allowing the opportunity for a royal restoration to slip through his fingers. The reason is because, I think for the Count of Chambord, the issue was not the French flag really but rather what the flag had come to represent, at least in his own mind and probably a great many others as well. It was also under the tricolor that King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette had been murdered and it was under the tricolor that the revolutionary regime in France had embraced every kind of outrage, cruelty, sacrilege and depravity. To the count, the tricolor represented the Revolution and in their reluctance to do away with the tricolor, the count saw a reluctance to do away with the ideas of the Revolution. The monarchy had been restored under King Louis XVIII only to be brought down again. King Charles X had tried to set things back to the way they had been under the traditional Kingdom of France and the people had turned against him in the end. King Louis Philippe had tried to steer a middle course between traditional France and revolutionary France and had failed to please either side of the political divide. The Count of Chambord was trying to keep things simple and clear-cut. In forcing the government to choose between the tricolor and the fleur-de-lis he was really asking them to choose between the revolutionary republic and the traditional Catholic monarchy. The two could not exist side by side and France had to decide which sort of country it wanted to be. If they chose the traditional Kingdom of France and the Bourbon flag, he would happily preside over it but if they were not prepared to finally turn their back on the monstrous crimes of the Revolution, he wanted no part of it.

I will repeat, with the dispassionate light of history, and knowing that France has not had a monarchy since the fall of the second empire, I think the count should have accepted the tricolor, which the public had “bonded” with by that point and restored the monarchy in the hope of improving it from there (and hopefully restoring the proper flag later on). However, I can understand why he could not bring himself to do such a thing and all I have to do in order to understand it is to imagine someone asking a member of the House of Romanov to be Tsar of Russia again but with the red flag of the USSR as the national flag. The very idea of it is positively repugnant and it is not just the flag itself but because retaining that symbol of the revolution implies that one has not completely rejected the thoroughly evil and godless system it represents. Now, the French tricolor is not the same as the red hammer and sickle flag. The tricolor, as stated, was originally supposed to be a compromise sort of flag, monarchs did use it and that is partly why I think the count should have taken the deal. However, I can certainly understand why he did not and I cannot be too hard on him for not doing so. After all, efforts at compromising with the revolutionary mindset had not exactly worked out in the past. If France today became a constitutional monarchy under the tricolor, I would be happy that such a great step in the right direction had been taken. If they fully embraced a return to the traditional monarchy under the fleur-de-lis however, I would be even happier. Ecstatic even. Those are my thoughts on the subject, feel free to share yours.


  1. If I may, I'd like to take you up on the conclusion's invitation, even though your thoughts here are also mine.

    The bottom-line story that is common coin (the Count of Chambord refused the tricolor, thus he did not reign) is of course true, but only part of the truth; and half-truths, I think Chesterton said, are the worst kind of falsehoods. I think we can only begin to glimpse the motives behind this often misunderstood episode when two things are considered: the dynastic schism of the Orléans and the context of the founding of the Third Republic.

    The origin of the tricolor as a bargaining chip lies in the several encounters that took place between the Count of Chambord and the sons of Louis-Philippe as early as the latter's ousting in 1848. For Chambord, it was a matter of repentance and submission on their part, forgiveness on his (which he always earnestly offered). For them, it was rather about dynastic "fusion": they would recognize him provided he accepted certain conditions. These were laid out with some variation in the meetings that ensued up to the 1870's, and generally included a recognition of Louis-Philippe's fallen regime (which Chambord would certainly never agree to) and the acceptance of constitutional monarchy (which he would, though his interpretation of it was of course quite different to that of the Orléans). At some point early on the adoption of the tricolor was added as an afterthought (by Guizot I believe), and at this point it was not an insurmountable obstacle for Chambord: in fact, he is recorded to have said in those days that he did not wear a uniform because his hat would have to have a cockade, which would then automatically become his own, and he did not want to make a choice that would bind his future action.

    Eventually, this condition stuck. It became a major point in future dynastic talks, which failed ominously for many decades and severed good will between Chambord and many of Louis-Philippe's sons. It seems reconciliation only came in the early 1870's, when the Count of Paris, already a grown man, became independent enough to engage himself. By this point, a provisional government had been set up in Bordeaux (moving to Versailles later) after Napoleon III was defeated and overthrown. In essence, at most points in its existence the members of the Assembly were prone to restoring the monarchy (it was initially divided as to which branch to restore, but it eventually reconciled as soon as the princes did), the Assembly being understood to be constituent and the government provisional. Being a time of national crisis, the government was entrusted to men reputed to be partisans of order and, eventually, monarchy. Notably, Thiers and later Mac-Mahon. The provisional government became more stable bit by bit, with Thiers styling himself President of the Republic only a few months after agreeing in a formal pact to leave the question of the form of government for the future.

    Despite the government's less-than-enthusiastic attitude, it was beginning to run out of excuses to procrastinate in bringing about restoration to a willing Assembly. After decades of tug-of-war, the flag was now perceived as central in the Orléanist struggle to constrain Henry's future reign to the parliamentary elite that had dominated France throughout the century, surviving one regime after another. To him it was a symbol of the Revolution, yes, but I think more importantly of the humiliation of these negotiations, and of the Assembly heaping up conditions to limit his rule. So he issued a manifesto saying that his flag was the white one, end of story.

  2. This produced discontent among the Orléanists, but eventually it was surmounted once the Count of Paris agreed to the above-mentioned reconciliation. The curious thing is that many royalist deputies, even legitimists, should have taken these manifestos to mean a forfeiture of the throne. The tricolor was assumed to be a sine qua non condition, which of course it only was insofar as they made it be (the lobbying of Joinville and Aumale, the two sons of Louis-Philippe that were least favorable to Chambord, having entered this Assembly since its beginning, was perhaps not alien to this).

    Eventually, however, a compromise was reached, however unstable. Chesnelong, a deputy, met Chambord in his exile and got him to agree, if I remember well, to something along the lines of being proclaimed King and then deciding jointly with the Assembly as to whether the tricolor flag would be modified or not (even though, privately, Henry made it clear that he would never accept it, modified or otherwise: modification, strictly speaking, included changing it completely). Chesnelong runs back to Versailles confident that he had solved the impasse, and makes it known... enthusiastically omitting the finer points of the agreement. The press quickly picks up: Chambord has accepted the "tricolore". Having always made a point of not being ambiguous about his intentions, Henry cannot now enter France under what everybody would consider a false pretense: thinking that he had accepted the flag, what would they think when he dropped it as soon as he got there? So he issues a second manifesto, his famous "letter to Chesnelong", reiterating his position.

    From here it all went downhill, even though it was not so clear at the time and Chambord never gave up. Hoping to let things cool down and anxious to slow down revolutionary advances (and some, as you say, hoping to sponsor the Count of Paris after Henry V's death), the monarchist Assembly voted an extension to Mac-Mahon's mandate -which Henry survived only a few years-, thus unwittingly consolidating France's longest republican regime.

    All in all, I think the essence of this episode lies in the efforts of a well-consolidated parliamentary elite to bind Henry V not only to a constitutional rule, which he had always accepted, but also to the ruling class that had sprung in the XIXth century and was by now used to calling the shots. In the end, it was their anxiousness to settle for a conservative republic that kept away the only one who could have stopped the revolutionary tide that soon after took over that very republic. When Mac-Mahon assured them that he was "profoundly republican and profoundly conservative", Henry cried out -in private- that it was the very opposite that France needed: a strong monarchy to undertake the necessary reforms.

    I think this anecdote is very revealing of the tension between Chambord and the oligarchy that he would not submit to: the refusal of the imposed tricolor flag being a simple way to communicate this to the everyday Frenchman.

  3. To add on to what Firmus has stated, I've always though part of Henri V's calculations were that he knew that he would be succeeded by the great-grandchild of Egalite and the grandchild of Louis Phillipe (the man who usurped the young Chambord's own crown and then put Henri and his beloved family, including the Duchess of Angouleme, into a final exile). The Orleanists had always been opportunists -remember Louis Phillipe and Theirs brought Bonarparte's (the man who bragged in his will about the judicial murder of their blood kinsman, the Duke D'Enghien) body home and buried it with pomp and huge ceremony with his sons playing major roles to prop up his own regime - and for the Orleanists to continue to press "conditions" on Henri after what they had done to his branch of the family must have seemed particularly galling. I can just imagine him thinking after a lifetime in exile why he should sacrifice his principles for a few years on the throne, and accepting the regime of Louis Phillipe and the tri-color, all to prop up the Orleanist dynasty after him? If I recall right his widow recognized the Duke of Madrid as the heir to his claims and not the Count of Paris. I don't think this was an accident.

  4. Well, if you want my opinion on this matter, I'd be happy to share. But, keep mind that the things I say are going to upset most monarchists, but please listen, I'll try to make it as painless as possible. Are you ready? Okay..... All representations aside, and I mean ALL representations aside, I happen to like the Tricolor as a design, hear me out, just as a DESIGN. Although I support monarch restorations all over the world, including France, I do like the design. Now, please bear with me, but if you think about it, if the monarchy of France was truly restored in this day and age, I am positive that the French Tricolor still would not be discarded, it is simply too popular with not only the French people, but with French admirers from around the globe. However, if I had to choose between the plain Tricolor and the Tricolor with the Royal Crest in the center, I will select the latter in a heartbeat. Of course, this means that I will have a harder time finding an actual flag with that design, in stores or online, but this is the my personal choice. I have also noticed that the colors used in the Tricolor have always been used by France throughout its history, you can see them used in antique paintings in everything from clothing to bands, everything except the flag itself. I like to think that the colors could also represent three important figures in French history, Blue is Saint Martin, White is Joan of Arc, Red is Saint Denis. Surely we monarchists can all unite as one to form the bigger person in the compromise and let the Tricolor be used in a constitutional monarchy restoration, because at this point, it seems the only way monarchism can survive at all in France is as a constitutional monarchy, but still, a constitutional monarchy is still a thousand times better than no monarchy at all. I can surely accept that and live with it. Also, wasn't the French Tricolor the very same flag that inspired monarchist flags, such as Italy? And yes, I do believe that because it has been used by so many different types of government that it really doesn't represent any one type of government anymore, and has evolved into a mere symbol of the country as a whole. But I do hope that when the monarchy is restored (Fingers crossed!) the least thing that can be done is simply add the Royal Crest to the center, that would make finding my own copy of the flag a lot easier. Anyway, thank you for your time to read this, and please respect my own opinions and I will respect yours.

  5. The Comte de Chambord had no will to be a constitutional and limited king, but he would like some powers which the Emperor of Austria, Tsar of Russia or King of Prussia would enjoy. I find this man a interesting figure and hope you might an article on this man. And also the Bourbon Orleans dispute.


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