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.