Thursday, December 2, 2010

Today in Imperial History

It was today in 1848 that Francis Joseph became the Kaiser of Austria, starting what would be one of the longest reigns in European history. Emperor Francis Joseph is one of my favorites and it rather pains me that his decades on the thrones of Austria and Hungary are often described in such simplistic terms. However, he was a tower of strength in an empire that very much needed one. His was a man extremely devoted to his duty and (a big part of the reason why he is one of my favorites) to maintaining the authority and respect for the monarchy among the people. He was very careful to avoid anything that could damage the prestige of the monarchy and this was certainly not due to any personal pride or vanity (the man slept on an army cot for Pete's sake!) but because he understood the spiritual and political place of the monarchy as being central to the life of the empire. With all of its diversity it was essential that the reverence toward the monarchy be preserved. He went through many trials in his political career and even more in his private life. He made some mistakes on the political field but none of them were immoral mistakes. Although many dismiss his reign of stagnation, that was certainly not the case just because he opposed political change for the sake of change alone.

It was also on this day, in 1852, that Louis Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of the French as Napoleon III. Most monarchists, understandably, have some serious "issues" with the entire Bonaparte dynasty but few would deny that they were a step up from the chaos of republicanism. My own views on Napoleon III are rather mixed. First and foremost, like most royalists, I do not consider him legitimate. That being said, I prefer a Bonaparte monarch to no monarch at all and overall he was not a "bad" monarch. Like his uncle he had radical roots that I would oppose absolutely and even as Emperor of the French he did alot of 'right' things for the wrong reasons. However, like the first empire, his second empire did restore French pride and prestige for a good number of years and, unlike the first empire, he did so without plunging all of Europe into war against the existing monarchial order. He had the good sense to stay on good terms with the British Empire so that French influence in the world expanded rather than shrank during his reign and although his motives in the invasion of Mexico may have been suspect, his support for the restoration of the monarchy there, backed up by French troops, gave Mexico their best government since independence. Again, despite suspect motivations, he did intervene to defend the Pope and to defend Christians in the Middle and Far East.

Finally, it was on this day in 1908 that Aisin-Gioro Pu-Yi became the last Emperor of China. He was little more than two years old and was never given a chance to rule his country on his own and his efforts to restore himself later were always troubled by the alliances he had to forge to make this possible. In a way this is one of the most tragic things about the nominal reign of Emperor Xuantong. Revolutionaries turned the public against him despite the fact that he was never given the chance to prove whether he would be an effective monarch or not. It was certainly no fault of his that he was never given an opportunity to prove himself. From what we can tell from his memoirs and those who knew him, there was at least a possibility he could have been just what China needed at the time; a traditional figure who held his position sacred but who recognized the need for considerable reforms to put China on an equal footing with the other great powers of the world. Had his reign been allowed to continue and traditional institutions (topped by the monarchy) been upheld, China could have been spared the internal divisions, gruesome civil war and Marxist tyranny that she suffered. Unfortunately, the opportunity represented by his enthronement was not grasped and China became the first of many Far East nations which turned their back on their own heritage and ended up killing each other on an epic scale over competing foreign ideologies.


  1. It was also the start of the reign of Napoleon I. That was more what I was talking about earlier. Still I love his nephew too.

    I notice this as well... why is it that Monarchs have such amazing facial hair?

  2. Missed that one then, I thought the first Napoleon crowned himself sometime in May.

  3. Well, he began his reign in May, but he was crowned in December.

  4. Puyi was the grandson of Prince Ronglu, who was one of the men responsible for toppling the Guangxu Emperor in 1898.

    There were rival factions in the Qing Aisin Gioro family, who often hated each other. Prince Tuan was a grandson of Daoguang Emperor, and he hated Prince Qing, great grandson of Qianlong Emperor

    The Republican government of China supported Prince Tuan, President Xu Shicheng increased his stipend by 50% after inviting him to Beijing, multiple military officers also threw parties for him. The palaces of imperial princes were preserved and many of them continue to occupy them during Republican rule. Prince Tuan was a high ranking prince, his son Pujun was at one point the crown prince, designated to succeed Guangxu. The republican government allowed him to inter his families bodies in the imperial tombs.

    It was only the revolutionary parties, the Kuomintang, commonly known as the nationalists, who took power in china in 1927 and then the Communists who started cutting off their stipends and attacking royalty.

    Prince Tuan was popularly supported in China because he despised foreigners and foreign culture, and was one of the perpetrators behind the Boxer Rebellion, among his suggestions was that all foreigners in China were to be massacred. His personal Manchu army, equipped with modern guns attacked both his rivals in China like Prince Qing's personal manchu army and foreigners.

    Prince Qing was despised in China, because he as too "pro foreign"

    the main point here is that both Prince Qing, Ronglu, and Prince Tuan were all involved in opposing Guangxu and ousting him from power. Within themselves, they had different goals and hated each other. They ousted Guangxu, because they genuinely suspected a plot engineered by certain foreigners invovled to take over China, which may have actually been true, since the reformists told Guangxu little about their actual plan, and naively suggested he hand power over to Timothy Richard, a british citizen.

    contrary to popular myth, the conservatives of China did not opposed modern military technology. They only opposed western style political and educational reform. The reason China was defeated badly was not due its failture to adopt modern technology, as Qing arsenals manufactured mauser rifles and artillery, but because of terrible leadership and internal divisions, with Chinese army units attacking each other and refusing to assist one another.


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