Friday, March 14, 2014

France: Republican By Default

The era of modern French republicanism and the end of the original, legitimate French monarchy can be traced back to the reign of the “Citizen-King” Louis Philippe. Although disliked by many monarchists to this day, King Charles X was not ill-disposed to Louis Philippe and left him in charge upon his abdication to basically rule France during the minority of his grandson who he had wished to succeed him. As we know, this did not happen and the government declared Louis Philippe king instead. He tried, during his less than 18 years on the throne, to steer a middle course and reconcile the old Kingdom of France with the legacy of the French Revolution. The moderates and upper-middle class were pleased enough but traditional monarchists and republicans were united in their opposition to this compromise-kingdom. Yet, in spite of the best efforts of the revolutionary republicans, France never really had a hard break with basic monarchist sentiment. When the Revolution of 1848 took Louis Philippe from his throne it was his hope that the monarchy would continue in the person of his young grandson the Count of Paris and the government was originally willing to go along with this but the republican argument was shouted more loudly than the rest at the instigation of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.

Count of Chambord
So, the short-lived second republic was established but, as we know, Louis was not a convinced republican and after getting himself elected President successively made himself President-for-life and finally monarch as Emperor Napoleon III. His regime was popular enough so long as it kept order, allowed for prosperity and won glory abroad. Even at the very end when the war with Prussia broke out there were demonstrations in favor of fighting and no major, discernable opposition to the Second Empire. All of that, however, changed in a heartbeat after French forces were defeated by Prussia and her German allies. There followed the sad saga of the Paris Commune (and others) which certainly did nothing to make the republican cause of the radicals look better in the eyes of the public. When the dust had settled the sentiment in France was still in favor of a monarchy. So, the French government (with a strong majority of monarchists elected to office) offered the throne to the Count of Chambord, the grandson of King Charles X. He, however, refused on the grounds that the government would not change the national flag though really it was about his desire for a clean break from the legacy of the French Revolution and an unwillingness to compromise on that point.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the man in charge in France, with the army behind him, was Marshal Patrice de MacMahon, Duke of Magenta. He had fought with distinction for Napoleon III but came from a royalist family and was a legitimist, thus the idea of simply bypassing the uncooperative Count of Chambord was inconceivable for him, yet it also meant that so long as the National Assembly refused his demand on the flag the monarchy would not be restored. This brought about the birth of the third republic but, again, there was no popular demand for it and it was done by a mostly monarchist assembly. They intended for this third republic to be only a temporary measure, awaiting the death of the Count of Chambord at which point the Count of Paris could be raised to the throne as King of France. The trouble was not with the public at large but with the monarchists themselves. The Count of Chambord ended up living much longer than expected, people became accepting of the republic so long as it worked passably well and the in-fighting among the two monarchist factions put off more pragmatic types. Hence the third republic came to be accepted, in the words of Adolphe Thiers as the government which “divides us least” -a dreadful indictment for French monarchists.

"Philippe VII" in the US Army
When the Count of Chambord did die the French monarchists were split between those who supported the Count of Paris and those who supported the Spanish Count of Montizon (who also claimed the throne of Spain). However, the Count of Paris (Philippe VII) spent much of his life very far from France and the Count of Montizon (Jean III), while asserting his claim, never pressed it. The Orleanist claim of the Count of Paris became more prominent under the next pretender, Prince Philippe Duke of Orleans (Philippe VIII) who was quite active in supporting a restoration of the monarchy. The next legitimist pretender, Carlos Duke of Madrid, was also quite active but in Spain rather than France, launching another Carlist uprising and actually doing quite well for a time in gaining control of large parts of Spain. For most of this period there was little doubt that the Orleanists held the upper hand and eventually they had a dynamic political movement behind them.

In 1899 “Action Francaise” was founded by a journalist and a politician but the most prominent member and advocate of the group was Charles Maurras. He made it a decidedly monarchist group as well as a conservative and French nationalist one. Their membership supported the Orleanist line of pretenders. Railing against liberal democracy and taking second place to none in their hostility toward the Germans “Action Francaise” rose in popularity, particularly during and immediately after the First World War. More and more people came to support the movement, electing about thirty members to the National Assembly, however, as it became more successful it also became increasingly less monarchist in an effort to appeal to a greater section of the populace that had become comfortable with the republic. However, because Maurras was a non-believer who saw Catholicism as simply a tool of social order and because of clerical distrust of him and the influence of the movement, in 1926 Pope Pius XI condemned “Action Francaise”, effectively breaking it as a major force given how heavily Catholic the membership was. In 1939 Pope Pius XII withdrew the condemnation but by that time the monarchism of the movement had deteriorated even further due to royalist divisions and the rising popularity of fascist type groups that were firmly republican.

Charles Maurras
French politics was in a terrible state in general at this time. The 1936 elections saw France taken over by leftist radical republicans, some of whom were taking their orders from Stalin in the Soviet Union. The result of their rule was a massive downturn in the economy, productivity fell drastically, French goods became fewer and more expensive and the public became divided, depressed and defeatist; in other words, ripe for defeat at the hands of Germany under Adolf Hitler. In 1940 the Germans invaded, doing just about everything right in military terms, France was swiftly defeated and the Third Republic died a mostly unlamented death. A new government for unoccupied France was established in Vichy led by the venerable war hero Marshal Philippe Petain, a man who thought little of liberalism, democracy or the republic. His regime was authoritarian and, most infamously, collaborated with the Germans while keeping France officially neutral. Some monarchists joined the Free French underground loyal to General Charles DeGaulle but others hoped the Vichy government would prove the more fertile ground to bring about a restoration of the monarchy since so many of its leaders were hostile to the republic and republican principles (oftentimes blaming them for the fall of France).

Sadly, French royalists were, by this time, even more divided than before. The legitimist camp broke into three factions, one favoring the deposed King of Spain Alfonso XIII, another supporting Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma and a third supported Archduke Karl Pius of Austria Prince of Tuscany. Prince Xavier had served in the Belgian army and then joined the French resistance and, as a result, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. After the war he gained quite a large following amongst the Spanish Carlist faction but not so much in France. Archduke Karl (then in Andorra) never made much of an effort at all and, needless to say, the King of Spain and his heir were concerned with the Spanish throne and not the French one. The Orleanist claimant, Henri Count of Paris (Henri VI), who is best known for disinheriting his sons, had a more realistic chance of gaining the throne. It seemed possible as the republic had become decidedly unpopular and most at least recognized the Vichy regime as the legitimate government of France which contained many elements hostile to the republic.

Marshal Petain
However, hostile to the republic did not necessarily mean supportive of monarchy. There were divisions between those who wanted a restored monarchy, a fascist-style state or simply a more nationalist and authoritarian republic. It naturally did not help that there was a war on and most viewed the current political situation as being only temporary. Some monarchists opposed it, others supported it but were content with the “State of France” as it was, thinking that Petain would be the French General Franco; establishing an authoritarian state that would see France through the current crisis and then, after his passing, perhaps the monarchy could be restored then. As we know, that did not happen. The Allies invaded France, Germany was defeated and General Charles de Gaulle more or less assumed power. Some hoped that De Gaulle, who had rather flirted with monarchism in the past, might restore the monarchy with the Count of Paris as King. However, that was probably a slim hope at best. De Gaulle saw no one fit to rule but himself and, being a patriotic Frenchman, decided that, for the good of France and the self-esteem of the French people, a lie would have to be embraced.

To wipe away the shame and divisions of the occupation, what was basically a noble myth was invented which was that France and the French people had always been devoted to the republic and its ideals and that everyone had, throughout the war, been either supporting the underground resistance or at least cheering for the Free French forces from afar with De Gaulle universally recognized as the true leader and savior of France. In the aftermath of the war the Fourth Republic was founded, consisting basically of the supporters of De Gaulle and the communists as everyone else had been deemed part of that “tiny” collaborationist minority. It was hardly different from the Third Republic and did not last long being replaced in 1958 by the Fifth French Republic (the current model) after the disaster of the Algerian crisis caused France to put all its faith in Charles De Gaulle under a new regime that gave the President far greater power. In some ways, it was more like a monarchy than previous regimes had been but by that time a majority of the French had become comfortable embracing the trappings of republicanism. It has the distinction of being one of the few (perhaps really the only one) French republics that was willingly accepted by the people of France.

As we have seen, monarchist loyalty died hard in France and it lingered long after most histories cease to mention it. Although never perhaps as firmly as devoted, traditional legitimists would like, the French public remained attached to the idea of monarchy and time and time again the republican form of government simply succeeded by default. Time after time, for one reason or another, restoration of the monarchy was put off and the republic taken up again only as a supposedly “temporary” measure. Yet, that situation turned out to be not so temporary due to monarchist divisions and circumstances beyond the control of any one group. Eventually, the temporary republic became permanent as the French people became comfortable with the mediocrity and corruption (physical and spiritual) of the republican system. Today, unfortunately, the situation remains much the same and while the divisions may not be as significant as in the past, for those who are divided, their differences are as bitter as ever. Thus, by default, the republic remains.


  1. Keep something 'temporary' long enough, and eventually it becomes more and more permanent.

  2. Hello---- I very much admire your site & sentiments. I salute you for all the hard work you've clearly put in here. I was hoping you might have some idea how one might contact the Legitimist movement…..aside from HRH Louis Alphonse, is there a person or body that represents the Legitimists ?? Thank you in advance for your time & response. Best Regards~

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