Sunday, May 18, 2014

Today in French Royal History

On this day in 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was declared "Emperor of the French" by the French Senate. Later, Pope Pius VII would preside at his formal coronation. This was not supposed to be seen as a restoration of monarchy in France but an imperial elevation for the French Republic, similar to the way the Roman Republic carried on after Augustus became Emperor. However, it certainly was a monarchy, just not the traditional monarchy of France. The fact is that Napoleon had monarchical aspirations for some time. It was offensive to him that anyone should dare to consider themselves more lofty than he and he considered the Austrian Hapsburgs the most offensive. It helped that the Archduke of Austria was also the Holy Roman Emperor and traditionally there had only been one Emperor in western Europe and Kaiser Franz II knew that Napoleon had his eye on the job. So, in order to deprive the 'Corsican upstart' of his prize, Franz II abdicated and dissolved the (by then nominal) Holy Roman Empire and became Emperor Franz I of Austria. So, there were two emperors in the west and one in the east (the Tsar of all the Russias, but Napoleon was coming to him as well) and Napoleon began to revive monarchy where French forces had once torn it down, farming out his relatives to create new royal houses. However, it did not work as republicans found it repugnant and monarchists believed in sticking with the legitimate dynasties. Napoleon was the first to try to combine the ideals of the French Revolution with the structure of a monarchy but he would not be the last to prove unsuccessful at it.


  1. Forgive me if you've already mentioned this before on this blog (and if you have, would you please link me to where you did?), and this isn't meant to be loaded, just sincere curiosity, but what you've said here prompted me to ask this question.

    Especially given that you hold that both the Roman Empire and both French Empires were true monarchies, even though you also concede that republican institutions (like Senates) carried on even when Rome and France, respectively, ceased to be question is, what is the clear and distinct difference between a monarchy in that sense and a republic?

    I'd imagine it's similar to why a constitutional monarchy still counts as a monarchy even if the monarch doesn't do any actual governing, but in that case there's at least a clear connection with the past in the form of the royal family. Here, not so.

    So to make my question clearer, I suppose I would put it thus: knowing at what point Octavian or Napoleon Bonaparte, respectively, ceased to be republican politicians and became monarchs (27 BC and AD 1804 respectively), I suppose my question is, why? What was the distinguishing factor that made these true monarchies despite there having been no ancient, hereditary right to the respective thrones, and not merely monarchies in pretense (if there is such a thing--I would think there would be, as surely I couldn't just proclaim myself a monarch!)?

    Was it recognition as such by the people? Or by someone else? But if the former, how is that a true monarchy and not "res publica", rule by the people, a republic? And I wouldn't think that it would be considered as recognition by God, as the Romans were pagans who didn't know the true God, and I don't see why God would have taken the right to rule away from the Bourbons and given it to Napoleon in 1804? But if neither, who is left, and why?

    I fear I may not be making my question clear, and if not I apologize, but do you understand what I'm trying to ask, and can you answer it definitively for me?

  2. In the case of Napoleon, you may have the wrong idea. His was a "true" monarchy in that he became a monarch and his regime functioned as a hereditary monarchy. That being said, I in no way consider it legitimate though it was certainly an improvement over the excesses of the First Republic. Some did, of course, and in the French context having the Pope preside over his coronation certainly helped; allowing him to say he's the Emperor because the Pope said so.

    As for the Romans, I almost hate to include them in this sort of thing because they are so far above everything else there is not much to grapple with. So much of what we know grew out of what they did so that it's almost impossible to project backward and judge them. The Roman Empire was a 'res publica' and was still called a republic even when it had a monarchy. It also had recognition by, not God of course but, the gods both before the monarchy and during the monarchy. They were first elevated by the Senate and the People of Rome, with the approval of the gods as everything was done by and in their case it lasted long enough to become tradition and the monarchy became an established institution on its own. Eventually they shed all pretense of republicanism even if they retained some republican institutions but, again, it's hard to categorize the Romans in modern terms because they were just on a different level from us. Our word Prince actually comes from Princeps or 'First Citizen' and our word Emperor comes from Imperator both of which originated in the Roman Republic but neither of which are associated with republicanism today. So we have a sort of structure for things from the Romans but which doesn't always apply to them because they were basically making it up as they went along and didn't have the same sort of rigid divisions between styles of government and political ideologies that we have.

    Today, because we do have clearer definitions for these things, my simple solution is to just go by whatever the government says that it is, as academically imprecise as that may be. There are republics based on hereditary authority today but they say they are republics so I call them that and even if they called themselves monarchies, and function like monarchies, I still would not regard them as legitimate as they are totally alien to their traditions. The Romans did not do that, even Napoleon was not a total break with the past (or it was but he made an effort to make it less so) with his reconciliation with the Pope, his Roman trappings and his pointing back to Charlemagne. Though, in his case, unlike the Romans, no French imperial monarchy ever lasted long enough to become traditional and gain the sort of legitimacy of age that others may have.

  3. Thanks for your reply! I know that a monarchy has to start somewhere (like the two Mexican Empires). I agree with you on the Bonaparte regime. I'm not aware if the Pope was there of His own accord, though, or under duress (I'm not familiar with the history).

    Ah, I didn't know that about those Latin terms being associated with the Republic. Thank you for the information. Roman history sounds fascinating--I know a bit of it, and what I know of it I'm fascinated by, but I still don't know all the details. I'm particularly interested in the Julius Caesar/Augustus period.

    I was afraid of that, but I guess I'll have to settle for that. So I guess a generic but not precise or universal definition would be that a monarchy is pro-tradition, while a republic represents a break with it. I realize that's not precise because republics have their own traditions, but I guess a lot of those are antipathetic to good religious and monarchical traditions. I'm sorry, I don't mean to ramble, I just have OCD and it hurts my head if I can't grasp things like this.

    In any case, thanks again for your reply. God bless!

    1. Things involving humanity in any way are bound to be imprecise and messy. It would be just as hard to concretely nail down what makes a republic. Some are democratic, some are elitist, some are even hereditary. It has also come about in the way most view republics in the post-revolutionary world that they are defined by their opposition to monarchy, so a republic is simply that which is not a monarchy and a monarchy is that which is not a republic. It's talking in a circle but I've seen those given as definitions before.

  4. I am a Fan of N.B in some respect and wish he had stopped at Russia or at least taken on the Ottoman Empire because he had the chance to Unite all of Europe. Had he stopped at Russia, I always wondered how Europe would be today. You did a post on what if the Austria-Hungarian Empire had survived but U every think what if N.B. had not gone into Russia. Love your posts.


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