Which problem did most to undermine the stability of Louis XVIII’s France

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After Louis XVIII had been restored as King of France in 1814, it was evident that he had inherited a difficult and divided legacy. This was the legacy of the “indigestible revolution” of the late 18th Century. He had taken over a country that had supported his enemy Napoleon, and the revolutionaries. Inevitably, this was bound to cause problems in a country, which had been exhausted by the harsh reality of war. However, ironically the most significant problem that was to face Louis, would come from within his own supporters, the Ultra- Royalists.

France was battered and exhausted after a long and gruelling war. It had resulted in 1. 5million deaths and the extermination of an entire generation. This is because 1 in 3 boys born between 1790-1795 were killed or seriously wounded. The British naval blockade caused enormous economic devastation, which was not helped by heavy taxation, inflation and requisitions. The war had drained the resources of France. Throughout the concluding years, food shortages were common and unemployment rates soared. Consequently, the health of the inhabitants of France, especially children, decreased significantly.

The post-war years were also difficult. The employment sector was filled with unwanted soldiers, weapons manufacturers etc, who were searching for jobs. In trading terms, the war had a detrimental effect on France and meant that Britain was now perceived as a dangerous economic competitor. The misconduct of the Allies who liberated France only heightened the scale of destruction. Vengeful German troops were not seen as heroes for long. They sought revenge for how the French had acted as invaders on their soil and therefore, seized food, money and property.

Many of the German soldiers also instigated violence, insults and in extreme cases rape. Those who were attacked would later go on to become revolutionaries. The war did cause an enormous amount of discontent yet; it was not the most significant factor in undermining Louis’ regime. This is because the war was actually helpful to Louis. Napoleon was blamed and many people welcomed the Bourbons back as it ensured that a peace would occur. Furthermore, the after-war problems were only a short-lived hindrance. Indeed, there was a rapid recovery, which led to general economic prosperity right up until 1826.

The White Terror was caused by numerous civil wars throughout France following the Battle of Waterloo. Ultra- royalists in Southern France (led by D’Angouleme) fought the federations who were trying to defend Napoleon. When the White Terror was released it led to thousands being tortured, killed and jailed. Many who had backed Napoleon in ‘The Hundred Days’ were forced to flee into exile. The White Terror manifested resentment towards the Bourbons as it was conducted in their name. The regime had permitted it to happen and had not acted vigorously to stop it. This meant that many people felt angered and betrayed by the Bourbons.

The White Terror aggravated the divisions between the different classes of French people and made Louis task of reconciliation extremely difficult. The White Terror catalysed the introduction of an official White Terror, which also caused immense devastation and was accompanied by a harsh 2nd Treaty. The positive impact of the Bourbons had already been swiftly removed by the terms of the 1st treaty. However the 2nd Treaty, much like Versailles had done to Weimar, meant that the Bourbons were readily associated with a punishing peace. France lost prosperous areas of land, including Nice, Savoy and the Saarland.

Furthermore, a colossal reparations bill of around 500 million francs was burdened upon them. This therefore meant, that Louis was not able to lower the taxes as he had promised, causing great resentment amongst the French people.. Yet, one must be cautious not to overstate the importance of this factor. Even the 2nd treaty wasn’t that harsh and its harmful affect was not too damaging on the long-term economic status of France. This is demonstrated as in the period following the 100 days from 1815-1820, an awful lot was re-built in this period of reconciliation.

Louis XVIII attempted to win back the loyalties of the Liberal bourgeoisie and many of his conciliatory policies e. g. appointed moderate ministers, did much to heal the wounds of the formerly angered Liberals. Louis XVIII had faced much resentment from a defiant Liberal opposition. Following the Bourbon restoration, approximately one million families who had bought bien nationaux (land confiscated from emigres or Church land, nationalised and sold from 1791), feared that they would lose their newly acquired property.

The Liberals were very wary of if the King would reward his loyal supporters who had fought for him and fled into exile under the Bourbon name. Small landowners feared a return to feudalism and Peasants were concerned that the Seigniorial Rights, which had been abolished in 1789, would be restored. Many Liberals, especially soldiers, were angered by the symbolic act of replacing the traditional “Tricouleure” flag with the Bourbon flag (fleur-de-lys on a white background). This is because it meant replacing the flag that they had fought under for 20 years, with the flag which previously flew above the armies of the enemy.

Most also resented how the majority of them were being denied the basic right to vote (only 50-60,000 enfranchised out of almost 2 million. ) In the Charter of 1814, which contained a mixture of Liberal and Conservative measures, many Liberals resented the fact that the King still had a copious amount of power over many things, such as law making. This included the option of (as shown in Article 16 of the Charter), carrying out the sole legislative initiative (“Le Roi propose la loi”).

Another example of an aspect of the Charter which frustrated the Liberals, is Article 14 which states how “the King” is the “supreme head of state” and must “command” “land and sea forces”, “declare war”, create “alliances” and “make… rules and ordinances” for the “laws and safety of the state”. On a superficial level, this was perceived as a step back towards absolute monarchy and the Liberals were intrinsically against this. Other aspects of the Charter, included promoting the interests of the Church and, how the Charter was granted as a royal concession or “octroi”, served merely to fuel Liberal discontent.

However, at this stage despite their being many angered Liberals, their moods were brightened as the many Liberal aspects present in the Charter conciliated them. As well as this, after the Charter had been created, Louis demonstrated his desire for reconciliation between 1815-20. This however, led to many of his own supporters becoming disgruntled. Far more damaging in undermining Louis regime was ironically the demands of his supporters before 1820. They requested many different things.

Firstly, as according to the rights of the man, ‘every Frenchman’ should have the right to a ‘government job’. The dedicated i?? migri?? felt that they should be given priority in these jobs as they had served and suffered for the King. They also wanted church and i?? migri?? land restored as well as some of them wanting the restoration of noble privileges and clerical tithes. Louis did provide them with a lot which they had requested yet, they felt betrayed when they discovered that Louis was still clinging to the idea of the reconciliation the Liberal Bourgeoisie.

Liberals were appointed throughout the sector: and a vast majority of officials inherited in 1814 were retained, and this remained true despite the gruesome White Terror in 1815. When the extremely Ultra, ‘Chamber Introuvable’ was created by the election of August 1815, Louis realised that his reconciliatory policy was being subverted. In September 1816, he rapidly dissolved the very-ultra “Chamber Introuvable” and used his powerful influence to create a more moderate and successful chamber in the next election.

Furthermore, moderate ministers were appointed in preference to Ultras. For example, the “senile passion” (Decazes (1818-1820)) of Louis was appointed as well as the Duke of Richelieu. On numerous occasions, Louis preferred to appoint Ultra ministers even when the Chamber of Deputies was fundamentally Ultra (1815-16, 1820-21). An example, of how Louis neglected his own supporters in preference to reconciliation is shown when in 1818 he chose to increase the Chamber of Peers from 208 to 270, so that the Ultra opposition to Decazes was defeated.

To make matters worse, a Liberal landslide victory in the election of 1919 led to a group known as the “Independents” (republicans, Bonapartists and resentful liberals) who were led by Lafayette, Lafitte and Constant, being created. This created an irresistible amount of Ultra pressure on the King. The Ultras before 1820, felt betrayed and were extremely upset by the actions of Louis. Yet, the situation vastly deteriorated after 1820. Above all, the biggest problem in this period was the assassination of the Duc de Berry on the 14th February 1820.

He was the second son of Artois (the future Charles X). Although Berry was third in line for the throne, he symbolised the survival of the Bourbon dynasty. His murderer Louvel (a Bonapartist) believed by brutally murdering Berry with a dagger it would lead to the end of the dynasty. The assassination outraged the Ultras. They believed that it was an attempt to destroy the Monarchy, which had been instigated by all of those who resented the Bourbons. The dagger of Louvel was described as a “liberal idea” and, many people blamed the apparent liberal tendencies of Decazes for the death.

To add to Louis’ problems, they were a series of minor revolts between 1820-23, including the conspiracy of the Four Sergeants of La Rochelle. This was added to by the fact that the revolutions in Germany, Italy and Spain had caused an upsurge in extreme-left activity throughout France. The deterioration in the health of Louis did not help his cause as Ultra-Royalists pressure was piled upon him. Therefore, to conclude it is clear that Ultra pressure was indeed the most important factor in undermining the stability of the King’s regime.

The almost impossible legacy of the French revolution had meant that when the Bourbons were restored to power, France was evidently divided. This meant that Louis faced an almost impossible task of governing over a country which contained two separate groups, each who demanded their own specific rights. He tried to put aside his obvious bias tendencies towards the Ultras in an attempt to bridge the gap between them and the Liberals. It is true to say that the war and The Hundred Days had a detrimental effect on France, yet the results of it could be easily repaired.

Liberal discontent could also be subverted if the King, as he did, attempted to grant them the ethos, which they craved. However, it was the irreparable, vengeful assertiveness of the Ultras which aggravated the divisions and, made Louis task of reconciliation an almost impossible task. They demanded revenge for the Revolution and reward for their dedication to the King. When these were not granted, great resentment arose. It is fair to say that this Ultra discontent, inevitably destabilised the Bourbon regime and the power of it would be demonstrated when it would eventually cause it to topple in 1830.

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