Why Did The Restored Bourbon Monarchy Fail In France (1815-30)

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Why did the restored Bourbon monarchy fail in France (1814-30)? Much of the historical interest in the restored Bourbon monarchy has concentrated on its shortcomings, often giving the impression that it was destined to failure from its very inception. Indeed, as both the First and Second Restorations ended in relatively swift revolutions, it is difficult to argue against the validity of this method. However, I don't believe that the question of "˜why a failure occurred' can be addressed properly without some prior discussion about the nature of this failure. Therefore, this essay will first concentrate on the sense in which the Bourbon monarchy can be said to have failed between 1814 and 1830, before progressing to deal with the reasons for this failure.

J.P.T. Bury argues that the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X could be termed a success in the financial and economic sphere, in its cultural achievement, and in foreign policy, and there is certainly a case to be made in each of these areas. For instance, it is widely agreed that France underwent a "profound economic change" during this period, with the appearance of savings banks and joint-stock companies, improvements in agriculture, and the expansion of the transport network. Moreover, the rapid repayment of the war indemnity was of important symbolic value as it represented the return to financial solvency for the first time in a generation. It must be acknowledged that many of these improvements are difficult to quantify accurately, and were due in some extent a wider evolution in the European economy, while the intermittent depression that France suffered after 1826 reduced the pace of progress. On the whole however, the Bourbon monarchy can claim success in its economic performance.

Similarly, the rich literary and fallout from the conflict between the Classicists and Romantics during the 1820's, the re-emergence of the Sorbonne as an international centre of education, and the political philosophy of Constant and Lammenais can all be used as evidence to dismiss the verdict of failure when assessing the restored Bourbon monarchy. Furthermore, between 1814 and 1830 France was to a largely rehabilitated as a Great Power, and the establishment of French influence in North Africa had began. When the extent of France's humiliation in 1815 is taken into account, it is therefore difficult to dispute Pamela Pilbeam's claim that the foreign policy of the Bourbons "should not be underestimated".

It is the reality of the 1830 Revolution that means, despite its evident achievements, the restored Bourbon monarchy as a system of government must be deemed a failure. Consequently, the principal causes of this failure must lie in the aspects of Bourbon policy that have not yet been covered, namely the political and social framework of the country during the period in question, which had undergone a fundamental transformation during the previous quarter of a century The damage to the notion of Bourbon legitimacy done by the French Revolution was apparent immediately after Napoleon's abdication, when there was very little initial clamour for a return of the dynasty. Even France's opponents were unsure as to whether Louis XVIII should rule; instead he owed his restoration to the political manoeuvring of influential French notables including Talleyrand. Consequently, when the King and his emigre supporters finally returned, the monarchy's position in the conflict between royal and popular sovereignty was already weakened - many of the principles of the Revolution were conceded in the Charter of 1814, which aimed to create a largely constitutional monarchy. Ostensibly granted by a sovereign King, this document promised an elected two-chamber legislature to scrutinise the directly appointed executive, guaranteed the revolutionary land settlement, retained the Napoleonic administrative structure and promised equality before the law. Nevertheless, provision was soon made for the...
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