How were the borders of small European principalities maintained or secured?

How were the borders of small European principalities maintained or secured?



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With shifting boundaries, enclaves, exclaves, and alliances, how were the territorial extents of small principalities or duchies maintained, for example in the Holy Roman Empire or German Confederation? Was travel restricted? Were there checkpoints? Did the average Johannes in the village feel any particular loyalty to whomever was given control over his region in the latest treaty?


- How were the borders of small European principalities maintained or secured?

They weren't, really. Even accurate maps didn't exist until sometime in the late 18th century when the Longitude Problem was solved. However, as all of these little sovereignties were the personal possession of their sovereign, this did not affect the common people in their everyday life. In many cases the boundaries of these little principalities tangled around each other like a bowl of spaghetti.

For an example of the consequence of the tangled border of the Bishopric of Liege, check the SE corner of Netherlands and NE corner of Belgium - this border is dramatically rationalized from the original, which weaved in and around buildings, villages and individual farmfields. If your neighbour moved the fence in 10 feet, and you didn't notice for 20 years, the land was now hers.

- Was travel restricted? Were there checkpoints?

Yes, most definitely. This is the age long before Income Tax, and the primary revenue source for senior levels of government is customs and excise taxes. These were collected at every waypoint and border both feasible and reasonable, in the interest of maximizing revenue.

- Did the average Johannes in the village feel any particular loyalty to whomever was given control over his region in the latest treaty?

Absolutely not, with rare exceptions. Nationalism is widely seen as developing just prior to, and during, the Napoleonic Wars. In particular, German Nationalism is largely seen as a direct consequence of Napoleon's creation of the Confederation of The Rhine in 1806, aided by the credible performance of the Austrian army in 1809 and of the minor German States in 1813. Until then:

In Europe before the development of nationalism, people were generally loyal to a religion or to a particular leader rather than to their nation.


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'This nation may now be harassed, weakened and decimated by your soldiery. but it will never be destroyed by the wrath of man.' (The Chronicler, Gerald of Wales, put these words into the mouth of an old man when faced by an invading English king.)

By the 13th century most of Wales had felt at least the tentative grasp of the mailed Norman fist, while large areas of it had settled into uneasy rule by Anglo-Norman barons.

Only the ancient principality of Gwynedd maintained its theoretical independence. After the conquest of Britain that followed the victory at Hastings in 1066, Norman power expanded throughout the British isles, penetrating into the heart of Wales, and across the Irish sea into Ireland itself.

With it came feudalism, knights, monasteries and manors together they dragged Wales from its native British past into a European future. In response Wales became renewed, its native culture was redefined, and its national identity was codified for the first time.

Some historians argue that many of the institutions we take to be Norman are actually the developments of existing Anglo-Saxon tools of government, given Norman names and housed in the castles and abbeys that we still see as the greatest physical legacy of the conquest.

William I and his heirs built hundreds of castles across the British isles, both as shelter for their unwelcome lords and as symbols to cower the local population to remind them that while they formed the overwhelming majority of the population, the Norman lords held power over them.

It should be remembered, however, that before the 13th century, the Norman and then Angevin kings paid little attention personally to extending their authority into Wales or Ireland.

The 'fringe' of Britain offered the opportunity to turn themselves into mini-magnates, with their own estates.

Before the loss of Normandy and most of the other Angevin lands in France by King John, the Angevins understandably devoted their attention to their primary French estates. Henry II only intervened in Ireland to stop his own barons becoming too powerful there, and royal policy remained largely 'reactive', according to Professor Davies.

The barons moved into the 'hinterland' and the crown only intervened when it felt it to be necessary, or was threatened. At all times, any lands taken by the advancing barons remained in their possession only by the grace of their king.

One of the reasons that many of the Norman lords followed William the Bastard in his highly risky invasion of Britain in 1066, was the promise of reward.

To them, the many powerful warrior lords squabbling over the relatively modest size of Normandy itself, the 'fringe' of Britain offered the opportunity to turn themselves into mini-magnates, with their own estates. The only thing between them and power was the local population and its traditional leaders.

The best land went to the king and his inner circle and so it was in Wales (and then Ireland) that the most ambitious lords found their challenge and opportunity. The Angevin kings realised that their authority could only reach into central Wales through the power of their own nobility.

This action of extending power through ambitious individuals (often without the crown's consent), however, turned out to be a two-edged sword. In order to subdue the native population, these lords would need to raise and maintain a significant military presence. These forces could be just as easily used against the king in Westminster as to attack the Welsh princes in Gwynedd.


Zombie Borders

Borderlines explores the global map, one line at a time.

June 13th, 1990, was a historic day for weather forecasting in Germany. For the very first time, the weather map on the Tagesschau [1] showed the newly reunited country’s international borders.

Before, German meteorologists made do with merely topographical maps of a borderless Europe. This was to keep ideology out of meteorology: showing (or not showing) the border between East and West Germany would have meant acknowledging (or denying) that this too was an international border.

Now defunct by just over two decades, the border between the two Germanys already seems like a surreal relic from a much more distant past. Was there really ever a 540-mile Strip of Death separating the two halves, from the Czech border to the Bay of L󼯬k? There was – and it was quite hermetical, and very deadly [2] – but today a visitor might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Joe Burgess/The New York Times

These days, the so-called innerdeutsche Grenze is almost completely erased from the landscape, marked only by the occasional memorial placard along the Autobahn. The fences, the spotlights, the guard dogs and the tanks have all been withdrawn. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone. The line that separated the Federal Republic of (West) Germany from the (East) German Democratic Republic is a zombie border: it’s been dead a few times in the past, and that hasn’t stopped it coming back. The line between east and west existed long before the postwar split.

The German part of what was called the Iron Curtain started on the Czech border at an old tripoint between the ancient kingdoms of Saxony, Bavaria and Bohemia [3]. On its northward course it largely followed the borders of German princely states as they had existed since the Middle Ages.

Admittedly, the view is complicated by the proliferation of small states so typical for pre-unification Germany, but squint at a map of the Holy Roman Empire [4] in its latter centuries, and you’ll see the 20th-century intra-German border prefigured. It’s right there, at the western edge of Thuringia, Magdeburg, the Altmark and Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

But why? After flattening much of Germany, why would the Allies pay any heed to medieval demarcations when occupying it? The border between FRG and GDR started out as the line where the Soviet zone of occupation in the east met the British and American zones. Not only did the Soviets have a bone to pick with Germany, but communism itself seems antithetical to the feudalism that shaped those borders.

The answer is, most likely: convenience. Many if not most “new” international borders, which we take to be the result of recent politics, are in fact older, subnational ones. Drawing completely new borders means having to negotiate and compromise, exchanging territorial tit-for-tats. Plus, by taking over old administrative units in their entirety, you’re inheriting an established capital with a centralized administration that has a reach covering the entire territory. Relying on old borders, already familiar to the locals, saves the occupier a lot of bother.

But there is an even deeper historical layer to Germany’s East-West divide. If the 20th-century border was ideological, and the 18th-century one dynastic, the separation in the Early Middle Ages was ethnic. Almost exactly a millennium before Stalin staked his claim to East Germany, a weirdly similar border divided the East Francian kingdom of Henry I the Fowler, first king of all Germans (919-936) from the Slavic lands in the east.

Around that time, most of what became the German Democratic Republic was settled by Slavs. Indeed, the Slavic history of what is now eastern Germany has been caught in the amber of its toponymy: Any town name ending in -ow (Treptow), -au (Spandau) or -itz (Chemnitz) most likely has a Slavic root. Even Berlin refers back to �rl,” ancient Slavonic for “swamp” (near which the original settlement was built), and not to Bär, German for the bear that really has no business gracing the city flag [5].

Henry founded the powerful Ottonian dynasty – his son Otto would be the first German emperor – and started the tradition of German eastward expansion. In the centuries up to the world wars of the 20th century, German conquest, settlement and acculturation had pushed back the Slavosphere hundreds of miles. Even today, pockets of ethnic Slavs still exist within German borders, most notably the Sorbs, who live in and around the Spreewald marshlands southeast of Berlin and speak a language closely related to Polish. Hitler explicitly placed his quest for more Lebensraum in the east in the tradition of that Drang nach Osten [6] he even sent German anthropologists into Poland and Russia to find evidence that ethnic Germans had once occupied those territories.

Stalin, too, saw the contemporary conflict with Germany in a millennial context. In his victory speech to the people on May 9, 1945, he said: “The age-long struggle of the Slavonic peoples for their existence and independence has ended in victory over the German aggressors and German tyranny.”

This might explain why the Soviets were the first of the Allied quartet to propose the borders of their occupation zone [7] – they had studied their historical atlases beforehand, and were determined to roll back German eastward expansion from its high-water mark at the gates of Moscow to its earliest beginnings, on the banks of the Elbe. As the Swiss historian Walther Hofer wrote, “The Third Reich did not turn out to be a thousand-year empire, but in the twelve years of its existence, it managed to undo the historical achievement of a thousand years” [8].

But this was hardly the end of things: the Red Army’s advance to the Elbe, once indeed the border between Germanic and Slavic tribes, turned out to be the Soviet Union’s own high-water mark. By 1990, state communism had retreated from Central Europe. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, the Soviet Union was about to collapse as Germany’s two halves re-unified [9].

The Iron Curtain that divided Europe (and Germany) is gone. The European Union now includes much of Eastern Europe, and indeed some bits of the former Soviet Union. In Angela Merkel, Germany has its first chancellor raised in the former East Germany. Although many socio-economic indicators for the ex-GDR are still not up to par with the western half of Germany, the border itself has been thoroughly erased from the landscape.

So is that the end of Henry the Fowler’s thousand-year-old border? Maybe not. Erased borders are like phantom limbs – sometimes it feels like they’re still there, even when they’re manifestly not.

For one of the most remarkable examples of this revenant quality of former borders, we need only hop across the Oder-Neisse line to Poland. On the map of post-communist Poland’s election results, one curious division keeps cropping up: the old imperial border between Russia and Prussia/Germany, as it existed when Poland did not, from 1848 to 1918.

In the electoral districts west of that border, it’s usually the more liberal candidates and parties that win a majority. To the east, with the notable exception of Warsaw, the more conservative ones mostly carry the day. This map shows the geographic distribution of majorities in the first round of the most recent presidential elections, in 2010, pitting Bronisᐪw Komorowski (candidate for the liberal Civic Platform party) against Jarosᐪw Kaczynski (candidate of the conservative Law and Justice party). Mr. Komorowski, who defeated his opponent 53 percent to 47 percent, won majorities mainly in the formerly Prussian part of the country, with Mr. Kaczynski winning mainly in the formerly Russian part.

Related
More From Borderlines

Read previous contributions to this series.

The fit between modern election result and ancient border is almost perfect. But how can this be? The ethnic composition of the region has been shaken up thoroughly since the border last was in effect: following the Second World War, Germans were expelled from areas east of the Oder-Neisse line, and Poles moved in from former Polish areas to the east, now annexed by the Soviet Union.

Yet in spite of these completely different demographics, the former border keeps resurfacing at Polish national elections – a zombie border indeed. Earlier treatment of this question [10] has offered up a few intriguing hypotheses: The resettled Poles haven’t had the time yet to “get conservative” the newer Polish areas have richer farmland (or a denser rail network), are thus more likely to have liberal politics. But an answer that fits the question as snugly as the old border fits contemporary election results remains elusive.

It may seem overly deterministic to link modern election results to ancient borders that no longer exist but similar claims have been made about election outcomes in France, Ukraine and the United States, to name but a few countries.

The Web site Electoral Geography is an excellent place to lose a few hours looking for evidence of old borders, or any other social patterns, in election result maps. And when all those shifting boundaries get a bit too much for you, maybe it’s finally time for the Tagesschau’s soothing weather map, where the only lines moving across Europe are the cold fronts.

Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.

[1] The daily news show on Germany’s first public TV channel ARD (Das Erste, as opposed to the second public TV channel ZDF, das Zweite).

[2] At its height, the border (not counting Berlin) was secured by an overlapping system of 273 miles of spring-gun installations, 143 miles of minefields, 374 miles of ditches (to prevent vehicular evasion) and 434 observation towers. Bordering the 30-foot-wide Strip of Death (“Todesstreifen”) was a 1,500-foot-wide Control Strip (“Kontrollstreifen”) and a nearly three-mile-wide Exclusion Zone (“Sperrzone”) with limited access for non-residents. Between 1948 and 1989, 560 people were killed while attempting to cross this border without permission (in Berlin, the total body count was around 250).

[3] Before 1989, that would have been East Germany, West Germany and Czechoslovakia, respectively. The tripoint is located at the very tip of the so-called Aš Panhandle.

[4] A long-lived (962-1806) but weak union of mainly German states, presided over by an emperor chosen by a college of prince-electors (“Kurfürste”). Voltaire famously dubbed it “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”

[5] See also Oswald Jannermann, “Slawische Orts- und Gewässernamen in Deutschland, von Belgard in Pommern bis Zicker auf Rügen.”

[6] And not just Hitler. The SS Chief Heinrich Himmler laid wreaths at the grave of Henry I the Fowler, and may have believed he was his namesake’s reincarnation.

[7] On May 12 1944, four months before the United States, Britain and France had even thought about delineating their zones.

[8] Walther Hofer, �r Nationalsozialismus. Dokumente 1933�.”

[9] Prompting many Europeans to share the sentiment expressed by then-Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti: “We love Germany so much that we would prefer to have two of them.” (Andreotti was quoting the French writer François Mauriac).


Georgia is located in the Caucasus region of Europe and Asia. It is located in between Eastern Europe and Western Asia with the bigger part of the country being in Asia. The country’s capital is Tbilisi, which is also the biggest in the country. Georgia side in Europe has a land surface area of 937.46 square miles. The total land surface area of Georgia, including the side in Asia, is 26,911.32 square miles. The population in 2017 was estimated at 3.718 million. Georgia separated from the Soviet Union in April 1991. Georgian is the national language of the country.

Although the total land area of Georgia is larger than some of the entries on this list, we are only counting the part of Georgia that is on the European side, which is 2,428 km squared.


The Dark Horse Candidate

In 1844, James Polk unexpectedly became the Democrats’ nominee for president. He emerged as a compromise candidate after the more likely choice, former president Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), who had lost his reelection bid in 1840, failed to secure the party’s nomination. Polk thus became America’s first dark horse presidential candidate. George Dallas (1792-1864), a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was chosen as Polk’s running mate.

In the general election, Polk ran against U.S. Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852), a Kentuckian and a founder of the Whig Party. The Whigs used the campaign slogan “Who is James K. Polk?”𠄺n allusion to the fact that Polk was not well known outside the world of politics. However, Polk’s expansionist platform favoring the annexation of Texas appealed to voters. He narrowly won the presidency with 49.5 percent of the popular vote and an electoral margin of 170-105.


1981 Inauguration and Assassination Attempt

Ronald Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1981. In his inaugural address, Reagan famously said of America’s then-troubled economy, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems government is the problem.”

After the more informal Carter years, Reagan and his wife Nancy ushered in a new era of glamour in the nation’s capital, which became known as Hollywood on the Potomac. The first lady wore designer fashions, hosted numerous state dinners and oversaw a major redecoration of the White House.

Just over two months after his inauguration, on March 30, 1981, Reagan survived an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. (1955-), a man with a history of psychiatric problems, outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. The gunman’s bullet pierced one of the president’s lungs and narrowly missed his heart. Reagan, known for his good-natured humor, later told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Within several weeks of the shooting, Reagan was back at work.


Alaska Boundary Dispute

The Alaska boundary dispute took place between Canada and the United States over the boundary of southeastern Alaska and the coast of British Columbia . The contested area, known as the Alaska Panhandle, is a complex coastal area consisting of large fjords and channel islands. The dispute was resolved by an international tribunal in 1903. ( See also Northwest Coast .)

Early History

The eastern border of the Alaska Panhandle was never firmly established throughout the period of Russian colonization (c. 1780s to 1867), nor in the first few decades of American control.

Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, Russian explorers, whalers and traders travelling east across the Bering Sea had settled along coastal Alaska, claiming the area as the eastern frontier of the Russian Empire. The Panhandle was an especially attractive region, given its abundant stocks of fish and sea otters — at that time the most valuable animal in the European fur trade.

The presence of British and American explorers also grew throughout this period, adding to a European presence in the region that increasingly encroached on the traditional territories of the Łingít (Tlingit) and Haida peoples.

Tlingit and Haida traditional territories.
(courtesy Victor Temprano/Native-Land.ca)

In 1825, the Russian and British governments signed the Treaty of Saint Petersburg, which set the southern coastal border of the Panhandle at 54°40’ N latitude (near the modern town of Prince Rupert, BC). The treaty was focused on the coastal area and did not firmly set the Panhandle’s eastern boundary, because the interior region was extremely mountainous and not seen as a priority to the negotiators. However, the text of the agreement stated that “the line of coast which is to belong to Russia… shall be formed by a line parallel to the winding of the coast, and which shall never exceed the distance of ten marine leagues [56 km] therefrom.”

Alaska Purchase

On 30 March 1867, the United States bought the entire region from Russia. The Alaska Purchase (as it’s called) occurred at a strategic moment for both countries. Following the Crimean War between Russia and Britain in the 1850s, Russia feared that Alaska would be easily conquered by the British in the event of a future war, and was therefore interested in cutting its potential losses by selling the territory. In the 1840s, the United States had rapidly secured holdings along the Pacific coast, from California to British Columbia. Some American officials hoped that Washington may even claim British Columbia, at that time still a British colony.

As the purchase was completed, the Canadian colonies in the east were in negotiations toward Confederation — a process that was completed on 1 July 1867. Four years later, on 20 July 1871, British Columbia joined Canada, thereby ending American aspirations for full control of the Pacific coast north of Tijuana, Mexico (see Northwest Coast).

Shortly afterward, Ottawa petitioned Washington for a survey of the Panhandle area to determine the exact location of the border, but Washington rejected the idea on the grounds that it would be too costly an investment for such a peripheral tract of land.

Klondike Gold Rush and Arbitration

The Klondike gold rush, which began in fall 1897, brought the smouldering dispute to a head. Canada wanted a direct route from the Klondike gold fields to the Pacific fjords, whereas the US wanted to maintain control of the intervening territory.

Klondikers buying miner's licences at Customs House, Victoria, BC, 21 February 1898. Much of the early business done in the colony resulted from gold rushes to the interior (courtesy British Library).

A joint commission attempted to resolve the dispute in 1898–99 and failed. The problem was then referred to an international tribunal in 1903, whose members included three American politicians (Elihu Root, Henry Cabot Lodge and George Turner), two Canadians (Sir Allen Bristol Aylesworth and Sir Louis-Amable Jetté) and Lord Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of England.

The Canadian and American representatives favoured their respective governments’ territorial claims. Based on the 1825 Treaty of Saint Petersburg, it was clear that the border should lie 56 km east of the ocean coast, but it was not clear how the ocean coast should be defined. The Americans argued that the coast should be defined as the point where the mainland touches Pacific water, whereas the Canadians argued that the coast was at the western boundary of the channel islands.

To the Canadians’ chagrin, Alverstone supported the American claim. Furious with what they saw as a betrayal by their colonial government, the Canadian representatives refused to sign the final decision. However, this act of protest did not prevent the decision from taking effect, since the question had been put to binding arbitration. When the resolution was issued on 20 October 1903, a strong wave of anti-British feeling erupted in Canada.

Significance and Legacy

Though Canada lost the Alaska boundary dispute, the event marked a significant moment in which the country began to distinguish its political interests from both Britain and the United States. Canadians’ frustration with the American victory may, for instance, have contributed to their rejection of free trade with the US in the 1911 “reciprocity election.”

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, campaigning.

More importantly, the dispute enhanced Canadians’ desire for full control over their foreign policy. Irritated at the decision, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier asserted that Canada's lack of treaty-making power made it difficult to maintain its rights internationally. He took no immediate action to rectify this problem, but the dispute nonetheless supported Ottawa’s case for increasing independence from London in the years following the First World War.


The Wars of Religion

Germany, France, and the Netherlands each achieved a settlement of the religious problem by means of war, and in each case the solution contained original aspects. In Germany the territorial formula of cuius regio, eius religio applied—that is, in each petty state the population had to conform to the religion of the ruler. In France, the Edict of Nantes in 1598 embraced the provisions of previous treaties and accorded the Protestant Huguenots toleration within the state, together with the political and military means of defending the privileges that they had exacted. The southern Netherlands remained Catholic and Spanish, but the Dutch provinces formed an independent Protestant federation in which republican and dynastic influences were nicely balanced. Nowhere was toleration accepted as a positive moral principle, and seldom was it granted except through political necessity.

There were occasions when the Wars of Religion assumed the guise of a supranational conflict between Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Spanish, Savoyard, and papal troops supported the Catholic cause in France against Huguenots aided by Protestant princes in England and Germany. In the Low Countries, English, French, and German armies intervened and at sea Dutch, Huguenot, and English corsairs fought the Battle of the Atlantic against the Spanish champion of the Counter-Reformation. In 1588 the destruction of the Spanish Armada against England was intimately connected with the progress of the struggles in France and the Netherlands.

Behind this ideological grouping of the powers, national, dynastic, and mercenary interests generally prevailed. The Lutheran duke Maurice of Saxony assisted Charles V in the first Schmalkaldic War in 1547 in order to win the Saxon electoral dignity from his Protestant cousin, John Frederick while the Catholic king Henry II of France supported the Lutheran cause in the second Schmalkaldic War in 1552 to secure French bases in Lorraine. John Casimir of the Palatinate, the Calvinist champion of Protestantism in France and the Low Countries, maintained an understanding with the neighbouring princes of Lorraine, who led the ultra-Catholic Holy League in France. In the French conflicts, Lutheran German princes served against the Huguenots, and mercenary armies on either side often fought against the defenders of their own religion. On the one hand, deep divisions separated Calvinist from Lutheran and, on the other hand, political considerations persuaded the moderate Catholic faction, the Politiques, to oppose the Holy League. The national and religious aspects of the foreign policy of Philip II of Spain were not always in accord. Mutual distrust existed between him and his French allies, the family of Guise, because of their ambitions for their niece Mary Stuart. His desire to perpetuate French weakness through civil war led him at one point to negotiate with the Huguenot leader, Henry of Navarre (afterward Henry IV of France). His policy of religious uniformity in the Netherlands alienated the most wealthy and prosperous part of his dominions. Finally, his ambition to make England and France the satellites of Spain weakened his ability to suppress Protestantism in both countries.

In 1562, seven years after the Peace of Augsburg had established a truce in Germany on the basis of territorialism, France became the centre of religious wars which endured, with brief intermissions, for 36 years. The political interests of the aristocracy and the vacillating policy of balance pursued by Henry II’s widow, Catherine de Médicis, prolonged these conflicts. After a period of warfare and massacre, in which the atrocities of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) were symptomatic of the fanaticism of the age, Huguenot resistance to the crown was replaced by Catholic opposition to the monarchy’s policy of conciliation to Protestants at home and anti-Spanish alliances abroad. The revolt of the Holy League against the prospect of a Protestant king in the person of Henry of Navarre released new forces among the Catholic lower classes, which the aristocratic leadership was unable to control. Eventually Henry won his way to the throne after the extinction of the Valois line, overcame separatist tendencies in the provinces, and secured peace by accepting Catholicism. The policy of the Bourbon dynasty resumed the tradition of Francis I, and under the later guidance of Cardinal Richelieu the potential authority of the monarchy was realized.

In the Netherlands the wise Burgundian policies of Charles V were largely abandoned by Philip II and his lieutenants. Taxation, the Inquisition, and the suppression of privileges for a time provoked the combined resistance of Catholic and Protestant. The house of Orange, represented by William I the Silent and Louis of Nassau, acted as the focus of the revolt and, in the undogmatic and flexible personality of William, the rebels found leadership in many ways similar to that of Henry of Navarre. The sack of the city of Antwerp by mutinous Spanish soldiery in 1576 (three years after the dismissal of Philip II’s autocratic and capable governor, the duke de Alba) completed the commercial decline of Spain’s greatest economic asset. In 1579 Alessandro Farnese, duke di Parma, succeeded in recovering the allegiance of the Catholic provinces, while the Protestant north declared its independence. French and English intervention failed to secure the defeat of Spain, but the dispersal of the Armada and the diversion of Parma’s resources to aid the Holy League in France enabled the United Provinces of the Netherlands to survive. A 12-year truce was negotiated in 1609, and when the campaign began again it merged into the general conflict of the Thirty Years’ War, which, like the other wars of religion of this period, was fought mainly for confessional security and political gain.


The French revolution of 1848European history summary France

At the close of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1789-1815) the Bourbon dynasty was restored in France in the person of a brother of the King who had been sent to the guillotine during the revolution. This restoration King, Louis XVIII, alienated opinion due to his absolutist tendencies and his 'legitimate' monarchy was usurped in 1830 with a junior, 'Orléanist', branch of the dynasty being recognised as Kings of the French rather than as Kings of France.
The King installed in 1830, Louis Philippe, was himself a son of Philippe, Duke of Orléans, a Bourbon prince who had offered some support to the revolution of 1789 and who had become known as Philip Egalité.

Notably disagreeable weather across much of Europe in 1845-6 affected agricultural production leading to rising food prices and to generally depressed economic conditions of widespread unemployment. Such sufferings as this brought to those badly affected led, in turn, to a radicalisation of political attitudes.
During these times France was yet a monarchy under Louis Philippe but with his "Liberal" monarchy having few real supporters. Elections were held on the basis of quite limited suffrage, many felt excluded from any possibility of gaining wealth, and others felt that his "Bourgeois and Liberal" monarchy compared unfavourably with earlier, "Glorious", eras of French Monarchy or Empire.
Many persons in France were also alienated by a series of 'reactionary' foreign policy positions being adopted by Guizot as prime minister to Louis Philippe.

On 14th January 1848 the authorities banned a "banquet", one of a series that had intermittently been held by 'liberal' interests after July 1847 in Paris, and subsequently widely across France, in protest at such things as limitations on the right of assembly and the narrow scope of the political franchise, with the result that the it was postponed by its organisers.
There was actually a law in place requiring official permission for any meeting to be attended by more than six persons.

I am told that there is no danger because there are no riots I am told that, because there is no visible disorder on the surface of society, there is no revolution at hand.

This, gentlemen, is my profound conviction: I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano. I am profoundly convinced of it .

Think, gentlemen, of the old (i.e. pre 1789) monarchy: it was stronger than you are, stronger in its origin it was able to lean more than you do upon ancient customs, ancient habits, ancient beliefs it was stronger than you are, and yet it has fallen to dust.

Do you not feel -- what shall I say? -- as it were a gale of revolution in the air.

Keep the laws as they are, if you wish. I think you would be very wrong to do so but keep them. Keep the men, too, if it gives you any pleasure. I raise no objection so far as I am concerned. But, in God's name, change the spirit of the government for, I repeat, that spirit will lead you to the abyss.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Speech of January 29, 1848, delivered in the French Chamber of Deputies

The postponed banquet, now set for the 22nd February, was banned by the authorities at the last minute and there were some serious disturbances on the Paris streets on the 22nd and on 23rd February which featured the building of some formidable barricades by groups of protesting citizens. The were instances of units of the civilian National Guard that had been deployed by the authorities refusing to act to contain the protest.
More serious turnings of events followed however - there was a number of fatalities and serious injuries after a group of soldiers fired their weapons directly into a crowd, (allegedly in a period of confusion after the accidental discharge of one of the soldiers' firearms), on the morning of the 23rd of February. Protestors subsequently threw up a large number of barricades in several areas of the city - chopping down thousands of trees and tearing up hundreds of thousands of paving stones in the process. There further widespread instances of members of the citizen National Guard siding with the protesters against the government's authority.
Faced with such unrest Louis Philippe dismissed Guizot, his reactionary Prime Minister, who had been a particular focus of the protestors anger, on the 23rd and himself, reluctantly, abdicated on the 24th writing to the French Chamber of Deputies that he wished that powers of regency should be vested in a Duchess of Orléans, mother to the Comte de Paris (a nine-year-old grandson of Louis Philippe), to whom the French Crown would now pass.

Although Louis Philippe had sought to abdicate in favour of his grandson this was not fully communicated to the Chamber of Deputies. The mother of this young Comte brought her sons to the Chamber of Deputies seeking the acceptance of the Comte de Paris as the next King of France. This seemed to be on the verge of unanimous acceptance but events took a different course after an armed and determined looking crowd composed of national guards, workers and students burst into the parliamentary chamber.

The Chamber subsequently accepted that the forces seeking change could not be denied given the popular mood in a radicalized Paris and that the populace would not accept the establishment of the proposed regency.
The Chamber of Deputies nevertheless opted to attempt to exercise influence over the developing situation with the hope of avoiding yet more serious outbreaks of civil disorder. Seven individual deputies that the Chamber of Deputies deemed capable of assuming responsibilty for overseeing political change as a "Provisional Government" were identified with the support of the Chamber. The Chamber of Deputies was largely led in this selection of members of a Provisional Government by the opinion of an influential liberal and reformist deputy named Lamartine (who had also, reluctantly, contributed decisively to the decision not to accept the young Comte as king).
The members of the would-be Provisional Government then sought to present themselves at the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall of Paris, in order to attempt, (as they deemed necessary), to take the initiative away from the perhaps excessively radicalized crowd which was gathered there. It was anticipated, by those delegated by the outgoing Chamber of Deputies to attempt to provide leadership necessary to help to prevent social chaos, that efforts at seizing the initiative were to be made through persuasion only. Those nominated to this task by the outgoing Chamber were variously men of established reputation as liberal reformists, as left-leaning radicals, or as men of science who, in the circumstances, accepted that they would only have their existing reputations and their political or persuasive skills to rely on in their project.
The seven individuals who now took on the task of attempting to provide necessary leadership did so at some risk to themselves as they could fail to win over the dis-satisfied sections of the Parisian populace gathered at the Hôtel de Ville and could also stand to very seriously incur the displeasure of French conservatism through their actions.

At this time those who might seek alarmingly radical change were undeniably in possession of the Hôtel de Ville against a background where some twelve thousand muskets formerly held within government arsenals had fallen into the hands of radicalized sections of the Parisian population. It happened that the crowd, tens of thousands strong, who gathered around the Hôtel de Ville in these days of political tumult were in the processes of setting up a "Provisional Government" of their own choosing.
There was a possibility that the French army could be called upon by the deposed king's brothers, or some other conservative leaders, in order to attempt to stifle what many sections of French society might regard as unacceptably radical reforms that could well issue forth with the authorisation of a provisional government based in the Hôtel de Ville.

What had effectively become a French revolution of 1848 continued with a new Provisional Government being formed in a climate where power needed to be exercised by a central authority but where there was also a divergence of opinion as to the desirable political and social outlook of that government.
In the event the Parisian radicals accepted the arrival of the political men of established reputation who presented themselves at the Hôtel de Ville as the Chamber of Deputies' nominees for positions in a new government.
At the Hôtel de Ville it was conceded that the previous monarchical government was overthrown and support for the establishment of a French Republic was publicly declared by Lamartine.

This establishment of a Republic appears to have been viewed, in the circumstances, as politically necessary by the would-be Provisional Government.

The great French writer Victor Hugo wrote of this key sequence of events in his memoirs:-

The new ministers at once set out for the Hôtel de Ville.

At the Chamber of Deputies not once was the word "Republic" uttered in any of the speeches of the orators, not even in that of Ledru-Rollin. But now, outside, in the street, the elect of the people heard these words, this shout, everywhere. It flew from mouth to mouth and filled the air of Paris.

The seven men who, in these supreme and extreme days, held the destiny of France in their hands were themselves at once tools and playthings in the hands of the mob, which is not the people, and of chance, which is not providence. Under the pressure of the multitude in the bewilderment and terror of their triumph, which overwhelmed them, they decreed the Republic without having time to think that they were doing such a great thing.

When, having been separated and dispersed by the violent pushing of the crowd, they were able to find each other and reassemble, or rather hide in one of the rooms of the Hôtel de Ville, they took a half sheet of paper, at the head of which were printed the words: "Prefecture of the Seine. Office of the Prefect." .

. Under the dictation of terrible shouts outside Lamartine traced this phrase:
The Provisional Government declares the Provisional Government of France is the Republican Government, and that the nation shall be immediately called upon to ratify the resolution of the Provisional Government and of the people of Paris." .

. But they did not sign this rough draft. Their whereabouts had been discovered an impetuous stream was surging against the door of the office in which they had taken refuge. The people were calling, ordering, them to go to the meeting-hall of the Municipal Council.

There they were greeted by this clamour: "The Republic! Long live the Republic! Proclaim the Republic!" Lamartine, who was at first interrupted by the cries, succeeded at length with his grand voice in calming this feverish impatience.

The members of the Provisional Government were thus enabled to return and to resume their session. The more ardent ones wanted the document to read: "The Provisional Government proclaims the Republic." The moderates proposed: "The Provisional Government desires the Republic." A compromise was reached on the proposition of M. Cremieux, and the sentence was made to read: "The Provisional Government 'is for' the Republic." To this was added: "subject to the ratification of the people, who will be immediately consulted."

The news was at once announced to the crowds in the meeting-hall and in the square outside, who would listen to nothing but the word "republic" and saluted it with tremendous cheering.

Capital punishment was pronounced to be abolished in relation to political offences.

Important figures in a newly formed Provisional Government administration included established moderate, liberal, middle-class, "reformers - now become republicans", such as Lamartine who became Foreign Minister.
Another prominent member of the new government also derived from the "Provisional Government" initiated by the outgoing Chamber of Deputies including a well-known editorial contributor to the left-leaning La Réforme newspaper named Ledru-Rollin, (as Minister of the Interior), and an eighty-year-old veteran of the earlier years of revolution in France named Dupont de l'Eure.
A campaign sponsored La Réforme, (which enjoyed considerable support across radicalized Paris), culminated in some more notably left-leaning persons, who had been seen by those already in place at the Hôtel de Ville as candidates for positions of authority prior to the arrival on the scene of the seven persons nominated by the Chamber of Deputies, also being accepted into the new government. These included the prominent French socialist Louis Blanc and a "working man" named Albert Martin who was popularly known as "Albert" and addressed by this forename all the while he was involved in the government.

Dupont de l'Eure, who had been recognised by the Chamber of Deputies as their proposed figure-head of the new order, (and who had famously opposed the restoration of the French monarchy at the end of the earlier French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era), was installed as the leader of this new government.

These revolutionary developments were perhaps more Parisian than French, they were orchestrated by a radical section of the population of Paris but they did not generally receive the support of the French provinces. After winning the recognition of the rights to work and to combine the socialistic radicals of Paris further urged the actual adoption of the red flag of socialism whilst those supportive of constitutional republicanism preferred to re-adopt the red, white, and blue, "Tricolour" flag that had been adopted in the early days of the French Revolution of 1789.

Lamartine, who was something of a poet and orator later self-flatteringly recorded his own refusal, as a notably prominent member of the new government whilst faced with a turbulent crowd outside the City Hall of Paris during the late afternoon on the 25th February, in the earliest days of the new republic, to accept the red flag, which they saw as declarative of a commitment to a degree of socialism, as being a turning point in this debate.

[In July, 1791 a red flag had, in fact, been actually flown by the authorities as a declaration of intent to impose martial law and order hence "the people's blood in 1791 and 1793". The followers of the radical Jacobin movement protested the authorities actions of July, 1791, by flying a red flag to honour the "martyrs' blood" of those killed as a result of developments following on from the imposition of martial law.
More than half a century later, in 1848, Socialism had emerged, in various forms, as a societal and political force and the red flag had been adopted, by sections of the people, as the banner of socialism. Nevertheless Lamartine was able to point to the authorities' repressive actions of 1791 and 1793, conducted under a Red Flag, in his efforts to gain acceptance for the Tricolour as the flag of the emerging French state.]

The stresses incidental to this divergence of aspiration and outlook between Republicans and Liberals on the one hand and Socialists on the other nevertheless resulted in a compromise resolution where the old revolutionary slogan Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité was to be featured on the flag and a "socialistic" red rosette was to be added to the standard carrying this modified tricolour and where figures of authority would take it upon themselves to wear red rosettes.

A system of "National Workshops" was instituted on 26 February in relation to this guarantee of "labour to every citizen". On 28 February, Louis Blanc, as the chairman of a Commission of Labour, was entrusted, assisted by Albert, with an influential role in the regulation of working conditions.

Freedom of speech, association and assembly were proclaimed. Some political prisoners were released.

On 2 March the Commission of Labour reduced the working day in Paris from 11 to 10 hours, and from 12 to 11 hours in the provinces. It was accepted, also on 2 March and in fulfilment of one of the key demands of the Banquet Campaign, that future elections would be based on universal adult (male) suffrage - a concession which recognised some nine million persons as being competent electors (compared to the 250,000 previously recognised voters under the previously much more restrictive rules suffrage).
On 5 March it was agreed that elections to be held on 9 April would return delegates who would more fully decide the future direction of the governance of France.

By order of a decree issued by Ledru-Rollin on March 13, certain aristocratic or bourgeois companies of the National Guard were to be disbanded and incorporated into the rest of the National Guard. Ledru-Rollin claimed that by authorising this measure he was acting "in a spirit of republican equality".
Members of the National Guard companies threatened with disbandment marched to the Hôtel de Ville demanding that the decree be recalled but the government failed to oblige leading the protesting National Guardsmen to declare that they would return next day bearing their firearms.

During the earlier French Revolutionary Era after 1789 political clubs appeared where like-minded persons could gather together with others who shared their political and social aspirations - the most notable of these having been the Jacobin Club. This precedent of 1789 was followed in 1848 in that many political clubs were formed in that year also.

A French political activist named Louis Auguste Blanqui who was released, during the early days of the revolution of 1848, from life-imprisonment to which he had been condemned for diverse earlier radical and revolutionary activities, (he was actually sentenced to death early in 1840 but this was commuted to life-imprisonment), soon after his release founded a Société républicaine centrale which sought the establishment of a more radical form of government.

The Société républicaine centrale, which grew in membership to some five thousand persons and was one of the largest political club of these times, twice petitioned for postponement of the election of a constituent assembly, stressing the need for time to educate the masses.

Citizens, we demand the adjournment of the elections for the constituent assembly and the national guard. These elections would be derisory.

In towns, the working classes, conditioned to subjugation by long years of repression and poverty, would take no part in the voting or else they would be led to the polls by their masters like blind cattle.

Out in the countryside, all the influence is in the hands of the clergy and of the aristocrats.

The people do not know yet know they must. This is not a task to be accomplished in a day or even a month. When counter-revolution alone has had the right to speak for half a century, is it too much to give perhaps a year to liberty?

Enlightenment must reach even the tiniest hamlets. The workers must lift up their heads which have been bowed by servitude and recover from that state of prostration and stupor in which they used to be kept by powerful oppressive interests.

From Deuxième pétition pour l'ajournement des élections, by the Société républicaine centrale, issued on 14 March 1848.

In the event the elections were actually postponed to be held, on the 23 April, two weeks later than originally intended after Parisian radicals under Blanqui's leadership added to the provincial impression of potential Paris-based anarchy by invading the Hôtel de Ville (17 March) seeking a two-month postponement to allow more time for nation-wide electioneering. Whilst such reformists were, in principle, in favour of Universal (male) Adult Suffrage they were also fearful that the conservatism of the countryside would return a preponderance of conservatively inclined delegates to the new assembly.

Due to personal animosities or leftist doctrinal rivalries neither Ledru-Rollin nor Louis Blanc had thrown their undoubted influence behind Blanqui's attempts to secure a longer postponement.

In mid-April the National Guard, which had been adapted as Ledru-Rollin intended through the re-assignment of the individual members of its aristocratic and bourgeois companies, and in a situation where each individual Guard company had recently "democratically" elected its own officers, nevertheless supported the government mobilising 130,000 strong to contain "a day of action" seeking the dismissal of the present government being held by some 100,000 persons drawn from the political clubs and also more widely from Parisian society.

You know the events of Paris - the victory of the people their heroism, moderation, and tranquillity the re-establishment of order by the co-operation of the citizens at large, as if, during this interregnum of the visible powers, public reason was, of itself alone, the Government of France

The French revolution has thus entered upon its definitive period. France is a republic. The French republic does not require to be acknowledged in order to exist. It is based alike on natural and national law. It is the will of a great people, who demand the privilege only for themselves. But the French republic, being desirous of entering into the family of established governments, as a regular power, and not as a phenomenon destructive of European order, it is expedient that you should promptly make known to the Government to which you are accredited, the principles and tendencies which will henceforth guide the foreign policy of the French Government.

The proclamation of the French republic is not an act of aggression against any form of government in the world. Forms of government have diversities as legitimate as the diversities of character - of geographical situation - of intellectual, moral, and material development among nations. Nations, like individuals, have different ages and the principles which rule them have successive phases. The monarchical, the aristocratic, the constitutional, and the republican forms of government, are the expression of the different degrees of maturity in the genius of nations. They require more liberty in proportion as they feel equality, and democracy in proportion as they are inspired with a greater share of justice and love for the people over whom they rule. It is merely a question of time. A nation ruins itself by anticipating the hour of that maturity as it dishonours itself by allowing it to pass away without seizing it. Monarchy and republicanism are not, in the eyes of wise statesmen, absolute principles, arrayed in deadly conflict against each other they are facts which contrast one with another, and, which may exist face to face by mutually understanding and respecting each other.

War, therefore, is not now the principle of the French republic, as it was the fatal and glorious necessity of the republic of 1792. Half a century separates 1792 from 1848. To return, after the lapse of half a century, to the principle of 1792, or to the principle of conquest pursued during the empire, would not be to advance, but to regress. The revolution of yesterday is a step forward, not backward. The world and ourselves are desirous of advancing to fraternity and peace.

. The treaties of 1815 have no longer any lawful existence in the eyes of the French republic nevertheless, the territorial limits circumscribed by those treaties are facts which the republic admits as a basis, and as a starting-point, in her relations with foreign nations.

But if the treaties of 1815 have no existence - save as facts to be modified by common consent - and if the republic openly declares that her right and mission are to arrive regularly and pacifically at those modifications - the good sense, the moderation, the conscience, the prudence of the republic do exist, and they afford Europe a surer and more honourable guarantee than the words of those treaties, which have so frequently been violated or modified by Europe itself.

Endeavour, Sir, to make this emancipation of the republic from the treaties of 1815, understood and honestly admitted, and to show that such an admission is in no way irreconcilable with the repose of Europe.

Thus we declare without reserve, that if the hour for the reconstruction of any of the oppressed nations of Europe, or other parts of the world, should seem to have arrived, according to the decrees of Providence if Switzerland, our faithful ally from the time of Francis I, should be restrained or menaced in the progressive movement she is carrying out, and which will impart new strength to the fasces of democratic governments if the independent states of Italy should be invaded if limits or obstacles should be imposed on their internal changes if there should be any armed interference with their right of allying themselves together for the purpose of consolidating an Italian nation, - the French republic would think itself entitled to take up arms in defence of these legitimate movements towards the improvement and nationhood of states.

[The other European powers, and particularly such deeply conservative ones as Austria and Russia, could, by such statements see considerable potential for their own previously pacific peoples being encouraged and even incited by dangerous French examples.

The other European powers would have been aware that the new French government was being lobbied by radical Poles, Germans, Swiss, Greeks, Magyars, Romanians, Portuguese and Spanish in search of what they would have regarded as "revolutionary" assistance. Other interests in France criticised any friendship with Piedmont-Sardinia as it held "French" Savoy and similarly criticised co-operation with Britain which had sought to domestically contain both constitutionally reforming "Chartism" and also Irish national aspirations.

They would also have been aware of the spontaneous formation, within France, of several free corps, or irregular legions, variously committed to bringing their idea of liberty to the Belgian provinces, to Savoy, and into the Germanies].

In early May the situation in the Italian peninsula where the Piedmontese-Sardinian kingdom had come to blows with the Austrian empire seemed to have pressing foreign policy implications for France. On May 1, against a background where Piedmont-Sardinia seemed to be on course to acquire the rich province of Lombardy thereby greatly enhancing its power, Lamartine informed the British ambassador that "France might well expect some small compensation in the way of security, if so powerful a neighbour as Sardinia would them become was established on her Eastern Frontier within forty miles of Lyon".

The settlement to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, as concluded in 1815, had returned Nice and Savoy, (and with them several strategically critical Alpine passes and coastal roadways Nice and Savoy controlled), which had been seized by France during those years of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoil, to Piedmontese-Sardinian possession. (The dynastic house that ruled in Piedmont-Sardinia was known as the House of Savoy which used to be only a Ducal House of Savoy until their dukes got a kingly upgrade principally as a reward for their involvement in a number of coalitions which prevailed in a series of European dynastic wars of succession). It would become a pressing policy objective for France to again administer these territories, with their control of the Alpine passes and coastal roadways, as enhanced security against a newly empowered neighbour.

The National Workshops system, which was awarded an initial budget of five million francs, (only consistent with the enrolment of some ten to twelve thousand persons!), set out to offer constant work and soon, despite the wages being only at or about basic subsistence level, attracted the services of much of the casual labour of a Paris where economic dislocation was being experienced as diverse forms of private spending fell away in these uncertain times.

The fall off in expenditure by more affluent persons in many cases resulted from their having left the turbulence of Paris for what they hoped would prove to be the relative tranquillity of the countryside.

The number of employees of national workshops in Paris grew from 6,000 in early March 1848 to 25,000 on March 31, to 90,000 in May. The main initial task tackled in Paris itself being a public works scheme levelling a small hill - a scenario that did not involve the receipt of revenues to offset the expense to the public purse. Other tasks included planting trees, building roads, and building railway stations - the authorities even oversaw the performance of "the same tasks" over and over to provide sufficient paid occupation. They did not want to sponsor economic activities that might seem to be in competition with the interests of existing capitalist enterprise.
As there proved to be insufficient work provided by the National Workshops for all the facility was rationed in that those involved reported to the workplace on two days of the week but were recognised as being entitled to a 'salary of inactivity' payment of one franc per day for other days.

Some higher levels of taxes were authorised in the spring of 1948, that was land related and mainly impacted upon the rural peasantry, in efforts to help to meet the expense of the National Workshops. Many amongst the rural peasantry were already living lives close to the poverty line and found such increases in taxation to be hard to bear and were consequently ready to denounce the National Workshops and other expensive programs they could blame for the imposition of this unwelcome taxation.

Ledru-Rollin, as Minister of the Interior, used the powers of his office in efforts to guide the results of the elections to the incoming National Assembly towards a radical outcome.
A circular issued by Ledru-Rollin without the knowledge of his colleagues in government, to the provincial Commissioners, (by whom he had replaced the Prefects of the Monarchy), gave the first open indication of this alarm being felt by radical reformists about the potential outcome, and of the means of violence and intimidation by which the party which Ledru-Rollin represented hoped to impose its will upon the country. The Commissioners were informed in plain language that, as agents of a revolutionary authority, their powers were unlimited, and that their task was to exclude from election all persons who were not animated by revolutionary spirit, and pure from any taint of association with the past.

Although this circular was issued by Ledru-Rollin without the consent of those with whom he shared governmental authority its contents were widely publicised so moderates in the government, and indeed across France, were left in no doubt that Ledru-Rollin was seeking to bend the rules in favour of a radical outcome.

As Minister of the Interior Ledru-Rollin sponsored the publication of a so-called "Bulletin of the Republic." The fifteenth issue of this bulletin appeared on 16th April and featured these ominous sentiments in relation to the upcoming elections:-

In the event neither the delay in holding the elections nor Ledru-Rollin's questionable electoral involvement proved sufficient to provide the outcome the radically reformist parties desired.
The National or Constituent Assembly resulting from the processes of election convened on May 4th 1848. Some 900 deputies from across the provinces and cities of France had been returned to serve in the National Assembly with some eighty four per cent of the eligible voters actually casting their votes.

Those voted in to the new assembly, by elections held under universal male adult suffrage, were returned from electoral constituencies that varied in being rural or urban and in localised traditions of affiliation to monarchy or church. Whilst the overwhelming majority of those elected had conformed themselves to the newly proclaimed 'Republican' situation about half of the new delegates were previously political figures who had given support to (Orléanist or Legitimist) monarchy. Some 350 of the new delegates were returned on a clericalist 'freedom of education' ticket favouring a central role for the (Catholic) church in education, there were only a minority, about 150 strong, of variously committed republicans or socialists.
Despite the breadth of the franchise, that had recognised some nine million persons as being voters, the main voting bloc - the peasantry - proved to be content with the legacy of the 1789-1815 French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era that had left them as owners of their small farms with the result that they generally voted for conservative candidates that would not threaten the rights of property. In these times of widespread illiteracy the political opinions of rural voters were often considerably guided by respected local figures such as parish priests. Increases in taxation already authorised by the provisional government faced with an emergent economic crisis in these unsettled times had included increased land-taxes which impacted particularly on the rural peasant rather than the urban poor - further blighting the chances of government aligned candidates in rural areas.

At the opening of the first session of the new assembly Dupont de l'Eure, the figure-head of outgoing Provisional Government, formally handed over to the incoming delegates :-

Given the political and societal realities of the times delegates may have been returned to the new assembly with differing hopes for the future of France as a republic or as a monarchy. Dupont de l'Eure's recommendation towards republicanism was in line with the mood of the hour for some: and for others may have represented a pragmatic outcome decreed by the force of circumstances.

The first day's session of the National Constituent Assembly was actually brought to a close in a dramatic scene where the delegates, at the suggestion of the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard, gathered together outside on the steps leading up to the building that had previously housed the Chamber of Deputies. From those steps, in a part of central Paris with views of many impressive buildings and monuments, many of which lay across the river Seine which flowed beside the assembly, the delegates, standing together on a balmy early summer evening with bands playing in the background, gave voice to an unanimous shout of Vive le Republique!

[Historians and statesmen tend to see French political life as featuring a strong tendency to yield to the claims of the state. A strong state being seen as vastly preferable to one distressed by open dissensions such that loyalty should be given to the government in power even by those who might privately have reservations about its desirability.
French history had featured wars of succession and of religion and several instances of revolution - against this historical background yielding to the claims of the state seemed to offer hopes of national self-preservation whereas if parties and groups contended for their own preferences it seemed much ruinous anarchy might well result.
Modern French historians have even been known to refer to this political situation as being one of a "Republic without Republicans".].

As Adolphe Thiers, who was long prominent as a liberal politician, and who was somewhat opposed to this turn of events said, in his first parliamentary speech under these political arrangements:- :-

It proved to be the case that the recently elected political representatives of France as a whole were not prepared to endorse many of the policies that were preferred by Parisian radicals. The administration recognised by the incoming assembly did not include an important role for Louis Blanc.

Lamartine at the time the assembly met for the first time was clearly the most popular public figure in France, although offered nomination as temporary President of the Republic by the new assembly Lamartine unexpectedly declined!
Just as he had taken risks in pursuit of a moderate liberal transformation of French society by being prominent amongst the seven individuals nominated by the former French Chamber of Deputies who had won acceptance as authority figures by those gathered at the Hôtel de Ville in the early days of the 1848 revolution, and again in declining to accept the red flag as the banner of France, Lamartine now again took a risk by opting to align himself in some ways with Ledru-Rollin, (and the leadership of some of the political clubs), maintaining that France should invest executive power in a committee and making it plain that he, himself, would not serve on such a committee unless Ledru-Rollin was also on that committee.
Lamartine, by these decisions, seems to have been prepared to move away from the political moderates, in the hope of achieving a broad "national solidarity" consensus after committee discussions where he could use his charm and persuasion to establish containing limits to the policies being pursued by politically committed radicals.
By pursuing this course, however, Lamartine compromised much of his popularity in exchange for the naturally somewhat conservative incoming assembly overcoming a marked reluctance to award a prominent political role to Ledru-Rollin.

On May 15th the National or Constituent Assembly was invaded by persons seeking social reforms at home and greater French aid for Polish independence abroad but, when their appeals were not given a favourable hearing by the National Assembly, veered towards its overthrow and its replacement by an administration headed up by radicals and republicans.
In the event the National Guard acted quite forcefully to achieve the suppression of the would-be revolutionary government. Some radical leaders were arrested and, in cases, jailed.

Radicalism had showed a willingness to attempt to turbulently impose its own agendas. The stage was now set for a continuance of a serious confrontation between French conservatism and Parisian radicalism. Given this scenario the monarchists, (legitimist and Orléanist), and the moderate republicans agreed to establish a more prominent role, in Paris itself, for the French army vesting many powers in a forty-six year old General Cavaignac on whom they believed they could rely to defend the continued functioning of the National or Constituent Assembly.

Some weeks later, a most serious confrontation between conservatism and radicalism, - that became known to history as the "June Days" - took place between 23-26 June 1848 on the streets of Paris.
Some details of this confrontation are presented in the earlier paragraphs of our Widespread social chaos allows the re-assertion of Dynastic / Governmental Authority - page.

The European Revolutions of 1848 begin A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

The French Revolution of 1848 A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoil of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

The "Italian" Revolution of 1848 A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe "Germany" (prior to 1848 having been a confederation of thirty-nine individually sovereign Empires, Kingdoms, Electorates, Grand Duchies, Duchies, Principalities and Free Cities), had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality". Widespread social chaos allows the re-assertion of Dynastic / Governmental Authority Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Romanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist agitation, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.


Marie Antoinette

Late September sunlight filters onto the blue velvet furnishings of the jewel-box theater built for Marie Antoinette at Versailles. The painted, original backdrop depicts a rustic farmhouse hearth, and I can just imagine the young queen reveling in her role as a shepherdess while her witty friends and dull husband, French king Louis XVI, applaud politely.

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At the time I was there, the theater was closed to most visitors (it is now open to the public from April 1 through October 31), and I wanted to take full advantage of my access. "Go ahead. Have a good, long look," said Christian Baulez, Versailles' chief conservator.

On the way out, Baulez, who has worked at the former royal palace for four decades, locked the gate with a heavy iron key. "From time to time, you have to visit a spot like the theater when there's no one else around to give the place a chance to trigger an emotional reaction," he said. "You're thinking about other things, then all of a sudden, you're totally surprised. It's a state of grace, an aura you sense—even after 40 years here."

The frivolous 14-year-old Austrian princess who came to France to marry the future king, Louis XVI, developed strength and character over the years. (Public Domain) To escape palace life, Marie Antoinette built a hideaway for herself and her intimate friends that included cottages equipped with couches, stoves, and billiard tables. (Creative Commons) "The moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me," the former queen (sketched en route to the guillotine) said shortly before her execution. (Public Domain) Thought of as the power behind the throne, Marie Antoinette prophesied, "They are going to force us to go to Paris, the King and me, preceded by the heads of our bodyguards on pikes." (Public Domain) The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa gave birth to her fifteenth child, Marie Antoinette, on November 2, 1755. (Wikipedia.com) After Louis XVI's execution, Marie Antoinette was transferred to the Conciergerie Prison, dubbed "death's antechamber." (Public Domain) King Louis XVI with Marie and their children (© Bettmann/CORBIS) Arrest of Marie and Louis XVI at Varennes (© Bettmann/CORBIS) Marie and children embracing King Louis XVI before his execution Marie condemned by the Revolutionary Tribunal (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

I did not commune with Marie Antoinette's ghost, as some claim to have done. But I had to admit that there is a poignancy about the playhouse and its fantasy world. Less than a decade after the theater's inauguration in 1780, the curtain would come crashing down on the French monarchy and its Austrian-born queen, who seemed to grow in moral stature as she approached the guillotine.

With the possible exception of the Corsican-born Napoleon, another outsider who overstayed his welcome, no one haunts French history like the Hapsburg princess. The frivolous, high-spirited tomboy who arrived at Versailles at age 14 was quickly embraced by her subjects. Yet by the time of her execution 23 years later, she was reviled.

Thrust into a social and political hurricane, Marie Antoinette, biographer Stefan Zweig wrote in the 1930s, was "perhaps the most signal example in history of the way in which destiny will at times pluck a mediocre human being from obscurity and, with commanding hand, force the man or woman in question to overstep the bounds of mediocrity." Ultimately, even Marie Antoinette herself grasped how suffering gave her fortitude. "Tribulation first makes one realize what one is," the queen wrote in August 1791, soon after the royal family's failed escape attempt from their detention in Paris.

Marie Antoinette's fairy tale turned tragedy has spawned biographies, fictionalizations, operas, plays, ballets and memoirs. Even her hairdresser and her executioner published ghostwritten recollections. And, like the 300 gowns the queen ordered each year, the story is a perfect fit for Hollywood. The 1938 film Marie Antoinette, starring Norma Shearer and Robert Morley, is considered a classic of historical melodrama. Now, Sofia Coppola has directed a new interpretation, with Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman in the lead roles. Based largely on British biographer Antonia Fraser's 2001 biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, the new film, also called Marie Antoinette, was released in the United States last month. "I was struck by the fact that Louis and Marie were teenagers—he was 19 when he was crowned, she was 18—in charge of France at the most vulnerable time in its history," says Coppola. "I didn't set out on a campaign to correct the misperceptions about her I just wanted to tell the story from her point of view."

Each year millions of visitors flock to Versailles and Fontainebleau, where the queen maintained a second palace, to admire her exuberant tastes in furniture and décor. But it is her furtive love life that arouses the deepest interest—and sympathy. Tarred by pamphleteers for sexual wantonness, she was actually rather prudish, at least according to her brother, Austrian emperor Joseph II. Despite a number of innocent flirtations, she deeply loved—probably with Louis' tacit approval, according to a confidante—only one man: Swedish military attaché Count Axel Fersen.

Although Marie Antoinette initially condescended to her husband, she eventually developed a genuine fondness for him. For his part, Louis was completely devoted to her and never took a mistress, exhibiting a restraint virtually unheard of in an 18th-century French king.

Whatever Marie Antoinette's faults—in addition to her renowned extravagance, she was unable to comprehend the French people's thirst for democracy—she did not respond to news that starving Parisians had no bread by saying: "Let them eat cake." According to Fraser, this monumental indifference was first ascribed, probably also apocryphally, to Maria Theresa, the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV more than a century before Marie Antoinette set foot in France. Still, for more than two centuries, historians have debated whether Marie Antoinette bore the blame for her fate or was a victim of circumstance. Although she remained a fervent supporter of absolute royal power and an unrepentant enemy of democratic ideals, her many acts of compassion included tending to a peasant gored by a stag and taking in a poor orphan boy and overseeing his education. "She was so happy at doing good and hated to miss any opportunity of doing so," wrote Madame Campan, the First Lady of the Bedchamber. The softhearted queen, it seems, hungered more for tenderness than power.

The opposite might be said of her mother, Austrian empress Maria Theresa, who regarded her eight daughters as pawns on the European chessboard, to be married off to seal alliances. She barely paused in her paperwork to give birth on November 2, 1755, to her 15th child, In France, Louis Auguste, the 11-year-old grandson of French monarch Louis XV, became a prime matrimonial candidate when, in 1765, his father, Louis Ferdinand, died, making the grandson heir to the throne. Within months, 10-year-old Antoine was unofficially pledged to Louis to cement the union of the Hapsburgs and Bourbons—bitter rivals since the 16th century.

Dispatched to Vienna in 1768 by Louis XV to tutor his grandson's future wife, the Abbé de Vermond encountered an easily distracted 13-year-old who could barely read or write her native German, much less French. But "her character, her heart, are excellent," he reported. He found her "more intelligent than has been generally supposed," but since "she is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach." Blessed with thick, ash-blond hair, large, grayish blue eyes and a radiant complexion, Marie Antoinette possessed a delicate beauty, marred only slightly by a pouty Hapsburg lower lip.

For her May 1770 wedding, she was escorted to France amid an entourage that included 57 carriages, 117 footmen and 376 horses. Arriving in the forest of the royal château of Compiègne, some 50 miles northeast of Paris, the 14-year-old Antoine, now called by the more formal Marie Antoinette, impulsively dashed up to Louis XV ("Après moi, le déluge"), waiting with his grandson outside their carriage, and curtsied, instantly winning over the king, who kissed her. Perhaps intimidated by her forwardness, the 15-year-old bridegroom gave her a perfunctory kiss, then hardly glanced at her as she chatted away with the king on the ride to the château. The awkward, myopic heir apparent suffered from feelings of unworthiness, despite a facility for languages and a passion for history, geography and science.

Louis Auguste de Bourbon and Marie Antoinette were married on May 16, 1770, in the royal chapel at the palace of Versailles. The next day, news that the union had not been consummated spread through the court. It was only the beginning by all accounts, the marriage went unconsummated for seven years. By this time, Louis XV had died (of smallpox, in 1774) and his teenage grandson had acceded to the most powerful throne in Europe.

After encouraging her daughter to "lavish more caresses" on her husband, Maria Theresa dispatched her son, Joseph II, as she put it, to "stir up this indolent spouse." Whatever he said apparently did the trick in any case, the couple wrote to thank him. Many historians conclude that Louis suffered from phimosis, a physiological handicap that makes sex painful, and that he eventually had surgery to correct the problem. Biographer Fraser, however, contends that the pair were simply, as Joseph reported to his brother Leopold, "two complete blunderers."

Added to any sexual frustration Marie Antoinette may have felt was her homesickness ("Madame, My very dear mother," she wrote, "I have not received one of your dear letters without having the tears come to my eyes.") and her rebellion against court etiquette ("I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world," she complained in 1770 of a daily ritual at which dozens of courtiers hovered). She sought escape in masked balls, opera, theater and gambling. "I am terrified of being bored," the 21-year-old queen confessed in October 1777 to her trusted adviser, Austrian ambassador Comte Florimond Mercy d'Argenteau.

Where Louis was indecisive, thrifty and over-serious, Marie Antoinette was quick to make up her mind, extravagant and lighthearted. He loved being alone, tinkering with locks she craved the social whirl. When Louis went to bed, around 11 p.m., Marie Antoinette was just revving up for a night of festivities. By the time she awoke, around 11 a.m., Louis had been up for hours. "My tastes are not the same as the King's, who is only interested in hunting and his metal-working," the queen wrote to a friend in April 1775. And what exorbitant tastes she had! She bought a pair of diamond bracelets that cost as much as a Paris mansion. She sported towering bouffant hairdos, including the "inoculation pouf," a forbidding confection that featured a club striking a snake in an olive tree (representing the triumph of science over evil) to celebrate her success in persuading the king to be vaccinated against smallpox.

Informed of her daughter's behavior by Mercy, Maria Theresa fired off letter after letter warning Marie Antoinette to mend her ways. "You lead a dissipated life," the mother railed in 1775. "I hope I shall not live to see the disaster that is likely to ensue."

Cloistered in the luxury of Versailles, the royal couple was oblivious to their subjects' plight. A failed harvest had made the price of grain skyrocket, and mobs were rioting in the streets of Paris, demanding cheap bread. Crushing taxes were also taking their toll on the populace. Meanwhile, the queen gambled recklessly, ordered expensive jewelry and clothes and spent a fortune on creating her own private domain at Versailles—the Petit Trianon. The three-story neo-Classical château was originally built on the grounds of Versailles in 1762-68 by Louis XV for his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Louis XVI had given it to Marie Antoinette in June 1774, a few days after he became king, when she asked for a hideaway. ("This pleasure house is yours," he told her.) "She wanted a domain reserved for her intimate circle of friends," says Baulez, as we tour the Trianon. "But unfortunately, this exclusion made everyone else at court jealous." Palace gossip spun outrageous tales about "scandalous" and "perverse" goings-on at the Trianon, giving anti-monarchist pamphleteers material for salacious underground cartoons. How could the queen spend the nation's money, at a time of financial crisis, on her private hideaway, critics asked.

But Marie Antoinette seemed blind to the criticism. She directed architect Richard Mique and artist Hubert Robert to conjure up a sylvan fantasy of artificial streams, grottoes and winding paths. (During nighttime galas, a Temple of Love rotunda and a glass music salon were illuminated by wood fires hidden in trenches in the ground.) In 1784, the two designers created what, from the outside, appeared to be a hamlet (the Hameau) of cracked and tumbledown cottages, which, in fact, were appointed with comfortable couches, stoves and billiard tables. A working farm completed what Zweig satirized as "this expensive pastoral comedy," though tales of the queen herself herding sheep are false, Baulez insists. The overall effect of the Petit Trianon was—and remains—quaintly charming, but the total bill, including the Hameau, came to more than two million francs (the equivalent of more than $6 million today). To this day, the Petit Trianon—silk hangings, wall coverings, porcelain dinner services, furniture—bears Marie Antoinette's stamp, with flower-mad motifs in cornflower blue, lilac and green. "She loved ornamentation," says Baulez. "She wasn't interested in dignity, but the picturesque. She had the tastes of an actress, not an austerely regal queen."

In one salon is the exquisite harp Marie Antoinette played well enough to accompany Antonio Salieri, the Hapsburg court composer and Mozart rival she invited to visit. In an adjoining room, Baulez shows me the infamous pale blue boudoir with mirrored interior shutters that the queen could raise and lower at will. "People imagined mirrors surrounding a bed for secret trysts," he says, "but she was just trying to keep curious passersby from peering inside." Whatever trysts there were did not include Louis, who spent not a single night at the Petit Trianon, although he did occasionally pop by to read to himself in a little rowboat.

Fersen was the more frequent guest. The queen went so far as to furnish an apartment above hers for him. By October 1787, they were exchanging clandestine letters about such prosaic domestic details as where to put a stove. Unraveling the details of their relationship has kept biographers guessing for more than 200 years, largely because Fersen destroyed substantial portions of his journal and a great-nephew to whom his letters were entrusted censored some and suppressed others. "I can tell you that I love you," Marie Antoinette declared in one letter back to him.

They had met at a Paris opera ball in January 1774, when Fersen, the 18-year-old son of a wealthy Swedish nobleman, was making the grand tour. The young queen invited him to several balls at Versailles, but not long after, he left for England. Four years later he returned to the French court as a young military officer and, according to Comte Francois Emmanuel de Saint-Priest—Louis' future minister of the interior—"captured the queen's heart." In early 1779, Fersen signed on to fight on behalf of France in the American Revolution, in part perhaps to escape the queen's growing infatuation. When he returned to Versailles four years later, in June 1783, he wrote to his sister, swearing off marriage because: "I cannot belong to the only person to whom I want to belong, the one who really loves me, and so I do not want to belong to anyone." That summer, he visited Marie Antoinette nearly every day.

By now the 27-year-old queen—mother of a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte,and a son, the Dauphin Louis Joseph Xavier, nearly 2—had blossomed into a full-figured beauty, with luminous eyes and a demeanor some saw as dignified, others as haughty. As a young princess, she had burst into tears when Mercy had pressured her to get involved in politics now she scolded the French foreign minister for excluding Joseph II from the peace process with England, though to little effect.

Some two years later, around the time her second son, Louis Charles, was born, Marie Antoinette became the victim of one of the most byzantine swindles in history. A fortune hunter named Jeanne de Lamotte Valois persuaded the gullible Cardinal de Rohan that she was a close friend of the queen's—though Marie Antoinette had never heard of her. Lamotte's lover, Rétaux de Villette, forged letters purportedly from the queen imploring the cardinal to buy a necklace of 647 diamonds costing 1.5 million francs ($4.7 million today). Writing as the queen, de Villette said "she" was too embarrassed to ask Louis for so expensive a present and was relying on the gallant cardinal to obtain it for her. The queen would, of course, repay him.

After a clandestine meeting in the palace gardens with a woman hired by Lamotte to impersonate the queen, Rohan was hooked. When jewelers delivered the necklace to the cardinal, he gave it to Rétaux, disguised as the queen's footman. Lamotte's husband then smuggled it to London to be sold off in pieces. When the jewelers demanded payment in August 1785, Marie Antoinette was livid with rage and Louis ordered Rohan arrested.

The subsequent trial caused a sensation. The Paris Parliament defied the king's command to convict the duped cardinal and acquitted him. Lamotte was flogged, branded on her breast with a V for voleuse (thief) and tossed into prison. And though Marie Antoinette was not on trial, she might as well have been. "The queen was innocent," Napoleon observed years later, "and, to make sure that her innocence should be publicly recognized, she chose the Parliament of Paris for her judge. The upshot was that she was universally regarded as guilty."

The affair of the necklace provided further fodder for scandal-mongering pamphleteers and journalists already intent on portraying the queen as greedy and corrupt. From then on, she could do no right. Her embarrassment made Louis more vulnerable than ever. Beset by severe food shortages, weighed down by taxes, resentful of royal absolutism and inspired by the egalitarian example of an independent United States, French citizens were growing increasingly vocal in their demands for self-government. In May 1789, to avert the nation's impending bankruptcy (a series of wars, years of corruption and Louis' support of the American Revolution as a means of weakening England had depleted the French treasury), the king convened the Estates-General, an assembly of representatives of the clergy, nobility and commoners that had not met since 1614. As Marie Antoinette's carriage wound from the palace through the streets of Versailles to welcome the gathering, crowds along the way stood in sullen silence. In a sermon at the town's Church of Saint Louis, the Bishop of Nancy railed against the queen's profligate spending. (Dubbed Madame Deficit, the queen was increasingly blamed for the country's desperate financial situation, although she had in fact already cut back on personal expenses.) At the time of the Bishop's sermon, however, the 33-year-old mother was consumed with anxiety over her older son, the gravely ill Dauphin. Within a month, the 7-year-old prince would be dead of tuberculosis of the spine.

Historians trace the French Revolution to that summer of 1789. On July 14, some 900 Parisian workers, shopkeepers and peasants—fearing that the king, who at the queen's urging had moved a large number of troops to Versailles and Paris, would dissolve the representative National Assembly—stormed the Bastille prison to seize arms and ammunition. Marie Antoinette tried to convince her husband to put down the insurrection, but not wanting to provoke an all-out conflict, he refused, effectively ceding Paris to the revolutionaries. Comte Honoré de Mirabeau, leader of the increasingly anti-monarchist National Assembly, observed that the queen had become "the only man at court." In the weeks that followed, the Assembly did away with age-old privileges for the aristocracy and clergy, declared a free press, got rid of serfdom and proclaimed the Rights of Man.

A little before noon on October 5, a mob of several thousand market women, armed with pikes and sickles, set out from Paris' Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) on a 12-mile trek to Versailles to protest a lack of jobs and the high cost of bread. By evening, thousands more, some carrying guns, had joined them in front of the palace. After dithering over what to do, Louis finally decided to seek refuge in the distant Rambouillet château. But when his coachmen rolled out the royal carriages, the crowd cut the horses' harnesses, stranding him and his family.

Around five o'clock on the morning of the sixth, rebels surged toward the queen's bedroom, killing two guards. A terrified Marie Antoinette leapt out of bed and raced to the king's apartments. Louis, meanwhile, had dashed to her bedroom to rescue her, but finding her gone, doubled back with their son to join her and their daughter in the dining hall of his quarters. By this time, the Marquis de Lafayette, commander of the National Guard, had arrived with Guard troops and temporarily restored order.

But the throng, swollen to some 10,000 people, began clamoring to take Louis to Paris. When someone cried out for the queen to show herself on the balcony, she stepped forward, curtsying with such aplomb that the mob grew silent, then burst into cries of "Long live the queen!" But Marie Antoinette sensed that the reprieve would be short-lived. Retreating inside, she broke down. "They are going to force us to go to Paris, the King and me, preceded by the heads of our bodyguards on pikes," she said. Her words proved prophetic. Within hours, the triumphant procession—indeed with the guards' heads on pikes—was escorting the captive royal family to the old Tuileries palace in the capital.

Although the king and queen were not locked in, and in theory could have left the palace had they chosen to do so, they withdrew into self-imposed seclusion. The king seemed unable to act. "Taking the place of her husband (whom everyone thrust contemptuously aside as an incurable weakling)," writes Zweig, Marie Antoinette "held council with the ministers and ambassadors, watching over their undertakings and revising their dispatches."

"She was decisive where he was indecisive," biographer Antonia Fraser says in a new PBS documentary Marie Antoinette. "She was courageous when he was vacillating." She dashed off letters in cipher and invisible ink to other European sovereigns, pleading with them to invade France and shore up the king's crumbling authority, but to no avail. Meeting secretly with Mirabeau in July 1790, she won the influential legislator over to the cause of preserving the monarchy. By December, however, she was devising a contingency plan to flee Paris for Montmédy, near the Austrian-controlled Netherlands. There the royal couple planned to mount a counterrevolution with troops under the command of Royalist general Francois-Claude Bouillé. When Mirabeau died in April 1791 without securing the Assembly's promise to retain Louis as king in a constitutional monarchy, Louis and Marie Antoinette put their plan into action. But instead of following Bouillé's advice to make the trip in two light carriages, the queen insisted on keeping the family together in a lumbering coach called a berlin, encumbered with a silver dinner service, a clothes-press, and a small wine chest. (Fersen had made the arrangements, even mortgaging his estate to pay for the carriage.) Late in the evening of June 20, 1791, the royal family, disguised as servants, slipped out of the capital. Fersen accompanied them as far as Bondy, 16 miles east of the Tuileries. While the horses were being changed, he pleaded with Louis to let him continue with the family rather than reuniting at Montmédy two days later as planned. Louis refused, perhaps, suggests biographer Evelyne Lever, because he thought it humiliating to be under the protection of his wife's lover. Also, Fraser says in the PBS film, Louis didn't want people to think a foreigner had helped them get away.

In Varennes, 130 miles east of Paris, a band of armed villagers accosted the king, who had been recognized inside the conspicuous berlin, and forced the royal entourage into a municipal official's house. When a small contingent of Royalist troops arrived to free them, Louis vacillated, then, fearing a confrontation with the steadily growing mob brandishing arms outside the house, declined the troops' help, choosing instead to wait for Bouillé. Had Fersen, a trained officer, been allowed to stay with the group, he might well have taken more decisive action and helped lead the family to safety. Instead, emissaries dispatched by the Assembly arrived with orders to return the family to Paris. Crowds of angry Parisians lined the streets as the king and queen were taken back to the Tuileries palace, where they were held captive by National Guardsmen. Louis was caricatured as a castrated pig, while the queen was portrayed as a wanton traitor.

The Assembly allowed Louis to remain as a figurehead on the throne to legitimize a proposed new constitution, but he had little actual political power. Meanwhile, at the same time Marie Antoinette was secretly lobbying moderate republicans in the Assembly for a constitutional monarchy, she was also writing to European rulers that the "monstreuse" constitution was "a tissue of unworkable absurdities" and the Assembly "a heap of blackguards, madmen and beasts." Although Louis privately detested the constitution, on September 14, 1791, he took an oath to uphold it, agreeing to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly.

In Stockholm, Fersen had persuaded the Swedish king to back a new escape attempt. In February 1792, the daring count—by now branded an outlaw for his role in the flight to Varennes—snuck into the heavily guarded palace and spent some 30 hours with the queen. Toward the end of his visit, Louis showed up and rejected Fersen's scheme for escape through Normandy. Around midnight of Fersen's second day, Marie Antoinette bade him farewell—for the last time.

In April, under pressure from the Assembly, Louis declared war on Austria, which was preparing to invade France to restore Alsace (occupied by the French) and obtain full liberty for the royal family. Rightly suspecting that the king and queen were plotting with the enemy, an armed mob stormed the Tuileries on August 10, killing more than a thousand guards and noblemen. Louis and his family fled on foot through a courtyard to the nearby Assembly building, where they begged the representatives for protection.

The Assembly, however, voted to have the king, queen, their son and daughter, and the king's sister Elisabeth locked up in the Temple tower, a forbidding medieval fortress in the center of Paris. On September 20, the new revolutionary National Convention, the successor to the Assembly, met for the first time. The following day they abolished the 1,000-year-old monarchy and established the Republic.

For the former royal family, now prisoners in the Temple tower, the next two months passed improbably in something like domestic tranquility. While the king schooled his 7-year-old son, Louis Charles, in the dramas of Corneille and Racine, the queen gave Marie Thérèse, 13, history lessons, played chess with her husband, did needlework and even sang at the harpsichord. Then, on November 20, Louis' letters to foreign powers plotting counterrevolution were discovered in a strongbox hidden in the Tuileries. Louis was taken from his family, locked up on the floor below them and, on December 26, put on trial. Maximilien Robespierre, a chief architect of the Revolution, and the fiery journalist Jean-Paul Marat were among the many radical leaders who testified against him during a three-week trial. "It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth," proclaimed Robespierre, "Louis must die, so that the country may live." After a unanimous vote by members of the Convention (with a few abstentions) that Louis had conspired against the state, members of the more moderate revolutionary faction argued that the former king should be confined until the end of the war with Austria, then sent into exile. Even English philosopher Thomas Paine, elected to the Convention as a hero of the American Revolution, pleaded for the royal family to be banished to America. But it was not to be. Louis, 38, was condemned to death on January 16, 1793. He was allowed to spend a few hours with his wife, son, daughter and sister before being led to the guillotine on January 21 and executed before a crowd estimated at 20,000.

Six months later, on August 2, the Widow Capet, as Marie Antoinette was now known, was transferred to the Conciergerie, a dank prison dubbed "death's antechamber." Louis' sister, Elisabeth, Marie Thérèse and Louis Charles remained in the Temple tower. Later that month, the queen recognized among her visitors a former officer, the Chevalier Alexandre de Rougeville, who dropped at her feet one or two carnations (accounts differ) containing a note that said he would try to rescue her. A guard spotted the note, and when public prosecutor Antoine Fouquier-Tinville learned that Royalists were scheming to free the former queen (the plan became known as the Carnation Plot), he moved to put her immediately on trial.

Emaciated and pale, Marie Antoinette maintained her composure at the trial, a grueling 32-hour ordeal carried out over two days. She responded with eloquence to the prosecutor's litany of accusations—she was guilty, he said, of making secret agreements with Austria and Prussia (which had joined with Austria in the war against France), of shipping money abroad to Louis' two younger brothers in exile and of conspiring with these enemies against France. Accused of manipulating the king's foreign policy, she coolly replied: "To advise a course of action and to have it carried out are very different things."

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution delivered a bombshell, presenting testimony by young Louis that he had sex with his mother and his aunt. (Caught masturbating by his jailer, the boy had invented the story to shift blame onto the two women.) The former queen summoned up a stirring denunciation. "Nature refuses to answer such a charge brought against a mother," she replied. "I appeal in this matter to all the mothers present in court." The prosecutor's ploy backfired as the audience reacted with abashed silence. But the trial's conclusion was foregone. With civil war threatening to destroy the new Republic, "Marie Antoinette was deliberately targeted," says Fraser in the PBS production, "in order to bind the French together in a kind of blood bond." Found guilty of treason, the former queen was sentenced to die.

On the eve of her execution, Marie Antoinette wrote a last letter, to her sister-in-law, entreating Elisabeth to forgive young Louis for his accusations and to persuade him not to try to avenge his parents' deaths. "I am calm," she reflected, "as people are whose conscience is clear." Before the former queen left prison the next morning, October 16, 1793, the executioner cut off her hair and bound her hands behind her. A priest counseled courage. "Courage?" Marie Antoinette shot back. "The moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me."

As an open tumbrel cart carrying the condemned woman rolled through the streets to what is now the Place de la Concorde, Marie Antoinette, two weeks shy of her 38th birthday, but appearing far older, maintained a stoic pose, captured in Jacques-Louis David's harsh sketch (below) from the rue Sainte-Honoré. When the guillotine sliced off her head at 12:15 p.m., thousands of spectators erupted in cheers. Her body was placed in a coffin and tossed into a common grave in a cemetery behind the Church of the Madeleine.

Still imprisoned in the Temple tower, Louis Charles remained isolated from his sister and his aunt, who was also executed, in May 1794, as an enemy of the people. In June 1795, the 10-year-old boy, a king—Louis XVII to Royalists—without a country, died in the Temple tower, most likely of the same tuberculosis that had felled his elder brother. Six months later, his 17-year-old sister was returned to Austria in a prisoner exchange. She ultimately married her first cousin, the Duke d'Angoulême, and died childless at age 72 in 1851 outside Vienna.

Fersen became a trusted adviser to the Swedish king. But he never forgave himself for not saving the woman he loved on the flight to Varennes. "Why, ah why did I not die for her on the 20th of June?" he wrote in his journal. Nineteen years later, on June 20, 1810, a Stockholm mob, wrongly believing that he had poisoned the heir to the Swedish throne, beat him to death with sticks and stones. He was 54.

In April 1814, following Napoleon's exile to Elba, Louis' brother the Comte de Provence, then 58, returned from his own exile in England to assume the French throne as Louis XVIII. The following January, he had the bodies of his older brother and the queen disinterred and reburied in the Saint-Denis Cathedral near Paris, where idealized stone statues of the royal couple now kneel in prayer above the underground vault.

Marie Antoinette would likely have been perfectly happy to have played only a ceremonial part as queen. But Louis' weakness forced her to take a more dominant role—for which the French people could not forgive her. Cartoons depicted her as a harpy trampling the constitution. She was blamed for bankrupting the country, when others in the high-spending, lavish court bore equal responsibility. Ultimately, she was condemned simply for being Louis' wife and a symbol of tyranny. Thomas Jefferson, minister to France under Louis XVI, famously asserted that if Marie Antoinette had been cloistered in a convent, the French Revolution would never have taken place. Perhaps Jefferson goes too far. Certainly she became a scapegoat for nearly everything that was wrong with France's absolutist, dynastic system. But it's also clear that in their refusal to compromise, Louis and Marie Antoinette lost everything.

Based in France, Richard Covington writes on culture, history, science and the arts from his home near Versailles.

About Richard Covington

Richard Covington is a Paris-based author who covers a wide range of cultural and historical subjects and has contributed to Smithsonian, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.


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