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Louis Stanilas Xavier de France, Comte de Provence, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1762

Louis Stanislas Xavier de France, Louis XVIII, Comte de Provence, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1762 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French Revolution

I would like to provide you with an overview of the history of 19th-century France. It has several insurrections and coups d’état. The first coup d’état took place on 19 Brumaire Year VIII, or 9 November 1799. It therefore precedes the nineteenth century by about six weeks. On 19 Brumaire, Napoleon I became First Consul and his government was the French Consulate. However, in April 1804, the French Sénat named him Emperor of the French, and he was crowned Napoleon I on 2 December 1804. Joséphine was crowned impératrice (Empress), by the new Emperor, her husband.

Events Preceding the First Republic

At the beginning of the 19th century, France was an unofficial Empire. As First Consul, Napoleon was the de facto ruler of France. He started rising to power during the National Convention (1792 – 1795) and continued empowering himself throughout the French Directory (1795 – 1799) as General Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Directory is identified as the third stage of the French Revolution.

The first stage of the Revolution begins with the meeting of the Estates-General of 1789. Significant events are: 

The Revolution was radicalized (i.e. the King became an enemy) by the Flight to Varennes (June 1791). The Flight to Varennes was followed by the Declaration of Pillnitz (August 1791) and Brunswick Manifesto. The levée en masse (conscription of 23 August 1793) gave Napoleon and France a huge army.

After the monarchy was abolished, we reach the second stage of the French Revolution or the counterrevolution.  

  1. The First Republic was founded on 22 September 1792, by the newly-established National Convention.
  2. The National Convention: 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 (4 Brumaire IV). The Thermidorian Reaction (27 July 1794) put an end to the Reign of Terror.
  3. The Directory: 2 November 1795 to 10 November 1799. There were five Directors and the Directory doubled up as a style (neoclassicism). Neoclassicism became a style as a result of the Coup of 18 Fructidor or 4 September 1797. Eighteenth (18) Fructidor was a genuine coup d’état, involving the military.
  4. The Consulate (18 Brumaire [9 November 1799] – 1804). As First Consul, Napoleon I ruled unopposed.

The First Empire

Although the French Sénat named Napoleon Emperor of the French, on 18 May 1804, Napoleon was a mostly self-proclaimed Emperor. He was crowned on 2 December 1804. He then crowned his Créole wife Joséphine impératrice. She kept that title when Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria.

Napoleon suffered severe losses during the French invasion of Russia (1812) and at the Battle of Leipzig, faught in October 1813. France was invaded and the First Empire, dissolved. In fact, the First Empire ended twice. It ended first on 4 April 1814,[i] when Napoleon I abdicated and was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany. Napoleon escaped and he returned to power. This period of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) is called the Hundred Days (111 to be precise).

The First Empire ended a second time, when Napoleon I was defeated at Waterloo, on 18 June 1815. After Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to a distant island, Saint Helena, where he died of stomach cancer in 1821.

The Congress of Vienna (1815)

The First Empire was followed by the Congress of Vienna, the foremost social and political event of the nineteenth century, conducted before and after Napoleon I’s Hundred Days.

The main players were:

The decisions made in Vienna laid the groundwork for various insurrections and, ultimately, World War I. However, the Congress of Vienna was the first meeting of a united Europe or European nations seeking peaceful coexistence. (See Concert of Europe, Wikipedia.)

The Two Monarchies and Three Monarchs

Napoleon’s Hundred Days, his return from Elba, complicated the installation of Louis XVIII, portrayed above. What a lovely child!

Our Monarchs are:

Comments on Charles X

Charles X undermined his reputation and popularity because of the Anti-Sacrilege Act (1825 – 1830) and because he proposed financial indemnities for properties confiscated during the 1789 Revolution (the French Revolution). His actions led to the July Revolution of 1830, when Louis-Philippe III (House of Orleans) was elected King of the French.

Louis XVII  Louis-Charles de France

Louis XVII, Titular, Alexandre Kucharski
Louis-Charles de France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • Louis XVII became titular (having the title of) King of France on 21 January 1893, the day his father was executed. He died of a form of tuberculosis in on 8 June 1895. He never reigned.
  • Louis-Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans or Philippe Égalité (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793; by guillotine). Louis-Philippe II did not reign.

The 1848 Revolutions

King Louis-Philippe I was deposed during the 1848 Revolution. In 1848, there were revolutions in many European countries, including France. In France, certain matters had to be settled: suffrage (who votes?); the right to employment, etc.

The Second Republic & Second Empire

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was the elected President of France, now a Republic. However, on 2 December 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’état that transformed him into Napoleon I. He was the nephew of Emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon III and l’impératrice Eugénie, his wife, fled France after a Prussian victory at the Battle of Sedan, fought on 1 September 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871).

Famed French author Victor Hugo fled to Guernsey when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte transformed himself into an Emperor. (See Sources, below.) As for Karl Marx, he wrote an analysis of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s 18 Brumaire. It can be read online. (See Sources, below.)

Napoleon  II, Titular

Napoleon II, Titular (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Napoleon II (b. Tuileries, 1811 – d. Vienna, 1832) was named Emperor by his father Emperor Napoleon I, on 4 September 1814, the day his father abdicated. He is titular (has the title of) Emperor, but never ruled France. He died at the age of 21, of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II in Literature

Napoleon II (the Duke of Reichstadt) was born in Paris, in 1811, and died in Vienna, in 1832. His mother was Marie-Louise of Austria. French playwright Edmond Rostand wrote a 6-act play entitled L’Aiglon (the eaglet), a Project Gutenberg Publication [EBook #30012], based on Napoleon II’s life. The very famous Sarah Bernhardt was l’aiglon (produced on 30 March 1900) and the play was a success, but not as great a success as Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). The real Napoleon II was:

King of Rome (1811 – 1814)
Prince of Parma (1814 – 1817)
Duke of Reichstadt (1818 – 1832)

Comments on Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte:

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte is the same person as Napoleon I. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte organized the coup d’état of 2 December 1851, staged on the forty-eighth anniversary of his uncle’s, Napoleon I, coronation: 11 Frimaire XIII (2 December 1804).

Hubert Robert

Le Tapis vert (The Green Rug, detail), Hubert Robert (Photo credit: Google)

The Children of France

Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793; by guillotine) and Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793; by guillotine) were married in 1870. They had four children:

  1. Marie-Thérèse de France, Duchesse d’Angoulème (b. 1778 –  d. 1851);
  2. Louis-Joseph Dauphin de France (heir apparent (b. Versailles22 October 1781 – d. Paris, 4 June 1789);
  3. Louis-Charles, fils de France and, in 1789, Dauphin (Louis XVII) (b. Versailles, 27 March 1785 – d. Paris, 8 June 1795);
  4. Princesse Sophie (b. Versailles, 9 July 1786 – d. Versailles, 19 June 1787).

Louis XVII was titular King of France from 21 January 1793 to 8 June 1795. He never reigned.

The Third Republic (1871 – 1940)


The above adds up to:

two Monarchies (three monarchs):

two Empires:

  • Napoleon I: coup d’état of 9 November 1799 to 1815; defeat at Waterloo
  • Napoleon III: coup d’état of 2 December 1851 to 1870; Franco-Prussian War

Two Republics: Second & Third Republics

The Nineteenth century in France was an experiment in democracy. It was also a period of drastic changes. Feudalism survived until the French Revolution, so the 19th century was France’s Industrial Revolution. Previous forms of government were revisited, revealing tentativeness on the part of the French nation.

Some idealized the Monarchy (Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary  [EBook #2413]). However, in the 19th century, only Emperors resembled Absolute Monarchs; King Louis-Philippe III was elected King of the French. The Church of France had to rebuild. It’s wealth had been confiscated in the early days of the French Revolution, at the suggestion, on 10 October 1789, of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord,[ii] an ordained priest and a bishop.


un fils de France: son of a reigning king (France)
Madame Royale: title sometimes given the eldest living unmarried daughter of a reigning monarch (France)
le Dauphin: the heir apparent (France)
Monsieur: the King’s brother
Madame: Monsieur’s wife 
un coup d’état: the overthrow of a government usually planned within a previous government (an “inside job,” close to treason)
The Congress of Vienna (Photo credit: David King)

The Congress of Vienna, (Photo credit: David King)

Napoleon I's Hundred Days (Photo credit: David King)

Napoleon I’s Hundred Days (Photo credit: David King) 

  1. Louis XVI: guillotined (21 January 1793)
  2. Napoleon I: (9 November 1799 – 1815) Emperor from the coup d’état of 19 Brumaire, Year III until 1815 (defeated at Waterloo)
  3. Louis Joseph, Dauphin de France (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789) (born to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI)
  4. Louis XVII (Versailles, 27 March 1785 – Paris, 8 June 1795; died in prison) (born to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI)
  5. Louis XVIII: reigned from 1815 until 1824 (grandson of Louis XV)
  6. Charles X: reigned from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830 (grandson of Louis XV)
  7. Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres (Philippe-Égalité): guillotined on 6 November 1793 as Louis-Philippe II
  8. Louis-Philippe III: reigned as elected King of the French from 1830 to 1848 (son of Philippe-Égalité or Louis-Philippe II)
  9. Napoleon II, titular, the Duke of Reichstag: (20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832) (born to Napoleon I and Marie-Louise of Austria)
  10. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte: (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) in power as President of the Second Republic (1848 – 1851) (nephew and heir to Napoleon I)
  11. Napoleon III: (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) Emperor from the coup d’état of 2 December 1851 until – c. 1870 (Franco-Prussian War)
  12. The Third Republic (1871 – 1940) (not covered in this post)


Victor Hugo: Little Napoleon: Project Gutenberg [EBook #20580]EN
Victor Hugo: Napoleon Le Petit: Project Gutenberg[ EBook # 22045)FR
Karl Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (online)EN
Congress of Vienna (online account)EN[iii]
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #2413]EN
Edmond Rostand’s L’Aiglon is a Project Gutenberg Publication [EBook #30012]EN
David King‘s Vienna 1814 is an account of the Congress of Vienna
[i] See Treaty of Paris (1814), Wikipedia. 
[ii] André Castelot, Talleyrand ou le cynisme (Paris: Librairie académique Perrin, 1980), p. 64.
[iii] In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx writes that the coup d’état occurred between December 1851 and March 1852.

Napoleon I: “La Marseillaise”


© Micheline Walker
5 March 2014
Louis-Charles de France,
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Lebrun
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)