French history XI: A turbulent 19C

From a Bourbon monarch to an Orléans monarch to a Second Republic to a Second Empire to a Third Republic, all in the space of 46 years

The Bourbons were restored to the throne under King Louis XVIII, the half-brother of King Louis XVI, but this time as a constitutional monarchy.

(For anyone keeping count: Yes, they seemed to have skipped XVII. The sad truth is that there was a Louis XVII, son of King Louis XVI, but as he was already imprisoned by the Revolution when his father died—and then died in prison in 1795 at the tender age of 10—he never actually got a chance to rule.)

After Louis XVIII died in 1824, the Bourbons got one more brother on the throne, Charles X, but the bourgeoisie soon tumbled him off for trying to restore the old ways in the 1830 July Revolution. (I like to think the French just couldn't handle having a king not named "Louis.")

They choose a new constitutional monarchy, elevating a cousin of Louis XVI to become... King Louis Philippe I (at least they added a "Philippe" this time).

Second Republic, meet Third Empire

In 1848 there was another mini-revolution, Louis Phillip I abdicated, and the French declared a Second Republic, which lasted not quite 4 years before one of its members, Napoleon's nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, turned himself into Emperor Napoleon III—by popular demand!

Bascially, the French people elected an emperor.

Monarchy and democracy, of course, don't really mix in that way, and though between 1852 and 1870 Napoleon III did institute many social reforms (and expanded colonial interests in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Africa, and Mexico—though he eventually lost that one), he was done in by a war with Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck. Napoleon III was captured, radicals seized power in Paris and deposed him in 1870, and the Second Empire was over; the Third Republic began.

The Third Republic—Things finally calm down

The 70 years of the Third Republic was a halcyon age for France.

Sure, there were still wars and messy politics, but at least there were no more would-be kings and emperors mucking up the republican government—and, all things being equal, they did a pretty good job of navigating the end of the 19C and the first forty years of the 20C.

During the Third Reupbulic, Paris became a cultural magnet. This is the era of La Bohème and the Eiffel Tower (built for the centennial), the time when French artists like Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Cezanne, Gaugin, Seraut, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Rodin threw off the intellectual shackles of the official Salon des Beaux Arts and shocked the cultural community with the bold lines, unrealism, and shockingly graphic nudity (unlike the idealized nudity of the Romantic Era) of Impressionism and its post-impressionist offshoots.

France got roped into World War I, fighting as much becaues they were just plain supicious of close neighbor Germany as for any nationalistic reason. When the war ended in 1919, the sides gathered at Versailles to sign the treaty in the Hall of Mirrors. 

After the Great War, France's economy suffered terribly. Along with the global Great Depression to come, they had to deal with a labor shortage as the war had left over 1.3 million Frenchmen dead—a quarter of them under the age of 24.

Since the country had no money, everything came cheap, and the Lost Generation of English and American intellectuals made Paris and the inexpensive bohemian lifestyle their home, bringing the likes of Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Gertrude Stein to long conversations over a single absinthe in Parisian cafes. The world's cultural elite (and the bohemians flaunting their norms) were flocking to Paris to set up salons, scribble away in cafés, and rub shoulders with like-minded creatives.

French archtiecture and art favored the swoopy lines and hidden geometry of Art Nouveau over the rigors of Neoclassicism. Jazz filled the bars of Montmartre where Picasso and Murrillo had studios and Matisse and Van Gogh visited.

Yes, the Third Republic trundled along nicely and happily right up until the Nazis invaded France in 1940.