Louis XVI and a brief history of France’s struggle between Monarchies and Republics

by Strategia

600 words

Today, on January 21, 1793, Louis XVI or “Citizen Louis Capet” as the revolutionaries called him, was executed by guillotine. One year later, his wife Marie Antoinette was also guillotined. This was an important milestone in the revolution as it allowed the new First French Republic to focus on the other powers threatening to restore the weak and severely in debt Ancien Regime. At the time many did not except the House of Bourbon to come back to the throne since most of their heirs had either been killed or had escaped, but little did they know that the last part of the 18th century and most of the 19th century would be a battle in France between republicanism and monarchism.


Louis XVI’s portrait

The French Revolution

The 1790’s would be chaotic for Europe, as new revolutionary puppet states were replacing former kingdoms and duchies. Meanwhile in France, the revolution was taking a bit of a softer tone as some of the more radical Jacobins, like Robespierre were ironically executed by their own device, the guillotine. Eventually, many people were tired of this war and wanted peace. Then a popular general, Napoleon Bonaparte seized the country in the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire and declared himself First Consul. A few years later, he crowned himself Emperor of the France and famously declared, “The revolution is over. I am the revolution.”


Napoleon I on his Imperial throne

The Rise and Fall of the Napoleons

Napoleon used parts of revolutionary reforms, but for all intents and purposes, the French state was a monarchy. The people now idolized Napoleon and his new Grande Armée. The Republic was left to be forgotten and lost in time. By the time Napoleon was finally defeated and the end of 25 years of war, it seemed as if the Republic and the initial Reign of Terror was a distant memory. The old Bourbon monarchy was restored, but the revolutionary spirit lived on in the slums of Paris. For the first part of the 19th century was teetering on anarchy, until the Revolution of 1848 finally toppled Louis Phillipe I, or “The Citizen King.” A new Republic was established, but like its namesake, it was taken over by another Napoleon. Napoleon III and his Second French Empire did not invade every country, but it provided all the glory and wonder that an empire with colonies would have.


An official portrait of Napoleon III

This was not the end of the great war between monarchism and republicanism though. A man named Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Prussia, had been trying to unite Germany after the old Holy Roman Empire was dissolved. Already he had created the “North German Confederation” and had secured Prussia’s place as the leader of the future Germany. Bismarck fabricated a war against France for Alsace-Lorraine, which had been a battlefield between France and the long gone German state of Alsace. He declared war in 1870, and swiftly marched his and the southern German states’ armies to France. After some initial success, Napoleon and his empire lost the crucial Battle of Sedan. The Second French Empire was crushed, and Bismarck used the war as the catalyst to unite Germany.

Napoleon III surrendering and Wilhelm I’s crowning as Emperor of the German Empire.

A Republican Victory

A proto-communist uprising in Paris happened but was swiftly defeated and the Third French Republic was left with a broken country. Never again would a monarchy control France and the Franco-Prussian War added new animosity to the long standing Franco-German feud. The long war between monarchism and republicanism was over, with a republican victory.


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