Paris Between Empires: Monarchy and Revolution 1814-1852by Philip Mansel
Paris between 1814 and 1852 was the capital of Europe, a city of power and pleasure, a magnet for people of all nationalities that exerted an influence far beyond the reaches of France. Paris was the stage where the great conflicts of the age, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, revolution and royalism, socialism and capitalism, atheism and Catholicism, were
Paris between 1814 and 1852 was the capital of Europe, a city of power and pleasure, a magnet for people of all nationalities that exerted an influence far beyond the reaches of France. Paris was the stage where the great conflicts of the age, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, revolution and royalism, socialism and capitalism, atheism and Catholicism, were fought out before the audience of Europe. As Prince Metternich said: When Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold. Not since imperial Rome has one city so dominated European life.
Paris Between Empires tells the story of this golden age, from the entry of the allies into Paris on March 31, 1814, after the defeat of Napoleon I, to the proclamation of his nephew Louis-Napoleon, as Napoleon III in the Hôtel de Ville on December 2, 1852. During those years, Paris, the seat of a new parliamentary government, was a truly cosmopolitan capital, home to Rossini, Heine, and Princess Lieven, as well as Berlioz, Chateaubriand, and Madame Recamier. Its salons were crowded with artisans and aristocrats from across Europe, attracted by the freedom from the political, social, and sexual restrictions that they endured at home.
This was a time, too, of political turbulence and dynastic intrigue, of violence on the streets, and women manipulating men and events from their salons. In describing it Philip Mansel draws on the unpublished letters and diaries of some of the city's leading figures and of the foreigners who flocked there, among them Lady Holland, two British ambassadors, Lords Stuart de Rothesay and Normanby, and Charles de Flahaut, lover of Napoleon's step-daughter Queen Hortense. This fascinating book shows that the European ideal was as alive in the nineteenth century as it is today.
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Paris Between Empires
Monarchy and Revolution 1814â"1852
By Philip Mansel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Philip Mansel
All rights reserved.
Death of an Empire: Europe takes Paris
C'est à la Ville de Paris qu'il appartient dans les circonstances actuelles d'accélérer la Paix du Monde ... l'Europe en armes devant vos murs s'adresse à vous.
Proclamation of Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, 31 March 1814
The night was clear and still; there was little movement in the streets. From the heart of the city Parisians could see the campfires of the enemy army on the surrounding hills and listen to the strange sound of Russian music. For the first time in its eight centuries as capital of France, Paris was besieged by a foreign army. The shock was all the greater given that, in the previous twenty years, under the Republic and the Empire, French soldiers had marched in triumph into almost every city in Europe, from Lisbon to Moscow. In 1811 the French Empire, under Napoleon I, had covered half the continent, from Hamburg to Rome, from Brittany to Dalmatia.
The buildings of Paris reflected its European empire. The Musée Napoléon in the Louvre was filled with the spoils of war, seized from churches and palaces in Italy, Belgium and Germany, or extracted from France's vanquished foes on the grounds that their rightful place was not with 'slaves' but in 'the bosom of a free people'. Among the loot were Rubens' Descent from the Cross, removed from Antwerp cathedral; Raphael's St Cecilia from Bologna; Veronese's Marriage at Cana from Venice; and statues such as the Venus de' Medici and the Apollo Belvedere, taken from Florence and Rome respectively. The four ancient Greek bronze horses from the façade of St Mark's cathedral in Venice adorned the summit of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, built in 1806–7 in front of the Tuileries palace to honour the French victories over Austria and Russia in 1805. The sword and decorations of Frederick the Great, and the Victory quadriga from the top of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, had been placed in the Invalides. Archives from Vienna, Simancas and the Vatican had been removed to the Archives Impériales in the rue du Faubourg du Temple. The Cardinals too had been taken from Rome to Paris, after the imprisonment of the Pope and the annexation of the Papal States in 1809.
But the retreat from Moscow in 1812 and, even more, the Emperor's defeat by an army of Russian, Austrian and Prussian soldiers at the 'Battle of the Nations' outside Leipzig in October 1813 had been the beginning of the end. Since Leipzig Paris had been filled by dread of impending cataclysm. The only news that could be trusted was the location of the Emperor's headquarters, as reported in his war bulletins, while he darted across the plains east of Paris at the head of an army of 50,000, trying in vain to block the advancing torrent of Russian, Austrian and Prussian soldiers. The Russian troops, enraged by the French invasion in 1812 and the burning of Moscow (in reality ordered by their own government), were said to know only two words of French: brûler Paris.
At the end of March the streets of Paris had been made impassable by the arrival of peasants fleeing the fighting, bringing their cattle and carts laden with relations and possessions. The shouts and groans of frightened animals and people were deafening. Soldiers and cannon leaving for the battlefield crossed more files of carts piled with allied prisoners. Wounded French soldiers crawled haggard and emaciated through the streets of Paris demanding money, or simply lay down to die.
Lunatics were driven out of asylums, patients out of hospitals, to make way for the wounded. So many died that they had to be buried in mass graves to avoid a typhus epidemic. Other corpses were thrown in the Seine. According to Thomas Richard Underwood, an English artist who had lived in Paris as a prisoner on parole since the resumption of war between Britain and France in 1803, 'the number of dead bodies seen, either floating down the river or stranded on the banks was immense and exhibited an appalling spectacle'. To reassure Parisians that the soldiers' corpses had not contaminated the Seine, which was the city's main source of drinking water, two professors and the Dean of the Paris Faculty of Medicine were persuaded to publish a statement 'that the continued fluctuation and change of water destroyed all putrescence and that the fluid was consequently harmless'.
* * *
The Napoleonic Empire had internal as well as external enemies. One of the most influential was the celebrated former bishop and revolutionary politician Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, Prince de Bénévent. Although in personal disgrace with the Emperor owing to his opposition to French expansion in Europe, as Vice-Grand Electeur he remained at the summit of the Empire's official hierarchy. On 6 March he had sent a royalist, the Baron de Vitrolles, to allied headquarters in the east of France, with a letter written in invisible ink. Vitrolles' mission was to reveal the strength of hostility to Napoleon in Paris and to urge an allied advance on the city.
Both the British and Russian governments had long helped finance the activities and propaganda of the exiled Bourbon pretender Louis XVIII, younger brother of Louis XVI. In his efforts to find a haven safe from the advancing French armies, he had spent the last twenty-three years on an odyssey around Europe – from Germany to Verona, back to Germany, on to Mittau in Russia, Warsaw and finally England, where he lived from 1807 to 1814. Britain and Russia encouraged the distribution in France of his printed Declaration of Hartwell (his residence near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire between 1809 and 1814), promising peace, stability, freedom and an endorsement of the post-revolutionary administrative settlement and property distribution. Madame de Marigny, sister of the great writer Chateaubriand whose works Le Génie du Christianisme (1801), Les Martyrs (1809) and Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem et de Jérusalem à Paris (1811) had spearheaded the Catholic revival in France, wrote in her diary on 17 and 20 March that the King's declaration was being thrown into streets and shops, that the police were tearing it off the walls, that the Bourbons were talked of 'more than ever' and that there was no news from the Emperor. He was leading a last desperate campaign to the south and east of Paris, hoping to split the advancing allied armies and defeat each section in turn.
'For the first time', so Underwood wrote, 'I heard the people openly dare to venture complaints against the Emperor as the sole cause of the impending calamity; but I witnessed no patriotic feeling to repulse the enemy.' Patriotism had been weakened by the demands of the Empire's relentless wars. Moreover, since his seizure of power by a military coup in 1799, many Parisians had doubted Napoleon's claim to represent France. Madame Reinhard, the wife of a senior official, recorded: 'The dénouement is approaching and is desired to put an end to the anguish oppressing all hearts.' The interception of a despatch from the Minister of Police to Napoleon, revealing fears of a royalist uprising in Paris, finally persuaded the allies to advance directly on the capital, ignoring Napoleon's army south of the city.
Not only royalists and foreigners were gathering for the kill. Another enemy was emerging from below. Like all governments of the day, the Napoleonic Empire based itself on property; only the richest men had the vote in elections to the Corps Législatif and the Senate. The plebiscite, based on universal male suffrage, had not been used since it ratified the proclamation of the Empire in 1804. Conversely the regime despised what was called la plus vile populace, the unpropertied poor who composed three-quarters of the population, and it lived in fear of what one police report called 'the overthrow of the entire social system'. Class tension governed or affected most human relations. In March, according to one Parisian, 'the dregs of the people ... individuals with no religion, no morals and leading an abject and degraded life' terrified bourgeois Parisians by pointing out the houses they planned to pillage with the help of the Cossacks in the Russian army. On 27 March Talleyrand wrote to his mistress the Duchesse de Courlande, who had retreated to the safety of the countryside, that dread of pillage, famine and catastrophe tormented Paris. He himself feared 'social breakdown ... no one obeys and yet no one dares to give orders.'
The principal protection against the 'populace', and the main law-keeping body in the city, was the Paris National Guard. Founded in 1789 as the military arm of the Paris bourgeoisie, it had played a crucial role in the early years of the revolution, both advancing its cause and preventing the poor from taking it over. In 1814 it was composed of 12,000 bourgeois property owners serving – in turn and equipped at their own expense – as guards and policemen outside public buildings throughout the city. On 23 January 1814, after Sunday mass in the Tuileries palace, the Emperor had entrusted the protection of the city of Paris, of his wife the Empress Marie Louise, born an Archduchess of Austria, and of their son the King of Rome, to 'the courage of the National Guard'. With tears in their eyes and cries of Vive l'Empereur! nine hundred officers in new uniforms had sworn their loyalty. However, fear of la plus vile populace had led the Prefect of Police, Baron Pasquier, to admit known royalists as officers.
The ceremony had taken place in the Salle des Maréchaux of the Tuileries palace, the long grey palace, now destroyed, built by Catherine de Médicis in 1561–4, west of the Louvre. It was situated between a courtyard, the Cour du Carrousel, and the Jardin des Tuileries, the largest and most fashionable public garden in the city and one of its centres of life and movement. Well-dressed Parisians, including ministers and ambassadors, spent hours walking every day in the garden – among orange and chestnut trees, fountains, flowerbeds and marble statues of gods and goddesses – eyeing each other, talking or sitting and reading newspapers.
After the National Guard had escorted Louis XVI and the royal family from Versailles to the Tuileries on 6 October 1789, the palace had become famous throughout Europe as the seat and symbol of sovereignty in France. It was from the Tuileries that Louis XVI had fled to Varennes in 1791, and to the Legislative Assembly in 1792 – the palace walls still bore the marks of the cannon shot fired against it by the national guards on 10 August 1792, the day they helped a Parisian mob overthrow the monarchy. It was in the Tuileries that the Convention had sat in 1793–4, and there that, since 1800, Napoleon had lived and ruled. It symbolised both the power and the fragility of the French monarchy.
The continued presence in the Tuileries of the Empress Marie Louise had been considered the capital's best protection against allied vengeance, and had given courage to its defenders. However, throughout 29 March, according to Underwood, the ladies of her court had been seen through the windows of the palace 'running from apartment to apartment; some were weeping, and in a state of distraction; whilst servants were hurrying from place to place in like confusion'. At half past six in the evening fifteen carriages, including the gilt coronation coach of Napoleon I covered in green canvas, left with the crown jewels and the imperial archives, escorted by cavalry. Sentries kept the stunned and silent spectators at a distance. Finally at 10.32 p.m. the Empress herself, in a brown cloth riding habit and holding the three-year-old King of Rome, dressed in a blue jacket and screaming that he did not want to leave his house, departed from the palace in a coach surrounded by fifty horse guards, followed by fifteen or twenty other coaches. According to the novelist Stendhal, then an official in the furniture department of the imperial household, the spectators 'showed no sign of emotion'. The Empress's procession drove along the quay on the right bank of the Seine, heading south-west for the château of Rambouillet. She never saw Paris again.
* * *
Paris sheltered behind its brown stone wall, three metres high and twenty-four kilometres long. The wall, which had been built in 1784–7 to incorporate the massive expansion of the city under Louis XVI, separated the city from the fields and farms which then came right up to the first houses of Paris. The wall was pierced by fifty-four iron gates, or barrières, flanked by railings, where all goods entering the city, even carts of hay, were examined by municipal officials and obliged to pay internal customs duties. (Surviving barrières can be seen at, for example, Place Denfert-Rochereau and Place de la Nation.) These barriers had recently been blocked and fortified with wooden palisades – more to impress the Parisians with evidence of government resolve than to provide a serious defence.
Under the supreme authority of the Emperor's brother King Joseph-Napoleon, former King of Spain, Marshals Marmont and Mortier were in charge of the defence of the city, at the head of approximately 20,000 soldiers and 6,000 national guards: the other national guards, with the Paris garrison and the gendarmes, were kept back to maintain law and order in the city. The French forces faced an allied army of about 100,000 covering the plains north and east of the city. Its commander was the great Austrian Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, victor at Leipzig in 1813.
At 5 a.m. on 30 March allied forces began their attack. They were impressed by the vigour and volume of the cannon and musket fire from the French. For four hours the roar of artillery could be heard, and the smoke from cannon shot be seen, from Vincennes in the east of the city to Montmartre in the north. Montmartre was then an isolated hill, renamed Montnapoléon, riding high above the plain of the Seine outside the city walls. It was covered by windmills where flour for the city's bread was ground, and situated on its summit was the celebrated telegraph machine whence Napoleon had transmitted orders to his armies and news of his victories to Paris. Pupils of the Ecole Polytechnique and some French and Polish soldiers fought bravely. The Prussian guards suffered 'monstrously', according to one of their officers the seventeen-year-old Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, who wept over the deaths of 'so many dear good people'. In all about 9,000 allied soldiers died, compared to only 3,000 French.
However, further resistance against overwhelming numerical superiority was pointless. The National Guard was unenthusiastic; the police, who normally arrested soldiers running away from the battlefield, were invisible. At 10 a.m., from his position beside the telegraph on Montmartre, King Joseph gave the order to the marshals to start negotiations for a ceasefire when they thought fit. To the indignation of the Parisians, he then left the city with the remaining members of the imperial family and the ministers, as fast as their coaches could carry them, to join the Empress at Rambouillet.
Some Parisians had been watching the battle through telescopes from high points in the city or from their own rooftops. Others, as usual, spent the day in the centre of the city on the boulevards. Whereas Vienna kept its fortified ramparts until 1853, as early as 1670 Louis XIV had ordered streets to be laid out on the site of the old city bulwarks (= boulevards) built by King Philippe-Auguste around 1200. The boulevards were wide tree-lined streets stretching from the Madeleine to the Bastille and, although completely transformed, are – like the Boulevard des Italiens stretching east from the Place de l'Opéra – still in existence today. In contrast to the boulevards, the heart of Paris, which was one of the few cities in Europe to have been a metropolis since the Middle Ages, was full of winding streets, some of which were so dark, damp and narrow that they gave the impression of a subterranean city; houses had to burn lamps throughout the day for much of the summer as well as in winter. Receiving the ordures of 200,000 households as well as countless workshops, butchers' shops and horses, these streets were, in addition, covered by 'a black mud' which stank of 'pestilential miasmas'.
Excerpted from Paris Between Empires by Philip Mansel. Copyright © 2001 Philip Mansel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
Philip Mansel, who has lived and taught in Paris, is the author of, among other works, Louis XVIII, The Court of France 1789-1830, and Constantinople: City of the World's Desire 1453-1924. He coedited The French Emigres in Europe 1789-1814, has written for numerous newspapers and periodicals, and is editor of the Court Historian, newsletter of the Society for Court Studies.
Philip Mansel, who has lived and taught in Paris, is the author of, among other works, Louis XVIII, The Court of France 1789-1830, and Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire 1453-1924. He coedited The French Emigres in Europe 1789-1814, has written for numerous newspapers and periodicals, and is editor of the Court Historian, newsletter of the Society for Court Studies.
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