Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

The Last King of France

"And empire after empire, at their height

Of sway, . . . . . . . . .

Have felt their huge frames not constructed right

And drooped, and slowly died upon their throne."

— Matthew Arnold

L ET us turn from the stories of colonisation to Europe again.

After Louis XVIII. had re-entered his capital in the summer of 1815, France enjoyed some years of peace. His death, ten years later, left his brother in possession of the throne, but Charles X. was extremely unpopular. He had the old ideas of despotism, that had already proved so fatal to his country, and a general unrest overspread France. Hoping to gain some popularity, the king sent an expedition against Algiers, on the north African coast. After a struggle, famous in history, the citadel was obliged to surrender, and the victorious French Army entered the city in triumph. Algiers is to-day the largest and most flourishing among the possessions of France. But the glory of this, did little to lessen the growing irritation of the people. The crisis soon came. The king stopped the freedom of the press. Shopkeepers and mechanics at once broke into insurrection. They barricaded the streets, dug up the pavements, and overturned the omnibuses. It was July 27, 1830. Next day, Paris was in a state of siege. The old tricolour flag was hoisted by the Revolutionists, but the king would not give way.

"Suppress the rebellion by force of arms," he said firmly.

The royal troops attacked the citizens. Then they too rebelled, and the people, like an overwhelming torrent, burst into the Tuileries. They sacked the palace, broke the magnificent furniture and hurled it into the Seine. At last the king consented to retract his edict.

"It is too late," they told him coldly; "the throne has fallen in blood."

There was nothing left him now but capitulation and exile. He fled to England, where a refuge was offered him by William IV. The "three glorious days of July" were over. France was at liberty to seek a new king. It was not far to seek. Even before the late king had quitted the soil of France, he heard that his own kinsman, Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, had been offered the crown.

Louis Philippe was descended from a younger brother of Louis XIV. His father had perished in the Reign of Terror. Exiled from the country and reduced to great poverty, young Louis Philippe had earned his bread by teaching geography and mathematics in Switzerland. He had wandered in the New World, as well as the Old, until the time was safe for him to return to France once more. During the reigns of Louis XVIII. and Charles X., he had lived in Paris, as a citizen moving among citizens. When the three days of Revolution came, he hid in the woods in fear of his life. He was found, brought to Paris, and warmly received by the old revolutionist, Lafayette. They appeared on a balcony together, with the trio-colour flag, and the multitude shouted applause.

A week later, Louis Philippe was made King of the French. The new "Citizen King," as he was called, was popular with his subjects. He dispensed with court etiquette. Anybody and everybody was admitted to his presence, as is the case to-day, with the President of the United States of America. He himself walked about the streets on foot, in "a greatcoat and round hat, with the proverbial umbrella under his arm, and shook hands familiarly with the people."

But Louis Philippe was not the man, to bring peace and prosperity to restless France.

The news of his accession proved the death-blow to one quiet aspirant to the throne, away in Austria. The young son of Napoleon, once King of Rome, was still living. He still remembered his father's great position, as Emperor of the French, and in his sickly body beat a heart as true as steel. A settled melancholy now took hold of him, though he turned with renewed vigour to his military drill and exercises. Therein lay his only hope for the future. He worked from morning to night, he hardly slept, he ate little. He grew thinner and thinner, more and more white. Till at last in 1832 the short tragedy was ended. The son of the great Napoleon lay dead at the age of twenty.

Another man now became the head of the House of Napoleon. This was Prince Louis Napoleon, the son of that Louis Bonaparte who had married Napoleon's step-daughter Hortense and become King of Holland. Prince Louis had been an exile from France for many years, but soon after the death of his young cousin Napoleon, he went to England, where he watched closely the events in France. He watched the growing discontent with Louis Philippe, noted the frequent attacks on his life, his unpopularity with the people.

One summer day, in 1840, he engaged a steamer to take himself and a party of friends from the English coast on a "pleasure trip" to Boulogne. They landed on the coast of France early in the morning, and marched into the town. The Prince, carrying his hat on the point of his sword, shouted "Vive l'Empereur." But the old cry inspired no enthusiasm among the fisher-folk of Boulogne. The only answer was cries of "Long live the King." The soldiers were called out and the Prince had to swim for his life, towards the English ship, for safety. He was caught and brought back, to be imprisoned in the castle. After five years he escaped and returned to England.

Soon after his escape, matters in France reached a crisis. The Citizen-King was a failure. The people cried for reform. They announced that a great Reform banquet should take place in February 1848. Louis Philippe forbade it. The people were exasperated. Tumults ensued. Once more, the streets were barricaded, shops closed, and firing took place in the streets. History repeats itself. The King would not believe the rebellion was serious. He still hoped to restore order. But the insurgents would be satisfied with nothing less, than a complete change of government now. Louis Philippe was seventy-five. It was not likely he would change much.

The Queen, in whose veins flowed the blood of Maria Theresa, faced the situation bravely.

"Go," she said—"Go and show yourself to the troops. I will place myself in the balcony, with my grandchildren and my princess daughters, and I will see you die in a manner worthy of yourself, of your throne and of our common misfortunes."

The king put on his uniform, mounted his horse, and taking his two eldest sons, he rode slowly forth among the sullen crowd. But he was too late. The cry for reform burst forth from every side. He returned in despair. The mob was advancing on the Tuileries. He must abdicate or die.

He seized his pen. "I abdicate in favour of my grandson, and I trust he will be more fortunate than I."

That little grandson was but ten, his father, heir to the throne, having been thrown out of a carriage and killed, but a short time since.

The Act of Abdication was read to the people.

"It is not enough—the whole dynasty must go," they cried.

The work of Louis Philippe was done. He now took off his uniform, laid his sword on the table, put on a plain black coat, and gave his arm to the queen. The sight of the aged couple, with their whitened hair, now going into exile, broke down many a courtier, and, amid stifled sobs, the king and queen made their way from the Tuileries. They crossed the same path, which had been crossed by Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette fifty-nine years before. Daughters, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren went a different way to avoid detection. Two carriages awaited the royal pair at the gate. But the queen had borne all she could, and, overcome by long agony, she fainted. Tenderly the king raised her and lifted her into the carriage. Disguised, they made their way to the sea-coast, where for some days they lay concealed in painful suspense. Day after day, tempestuous storms made the crossing to England impossible. At last they were able to go, and, under the name of William Smith, Louis Philippe and his queen arrived in England, where, two years later, death ended his tragic career.

France now became a Republic for the second time, and Prince Louis Napoleon became President for a time, after which he was proclaimed Emperor, with the title of Napoleon III.

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