City of Chaos
Guest Post by Tempest Wright
“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ”—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!”
This was the slogan of the French Revolution.
A Tale of Kings
Once the floodgates of the first revolution opened, there was no stopping it. Parisians within the span of fifty years, watched their monarchy fall; the resulting republic give way to the Reign of Terror; the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonapart and then the attempted restoration of a Bourbon monarchy. Keep in mind they were at war for almost 20 years while these changes took place.
The Bourbon Restoration included the nearest relatives of the guillotined King and Queen, waiting for the chance to be the new monarch. The second of them was Charles X.
His preference for the ultra-royalists in his government earned him no popularity and when it seemed clear that the government under him did not care for their “constitutional monarch”, Charles tried to silence opposition through restricting the press and pushing the country back to its Catholic faith. When these did not succeed in demanding respect, Charles sought to dissolve the elected chamber and restore himself as the all-powerful monarch of France.
You may imagine how this was received.
In 1830, the July Revolution took place, making Charles X flee, and abdicate on the condition that his grandson be the next ruler. But the government cared little for his opinion. Thus, the next King, still of Bourbon descent, Louis- Phillipe, paraded through a hostile crowd towards Hotel de Ville, where he won the support of Republican Lafayette. As Lafayette was something of a symbolic leader of the revolution, his support for Louis was accepted by the people, and Louis-Phillipe became the next King of France.
The Revolution of 1832
Two years had passed and some of the revolutionaries had soured on Louis -Phillipe and their “Citizen King”. The Republicans thought it a failure; they had risked their lives in 1830 to create a Republic, not to put another King on the Throne. The middle class and bourgeoisie however, were victorious in finding a King that would allow them to retain their power of influence- most of the voting or suffrage was done by these men.
Thus a new rebellion was spawned; one that Victor Hugo immortalized, and one in which we find Hughes Merle, Gabriel, and Dr. Abbot struggling through the barricades of revolutionary Paris, each with their own ends.
The City of Slums and Barricades
But in 1832, Paris, slums were common. While some of the streets in the city, such as the Rue Saint-Honore, were wider and the houses within them catered to the middle and upper class, many of the poorer neighborhoods had retained what Victor Hugo quoted as, “their medieval charm”. Streets were narrow and winding through parts of the city, sometimes housing as many as ten people from the same family in one room.
These streets – narrow and cramped – were ideal for barricades. Rebellions and revolutions erupted multiple times during the Bourbon Restoration and barricades were an integral part of these rebellions. They provided shelter and protection from which to fire whatever weapons against the King’s army, and slowed down its progress. But in 1832, Louis Phillip’s cannons saw that the rebellion was quenched – and quickly.
City of Sons and Rebels
In many of the sources I’ve found, including The Insurgent Barricade by Mark Traugott and the artist biographies I could find on Hughes Merle, there is little support for Louis Phillipe’s way of defending his government. It was brutal, but there shouldn’t be much surprise either.
Those with power in “The Citizen King’s” reign had seen first-hand what a republic could do. Louis Phillipe and Francois Guizot, his advisor credited for the army’s harsh retaliation, had been in exile from their home, and even saw some of their father’s pay the ultimate price at the hands of the First Republic.
But as Louis fed the hands that gained him power, the poor suffered, and the income gap widened. Cholera spread in the summer of 1832, killing thousands and propagating theories that we might as well call, “conspiracy theories” that the King used it to off his opposition. Such theories, we know now to be ludicrous. Republican activists gave rise to the people’s fears, and propped up revolutions and rebellions that fed others in later years. Revolution had literally become a way of life.
City of Light
The city of Paris as we know it today, was reformed in the 1870’s. Since then, it has become known as the City of Light, and garnered tourists with its wide streets, shops and cafes, that make us think of a Paris so different from the one Hughes Merle knew.
But it’s there. Buried in history, maybe, but not that deep. And that is how within the lifetime of one artist, a City of Chaos transformed into the City of Light.