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The Noblesse Under the Restoration

When the legitimate kings of France returned, they recognised many of the Imperial dignities and conferred others ; some of them being attached to membership of the new Chamber of Peers, others being purely decorative, like our baronetcies, but all being unconnected with privilege, which was the basis of the nobility of the Old Regime.

The Revolution of the 18th century abolished the French peerage, but Louis XVIII re-established it after the model of that of England by the charter of 1814. In 1831 hereditary peerages were abolished in France. Since the new formation of the House of Peers in France, the French learned to comprehend the British constitution; and to Louis XVIII the British gentleman on his travels was much indebted for the heterogeneous materials of which he composed his upper house. Before the revolution, the French called every British gentleman a milord, and if his modesty disclaimed the title, they set him down as a plebeian; but at present there are so many noble French Peers, who have not the least pretension to be gentilshommes, and in the Chambre des Deputes so many persons of quality that the French now say of our two houses of parliament, apparemment c'est comme chez nous.

The Chambre des Deputes contained a number of marquises, comtes, barons, and untitled gentlemen; these, though inferior in parliament, consider themselves equal elsewhere to the peers; and toward those peers that were not noble before their elevation to the peerage, the ancient gentleman affects the same contempt that Squire Western expressed for an upstart lord.

Of the relative importance of French titles, some idea may be formed for the Majorats, or property that, by an ordonnance of 1824, was entailed on every titulary. In future a title was to be granted to a French subject only for life, unless the grantee makes a settlement in favor of his successor, in which case it was to be hereditary. But, lest his vanity should sacrifice his younger children, an individual could only settle the third of his property on the title. Thus the baron who constitutes a majorat of five thousand, must possess a revenue of fifteen thousand francs; and the comte, who constitutes a majorat of ten thousand, must possess a revenue of thirty thousand, and so forth. An individual may be created Comte for life, but if not rich enough to settle on the title a majorat of Comte, he may constitute a majorat of Baron, in which case his successors will be only barons.

Ever since Louis' return to power in 1815, his adherents had been animated by a fierce vindictiveness. The most aristocratic salons of the Faubourg- Saint-Germain breathed a spirit of so furious a resentment as can with difficulty now be realized. Whereas, after the first Restoration the Royalists had confidently believed that the fallen Emperor had scarcely a follower worthy of the name, they now saw Bonapartism lurking everywhere. The surprising ease with which Bonaparte had made himself master of the Government baffled their comprehension. The existence of a deeply laid plot appeared to them the only reasonable explanation. The majority were consumed with the dread of an unknown, mysterious power which might rise at any moment to confound them. To combat this danger, Royalist vigilance committees were formed all over the country. Every man watched his neighbour, and an almost universal system of delation sprang into existence. One half of France, it has been said, was spying on the other. The abuses to which this deplorable state of affairs lent itself need no comment.

The Talleyrand Ministry, which came into existence with the second Restoration, was essentially a Cabinet of moderate men. The emigre party was quite unrepresented in it. On the other hand, every member of the new Government had, in some capacity or another, served under the Empire. The elections, in accordance with the Royal Proclamation of July 13th, had taken place in August 1815. They were the first which had occurred under the Restored Monarchy. An overwhelming Royalist majority was returned. The new Deputies, however, with scarcely any exceptions, were men of such extreme views, that the position of the Cabinet became, at once, seriously endangered, and Talleyrand soon resigned. An ill-concealed determination to undo the work of the Revolution, a fierce desire for revenge, such were the feelings which too evidently inspired the greater number of the deputies.

The Peers had been reconstituted. Its functions had become hereditary, and its numbers had been increased by ninety-four new creations. Those of its members, however, who had, during the Hundred Days, sat in Napoleon's Upper Chamber, had since been deprived of their Peerages by the King. The new legislators were, with few exceptions, members of the old families. A considerable number of the Peers were former generals and officials of the Empire. Men who, though strong Constitutional Royalists, had no sympathy with the pretensions of the emigre party. Without doubt the Hereditary Chamber represented far more accurately the real opinion of the best part of the nation. Personal considerations, however, were responsible mainly for the attitude adopted by the members of the two Chambers. The majority of the Deputies were landed proprietors. Most of them belonged to old aristocratic families and hoped to receive compensation for the property confiscated under the emigration laws.

With ostentatious pomp becoming the dignity of a divine-right monarch, Charles X was solemnly crowned. With the assistance of the Ultra-Royalist majority in the Chambers he set to work to achieve his purposes. The legislation urged by the King and largely enacted showed the belated political and social ideas of this government. During the Revolution the estates belonging to noblemen and the Church were confiscated and mostly sold. When the Bourbons returned, the remaining properties were restored to their owners and after years of agitation a law was passed granting an indemnity. Nearly a billion francs were voted as an indemnity to the nobles for their lands which had been confiscated and sold by the state during the Revolution. The former owners gave up every claim to the lands they had lost. Many Frenchmen thought that France had more urgent needs than to vote money to during the those who had deserted the country and had then fought against her. But the King had been leader of the emigres and was in entire sympathy with their point of view.

Even a bill tending to undermine equality of inheritance and to reestablish the practice of primogeniture was debated. Certainly, in France, during the Era of Metternich, the Ultra-Royalists appeared to be taking long strides toward the complete realization of the reactionary program which was defined by a faithful minister of Charles X as " the reorganization of society, the restoration to the clergy of their weight in state affairs, and the creation of a powerful aristocracy surrounded with privileges."

Many Peers had forfeited their estates during the Revolution. The saying of Machiavelli may be quoted that "a man will readily forget the loss of his father, but never that of his patrimony." The expediency cannot be questioned of a measure which was to put an end to the bitterest animosities which the Revolution had left behind. Moreover, it could be urged, with some show of reason, that the emigres and their descendants would not alone benefit by the indemnity. Indirectly it would confer an advantage upon the actual possessors of the confiscated estates, by giving them a better title to their properties. It had been calculated that a milliard of francs-forty millions sterling-would be required to compensate the owners of forfeited estates. The payment of this sum was to be spread over five years. The claims of those who were to benefit under the act were to be met by an issue of 3 percent government stock.

The bill to indemnify the emigres by the settlement of claims was the cause of much complaint and discontent. The large proprietors and any persons who had influence at Court are said to have been treated over-generously at the expense of the more obscure claimants. The Due d'Or leans for his own share, received fourteen millions of francs. Among private individuals, the Liberal Peers, who had opposed the measure, the Due de Choiseul, and the Due de La Rochefoucauld- Liancourt accepted over a million each. The name of La Fayette figured opposite a sum of nearly five hundred thousand francs. Another class of person had every reason to be grateful. From this time forward the distinction disappeared between patrimonial and heretofore national property. As an attempt "to close the last wounds of the Revolution," the bill was not altogether a failure. But the more important end was not attained of reconciling all classes of the nation. On the contrary, the fierce debates in the Lower Chamber intensified the recollections of past differences. In the words of General Foy the extreme Royalists deliberately converted an act of reparation into an instrument of hatred and revenge.

Out of a total of 430 Deputies, no less than 320 were members of the old privileged families, and nearly all of them were personally interested in the question before the Chamber. The lower House divided, and the bill was carried by 259 votes to 124. From this result it was very evident that, under cover of the secrecy of the ballot, nearly all who were not pecuniarily interested in the indemnity must have voted against it, irrespective of party. The bill was at once carried up to the Higher Chamber, where on 20 April 1825 it was passed by a majority of 159 to 63.

The patents conferring titles under the Restoration limit them in line of primogeniture, but the old dynasty did not remain long enough on its recovered throne to enforce regularity or to see its ordinances carried out; and since the abdication of Charles X in 1830 there had not been a ruler in France to whom French subjects of aristocratic pretensions have paid regard. The Faubourg St. Germain had equal scorn for Louis Philippe and for Napoleon III, and the efforts of the latter to introduce regularity in the bearing of titles had no effect.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:21 ZULU