Friday, 30 December 2011

Of Thrones and Armchairs

The story about a visiting French President’s seating arrangements illustrates a profound truth about the French Republic, namely that nobody, deep down, really wants it. France’s history would have been so much less bloody if she had evolved, as Britain did, into a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It is barely 50 years since de Gaulle seriously considered restoring the monarchy on the British model.

But instead, the French obsess over the British and Monegasque Royal Families while prostrating themselves to a succession of absolute monarchs: de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard d’Estaing (with his inherited title, and his insistence that he and his wife be served a course ahead of everyone else because they are so much posher), Mitterand (related to our own dear Queen), Chirac, and now Sarkozy.


  1. France became a republic through a century long series of improbable events. If Louis XVI and his ministers had not completely bungled the political and financial crisis of the late 1780s, if Napoleon I had taken one of the compromise peace offers in 1813-4 (or even possibly if he had won Waterloo), if Charles X had died earlier, or if France, by then a constitutional monarchy under Napoleon III, had either avoided or won its war with Prussia, some sort of monarchy would have survived into the twentieth century. There was even still a chance in the 1870s if "Henry V" had been more accomodating.

    On the other hand, you can get an alternate history of a republican Britain with a few changes to events in 1659-60, 1745, several points during the reign of George III, 1830, or even the reign of George VI.

    De Gaulle was friends with the Count of Paris, but by that time, as they both knew, there were too many plausible pretenders to make a restored monarchy viable, plus the Republic had gotten the country, not always in the most graceful manner, through the turbulence of the first half of the twentieth century.

    Also, the "monarchial president" of the fifth Republic is to some degree exaggerated. Its not nearly as monarchial an institution as the post WWII American presidency, for example. The French president is much more dependent than the American president on having a friendly majority in the legislature to exercise his powers. Constitutionally, its more of a strengthened version of the third Republic presidency.

  2. The Third Republic was an accident, created because an amendment passed by one vote created a President, and if there was a President, then it followed that there was Republic. The first such President was an aristocratic general of Irish Jacobite ancestry and surname, a committed Legitimist married to a fanatical one.

    If the monarchy ever came back, then it would probably have to be the Legitimist line. Then again, there could always be Triumvirate, representing the new state's incorporation of all three of Legitimist, Orleanist and Bonapartist values by having the Heads of the three Houses as joint ceremonial Heads of State, while republican values were incorporated by the continuation of a Presidency, though probably more of the German or Italian model. Never say never.

    Mind you, heaven only knows where that would leave the office of Co-Prince of Andorra.

  3. Henry V said he wanted to be King of France, but did not want to be 'King of the Revolution'. Abp Lefebvre praised him for having taken this stance, even though it cost him the crown. If France restores its monarchy (and I think it should) then it should restore an absolute monarchy.

  4. Nothing ever dies out completely...