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Home ›Studies› Louis XVIII and the establishment of the constitutional monarchy
Louis XVIII presided over the opening of the session of the Chambers on June 4, 1814.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Publication date: August 2009
In April 1814, the fall of the imperial regime was consummated. Talleyrand, the "lame devil", the man of all regimes and all betrayals, multiplies his maneuvers to persuade Tsar Alexander I that the return of the Bourbons is the only way open to France. On May 2, 1814, in Saint-Ouen, Louis XVIII rejected this project: he considered that he had been "King of France by the grace of God" since June 8, 1795 - the date of Louis XVII's death in the Temple; he considers that he cannot return to the throne of France by the appeal of the people and that no power can impose a Constitution on him. Nevertheless, the Declaration of Saint-Ouen promises the French the drafting of a charter which is finally promulgated on June 4, 1814 and that the new sovereign dates from the nineteenth year of his reign.
A pupil of Serangeli and David, Auguste Vinchon (1789-1855) won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1814. Best known for his portraits and his mythological, historical or religious scenes, he participated in the decoration of the Paris Stock Exchange, a building whose Napoleon I entrusted the construction to Théodore-Alexandre Brongniart in 1807. He painted in particular the allegory Abundance rewarding Industry. Many of his works also enrich the Museum of the History of France, created by King Louis-Philippe in 1837, a museum that the sovereign had wished to dedicate "to all the glories of France".
Table Louis XVIII presiding over the opening of the Chambers on June 4, 1814 is part of the collections of this museum. This is an apocryphal commissioned work, the scene not having been painted from life, but represented a posteriori. Surrounded by his principal ministers, the king is seated under a purple canopy, at the top of a high platform. Standing in front of him, a man reads a text, probably the Constitutional Charter which comes into force that same day. On either side of the monumental staircase sit members of the Legislative Body and a fraction of the Senate.
The canvas dates from 1841. Official commission from King Louis-Philippe, it highlights the indisputable affiliation of the July monarchy with the previous regime, the Charter of 1830 being only a revised version of the Constitutional Charter of 1814. The representation of this major political act of Louis XVIII therefore has its place in the Museum of the History of France created by the citizen-king.
The Constitutional Charter promulgated on June 4, 1814 is a compromise text. It retains many of the achievements of the Revolution and of the Empire while restoring the legitimacy of the Bourbon dynasty. The term "charter" refers to the Ancien Régime. It was preferred to the word “Constitution”, which recalls a revolutionary past that Louis XVIII wanted to forget. By virtue of this organic charter, the king, whose person is inviolable and sacred, embodies national sovereignty. He initiates laws and holds executive power, but is not accountable to Parliament. Inspired by English bicameralism, the institution has two Chambers: the Chamber of Peers whose members are appointed for life by the King, and the Chamber of Deputies, elected for five years by censal suffrage and renewed by fifth each year. National representation is however extremely limited: the censal system only grants the right to vote to French males over thirty years of age and paying at least 300 francs in direct contribution, i.e. 110,000 voters out of nine million adults in 1817. ! However, ministers can be chosen from elected deputies and are accountable to Parliament. This practice makes it possible to constitute the beginnings of English parliamentarism. However, this Constitutional Charter would not be effectively applied until June 1815, after the Hundred Days.
- Constitutional Charter
- Louis XVIII
- Louis Philippe
Guillaume BERTIER DE SAUVIGNY, Restoration, Paris, Flammarion, 1955.Georges BORDONOVE, Louis XVIII: the Desired, Paris, Pygmalion, 1989.Francis DEMIER, 19th century France, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 2000.Évelyne LEVER, Louis XVIII, Paris, Fayard, 1988.Pierre ROSANVALLON, The Impossible Monarchy: the charters of 1814 and 1830, Paris, Fayard, 1994. Jean VIDALENC, The Restoration 1814-1830, Paris, P.U.F., coll. "What do I know? », 1983.Emmanuel de WARESQUIEL and Benoît YVERT, History of the Restoration: Birth of modern France, Paris, Perrin, 1996.
To cite this article
Alain GALOIN, "Louis XVIII and the establishment of the constitutional monarchy"