F Heritage History | Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber

Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber




Charles X

Charles X., kindly and affable, although very narrow-minded, was a true gentleman of the old school, priding himself greatly upon his conservatism, and saying, "Lafayette and I are the only men who have not changed since 1789." But when times change as much as they had in France from 1789 to 1824, it is anything but a merit to make no change in one's self. Charles X. so loathed the idea of a constitutional government, that he often stated, "I'd rather earn my bread than be King of England!" Such being his views, he aimed to become an arbitrary ruler, and, to reach his ends, did his best to win the hearts of the people by appearing among them in an easy, friendly way. Once he even thrust aside his guards by a graceful gesture, crying, No pikes!" to show that he felt no need of protection when surrounded by loyal subjects.

Charles X. first revealed how thoroughly he considered himself "king by divine right" when he arranged to be crowned at Rheims with all the old-time observances. For his anointment, it is said, the priests used the last drop of oil from the sacred ampulla, which was supposed to have been brought by a dove for Clovis's coronation. This vial had been ground to pieces upon the paving-stones during the Revolution, only one small fragment—to which still clung a drop of oil—being rescued and carefully preserved. Some Royalists now claim that it is because the last  drop of this sacred oil was used for Charles X.'s coronation, that there have since been no more anointed kings of France.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber

THE CORONATION OF CHARLES X.


Then, too, just as if the progress of science had not demonstrated the folly of many of the old superstitions, Charles X. claimed that, having been duly anointed, his touch had the power of curing scrofula, a belief which exposed him to the ridicule of all well-informed people. But there were other things which annoyed a progressive nation even more; for instance, the king asked for 200,000,000 to indemnify the émigrés for property lost during the Revolution. But, whereas this sum seemed far too great to those who considered that the nobles should have remained in France to guard their own interests, it seemed pitifully small to the émigrés themselves, who would fain have seen all the present owners of their family estates rudely dispossessed.

Then, too, Charles X. placed on the retired list many officers who had served under the Republic and the Empire, which sorely grieved the soldiers who had become attached to these leaders. Shortly after this, the king had a law passed punishing with death any one guilty of such sacrilege as robbing a church; and many people, believing that the changes they resented were mainly the work of the king's confessor,—in an effort to make the church again supreme,—began to murmur against the influence of priests in the government.

Hoping to stem the tide of criticism, and to gain his ends with less friction, the king further restrained the liberty of the press, allowing no books or papers to be issued unless they upheld his views, or at least did not oppose them. This narrow-minded tyranny could only injure his cause, and Lafayette shrewdly predicted what would happen, when he exclaimed during his last visit to the United States (1824), "France cannot be happy under Bourbon rule, and we shall soon have to send them adrift!"

Still, Charles X. could not help knowing that his rule was unpopular, for the Chambers now began to oppose him openly, and the National Guard clamored (1827), "Long live the Charter," and "Long live the Liberty of the Press," instead of greeting him as usual with cries of "Long live the king!" In his indignation at such behavior, Charles disbanded this force, rashly allowing each man, however, to retain his musket and uniform.

Soldiers and journalists were not the only men punished for expressing their views too openly, for the poet Beranger was arrested for writing poems about Napoleon and patriotic songs which were eagerly sung. Then, wishing to soothe popular discontent by trifling concessions, Charles authorized the formation of anew ministry, which allowed a little more freedom to the press, and put an end to the "black room system," by which private letters were frequently opened and read to ascertain whether the writers were loyal.

Meantime, the Greeks, weary of Turkish oppression, had been fighting for freedom since 1821. Their bravery, the cruelty of the Turks at the massacre of Chios, and the fact that Lord Byron lost his life in an attempt to help them, at length induced Russia, England, and France to send their united fleets, which sorely defeated the Turks at Navarino (1827). French troops then landed in Greece, whence they soon drove out an army of the Turks; and shortly after this, Turkey recognized Greece as the free and independent country she has been ever since.