Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Interesting Events

Two events occurred in 1832, which will doubtless interest you, and which helped to strengthen Louis Philippe's position. First came the one which touched all the Bonapartists closely. You must know that Napoleon's son—called the King of Rome while his father was in power—had since 1814 been detained at his grandfather's court at Vienna, where he. was brought up as much like a German as possible, and was given the title Duke of Reichstadt. All his questions in regard to his father long remained unanswered, but in spite of the fact that he was allowed no French attendants, he remained devoted to his native country, and, being of an ardent, imaginative temperament, positively idolized the father he could barely recall.

From the first, Emperor Francis had discouraged all hope of his grandson's ever returning to France, and had guarded the youth carefully to prevent his getting in touch with the Bonapartist faction. So, although the Duke of Reichstadt—as he was now exclusively called—was given a very careful education, he never received any of the messages or legacies left by his dying father. He soon showed—like all his mother's family—tendencies to consumption; but, having chosen a military career, he deemed it a disgrace to shirk any of the duties or fatigues of his calling. He therefore so overtaxed his strength, that his grandfather had to place him under arrest in order to compel him to take the necessary rest. Even such drastic measures proved vain, as a rapid decline had already set in. So his mother, Marie Louise, was hastily summoned from her duchy at Parma to his deathbed at Schonbrunn, and saw him laid to rest in the ancestral vault in Vienna.

The death of "Napoleon II.," at twenty-one years of age, proved an awful blow to the Bonapartists, who had called him the Son of the Man," "the Child of Destiny," and "the Eaglet", and were merely waiting until he grew up, to attempt to place him on the throne, where they felt he would make a record for himself, because they knew he possessed more than ordinary intellectual gifts. By the death of the Duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon's brothers and their children became sole heirs of his glory; but, as we have seen, those brothers were not popular in France, and it seemed so difficult to make a wise selection among their numerous children that the Bonapartists' hopes now sank to a low ebb.

The second important occurrence of this year was a romantic attempt on the part of the young Duchess of Berry, assuming the title of regent, to secure the throne of France for her son, the Count of Chambord (or Duke of Bordeaux). Starting from Italy,—where she had secretly married a second time,—this lady centered southern France in disguise, met many Royalists there, and worked her way northward until she reached the ever loyal Vendee region. Few of the royal partisans, however, were ready to rise in her son's favor, and her presence and plots becoming known to the government, orders were issued to arrest her.

For a time, by assuming disguises, and by the devoted aid of her Royalist friends, the duchess managed to escape capture, but she was finally caught and detained in a fortress, until her second marriage was fully proved,—although she foolishly made a mystery about it. Her silly conduct caused so much ridicule that no one could ever take her seriously again in France; thus her rash and untimely attempt spoiled her son's chances for many a year, and strengthened the position of the Orleans family.

Three years later (1835), while the king was reviewing his troops in Paris, an Italian Republican attempted to kill him by means of an infernal machine. The king himself was uninjured, but several generals, soldiers, and spectators were killed or wounded. The author of this crime and his accomplices were duly tried and put to death, and new laws were made as speedily as possible to prevent such plots in the future.

It seemed, however, that Louis Philippe was never to reign in peace. In 1836, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense, suddenly appeared on the bridge of Strassburg and made a speech to the French troops, claiming to be heir of Napoleon II.'s rights to the throne, and proposing to restore the Empire. By his sudden appearance and eloquent appeal to a glorious military past, Louis Napoleon won over one regiment; but before he could proceed any farther, he was seized by the police and borne off to Paris. Then, after a brief trial, he was contemptuously shipped to America, and bidden never to return.

The following year was marked by the marriage of the king's eldest son, Ferdinand, Duke of Orleans, and it was in honor of his wedding that Versailles—which had been set aside as a museum for the past grandeur of France—was first opened to the public. Here are exhibited the rooms and furniture used by Louis XI V., Louis XV., and Louis XV I., the coronation carriage of Napoleon I., and in a wonderful long gallery you can see pictures of the many battles in which the French of all ages have won undying laurels.

The fact that Louis Philippe's ministers secured a popular law for primary education (1833), under which public schools were organized everywhere in France, is one of the great glories of this reign. But the country was now in a thriving condition, and with increasing wealth and comfort, the people were able to demand education for their children. There was, besides, peace at home, although France was still at war in Algeria, and it seemed for a time as if she might become involved in the quarrels between the ruler of Egypt and his master, the Sultan. Trouble later arose with Mexico, but a French fleet under the Prince of Joinville, one of the king's sons, soon obtained due satisfaction.

It was during the early part of Louis Philippe's reign that Lafayette quietly passed away (1834). We have seen how this nobleman went to America to help the United States in their struggle for independence (1777). He returned home for a few months in 1779, but fought again in America until the surrender of Yorktown, and then, after five peaceful years with his family, made a third trip to the United States. Later, in France, Lafayette became a member of the States-General, commanded the National Guard during the trying period from 1789 to 1791, and helped found a club (the Feuillants). But while leading an army against the Austrians, he incurred the suspicions of the "terrorists" and was forced to flee from France. Although he took refuge on neutral soil, he was nevertheless arrested by the Austrians, and detained in prison five years. His devoted wife shared his captivity at Olmutz, while Washington vainly interceded for his release. It was not till 1799, under the Directory, that Bonaparte obtained the liberation of the man whom he contemptuously termed a "noodle," simply because he could not understand the lofty and disinterested—if not practical—motives which always ruled Lafayette's conduct.

After serving in the French legislature during the Hundred Days, and again in 1818—1824, Lafayette paid, a fourth visit to the United States, where he received a great ovation, the Americans not having forgotten the services he had rendered them. For the next five years he proved influential in the opposition party, and in 1830 again became commander of the National Guard during the Second Revolution. Having always advocated a constitutional monarchy, he was, as we have seen, glad to introduce Louis Philippe as king to the French.

Thus Lafayette helped make French history for about forty years, and played an important part in three revolutions one in America and two in France. He was buried in Paris, where his grave is often visited by Americans. American school children have also contributed the money to erect a statue of him in Paris.