Allied Occupation of France: 1815‒18 and the Royalist French Army is Rebuilt

French assault on Fort Trocadero 1823. In 1823 100,000 French troops, nominally commanded by M d’Angoulême, marched into Spain under the White Flag. As they crossed the River Bidassoa, a band of French Liberals met them, waving the Tricolore—the troops fired on them without hesitation. Angoulême’s advisers, who had learnt from Napoleon’s mistakes, forbade looting and bribed the Spanish peasants handsomely, and the French army occupied Madrid almost without resistance. Only at the siege of the Trocadero fortress outside Cadiz, where the Liberal government had taken refuge, did the Spaniards show just enough fight for the French to claim a glorious victory. The monarchy’s prestige was enormously enhanced, both at home and abroad, though King Ferdinand refused to pay any of the alarmingly expensive costs of the expedition.

This schedule was one of the outcomes of the negotiations of the summer and autumn of 1815. The French government had taken time to reduce the size of its army, confirming to the allies the urgency of settling matters in France.

The allies went through various drafts of a settlement, setting out the possibilities for an army of occupation, their demands for reparations and guarantees. The British negotiator was Lord Castlereagh, who worked closely with the Duke of Wellington. The French economy was also a subject of discussion: it was important to provide a firmer basis for the French state’s finances.

Financial arrangements with France were settled in a meeting of 13 October — and a formal treaty (a second Treaty of Paris) was agreed on 20 November 1815. It committed the four powers — Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia — to the use of military force to ensure the peace of Europe: 60,000 men were to be in the field, beyond the army of occupation. France was to pay 270 million francs over three years from 1 December 1815, of which 140 million francs were a financial indemnity and the balance was for the support of the allied army of occupation. That army was to be in place for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, with the possibility of reducing it in size after one year.

There was a separate military convention agreed at the same time under the terms of the treaty. This defined a zone of occupation which was limited to north-east France, bordering on the Low Countries and the German Confederation — if the allied troops had been dispersed across the whole of France, they would have been spread too thinly to have been of use. Louis XVIII was effectively agreeing to the occupation of his country, while he built up his own military force. While the army of occupation was security for the allies against French aggression, it was also intended that it give France herself, and especially the King, protection against a revolutionary uprising.

The army of occupation

The allied powers had considered it desirable on 22 October that Wellington should command the army of occupation. The army was to be composed of 30,000 troops supplied by each of the Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia, of which cavalry would constitute between a sixth and a tenth; Bavaria would supply 10,000 men; and Denmark, Saxony, Hanover and Württemberg 5,000 men each. On 20 November, formal treaties and conventions were agreed to give effect to the discussions of the allies, for an army of occupation of 150,000 men. The French were to provide quarters, heating, lighting, forage and provisions, the composition of which was set out in detail, both for officers and men [see Document 1]. The numbers of rations was not to exceed at any one time 200,000 for men and 50,000 for horses. In addition France was to pay 50 million francs per annum towards equipment, clothing and other necessaries. The French were also to maintain fortifications.

Although theoretically the allied armies were segregated from areas where the French army might operate by a demilitarised zone, the French king was allowed to garrison some places in this area, for example, with 1,000 men at Calais and 3,000 at Lille. The gendarmerie was to continue to operate in the areas where the allied forces were based, for the ordinary maintenance of law and order. At the same time, the allies were to reduce their forces to the levels specified in the document within 21 days of its execution. The four allied powers gave Wellington formal instructions, conferring upon him the command of the army of occupation, which were also explained to the French government in a parallel document sent to the Duc de Richelieu, the French minister.

The occupation ends

Richelieu attempted within six months of the convention to have the army of occupation reduced in size. Although his moves were rejected, there were other pressures beyond those of the French government for the reduction. France could not resume her normal commercial activity while she was burdened with heavy reparation payments. She had found it hard to raise the funds to pay the allies and a financial crisis in November 1816 resulted in the suspension of payments. At the start of 1817, negotiations with the Hope-Baring bank provided a way for a substantial loan. The Times of 15 July 1817 saw advantages for Anglo-French trade if France had more finance available. The question of payment for French reparations was only concluded at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at which point they were reduced and France was enabled to pay them off with further loans from Anglo-Dutch bankers.

Richelieu had been successful in 1817 in reducing the size of the army of occupation: the allies agreed that it should be 20% smaller from 1 April that year. The next stage was to negotiate an early conclusion to the occupation itself. This was also business for Aix-la-Chapelle: it was concluded that two further years of occupation would exacerbate conditions in France, rather than providing security for the allies.

On 4 November 1818, the allies agreed that the provisions of the treaty of 20 November 1815 had been fulfilled, and that France might be restored to her full position in international relations — the declaration was made publicly on 15 November. In parallel, preparations had been in hand since early October for the withdrawal of the army of occupation and the troops marched out of France during mid-November.

Royalist Army

The one area in which the regime of 1814–15 took positive action, the military, was especially unfortunate. Old émigré officers from the armies of Coblenz and the Vendée were given half pay and then promoted, while most of the Imperial Army was summarily retired; 14,000 veteran officers, many of them young men, were condemned to rot; Lady Morgan mentions a Captain reduced to working as a waggoner. At court, Marshals were snubbed and reminded of their humble origins. What angered the army above all was the revival of the Maison du Roi, 6,000 strong, complete with Bodyguards, Horse Grenadiers, Musketeers and even the Hundred Swiss, which only noblemen could join. (Among them were two young poets—Alphonse de Lamartine and Alfred de Vigny.) Soldiers began to refer to the King as ‘The Pig’.

When Napoleon landed near Fréjus on 1 March 1815 it was therefore hardly surprising that the army rallied to him. Some Marshals were canny enough to remain loyal to Louis XVIII, but most officers behaved like Ney, ‘Bravest of the Brave’, who first swore undying fidelity to the King, promising to bring the usurper back in a cage, and who then turned his coat.

In 1817 Louis approved a revision of the electoral laws, which gave the government more control of the Chambre des Députés. They were able to bring in the famous ‘law’ of Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, which decided the structure of the French army until the Third Republic. Gouvion believed that while the monarchy could not trust the old Imperial army, it must none the less have reliable troops if France was to be a great power again. Henceforward the French army was recruited by a limited method of conscription which was infinitely less onerous than the universal conscription of Napoleon. Not only were many Imperial officers reinstated, but a third of all commissions were reserved for promotions from the ranks.

Richelieu returned as Prime Minister but had little hope of implementing moderate policies. In the summer of 1820 new electoral laws, to give the government more control over the voters, plunged the country into a really dangerous crisis. For a moment the Liberals seem to have thought that their only hope lay in a coup d’état. Riots broke out in Paris; there were cavalry charges by cuirassiers and gendarmes, the students fighting back with sticks and stones. The police discovered an army plot to restore Napoleon (who did not die until the following year). But the rioters were ridden down and the plotters were shot. So great was the alarm that the Ultras increased their majority—at the end of 1820 there were only fifteen Liberal Deputies.

Naively, the King Charles X believed that all would be well if sufficient military glory were forthcoming. The unrest among the Catholic Belgians, who hated their new Dutch masters, gave Charles and Prince Jules de Polignac, his new chief minister, an intoxicating vision of regaining the Rhine frontier and even the whole of Belgium; the dream was dissipated by Prussian opposition. Luckily Dey Hussein of Algiers struck the French Consul with his fan, which was a good enough excuse to invade the pirates’ lair. In May 1830 a fleet of 469 merchantmen, escorted by 100 warships, took 38,000 troops and 4,500 horses to Africa. The army, commanded by the Minister for War, General de Bourmont (the ‘traitor of Waterloo’) entered the city of Algiers on 5 July 1830 and hoisted the Lilies over the Kasbah. The cost of the entire expedition was paid for by the Dey’s treasure.

Meanwhile at the opening of the Chambers in March 1830, Charles more or less threatened, in an extraordinary speech from the throne, that if necessary he would use force to keep his ministers. The opposition replied with an Address to the King, demanding that he appoint his ministers from the majority in the lower chamber—the Charter had never made clear how they were to be chosen. But if Charles were to accept the will of the majority, he would surrender the government of France to men who were hostile to the Bourbons and to the whole concept of the restored monarchy. Charles, believing as he did in a strong monarchy, had once exclaimed, ‘I would rather earn my bread than reign like the King of England!’ He therefore ordered new elections to take place in June and July; in a proclamation he explained to the electors that to maintain the Charter, ‘I must be able to use freely the sacred rights which are the prerogative of my crown’, ending rather pathetically, ‘It is your King who asks you, it is a father who calls on you.’ But the electorate were unmoved; out of 428 deputies returned, 274 were supporters of the Address.

As Charles saw it, in his simplicity, he now had only one course—to change the electoral system. Strictly speaking, there was provision for this in the Charter. The King told his cabinet that the men of the Left were trying to pull down the monarchy, and he reminded them how weakness had destroyed Louis XVI. ‘I remember very well what happened. The first concession made by my brother was the signal for his destruction … rather than be carted to the scaffold we will fight and they will have to kill us in the saddle.’ In his blindness, Charles saw his measures as essentially legal and in no way a coup d’état. ‘Dear Jules’, who was acting as Minister for War in Bourmont’s absence, assured him that there would be no trouble and that in 1830 Frenchmen cared more for prosperity than politics. On 26 July the King therefore issued his ‘Four Ordinances of Saint-Cloud’; these dissolved the new Chamber of Deputies before it had even met, restricted the franchise to 10,000 landowners, and called fresh elections; they also imposed the first really rigorous press censorship since the Empire.

That day Charles went hunting. As he was about to leave Saint-Cloud, Mme de Berry ran up, waving the Moniteur in which the ordinances had been published. She cried, ‘You are a real King at last! My son will owe his crown to you and his mother thanks you deeply.’

Chateaubriand wrote sadly, ‘Yet another government hurling itself down from Nôtre-Dame.’ By that evening, a Monday, the mob was in the streets and stoning ministers. On the next day the army had to be called out; most of the troops were in Algeria or on the Belgian frontier, and the effective garrison of Paris was down to 9,000 men. Polignac concealed the gravity of the situation from Charles, who was still at Saint-Cloud, telling him it was nothing but a riot, and that were he mistaken ‘I shall give Your Majesty my head in atonement’—he also spoke of a reassuring vision he had had of Our Lady. Meanwhile barricades were going up, arsenals being stormed. By Thursday 29 July the mob—mainly petit bourgeois rather than working-class, and led by Napoleonic veterans—had taken the Louvre and the Tuileries, and the army was retreating, many men deserting to the rebels. Yet few deputies had any wish to depose Charles X; they only wanted to be rid of Polignac. If the King had been at the Tuileries in the centre of Paris, instead of outside at Saint-Cloud, a compromise would have been reached.

At last, from the terrace at Saint-Cloud, through a spy glass, poor Charles saw the tricolore flying from Nôtre-Dame. He sent an emissary, promising to dismiss Polignac and withdraw the ordinances, and appointed the Duc de Mortemart as Prime Minister. But it was too late. Soon the situation at Saint-Cloud became so dangerous that the King had to move to the Grand Trianon, and then to Rambouillet. Throughout, the old monarch displayed his habitual dignity. Each time the cannon were heard, he gently flicked the cloth of his card-table as though he had seen a spot of dust. Later, with his usual simplicity, he told Mme de Gontaut that he had only tried to appear calm because it seemed the best thing to do. The Duchess says she cried when she saw his sad, resigned face and knew that he realized it was all over.

On 1 August Charles appointed the Duc d’Orléans Lieutenant-General of France. On 2 August 1830, at Rambouillet, he abdicated; for a brief moment there was a Louis XIX until the Dauphin also signed an act of abdication. Then Charles saluted his grandson as King, and presented the ten-year-old Henri V to his guards. Orléans cunningly pretended that he had no authority until the Chambers had debated the abdication; as he expected, the deputies refused to accept the boy. On 7 August Orléans, produced ‘like a rabbit out of a hat’ by the Liberals, was proclaimed ‘Louis Philippe, King of the French’.

Charles had waited trustingly at Rambouillet for the Lieutenant-General to proclaim Henri V. On 3 August, however, hearing that an armed rabble was approaching (some by the new omnibuses), he decided to leave France, although he could have cut them to ribbons. Indeed, as Chateaubriand points out, had Charles fallen back on Chartres or Tours, the monarchy would have survived, as most of the army was loyal. However, like his martyred brother, the old King was not prepared to shed French blood.

But he did not depart like Napoleon, cowering in a closed carriage, or like Louis Philippe in 1848, disguised as an English tourist. Even the sternest critics of Charles X admit that the dignity of his exit had something of the old grandeur of the House of France. Accompanied by cavalry, artillery and infantry of the guard, he marched to Cherbourg beneath the Lilies, insisting on the observance of every detail of etiquette as though he were still King. French monarchs always dined alone at a square table, and when only a round one could be found, he ordered it to be cut square. At Cherbourg, on 16 August, after saying goodbye to his guards, he boarded a ship bound for England. He wept as it set sail.

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