Alternative History

Henry V — King of France

The Third Restoration (French: Troisième Restauration) — following the First Restoration in 1814 and the Second Restoration in 1815 — is a political and institutional process of reestablishment of the Monarchy in France. It began with the fall of the Empire in 1870 and end with the proclamation of the monarchy on 5 November 1873 and the enthronement of Henry V on 11 November by the National Assembly. This third reestablishment of French royalty puts an end to an 82-year cycle of change and institutional instability in France since the proclamation of the French Constitution of 3 September 1791 which proclaimed for the first time the constitutional monarchy in France after the Revolution of 1789.


Napoleon I — Emperor of the French

The political situation in France during the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century is the most tumultuous in Europe. After the abolition of the monarchy on 21 September 1792 and the execution of Louis XVI on 21 January 1793, France experienced a first Republic — with different forms of government and institution. Taking advantage of the instability of the young republic, a group of politicians led by General Napoléon Bonaparte, carried out a coup on 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799), proclaiming the Consulate, with Bonaparte as First Consul.

Consolidating his power and dissatisfied with his position, Bonaparte, by means of a plebiscite — 12 May 1802 — was proclaimed Consul for life. The 18 May 1804, Napoleon was given the title of "Emperor of the French" by the Senate, absorbing the Republic in an Empire. It's the First French Empire. Unlike the Republic, the Empire is based on solid institutions and building consensus in French bourgeois society, the key social base of Napoleon. But the Emperor's appetite for healing, fighting between 1804 and 1814, four coalitions — third, fourth, fifth and sixth — which brought together almost all European monarchies and a last one in 1815 — seventh — during the short period of Napoleon return at the power, the Hundred Days (French: Cent jours).

The period between the fall of the Empire and the Hundred Days, then which follows is the Restoration. This period saw the restoration by the European powers of royalty, headed by the nobility of the Ancien Régime and King Louis XVIII — brother of Louis XVI. The imposition of the Bourbons by foreign troops on two occasions was accepted by the population at the cost of numerous compromises by the royal authority. The establishment of parliamentarism — Chamber of Deputies and Chamber of Peers — and elections, a Constitutional Charter granted by the King with liberal inspirations and the abandonment of certain royal customs, like the coronation.

July 1830 or To the Darkness finally comes clarity — Léon Coignet

Thus from 1815 to 1824, the restored monarchy seemed to hold out despite the political agitations it experienced on the part of the Republicans and the Bonapartists. The policy of compromise satisfying previously antagonistic classes — nobility and bourgeoisie. However, the death of Louis XVIII and the accession of his brother the Comte d'Artois under the name of Charles X will change the situation. Known for his ultraroyalism, he nevertheless tried to maintain the liberal aspiration of the Charter but was quite unhappy with it. The assassination of his second son, Charles-Ferdinand, Duke of Berry by a Bonapartist in February 1820, had previously led to a hardening of the regime but it was a struggle between the King and the Chamber of Deputies which led to the fall of Charles X. Having re-established censorship in 1825 and then in 1827, the King tried to override the parliament — despite a moderate lull with de Martignac — and launched the ordinances of Saint-Cloud, royal decrees, which dissolved the chambers, summoned the electoral colleges by changing the mode of election, and suspend the freedom of the press. All of this provokes an uprising that ends his reign.

Louis Philippe I — King of the French

This uprising, known as the Trois Glorieuses27, 28, 29 July 1830 — left France without a legitimate leader. In his abdication, Charles X had recognized the Louis-Philippe Duke of Orléans Lieutenant General of the Kingdom[1] making him the official head of the country, but Paris remained in the turmoil of barricades and Bonapartist and Republican insurgents, it was Hesitation of 1830. Louis Philippe supported by the people of the Capital and known for his liberal opinions, is enthroned by the Chamber of Deputies[2], King of the French, thus retaining the power that Charles X wanted transferred to his grandson the Duke of Bordeaux — Henry V — who have 10 years old. A new Charter is voted, the tricolor becomes again the new banner of the country and the censitary electoral body is extended. The new monarchy claiming to be part of the legacy of the French Revolution and the constitutional monarchy of 1791. However, faced with the entrenchment of the bourgeoisie and especially the pauperization of the working class, the power of Louis Philippe I is totally powerless, the Republican and Bonaparist secret societies continuing to gain importance — revolt of the canuts in 1831 and attempted coup d'état by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in 1840. After an 8-year military government — 1840-1847 — Louis Philippe I trusts François Guizot, conservative, who tries to reform but refuses to extend the electoral body to the rest of the population. This causes a third revolution in February 1848.

Napoleon III — Emperor of the French

The two different monarchical experiments — Bourbon and Orleans — having failed to meet the expectations of the French people, the Republic, through the support of the working people of Paris, was formed. The provisional government at its head is however divided, composed of disparate elements of the republican movement, ranging from the Jacobins to the monarchists rallied to the Republic. The economic paralysis which the country knows causes several strikes which transforms into insurrection in June 1848. Repressed in blood by the power which it had helped to create, the Republic then takes a turn to the right. Acting against the sister Roman republic and saving the Papacy, electing a conservative republican chamber — made up of many royalists — as well as a Prince Bonaparte, Louis-Napoleon as the first President of the Republic. The regime ended up being strangled by its leader apprehending the end of his mandate and overthrowing the republic with the Coup d'Etat of 2 December 1851 and re-establishing on 2 December 1852, the — Second — French Empire.

The advent of Napoleon III takes place in a context of change within the bourgeois class. There or the First Empire, which wanted to be the magnification of the Republic and the Revolution, was supported by a liberal bourgeoisie. The Second Empire is clearly more conservative, retaining the parliamentarism — puppet — of the July monarchy coupled with Bonapartist plebitism. If at the internal level, the situation is the continuation of that of the kingdom of Louis-Philippe — enlargement and impoverishment of the working class, enrichment of the bourgeois class — it's in foreign policy that the Second Empire is illustrated — War of Crimea 1853-1856, Unification of Italy 1859, Colonization, Mexican Expedition 1861-1867, Luxembourg Crisis 1867 — however the terrible failures which it knows in this matter forces the reform of the Empire, which passes from the Authoritarian Empire to the Liberal Empire from 1862. Liberalistion of politics — end of official candidates, end of censorship, recognition of trade unions — for the first time in almost 20 years, a chief of staff was appointed, headed by former republican Emile Olivier. However, this did not prevent the disturbances at the end of the 1860s, such as the Victor Noir Affair[3], whose funeral had gathered more than 200,000 people ready to overthrow the Empire.

Franco-Prussian War

Wilhelm I with Bismarck at the Royal Palace

The instability of France fits perfectly into the national revolutionary movements that the whole of Europe knows. The accomplishment of the Risorgimento to which Napoleon III greatly contributed in 1859[4], Germany also seeks to unify. After the failure of the German Confederation and the Greater Germany solution with Austria in the lead, the German nationalists turned to Lesser Germany which would be led by the Prussia of King William I. The defeat of Austria against Prussia in 1866, allows the latter to create the Confederation of North Germany and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck intends to absorb the South German states — Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Hesse — to achieve the full unification of the German national state.

Germany was also eyeing Alsace and French Lorraine perceived as German lands, but above all Bismarck knew that the creation of a unified German state would be opposed by France. Thus from 1866, France and Germany found themselves in a diplomatic rivalry, the one seeking to gain the advantage over the find and vice versa. The expected tense conflict will originate from the candidacy of Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern for the vacant throne of Spain in early 1870, the potential accesison of a German prince of the House of Prussia to the Spanish throne was seen as a serious threat to the security of France, which would be surrounded in the South and North-East by hostile forces Napoleon III diplomatically expressed his refusal of the Prussian candidacy for the Spanish throne, and a diplomatic agreement seemed to be found between France and Prussia on 11 July 1870. It was not without counting the ambitions of Bismarck who wanted to exploit this aggressiveness French diplomacy has its advantage.

By a diplomatic imbroglio that history will remember under the name of Dépeche d'Ems. This is mainly an official telegram sent on 13 July 1870 by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to all embassies, based on an article published the day before by the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on a very short dialogue between the king of Prussia William I and the French ambassador in Berlin who made believe in a dismissal the ambassador in a vexatious way, and this, by the means of a subordinate. His "Ems dispatch" added fuel to the fire by deliberately avoiding the withdrawal of the German candidacy. It triggers nationalist demonstrations in both countries. In Paris, the windows of the German embassy are smashed. The French National Assembly votes for war credits from 15 July.

Combat between French and German troops at the Saint-Privat cemetery

The 19 July 1870, the French Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Prussia — pushing the southern German states to put it behind Prussia. The French troops are nevertheless poorly prepared, fewer in number — 300,000 against 500,000 — and lack a concerted military strategy; German troops have recent — and successful — fire experience, heavy artillery, and excellent training. Marked by technical innovations concerning fire, which allows faster fire, and the consequent decline in the place of the cavalry, the conflict quickly turns to the advantage of the Germans. The French were defeated several times in early August on the Eastern Front.

Sedan and the fall of the Second Empire

Napoleon III in conversation with Bismarck in Donchery, 2 September 1870.

After the defeats suffered in Alsace on 4 August 1870 at Wissembourg and at the battle of Reichshoffen on 6 August, Napoleon III, who led the army until 7 August, when he was severely defeated, ceded command to Marshal Mac Mahon. He left the regency to his wife Eugenie de Montijo. Mac-Mahon reconstituted an army made up of four army corps — called the army of the Châlons camp — to protect Paris. The Army of the Rhine commanded by Marshal Bazaine also strives to join the camp of Châlons in order to unite its forces with that of Mac-Mahon. Despite the victory at the Battle of Mars-la-Tour south of Metz on 16 August Bazaine did not exploit his advantage. Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, head of the main general staff of the Prussian army, takes advantage of this respite and reinforces the 2nd army by the 1st army of General Steinmetz and these go after the battle of Saint-Privat 18 August, to force the army of the Rhine to fall back on Metz. The combined action of the two Prussian armies encircles that of Bazaine in the citadel of Metz on 20 August. Mac Mahon, who at first took the initiative to go and help Bazaine changed his mind, went back in the direction of Sedan. Imprecise in his tactics Mac-Mahon did not receive any precise information from his reconnaissance cavalry on the movements of the adversary, he believed he was only pursued by 60,000 to 70,000 men while 242,000 Prussians, Bavarians, Saxons and Wurtembergers begin to take hold of him.

Proclamation of the Republic by Gambetta

The 1st September, the Battle of Sedan begins. The French troops then find themselves caught in an uneven combat and off guard by the bowl-shaped terrain with no real means of retreat. The two armed forces commanded by the two heads of state - Napoleon III and Wilhelm I - clash in a violent fight which prefigures modern battles. At 4.30 p.m., caught in a pincer movement, the Emperor and his General Staff — Patrice de Mac-Mahon, Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot, Emmanuel de Wimpffen — are captured. The 2 September, after meeting Chancellor Bismarck, the Emperor receives the King of Prussia and signs the surrender of the French Army in the afternoon.

The 4 September, despite opposition from the legislative body and under pressure from angry Parisians, Léon Gambetta announced the fall of the Emperor. A little later, at the Hôtel de Ville, in the company of Jules Ferry, Jules Favre and other deputies, he proclaimed the Republic.

Government of National Defense

The Government of National Defense

General Louis Jules Trochu assumes the presidency of the government made up of republican deputies from Paris with, among others, Léon Gambetta, Minister of the Interior, Jules Favre, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Jules Ferry as government secretary. The government says it wants to devote all the energy of the country to its defense. In a proclamation to the army, he justifies the dismissal of the old power and affirms: "We are not in power, but in combat", adding two days later: "Think only of war and measures that it must generate "

The 6 September 1870, General de la Motterouge, assigned to the superior command of the national guards of the Seine, was promoted to military governor of the 15th region, in Nantes; he was replaced by the artillery general Tamisier, who had been broken from his rank under the Second Empire. The government having chosen to remain in Paris surrounded by Prussian troops and their allies, a delegation was sent to Tours to coordinate the action in the provinces under the orders of Adolphe Crémieux, Minister of Justice, accompanied by Alexandre Glais-Bizoin and Admiral Fourichon. It was joined on 9 October by Léon Gambetta invested with the ministries of war and the interior to form new armies: the Army of the North, the Army of the Loire then the Army of the East. The 27 October, General Trochu, who had qualified as "rumor" the surrender without a fight of the army of Bazaine in Metz, must recognize the facts under the pressure of the crowd. The exasperation towards the inertia of the National Guards after the fall of Le Bourget and the sending of Adolphe Thiers to Versailles to negotiate with Bismarck ended in the uprising of 31 October 1870, where Trochu only managed to save his government bringing together the last remaining loyal brigades, in particular with the help of Jules Ferry.

The government succeeded in securing its support in Paris through a plebiscite on 3 November 1870, and organized municipal elections in Paris two days later[5]. Following these events, Tamisier resigned on November 9 and resumed the post of artillery squadron leader in the 5th sector of Paris. In the provinces, where the victory of General de Paladines at the head of the Army of the Loire had resuscitated hope, the bad news is mounting as the noose tightens around Paris. The “Great sortie” aimed at breaking through the German encirclement took place on the night of 28 November; in the ensuing battle of Champigny, the French lost three times as many men as the enemy — especially for lack of adequate equipment against the cold —, but the psychological impact on the besieged was even greater because the siege has not been lifted. A second attempt, involving troops of the National Guard, failed on 18 January 1871: it was the second battle of Buzenval.

The Siege of Paris by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

Faced with the advance of the German armies, the delegation fell back on Bordeaux. It was now obvious that Paris was going to fall sooner or later. Food, already scarce in December, was starting to run out in some neighborhoods and although enemy artillery fire was oddly ineffective, its impact on the morale of Parisians was dramatic. The government sacked General Trochu on 22 January — but the latter was not formally replaced as Head of Government — and chose General Vinoy as military governor of Paris. Jules Favre, who retained the confidence of the National Guards, established himself in recent weeks as the real head of government: he notably succeeded in suppressing by force an outbreak of riot on 23 January. On the 28th, he offered the surrender of the capital and signed an armistice agreement with Bismarck

French-German Armistice

Jules Favre and Otto von Bismarck — signatories of the armistice

The 23 January Jules Favre, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Government of National Defense, meets German Chancellor Bismarck in Versailles. German requirements are important:

  • France must proceed to elections for the formation of an assembly to ratify the peace.
  • The forts that surround the capital must be handed over to the victor.
  • The soldiers defending Paris must be disarmed.
  • The Germans can enter Paris (which has just suffered more than 4 months of siege).
  • The city must pay a ransom, in Bismarck's words, of 200 (two hundred) million francs.
  • The armistice is scheduled for a period of three weeks, during which the preliminaries of peace will be negotiated.

Jules Favre obtains some concessions. The equivalent of a military division is authorized to maintain order. The National Guard is not disarmed. The entry of the Germans into the capital was postponed until early March. On the other hand, the zone of operations of the army of the East is excluded from the armistice and Jules Favre fails to inform the government delegation of Bordeaux and therefore the army in question. It was attacked by surprise, suffered heavy losses — nearly 15,000 men — and had to take refuge in Switzerland, where the soldiers were interned.

The 25 January, the French government agreed to the conditions of the armistice, which was signed by Jules Favre on 26 January. The 28 January, the Journal Officiel announces the armistice. That same day the last balloon mail "General-Cambronne" flew from the Gare de l'Est in Paris, then besieged by the Prussians, bringing the sad news of the armistice to France. He finished his race in Sougé-le-Ganelon in the Sarthe, after having covered 253 kilometers. The clauses of the armistice are published the next day, Gambetta who proposed to continue the war against the advice of Arago, Garnier-Pagès and Pelletan resigned from the government on 6 February.

National Assembly of 1871

Under the conditions of the Franco-German armistice signed on 28 January 1871 in Versailles by Jules Favre on behalf of the Government of National Defense, provision is made for the convening of a national assembly, the only one capable of ratifying a peace treaty between the France defeated and its victor the new German Empire.

The electoral campaign is short (barely 10 days) and truncated. In 43 departments occupied by German troops electoral meetings are impossible. Nearly 500,000 soldiers are prisoners of the Germans or are interned in Belgium and Switzerland where they took refuge at the end of the fighting. They cannot vote. The different opinions cannot clash on the two main issues of the consultation: peace and the future of the Republic installed by Paris on 4 September 1870.

The republican leader, Léon Gambetta obtained from the Government of National Defense a decree on the prohibition of appearing for personalities who collaborated in the policy of the Second Empire and for members of families who reigned over France. This must exclude the Bonapartists and the Royalists (Legitimists and Orleanists) and ensure the sustainability of the brand new Republic. But his government colleague, Jules Simon, canceled the decree. The political staff of previous regimes can therefore retrain.

National Assembly elected on 12 February 1871

  Radical Republicans (38)
  Moderate Republicans (112)
  Liberals (72)
  Orleanists (214)
  Legitimists (182)

There are 768 seats to be filled. But many personalities are elected in several departments (Adolphe Thiers in 26 departments, Léon Gambetta in 10). In fact, there are only 675 seats filled. New elections should take place quickly, but the outbreak of the Paris Commune uprising will push them back into July. Nearly 400 deputies, mostly from the provinces, those who will be called the “Rural” (French: Ruraux), are supporters of peace to avoid enemy occupation and allow the return of the soldiers prisoners. For the most part, they are of monarchist opinions and very unfavorable to Paris. More than 200 Republicans of various tendencies and 30 Bonapartists are elected.

Sitting of the National Assembly in Bordeaux

The eastern departments which are occupied and threatened with annexation by Germany are not in favor of a mutilating peace. Paris voted “republican”. Out of 43 deputies, only 6, including Adolphe Thiers, are close to the “Ruraux”. There are four revolutionary socialists who have been presented by the Republican Central Committee of the Twenty Arrondissements and the International Association of Workers. The others are Republicans like Louis Blanc, Georges Clemenceau, Henri Rochefort… Giuseppe Garibaldi is elected but the Assembly declares him ineligible because he is a foreigner. Victor Hugo, himself elected, resigns to protest against this decision.

The Assembly has two priorities: to conclude peace and to subjugate Paris. Paris being surrounded, the Assembly met in Bordeaux, at the Grand Théâtre, on 13 February 1871. The 15 February, it abolished the pay of the National Guard, depriving several hundreds of thousands of Parisians of insured income. The next day, she entrusted executive power to Adolphe Thiers "while waiting for a decision on the institutions of France": the Republic is not even guaranteed to survive. Jules Grévy is elected president of the Assembly. The 17 February, the deputies of Alsace and Lorraine protest, without success, against the programmed abandonment of these regions to the Germans. The 19 February, Thiers obtained the investiture of the new government and left for Versailles to negotiate the conditions of peace with Bismarck. On 4 March, the Assembly ratifies the preliminary peace treaty (546 for, 107 against and 23 abstentions). The same day, she voted for the downfall of Napoleon III and his dynasty.

In June 1871, the Assembly annulled the law of exile which affected the former reigning families. In the complementary elections of July 1871, the 46 departments which vote sent 100 republicans and 12 monarchists to the assembly.

The Assembly on this date began to form groups, from left to right:

  • on the far left: radicals like Émile Littré or Georges Clemenceau;
  • to the left :
    • the Republican Union of Léon Gambetta,
    • the Republican Left: Jules Favre, Jules Ferry, Jules Grévy and Jules Simon;
  • in the center :
    • the center-left: Republican conservatives, friends of Thiers (Auguste Casimir-Perier, Rémusat, Dufaure, Émile de Marcère, Rivet, etc.),
    • the Changarnier meeting, a small group of conservatives favorable to the monarchy for questions of stability
    • the Target group (from 1873), about fifteen deputies led by Paul Target playing the role of link between monarchists and Republican conservatives.
    • the center—right: the Orleanists, who do not accept the white flag of the "Count of Chambord", led by the Duke de Broglie, deputy at the same time as Ambassador in London, and Duke Decazes;
  • on the right :
    • the "light-horses" (French: cheveau-légers) — they met at the Passage des Chevau-Léger in Versailles — they are legitimists in favor of the white flag, including the Duke of Audiffret-Pasquier,
    • the ultramontane party (Catholic-liberal) of Monsignor Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans.

Trial of the fighters of the Commune in Versailles

Then the Assembly takes provocative measures against the Parisians. The 6 March, General d'Aurelle de Paladines was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard. The 10 March, the Assembly voted to end the moratorium on rents and commercial paper: more than 150,000 Parisians were threatened with expulsion, bankruptcy and legal proceedings. The same day, the Assembly chooses Versailles as its meeting place, where it is scheduled to settle on 20 March. In fact, Paris is losing its role as capital. To settle the "Paris problem" before the arrival of the Assembly, Thiers ordered the confiscation of the cannons held by the Parisians. It was then the uprising of 18 March 1871, and the beginning of the Paris Commune. During the term of the Commune, the Assembly refuses all attempts at conciliation undertaken by the mayors, deputies and Freemasons of Paris.

Bloody Week having "freed" the Assembly from the Paris mortgage, the deputies set to work. The question of the political and institutional future of France can now be dealt with.

Two Pretenders

Henri d'Artois, Count of Chambord

Philippe d'Orléans, Count of Paris

Failure of a first Restoration

Return of the Count of Chambord

Parliamentary Fusion

Thiers Government

Second Restoration attempt

MacMahon Government

Commission of Nine

Meeting of Salzburg

The Savary Affair

The Restoration

Audiffret-Pasquier Amendment

The return of the "King" at Paris

The Enthronement

Commission of Thirty

The Constitution of the Kingdom

The Coronation at Reims

Results and consequences

A Monarchy of Compromise


  1. Louis Philippe was proclaimed by the Chamber of Deputies Lieutenant General of the Kingdom. Faced with this, Charles X, totally isolated and out of Paris, could only bow to it and recognize it, trusting the Duke of Orleans to keep royal power and his succession.
  2. The Chamber which proclaimed Louis Philippe King of the French was the last elected Chamber of the Restoration. It is an important element of legitimacy for the July monarchy perceived as continuity and not as a revolutionary break.
  3. Victor Noir (1848-1870) was a French journalist killed at the age of 21 when he was shot by Prince Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, a disgraced relative of the French Emperor, Napoleon III. His murder aroused strong popular indignation and reinforced hostility towards the Second Empire.
  4. The French Empire helped unify Italy but vetoed the absorption of the Papal States and Rome placed under the protection of Napoleon III.
  5. The election will give the victory to a majority of left-wing Republican.