This is The Siècle, Supplemental 19: Fifth Birthday Special.

Welcome back everyone! This is a very special bonus episode celebrating the big milestone The Siècle hit last month: its fifth birthday!

Since I launched this podcast on January 22, 2019, I’ve released 60 different regular and bonus episodes, totalling more than 32 hours of audio and with transcripts containing 375,000 words. The show has been downloaded more than 368,000 times. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for when I started this journey, and I owe it all to you, my listeners. You’ve listened to me blather on for hours about what I half-sarcastically call the boring part of French history. You’ve spread the word. Many of you have backed the show on Patreon, including the latest subscribers, Neil Pound and Sasha.

As a way of marking the occasion and saying thanks, I’ve got what will hopefully be a special treat for you today. In just a few minutes, you’re going to hear from a very special guest, who will ask me questions that you listeners submitted, and also some of his own. This is a guest who is perhaps uniquely qualified to discuss this show, its time period, and the art of podcasting — it’s Everett Rummage, who many of you may know as the host of The Age of Napoleon podcast!

If you’re not familiar with Everett’s show, you should absolutely check it out. Like The Siècle, it’s a serialized narrative history podcast working in order through early 19th Century French history. The only difference is Everett is covering the period immediately before The Siècle begins, featuring a little-known Corsican general named Napoleon Bonaparte. You can find his show at or wherever you get podcasts. I’ll also have a link in this episode’s complete transcript, online at

Thank you again to everyone for listening over the years! Thanks also to the Evergreen Podcasts network, of which The Siècle is a proud member.

Now — in typical Siècle fashion, released one month late — let’s get into the anniversary special! Welcome to the show, Everett Rummage!

EVERETT RUMMAGE: Thanks for having me, I’ve really been looking forward to this. I’m going to be reading out some listener questions, and then we’re going to move on to some of my own questions.

First question is from Mark Chapman, he asks: “What if any impact did French colonies have on the Metropole? I may be forgetting something, but I feel like it hasn’t appeared much in the podcast. Did they just lose most in 1814-1815 and then not get back into it for awhile? In my neck of the historical woods, 19th Century China, their presence was secondary to the British, Portuguese, and Americans, at least until the 1840s and 50s, when they started to assert themselves more.”

THE SIÈCLE: I covered some of this in a very recent episode that may have come out after this question was submitted, Episode 36, on the Wreck of the Medusa. France lost a lot of its colonies both in the 18th Century when they lost their American colonies, and they lost others as a result of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary Wars. But they got some back in 1814, 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, and then sort of began a process of building up a new colonial empire. And where my narrative is right now that’s just beginning. In Episode 36, I covered Senegal, which at the time of the narrative was just a couple of trading posts clustered along the coast, but is in the process of growing up into a full-on colonial empire.

So that has not been a huge part of the show during the narrative that’s been talking about the Bourbon Restoration. France has had colonies, they’ve been important in specific ways, their colonial interests have been an important lobbying group in pushing for national policy, but the role of France’s colonies is only going to increase as the show goes on.

RUMMAGE: I would just add that historians sometimes talk about a first French colonial empire and a second French colonial empire, which I guess is a bit confusing because there’s also the First Empire and Second Empire in France — these are totally different. But it’s interesting, your show really is kind of in that transition zone between the two. By the late 19th Century, France had a huge swath of the world under its control, but it was mostly not the same areas that they had been controlling a hundred years earlier.

SIÈCLE: Yeah, and the last couple episodes, I’ve just begun to bring the colonial empire onto the stage. I talk about Senegal in Episode 36, now Algeria in the last couple episodes — which would really be the foundation of the second French colonial empire, which is also going to grow to control a huge swath of West Africa, large parts of Southeast Asia, and lots of various places around the world[…] Very different from Louisiana and Acadia and Quebec and the Mississippi area that they used to control in North America prior to losing that to the British, not to mention Haiti of course.

[It’s] very important, but France is a major power, and they’re a maritime power, and this is the time of history when large maritime powers were in the business of seizing colonies around the world, and that’s only going to become more important as the show goes on.

RUMMAGE: Next question is also from Mark Chapman. He asks: “What do you do for your day job? Does it inform the podcast at all?”

SIÈCLE: So, my day job is a journalist. The exact nature of the journalism I do has shifted a bit over the years. I’ve covered politics [and] urban policy; I’m currently working in survey journalism polls right now, and that doesn’t impact the content very much, but I think that gives me a lot of skills that really translate well to the history podcast world.

Being able to write for a popular audience about topics that may be fairly complicated, that’s something that was a daily part of my job covering obscure bills, the legislature, or complicated disputes and stuff like that[…] I’ve accumulated some skills with data and making maps that have helped flesh out the website, and skills conducting interviews, which are not necessarily natural for people. And to the degree that I have interviews in the show which I do and enjoy those, I think that the experience that I have in my day job of how to steer a conversation and how to draw information out of people really adds to the show. Of course, had I come from a more academic background, I would have brought other skills to bear that would have steered the show in different directions, but my day job as a journalist really does have some synergies.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, it’s interesting, that’s my background as well. I was not doing that immediately before the podcast. I’m quite impressed by your ability to stay employed in that industry, it is not easy. But yeah, I agree totally, I feel like I learned a lot in my days, that age old question of what does the average person want to know about this, what’s kind of the angle that makes it interesting to someone with no other connection to it than picking up your publication. It’s a way to think that I think has helped me a lot on the show. I would also say the job I had immediately before this, I was working at a hotel, the main skill that I picked up there was just being able to sit at a desk and read for hours and hours at a time without stopping.

SIÈCLE: There are times when I’ve wished that I had a job that didn’t require me to think all day, and I could just spend all my thoughts on the podcast, but then I realize where that line of thought leads me, and I count my blessings that I’ve got a job that keeps me engaged and develops new skills.

RUMMAGE: True, true. Alright, next Daniel Ostrowski asks: “We’re now five years in, and approaching the July Revolution. That’s a period of 15 years out of the intended total of 100. At that rate, we might not be finished until 2050. How do you feel now about the scope of the show? Does it still seem like a realistic goal?”

SIÈCLE: I feel this a lot, Daniel. Certainly, the possibility that I will not actually take the narrative all the way to 1914, or won’t take the narrative to 1914 at the same level of detail that I’ve been doing, is in the background of my mind. I won’t consider this a failure if I don’t complete the intended scope of the show. I feel like the work that I’ve done stands on its own, even if I don’t reach that target — but I still want to, and I’m always sort of hoping that I’ll be able to pick up the pace. Ultimately, I think it’s mostly going to come down to whether I’m able to devote more time to it. Right now I’m doing this in my spare time, working a regular 40 hour week job, writing the podcast in evenings and weekends, and with the length and complexity of the episodes I’m writing, it’s very hard for me to output at a faster pace than I have been doing. But theoretically, it’s possible that the money I’m getting from the show could get to the point where I’m able to afford to devote more time to it, which could enable me to pick up the pace, which is maybe the only chance that I’ll finish the show before I end up having to retire.

RUMMAGE: I am doing the show full time now, and even for me, I stick to a pretty rigid release schedule, but still it’s, I’ve got to say for the listeners, you guys really have no idea. When you’re really digging into this stuff, there’s so much. I could be going a quarter of the speed and not run out of things to talk about, so it’s really just an endless font of interesting stuff.

SIÈCLE: Did you notice that when you went full time that your pace picked up, or did you just compensate by making your episodes more complex?

RUMMAGE: Well, I sort of fell into a schedule. When I first started doing the show, I was doing an episode every two weeks, or trying to anyway, and that was just gruelling. Sometimes I would do a really big episode, and I would kind of feel the need to step away from it for a couple days, so I would take three, four, five days and not do any work on it. And then it would be a week until I had to have another one out, and it was just too much[…] I was in school at the time, and having to do that at the same time just burned me out really quick, so now I’m on this monthly release schedule, which I think has helped me. The episodes are longer, but there’s roughly the same amount of time editing — sound editing, that is — so it’s helped me be more efficient, and once I got on that monthly schedule and started actually doing the show full time, I haven’t missed one yet.

SIÈCLE: Well that’s certainly not something that I can say about The Siècle. I’ve definitely had some missed episodes from time to time. Long-time listeners will remember that I originally started releasing every two weeks as well, which lasted a few months until I burned through the backlog I started with, and very quickly slipped to once a month and then occasionally not even that. I make the promise that I’ll release an episode every month, [with] some flexibility for delays or something like that, but to keep myself honest, if I miss a month, I suspend the Patreon donations. Plenty of Patrons have said that they’re happy to donate even when I don’t release, but to me, it’s just a way of keeping myself honest and giving myself an incentive to buckle down and keep it out[…] Occasionally I have big trips or projects that might get in the way, but most of the time, it’s just me not focusing enough to stick to the schedule that I’ve set for myself — but it’s a constant struggle for me.

RUMMAGE: When the show first started, I had a very clear idea, I almost had it sketched out episode by episode what I was going to be talking about so it wasn’t too hard to stay on schedule, and I was sort of just filling in the gaps, but then I eventually kind of ran out of runway there. And it is tough. I feel bad complaining about it because on a certain level, my job is to just kind of hang out and read books and write, but do that for years and years, and it does wear on you. Writing is not the kind of thing that you can do — When I worked service jobs, sometimes you feel like crap and your head is not in it, but you show up and you do your job but it’s not a big deal. Writing is the kind of thing, you can kind of do that a little bit when you’re writing, but you need to be, to do good work consistently, you need to be rested, energetic, inspired, and it doesn’t always come easy, and you can get burned out really easily. So I would implore your listeners to have patience.

SIÈCLE: There are some writers that I have met and read about, who can just stick to a schedule. They wake up and they write for three hours in the morning every day, each and every day, and stay productive, and I view them as a kind of space alien. It’s a skill that is totally alien to me

RUMMAGE: I am one of those people, but oftentimes when I sit down and do my three hours of writing, it’s basically staring at my computer, and I write four paragraphs. I do that five days in a row, and get nothing down, and then on the sixth day, the dam bursts and I write eight pages and that makes up for the five days when I got nothing done, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

SIÈCLE: That’s generally how my writing process goes as well, except slightly less diligent.

RUMMAGE: Next question is also from Daniel Ostrowski. He asks: “What is your favorite subject that is yet to be covered on the show?”

SIÈCLE: I guess for me, the topic that I’m most excited about, one of the ones that sort of inspired me to pick up the show, and we’ll see if and when I get here, is in the 1870s, and the aftermath of the fall of Napoleon III and the Commune of Paris. There’s this fascinating period where the voters of France elected a majority of monarchists to the National Assembly, which was debating what kind of government will France have. But even though there is a majority of people who wanted to bring back the monarchy, that majority was split between which monarch they wanted to bring back, and because they couldn’t agree on which king, France ended up getting the Third Republic, just as sort of the lesser of two evils for both of these monarchist factions.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, that is a fascinating story, and I just want to throw in from my own two cents, I am very much looking forward to you covering the Commune, whenever that takes place.

SIÈCLE: I’ve forced myself to stop buying books about the Third Republic. There are so many interesting things about [that period], but ultimately, it’s going to be years and years before I get to them. For the sake of my budget and my groaning bookshelves, I just had to say, no more books about Dreyfus. I’ve got to wait until at least I can see it in the distance from my narrative right now, which is going to be a long time.

RUMMAGE: That’s funny, I have the exact same problem where something catches my eye, and it’s about the Waterloo campaign, and it’s so far in the distance from me, and I have to be disciplined about it[…] Because I could easily spend hundreds of dollars a month on books for the show that I will not read for two, three, four years.

SIÈCLE: You’re saying people have written some books about Napoleon?

RUMMAGE: laughs

SIÈCLE: This obscure campaign in Belgium in 1815? I think I would have heard about that.

RUMMAGE: All right, all right, fair enough. Next question is from Jean-Christophe Rondy-Turcotte: “I’m curious about your French. From what I can hear, it is quite good, and I’m wondering if you use it in your day-to-day life, either to help research the podcast or even just for mundane purposes like entertainment.”

SIÈCLE: Jean-Christophe, bless you, but my French is not good. It was at one time passable. I studied French for a decade in school, I studied abroad for a semester in Aix-en-Provence, and at that point, as I sort of got on the plane to come home at the end of that semester, I was proficient in French. I could hold conversations, I could watch French TV and movies and understand what they were saying and all that, but over the decade since then, my skills have slowly atrophied.

What I have left and what I still focus on is some basic pronunciation of names and phrases, and being able to read formal 19th Century political treatises. Those are the things that are directly relevant to the show, to be able to comb through a diary or a pamphlet from the time, and skim through and extract the important parts to do a quick translation of a poem someone wrote or something like that — obviously with the aid of Google Translate and other tools that are available now.

I really wish my French were better, and in a perfect world I would be proficient or fluent in French, but languages always came a little difficult for me. I was never willing to put in the grind to really master them and practice them on a daily basis. I’ve just done my best to fake it as best I can, and I’m glad to see I’ve fooled at least one person.

RUMMAGE: It’s funny you say that, it’s almost exactly the same story for me. I studied abroad in Brussels, not in Aix. I don’t know about you, but I can still speak kind of okay, but I’ve totally lost the rhythm for listening to other people, which I guess would make me a complete bore to be around other people in French.

SIÈCLE: Mine is sort of the other way around. I’m best at reading French right now, and probably second best at listening, and then speaking, and then last writing. I’ve sort of lost all the formal grammar necessary to write fluent French.

I will say that when I started the show, I expected to get a lot more criticism of my French pronunciation skills than I have. I expected that was going to be a regular critique that I got, and it largely hasn’t been. The critiques have mostly focused on my release schedule, which is entirely on me. But I’m glad that I’ve at least managed to pronounce things adequately enough to not set people off.

RUMMAGE: I occasionally get people who are angry at me for using […] — I could never call him Napoléon on the podcast, obviously that’s what his name was and what everyone called him and what everyone knew him as, but it just feels wrong, because we are so used to that English Napoleon, same as I would never call it Pah-REE. It’s bizarre to me that in an English discourse to use the unfamiliar French pronunciation of something, but I occasionally get people who are angry about that. And they’re almost always not French people. I get Germans or Swedish people or Danish people who want me to use the French pronunciation that they’re used to, which I don’t know, it seems odd. I wasn’t expecting that when I started the show.

SIÈCLE: I made sure at the very beginning to just be very clear that the most common terms, I was going to pronounce in the English manner — Napoleon, Paris, I would refer to King Charles and not Charles — but for the less well-known terms, I’ve tried to stick to the French pronunciations as best I can.

RUMMAGE: Well I’ll say this, lucky for you, the French didn’t go to Poland in the period you’re talking about, because that was something. I try to make an effort with all the pronunciation of foreign language on the show, at least look it up and try to figure it out so that I can at least approximate it, but boy, Polish was tough.

SIÈCLE: I’ve definitely gone on social media every now and then to ask people, “hey, where’s the accent placed in this name?” People are very helpful there.

RUMMAGE: There’s always someone who knows. I don’t think I’ve ever asked a question, put it out to the audience that hasn’t gotten exactly what I was looking for back within a few hours, it’s pretty amazing.

Next question is from Derek, the host of the Hellenistic Age podcast. He asks: “With regards to the big screen, many films taking place in 19th Century Europe tend to invoke Napoleon Bonaparte to some capacity or another. If given unlimited creative control or budget, which events or characters of your podcast would you pick for a film or television adaptations.”

SIÈCLE: Napoleon, Napoleon, Napoleon, shut up about Napoleon! Nobody cares!

RUMMAGE: laughs

SIÈCLE: No, Napoleon is great, obviously a topic of great interest. I understand why people focus on Napoleon, even if I wish that certain directors would maybe do a better job of telling the story of Napoleon. We’ll see how the director’s cut is.

I know there’s been a French film covering the shipwreck of the Medusa, which I covered in a recent episode, but that’s an obvious, really accessible entry point that could easily be adapted into an English language film or just another French language film with more modern effects. Always game for another maritime naval TV show or movie.

It’s tough, having spent the past five years covering the Bourbon restoration, picking up immediately after the most exciting part, and going on from there. I’m covering the boring parts of 19th Century French history, which does have some shortcomings when looking for a good way to adapt it into a popular film or movie. Certainly, the life of Talleyrand, which goes into my period is an obvious one, and there’s this little-known book whose climax focuses on a revolt in Paris in 1832 called Les Misérables. Although, I’ve found that many people think that Les Misérables is actually about the French Revolution, the 1789 one, which is one of the real opportunities of the topic that I cover that is being able to use that as an entry point and introduce people to the real history behind one of the books they know and love.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, you know that book and subsequent adaptations of that book, it’s funny that that event is not one of the hallmark revolutions, shall we say, not in the top five.

SIÈCLE: No, it was unsuccessful, short, and I think it was Mike Duncan who said that it would be totally forgotten now if Victor Hugo hadn’t picked it up and used it as the climax for his most famous book.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, and going back to what you said at first, I always though a funny alternate title for your podcast would be — there’s a Metternich quote, where he wrote his own memoirs of the Napoleonic period, and at the very end, he basically says something like “that is how the events of the Napoleonic era ended, everything else belongs to ordinary history.” I always thought that would be a good alternate title for your podcast, “Ordinary History.” But I actually think that’s part of what I like about your show, is that it’s not — sometimes I feel I’m kind of playing the hits, whereas you’re digging into stuff that I think is even to a lot of fans of French history not super well-known, but I think in many ways is just as interesting. Maybe not quite as outrageous as the stuff I’m covering, but interesting in its own way, in particular listening to your recent episodes about the run-up to 1830, if you’re looking for kind of models of our own history, that’s probably a more fruitful era to look at than the most exceptional period of modern times.

SIÈCLE: Yeah, I will add that this is about Napoleon, but I think there could be a great movie of alternate history focusing on an attempt to break Napoleon out of St Helena, a naval raid. Obviously this never happened, though people did talk about it, and the British were paranoid it was going to happen, but I feel like there’s a great story there that could be told for sort of an alternate history movie about a ship trying to break Napoleon off and escape to America while being pursued by the British navy or something like that.

RUMMAGE: Oh yeah, there’s that rumor which people ask me about this all the time, and I’ve looked into it, I’ve never found good documentation of it. But it’s an extremely prevalent rumor, shall we say, that Lord Cochrane, the famous British daredevil naval officer, supposedly thought about doing that when he was on his way to South America to aid the South American independence movements. And supposedly he sort of had a mind to do that, and then on the way found out that Napoleon had died on St Helena[…] Because Cochrane is also, talk about a character.

SIÈCLE: Larger than life figure, yeah.

Marx colorRUMMAGE: William Hult asks: “My question concerns Karl Marx’s works about the politics of France during the 19th Century. I have often heard historians gushing about The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, but this gushing has almost always been in relation to the introduction of the book in which Marx discusses man’s relationship to history, and not so much the analysis of France in particular. What are your thoughts on this work, do they hold up as a good analysis of the events they cover?”

Right: Karl Marx, by P. Nasarow und N. Gereljuk, after John Jabez Edwin Mayal, 1920. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

SIÈCLE: Well, I have good news and bad news for you, William. The bad news is that I have not done a detailed analysis of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire beyond the famous introduction, and the “first as tragedy, then as farce” quote, which is such a great line. The good news is, I am speaking with someone who has done a detailed analysis of that. Are you able to give maybe a brief answer to William’s question here?

RUMMAGE: Yeah, so like anything with Marx, his writing is extremely dense. It’s not actually a very long essay, but there’s a lot to unpack, shall we say. I’ll try to choose my words carefully so that you don’t get angry emails from grad students. But basically, to put the essay in context, Marx has this theory of history, that’s kind of the whole basis of his philosophy. Not that history is sort of an A to B progressive event, but that there is sort of a formula to how history works, and he had been criticized by how people who had said, “hey, look at what happened in France in 1848” — and these will be spoilers to your audience. To make a very long story short, there had been a revolution and when the dust settled, the forces that were in control of the country were basically the mainstream left, today we’d probably call them progressives. These were left-wing liberals and moderate socialist types —

SIÈCLE: Center left.

RUMMAGE: Right. Then, a series of strange events occur that culminate in the return of the Empire, Napoleon’s nephew becomes the emperor. And people basically said: “Hey Marx, you say that there is this sort of formula to history. According to your philosophy, shouldn’t it be impossible for a progressive republic to sort of devolve into a more authoritarian, more traditional form of hierarchy?” The essay is Marx saying, “Well, if you think that, then you’ve misunderstood my theory, and actually if you look closely at the events in France, you’ll see that things played out much as my theory would have predicted.” And then he goes through the events, and explains this sort of unexpected strange outcome happened because of sort of the positions of the different classes of French society, and how they came into conflict, and that basically in Marx’s opinion, the “progressive forces”, in quotes, couldn’t get their act together, and there was kind of a stalemate. Because of the way that the Republic was set up, the only person who really could break the stalemate was Bonaparte. Marx is using these events to talk about his philosophy. It’s not a work of journalism, but I think he does a pretty good job, both of defending his philosophy and of analyzing the events.

SIÈCLE: So you think it holds up as actual history? Or is it mostly of interest sort of from a more meta historiography perspective, understanding how people at the time were writing about the events?

RUMMAGE: I would say more the latter. Probably a modern person would be best served by reading a book — or listening to a podcast, shall we say — about the events and then reading Eighteenth Brumaire, to see how he’s less focused on telling you what happened, he’s sort of assuming you know what happened. This was written for intellectuals and radicals to read. What’s really interesting is how he’s claiming how things are happening, not how he’s describing the events.

Next question is from Sam Kendrick: “My question is about the French relationship to border regions, especially to what is today Belgium. You briefly mentioned in the last episode that a common critique of the Algiers campaign was that the forces would have been better spent reclaiming some of the Rhine departments. What was the general attitude towards these regions during the Restoration? Were they viewed as integral parts of France that had been lost, or was this more of a political manoeuvre than a general foreign policy goal? What kind of relationship did France have with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the German Rhineland states? What kind of cross-border interchange existed, what tension, and lastly, were there people across the border, ie outside France, who thought they should be brought into the French kingdom?”

SIÈCLE: One way to think about it is that in the Bourbon restoration, these arguments that France’s borders should extend to the Rhine were more about geopolitics and national security, and less about ethnonationalism. This was not an argument that “these people are rightfully French and therefore must be included in our borders,” in the same way that sometimes over the subsequent history you would get wars to try to bring a group of people who were seen as culturally in common with that country into that country’s borders. It was more that, to be secure, France needed to have a defensible border on its northeast frontier, and the defensible border was running alone the Rhine River. France’s other borders are the ocean or mountains — the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Jura mountains. It was widely seen, and would be demonstrated in subsequent centuries, that this northeastern border was France’s vulnerable point, and the French thought that in order to plug that, they needed to annex the often non-French speaking territories leading up to the Rhine.

The French government often had friendly relations with the actual polities, the states that were governing these areas, even if they would have been totally happy to annex them and extinguish them from existence, or partition them, etc. There is certainly a lot of cross-border trade and cultural interchange — a lot of French political exiles went to Belgium, a lot of French opposition newspapers were printed in Brussels and sort of smuggled across the border into France. But it was much more of a high-level concern that French strategists and geopoliticians thought that this was a goal that the country needed to accomplish, and also a wrong that had been inflicted upon France when these countries were taken away from France in the Vienna settlement at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. So people felt salty about that, and wanted to reverse that injustice that they felt, and restore these areas that had been part of France — if often only briefly. But it wasn’t a nationalistic yearning that we’ll see in subsequent decades and centuries.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, that’s very well put. I would just add that you mention, quite rightly, that this more about geopolitics than some kind of ethnonationalist Greater France, and I would just add that the French government was quite confident that they could turn other Europeans into Frenchmen. “We’ve got to get to the river, and once we get there, the people there will be grateful to have the blessings of French civilization, and that will sort itself out.” Which may be its own brand of chauvinism there, which is some ways kind of peculiar to France.

SIÈCLE: To be fair, large parts of France at this time did not speak Parisian French, speaking either dialects or often, in the case of Alsace-Lorraine, people were speaking Germanic dialects.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, and in this era, the Alsatians, the people further to the North, the Flemish-speaking people often felt no contradiction about, “Oh, of course I’m a Frenchman, I just don’t speak the language, and belong to a different culture, but why would you question that I’m a Frenchman? Of course, look at my passport.”

SIÈCLE: I believe that there’s a famous quote from Napoleon, speaking about some of his Alsatian soldiers, saying along the lines of “let them have their dialect, they fight like Frenchmen.”

RUMMAGE: Yes, yes. And that’s also one of my — spoiler for my show — Marshal Ney was one of these people, he was brought up in a bilingual household speaking French and German equally, and he was born in a town that in 1815, wound up on the other side of the border, Saarlouis, which is today in Germany. And Marshal Ney’s lawyers, when he was on trial for treason, begged him to take the technicality defense, which is: “Hey, I’m a German now, right? What right does this French court have to try me?” And Ney refused. A guy like that could not go into a courtroom and swear that he was not a Frenchman. That was unthinkable to someone like him.

SIÈCLE: On the one hand, it’s a certain arrogance in the part of the French to assume that obviously everyone, if they had the choice, would choose to be French. But it wasn’t entirely conjured up out of thin air, there was a real cultural pull to France at this time.

RUMMAGE: Oh absolutely. In Napoleonic times, there’s also just the — this is less true in the period you’re talking about and would become less true as the period goes on — but the superiority of the French system over the cobbled together out of the remnants of the old regime with some new ideas grafted on types of governments that existed in the rest of Europe. The French were very lucky in that respect, that attitude that not drawn totally out of thin air, shall we say.

SIÈCLE: You even saw that even in the period that I’ve covered. In the Restoration, Louis XVIII encouraged his Bourbon cousins in Italy and Spain that, “guys, get with the times, write a constitution, it won’t hurt you that much, and it will make your rule much more modern and strong,” and was very frustrated that the somewhat less intelligent Bourbon kings in Naples and Spain refused to go along with it.

RUMMAGE: It’s so funny, that’s so the opposite of the view that you get, the popular view of the Bourbons. It’s one of the fascinating aspects of this period, that they are kind of walking that weird line where they are the revanchist old order, but they’re also, “let’s be honest here, we’ve got some real advantages with this system we’ve got now.”

SIÈCLE: They kept a huge amount of the legacy that they inherited from the Revolution and Napoleon. Louis XVIII, […] though his power was checked by an elected Parliament and a constitution, in many ways his ability to dictate what went on in his kingdom was in many ways much stronger than his holder brother Louis XVI ever had, because of the much more centralized and efficient Napoleonic bureaucracy that he inherited, and —despite a couple of the more radical ultra-royalist voices — decided that “no, we’re going to keep this.”

RUMMAGE: It’s so funny the ironies that history foists on people. Alright, so to close out, I actually had a couple questions of my own, so why don’t we delve into those?

SIÈCLE: Hit me.

RUMMAGE: Before you started the show, when you were still in the planning stages, were there any stories or anecdotes that you were particularly looking forward to telling?

SIÈCLE: It’s ironic, given what I’ve spent the last five years doing, but when I picked this period, I first decided that I wanted to do a history podcast, and then sat down and decided what topic could I do, and the stories that inspired me to pick 19th Century France were all about the Third Republic. That was what I was excited about telling, it was the era I was excited to get to, I thought, “Oh I’ve just got to get through the first half of the century to get to the interesting stuff.”

I mentioned in that earlier question, the 1870s drama, where France ended up getting a republic despite a majority of the deputies preferring a monarchy, the Dreyfus affair obviously, some of the big cultural shifts, the battles over education and the church in the Third Republic — I was very eager to get to that. And somewhat to my surprise, I found that this early period has been equally as fascinating.

As I have delved deeper into it beyond the surface-level summary that you sometimes get in some high-level history books, the Bourbon Restoration and the periods that are about to follow in the narrative are really interesting to me, and I wasn’t fully expecting that when I went into this.

RUMMAGE: That’s interesting. I’ve very much had the same experience, where there have been parts of the story that I thought going in would be kind of, “ah, I’ve got to check the box and get through this so I can get to the interesting stuff,” and then when I actually get to it and start really delving into dedicated research rather than reading about something in a more general book, you realize that it’s got just as much as the parts that you thought were going to be interesting going in. So I definitely know what you’re talking about there.

Are there any personalities you particularly enjoy writing about, or, on the other hand, any personalities that you particularly dislike?

SIÈCLE: On the latter side, I’m not sure that there are any that I truly dislike. Obviously, some of the people in this period are more unpleasant than others, but I think they’re all interesting in their own way.

The two that stand out on the positive side, [are] from two very different generations, although both active at this point to my narrative. One is Chateaubriand, the writer and statesman, who is just this fascinating character who is, on the one hand, immensely talented, and also knows he’s immensely talented and is immensely arrogant. You read his writing, his Memoirs From Beyond the Grave or other works that he’s written, it just bleeds through. Even when he’s putting on his best face and completely controlling what he’s saying, his arrogance just bleeds through the page, in a way that I’m sure was very frustrating to people who had to deal with him on a daily basis. I know it was very frustrating, but it makes him a very compelling character to read about.

And of course, he’s at the center of all the action, both in government and out of government. Joseph de Villelle said of the 1820s French politics that you can’t form a government with Chateaubriand, but you also can’t form a government without Chateaubriand.

RUMMAGE: He’s also very much of the era as an intellectual. His more abstract ideas are very much of the age, I think.

SIÈCLE: He’s in an interesting spot because, on the one hand, he’s an ultraroyalist. He’s committed to the monarchy, and to a more traditional conception of the monarchy, but he also has this liberal strain to his thought, especially in areas around freedom of the press, and he ends up in opposition for a lot of the 1820s. You can never quite pigeonhole him, he’s not purely on one side or the other. He’s on his own side, and he sounds very frustrated that other people don’t come to the correct position on these issues, but he’s a very original thinker for the period.

RUMMAGE: That’s something I always thought reading about him, the fact that he had been a counterrevolutionary émigré, he had been a sort of moderate Bonapartist, he had been an inveterate opponent of Napoleon, a conservative critic, you’d think that a guy who had changed his mind so many times might have learned a little humility.

SIÈCLE: No, that word cannot be associated with Chateaubriand.

RUMMAGE: laughs

SIÈCLE: He would argue, I’m sure, that as people are often wont to do, they didn’t change. “I didn’t leave my party, my party left me”.

RUMMAGE: Right, right, yeah.

SIÈCLE: People like to see themselves as internally consistent, and the system around them becoming more radical and leaving them behind.

The other figure who’s in a very different position in his career is Adolphe Thiers, who at this point is sort of this irrepressible, energetic, young, somewhat radical journalist. Not the most radical, but on the more progressive side. And he is at the beginning of this extremely long career that will see him at the center of French politics for the next half century. He’s just such a dynamic character, and such a complicated character, who is going to do some things that — I’m sure me saying this is going to probably get some angry letters from people; his actions at the Paris Commune in particular have made him something of a bête noire for a certain type of history fan, but I think exactly that is what makes him so interesting. This is a guy who, on the one hand, crushed the Paris Commune, on the other hand helped midwife the French Third Republic into being. He’s brought down monarchies, and defended monarchies, he’s opposed republics and created republics. Some very, very long and interesting and often contradictory career, and I’m really looking forward to following him. In many ways, he’s going to be a sort of viewpoint character for the foreseeable future of the show, because he’s going to be at the center of events for many years to come.

RUMMAGE: Yeah, absolutely. Personally, I love those ambiguous characters, like Thiers. I feel weird saying I love Thiers, what he did to the Paris Commune, you say he crushed it, that was one of the worst state mass killings in history when it happened, and it was really bloody.

SIÈCLE: He is not like a character like Lafayette, who you can look at and say, “Well, he’s always trying to do the right thing”.


SIÈCLE: He can sometimes be bumbling, but it’s easy — at least for an American — to always view Lafayette as sort of a heroic character.

RUMMAGE: He’s always trying to do the right thing, even when the right thing is the wrong thing.

SIÈCLE: Yeah. Thiers is a much more ambiguous personality, also certainly very full of himself, very confident — not without reason, as with Chateaubriand. The very same personality factors that propelled him at a young age to the center of French politics are also going to the ones that prevent him from staying at the center of French politics, because again like Chateaubriand he’s the kind of person you can’t work without, but you also can’t work with.

RUMMAGE: And I’ll say this for him as well: he wrote history. And actually quite good history. And I always feel like it’s how filmmakers love making films about making films. And I feel like people who write history are always attracted to historical figures who have tried their hand at writing history.

Have your views changed at all as a result of researching and writing the show, either of France in particular or the world at large?

SIÈCLE: I think that the biggest thing that I’ve learned is this growing appreciation of the often-overlooked period of the Bourbon Restoration, which again I found much more interesting and in-depth than I expected to, and also much more complicated. It’s often reduced to this caricature, as sort of this last-gasp reactionary attempt to reconstruct the ancien regime. And there’s a reason there’s this stereotype: there’s some of that there.

But the reality is so much more complicated, with so many more different perspectives and different individual actors with different goals that sometimes conflicted and sometimes were moving in the same direction, and even the ones who were doing the most to try to undo the changes of the Revolution didn’t want to go all the way back. Even the Polignacs and the Charles Xs, who are certainly the most reactionary side of French politics in the Restoration, even their views were somewhat complex and couldn’t just be reduced to “undo the Revolution.”

RUMMAGE: Yeah, not to answer my own question, but I feel like that gels very much with my own thinking, which is [that] doing my show has given me an appreciation for unending complexity of these questions, which leads me to think that, I’ve never been a Great Man Theory of History type person, and that’s become even more true doing this show. I really gained an appreciation for how little leeway political actors on a big national or international stage, how little leeway they actually have to sort of do as they see fit. They’re all kind of responding to limited information, trying to head off crises, trying to pick between two bad options. It’s really not individuals who are in the driver’s seat of history, it really is things like economics, social forces, geopolitics, things that are outside of anyone’s control.

It is often talked about the French Revolution, were they right to overthrow the king? And it’s almost like asking, was a hurricane right to hit the coast? These natural events led to it occurring, it’s sort of silly to talk about it in terms of people’s wills. There are just so many complicated forces that lead to things happening.

SIÈCLE: I’m probably a little bit less structuralist than you, closer to you than not, certainly I think that these big structural factors are a huge and underappreciated reason for things happening. The big takeaway I’ve had in this area is more in the area of pushing me towards a big picture view of history, where the commonalities jump out. Obviously, when you look at history, there are certain trends and themes that pop up over and over again, and then there are details that are different, completely and totally different from situation to situation, and you can emphasize one side or the other, the long story or the details. Reading about the Bourbon Restoration it’s a period that on the surface has almost nothing to do with the modern world. I’ve been struck by how easy it is to make comparisons between this very different political and cultural system, and what we have today. While there are often huge and important differences that need to be understood to properly understand what’s happening, there are so many commonalities too, that are human nature and how people pursue power and how they attach themselves to ideologies, how they form these complicated ideologies, all these things that are, to some degree, timeless.

RUMMAGE: Yes, I know the feeling. To go back to Eighteenth Brumaire, “people make history but not as they please,” as Marx wrote.

SIÈCLE: As long as I’ve got you here, we should talk a little bit about the very similar periods of history, overlapping periods of history that we’re covering, which are often, again, treated very separately. My story sort of picks up with the first downfall of Napoleon, and your story will more or less climax with the downfall of Napoleon. 1814, 1815 is not such a cut-and-dry dividing line in history as it’s often treated by historians like us and other people. What are your thoughts, as someone who has really researched the Napoleonic period, [of] the ways in which the Napoleonic period informs and relates to the Bourbon restoration period that followed it?

RUMMAGE: I noticed in particular when I was writing about the Concordat with the Catholic Church. Napoleon is traditionally portrayed as this watershed figure, where he’s the guy who institutionalizes the Revolution — well, institutionalizes some elements of the Revolution — and does away with the more radical, more eccentric aspects of the Revolution. Particularly early in his reign, there is sort of this image of he’s settling accounts, he’s tying up loose ends, he’s bringing certain processes to an end. And the Concordat is a good example of that, that there’s this period of terrible religious conflict in France, and then Concordat is signed, that ends.

Well, you look at it up close, a lot of these things do not really end. A lot of these loose ends are not tied up. Napoleon is a brilliant politician, and because of the strange circumstances in which he came to power, he had a lot of leeway to impose settlements on certain outstanding issues in French politics. But a lot of cases, you look at it up close, he’s really only kind of pausing these processes. He’s only sort of temporarily shutting up everyone in the debate. A lot of the issues that Napoleon quote unquote “settled” are very much back on the main stage within a few years of his downfall.

I see a lot of continuity. The most obvious is the personalities — listening to your show, I hear names that I know well from my own research all the time. But that’s just the most obvious and visible continuity. The social structure, the broader sociopolitical and economic changes that are going on during the period of the Revolution and the Empire are pretty much just continuing on. There’s really, in a lot of ways, more continuity than there is rupture between all of these different various governments and various periods of history, to the point where maybe that’s the secret of their success. Governments come and go, the country stays the same, right?

SIÈCLE: I was really struck researching for a recent episode on the French economy that several people said that the French economy in 1830 had more in common with the French economy in 1750 than it did with the French economy just a couple of decades later in 1850, because the railroad revolution was what really changed everything.

RUMMAGE: Yes, I think that’s absolutely true.

SIÈCLE: It was not the shifting regimes from republic to empire to monarchy and back and forth. Daily life often stayed the same at a non-elite level, and it wasn’t until the railroad came along and the telegraph and other — the Industrial Revolution — that daily life was really, truly, fundamentally transformed.

RUMMAGE: Look at what are the sources of a social order. Land ownership is a big one, and as you’ve talked about on your show, the idea that the old order was just restored when Napoleon fell is totally wrong. Because when you look at those deep things like land ownership and things that are the basic building blocks of the social order and the economic order, there’s a lot more continuity than change, I think.

SIÈCLE: [It’s] interesting that you mentioned the Concordat. When I covered French religion in Episode 27, one of the interesting things was the struggles that Louis XVIII had in trying to negotiate a new agreement with the Catholic church, and that the ways in which Napoleon’s Concordat, even though both sides hated it, proved surprisingly sticky by this point, ten to fifteen years later, and was very difficult to undo and required multiple rounds of diplomatic negotiations. And they had their blowups, and ultimately they ended up with the situation that more tinkered around the edges than uprooting it, even though both the French monarchy and the Pope would have loved nothing more than to go back to an earlier system. It was just too sticky, a lot of these changes, even though the powers that be might have preferred to undo some of these changes, they found that they were just too embedded in society, and it would have been too disruptive to do the changes that, left to their own devices, they would have liked to do.

RUMMAGE: That’s really the rub of it, isn’t it? Ideas are a fine thing, but when you’re the person invested with power, it’s really difficult to actually [effect] any kind of social change upsets a lot of people.

SIÈCLE: “No man rules alone, even Napoleon.”

RUMMAGE: Yeah, and you need to be like a political genius on Napoleon’s level to even have an impact in a lot of these cases, where things are just societies have their own inertia, and you’ve got to have a lot of muscle to change that inertia.

Do you have a favorite episode or episodes?

SIÈCLE: In general, the ones that I like the most or are most satisfied by are the ones that are the most self-contained, that are telling a complete story from beginning to end. Sometimes these are the ones where I sort of step aside from my main narrative and cover something that’s been going on off on the sidelines, like Episode 30 where I covered the Greek War of Independence, which is sort of connected to the main narrative but in fairly oblique ways, or Episode 36: The Wreck of the Medusa, where I covered colonialism.

But two that really stand out when I think back and reflect on this, one is Episode 31: The Election of 1827, which for me was really satisfying because it was one of those “all the threads come together” episodes –


SIÈCLE: Having all these very detailed episodes on particular topics, and every so often you get an episode where you get to pull all those threads together and show how everything you’ve been talking about for a year intertwines and is all related and leads to this one climactic event. I found that really satisfying. The other one is an episode that you had a part in recording the cold open for, Episode 11: The Year Without a Summer, looking at the subsistence crisis that France underwent as a result of a volcanic eruption, which is a way to explore how ordinary people lived and what happened when those normal habits of subsistence were disrupted by an unforeseen essentially act of God, and how this interacted with politics. Most of the stats of the people who were executed and were caught up in the purges after Waterloo, most of them were actually peasants participating in food riots, who happened to get swept up in the political courts, because often it was thought that politics was lurking at the base of all these protests of people who really just wanted food.

Is there an episode that you as a listener particularly enjoy?

RUMMAGE: Well it’s interesting, you have actually named a couple of the ones that I, as I wrote this question […] was thinking of, and you’ve actually named all of them. The Wreck of the Medusa one really stood out to me. That’s such an iconic image, it’s on the cover of the Pogues album, for Christ’s sake. I sort of knew a little bit of the story, but I really enjoyed delving in not only to the story itself, but to the context. I thought that was a really fun way to do that. I do a lot of episodes that I talk about art a lot, and I think that even though it’s an audio medium, obviously […] having that sort of callback to an image that people can picture, even if they’re doing the dishes or driving somewhere or whatever when they’re listening, having that iconic image to refer back to and think “oh, I’m hearing the story behind this image that I can conjure up in my head”, I think is a really powerful technique, I thought that was very, very well-used there.

Above: Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 1819. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I should also say I’m really enjoying the slow ratcheting up of pressure as we approach 1830. Whenever I read about these events, you know intellectually that the conquest of Algeria is going on in the background as well, but that really adds an interesting dimension to all of these events that there’s, as you say, different threads all coming together all at once.

SIÈCLE: I am currently in the process of writing the episodes covering this, and I’m doing a bit of a writing experiment, trying to do a very subjective ground-eye view of what’s going on, and resist as much as I can the lessons of hindsight, that way we end up judging people based on what ended up happening and not necessarily what people knew at the time. We’ll see how that writing experiment turns out, but it’s a fascinating event, it’s a very pivotal and often overlooked moment of history. I’ve done my best to try to cover this ramping up of the crisis from as many angles as possible.

RUMMAGE: I’ve got to say, I’ve kind of got this little pang of envy because I really enjoy writing episodes about coups and revolutions and conspiracies. The pressure of those situations and the uncertainty really brings out a strange side of human nature, where people are sort of half-crazed and desperate, and they’ve just got to act and they don’t quite know what’s going on. And those types of political pressure cooker events like that are always a lot of fun to me.

SIÈCLE: Some of the anecdotes that I’m looking forward to getting into [are] about what individual actors were doing at the time, what they thought was happening and how they were responding to that, the fears that they were experiencing is very interesting and I’m looking forward to unspooling that over the next couple months. Hopefully a small number of months, but we’ll see.

RUMMAGE: Well, I think that’s a good note to leave on, right? A preview of coming attractions.

Thank you to Everett for giving his time to make this discussion happen! I had a lot of fun talking to him, as well as taking your questions. Thanks also to Heather Hughson for transcribing this episode.

Just one quick announcement before we go: The Siècle is now on YouTube! I’ve started posting audio recordings of my early episodes online at — that’s with an “at” sign before “thesiecle.” My goal is to post one or two episodes from the back catalog each week until I catch up. If you know someone who you think might like the show but who isn’t in to the whole podcast thing, this is a new way to share The Siècle!

If you’re willing, I’d appreciate subscribing to the channel. Even if you never watch — and why would most of you, since you’ve already listened to all these episodes — a subscription will help make the show seem more popular, and thus attract new listeners.

With that, I’m back to work writing the next regular episode, as we see how French writers responded to King Charles X’s Four Ordinances and the aggressive censorship they promised to impose. Join me next time for Episode 40: The Journalists.