This is The Siècle, Supplemental 4: Circle of the Union.
Welcome back. I’m still putting the final touches on Episode 15: The Miracle Child. But rather than keep you waiting any longer for more Siècle content, I wanted to release this bonus episode. It’s the second part of my discussion with Philip Mansel, the historian of early 19th Century France and biographer of Louis XVIII. The first part of that interview, about the life of France’s restored king, was Episode 12: Louis Louis.
This second interview ranges a bit wider into two of Mansel’s other scholarly interests: the city of Paris, and Franco-British social relations.
If you’d like to learn more, I recommend Mansel’s book Paris Between Empires: Monarchy & Revolution, 1814-1852, which covers the political events of the era from the point of view of people in Paris — residents and foreign visitors alike.
Just a fair warning before we begin: if you’re someone who likes to be a stickler for avoiding quote-unquote “spoilers” in history podcasts, you might want to hold off on this episode for a while. We discuss some events in 19th Century France from the 1830s, 1840s and beyond in this episode, including referring to future rulers of France by name. Obviously this information is just a quick Wikipedia search away, but if you’d rather find this stuff out in the course of the podcast’s main narrative, you’ve been warned.
As a reminder, the recording quality for this interview was a little worse than my usual standards, so there are some audio artifacts that I wasn’t able to remove.
In the discussion that follows, Mr. Mansel talks about the massive cultural cross-pollination between France and Britain, who at the start of our narrative were just wrapping up centuries of on-and-off warfare. But as Mansel explains, Franco-British ties were never just about war.
PHILIP MANSEL: It’s both love and hate — and fashions — I would say. Of course, there are wars, under Louis XIV, and the war of Napoleon against Britain. Britain was at war with France from 1793 to 1814, with a gap in 1802. But nevertheless there was this cultural fascination of the two countries, the two elites, and above all the two capital cities, London and Paris, with each other.
Each country or capital is the natural alternative to model for, and refuge from, the other. There’s always been French refugees in England, there’s always been English refugees in France, political or Catholics or Protestants in each case. The constant exchange of ideas and commerce between the two cities.
Louis XVIII and his brothers were brought up speaking and reading English. Louis XVIII translates books from English as an exercise — his Horace Walpole’s book on Richard III, for example. And has English friends in the 1780s, when they come over. And the power that most supports him in emigration if the British government, because it wants a peaceful government in France which will renounce some of the conquests of the Republic and the Empire.
1807 to 1814 he live in England, on £16,000 a year from the British government — quite a lot of money — and he has a sort of charm offensive, giving money to soldiers and sailors, visiting factories, visiting Oxford and Cambridge, going out to dinner, going to parties of the Prince Regent in London. The Prince Regent likes him and swears he will restore him to the throne of his ancestors. There’s a secret British policy to help the Bourbons, though officially they’re committed to the possibility of peace with Napoleon. They pay for Louis XVIII printing his declarations. They advise him on the content, pushing him to accept the revolutionary land settlement. They distribute it around Europe. They help organize the rising in Bordeaux. They help him during the Hundred Days.
He and Wellington work in tandem — as Louis XVIII comes back behind the British army, it’s he who asks French garrisons to surrender, which they do when they’re asked to by the king, more readily than if they’d been asked to by Wellington and the British army.
And then all the time when he’s on the throne, he invites English people to court receptions. He takes his hat off to them in the streets of Paris. They have privileged places in the royal chapel — almost too much for French public opinion. Always this desire to bring the two countries together. And a few years later, a club is founded called the Cercle de l’Union, the Circle of the Union — the “union” being between France and England.
This terrific interaction over very basic things essential for 19th Century life, like horse-breeding. Lots of English people come to live in Paris — it’s simpler, it’s more amusing, the cafes, the girls — everything is better, the museums are better in Paris. Of course they go there. It was said that at any one time, a third of the House of Lords could be found in Paris. So it’s really a new outlook to Franco-British relations.
THE SIÈCLE: Essentially every French head of state, from 1815 into the third republic, spent part of their life living in exile in England.
MANSEL: Not only Louis and Bourbons, but the Orléans loved England, and often kept houses in England. Some Bonapartists went into exile in England. Napoleon’s nephew, the future Napoleon III, lives in London for a time. Twice, in fact. He said, “Other nations are my fiancée, but England is my wife.” And then later the communards go to London, after 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune. It’s the natural alternative. They’re the only two great big international capitals in Europe, perhaps with Vienna. So of course people go to London, where an awful lot of the population speaks French. At court, in St. James, often it is said according to Chateaubriand, you heard more French than English. George IV was completely turned toward France.
[In] literature, it inspires Stendhal and Zola and many others. Thackery is inspired by Balzac. Dickens spends time in Paris.
SIÈCLE: I think a lot of people are struck hearing about this sort of mutual admiration between France and Britain during this time, because the conventional image of France and Britain, certainly up until 1815, is of the two great rivals — the geopolitical rivals battling it out for supremacy over Europe with France dominant on land and England on sea, etc. But certainly from 1815 on, there’s sort of an attempt to not be rivals, it seems like.
MANSEL: Yes. There’s already a certain fear of Russia and Prussia. Both Louis XVIII and Louis-Philippe, this feeling that constitutional monarchies should stick together, they have more in common. And anyway, they knew the industrial power of England, so they wanted to be close to that. Both had received English pensions.
This friendship between France and England was also there at the beginning of Louis XIV’s reign, at the beginning of Louis XV’s reign, and even after the War of American Independence was five years of friendship and trade between the two countries, 1783 to 1789. And that wasn’t forgotten. It’s referred to, this trade boom, in Bordeaux in 1814.
And this friendship between the two countries, this fear of the militaristic monarchies of the East, it’s there in the First World War, and lasted in the Second World War. I can remember it in the 1960s and 70s. The sneering hostility towards France and other foreign countries which has helped lead to Brexit is something new. Not for all English people, but for a lot of them.
SIÈCLE: During the Peace of Amiens, and later in 1814, and after Waterloo, almost the moment that peace breaks out between France and England, hordes of British travelers cross the channel as soon as they can to to Paris.
MANSEL: I think we forget how repressive English life could be, without many cafés. No good national museum at the time. The “English Sunday” which I remember from my boyhood. A certain dullness. And then people came to life when they got to Paris, which was much freer, or appeared to be much freer.
And also it was freer to meet women. You could go to the Jardin des Tuileries and there were women on their own there — much less common in woman — and it was much freer with homosexuality being decriminalized; it remained criminal in England until 1967.
It’s more stimulating culturally. There were these open lectures at the Collège de France or the Institut or the École des Beaux Arts. Medicine was thought to be more advanced in Paris than in London. So many students went to Paris. Also some aspects of science and mathematics.
SIÈCLE: What did French people like about going to London, or England in general?
MANSEL: They liked the industrial progress, gas lighting, the factories. Observing the debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords. Just seeing the might, the number of ships in the port of London. Seeing how a modern industrial society worked. France had in part de-industrialized during the Revolution and the Empire. Not in some cities like Rouen and Strasbourg, but in Bordeaux and Marseille and… Paris also had suffered in the Revolution. So they felt they were catching up technologically by visiting and exploring England. Shakespeare, Walter Scott, coming from England and Scotland, that inspires generations of French writers.
SIÈCLE: What is the long-term impact — you mentioned, obviously, some authors just now — the long-term impact of this overflow of both elite- and ordinary-level people exchanging ideas and visits all that back-and-forth between France and England after the Napoleonic Wars?
MANSEL: I think it defused the hatred of France which had accumulated by 1814 — 24 years of war. The attractions of Paris defused international hostility. The two countries get used to each other. There’s a lot of English people living in France, some of whom joined politics. So the alliance between the two countries after 1904, and above all in the First World War, worked quite well. There was a certain familiarity between them, and the huge impact on the literatures of the two countries. Neither can fully be understood without the other. But maybe the two countries also stayed quite separate. For example, attitudes to homosexuality didn’t change in England because of France.
SIÈCLE: Did the Emigration leave a cultural impact on England, all these French aristocrats spending decades living abroad?
MANSEL: I think they helped spread the French language all over Europe. Because the one thing émigrés could do was teach French, teach French and dancing, and some technical aspects of music-making, for example. So the European and English elites speak better French in the 19th Century I’d say than even in the 18th Century.
The other long-term impact, technical sides, like shipbuilding — the father of the great engineer Brunel was a French émigré who helped the English navy build better ships. The father of the great architect Pugin was a French émigré who also influenced English neo-Gothic. It’s this increased familiarity between the the elites and the countries — and knowing Napoleonic France wasn’t the only France.
SIÈCLE: There’s also a really interesting political contrast between Britain and France in the decades after 1815. Most notably the fact that Britain managed to handle the sort of rising demand for suffrage in a way that France certainly had much more difficult with in the decades between the empires. There’s certainly a lot of French people looking to Britain for inspiration in various ways. Talk a little about the political influences there.
MANSEL: All these elites knew each other. For example, Polignac, the reactionary minister of Charles X, knew Wellington very well. He’d been ambassador in London for five years. They’re all looking at each other, reading each other’s newspapers, following debates in each other’s parliaments.
I think England has this great figure Wellington, who pushes George IV and William IV to be, well, not necessarily William IV, to be more moderate and adapting. And France lacks that after the death of Louis XVIII. Even Louis-Philippe becomes quite reactionary in the 1840s and doesn’t expand the suffrage in the way it had been expanded in England. Refuses all suffrage reform in 1846-8, leading to his overthrow.
Why is England more adaptable? There were fewer rifts to begin with in the ruling class. There’s a greater prosperity, probably. It doesn’t — well, it does have a Charles X equivalent, the Duke of Cumberland, the reactionary brother of George IV and William IV, but he doesn’t get the throne. If he had gotten the throne, England might have gone the way of France. Much-hated in England.
In some ways France could be more adaptable, for example allowing religious minorities access to political offices. It allowed Protestants political offices, like Guizot, when England found it very difficult to give access to Catholics.
SIÈCLE: Are there any other topics that I haven’t asked about that you think are important for my listeners to hear about?
MANSEL: Well, I think, whatever their faults in France, all three monarchs — Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Philippe — were great Europeans who believed in cooperation rather than competition between nations, both out of choice and out of necessity, and almost had a philosophy of cosmopolitanism and exchange and regular diplomatic congresses — a form of Europe is already beginning there.
SIÈCLE: I want to delve into that a little bit before we wrap up. One of the things that was very striking reading about Louis and Richelieu and others was just how international at least the elite of Europe could be in this era — moving effortlessly between countries, between different national services, and in many ways it seemed like… the nobles of one country saw themselves as more similar… than they might see them and their peasants.
MANSEL: As writers did, and musicians, and singers, and some industries — English railway men are helping build the first railways and steamboats in France. Furniture makers may be quite international.
I think that’s almost as natural as national exclusivity is. It was natural for people to want to travel to Italy, for example, or Paris, just to see the museums.
And there’s this great figure, Pozzo di Borgo, forgotten now, who was a Corsican noble, a schoolmate of Napoleon, who hated Napoleon. And he moves from Corsica to London to Vienna to St. Petersburg, always creating coalitions against Napoleon. Finally to Paris where he’s Russian ambassador from 1814 to 1832. And he is really a European, always organizing ambassadors’ meetings or diplomatic congresses.
At the time, when Napoleon’s a prisoner on St. Helena, Pozzo is a leading diplomatic in Paris. He thought he had the last laugh. But Napoleon claws back fame posthumously, through excellent propaganda and nationalistic nostalgia for the Napoleonic dream in France. But it was just a dream. None of Napoleon’s monarchies or constitutions or even frontiers survived him. It was the constitution of Louis XVIII which survives, and the frontiers of 1814 to 15, which last far longer than Napoleon’s.
And when Napoleon’s nephew comes back in 1852, Napoleon III, the one who had lived in Switzerland and Italy and England — so he’s also international — he comes back on a completely mendacious promise, ‘L’Empire c’est la paix,’ the Empire means peace. And he tries to be different from his uncle, and above all, always to remain friends with England.
SIÈCLE: Mr. Mansel, thank you for your time.
MANSEL: Not at all, a pleasure.
And that’s the episode. I hope you enjoyed it — though I reached out to Mr. Mansel primarily to discuss Louis, when our conversation veered into other topics I knew I wanted to share the rest of our discussion with you eventually. Episode 15, which follows the aftermath of the Duc de Berry’s assassination in Episode 14, is mostly written and will be coming soon. I’ve also got a few other interviews queued up to help get the podcast through the busy holiday season.
In the meantime, I’d like to thank you, my listeners, for helping to make this podcast a success. That includes new Patreon backers Trevor Culley, Diana Austin, Deb Kendall, Andrew Tate, Randy Rogers, Robert Finch, Julian Khandros, Duncan Macdonald, David Papiasvili, Christopher Burton and Marie-Eve Gauthier, as well as supporter Stuart Radde, who used the show’s Amazon wish list to buy me a copy of John Merriman’s The Agony of the Republic, which will be extremely useful when we get to the exciting era of 1848.
Even without spending money, though, just sharing the podcast with history-loving friends or writing reviews on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get the show means a ton. Listener “Authorized_User” wrote that they were “really impressed by how David digs down into the ordinary lives of Frenchmen, not just a list of whichever blowhard happens to be in power at the time.” My thanks for that review and all the others, and rest assured: the future of the podcast will get into plenty of ordinary people, as well as plenty of blowhards in power.
Thanks again for listening, and stay tuned for Episode 15: The Miracle Child.