Journal Article

Taming the Revolution? Legitimists and the Centenary of 1789

Martin Simpson

in The English Historical Review

Volume 120, issue 486, pages 340-364
Published in print April 2005 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online April 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cei118
Taming the Revolution? Legitimists and the Centenary of 1789

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The celebration of the centenary of 1789 by republicans in 1889 has received considerable scholarly attention, yet the far more surprising attempt by the right to appropriate the Revolution has been neglected. In this article I explore the terms in which the Legitimist Right attacked the republican orthodoxy, arguing that 1889 witnessed a significant shift in Legitimist discourse. Legitimists (supporters of the Bourbon monarchy, still a significant ideological current in 1889, despite the extinction of the French Bourbon line with the death of their Pretender in 1883) were obsessed with the Revolution, which they identified as ‘satanic’, characterised by bloodshed and irreligion. This view was endorsed by the intransigent ‘ultramontane’ Catholic faith they shared. Yet despite this common reading of the revolution, in 1889 the myth of the ‘mouvement national’, was emphasised. Legitimists argued that 1789 marked the revolutionary usurpation of a monarchical reform movement: the republicans had distorted history, obscuring the legitimate monarchical 1789. This vision of the ‘mouvement national’ was celebrated in a counter-commemoratory movement: a series of provincial assemblies in imitation of the assemblies of spring 1789 countered the official celebrations of the Republic. I examine this reading of the revolution, asking whether it allowed Legitimists to ‘tame the Revolution’, coming to terms with parts of the revolutionary heritage by attributing them to the monarchical reform movement. Yet despite the rhetoric of reclaiming 1789, clerico-Legitimists did not reconcile themselves to the revolution, but retreated into a counter-revolutionary fantasy of a corporatist France. The traditionalist Catholic monarchist Right thus remained alienated from modern France, determined to undo the work of the Revolution: in important respects their counter-revolutionary organicist discourse heralds the project of Vichy.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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