Research Subjects: Government & Politics


 

French Ducal Order of Precedence: Restoration Chamber of Peers List (4 June 1814)

By Stephen Millar

“1. The National Assembly decrees that hereditary nobility is forever abolished. Consequently, the titles of Prince, Duke, Count, Marquis, Viscount, Vidame, Baron, Knight, Lord, Squire, Noble, and all other similar titles shall neither be accepted by, nor bestowed upon, anyone whomsoever.

2. A citizen may assume only the real name of his family. No one may wear livery or have them worn, nor may anyone have a coat of arms. Incense shall be burned in churches only to honor the Divinity, and shall not be offered to any person.

3. The titles of Your Royal Highness and Your Royal Highnesses shall not be bestowed upon any group or individual, nor shall the titles of Excellency, Highness, Eminence, Grace, etc. Under pretext of the present decree, however, no citizen can take the liberty of attacking either the monuments in churches or the charters, titles, and other documents concerning families or properties, or the decorations in any public or private place. Also, the implementation of the provisions related to liveries and coats of arms placed upon carriages may not be effected or required by anyone at all until 14 July for citizens living in Paris, and for three months for those living in the provinces.

4. The present decree does not apply to foreigners; they may preserve their liveries and coats of arms in France.”

                         – ‘Decree Abolishing Hereditary Nobility and Titles’ (19 June 1790)

Less than a year after the storming of the Bastille, France’s National Assembly ended the country’s 800-year-old rule of kings and princes. The 19 June 1790 decree to abolish titles was another step along the ‘republican road’ to eradicate the idea of an aristocracy – along with any remnants of its feudal priviliges (which had been the cause of so much resentment during the latter part of the Bourbon family’s reign).

While many aristocrats had already died in previous violence – the first being Bernard-Rene, marquis de Launay (the governor of the Bastille) –  much worse was yet to come. After the French victory at the Battle of Valmy [20.09.1792], a more radical attitude began to emerge. On 17 January 1793, the National Assembly voted 361-288-72 to sentence ex-King Louis XVI to death for treason. The former monarch (nicknamed ‘Louis le Dernier’ by unsympathetic citizens) was guillotined four days later. ‘The Terror’ was just around the corner. [1]

The ‘Reign of Terror’ (6 April 1793 to 27 July 1794) left a bloody mark on the nobility of the ‘ancien regime’. Led by the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, authorities had conducted a national campaign against ‘internal counter-revolutionary elements’ (employing newly-created legislation like the 17 September 1793 ‘Law of Suspects’).The laws were enforced by the dreaded Revoutionary Tribunal, which condemned royalist – and commoner alike – to ‘Madame la Guillotine’. [2]

Those individuals placed before the Revolutionary Tribunal faced public prosector Antoine-Quentin Fouquier-Tinville (12.06.1746-07.05.1795) a lawyer from Picardie considered by historians to be one of the most ruthless men of the French Revolution. His primary function

“…was not so much to convict the guilty as to see that the proscriptions ordered by the faction for the time being in power were carried out with a due regard to a show of legality. He was as ruthless and as incorrupt[able] as [Maximilien de] Robespierre himself; he could be moved from his purpose neither by pity nor by bribes…It was this very quality of passionless detachment that made him so effective an instrument of the Terror. He had no forensic eloquence; but the cold obstinacy with which he pressed his charges was more convincing than any rhetoric, and he seldom failed to secure a conviction.” [3]

A British witness in the Place de la Revolution left the following description of the consquences of a conviction from the Tribunal:

“…The process of execution was also a sad and heart-rending spectacle. In the middle of the Place de la Revolution was erected a guillotine, in front of a colossal statue of Liberty, represented seated on a rock, a Phrygian cap on her head, a spear in her hand, the other reposing on a shield. On one side of the scaffold were drawn out a sufficient number of carts, with large baskets painted red, to receive the heads and bodies of the victims…Most of these unfortunates ascended the scaffold with a determined step – many of them looked up firmly on the menacing instrument of death, beholding for the last time the rays of the glorious sun, beaming on the polished axe; and I have seen some young men actually dance a few steps before they went up to be strapped to the perpendicular plane, which was then tilted to a horizontal plane in a moment, and ran on the grooves until the neck was secured and closed in by a moving board, when the head passed through what was called in derision, ‘la lunette republicaine’ [‘the republican telescope’]; the weighty knife was then dropped with a heavy fall; and, with incredible dexterity and rapidity, two executioners tossed the body into the basket, while another threw the head after it.”

All ranks of the nobility were affected, including the ducal families of France: Armand-Louis de Gontaut (duc de Biron) was executed on New Year’s Eve, 1793; Gabriel-Louis de Neufville (duc de Villeroy) and Armand-Louis de Bethune (marquis de Charost and heir to the duc de Charost) were executed on 28 April 1794; Philippe de Noailles (duc de Mouchy and Marshal of France) and Anne-Claudine-Louise d'Arpajon (duchesse de Mouchy) were executed on 27 June 1794. [4]

Five ducal titles became extinct in the post-Terror and Consular periods [see Appendix A].

Emperor Napoleon I re-established an aristocracy (but not a peerage system) in France during the First Empire. In general terms, the nobility was similar to the preceding Bourbon system, except it excluded the titles of ‘vicomte’ and ‘marquis’. There were three different styles of Napoleonic dukes: ten ‘victory dukes’ (Marshal Francois-Joseph Lefebvre, duc de Danzig on 28.05.1807 to Marshal Louis-Gabriel Suchet, duc d’Albufera in 1813); twenty dukes ‘grand-fief’ (General de Brigade Jean-Thomas Arrighi de Casanova, duc de Padue on 24.04.1808 [5] to duchesse de Frioul [widow of General de Division Giraud-Christophe-Michel Duroc] in 1813) and three ‘special circumstance’ dukedoms (Josephine de Beauharnais, duchesse de Navarre on 11.03.1810, Emmerich-Josef, duc de Dalberg on 14.04.1810 [6] and Vice-Admiral Denis Decres, duc de Decres on 28.04.1813 [7]).

With the return of King Louis XVIII in early 1814, a new constitution was proposed and a revised peerage list was necessary for candidates for the new upper house (the Chamber of Peers). Created on 4 April 1814, this list contained 154 names in strict order of precedence. The surviving pre-revolutionary ecclesisasical peers, duke-peers, hereditary dukes, brevet (or ‘life’) dukes and princes headed the first one-third of the list – with one exception: Napoleon’s former Foreign Minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, prince de Benevent (02.02.1754-17.05.1838). Heading the first group of Napoleonic nobility on the new peerage list was Charles-Francois Lebrun, duc de Plaisance (19.03.1739-16.06.1824). [8]

The 1814 Chamber of Peers list was revised twice by King Louis XVIII after the Hundred Days (24.07.1815 and 17.08.1815).

Notes:

[1] Queen Marie-Antoine was guillotined on 16.10.1793.

[2] 2,596 death-sentences handed down by the Tribunal before Robespierre fell from power.

[3] Fouquier-Tinville himself was guillotined on 07.05.1795.

[4] Three other members of the 5th duc de Noailles’ family – Catherine-Francoise-Charlotte de Cosse-Brissac, duchesse de Noailles (his mother), Henriette-Anne-Louise d'Aguessau, duchesse de Noailles (his wife) and Anne-Jeanne-Baptiste-Pauline-Adrienne-Louise-Catherine-Dominique de Noailles, vicomtesse de Noailles (his daughter) were guillotined on 27 July 1794.

[5] Jean-Thomas Arrighi de Casanova (07.01.1778-22.03.1853) was a cousin of Napoleon’s mother.

[6] Emmerich-Josef von Dalberg (31.05.1773-27.04.1833) was a French diplomat of German origin. He was the nephew of Karl-Theodor von Dalberg, Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine (1806-1813). Dalberg was appointed to the short-lived Provisional Government after Napoleon’s abdication in 1814.

[7] Denis Decres (18.06.1761-07.12.1820) became Minister of Marine (02.10.1801) and vice-admiral (30.05.1804).

[8] Lebrun had been Third Consul prior to the creation of the First Empire [19.05.1804]. Former Second Consul Jean-Jacques-Regis de Cambaceres (18.10.1753-18.03.1824) was made Arch-Chancellor of France in 1804 and duc de Parme on 18.08.1808.

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2005

 

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