How misunderstandings arise

Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Colin Jones in his book, “Paris – Biography of a City”, already mentioned once by Tory Historian, describes an interesting example of a misunderstanding arising from best intentions.

By 1814 Napoleon had become largely unpopular in Paris (and probably in the rest of the country), not least because of the constant economic crisis, caused partly by the strict control he imposed on such things as bread prices and tried to impose on British imports and partly by the expense of his endless military campaign. (The strength of his secret police and the iron control of all publications and organizations did not help either.)

So his first defeat in 1814 caused distress only because for the first time since the seventeenth century Paris was invaded by foreigners. Otherwise, Parisians were not all that bothered by l’Empereur’s exile. Here is where a certain misunderstanding arose, as Professor Jones describes.

When the allied troops had entered Paris for the first time in 1814, many of them wore a white cockade to signify their peaceful intentions towards Parisians. Thinking that they would show the invaders their appreciation for this gesture, many Parisians wore the white cockade in return. However, Bourbon sympathizers among the troops imagined that by wearing these cockades, the Parisians were showing their undying support for the Bourbon cause (white being the monarchy’s ceremonial colour). This misunderstanding led the allies to imagine that Paris was massively pro-Bourbon and pro-Restoration. The years after 1815 would show how wrong this was. Indeed the regimes which followed Napoleon produced a nostalgia for his rule which his rule had done relatively little to justify.
In the first place, Parisians were not all that bothered by the Bourbons’ escape upon hearing Napoleon’s return from Elbe, as Louis XVIII and his family had not exactly endeared themselves to the people of the city. However, Napoleon proceeded to antagonize them by not having the time or inclination – he was fighting for his survival, after all – to solve the economic crisis and by showing his distrust of the people in refusing to arm them. Anyone who had lived through the revolutionary years would have been wary of the nightmare of another possible sans-culotte anarchy.

As to the unjustified nostalgia, it is certainly there in the colossal structure of the Invalides, in the preposterous Vendôme Column and in the obsession so many French politicians still have with le petit caporal.


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