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729px-Louis_XVIII_relevant_la_FranceOn this day in 1814, a Bourbon King of France returned to the throne after the tumultuous period in history that included the French Revolution, Napoleon’s Empire, and the Napoleonic wars.

After Louis XVI of the House of Bourbon was overthrown and executed during the French Revolution, Napoleon rose to power in France, ultimately declaring himself emperor and, conquering most of Europe. In 1809, however, Wellington arrived in Portugal and by 1813 marched his British, Portugese and Spanish armies on to drive the French out of the Iberian peninsula. By April 1814, France fell as well.

In France, Napoleon’s former foreign minister, that old survivor, Talleyrand, convinced the Allied powers to restore the Bourbons to the throne. Other options, each with their own supporters, were considered–Napoleon’s son (through a regency), Louis Phillippe  son of the guillotined duc d’Orleans, the King of Sweden, or even Napoleon himself if he agreed to return France to its 1792 borders (Napoleon refused). The war-weary French populous were in support of a return of the Bourbon kings, however, so the decision was made.

Louis_XVIII_recadréLouis XVI’s brother became King Louis XVIII (Louis XVI’s young son, who died after miserable treatment by the Revolutionaries was considered King Louis XVII).

The new monarchy was a constitutional one and many of the Napoleonic reforms were maintained, but Louis XVIII fairly quickly became unpopular when he pressured for the return of lands to the original aristocratic owners or the Catholic Church. He also abolished the tricorn flag and insisted on marking the days that Louis XVII and Marie Antoinette were executed.

Ironically, May 4, 1814, was also the day Napoleon arrived at his first exile, the island of Elba, from where he escaped the following February to begin his Hundred Days– and sending Louis XVIII fleeing again.

Until Waterloo…


King Louis Phillippe gradually turning into a pear. Caricature by Honoré Daumier after Charles Philipon´s original sketch.

The Bourbons reigned until the popular uprisings of the July Revolution of 1830 finally placed Louis Phillippe, son of the guillotined duc d’Orleans, on the throne. He was originally beloved as the “Citizen King” but he became increasingly unpopular when, under his rule, the conditions of the working classes deteriorated, and the gap between the rich and poor became wider. He was the last king to rule France.

That ends your French history lesson for today. Any questions? Comments?

We’re on a historical road to Waterloo (the 200th anniversary) and this was one step along the way!

It’s Tuesday night as I write this and in the US, as you may know, there’s an election. I am distracted. A wee bit.

Brooke’s Gazeteer to the rescue.

Ilminster, a town in Somersetshire, with a market on Saturday; seated among hills, 26 miles  SW of Wells, and 137  W by S of London. Google maps confirms this.

View Larger Map

Wikipedia tells us the following:

Ilminster is a country town and civil parish in the countryside of south west Somerset, England, with a population of 4,781. Bypassed a few years ago, the town now lies just east of the junction of the A303 (London to Exeter) and the A358 (Taunton to Chard and Axminster). The parish includes the village of Peasmarsh and the hamlet of Sea.

Peasmarsh. That is awesome.

Also from Wikepedia:

Ilminster is mentioned in documents dating from 725 and in a Charter granted to the Abbey of Muchelney (10 miles to the north) by King Ethelred in 995. Ilminster is also mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as Ileminstre meaning ‘The church on the River Isle’ from the Old English ysle and mynster. By this period Ilminster was a flourishing community and was granted the right to hold a weekly market, which it still does.

Barrington Court is nearby. This is a National Trust house, and the pictures here are worth a click.

You REALLY need to see the before and after restoration pictures. Wow.


Last weekend I went to an amazing historic house in Virginia, Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

One reason I loved it so much was that the house is under major reconstruction. One notable owner of the house was the Dupont family, who bought it in 1900. The last Dupont to own the house left it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with instructions that the house was to be restored to Madison’s time. This was a bit of a problem. The Duponts had converted the original 22-room house to a 55-room house (with real plumbing). So the trick was to get from this:

to this (illustration courtesy of Montpelier Foundation and PartSense Inc.):
and this is how things look from the outside at the moment:
Inside, I found it absolutely thrilling. The rooms are down to lathe and some original plaster as the house is restored to its former 1820s glory. Tiny fragments of original materials have been found (one amazing find was in a rodent’s nest, which had become a time capsule thanks to a scrap of paper with Madison’s handwriting, plus some fabric and wallpaper). Everything is being re-created as it was in Madison’s time, using historically-correct materials and tools. There’s a huge amount of documentation too, as Jefferson, Monroe and Madison were all building at the same time and exchanging letters and ideas.

The house is in a beautiful location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, only two hours from Washington DC but it feels like another world. It also has beautiful grounds, with some trees dating from Madison’s time, including some cedars that were brought as a gift when Lafayette visited.

At one point we were standing in a room that frankly looked a mess–it was the original dining room, and our docent said something like “Imagine the greatest political conversations of all time when Lafayette, Jefferson, and Monroe visited Madison.” I got shivers down my spine.

You can see a blog of the restoration of Montpelier here.

Try and visit the house before restoration if you’re as fascinated by historic construction and restoration as I am. It’s due to open officially in about a year’s time. But the docent also told us that one room will be left in its current lathe-and-plaster condition for visitors to see how it looked before.

Do you have a favorite historic site? Tell us about it!

Enter to win copies of my books at this week, and meet my dirty-minded alter ego Jane Lockwood this Sunday!

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