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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ultra-Royalists or simply Ultras were a reactionary faction which sat in the French parliament from 1815 to 1830 under the Bourbon Restoration. The Legitimists, another of the main right-wing families identified in René Rémond's classic opus Les Droites en France, were disparagingly classified with the Ultras after the 1830 July Revolution by the victors, the Orleanists, who deposed the Bourbon dynasty for the more liberal king Louis-Philippe.

The Bourbon Restoration

Following the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), a strongly restricted census suffrage sent to the Chamber of Deputies an ultra-royalist majority in 1815-1816 (la Chambre introuvable) and from 1824 to 1827. Called as such because they were "more royalist than the king" (plus royalistes que le roi), the Ultras were thus the dominant political faction under Louis XVIII (1815-1824) and Charles X (1824-1830). Opposed to the constitutional monarchy of Louis XVIII and to the limitation of the sovereign's power, they hoped to restore the Ancien Régime and cancel the rupture created by the French Revolution. Just as the Restoration, Ultras opposed themselves to liberal, republican and democrat ideas. While Louis XVIII hoped to moderate the 'restoration' of the Ancien Régime in order to make it acceptable by the population, the Ultras would never abandon the dream of an 'integral' restoration, even after the 1830 July Revolution which sent the Orleanist branch on the throne and the Ultras back to their castles in the countryside and to private life. Their importance during the Restoration was in part due to electoral laws which largely favored them (on one hand, a Peer Chamber composed of hereditary members, on the other hand, a Chamber of Deputies elected under a heavily restricted census suffrage, which permitted approximately 100,000 Frenchmen to vote).

In 1815, an Ultra majority was elected to the chamber of deputies, commonly known as 'La Chambre Introuvable,' which translates as 'the impossible chamber,' due to Louis XVIII not being able to believe that there were a group of deputies more royalist than him. Under the guidance of his chief minister the duc de Richelieu, Louis XVIII finally decided to dissolve this chaotic assembly, under the terms of article 14 in the Constitutional Charter. This created what is often referred to as a 'Liberal Interlude' from 1816-1820, a period which may be regarded as the Ultras' 'wilderness years.' However, in 1820 the Comte d'Artois' son the Duc de Berri was assassinated. This arguably created a polarisation of politics, which consequently enabled the Ultras to gain more political influence, introducing laws such as the Law of the Double Vote, in order to further dominate the chamber of deputies. In addition to other factors, Louis XVIII's health up until 1824 was in serious decline, reducing his resistance to the extreme Ultra demands, meaning that before he even came to the throne, the Comte d'Artois had essentially been dominating government.

The death of Louis XVIII in 1824, seen as too moderate, lifted the Ultras' spirits. The new king, Charles X, had been the leader of the Ultras against Louis XVIII, and worked to become an absolute monarch. In January 1825, Villèle's government voted the Anti-Sacrilege Act, which punished with capital punishment the stealing of sacred vases (with or without consecrated hosts). This "anachronic law" (Jean-Noël Jeanneney) was finally never applied (except on a minor point) and repealed in the first months of Louis-Philippe's reign (1830-1848). The Ultras also wanted to create courts to punish Radicals, and voted law restricting freedom of the press.

Legitimism, the inheritance of the Ultras

After the 1830 July Revolution, which replaced the Bourbons by the Orleanist branch, which supported more liberal policies, the Ultras' influence declined, although it subsisted until at least 1879 and the 16 May 1877 crisis, and even more. Thus, they softened their views and made the restoration to the throne of the House of Bourbon their new primary target. From 1830 on, they became known as Legitimists. Famous historian René Rémond has identified the Legitimists as the first 'right-wing family' in France, followed by the Orleanists and the Bonapartists. According to him, many modern far right movements, including parts of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front or Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X, are considered fully parts of the Legitimist family.

See also

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