This Week in History

Another French Revolution:

February 22-24, 1848

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Louis Philippe, “King of the French”

It all came as a great and bitter surprise to King Louis Philippe. The 75-year-old citizen king no doubt knew why his “fellow citizens” were unhappy. Both in 1846 and 1847, there had been crop failures in France. Many industrial workers had lost their jobs, and the poor were suffering from harsh poverty and hunger. Then there were the intellectuals – the Liberals, socialists, and anarchists – who were openly attacking the government and calling for reforms, including a broadening of the right to vote.

It all came as a surprise to Louis Philippe, but it shouldn’t have. Throughout 1847, “Reform Banquets” had been held throughout France, complete with food, wine, and speakers stirring up the people against the government. A Reform Banquet was planned to take place in Paris itself on February 22, 1848. Louis Philippe and his prime minister, François Guizot, of course saw the banquet as a threat; but how great a threat it was, the citizen king did not fully understand.

A caricature of Louis Philippe, depicting his transformation into a pear. Louis Philippe, who came into power as the “citizen king” following a revolution that overthrew the last Bourbon king of France, Charles X, became increasingly unpopular through the 18 years of his government. By Honoré Daumier, following an original by Charles Philipon, who was imprisoned for drawing it.

Guizot had been a chief target of those reforming folk who attended the Reform Banquets. Though himself a Liberal who had been responsible for expanding public education more widely throughout France, Guizot was intensely hated by more radical Liberals, for he opposed extending the right to vote to more French citizens. It is not surprising, then, that he opposed the Reform Banquets and that he banned the banquet scheduled to take place in Paris on Tuesday, February 22, 1848.

On the morning of that Tuesday, Parisians woke to find notices posted in the city, announcing that the government had prohibited the scheduled Reform Banquet. The news produced an immediate reaction among Paris’s intellectuals and workers. Mobs gathered in the streets, demanding that the king dismiss Guizot. Rioting flared up throughout the city, especially in the poorer sections. A violent mob gathered at Guizot’s residence, broke some of his windows, and would probably have done more damage if the municipal guard and the police had not dispersed them. Louis Philippe beheld the uprising of his people with fear and surprise. Hoping to placate them, he dismissed Guizot.

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Music to Remember a Tyrant By

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Macbetto, is an operatic (and Italian) version of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. First performed in 1847, it depicts the rise and downfall of King Macbeth of Scotland — arguably a far worse tyrant (though more interesting dramatic subject) than Louis Philippe, the “King of the French,” as he styled himself. The following clip is the opera’s version of the Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene.



Music of a Patriot and Collaborator

When Napoleon invaded Spain, the Barcelona-born Fernando Sor wrote patriotic music to galvanize the Spanish resistance to the French. But when Joseph Bonaparte occupied Madrid, Sor took a job under the the new government. For this he earned the epithet, anfrancesado, implying, basically, that he was a traitor and collaborator. But we do not remember Sor these days for these deeds, or misdeeds, but for his music. Proficient in a number a genres, Sors was the one of the first composers to treat the guitar as a serious instrument. This piece is his Fantasie for Two Guitars, Op. 54, performed by John Williams and Julian Bream.



This Week in History

Execution of the Queen of Scots: February 8, 1587

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Mary Queen of Scots, by Francois Clouet

Elizabeth’s one serious rival for the English throne was her cousin, Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland. In 1559, Mary, then only 16 years old, had been married to Francis II, the king of France. When Francis died in 1560, Mary returned to Scotland. Mary was Catholic, but the situation in Scotland when she returned did not favor the Catholic Faith. The year before her return, John Knox, a follower of John Calvin, had convinced the Scottish parliament to abolish the Mass and organize the Scottish Church according to Calvinist beliefs. This, the Presbyterian Church, became the state or established church of Scotland, as the Church of England (also called the Anglican Church) had become the established church of England.

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A Lamentation

Thomas Tallis is known as one of England’s greatest composers. He composed liturgical music for King Henry VIII; Henry’ son, Edward VI; Henry’s daughter (by Catherine of Aragon), Queen Mary; and Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn. Tallis died in 1585, two years before the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. This is a recording of a portion of Tallis’ beautiful, Lamentations of Jeremiah. Despite Henry’s schism, and the Protestant establishment under Edward VI and Elizabeth, Tallis remained Catholic until his death.