In 1875, the regime that began with the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan in 1870 became a Republic with a majority of one vote. Throughout this contested regime, there were French men and women who desired and fought for radically different alternatives on both right and left. Given the constitutional weakness of the republican presidency, the lure of more powerful leadership — monarchical, imperial, military — remained particularly strong. But how did fantasies of charismatic leaders and coups d’état shape political realities? And could the aims and characteristics of the leaders themselves ever correspond to those imagined by their propagandists and supporters?
Drawing on new archival research as well as on theoretical debates concerning leadership and celebrity, this paper explores the attraction and challenges of charismatic leadership during the Third Republic. It then develops the particular case study of royalist propaganda and leadership in the first decades of the regime. Exploring fantasies of restoration and national renewal through posters, songs, tracts and almanacs, the paper contrasts these powerful imagined worlds with the more complex relationship between royalist militants and supporters and the pretenders themselves. How far could the French escape the destiny that Alexis de Tocqueville had traced in his reflections of the 1850s: the long legacy of Bourbon authority and centralization regardless of revolution and regime change? Or would they somehow remain — despite their individual political sympathies — the sons (and daughters) of the Sun King?
Dr Jessica Wardhaugh is Associate Professor in French history at the University of Warwick. She has published widely on street politics, popular theatre, and ideas of local, national, and European communities, and is currently researching the importance of play in modern French politics. Recent publications include an edited volume on Politics and the Individual in France, 1930–50 (Legenda, 2015) and a monograph on Popular Theatre and Political Utopia in France, 1870–1940: Active Citizens (Palgrave, 2017).