Revolutionary rebels or rebellious revolutionaries – not so civil war

Revolution: a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favour of a new system.

Rebellion: an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader.

How is it that despite the demise of various ruling monarchs; peasants’ revolts; rebellion by bastard royalty; and a few civil wars here and there Britain is still a monarchy (not absolute of course, just constitutional).

France had a revolution which took them from absolute monarchy to semi-anarchy, to a republic. They even chopped the heads off their king and queen (although we had beaten them to that by executing a king).

The original revolution came via a population which was still living in what we would call serfdom and had ended in England centuries before. It then came under the power of the bourgeosie , a middle class that we now call capitalists, and political arguments and the Terror, until 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte, who had raised himself high in the ranks of the revolutionary army, returned from military campaigns in Syria and Egypt, and led a coup d’etat which eventually saw him declared Emperor in 1804.

Napoleon went from revolutionary to emperor but France returned to a monarchy in 1814 after he was defeated (he did come back for 100 days as emperor) and the monarchy was fully restored (though not as absolute monarchy) in 1815. For the next few decades France became an absolute monarchy; a very limited constitutional monarchy; a republic in which a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte (also called Napoleon) became president for four years; then an “empire” once more when the president decided he liked to rule for as long as he liked and styled himself Emperor Napoleon III.

The changes in control had also been called revolutions although they tended to be more rebellions and a coup d’etat than a revolution similar to the 18th century movement.

Although the empire lasted for almost 20 years Napoleon III was deposed in 1870 and France became a republic once more, and remains so.

Russia also had a a number of rebellions and revolutions against the Tsars but the autocratic rule of the Romanovs did not end until the full revolutions of 1916/17 when Tsar Nicholas abdicated.

After a a political wrangle between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks the Bolsheviks eventually gained control and later had the whole Romanov family executed. This forceful and complete ending of a dynasty was more effective than the to and fro in France which lasted for the best part of a century.

Then we come to Britain, or the United Kingdom, or just England as it was for many centuries.

Here we kid ourselves that the monarchy goes back to Alfred the Great although it was his grandson Athelstan who was the first king of ALL England. Yet our Elizabeth is not a direct descendant as Athelstan was her 30X great-uncle.

Many British people also claim that absolute monarchy was ended here because we executed a king before the French or the Russians got around to it. Yet our interregnum lasted only 11 years before we begged Charles II to come back and be king.

A lot of time is given to the daring (or audacity) of the people rising up and throwing off the shackles of “serfdom” and getting rid of the monarchy by executing the king.

Except that it was not the people who rose against the king – it was the ruling class, just as it was the ruling class who rebelled against King John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta.

In 1215 and in 1649 the people had nothing to do with the way way in which they were ruled. After all it wasn’t long before King John was up to his old tricks, and mainly getting away with them, and 11 years after Charles lost his head (literally lost it as opposed to other kings who just lost their minds) this country begged Charles II to come back and everything continued just as before.

The people themselves have never had a real revolution and this might account for why, despite an allegedly democratic system of government, we have never really had a socialist government in a country where all people are supposed to be equal.

NEXT TIME: It’s not the peasants who are revolting, it’s the middle classes.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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