Visiting the Chénier Garden, Carcassonne, France: varieties of Royalism and nuanced commemoration in France
In favour, out of favour
This Garden in Carcassonne, France, is named for André Chénier (1762-1794), an 18th century poet. Interestingly, the Garden has a 19th century pillar which commemorates the restoration of King Louis XVIII and the exile of Napoleon I.
The André Chénier Garden — in effect, a public square — with its various deciduous trees, is a popular green area near the Downtown of the Lower City (French: Ville-Basse) for concerts, sporting events and markets. Man-made features at the Garden include an ornamental fountain, a pillar (see also, below) and various statues (1). A section of the Canal du Midi also lies nearby.
At various times, both Chénier and Louis VIII have been successively in and out of official favour. André Chénier was a much-travelled poet, who spent some of his youth in Carcassonne. He was also supportive of the French Revolution.
So Chénier fell foul of the Royalists, then?
Actually, no; he himself was a Royalist; for the first few years after the French Revolution of 1789, France was a constitutional monarchy. Only later was the French Republic proclaimed, after which King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette were eventually beheaded.
As was André Chénier, in fact. In the eyes of the more radical Republican Revolutionaries — particularly Maximilien Robespierre — Chénier had made the mistake of using his verbal skills in the defence of the imprisoned Louis XVI. Chénier was thus sent to the guillotine in 1794 by Robespierre (who himself fell out of favour and met the same fate a short time later).
So Chénier was a Royalist and a Revolutionary in the sense that he stood for a constitutional monarchy, but, in the eyes of the radical Republicans, he was the 'wrong sort' of Revolutionary.
Louis XVIII (1755-1824) reigned briefly 1814-15 and then again 1815-1824. After the departure of Napoleon I (which event is commemorated by a pillar in the Chénier Garden), Louis XVIII headed a restored monarchy after years of blood-letting.
So King Louis XVIII, who reigned after the French Revolution, was thus a more liberal monarch than those under the Ancien régime?
Well, marginally so, maybe, but not really. In fact, the monarchy under Louis XVIII and especially his successor Charles X, who reigned 1824-30, was subsequently regarded as rather reactionary. And while it is true that Louis XVIII and Charles X reigned after the French Revolution of 1789, yet it may be said that they reigned before other French Revolutions still to come. In 1830, Charles X was overthrown by another Revolution and replaced by Louis-Philippe, who reigned as a more liberal, constitutional monarch until he himself was overthrown in 1848 by Republican Revolutionaries.
Thus, in the eyes of liberal, constitutional monarchists and Republicans (not to speak of Bonapartists), the reputation of Louis XVIII soon fell out of favour.
However, after all the blood-letting of successive Revolutions, the reputation of poet André Chénier came into favour again.
France has quite a tradition of renaming streets and public spaces. This is maybe not surprising giving the successive introductions of many constitutions (2). In the case of this feature in Carcassonne, one is almost tempted to think that, locally, the real constants are its lush vegetation and its predictably warm climate.
The André Chénier Garder - Jardin André-Chénier - is situated at Boulevard Omer-Sarraut, Carcassonne, in France's Aude department in the Languedoc-Roussillon Region.
March 15, 2014
(1) See also: (in French) http://www.petitfute.com/adresse/etablissement/id/247662/square-andre-chenier-visites-points-d-interet-parc-jardin-carcassonne
(2) Since the late 18th century, France has had an absolute monarchy, followed by a constitutional monarchy, followed by a republic, followed by an empire, followed by a conservative monarchy, followed by a constitutional monarchy, followed by a republic, followed by an empire, followed by a republic, followed by a fascist state, followed by a republic, followed by another republic (sometimes described by observers as a republican system evidencing strong elements of Napoleonic rule by decree).
Also worth seeing
In Carcassonne itself, there are many visitor attractions, including the citadel fortifications by Viollet-le-Duc, but also a Medieval Cathedral and the Medieval Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse, and the Fine Art Museum (French: Musée des Beaux-Arts).
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), where car rental is available; there are also domestic air services between Paris and Carcassonne Airport (Aéroport de Carcassonne-Salvaza), where car rental is also available. The French national railroad company SNCF maintains services between Paris and Carcassonne (Paris-Carcassonne distance: 768 kilometres). Some services may be wirhdrawn, without notice. You are advised to contact the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. It is advisable to contact appropriate consular sources for border crossing visa requirements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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