“The Pyrenees first fiercely rumbled/Then Naples spewed volcanic fire,” Pushkin wrote in his never-completed Chapter X of Eugene Onegin, which seems to have been intended as a sort of pre-history to the Decembrist revolt. Why would Russian officers dreaming of limiting autocratic power and abolishing serfdom be concerned about what was happening in Spain and Naples?
In 1820, a mere five years had passed since Napoleon was conclusively defeated, and the great emperor was now on Saint Helena, far from his admirers and potential liberators. The House of Bourbon had reclaimed the French throne, and across Europe the reforms introduced by the French had been abolished and appeared destined for history’s dust bin. King Ferdinand of Naples, whose domain had been taken over by the French more than once, felt such hatred toward them that, once back in power, he refused to enter the alley on his grounds that had been planted by Marshal Joachim Murat, whom Napoleon had appointed to rule the kingdom.
Alexander I, who had entered Paris and led his army’s proud procession down the Champs-Élysées after Napoleon’s defeat, used his authority and influence to try to forestall new revolutions. He was able to convince Louis XVIII that if he attempted to reverse the freedoms granted by the revolution – if he took away the peasants’ land and restored an absolute monarchy – then a new revolution would topple him and he might even face the same fate as his guillotined brother, Louis XVI. The Russian tsar, who had never gone through with his youthful wish to introduce a constitution in Russia, persuaded the French king to let his people keep theirs, albeit in somewhat abridged form.
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