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Andrew Roberts: 2016's parallels with the revolutions of 1848

Circa 1700, The famous gardens of the Tuileries, a magnificent royal palace in the centre of Paris. Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption In 1848 a revolution in France overthrew King Louis-Philippe, and a mob broke into the Tuileries Palace in Paris

2016 has been a momentous year. The UK's Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump confounded the expectations, while the wars in Syria and Yemen caused more bloodshed. BBC Radio 4's Today programme asked top historians for their assessment of the year.

The nearest historical equivalent for the year 2016 is 1848, when a series of revolutions broke out one after the other, many of which were similar to each other but each of which was also subtly different, according to local circumstances.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption Chancellor Prince Klemens von Metternich escaped a revolution in Vienna dressed as a washerwoman

In 1848 a revolution in France overthrew King Louis-Philippe and the July Monarchy, forcing the king into exile.

The mob broke into the Tuileries Palace in Paris and the message was picked up in Vienna, where the Chancellor, Prince Klemens von Metternich, had to escape from the city dressed as a washerwoman.

Similarly, the example of the shock news of Brexit provided Americans with the example that establishments could be overthrown.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A popular revolt in Colombia succeeded in voting down a peace deal with Farc rebels in October 2016

With similar but subtly different popular revolts succeeding in Colombia in 2016, where a peace deal with the narco-terrorist organisation Farc was voted down by the people, and in Italy, where an unelected prime minister was forced to resign after losing a constitutional referendum by 60% to 40%, the populist nature of the revolt was underlined.

Just as in 1848, the European revolutions were halted at the borders of Britain, which had already extended its franchise, so in 2016 the ultra-right was thankfully defeated in the Austrian elections and probably soon will be in France too.

Brexit, which is very different from the Trump phenomenon as it is in favour of free-trade and free markets, is likely to be the longest-lasting result of the 2016 uprisings, but the message does not seem to have been heard in Brussels, which like Moscow, also escaped revolution in 1848, though of course not forever.


Other events in 1848

  • 24 January - California Gold Rush - James W Marshall finds gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California
  • 11 July - London's Waterloo Station opens
  • 23 July - Battle of Custoza - Italian War of Independence starts
  • 29 July - Great Famine: Tipperary Revolt - an unsuccessful nationalist revolt against British rule put down by police in Ireland
  • 1 November - The first medical school for women opens in Boston, Massachusetts
  • 19 December - Emily Bronte dies

Andrew Roberts is a British historian and journalist.

He is a visiting professor at the Department of War Studies, King's College London and a Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New York Historical Society.

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