Members of the French nobility who fled France during the French Revolution. In exile, mainly in England, many émigrés plotted against the Revolutionary government, seeking foreign help to restore the old regime. In response, Revolutionary leaders in France decreed that those émigrés who did not return by January 1792 were liable to death as traitors, and their property was confiscated. Napoleon granted the great majority of émigrés amnesty in 1802. During the Bourbon Restoration they were an important force in French politics.
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However, the present political connotations of the term were defined by two later instances, where it referred to:
Whereas emigrants have likely chosen to leave one place and become immigrants in a different clime, not usually expecting to return, émigrés see exile as a temporary expedient forced on them by political circumstances. Émigré circles often arouse suspicion as breeding-grounds for plots and counter-revolution.
Some of the aristocrats who left France during the revolution settled in bordering countries, which they sought to use as a base for counterrevolution. After the Storming of the Bastille, King Louis XVI of France directed several of the most conservative members of his court to leave the country for fear that they might be assassinated. Among this first group of émigrés were the king’s youngest brother, the Comte d'Artois, and Queen Marie Antoinette's best friend, the Duchesse de Polignac. Later, in coordination with the king's failed attempt to escape Paris, the king's other brother, the Comte de Provence, also emigrated.
Marx and Engels, in setting out the strategy for future revolutions in The Communist Manifesto, included the provision that the property of émigrés should be confiscated and used to finance the revolution — a recommendation followed by the Bolsheviks seventy years later.
Unlike émigré, the term exile remains politically neutral and includes people from whatever side of the political spectrum who had to leave their homeland, often for political reasons, and who wish to return.