French Revolution was one of the greatest revolutions of all time. This revolution stands as an evidence of common people’s power. The commoners not only overthrew their King Louis XVI but also beheaded him and his wife, Marie-Antoinette.
You think people were cruel to behead their King and queen? Read the French Revolution facts to know what they had to endure before they took this step.
French Revolution Facts: 1-5
1. The French Revolution or the “Revolution of 1789” started in the year 1789. The revolution ended in 1799. It is during this revolution that Napoleon Bonaparte rose to fame and power. This revolution goes by the other name, that is “Revolution of 1789” because, after this, two other revolutions took place – one in 1830 and then another one in 1848.
2. Of the several reasons that led to the French Revolution of 1789, one of the reasons was that France’s involvement is American Revolution was turning out to be very costly for France. In case you didn’t know, France was an arch rival of British, and hence, the were helping in American Revolution.
3. While that was the primary reason, there were other reasons as well. Those reasons that led to French Revolution of 1789 are mentioned below:
- France almost became bankrupt because King Louis XVI and those who ascended the throne before him were involved in lavish spending at the cost of commoners’ taxes.
- While the Kings were busy with lavish spending, common people (especially urban poor and peasants had to face several problems like:
- Poor harvest.
- Cattle disease.
- Poor harvest of cereals.
- Ever-increasing bread prices.
- Age-old monarchy and blood-sucking feudalism.
- The absence of bourgeois class (common people such as professionals, merchants and manufacturers, farmers and others) from political platforms.
- Excessive population – France had 26 million people in 1789.
4. To top all these, taxes were extremely high and were imposed only on common people (Third estate – we will come to this shortly) and the government was doing nothing to improve their conditions. There was looting, rioting and striking all around. There was complete unrest everywhere in France.
5. Talking of estates, there were 3 estates in France. The First estate included clergymen, this was again divided into upper and lower clergy. Lower clergy’s population was 90% in the first estate.
French Revolution Facts: 6-10
6. The Second estate included royalty excluding the King and yet again, even this was divided into Noblesse de robe (“nobility of the robe”), the magisterial class that administered royal justice and civil government and Noblesse d’épée (“nobility of the sword”).
7. The above two estates were exempted from paying taxes and it was the third estate which had to pay all the taxes and had no recognition for themselves.
8. The third estate included the people who were not included in the above two estates. The Third Estate made up 98% of French population when the French Revolution broke out.
9. So, in 1786 a controller general of Louis XVI brought a proposal regarding taxes. According to that, the first two estates would lose the privilege of tax exemption and would lessen the burden on the third estate.
10. Louis XVI then summoned for “les états généraux” (Estates-General), which was an assembly of all the estates with representations from middle class, nobility and clergy.
French Revolution Facts: 11-15
11. Les états généraux assembly was scheduled to be on 5th May, 1789. All the estates were told to list out the problems they were facing.
12. Estates-General sounded too well but it was partial and nobles had the veto power but the third estate wanted equal representation, and hence, mobilized and formed groups for this cause.
13. The days were nearing for the meeting and all the three estates gave their grievances. Representatives of every estate wanted reforms in finance and judiciary and a government that was far more representative. The Third Estate wanted equal privileges for everyone. The first two estates, however, were reluctant to let go of their privileges.
14. On May, 5th, 1789 the first two estates and the third estate met at Versailles and started disputing about the representation while putting the real purpose behind.
15. On 17th June, however, the talks were totally stalled. Only the Third estate turned up. This led to the formation of National Assembly by the Third estate on 17, June, 1789 and after three days, they took an oath called as “serment du jeu de paume” or The Tennis Court Oath (as they met in a tennis court nearby), and they vowed not to stop this until constitution was reformed.
French Revolution Facts: 16-20
16. Within just one week, many clergymen and nobles joined them and finally on 27th, June, 1789 Louis XVI merged all the three estates into one.
17. However, rumors were that Louis XVI and nobles conspired (aristocratic conspiracy) against the Third Estate and the people of Third Estate were scared of what’s going to happen.
18. This led to the barging in the fortress at Bastille (which was a symbol of royal dictatorship) on July, 14th, 1789. This is considered as the first step of French Revolution. Today, French people celebrate “le joure de la prise de la Bastille” on 14th, July. The real purpose behind that barging was to get hold of weapons and gunpowder.
19. This small incident soon spread to the entire country and the peasants openly burnt, looted a lot of nobles, clergy, taxpayers etc. The so-called “la Grande peur” (Great Fear) made the nobles and clergymen leave France.
20. During this time only, they abolished feudalism on August 4, 1789 and on the very same day, they adopted “Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen” (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen).
French Revolution Facts: 21-25
21. This declaration was inspired by the political thinkers like Rousseau, Voltaire etc. They wanted to create a government which would have equal representation, freedom of speech, representative government etc.
22. While this was going on, there were issues with nobles and the King himself that they had to solve. The nobles tried to bring back church’s authority over politics and the King, unable to take the “pressure” tried to run away from France on 20-21 June, 1791, but was caught at Varennes and they brought him back.
23. France adopted its first written constitution on 3rd September, 1791 (that was created by the National Assembly, but then it was called National Constituent Assembly as it was working on Constitution).
24. The new constitution gave back the veto power to King where he could appoint ministers, but radicals like Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton were strongly against such government and demanded a republican government and trial of Louis XVI.
25. The revolution by the common folks gave other countries commoners a new breath of life and they too started trying for their own independence.
French Revolution Facts: 26-30
26. The nobles, clergy etc. who migrated out of the country (called émigrés) formed armed groups and with other countries’ (Kingdoms) help, tried to gain control over France again. They were called counterrevolutionaries.
27. At first other countries were neutral, but when they realized that their own people might go against them taking inspiration from France (especially after National Constituent Assembly proclaimed the international law of right to self-determination) and French Revolution by which they regained the papal region of Avignon on 13th September, 1791, they started actively supporting the counterrevolutionaries.
28. Here, in France, the revolutionaries and the King were in no mood to listen to anyone and started an aggressive policy. But the King didn’t support these revolutionaries fully.
29. The King thought that whether revolutionaries win or counterrevolutionaries, it would be a win-win situation for him. He thought that he would either have a strong position in France or he would be rescued by foreign troops.
30. With this renewed spirit, France waged a war against Austria on 20th ,April, 1792. Prussia supported Austria.
French Revolution Facts: 31-35
31. From 1792, April to 1792, September (war’s first phase), France suffered initial defeat and the Queen thought that the monarch was really supporting the commoners. She asked her brother – Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II to attack France.
32. This mistake proved to be fatal to both the King and Queen. The revolutionaries marched to Tuileries Palace where King lived and imprisoned King and his family, and they went to prisons and killed most of the nobles and clergy. Finally, France succeeded in sending Prussian troops back on 20th September, 1792. Prussian forces were defeated at Valmy.
33. On the very same day, a new assembly was formed. It was named as a National Convention. The assembly met and declared monarchy abolition and republic establishment.
34. In the second phase of the war from September 1792 to April 1793, France occupied Belgium, Savoy, Nice and Rhineland.
35. Internally the National Convention was again divided into Girondins, who supported the bourgeois republic and wanted to spread the revolution all around Europe and Montagnards (Mountain men) who wanted the real power (both economic and political) to be vested in the hands of lower classes.
French Revolution Facts: 36-40
36. National Convention ordered that King Louis XVI to be sentenced to death for treason (the King was condemned to death on 20th January, 1793 and was executed the next day using a guillotine) and the Queen was ordered to be guillotined after 9 months.
37. All didn’t go well. Again, France was on the losing side of the war and it already lost Belgium and Rhineland. Austria, Prussia and Great Britain formed the First Coalition and threatened France.
38. Here the Montagnards drove away Girondins and ruled till 27th, July, 1794. With the support of lower class people, they took many revolutionary reforms like they adopted Maximum (government control of prices), confiscation and selling of the land of nobles, free and compulsory education, etc.
39. With this the remaining nobles protested and started Wars of Vendée – federal uprising in Normandy and in Provence, etc.
40. But the Montagnards were ready to tackle all these protests by their “Reign of Terror” which spanned from 5th September, 1793 to 27th July, 1974 where they imprisoned more than 300,000 suspects and 17000 of them were given death sentence and many of the prisoners were executed without trial.
French Revolution Facts: 41-45
41. They even raised an army which had a million soldiers. The fourth phase of the war which started with the start of 1794 spring, was in favor of France. They got Belgium back on 26th, June, 1794 and Austria was thoroughly defeated.
42. After the victory, the terror and revolutionary reforms were abolished and the one who started the “Reign of Terror”, Robespierre was thrown away from the National Convention on 27th July, 1794 and on the very next day he was executed.
43. Now, France witnessed “White Terror”. The nobles and clergy went to an extent where they would change the constitution as well. When Royalists tried to control Paris, General Napoleon Bonaparte spoiled their plans with his extraordinary leadership skills on 5th October, 1795.
44. Within a few days the National Convention disintegrated. The constitution which was framed by the National Convention, and placed executive powers in the hands of 5 members (known as Directory) and legislative powers to two chambers called the Council of Five Hundred and Council of Ancients, together known as Corps Législatif. With the onset of war, there were many disputes between the executive and legislative.
45. Such disputes were settled by coups d’état (violent takeover of an existing government by a group). They removed royalists from both executive and legislative on 9th November, 1799 and Napoleon Bonaparte completely banished Royalties from Directory and became the first consul of France.
French Revolution Facts: 46-50
46. Under the leadership of Bonaparte, France emerged victorious in almost all the wars she waged. Rhineland and Holland were captured. Tuscany, Prussia and Spain maintained peace with France. Sardinia, a part of Italy, surrendered to Bonaparte when he attacked Italy. With the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797, Austria had to give in.
47. France went on far with occupying or making the countries vassals (allies) like Switzerland, Papal States, Naples and Helvetic, Parthenopean and Roman republics were established there.
48. Great Britain was a staunch rival of France. But Bonaparte couldn’t attack Great Britain directly so he threatened British in India by occupying Egypt. Bonaparte had initial success by occupying Malta and Egypt, but was defeated in the Battle of Nile on 1st August, 1798. This defeat inspired other countries to fight back against France.
49. Austria, Russia, Turkey, Great Britain formed the “Second Coalition” and waged a war against France and won in 1799.
50. Bonaparte went back to France and abolished the Directory and replaced the consulate. Bonaparte officially declared the end of French Revolution.