The French Revolution of 1789
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July14, 1789. It was a day that shook Europe. Yet now we still have people who look at the French Revolution as a failure. What did the French Revolution give us? Why was it so important in World History? The reason...... It gave us examples. Some of them were a success but remain buried underneath these questions: What went wrong? Why did it fail? The answer lies with the leaders of it all and why they did what they did. Though they are dead, the easiest way to learn about them is through the past events and history. I hope you'll enjoy this site!
Listen to the French National Athem (No words.)
A lot of things led up to the explosion point of the French Revolution. One was population. The population had almost dounled since the beginning of the 1700's. On the eve of the revolution France had almost 27.9 million people. One in seven of those lived in localities containing more than 2,000 inhabitants. Another was finacial crisis brought by the nobility and the monarchy. For years France had taken out loan to pay for their debts, but continued to spend themselves to the point of near bankruptcy. This resulted in higher taxes on the lower classes. Also there was a food shortage. Flour became very high because of taxes. Bread the staple food of the French diet became worth a months wages for one loaf. Plus the population was growing faster than there was food to feed it. The Enlightenment also played a part. New ideas, books and philosophy began to change and challenge what people had always been taught. The American Revolution and its success also heated the flames for new ideas on goverment and the possibility of a democracy for France where the people could change the goverment to their standards.
Crisis in The Estates General
The Estates General were the French verison of Englands Parliment. There was an estate for each social class of people: nobility, middle, and commonwealth. With the French monarchy losing power in the finacila crisis, the Estates were called and soon became the leading center of politics for the French people. However the noble class and the middle class always overuled the Third Estate, (the commoners.) One one meeting the Thrid Estate found themseleves locked out of the meeting. They quickly moved to the Tennis court and vowed to never quit until France had a new constitution.(tenis court oath)
Attack on Paris and the Fall of Bastille.
The Kings power was gradually decreasing. He became nervous at the Third Estates and its political grab for power. While he was on a hunting trip a regiment of soliders surrounded Paris. People became outraged and panicked raiding military supplies in Paris. However they were short on on thing.....gunpowder.
The Bastille was the French version of the Tower in London. It was the largest supply of gunpowder and weapons around. At the time it was attacked it had less than 10 people. Most of which were known crimmanal or insane. The people of Paris attacked the Bastille and raided its supplies. The governor of the prison tried to fight back but was captured, brought outside, and stabbed to death by the mob. After their victory the people cut off the heads of the soliders and the governor and paraded them on pikes. (this violence would be accepted by the leaders of the revolution from that time on.) The Bastille began to be demolished as a victory celebration of the people. The rocks were sold as sovieners of the victory.
The Fall of the Royal Family
On October 5, angry crowds gathers at the Hotel de Ville to protest the high costs of bread. They were persuaded to bring their case to the King at Versailles. They marched there and were acompanied by the nation guard under Lafayette. Recieving only faint promises by the king when they got there they quickly became a mob and stormed the palace. It seemed as if their main objective was to murder the queen. They rushed into the queens bedroom and destroyed it. ( the queen had escaped into one of the kings chambers.) The King agreed to their demands and agreed to move the entire headquaters of the Royal family over to Paris. The women returned with the Royal Family and wagons of flour from the Royal storehouse parading the murdered bodies of the guards. The royal family would never return to their home again and would later become victims of the republic.
Escape of the Royal Family
For a time the royal family remained in the place at Paris. King Louis XVI was losing more power until the only thing he was was a mascot it seemed. The Royal Family became prisoners, signing laws into act under the new constitutional monarchy. FInally Louis Decided to make a grab for his power. The Royal family decided to escape to Austria, Marie Antionettes relatives, and get help from their former allied country. They disguised themselves as servants and undercover slipped into a carriage for 6 people. Meanwhile they had been watched and the incident was reported suspicious to the authorities. Tabs were placed warning of their carriage to local guards. The Royal Family got only a few miles from the border before they were stopped. They were discovered. The King thought he would win support and revealed himself. His plan immidiatley backfired and they were arrested. This lost the peoples supprot for the Royal family for the rest of the Revlution. They were now considered traitors. Any popularity they might have had before the escape was gone.
The guillotine was the revolutions prime instrument of execution. Over 30,000 people were executed through this machine. They included priests, the king and queen, and even Robespierre and some of his best friends. Executions were a public event: almost like the fights in the gladiators in the Colessium in Rome. During the Great Terror people could even be arrested for not showing a lot of excitement for it. Here is the Wikipedia definition for it:
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which is suspended a heavy blade. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the victim's head.
To see the full article on it click the French Flag below or the link beside it:
The Guillotine was named after the man who built it...Dr. Joseph Guillotine. Its name was first given to it through Marat's newspaper The Peoples Friend. The Doctor invented the machine as an option for executing anybody no matter what their social background or money. He also claimed that it was a more effective and painless way to decapitate crimmanals or traitors. Compared to the medival ways of killing a prisoner it was actually an improvement. Vitims would pay for a lighter treatment depending on how rich there were back then. The old methods themseleves? They included starvation, burning a stake, quartering (divinding your body in seperate pieces while your alive.) boiling, racks, and other ruesome things. The guillotine was quicker and to many was a more human method of execution. Once the vitim was beheaded they were thrown in a common limestone grave.
The Trial of the King
In revolutionary France King Louis XVI was tried for crimes against the people. According to the rules of the new French Republic He was guilty. His defense of royal inviolability only dug him in a a deeper hole. He was found guilty of the charges brought against him bu the question was what were they going to do to him? Could they kill a king? Some tried to avoid the rush to vote on the issuseby calling for a national referendum. It didn't do any good and the deadly descion was given on January 16. Several of the members voted for the death penalty. The Gironde tried to save the king's life by calling for a re-vote but the decision came back with an even greater vote for the death penalty from before. Both times the Girodin party was split showing the disorganization of their poiltical party.
Death of the King
King Louis was brought to the execution in a closed carriage. As Louis XVI the former king of France was led to the blade he was humble towards the orders he was given. He removed his cloak and handed to the excutioner as they prepeared him for the national razor. Before his time ran out he tried to make a speech but was qickley silenced my the angry audience and the gurads.Louis XVI died by the blade of the guillotine on January 21,1793 at 9:30 p.m. He was executed on the street Place de La Revoluiton, a street once bearing his own name before the revolutionary goverment changed all the street names (see New Church article below). France had done the unthinkable and murdered their kiing, a desicion that left many neighboring countries appalled.
Here is an article from Eyewittness in History
Click on the picture below to go to the page
Last Days of Marie Antoinette
After the death of her husband Marie experience many changes. She was no longer a rich queen but a prisoner of the Republic. Her son was taken away from her and was raised by the prison, in an attempt to wipe out his memory from knowing who his family was. He later died from malnourishment and tuberlosis in the prison. He was only 10 years old. This and her husbands death left her alone. When she was brought to her trial on October 14 she was only in her 30's but she looked like an old woman. When she was accused of mistreating her son and trying to save him from the goverment her reply was
"If I have not replied it is because Nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a mother."
She was found guilty on the 15th and escourted back to her prison. In the morning she was brought to the guillotine in a common prisoners cart. She died at the guillotine on October 16 1793.
To find out more on Louis XVi's son and his death click on the smiley face.
A New Church
One of the things the new french goverment tried to dissolve was the Catholic Church. For years in the former monarchy they had ranked next to the royal family itself. They had also pushed taxes and represented the monarchy in the Estates General. to accomplishe their objective of destroyinf the former monarchys influence the goverment decided to wipe out the church itself. Priests were arrested and forced to plege alligence to the revolutionary goverment. Those who reefused were executed swifty. Street names were also siezed that were named in honor of the Saints. They were replaced with names honoring the republic and its leaders. Church property was taken away and given to the goverment. During the revolution many churches were vandalized.
THe republic invented its own type of religion. Leades who had died, such as Marat, became saints. Most of it was based on philosophy of the Enlightenment. Former Catholic Priests became teachers of it. Statues of Marat were placed all around Paris.
Because the Catholic Church invented the calendar, The republic made is own. The week now had ten days instead of seven and the year was now 1. The starting date was the day the new goverment was established: September 22.
The Reign of Terror ( Sometimes Known as the Great Terror)
After the death of the king the commitee of Public Safety wanted to put fear in its enemies (in the counrty and abroad.) They decided to do this by use of their prime instrument of death----the guillotine! Anybody accused of the slightest involvement against the republic or its executions would find themselves arrested. This was the bloodiest time of the Reovlution because executions nearly doubled from what they were. As much as 50 people could be executed in one day.
No American Help and War.
Even though Thomas Paine published some propaganda to help the French Revolution, France got no military help. The United States was remaining neutral. Some American were happy for their cousin country in the fight for liberty. Others were not. George Washington was President and refused to aid the French in their war. This was probaly because of the violence and the fact that France was in a fight with Prussia, Austria, and their allies. However The United States also did not fund any of the other countries against France. Britian was funding money to those who were at war against France to restore the king. France had Declare war on Autria during the last few days of thr reign on King Louis XVI. When the Royal family was captured, Austria grabbed her allies for war.
The Commitee of Public Safety
The Commitee of Public Saftey was set up on April 6, 1793. It consisted of twelve members, who orchestrated the executions of many during the Riegn of Terror. Robespierre emerged as its main leader. They created lists of people whom they thought of as traitors. Most ended up guillotined, including Marie Antionette.
Here is a list of the most well-known members of the commitee. Not all of them served at the same time.
- Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac - Earlier a Girondist, later a Bonapartist, drew up the 9 Thermidor report outlawing Robespierre.
- Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, an Hebertist
- Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès was a member only after 9 Thermidor
- Lazare Carnot - physicist, the "Organizer of Victory"
- Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois, an Hebertist
- Georges Couthon
- Georges Danton
- Marie Jean Hérault de Séchelles
- Robert Lindet
- Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve, also mayor of Paris
- Claude Antoine, comte Prieur-Duvernois (also known as Prieur de la Côte-d'Or)
- Pierre Louis Prieur (also known as Prieur de la Marne)
- Maximilien Robespierre, a Montagnard
- Jean Bon Saint-André
- Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just, a Montagnard
- Jean Lambert Tallien
Robespierre is probaly the most well-known leader of the French Revolution. He was nicknamed the "Incorruptible" because of his loyalty to the revolution. He was the most powerful man in France and the leader of the Reign of Terror, that ended with his execution in 1794. Robespierre was a great speaker. However toward the end of the revolution he was thought to have grown too powerful, and many thought he had lost his mind when he hosted the feast of the supreme being. Suring his last speech he said he had a list of the names that were to be trialed and executed. When he wouldn't give the names he was silenced and arrested by his audience. He tried to commit suicide in his room but failed and only shattered his jaw. unable to speak he spent his last hours on the table of the Commitee of Public Safety. He died at the guillotine.
Danton was also a well known spokesperson during revolutionary times. Like Robespierre he also served on the Commitee of Public safety. Danton was a big man and could do something Robespierre couldn't. He had a booming voice and oftern made speeches.However when they had accomplished their main goals, Danton wanted the Commitee to move towards a steady goverment. Robespierre argued that the time was not right. Consequensly Danton left and started his own club. Robespierre saw this as treason and had Danton and his friends arrested. Legend has it he might have even rigged their trials for the death sentence. Whether it is true or not, Danton and his folowers were tried and found guilty. They were executed and some of their family members were later brought to their same fate at the guillotine.
Marat was probaly the chief propagandist of the revolution. He had been a proffesor before the war and had gotten little success. He became poor and found a home in the French sewers. There he got a painful skin disease which required him to take lon baths to sooth the pain for the rest of his life. He saw an oppurtunity in the revolution for a new start. He founded a newspaper that translates into The Peoples Friend. However he was anything but a friend to many of the people who were put in the paper. He constantly called for violence and bloodshed to the people he thought were traitors. Most of them were arrested and guillotined. He maintianed an open door policy which cost him his life. On one visit he was stabbed and eventually died. Because of the way he died he became a Saint in the Republic's Religion. Through the revolution he was idolized as a martyer for the cause of liberty.
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