Vive la Révolution!
The period in French history between 1789 and 1799. Some basic notes:
- Louis XVI stayed King until 1792. He called the Estates-General in 1789 (the only body in France representing every Estate, or class, which hadn't been called since 1614) but some disagreement about the method of voting led to the formation of the National Assembly by the representatives of the Third Estate (peasantry/bourgeoisie). Initially there was broad unity on constitutional monarchy, even future radicals Robespierre and Saint-Just were supporting it. However, the reforms were getting too slow and stalled because the King used his veto to turn down vital areas of change. Lafayette was the leader of the National Guard in Paris and after a confusion which led to the Champs de Mars massacre and the war with Austria started going sour, he surrendered as a prisoner and was branded an exile.
- The turning point for the Constitutional Monarchy issue came with the Flight to Varennes, where the King and Queen tried to flee Paris to the Frontier and unleash an army of exiles and emigres and restore the Ancien Regime. This was a horrible PR disaster which really split the existing factions into moderate and extreme lines (Girondins and Jacobins). This and the Storming of the Tuilleries marked the end of Constitutional Monarchy and the birth of the Republic.
- A faction of the Jacobins, led by Jacques Pierre Brissot came to be called the Girondins or Brissotins. They were the leading voices in the years 1792-early 1793. They were slow to pass reforms, represented and catered to the provincial cities rather than the Parisian sans-culottes/nascent working-class. They also sought to energize the Revolution by declaring war on Austria which Robespierre famously opposed, only to be silenced as it gained support even among extremists like the Hebertists.
- When the War started losing ground, and General Dumouriez who the Girondins had touted as highly sympathetic to the nation, defected to the enemy along with other noble defections, France found its borders threatened. This led to a city-wide insurrection that put the Jacobins in power, the Girondins imprisoned and the proper beginning of the Reign of Terror, as a wartime measure to meet the armies on France's borders.
- The Reign of Terror under the Committee of Public Safety, killed 17,000 people by Guillotine after a trial. While unofficial executions may have gone up to 40,000. Towards the final month of Thermidor, it became worse, a period called the "Great Terror". Statistically, and contrary to popular belief, only 8% of the victims were aristocrats (who considering they were 1% of the population did feel a disproportionate impact), 25% of the victims were bourgeois and middle-class, 28% were peasants and working-class and the rest were clergy. During the "Great Terror" after the Law of 22 Prarial, where 1000 people were executed in a single month (matching the executions in Paris the previous year), the victims became 38% Nobility, 26% Clergy, with the wealthy victims discriminated against since the law deprived them of a right to call for witnesses, legal representatives or evidence by which according to Georges Couthon (who drafted the law to the Convention), wealthier accused escaped the blade before.
- There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when it was stormed, none of whom were political (the Marquis de Sade had been moved 10 days earlier). This event appears to have come about from rumours- Perception Is Nine Tenths Of A War.
- There were several different governments during this time:
- The National Assembly (1789)
- The National Constituent Assembly (1789-1791)
- Legislative Assembly (1791-1792)
- National Convention (1792-1795)
- The Directory (1795-1799)
- Napoleon Bonaparte ended this whole mess when he took direct power. Specifically, he ended this mess. It's not like he caused any more mess. Of course not. After all, he's just The Emperor.
The French Revolution in fiction
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Rose of Versailles
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Quatrevingt-treize by Victor Hugo (but not Les Misérables — that's later)
- La Révolution française is a rock musical by Boublil and Schönberg.