The French revolution

The 10-year French Revolution is one of the most momentous events of the early modern period in Europe. For the first time in history, the lowest levels of society rebelled against the ruling class, leading to the overthrow of France and plunging Europe into another war.



After the seven-year war France suffered from increasing economic difficulties, high public debt and a dilapidated army. In order to enforce the desired reforms high taxes were issued, which, however, concerned only the lowest level of society and thus the already poor people. The nobility and the clergy were for the most part exempt from taxes, which gradually led to more and more displeasure in the population.

1789 was a bad year for agriculture. The crops were meager and large parts of the population had to starve. In addition, was with King Louis XVI. a monarch in power who did not take the problems within society seriously enough and was widely considered to be very wasteful of taxpayers' money.


Ludwig XVI. von Frankreich

Louis XVI. from France


The dissatisfaction that has already occurred in large parts of the population called for reforms to improve living conditions. With mock reforms, Louis tried to appease his people, but he already moved his military to Paris for his safety. When it became clear to the people that the situation would not change for them, it marched in masses to the Bastille, the French state prison in Paris. When the first shots were fired there, the situation escalated and the French Revolution took its course.


Der Sturm auf die Bastille am 14. Juli 1789

The storm on the Bastille on July 14, 1789




The first phase:

On July 14, 1789, the storm began on the Bastille. At that time there were only 7 prisoners there, but the building itself was an epitome of state oppression. The prison commander Bernard-René Jordan de Launay was completely overwhelmed with this situation and gave his guards the order to open fire on the people. 98 killed and 73 wounded had to complain the enraged crowd, as the commander but decided to hand over the prison. In revenge, 3 soldiers and 3 officers were killed, including Bernard-René Jordan de Launay.

Spurred on by the revolution in Paris, the peasants began to rise in many parts of the country and began to plunder and burn down castles and monasteries. In particular, they had it on the documents on the rights of men, so that the landlords could no longer exercise their feudal rights against the peasants and thus they were free from their rule.

It was not long before news of the rebellions reached the King and the National Assembly in Versailles. After the storm of the Bastille, the National Assembly had become the authoritative political authority, from which now the required reforms were demanded. In order to reassure and control the situation in the country, the privileges of the privileged estates were abolished and the feudal system deposed.
Subsequently, a declaration of human and civil rights was drafted, which was to be adopted on 26 August 1789. For this, however, a signature of the king was necessary, which did not surrender. When nothing happened until October, a crowd of 1,000 men mobilized and moved to the Versailles Castle to force the king to sign and move to Paris. In the face of the crowd, the king bowed and signed the document.

It was also planned by the National Assembly to transform the political system of France into a constitutional monarchy in which laws could be made only by elected representatives and the king had a temporary veto.

The desired restructuring of the French feudal system encountered in the rest of Europe on little understanding, the other rulers were now exposed to the danger that it could also come to revolts in their own country. Thus threatened Pope Pius VI. in the swearing-in of the new constitution on penalty of excommunication and declared the desired human rights godless. Austria and the Holy Roman Empire even considered military operations to avert the revolution in France.

After the forced move to Paris also tried the French King Louis XVI. to become master again in your own country. For this purpose, he first wanted to flee to the Austrian Netherlands in June 1791 in order to defeat the uprising militarily with the support of the other European powers. Shortly before the border, however, the royal couple were caught and brought back to Paris and the influential Jacobin Club immediately demanded the complete abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.


Die Erklärung der Menschen- und Bürgerrechte in einer Darstellung von Jean-Jacques Le Barbier

The Declaration of Human and Civil Rights in a presentation by Jean-Jacques Le Barbier




The second phase:

The second phase of the revolution was marked by particular cruelty. This was not only reflected in Germany, but also led to wars with the other major European powers.

After the transformation of France into a republic with radical democratic features, the revolutionaries acted with great force against their opponents. After burdensome documents were found in a secret cabinet of the king, which included the help of the foreign rulers to crush the uprising, set the National Convention (which also simultaneously brought the court), a high treason trial against the king. The verdict on conspiracy against freedom was eventually found guilty in a poll of 361: 360, and on January 21, 1793, the king was executed by the guillotine.


König Ludwig XVI. Exekution

King Louis XVI. execution


This killing instrument should also shape the further course and reign of the republic for the next few years. Already in March 1793, a Revolutionary Tribunal was created, which should give the verdicts on opponents of the Revolution. This practice of radical rule is also called the Jacobin rule, since this order had the greatest influence on the political events at that time and also the enforcement of the killing of the opponents of the revolution with all severity. By September of the same year, in trials, 66 of 260 were sentenced to death by the guillotine. At the insistence of the Jacobin Order, the death sentences were more frequently pronounced from the autumn of 1793 and even at the slightest suspicion, the killing of humans were now hardly any limits.

This sprawling killing of humans soon reached unimaginable dimensions. Even revolutionaries of the first hour were now denounced as suspects and sentenced to death. The end of the "great horror" came only when the leader of the Jacobin Order Maximilien de Robespierre on July 28, 1794, along with 21 other followers of the Order even found death by the guillotine.


Frankreich von 1789 bis 1794

France from 1789 to 1794



Foreign countries:
Due to the fact that the French Revolution met with little understanding among the other rulers of the European states, the revolutionary government was forced in April 1792 to forestall any military intervention by the other major powers and declared war on Austria. That the French army was in miserable condition at the time of the declaration of war was ignored, and many officers and soldiers did not join the revolution and deserted. In addition, there were hardly any cavalry and artillery units, the foot soldiers were increased by volunteers who had little or no combat experience.

The first campaign led the French troops into the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium). But already after the first shots of the Austrian soldiers stationed there many of the French volunteers fled and the campaign came to a standstill in the beginning.

Despite the military failure France declared Prussia in the summer of 1792 even the war. Since both Prussia and Austria at that time with Russia, the division of Poland was completed whose ally Duke Ferdinant of Brunswick commissioned to take action against the French troops. In August 1792, this set his army across the French border, had beaten in the "cannonade of Valmy" the last remnants of the French artillery and retire.

The French saw themselves strengthened by the victory against the Braunschweiger and marched again in the Austrian Netherlands and could beat at Jemappes a smaller army of Austrians.

In 1793, France continued to declare war on the Netherlands, British and Spaniards. Compulsory military service was declared in their own country, causing rebellion among large sections of the population, who were already distancing themselves from the revolution. In this turmoil supporters of the monarchy handed over the Mediterranean port of Toulon to the British, in the Austrian Netherlands, the army made little resistance and was driven away by the Austrians again.

In order to counteract the desolate state of the army, the military engineer Lazare Carnot was appointed Minister of War in August 1793. He immediately began overseeing the general mobilization and made sure that the army was again supplied with sufficient weapons and supplies. He also promoted the aggressive action of the soldiers through faster promotions, so the readiness of the soldiers should be increased and the officer's career be made available to the lower social classes.

This restructuring of the army finally paid off in the second half of 1793. The French troops recaptured the British city of Toulon, with the artillery captain Napoleon Bonaparte drawing attention for the first time. subsequently the area around Vendée was conquered, whereby the pacification lasted another 3 years.

In 1794 the French were able to occupy the Austrian Netherlands and expel the British and Austrians.


1. Koalitionskrieg von 1792 bis 1795

1st Coalition War from 1792 to 1795




The third phase:

At home, in the third phase, the political debate between the new revolutionary government, popular initiatives for social equality and the numerous adherents of the former monarchy prevailed.

Since many political opponents were killed during the second phase, the government felt that it was in a position to enforce a new constitution. It was drafted by the Convention on 22 August 1795, and after the referendum on 23 September it entered into force.

However, the elections in April 1797 showed that the supporters of the monarchy regained strength. In anticipation of a renewed political turn, three of the Convention's directors, with the help of the army, decided to commit a coup in September 1797. One of the supporters within the army was Napoleon Bonaparte promoted to general. This occupied with his soldiers Paris while in 49 departments the election results were declared invalid and thus 177 members of the monarchy supporters lost their seats. With this measure, the strengthened supporters of the monarchy were at least politically disempowered for the time being.


Paris zur Zeit der französischen Revolution

Paris at the time of the French Revolution


Nevertheless, the republic was too unstable to defend itself consistently against internal hostility. Thus, in May 1798 and June 1799, there were other, smaller coups until finally none other than Napoleon Bonaparte seized power.


Foreign countries:
After the victories against the British and Austrians in 1795 France had annexed the Austrian Netherlands, occupied the Rhineland and made peace with Prussia and Spain.

Although France was now no longer threatened militarily, the fact that the restructuring of the army was based on the principle of self-supplying army by new conquests, forced France from 1796 to a renewed campaign against Austria. Here, the new division general made a name before he seized power in France: Napoleon Bonaparte.


1. Koalitionskrieg von 1795 bis 1797

1st Coalition War from 1795 to 1797






You can find the right literature here:


Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution Paperback – March 17, 1990

In this New York Times bestseller, award-winning author Simon Schama presents an ebullient country, vital and inventive, infatuated with novelty and technology--a strikingly fresh view of Louis XVI's France. One of the great landmarks of modern history publishing, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution is the most authoritative social, cultural, and narrative history of the French Revolution ever produced.

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The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny

The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny 1st Edition

The French Revolution casts a long shadow, one that reaches into our own time and influences our debates on freedom, equality, and authority. Yet it remains an elusive, perplexing historical event. Its significance morphs according to the sympathies of the viewer, who may see it as a series of gory tableaux, a regrettable slide into uncontrolled anarchy―or a radical reshaping of the political landscape.

In this riveting new book, Ian Davidson provides a fresh look at this vital moment in European history. He reveals how it was an immensely complicated and multifaceted revolution, taking place in different places, at different times, and in different spheres; and how subsequently it became weighted with political, social, and moral values. Stirring and dramatic―and filled with the larger-than-life players of the period and evoking the turbulence of this colorful time―this is narrative history at its finest.

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The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution Hardcover – February 23, 2015

Between 1793 and 1794, thousands of French citizens were imprisoned and hundreds sent to the guillotine by a powerful dictatorship that claimed to be acting in the public interest. Only a few years earlier, revolutionaries had proclaimed a new era of tolerance, equal justice, and human rights. How and why did the French Revolution’s lofty ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity descend into violence and terror?

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution offers a new interpretation of this turning point in world history. Timothy Tackett traces the inexorable emergence of a culture of violence among the Revolution’s political elite amid the turbulence of popular uprisings, pervasive subversion, and foreign invasion. Violence was neither a preplanned strategy nor an ideological imperative but rather the consequence of multiple factors of the Revolutionary process itself, including an initial breakdown in authority, the impact of the popular classes, and a cycle of rumors, denunciations, and panic fed by fear―fear of counterrevolutionary conspiracies, fear of anarchy, fear of oneself becoming the target of vengeance. To comprehend the coming of the Terror, we must understand the contagion of fear that left the revolutionaries themselves terrorized.

Tackett recreates the sights, sounds, and emotions of the Revolution through the observations of nearly a hundred men and women who experienced and recorded it firsthand. Penetrating the mentality of Revolutionary elites on the eve of the Terror, he reveals how suspicion and mistrust escalated and helped propel their actions, ultimately consuming them and the Revolution itself.

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The French Revolution and Napoleon

The French Revolution and Napoleon Paperback – July 13, 2017

Any one who seeks to understand the stirring period in which we are now living becomes quickly aware that he must first know the history of the French Revolution, a movement that inaugurated a new era, not only for France but for the world. The years from 1789 to 1815, the years of the Revolution and of Napoleon, effected one of the greatest and most difficult transitions of which history bears record, and to gain any proper sense of its significance one must have some glimpse of the background, some conception of what Europe was like in 1789. That background can only be sketched here in a few broad strokes, far from adequate to a satisfactory appreciation, but at least indicating the point of departure. What was Europe in 1789? One thing, at least, it was not: it was not a unity. There were states of every size and shape and with every form of government. The States of the Church were theocratic; capricious and cruel despotism...

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