Friday, January 2, 2015

"Let them eat cake"

I found the events of the French Revolution the most interesting when learning about the history of France in class. The revolution is an important part of French history and it would be impossible to understand current political, social and economic structures in France without it.

Feudal Oppression

This was one of the greatest triggers of the French revolution. Feudalism involved a relationship between a lord (nobleman) and a vassal (common citizen). The lord who owns the land, would allow the vassal to use the land to live on along with protection and in return the vassal would offer a service to the lord. Feudalism fueled oppression of common citizens by lords as the vassals were under the lord's orders.

A vassal bows to his lord

Unfair Taxation

The French social structure was divided into three Estates: the first being the nobles, the second the clergy and the third the commoners. During the reign of King Louis the sixteenth, commoners were levied heavy taxes so as to cater for the needs of the nobility and clergy. The nobles lived lavish lives and it was these taxes that sustained their lifestyle. The Roman catholic church that formed the clergy owned vast amounts of land and did not pay any taxes. This situation angered the poor commoner who was struggling to ensure that the royals' courts were well maintained yet they could barely afford food. King Louis the sixteenth realized this taxation problem and appointed a new finance minister, Charles Alexandre de Calonne who convened an assembly of high-ranking nobles and suggested that the nobles and clergymen should be taxed. This law was not approved by the nobility and clergy.

Lavish life of the French Monarch

The Estates-General

A convention of all the Estates in 1789 took place. It was called upon by King Louis the sixteenth so as to come up with a tax solution. The third estate suggested double representation in the convention so as to balance out with the clergy and nobles. This suggestion was not approved and this led to the breaking away of the Third estate from the Estate-General. This led to the proclaiming of a National assembly by the Third estate and the binding of these revolutionaries through the Tennis Court Oath.

The Tennis Court Oath

Storming of the Bastille and the Great Fear

The National Assembly greatly influenced the common citizens and instilled a revolutionary spirit in them. On 14th July 1789, citizens of Paris stormed into the Bastille prison in pursuit of weapons and ammunition and killed the governor and his guards. Today 14th July is celebrated in France as Bastille Day to commemorate the beginning of the French revolution.

Storming of the Bastille

The Great Fear occurred as a result of the beginning of the revolution. It was a period of general unrest whereby rural farmers attacked nobles due to rumors of starving the peasant population in the regions. This led to the abolition of feudalism as the nobles feared the peasant revolution.

Peasants attacking noble manors

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

In French, D├ęclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, was a document that stated that the rights of man are universal and are valid at all times in every place. This was established to bring an end to years of class-based oppression and to introduce the idea of all people being equal before the law.

Declaration of the Rights of Man

Capture of the Royal family

The Women's March on Versailles, is a significant historical moment in France. Peasant women marched to the royal palace in Versailles with weapons angered at the high prices and scarcity of bread. The royal family was captured and forced to move to the Tuileries palace in Paris. This signified the end of the King's independence and marked the shift of power from the monarch to the people.

Women's march on Versailles


Rifts in the National Assembly and Execution of the Royal family

There grew a division between the radical and moderate members of the National Assembly. The moderate members (Girondins) were in favor of retaining the monarchy while the radical members (Jacobins) wanted France to be rid of the royal family. The trial of King Louis the sixteenth and the September massacares greatly increased the rift between the two parties.

Girondins and Jacobins

 Neighouring European governments were against the overthrowing of the monarch as they feared the revolutionary spirit would spread to their countries. These government threatened to go to war with France and several battles were fought to trump the revolution. King Louis the sixteenth was suspected to be an ally of these invasions and thus he was charged with treason and guillotined in 1793. His spouse, Queen Marie Antoinette, who is attributed to the phrase "Let them eat cake" when she was told that peasants had no bread, was also guillotined the same year.

Execution of King Louis the sixteenth

 The Reign of Terror

 This is a period that lasted approximately 12 months and it was marked by thousands of executions of counter-revolutionaries. This period began when Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobian, took control of the National Assembly after citizens overthrew the Girondins due to unsuccessful battles with neighbouring European countries. Robespierre was paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences and took extreme measures by killing those he suspected were against the revolution. The Thermidorian reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre bringing an end to the radical phase of the French revolution.

Guillotine execution


The Directory

After the ousting of Robespierre, a period of governmental restructuring took place and this led to the formation of the French constitution of 1795 which created the Directory and France's first bicameral legislature. The Directory was formed to control executive responsibilities and appointments. The Directory habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution and in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte,      an army general  led a coup to overthrow the Directory and install the Consulate instead.

Napoleonic era

Napoleon Bonaparte was a popular army general who led French armies successfully to wars with invaders. After abolishing the Directory, he took the helm in 1804 as Emperor of France thus
bringing an end to the revolution.

Coronation of Emperor Napoleon the first

 The French revolution has greatly impacted the world as it has been an inspiration for other global struggles to fight against oppression and the establishment of a government for the people by the people.

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