GCSE History-->

The French Revolution

§1 What caused the French revolution?

The enlightenment had begun challenging the older concepts of the feudal system, with a monarch at the top and then the clergy and the aristocracy with the common people supporting everyone from the bottom. Those at the bottom were beginning to become dissatisfied and unhappy. When the King raised taxes, the seeds of revolution were sown. The revolution started with the storming of the Bastille in 1789. A crowd gathered outside of the Bastille and after much rioting the doors were opened. The people did not storm the Bastille to save the prisoners (there were only seven at the time) but to get gunpowder. It is said that the next day Louis asked a duke if it was a revolt and the duke replied:

"No sire, it is not a revolt; it is a revolution.”

§2 The National assembly

The national assembly was started at the swearing of the tennis court oath a month before the storming of the Bastille. A month after the storming of the Bastille the national assembly created the declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This was based somewhat on the United States declaration of independence in the sense that it talked about freedom and equality. In 1790 the National assembly abolished the nobility. This was a huge step and it was really a symbol of what the National assembly could do. Later the same year, the clergy were forced to swear their alliance to France. At this point we can see how much the society had changed from its first more feudal state. Possibly one of the most important acts of the King occurred in June 1791. The King tried to flee the country but was intercepted at Varennes. This was important as it was at this point that the people began to lose faith in their King. However, the National assembly was dissolved in September 1791 and replaced with the legislative assembly.

§3 The legislative assembly and the National convention

The legislative assembly was driven by two main parties, the rich middle-class conservatives called the Feuillants and the democratic party who no longer trusted the King, called the Jacobins. During this time the Guillotine, famous for its deadly efficiency, became the primary method of execution. France also declared war on Austria who were still a monarchy. Perhaps the most horrific event during the French revolution were the September massacres. Thousands of political prisoners were killed and could not be saved by the royalist troops. The legislative assembly began finding it impossible to work with the king and so they abandoned a constitutional monarchy altogether. Founding the National convention and therefore the first French republic was hard work as the king had to be removed from his powerful position at the top, nevertheless it was realised in September 1792. The beginning of the next year, Louis was executed with the Guillotine and his wife followed in October of the same year.

§4 The reign of terror and the directory.

The reign of terror is said to have begun in 1793 and was a period in which the French government began to use violence and terror for their own devices. The key man was Robespierre, a French lawyer a politician who was the first to realise that the government could use violence to help themselves rather than violence being just something from the street. He famously said in a speech in 1794 that “Terror is no more than a speedy, severe and inflexible justice.” We can tell just from this quote what sort of a man he was and what the reign of terror was about. Thousands of people were executed and arrested, and many were assassinated for their more radical and anti-establishment views. One of the most important laws passed was the law of suspects which said that anyone who was believed to conspire against the government would be arrested. Thousands of people were arrested. However, in July 1794 the reign of terror came to an end and Robespierre was executed. A year later “La Marseillaise” became the French national anthem. The same year the Directory began to rule France. The Directory was ruled by five members of a committee. In 1795 the catholic Bretons rebelled against the rule with the help of the British however they were defeated, and many were executed by a firing squad. Eventually in 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took over the ruling of France and brought an end to the French revolution by making himself emperor.

§5 Key facts and quotes.

“Let them eat cake”: This quotation is attributed to Marie Antoinette and it is said that she said this on learning that the peasants had little or no food. It shows that whoever said this had no understanding of the situation of the peasants and it helps us understand why the people felt frustrated and not listened to.

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité.”: This was the slogan of the French revolution. It means liberty, equality, brotherhood and it shows us just how ironic the French revolution really was. The people freed themselves from the monarch just to find themselves under the grip of Napoleon. It also uses rhetorical devises such as a tricolon and asyndeton (No use of the word and).

Robespierre said that “Pity is treason”. We can see how cruel he was. He not understanding of the people. Although he was trying to create some peace in a violent and uncontrollable France, he made himself very unpopular in the process.

Back to Top

written by Lloyd Dore-Green.