The French Revolution in two minutes
It will take just a couple of minutes to read each of these quick guides to revolutions which changed the face of history in Europe, ending more than a thousand years of monarchy in France. There were two French revolutions - 1789 and 1848......
The Revolution of 1789
The revolution is perhaps best remembered for the 'storming of the Bastille' in Paris on July 14th 1789 to free prisoners and find gunpowder and arms. In fact, the building was already condemned for demolition and housed just four counterfeiters, two madmen and one aristocrat who had upset his father. The mob killed many defending soldiers.
A Republic was declared in 1792 and on January 21st 1793, the incapable but well meaning King Louis XVI who headed the corrupt government and administration, was accused of treason and guillotined, followed later the same year by his Queen, Marie Antoinette. The King's son, the Dauphin, was imprisoned and never seen or heard of again.
There were deep divisions between the revolutionary factions. The Girondins' were moderates while the 'Motagnards', or mountain men, were democratic and sat on the higher benches in the Assembly. They were also divided into clubs, each with its own agenda, including the Feullants, the Cordeliers and the Jacobins.
The Jacobins were the most radical group, lead by the formidable Maximilien-François-Marie-Isadore de Robespierre. It was Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety who were responsible for the 'reign of terror' which swept the country from September 1793 until July 1794. An estimated 300,000 members of the aristocracy plus anyone thought to be an 'enemy of the state' were arrested. 17,000 were executed and many more died in prison without trial.
The reign of terror only ended when the National Convention declared Robespierre an outlaw. He was wounded in an attempted suicide and was himself Guillotined in what is now Place de la Concorde in Paris, on the evening of July 28th 1794.
In 1795, the constitution of the Republic was re-formed and attention turned to foreign issues beginning a period of war which lasted until 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte rapidly gained prominence during occupations and conflicts involving Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal and Austria. He assumed power as First Consul in 1799 effectively marking the end of the revolution.
The French Revolution 1814
Louis XVIII ruled with the aid of the Liberal Party, but loyalties began to turn when the aristocrats and nobles drifted back from abroad gaining favour with the King. He died in 1824 and was replaced by his brother, Charles X.
Troubles surfaced once again in 1830 with the publication of repressive new ordinances and Charles was overthrown. Louis Philippe of Orléans was proclaimed King, but in 1848, during resistance to more constitutional changes, another revolution took place and he was exiled living his remaining years in England.
Thus ended more than a thousand years of monarchy in France. A Republic was proclaimed and Louis Napoléon, great nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, elected President for four years. Having gained the support of the army, he dissolved the Legislative Assembly in 1851 and ruthlessly put down all opposition. His Coup dEtat saw him in office for a further ten years and set the format for the government of France to the present day.