French Revolution | By Dr. Mahipal Singh Rathore | World History

What was it?

A 10 year period of events in France from 1789 to 1799 that led to wide ranging political and social change and has had a huge impact on modern world The revolution abolished monarchy, made France a republic and ended in dictatorship of Napoleon Causes Political Social Economic Intellectual

Political – The Bourbon despots Louis XIV (1643- 1715)

• Absolute despot • Centralisation of power

• MANY Wars- France in debt Louis XV (1715-74)

• Debt increased due to defeat in 7 years war

• Not a good administrator Louis XVI (1774-92) • Well intentioned but could not bring bold reforms

• Backtracked from decisions easily

• Austrian wife – Marie Antoinette (Bad advisor)

• American war of Independence – French help ruined France itself for no gains


Social Cause
Division of French society – Ancien Regime


  • No tax on 1st and 2nd estate
  •  Lavish lifestyle of nobility
  • High point of French culture- 18th century
  • 3rd estate – drowning in various taxes
  • Educated middle class- Bourgeoisie
  • Urban workers- poor conditions Economic Cause
  • Rising population 1700 – 2 crore 1789 – 2.8 crore
  • High debt of war lead to large interest payments – Half of total national budget went to debt repayments
  • Harsh winter – Crop failure –Food prices – Famine
  • Angry peasants and common people Intellectual Cause Age of enlightenment Development of Science and philosophy, rational thinking Famous Thinkers and Philosophers : John Locke§ Jean-Jacques Rousseau – people’s sovereignty§  Immanuel Kant§  Montesquieu- Separation of church and state§  Voltaire – Freedom of speech and expression§
  • Intellectuals started to Questioned the King’s right to rule, his mandate from God, role of Catholic Church
  • These ideas spread via newspapers, books and Salon discussions


1789 – Estate General 1789-91 – National Assembly 1791-92 – Legislative Assembly 1792-95 – National Convention (Reign of Terror) 1795-98 – Directory Rule 1799 – Coup d’état by Napoleon Estate general – 5th May 1789

• A super parliament with representatives from all estates

• First meeting in 175 years

• Agenda- manage the financial crisis (Raise taxes)

• Delegates – 300 + 300 + 600

  • Deadlock over voting rights
  • The third estate declares itself as National Assembly
  • Louis XVI locked out the ‘National Assembly’ from main hall
  • They take the ‘Tennis Court Oath’ – Not to disband until a constitution is in place



• All over France , peasants revolt against their local feudal lords – loot granaries & chateaus, burn land records (the Great Fear)

• Riots in Paris in support of assembly and against King’s action

• Breakdown of law and order; revolutionary spirit takes over

• Louis XVI orders military to assemble in Paris and outside Versailles


Storming of the Bastille 14 July 1789

• Fort used as prison • Symbol of royal oppression

• Bastille prison looted and torn down by rioters

• Mainly to get weapons

• ‘Bastille day celebrations

’ • National Assembly (later became National Constituent Assembly) ordered abolition of feudalism and levied uniform taxes for all

• Many nobles fled to neighbouring countries in Europe (Émigrés) • Clergy reduced by 1/3rd – made civil officers

• Pope Angry! ABSOLUTE MONARCHY to CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen  A statement of intent for const.  Bases on Ideas of enlightenment  Human and civil rights –Liberty property Security  One of the mostdocuments of World along with Magna Carta, US Bill of rights

• The concepts of Liberty Equality and Fraternity were enshrined in this declaration

• “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights’’

Women and Slaves – No rights as citizens! Women’s march on Versailles


  • October 1789
  •  Harsh economic conditions and food shortages
  • Rumours of party in Versailles while Parisians were struggling for bread
  • 7000 Women assembled and marched to palace
  • Asked the royal family to move to PARIS 1790
  • Political groups/parties emerged
  • Const. was being written down
  • Many clubs formed having their own thoughts/ideas about the change/revolutionary process
  • Ex: Jacobins – Radical revolutionaries Girondins – Liberals Society of Revolutionary Republican women Jacobin Club
  • Composed of people from mainly poor classes – artisans, daily workers • They believed that power had been consolidated by upper/prosperous middle class and wealthy traders • Their leader was Maximilien de Robespierre
  • ‘Sans Culottes’ – below knee pants 1791
  • King Louis tried to escape to Austria from France but was caught
  • This led to demands for ‘Republic’ from people(Jacobins)
  • The Const. Assembly was in favour of constitutional monarchy like Britain
  • People protested – National guards sent to suppress them – protestors massacred Legislative Assembly
  • September 1791
  • New constitution
  • King restored as head of state
  • System failed within a year because of different demands of various parties and groups (mainly Girondins and Jacobins) . Also Louis secretly tried to get help from other kings
  • Neighbouring monarchs were getting scared of all the anarchy and revolutionary fever spreading in France
  • Austria and Prussia declared support for French Monarchy (Declaration of Pillnitz) • France attacked Austria + Prussia in April 1792
  • Late 1792 

  • August – King and family attacked by radicals in Paris
  • Monarchy suspended – King had tried to help Prussia Austria
  • Leg. Assembly suspended itself
  • Republican constitution to be made, Elections announced
  • King Louis put to trial and sentenced to death (January 1793)
  • British, Dutch and Spain joined Austria and Prussia in the ‘coalition’ against France after Louis’ execution – ‘’The War of First Coalition’’


La Marseillaise

• French National Anthem

• Written By Claude de Lisle

• Revolutionary song to rally people to fight against Austria and other invaders

• Sung by soldiers marching from ‘Marseille’ CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY to REPUBLIC

The National Convention

Sept 1792- Oct.1795

• Third govt. of the revolution

• Elected by extending suffrage – all 21+ male

• Monarchy abolished – True Republic

• A small group ‘Committee of Public Safety’ created which took all control/major decisions

• This committee was dominated by Jacobins

The Reign of Terror

• June 1793-July 1794

• Maximilien Robespierre

• 16000 ‘enemies of the revolution’ guillotined (executed)

• Marie Antoinette executed

• Churches destroyed and closed down


  • Slavery abolished (Napoleon re-instated it)
  • New Calendar – 10 hour a day, 100 minutes an hour ,10 days a week
  • Food shortages due to war – Food from rural to urban areas. Regulation of prices • Finally people got sick of Jacobins
  • Jacobins were banned and Robespierre himself was executed The Directory 1795-99 • New constitution in 1795
  • Affluent middle class took control
  • No property- no right to vote
  • Bicameral legislature
  • Executive body established with 5 directors (to avoid dictatorship like Robespierre)
  • Napoleon led French victories in Italy and Austria – ending the war of first coalition The Consulate 1799-1804
  • 30 year old military general Napoleon Bonaparte did a coup against the directory rule and established the ‘Consulate’
  • 3 consuls
  • Napoleon himself as the FIRST CONSUL of France
  • In 1804, he declared himself as the ‘Emperor of France’

Did the revolution change much?

• Absolute monarchy to Military dictatorship

• Church restored by Napoleon

• Nobility returned back to France

• Even Bourbon monarchy restored in 1815

• Condition of Women and slaves – no change

• Farmers & workers conditions – not much changed


• Constitutional monarchy – powers of kings limited • Power of nobility/remaining feudalism gone forever

• Church’s power highly diminished – era of religious tolerance

• Power transferred from nobility to people, especially bourgeoisies (middle class)

• Ideas of rights of man were long lasting – laws apply equally to everyone , Liberty Equality Fraternity

• Rise of humanitarian movements • Spread of Nationalism in Europe

• Women- education, marriage, freedom to start business & trade





World History | Free PDF


By Dr. Mahipal Singh Rathore

Facebook Id->