Notes on the French Revolution
The French Revolution - or the French Revolution Wars (1789–1799) - refers to a period of radical social and political upheaval in French and European history. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years and French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic, and religious privileges were destroyed under a sustained assault from liberal political groups and the masses on the streets. Old ideas about hierarchy and tradition gave way to new Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights. But the revolution collapsed with the result that Napoleon Bonaparte was able to seize absolute power and to declared himself the Emperor of France.
There are a number of factors that are generally understood as having led to the French Revolution. They include:
Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in 1774 amidst a serious financial crisis due to the French involvement in the Seven Years War and the participation of France in the American Revolution. A grossly unfair tax system with clergy and nobility exempted from many taxes and the burden of taxes falling on the poor. A farming crisis due to drought with the result that most people became desperate as bread shortages increased. Huge public anger at the extravagance and opulence of the King and his court.
In 1789, in the midst of the worsening crisis, Jacques Necker, the Financial Minister, called for the first meeting of the Estates-General since 1614. The Estates-General represented the three tiers in French society of the day; the nobility, the clergy and the common people of France. The structure of the Estates-General was weighted in favour of the nobility and the clergy as each Estate had one vote even though the third Estate represented the majority of French society. Moreover the nobility and clergy almost always voted the same way. The King’s agreement with the proposal to call this meeting was more of an appeasement tactic rather than an actual attempt to make real changes to the status quo. But the meeting of the Estates- General began the French Revolution.
1789: The beginning of the French Revolution.
5th May The Estates-General assembles to discuss the crisis in French Society. The meeting break down as the Third Estate is not prepared to sit back and accept the attempts of the nobility and clergy to strong arm them into passing laws that only favour the top two Estates. The Third Estate leaves the meeting and convenes a separate meeting. They invite the other two Estates to join them but do not wait for them to make their own decisions.
10th June The Third Estate meets, on their own, to discuss the way forward.
17th June The Third Estate forms the National Assembly and is joined be a few members of the First Estate. It is made clear that the National Assembly is an assembly of the People and not the Estates. The King does not approve of the meeting and has the hall Salle des États where the meeting was to continue shut under the pretence of ‘renovation’. But the National Assembly move to a nearby indoor tennis court and continue with their meeting.
20th June The National Assembly swear ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ which commits them to continue with the National Assembly until they are able to provide France with a constitution. The King is forced to order the clergy and the nobility to join the National Assembly.
27th June The Royal family and the various royalists appear in public and try to show that they are taking the issues of the National Assembly seriously. The National Assembly gains support, not just in Paris but from around France.
The Royal Family’s Reaction to the National Assembly
The formation of the National Assembly was supported by finance Minister Jacques Necker who tended to be sympathetic to the cause of the Third Estate. This earned him the enmity of many members of the French court....
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