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The French Revolution Course is aimed at preparing the learner for the requirements of the Advanced Level History Paper.

The course will cover the following:

  • Causes of the French Revolution
  • Key individuals in the Revolution
  • Key groups in the Revolution
  • Governments of the Revolution
  • Principles of the Revolution
  • Impact of the Revolution on France and Europe in terms of governance, human rights and society
Section 1Introduction to the French Revolution
Lecture 1Lesson 1 Things to consider in studying the French RevolutionFree Preview

Definition of the French Revolution 

Any definition must take into account the following key words and phrases: sudden changes beginning in 1789 to about 1799, these changes were political, economic and social. 

So we can define the French Revolution as the sudden political, economic and political changes that took place in France from 1789 to 1799. 

The definition is very important because it provides you with a reference point or point of departure as you tackle any essay. 

The Advanced Level History Paper will test your knowledge of the following: 

  • Causes of the French revolution 
  • Key individuals in the revolution 
  • Key groups in the revolution
  • Governments of the revolution
  • Principles of the Revolution

 

Causes of the French Revolution

Note. When examining the causes of the French revolution, the student must take into account the following:

  • Key debates/issues in the causes of the French Revolution
  • Key terms used in the topic
  • Timeline of events
  • Key individuals
  • Key groups

Key debates/issues in the causes of the French Revolution

  • Was Revolution inevitable in France?
  • How true is it that the Revolution was the result of errors of commission or of omission?
  • Was it the political or economic or social factors that contributed the most to the outbreak of the Revolution?
  • How important was the character of Louis XVI as a cause of the Revolution?
  • What was the role of each of the groups/classes in causing the Revolution?
  • How important were the Philosophes and the Enlightment Ideas in bringing about the Revolution?

 

 

 

Lecture 2Lesson 2 Causes of the French RevolutionFree Preview

Lesson 2 Causes of the Revolution

Since the French Revolution refers to the political, economic and social changes that took place in France from 1789 to about 1799, it logically follows that these changes must have 3 basic causes, namely, political, economic and social causes.

These political, economic and social causes are the broad categories from which 9 main causes can be articulated:

  • Character of Louis XVI Political Grievances of the Third Estate
  • Economic Grievances of the Third Estate
  • Social Grievances of the Third Estate
  • Impact of American War of Independence
  • Impact of Philosophers
  • Poor Harvests of 1788
  • Financial bankruptcy
  • Character of Nobles and Clergy

 

Character of Louis XVI

  • Short-sighted- was too blinded by the thought of gaining a glory and prestige by defeating Britain in America that he failed to realise that sending troops to participate in the American War of Independence would not only bankrupt France but expose his own people to the American political and social ideas of democratic participation and civil rights for all including the Third Estate
  • Stubborn- enough to resist the Third Estate’s demands for political positions and participation in politics
  • Extravagant- in wasting vast amounts on the American War that ultimately contributed to France’s
  • Selfish- enough to refuse to consider extending political participation to the Third Estate particularly the Bourgeoisie who felt they should be appointed to government positions because they were highly educated.
  • Coward- because he was scared to use the soldiers at his disposal to deal with the rebellious Third estate who broke away to form the National Assembly, marking the beginning of the Revolution. Once the population realized that Louis XVI was too scared to take any action, they were emboldened to carry out other acts of disobedience which escalated the Revolution. Further revolutionary acts that occurred as a result of Louis’ failure to use force include the storming of the Bastille, the women’s march on Versailles and the violence of the peasants in the countryside.
  • Misguided- instead of attending to the mounting socio-economic and political crisis he seemed more pre-occupied with leisurely pursuits particularly hunting and lock-smithing
  • Naïve/too good-natured- to be effective in dealing with the various schemes and intrigues of the Third estate and even the nobles and clergy whose behaviour all pushed the country on the path of Revolution
Lecture 3Lesson 3 Causes of the Revolution PhilosophesFree Preview

Lesson 3 Causes of the Revolution Philosophes

 

Influence of the Philosophes

 

Note. Before any examination of the philosophes is undertaken, it is necessary to understand the Enlightenment period and its ideas as these shaped the thinking of the philosophes

  • The Enlightenment was an intellectual and cultural philosophical movement of the 18th century that emphasized the use of reason to critically examine long-accepted doctrines and traditions and that brought about many humanitarian reforms.
  • It stressed reason, logic, criticism and freedom of thought over dogma, blind faith and the superstition which generally characterised religious beliefs.
  • Enlightment thinkers created a new worldview stressing the importance of empirical observation in revealing the truth behind human society, the individual and the universe.
  • Enlightenment thinkers held strong belief that the history of humanity was one of continued progress as long as it was supported by rational thought rather than by dogma and superstition.
  • Enlightenment thinkers also argued for the use of education and reason as means of improving human life and character.
  • This belief that the universe could be changed brought Enlightenment thinkers into direct conflict with the political and religious establishment.
  • Enlightenment thinkers from all over Europe and North America were given the name philosophes, which is the French for philosophers.
  • They crafted, debated and spread their ideas which were contained in many books including the Encyclopédie.
  • Enlightment ideas generated a second kind of renaissance or widespread intellectual awakening among the middle and upper classes including the nobles, lawyers, higher clergy and landed aristocracy.
  • The Enlightment ideas led to demands for political, social and economic changes especially in France.

 

 

Enlightment Ideas

  • Separation of powers.
  • Political participation and representation for all.
  • Power resides in the nation and not God.
  • Rulers are accountable to the nation.
  • Church is separate from the state.
  • Freedom from servitude/serfdom.
  • Civil/Individual rights

 

 

 

 

Lecture 4Lesson 4 Financial Crisis as a cause of French RevolutionFree Preview

Lesson Four-Financial Crisis as a cause of the French Revolution

To what extent can the financial crisis be said to have been responsible for the outbreak of the French Revolution?

In this revision lesson, we focus on the financial crisis and examine how far it can be said to have been responsible for the outbreak of the French Revolution?

What we need to be able to explain very clearly in an examination is whether the Financial Crisis was important at all in the outbreak of the French Revolution

We also need to be able to explain very clearly if it was the most important cause and why

We also need to be able to explain very clearly if the French Revolution would have occurred even without the Financial Crisis

We also need to be able to state other factors and explain their importance in relation to the Financial Crisis

The Financial Crisis refers to the bankruptcy or insolvency that affected the French Government in 1789 due to factors such as overspending, over-borrowing, an inequitable taxation system which deprived the government of adequate revenue and misplaced priorities like wasting money on costly foreign wars.

The French Revolution can be defined as the sudden economic, political and social changes in France from 1789-99

How the Financial Crisis led to Revolution:

It increased criticism of the monarchy from different quarters of the French society for example the nobles, philosophers, bourgeoisie and the peasants all voiced their criticism of the monarchy and demanded economic changes as the financial and general economic situation continued to deteriorate especially after the American War of Independence which France took part in at a huge financial cost

The Financial Crisis also increased pressure on the monarchy to find solutions for example, from Church and Nobles

It led to the King’s decision to summon the Assembly of Notables (1787) whose failure to solve the crisis only served to increase the criticism of monarchy and pressure for reform of financial sector and even government.

The pressure led to the King’s decision to convene the Estates-General to discuss the crisis as well as other political, social and economic issues affecting France

Lecture 5Lesson 5 Was the French Revolution unavoidableFree Preview

Lesson 5 Was the French Revolution unavoidable?

In this revision lesson, we examine the causes of the French Revolution and discuss whether it was unavoidable or inevitable.

What we need to be able to explain very clearly in an examination is whether the French Revolution was unavoidable or it was a development that could have been avoided

In order to reach a conclusion, we must examine carefully each the political, social and economic situation and all the causes

We do this in order to decide if the political, social and economic situation had been different, there would still have been a revolution in 1789

Unavoidable because:

  • of a severe financial crisis which demanded a radical re-organisation of the general economic system and specific aspects such as taxation and land distribution
  • The financial crisis required the kind of political decisions that neither Louis XVI nor his noble and clerical allies were prepared to allow or were willing to undertake. Such decisions included establishing an equitable system of taxation which could only mean that the nobles had to assume a greater share of the tax burden
  • The social inequalities could no longer be sustained in a country as enlightened as France had become due the influence of the philosophes and the American War of Independence. French people had become exposed to new ideas about equality of all before the law as well as individual rights/freedoms/liberties
  • Louis XVI was a spineless error-prone ruler who made one blunder after the other until the Revolution could no longer be prevented
  • The political demands of the Third Estate particularly the Bourgeoisie could only be realised through revolution. The bourgeoisie resented their exclusion from political participation, from government, judicial and military appointments. They also wanted to be appointed to these positions which were reserved for the nobles. They were also unhappy with the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ which stated that the King’s power came from God alone and he ruled by Divine Right thus making him an absolute ruler who could not be questioned, challenged and held accountable by the nation.
  • Once Louis XVI called the Estates-General, it became difficult if not impossible to stem the fervour of the Third Estate who were now effectively united, in one place and seeking real socio-economic and political changes not merely the superficial
  • Once the Nobles in the assembly of Notables failed to resolve the simmering financial crisis in 1788, the revolution became only a matter of time
Section 2The Revolution Begins
Lecture 6Lesson 6 Actual Events of the French RevolutionFree Preview

Lesson 6 Actual Events of the French Revolution

In this lesson, we lay the foundation for a successful study of the actual French Revolution- the major events, key actors, the political changes, economic changes, social changes from 1789 to 1799

Key debates/issues in the actual events of the French Revolution

  • Which particular event can be said to have marked the beginning of the Revolution in France?
  • What was the actual contribution of Louis XVI and other individuals like Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and Lafayette to the actual events and development of the Revolution?
  • What was the actual contribution of different groups like the Nobles, Clergy, peasants, Bourgeoisie, Jacobins and Girondists to the political or economic or social developments witnessed during the Revolution?
  • How important was the character of Louis XVI as a cause of the Revolution?
  • What was the role of each of the groups/classes in causing the revolution?
  • How important were the philosophes and the Enlightment Ideas in bringing about the Revolution?

Things every student should know about the Actual Events of the French Revolution

  • The French Revolution started off as a moderate revolution with only moderate political and social reforms
  • The French revolution assumed a truly radical character in 1792 with the radical, political and social reforms being implemented
  • Different groups within France including the nobles, clergy, Jacobins, Paris mobs and the Sans Culottes all contributed in various degrees to the radicalisation of the French revolution
  • The king Louis XVI as well as individuals like Marat, Danton and Robespierre also contributed to the radicalisation of the French Revolution
  • Foreigners namely the European countries tried to undermine the French Revolution and this only helped to radicalise it even more
  • Even the revolutionaries (namely Jacobins, Girondists, Peasants, Sans Culottes and Paris Mobs) had a negative impact on the French Revolution
  • Controversial as it was, the Reign of Terror saved the French Revolution and it helped to lay the groundwork for the successes of the Revolutionary Armies and Napoleon against European Powers from 1793 to 1814
Lecture 7Lesson 7 Definition of important termsFree Preview

Lesson 7 Definition of important terms

This lesson seeks to assist the student by providing definitions of some of the important terms encountered in the study of the French Revolution

It is important for the student to note that an ability to define the key terms is absolutely necessary to answering essay questions and achieving good grades in examinations

Bastille (14 July 1790)

  • The Bastille was a medieval fortress constructed to defend the eastern wall of Paris in 1382
  • Its history as a prison for political prisoners ensured that by the time of the French Revolution it was a powerful symbol of royal tyranny even if Louis XVI was hardly a tyrant and there were no longer any political prisoners kept there
  • On July 12th, 1789 the King dismissed his popular Minister of Finances, Jacques Necker and the following day a rumour spread in the streets of Paris of a coming counter attack by the King’s army to ‘destabilize’ the newly proclaimed parliamentarians
  • As a result, the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789 by the Paris mob which sought weapons and ammunition to defend the city from an attack which was thought to be coming from royal troops
  • The event has been credited with kick-starting the French Revolution
  • It had not been intended to start the Revolution but all the same it was a significant moment in the unfolding of the French Revolution—like the Tennis Court Oath, it was one of those events that forced Louis XVI to make concessions to the Third Estate
  • At the same time, the event emboldened the Third Estate and in particular the mobs to make even more demands on the monarchy thus driving the revolution forward
  • The significance of the storming of the Bastille has been such that from 1880, the French made the day a national holiday

Constitutional Monarchy

  • This was the form of government established after the French revolution began in 1789
  • The monarchy was kept in power as the executive head of government but he had to share power with a National Assembly (1789-1791), a Legislative Assembly (1791-1792) and the National Convention (1792)
  • These elected bodies took over the legislative (law-making) functions which had been exercised by the king who was an absolute ruler before the French Revolution
  • As a constitutional monarch, Louis XVI could no longer rule as he pleased and his power was now limited by the constitution whose drafting was completed in 1791
  • He no longer ruled by the “Grace of God” or “Divine Right” as he had done during the days of the Ancien Regime where his power and laws could not be questioned or challenged
Lecture 8Lesson 8 Definition of important terms ContinuedFree Preview

Lesson 8 Definition of important terms continued

This lesson seeks to assist the student by providing definitions of some of the important terms encountered in the study of the French Revolution

It is important for the student to note that an ability to define the key terms is absolutely necessary to answering essay questions and achieving good grades in examinations

 

The Declaration of Pillnitz (27 August 1791)

  • This was declaration issued by the Austrian Emperor and Prussian king threatening military action against the revolutionary government of France if Louis XVI was harmed in any way
  • The declaration followed a series of events which started with Louis XVI’s attempt to flee France before he was caught at Varennes in 1791 and resulted in his brother and other émigrés petitioning the Austrian and Prussian monarchs to support military action against France to destroy the Revolutionary Government and restore Louis XVI to his former position as an absolute monarch
  • The declaration however failed to scare the revolutionary Government or the French revolutionaries
  • Instead the declaration made the situation worse for Louis XVI who was now seen as a traitor working with foreign governments to destroy the French Revolution
  • The declaration as one of the events that convinced the revolutionaries, particularly the Jacobin faction that the monarchy should be completely abolished and a republic be established in its place
  • The declaration was therefore one of the events that changed the course of the Revolution from being moderate to radical

The Actual Declaration of Pillnitz (English Translation)

  • “His Majesty the Emperor and his Majesty the king of Prussia, having given attention to the wishes and representations of Monsieur [the brother of the king of France], and of Monsieur le Comte d’Artois, jointly declare that they regard the present situation of his Majesty the king of France as a matter of common interest to all the sovereigns of Europe.
  • They trust that this interest will not fail to be recognized by the powers, whose aid is solicited; and that in consequence they will not refuse to employ, in conjunction with their said majesties, the most efficient means, in proportion to their resources, to place the king of France in a position to establish, with the most absolute freedom, the foundations of a monarchical form of government, which shall at once be in harmony with the rights of sovereigns and promote the welfare of the French nation.
  • In that case their said majesties the emperor and the King of Prussia are resolved to act promptly and in common accord with the forces necessary to obtain the desired common end.
Lecture 9Lesson 9 Key Individuals in the French Revolution 1789Free Preview

Lesson 9 Key Individuals in the French Revolution 1789-1799

In this lesson, we list the key individuals and we examine how they shaped the events of the French Revolution

We seek to establish the significance of their contributions to the political, economic and social changes, their contributions to the conflicts, the divisions, and the violence that characterised the French Revolution

Louis XVI (1754-1793)

  • Opposition to some of the revolutionary reforms suggested that he was a counter-revolutionary who could not be trusted
  • Cowardice as suggested by the failure to use force against storming of Bastille or acquiescing in his forced relocation to Paris from Versailles emboldened the revolutionaries and further undermined his position
  • Attempts to flee France in 1791 suggested that he was totally opposed to the revolution and gravely undermined his position leading to his subsequent imprisonment
  • His position further undermined by émigré nobles as well as foreign governments particularly those of Prussia and Austria who threatened to punish France should he be harmed in any manner
  • Defeats and poor performance of the French armies in the revolutionary wars served to make him more unpopular and further weakened his position
  • Alleged discovery of documents linking him to subversive activities in collaboration with foreign governments to destroy the revolution sealed his fate

Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793)

  • was the inflammatory journalist whose murder was a critical turning point and a contributing factor to the Reign of Terror
  • At 16 years old, Marat left to study medicine in France and later in England
  • Despite his work on physics including publications on energy from fire and on electricity, he was criticised by the French famous “Academy des Sciences”
  • The academy rejected his applications for membership on several occasions
  • The political events in France especially the convening of the Estates General and the Revolution in 1789 all presented Marat an opportunity to vent his anger towards the Ancien regime and the noble classes who had looked down upon his work
  • Showed his extremism on July 14 1789 at the Storming of the Bastille when he declared that hundreds of nobles should be executed in order to install a new government
Lecture 10Lesson 10 Key Individuals in the French Revolution 1789 ContinuedFree Preview

Lesson 10 Key Individuals in the French Revolution 1789-1799

In this lesson, we list the key individuals and we examine how they shaped the events of the French Revolution

We seek to establish the significance of their contributions to the political, economic and social changes, their contributions to the conflicts, the divisions, and the violence that characterised the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

  • Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Emperor Francis 1 the Habsburg ruler of Austria
  • On 16 May 1770, she married France’s Louis Auguste as part of efforts to create and cement an alliance between Austria and France
  • Louis Auguste became king of France and took the title Louis XVI in 1774
  • Marie Antoinette thus became queen of France
  • Initial failure to conceive was not good for her reputation as she was blamed for failing to produce an heir for eight years
  • The delay in having children helped create dislike for her and fuelled rumours that she was having affairs
  • Her love for parties, gambling and expensive clothes made her a target for scorn and gossip
  • In 1785, the “Marie Antoinette diamond necklace” affaire spread all over the country
  • Was wrongly implicated in a diamond necklace scandal in which an impostor Jeanne De La Motte Valois used her name to steal huge amounts of money
  • Even if she was not involved the scandal damaged her reputation
  • It is believed that the French court spent more than one twelfth of government revenue on a life of parties, clothes and other forms of extravagance and all this was blamed on Marie Antoinette
  • She was given the nickname “Madame Deficit”
  • Even when she tried to promote an image of a caring mother, she was still accused of extravagance and insensitivity to the extent that a rumour was even circulated that she told hungry people to “eat cake” which they obviously could not afford
  • Louis XVI was perceived as weak and this is said to have allowed Marie Antoinette to play a significant role in French politics
  • Marie Antoinette was believed to have influenced Louis XVI to appoint her favourite people to strategic positions in government
  • It is also believed that she often pressured Louis XVI into firing reform-minded ministers like Necker, Turgot and Calonne
  • One of major weaknesses was her constant refusal to negotiate with revolutionaries was probably a big mistake as this only bred mutual mistrust, antagonism and eventually the downfall of the monarchy as well as the executions of the royal couple
  • She was believed to have been opposed to Louis XVI becoming a constitutional king after the Revolution in 1789
  • She also got the nickname “Madame Veto” as she was accused of ordering Louis XVI to oppose every decision by the National and Legislative Assembly (1789-1792)
Section 3Key Groups in the French Revolution
Lecture 11Lesson 11 The Girondists in the French RevolutionFree Preview

Lesson 11 Girondists in the French Revolution 1789-1799

In this lesson, we list the key groups and we examine how they shaped the events of the French Revolution

We seek to establish the significance of their contributions to the political, economic and social changes, their contributions to the conflicts, the divisions, and the violence that characterised the French Revolution

 

Key Individuals in the Girondist group:

Jacques Brissot Jean-Marie Roland Madame Roland Maximin Isnard Jacques Thouret Jean Baptiste Treilhard Pierre Vergniaud Armand Gensonné Marquis de Condorcet Pierre Daunou Marguerite-Élie Guadet Jacques Beugnot Louis Gustave le Doulcet Claude Fauchet François Buzot Charlotte Corday Charles Barbaroux François Aubry Charles-Louis Antiboul Claude Fauchet Jérôme de Villeneuve  Charles François Dumouriez Étienne Clavière  Joseph de Gerbey

 

Aims/Objectives:

  • To spread the Revolution throughout Europe
  • To liberate oppressed European people from monarchical despotism
  • To dominate Europe through war and the creation of satellite republics in Britain, Spain and Italy by 1795
  • Jacques-Pierre Brissot proposed an ambitious military plan to spread the Revolution by conquering the Rhineland, Poland, and Holland to create a protective ring of satellite republics
  • To retain King Louis XVI’s monarchical government as long as he was loyal to the Revolution
  • The Girondists were thus the war party in 1792–93 while the Jacobins opposed it
Lecture 12Lesson 12- The Jacobins and Sans Culottes in the French Revolution Free Preview

Lesson 12- The Jacobins and Sans Culottes in the French Revolution 1789-1799

In this lesson, we list the key groups and we examine how they shaped the events of the French Revolution

We seek to establish the significance of their contributions to the political, economic and social changes, their contributions to the conflicts, the divisions, and the violence that characterised the French Revolution

Jacobins

Key Individuals:

Robespierre Danton Desmoulins Marat

Key Aspects/Features:

  • They were predominantly bourgeoisie in terms of leadership- the likes of Robespierre and Danton were all lawyers
  • They were open-minded and even opened membership open to anyone including foreigners
  • They were committed to the rights of ordinary people as shown by their active support and introduction of populist measures such as the Law of Maximum to cushion the urban poor against high food prices
  • They were opposed to war with other European countries mainly because they wanted to ensure the success of the Revolution in France first unlike the Girondists who actively supported war as a means of spreading the Revolution throughout Europe
  • They were pragmatic and could change their views/ideas over time depending on the circumstances- for example Robespierre who at first declared himself “neither monarchist nor republican at the Jacobin club eventually became a committed Republican.
  • They were more Machiavellian in their approach using any means including violence, intimidation and terror as shown by the Reign of Terror to achieve their aims and objectives
Lecture 13Lesson 13- The Peasants in the French Revolution Free Preview

Lesson 13- The Peasants in the French Revolution 1789-1799

In this lesson, we list the key groups and we examine how they shaped the events of the French Revolution

We seek to establish the significance of their contributions to the political, economic and social changes, their contributions to the conflicts, the divisions, and the violence that characterised the French Revolution

Peasants

  • As a group the peasants were downtrodden socially, politically and economically
  • They bore the brunt of taxation, forced labour, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without trial
  • They were subsistence farmers living off the produce of the land and yet so many of them did not even own the land
  • They were therefore vulnerable to exploitation by the noble land-owners and they were also subject to the whims of the weather which they had no control over as shown in 1788 when severe winter conditions led to poor wheat harvests
  • This led to bread shortages in 1789
  • As a group that occupied the bottom rung of the social ladder, they naturally had many grievances
  • The peasants were highly revolutionary group in 1789 as they acted to destroy restrictive feudal practices in the countryside
  • So much has been written about the peasants who went on violent orgy of burning and looting from their noble landlords in that period known as “The Great Fear” in 1789
  • They destroyed homes and even killed nobles in a violent rejection of feudal oppression
  • It was their violence that forced some of the early defining events of the revolution like the abolition of privileges
Lecture 14Lesson 14- The Nobles/Aristocracy in the French Revolution Free Preview

Lesson 14- The Nobles/Aristocracy in the French Revolution 1789-1799

Summary of the Nobles in the French Revolution

Positive Contributions:

  • Many joined the Third Estate in National Assembly
  • Some like Mirabeau and Lafayette were early leaders of the Revolutionary Movement
  • Nobles voted to give up their privileges and thus paved the way for the Declaration of Rights

Negative Contributions:

  • They rejected the Declaration of Rights
  • They rejected the Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • They chose to go into exile and became emigres
  • They rejected the constitutional monarchy
  • They plotted with monarchical governments of Europe to destroy the Revolution through military invasion
  • They either wrote or contributed to the writing of manifestos like the Brunswick Manifesto and the Declaration of Pilnitz which threatened to destroy the Revolutionary government

Nobles in detail

  • A significant number of nobles provided crucial leadership to the Third Estate at critical moments from the start and right through the early period of the French Revolution.
  • A good example was Mirabeau who led the rebels from the Third Estate in defying Louis XVI’s orders to disband and leave the tennis court after they had taken their famous Tennis Court Oath that led to the creation of the National Assembly. This was one of the first major events in the outbreak of the French Revolution.
Lecture 15Lesson 15- The Clergy in the French Revolution Free Preview

Lesson 15- The Clergy in the French Revolution 1789-1799

Summary:

  • The clergy were divided into the Lower and Upper Clergy
  • Many including Sieyes welcomed and even participated in the Revolution
  • Many however started to oppose the Revolution after the confiscation of their land and the passing of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • The clergy were a serious threat to the Revolution because materially and psychologically they suffered and lost the most during the revolutionary upheavals viz. they lost land and property
  • The clergy and nobles posed a serious threat because many of them fled into exile as émigrés from where they conspired with foreign governments against revolutionary France and even raised an army to invade France
  • The clergy also became a nucleus of counter-revolution especially after a significant proportion of their number rejected the civil constitution of the clergy which was also denounced by the pope
  • The church was a serious threat because the revolts that flared up in Vendee and Brittany were largely inspired by anger at the revolutionaries’ treatment of the church and religion
  • The revolutionaries’ response of instituting the Reign of Terror is clear testimony of the gravity of the threat posed by the church and nobility. So many of the clergy were victims of the terror as they were arrested, imprisoned and executed

Detail:

  • The clergy were generally divided into the Upper and Lower Clergy and this had a huge influence on how they reacted to the Revolution
  • There were some who made a positive contribution to the Revolution especially Abbe Sieyes with his pamphlet “What is the Third Estate”
  • The clergy soon became opposed to the Revolution in 1789 when National Assembly confiscated Church land and abolished the tithes
Lecture 16Lesson 16 Women in the French Revolution Free Preview

Lesson 16 Women in the French Revolution 1789-1799

Women made significant contributions to the French Revolution both in a positive and negative sense

Positive Contributions:

  • The March of Women on Versailles in 1789 made the government aware that ordinary people were suffering due to the poor harvests experienced in 1788
  • The March on Versailles was a turning point in the French Revolution as it resulted in the relocation of both the King Louis XVI and the National Assembly to Paris
  • The king was never to return to Versailles and this development gave Paris control of the Revolution
  • Women like Madame Roland played a leading role in providing a debating platform during the Revolution and also contributed to the political ideas and policies of the Girondist faction of revolutionaries
  • Women like Olympe de Gouges also played prominent roles in challenging the lack of equality for both sexes even after the Declaration of Rights and 1791 Constitution had been passed

Negative Contributions:

  • Women remained powerful influences on the course and events of the Revolution even if it was in a negative sense
  • Queen Marie Antoinette is said to have influenced her husband King Louis XVI’s decisions particularly the refusal to accept moderate reforms including the Declaration of Rights, Abolition of Privileges among others
  • Marie Antoinette is said to have been against working with Mirabeau who could have helped the monarchy compromise with the revolutionaries during the early days and therefore save the monarchy

She is also said to have been behind decisions to attempt to flee France and collaborate with her family in Austria to invade France and bring down the revolutionary government

Section 4Governments in the French Revolution
Lecture 17Lesson 17-National Assembly (1789-1791)Free Preview

Lesson 17-National Assembly (1789-1791)

Political challenges of National Assembly

The National Assembly had to deal with the political grievances of the Third Estate which consisted of the bourgeoisie, sans culottes, workers and peasants

The Third Estate who made up the majority of the French population had the following political grievances:

  • An end to their exclusion from political participation, from government, judicial and military appointments
  • An end to the ‘Divine Right of Kings, absolute monarchical power and lack of monarchical accountability to the nation
  • An end to the church and nobles’ monopoly of political power
  • Louis XVI and the Bourbon kings before him had been failed to extend political participation to the Third Estate particularly the Bourgeoisie who felt they should be appointed to government positions because they were highly educated

Other political challenges the National Assembly had to address included the following:

  • Need for a constitution-The need to create France’s first ever constitution was in fact the reason why the National Assembly had been established in 1789.

Drawing up the constitution was therefore the primary task of the National Assembly.

The constitution would give France a clearly recognisable and written system of laws that would spell out the nature of government, define the nature and limits of its power.

The constitution would also give citizens civil/individual rights and freedoms.

It would also spell out their obligations.

Lecture 18Lesson 18- The work of the National Assembly (1789-1791)Free Preview

Lesson 18- The work of the National Assembly (1789-1791)

Political Measures

  • created a new system of administration by establishing 83 uniform départements to replace the intendant system which was abolished
  • granted civil rights to Jews and Protestants in France
  • abolished slavery in France although it was allowed in the colonies
  • Abolished of Special Privileges of the nobles and clergy
  • Confiscated church lands, divided, and sold them to bourgeoisie and peasants
  • On 13 July 1789, the National Assembly allowed the more affluent citizens of Paris to form a militia (the National Guard) to deal with any potential royalist counter-revolutionary threats and prevent property damage and theft.
  • On 11 September the National Assembly granted the king a suspensive veto and he immediately vetoed the August Decrees.
  • On 10 October, the National Assembly declared Louis XVI to be “king of the French”, not the “king of France”.
  • On 15 May 1790, the National Assembly granted equal rights (with whites) to blacks in the French colonies as long as they were born to free parents.
  • On 15 July 1791 the National Assembly restored the status and privileges of the king, despite his flight to Varennes. This caused outrage in the Jacobin and Cordelier clubs.
  • On 28 September 1791 the National Assembly abolished slavery in France but allowed it to continue in its colonies.
  • On 30 September the National Assembly dissolved itself after passing a law prohibiting its members from sitting in the new Legislative Assembly.
Lecture 19Lesson 19-Evaluating the National AssemblyFree Preview

Lesson 19-Evaluating the National Assembly

Achievements:

Established a Constitutional government

  • For the first time in its history, France became a Constitutional Monarchy
  • The Constitution provided for constitutional monarchy and separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary
  • The king became merely the Head of State
  • All laws were created by the Legislative Assembly and the king was merely given a suspensive veto which allowed him to delay but not prevent a law from being enacted

Granted Political participation and representation to the Third Estate

  • The Third Estate gained the right to participate in politics and could be elected to the National Assembly and other important political positions
  • The Third Estate could also participate as voters electing officials to political positions in the National Assembly, Paris Commune and other bodies

Reorganised local government

  • The National Assembly created a new system of administration by establishing 83 uniform départements to replace the intendant system which was abolished

Abolished political, social and economic privileges of the nobles and clergy

  • Confiscated church lands, divided, and sold them to bourgeoisie and peasants

Granted Civil Rights/liberties/Individual freedoms to all French people

  • Civil Rights were first granted to the French people in the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789
  • The declaration upheld the equality of all citizens before the law
Lecture 20Lesson 20- The Legislative Assembly (1 October 1791- 20 September 1792)Free Preview

Lesson 20- The Legislative Assembly (1 October 1791- 20 September 1792)

Political challenges of Legislative Assembly

The Legislative Assembly had to deal with the political grievances of the Third Estate which consisted of the bourgeoisie, sans culottes, workers and peasants

The Third Estate who made up the majority of the French population had the following political grievances:

  • The Sans Culottes demanded participation in politics and were unhappy about the limited franchise which prevented them from voting
  • They were classified as passive citizens meaning that they could not vote and did not qualify for government, judicial and military appointments
  • The Sans Culottes demanded the abolition of the constitutional monarchy and sought the establishment of a Republic in France
  • The Sans Culottes also demanded an end to the Legislative Assembly which was dominated by the comparatively moderate Girondists
  • The Legislative Assembly also faced a serious challenge from the Jacobin club which had the support of the Paris Commune and Sans Culottes
  • The Jacobins wanted the abolition of the constitutional monarchy
  • They also wanted to establish a highly centralised system of government which was controlled by Paris
  • This was challenged by the Girondists who wanted more autonomy for the provinces as most of their members came from the provinces
  • The Legislative Assembly also faced a serious threat from the nobles and clergy who had refused to accept the loss of their land, privileges as well as the Civil Constitution
  • Many of the nobles and clergy had fled to neighbouring countries to enlist support for a counter-revolution and even organised armies for the invasion of France
  • The Legislative Assembly also had to deal with the serious threat posed by the monarchy as it became increasingly clear that Louis XVI was opposed to the direction the Revolution had taken and if given a chance he would escape from France and organise a counter-revolution
Lecture 21Lesson 21: The work of the Legislative AssemblyFree Preview

Lesson 21: The work of the Legislative Assembly

Political Measures

The Legislative Assembly ordered all emigres to return to France “under pain of death” on 9 November 1791

The law against the émigrés stated that they must either return or be declared traitors and forfeit their lands.

The Legislative Assembly decreed that the property of emigres now belonged to the nation on 9 February 1792 upon their failure to return to France by December 1791 deadline

The Legislative Assembly ordered the arrest of all non-juring priests on 29 November 1791

The Girondin majority in the Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and German states for harbouring émigrés and supporting the restoration of a strong French monarchy on 20 April 1792.

The early military defeats suffered by the French armies against the Austrians and Prussians led the Legislative Assembly to declare “La Patrie en danger” (meaning “the fatherland is in danger”) on 22 July 1792 in its attempt to rally public support for the war

This was essentially a declaration of a state of emergency which enabled the Legislative Assembly to give itself emergency powers (including ignoring the king’s veto) to deal with threat of invasion.

After the invasion of the Tuileries Palace is invaded by Parisian mobs and republican soldiers on 10 August 1792, the Legislative Assembly allowed the arrest of the king who had taken refuge in the Assembly.

The Assembly also authorised house-to-house searches for arms or people suspected of anti-revolutionary activities and sympathies.

The Assembly dismissed Layette from his position as commander of the National Guard and not long afterwards he defected to the Austrian forces on 19 August 1792.

Lecture 22Lesson 22- Evaluating the Legislative AssemblyFree Preview

Lesson 22- Evaluating the Legislative Assembly

Achievements/Successes:

  • Politically, the establishment of the Legislative Assembly represented the success of the Constitutional Monarchy where power was to be shared between the king and elected representatives of the people.
  • The Legislative Assembly represented the victory of compromise as it accommodated the wishes of revolutionaries for a share of political power and participation in politics while at the same time the principle of monarchical power from the days of the Ancien Regime was preserved.
  • The Legislative Assembly guaranteed civil rights/individual freedoms that had been outlined in the Declaration of Rights of 1789.
  • The Legislative Assembly even went as far as granting French people the right to divorce on 20 September 1792
  • On that same day the Legislative Assembly’s French Army won a huge victory against the Prussians at Valmy and this victory probably saved France and set the stage for future victories particularly under Napoleon Bonaparte

 

Shortcomings/Failures:

Endemic violence-

  • The Legislative Assembly failed to deal with violence
  • There was violence in the provinces when the peasants, royalists and the clergy rose against the government in response to measures that included the Civil Constitution of the Clergy which was seen as an attempt to destroy the Catholic faith.
  • The royalists wanted to restore the power of the king which had been progressively undermined through various reforms including the constitutional monarchy which destroyed monarchical absolutism.
  • On 22 August royalist riots broke out in the Vendee, Brittany and Dauphine.
Lecture 23Lesson 23-The National Convention (1792-1795)Free Preview

Lesson 23-The National Convention (1792-1795)

Political challenges

The National Convention had to establish a new government after the collapse of the Constitutional Monarchy

  • The National Convention took the place of the Legislative Assembly which had failed as a constitutional monarchy sharing power with the king Louis XVI who was head of state and while the Legislative Assembly exercised law-making functions
  • That power-sharing arrangement was supposed to be a moderate reform which fulfilled the wishes of the revolutionaries while maintaining the monarchy from the pre-revolution days of the Ancien Regime
  • However less than a year later this arrangement proved to be a failure with the Legislative Assembly being bullied by the Republican Jacobins, the Paris Commune and the Sans Culottes into dethroning Louis XVI and ultimately declaring a Republic
  • Thus the National Convention had the immediate task of establishing the republican form of government which was new to France and ensure that it was acceptable to the populace

 

How to deal with the former king who was suspected of conniving with the European powers against government

  • When the National Convention met it deposed the king Louis XVI for allegedly conspiring with rebellious royalists and foreign powers to overthrow the Revolutionary government
  • The National Convention proceeded to declare France a republic and this inevitably created the question of what to do with a king who they viewed as a traitor who had only pretended to accept the revolutionary changes while secretly scheming to overthrow the revolution and restore monarchical absolutism
  • The National Convention had to decide whether to spare Louis XVI’s life or to execute him for treason
Lecture 24Lesson 24- Work of the National ConventionFree Preview

Lesson 24- Work of the National Convention

Abolished the monarchy/Established the Republic

  • On 21 September 1792 (its second day) the National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a Republic
  • This completed the political revolution and theoretically this meant that power no longer came from God nor was it based on birth (aristocracy)
  • This meant that power came from the people/nation and anyone could get into government and lead
  • This marked a complete break with the Ancien Regime and it was also a complete departure from the generally accepted system of government which was largely monarchical

 

Executed the former king Louis XVI

  • On 11 December 1792 the National Convention put Louis XVI on trial and unanimously found him guilty of treason
  • He was sentenced to death but while the Girondists demanded a referendum on his fate, the Jacobins including Robespierre demanded that he be executed as executed on Sunday 21 January 1793
  • On 21 January 1793 Louis XVI was executed
  • His last words were “Gentlemen, I am innocent of that which I am accused. May my blood assure the happiness of the French”
  • Ultimately he was a victim of his errors and weaknesses as well as those of his royal predecessors.”
  • The National Convention’s actions (to try and execute Louis XVI) were momentous: on one level it was an act of defiance to the European powers who had threatened to destroy France if the king and his family were harmed in any way
  • Secondly it completed the political revolution and ushered in an new era where political power was held to come from people or the nation rather from God

 

Lecture 25Lesson 25- Work of the National Convention ContinuedFree Preview

Lesson 25- Work of the National Convention Continued

Passed Draconian laws/measures to deal with internal/external threats

  • On 23 August 1793 the National Convention decreed mass conscription (levée en masse or universal obligation to national service)
  • The decree stated that “The young men shall go to the battle; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothing, and shall serve in the hospitals, the children shall turn linen into lint: the aged shall betake themselves to the public places in order to rouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of the Government and the unity of the Republic.”
  • On 17 September 1793 the COPS passed the Law of Suspects.
  • On 29 September 1793 the COPS introduced the General Maximum (price controls)
  • On 26 February 1794 the COPS passed the Laws of Ventôse authorising the seizure and redistribution of all property belonging to those suspected of working against the Republic.
  • On 10 June 1794 the COPS passed the Law of 22 Prairial
  • These two laws took away the basic rights of the accused to representation as well as defined crimes of a counter-revolutionary nature
  • Judicial processes were thus quickened against those suspected of counter-revolutionary activities and convictions were secured much faster
  • On 23 August 1793 levée en masse (mass conscription) was decreed
  • In terms of this law every Frenchman between the ages of 18 and 25 was to render military service
  • Under the leadership of Carnot (nicknamed the ‘Organiser of Victory’) those drafted into the army were drilled and sent to fight the invading European armies
  • By the end of 1793, there were more than 750 000 troops who were devoted to the cause of the Revolution
Lecture 26Lesson 26- Evaluation of the National ConventionFree Preview

Lesson 26- Evaluation of the National Convention

Successes/Achievements:

Established the Republic

  • On 21 September 1792 (its second day) the National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a Republic
  • This completed the political revolution and theoretically this meant that power no longer came from God nor was it based on birth (aristocracy)
  • This meant that power came from the people/nation and anyone could get into government and lead
  • This marked a complete break with the Ancien Regime and it was also a complete departure from the generally accepted system of government which was largely monarchical
  • This is one of the most durable legacies of the Revolution as France remains a Republic to this day
  • Attempts to restore monarchical rule through the Napoleonic Empire (1804-1814) Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), the Orleans Monarchy of Louis Philippe (1830-1848) and the Second Empire of Louis Napoleon III (1852-1870) were not permanent

 

Defeated European invaders

  • In 1793, the armies of the National Convention scored victories against the British in Toulon
  • On 18 May 1794 the French also defeated the British at Tourcoing and from that point the British avoided facing French forces on land
  • On 26 June 1794 the French defeated Austria at Fleurus against Austria and saved themselves from the threat of invasion
  • By 1795, the National Convention had driven out the European invaders and could now go on the offensive invading Holland and Belgium among others

 

Lecture 27Lesson 27- The Directory (1795-1799)Free Preview

Lesson 27- The Directory (1795-1799)

Challenges

How to give France a stable government

  • France never enjoyed stability during the National Convention
  • From the beginning the National Convention was plagued by factionalism in the form of the Girondists and Jacobins who fought each other for supremacy
  • There was always the threat of the Sans Culottes and the Paris Commune who threw their weight behind the Jacobins
  • Even when they defeated the Girondists the Jacobins were always threatened by the radical Sans Culottes and the Paris Commune who they had to pacify with measures including price controls
  • By end of 1794 the Jacobins had lost control of the National Convention but those who took charge had to rely on the army to save them from rebellious sections in Paris
  • The National Convention had also failed to take effective charge of policy making
  • For much its time, the National Convention was held hostage by the radical Sans Culottes who used or threatened the use of violence to get their way
  • The Sans Culottes formed an alliance with the Montagnards (Jacobin deputies) in the National Convention and successfully pushed for laws that included price controls which were ultimately disastrous for the economy as they led to hoarding and shortages of basic goods
  • In June 1793 the Sans Culottes and other radical Parisians backed the Montagnards in forcing the expulsion and arrest of the Girondist deputies
  • By the end of 1793 the National Convention had lost control over policy-making which had been delegated to the Committee of Public Safety which comprised of radical Jacobin deputies
  • Thus the Directory had the task of achieving stability