French Revolution

The French Revolution (French: Révolution française [ʁevɔlysjɔ̃ fʁɑ̃sɛːz]) began in May 1789 when the Ancien Régime was abolished in favour of a constitutional monarchy. Its replacement in September 1792 by the First French Republic led to the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793, and an extended period of political turmoil. This culminated in the appointment of Napoleon as First Consul in November 1799, which is generally taken as its end point. Many of its principles are now considered fundamental aspects of modern Liberal democracy.[1]

French Revolution
Part of the Atlantic Revolutions
Anonymous - Prise de la Bastille.jpg
The Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789
Date5 May 1789 – 9 November 1799 (1789-05-05 – 1799-11-09)
(10 years, 6 months and 4 days)
LocationKingdom of France

The intellectual origins of the Revolution came from a global network of European and American 'patriots', who shared ideas and political principles, contacts accelerated by the American Revolution.[2] Together, they marked the beginning of the Age of Revolution, which continued into the mid-19th century and impacted much of Europe and the Americas.[3] However, the French quickly discarded the American Revolution as a reference point, and they are generally viewed as distinct events, with different causes.[4]

Between 1700 and 1789, the French population increased from 18 million to 26 million, leading to large numbers of unemployed, accompanied by sharp rises in food prices caused by years of bad harvests.[5] Servicing high levels of state debt led to tax increases, borne disproportionately by the lower classes, who were already suffering from a collapse in real wages.[6] Widespread social distress led to the convocation of the Estates General in May 1789, the first since 1614.

In June, the Estates were replaced by the National Assembly, which was given the task of creating a new constitution. It quickly passed a series of radical measures, including the abolition of feudalism, removal of regional Parlements, bringing the French Catholic Church under state control and extending the right to vote. The next three years were dominated by the struggle for political control, exacerbated by economic depression and social unrest. External powers like Austria, Britain and Prussia viewed the Revolution as a threat, leading to the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in April 1792, further weakening the French economy.

Disillusionment with Louis XVI after his attempt to escape abroad in June led to the establishment of the First French Republic on 22 September 1792, followed by his execution in January 1793. In June, an uprising in Paris replaced the Girondins who dominated the National Assembly with a Committee of Public Safety under Maximilien Robespierre. This sparked the Reign of Terror, an attempt to eradicate alleged "counter-revolutionaries"; when it ended in July 1794, over 3,000 had been executed in Paris alone, including Robespierre.

As well as external enemies, France faced a series of internal Royalist and Jacobin revolts; this led to the suspension of elections and creation of the Directory in November 1795. Although the regime stabilised the currency, and achieved military success under generals like Napoleon, the cost of the war led to economic stagnation and internal divisions.[7] In November 1799, the Directory was replaced by the Consulate, which is generally viewed as marking the end of the Revolutionary period.

Many Revolutionary symbols such as La Marseillaise and phrases like Liberté, égalité, fraternité reappeared in other revolts, such as the 1917 Russian Revolution.[8] Over the next two centuries, its key principles like equality would inspire campaigns for the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage.[9] Its values and institutions dominate French politics to this day, and many historians regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.[10] [7]


Louis XI, who came to the throne in 1774

Historians generally view the Revolution as driven by the failure of the Ancien Régime to manage increasing social and economic inequality. Their causes included rapid population growth, high food prices and economic depression, largely driven by an inability to finance Government debt.[11] Combined with a highly regressive tax system and resistance to reform by the ruling elite, the result was a crisis Louis XVI proved unable to manage.[12][13]

From the late 17th century onwards, political and cultural debate became part of general European society, rather than being confined to a governing elite. It took different forms, such as the English 'coffeehouse culture', and extended to areas colonised by Europeans, particularly British North America. Contacts between diverse groups in Edinburgh, Geneva, Boston, Amsterdam, Paris, London or Vienna were much greater than often appreciated. For the wealthy, education included the European cultural expedition known as the Grand Tour, or attendance at a foreign university; many were fluent in more than one language, French and Latin being the most common. A transnational group sharing ideas and styles was not new; what changed was their extent and the numbers involved.[14]

Under Louis XIV, the Court at Versailles was the centre of French culture, fashion and political power. This role was underlined by the splendour of its architecture, intended to overwhelm the visitor and convince them of Royal omnipotence. In the 18th century, increases in literacy meant far more people were reading newspapers or journals, with Masonic lodges, coffee houses, and reading clubs providing areas to debate and discuss ideas. The emergence of this so-called "public sphere" meant Paris replaced Versailles as the cultural and intellectual centre, leaving the Court isolated and detached.[15]

In the decade prior to the Revolution, France suffered a severe economic depression, partly the result of high levels of debt incurred in a series of wars fought to challenge British naval and commercial power. Although French support was crucial to American victory in the American Revolutionary War, it was also costly; the separate 1778–1783 Anglo-French War ended in stalemate, and was primarily a naval conflict, the most expensive type of warfare. However, modern studies show that in 1788, the ratio of debt to GNP in France was 55.6%, significantly lower than Britain at 181.8%.[16] While the British were able to service this debt, weaknesses in fiscal policy meant the French could not, and efforts to pass reforms to deal with this were blocked. The resulting political impasse led to the calling of the Estates-General, which became radicalised by attempts to exert control over public finances. It was the dispute over debt financing that was the problem, not its size.[17]

By 1789, France was the most populous country in Europe.

This coincided with major societal changes. From 1700 to 1789, the population grew from 18 to 26 million, making France the most populous state in Europe, creating a large urban proletariat. French farmers could not grow enough to meet this need, and as a result, while food prices rose by 65% between 1770 and 1790, real wages increased by only 22%.[18] This was particularly damaging for the regime since many blamed price increases on the failure of the government to prevent profiteering.[19] By the spring of 1789, a poor harvest followed by a severe winter created a rural peasantry with nothing to sell, and an urban proletariat whose purchasing power had collapsed.[20]

Although Louis was not indifferent to the crisis, attempts to enact financial reforms were blocked by the regional Parlements who controlled tax policy.[21] The court and nobility became the target of popular anger, especially Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was viewed as a spendthrift Austrian spy, and blamed for the dismissal of 'progressive' ministers like Jacques Necker. Enlightenment ideas on equality and democracy provided an intellectual framework for dealing with these issues, while the American Revolution was seen as confirmation of their practical application.[22]

The crisis of the Ancien Régime

Financial crisis

The regional Parlements in 1789; note area covered by the Parlement de Paris

In the century preceding the Revolution, the French state faced a series of budgetary crises. These primarily arose from structural deficiencies, rather than lack of resources; unlike Britain, where Parliament determined both expenditure and taxation, in France the Crown controlled spending, not income. Only the Estates-General could approve a national tax, but this body had not been called since 1614, with its functions devolved to regional Parlements.[23]

Originally set up as law courts, by the mid-18th century they had wide-ranging control over tax and legal affairs, the most powerful being the Parlement de Paris. Although willing to authorise one-off taxes, they were reluctant to pass long-term measures, while outsourcing collection to the Ferme générale meant the yield from those they did approve was significantly reduced. As a result, despite being larger and wealthier than Britain, France struggled to service its debt.[24]

Following partial default in 1770, efforts were made to improve collection of revenues, while reducing costs. Substantial progress was made by Turgot; appointed Finance Minister in 1774, he opposed intervention in America, arguing France could not afford it. However, his removal of price controls on grain caused popular discontent, and he was dismissed in May 1776 after alienating important power groups by suggesting removal of the privileges later abolished by the Revolution. His successor was the Swiss Protestant Necker, who was replaced in 1781 by Calonne.[25]

The expansion in state debt caused by the American War created a large French rentier class, those who lived on the interest earned by holding it. Since reducing expenditure was no longer sufficient to cover the interest burden, the government could either default on the debt, or increase taxes, both of which options were opposed by the Parlements. Faced with their opposition, Calonne summoned the Assembly of Notables, an advisory council dominated by the upper nobility, who ruled only the Estates-General could approve such changes. It has been suggested their disagreement with Calonne was primarily because either he had not gone far enough, or they disliked the operational methods proposed.[26]

However, as a consequence they forfeited an opportunity to retain control of the reform process. Calonne was dismissed in May 1787 and replaced by de Brienne, who led the opposition to him in the Notables and was a former Archbishop of Toulouse.[a] After his attempts to force the Parlements to approve new taxes failed, he too resigned in August 1788; shortly thereafter, Necker was re-appointed Finance Minister and Louis summoned the Estates-General to assemble in May 1789.[28]

Estates-General of 1789

Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back

The Estates-General was split into three bodies; the First Estate or clergy, the Second Estate or nobility, and the Third Estate, or commons. Each Estate sat and voted separately, enabling the clergy and nobility to unite against the Commons, despite representing less than 4% of the population. In the 1789 elections, the First Estate returned 303 deputies, representing 100,000 Catholic clergy; nearly 10% of French lands were controlled by bishops and monasteries, while the Church collected its own taxes from peasants.[29] Fifty-one were bishops, the wealthiest of whom had incomes of 50,000 livres a year; more than two-thirds were ordinary parish priests who lived on less than 500 and were more representative of the working classes than the lawyers and officials of the Third Estate.[30]

The Second Estate elected 291 deputies, representing about 400,000 men and women, who owned about 25% of the land and collected seigneurial dues and rents from their peasant tenants. Like the clergy this was not a uniform body, being divided into the Noblesse d'épée, or traditional aristocracy, and the Noblesse de robe. The latter derived rank from judicial or administrative posts and tended to be hard-working professionals, who dominated the regional Parlements and were often intensely socially conservative. Neither the First or Second Estates paid tax.[31]

610 deputies sat for the Third Estate, in theory representing 95% of the population, although voting rights were restricted to French-born or naturalised males, aged 25 years or more, residing where the vote was to take place and who paid taxes. Half were well educated lawyers or local officials, nearly a third in trades or industry, while fifty-one were wealthy land owners.[32]

To assist delegates, Cahiers de doléances, or lists of grievances, were compiled.[33] Despite containing ideas that would have seemed radical only months before, most remained generally supportive of the monarchical system. It was generally assumed the function of the Estates-General would be to enact financial measures and taxes, rather than engaging in fundamental constitutional change.[34]

The meeting of the Estates General on 5 May 1789 at Versailles

The lifting of press censorship allowed widespread distribution of political writings, mostly produced by liberal members of the First and Second Estates.[35] One such pamphlet titled Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? was published in January 1789 by the Abbé Sieyès, a political theorist and Catholic clergyman, who was elected as a deputy for the Third Estate. He argued for its paramount importance, claiming: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something."[36]

The Estates-General convened in the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi on 5 May 1789, near the Palace of Versailles rather than in Paris, which was interpreted as an attempt to control their debates. As was customary, each Estate assembled in separate rooms, whose furnishings and opening ceremonies deliberately emphasised the superiority of the First and Second Estates. They also insisted on enforcing the rule only those who owned land could sit as deputies for the Second Estate, thus excluding the immensely popular aristocrat Mirabeau.[37]

Since the Third Estate could always be outvoted by the other two, despite representing over 95% of the population, from the beginning a key objective was for all three to sit as one house. Led by Sieyès, they therefore demanded the credentials of all deputies be approved by the Estates-General as a whole, rather than each Estate verifying its own; once approved, the built-in weighting of the Estates-General in favour of a minority would be dissolved. After an extended stalemate, Necker suggested each Estate should verify its own members' credentials and the king should act as arbitrator.[38]

On 10 June, Sieyès moved the Third Estate proceed with verifying its own deputies, while inviting the other two to take part, but not to wait, a process completed on 17 June. By 19 June, they had been joined by over 100 members of the clergy, and these deputies now declared themselves the National Assembly. They invited the other deputies to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.[39]

In an attempt to prevent the Assembly convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des États, claiming it needed to be prepared for a royal speech. On 20 June, the deputies met in a tennis court outside Versailles, where they swore to swear the Tennis Court Oath, agreeing not to disperse until they had given France a constitution. By 27 June, they had been joined by the majority of the clergy, plus forty-seven members of the nobility, and Louis backed down; messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other cities.[40]

Constitutional monarchy; July 1789 to September 1791

Abolition of the Ancien Régime

The Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the iconic event of the Revolution, still commemorated each year as Bastille Day

Even these limited reforms went too far for reactionaries like Marie Antoinette and Louis' younger brother the Comte d'Artois; on their advice, Louis dismissed Necker on 11 July.[41] On 12 July, the Assembly went into a non-stop session after rumours circulated he was planning to use the Swiss Guards to force its closure. The news brought crowds of protestors onto the streets, and the elite Gardes Françaises regiment refused to disperse them.[42]

On 14th, many of these regulars joined the mob in attacking the Bastille, a Royal fortress with large stores of arms and ammunition; after several hours of fighting, which cost the lives of 83 attackers, Governor Marquis de Launay surrendered. He was taken to the Hôtel de Ville and executed, his head placed on a pike and paraded about the city; the fortress was then torn down in remarkably quick time. Although rumoured to hold large numbers of prisoners, only seven were found; four forgers, two noblemen held for "immoral behaviour", and a murder suspect. Nevertheless, as a potent symbol of the Ancien Régime, its destruction was viewed as a triumph and Bastille Day is still celebrated each year.[43]

Alarmed by the violence, Louis backed down and appointed Lafayette commander of the National Guard. A new governmental structure was created for Paris known as the Commune, headed by Jean-Sylvain Bailly, former president of the Assembly. On 17 July, Louis visited Paris accompanied by 100 deputies, where he was met by Bailly and accepted a tricolore cockade to loud cheers. However, it was clear power had shifted from the Court; he was welcomed as 'Louis XVI, father of the French and king of a free people.'[44]

The short-lived unity enforced on the Assembly by a common threat quickly dissipated as deputies argued over constitutional forms, while civil authority rapidly deteriorated. On 22 July, former Finance Minister Foullon and his son were lynched by a Parisian mob, with neither Bailly or Lafayette able to prevent it. In rural areas, wild rumours and paranoia resulted in the formation of militia and an agrarian insurrection known as la Grande Peur.[45] The breakdown of law and order and frequent attacks on aristocratic property led much of the nobility to flee abroad; these émigrés funded reactionary forces within France and urged foreign monarchs to back a counter-revolution.[46]

In response to this unrest, the Assembly published the August Decrees, ending feudalism and other privileges held by the nobility, notably exemption from tax. Others included equality before the law, opening public office to all, conversion of the church tithe into payments subject to redemption, freedom of worship, and cancellation of special privileges held by provinces and towns.[47] Over 25% of farmland was subject to feudal dues which provided most of the income for large landowners. The original intention was their tenants would pay compensation, but the majority refused to do so and the obligation was cancelled in 1793, along with the tithe.[48]

When the 13 regional parlements were suspended in November 1789, before being abolished in September 1790, the main institutional pillars of the old regime had vanished in less than four months. In their place, they substituted "the modern, autonomous individual, free to do whatever was not prohibited by law." From its early stages, the Revolution displayed signs of its radical nature.[49]

Creating a new constitution

Assisted by Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette prepared a draft constitution known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which echoed some of the provisions of the Declaration of Independence. However, unlike the United States, there was no consensus on the role of the Crown, and until this had been agreed, it was impossible to create political institutions. When presented to the legislative committee on 11 July, it was rejected by pragmatists such as Jean Joseph Mounier, President of the Assembly, who feared creating expectations that could not be satisfied.[50]

After editing by Mirabeau, it was published on 26 August as a statement of principle.[51] Considered one of the most important political documents in history, it contained provisions then considered radical in any European society, let alone France in 1789. Arguments between French and American historians over responsibility for its wording continue, but most agree the reality is a mix. Although Jefferson made major contributions to Lafayette's draft, he himself acknowledged an intellectual debt to Montesquieu, and the final version was significantly different.[52] French historian Georges Lefebvre argues combined with the elimination of privilege and feudalism, it "highlighted equality in a way the (Americans) did not".[53]

More important was the difference in intent; Jefferson saw the US Constitution and Bill of Rights as fixing the political system at a specific point in time, claiming they 'contained no original thought...but expressed the American mind' at that stage.[54] The 1791 French Constitution was viewed as a starting point, the Declaration providing an aspirational vision to work towards, a key difference between the two Revolutions. Attached as a preamble to the 1791 Constitution, and that of the 1870 to 1940 Third Republic, it was incorporated into the current French Constitution in 1958.[55]

Discussions continued; Mounier, supported by conservatives like Lally-Tollendal, wanted a bicameral system, with an upper house appointed by the king, who would have the right of veto. On 10 September, the majority led by Sieyès and Talleyrand rejected this in favour of a single assembly, while Louis retained only a "suspensive veto"; this meant he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it. On this basis, a new committee was convened to agree a constitution; the most controversial issue was that of citizenship, linked to the debate on the balance between individual rights and obligations. Ultimately, the 1791 Constitution distinguished between 'active citizens' who held political rights, defined as French males over the age of 25, who paid direct taxes equal to three days' labour, and 'passive citizens', who were restricted to 'civil rights'. As a result, it was never fully accepted by radicals in the Jacobin club.[56]

The Women's March on Versailles, 5 October 1789

Food shortages and the worsening economy caused frustration at the lack of progress, and the Parisian working-class, or sans culottes, became increasingly restive. This came to a head in late September, when the Flanders Regiment arrived in Versailles to take over as the royal bodyguard and in line with normal practice were welcomed with a ceremonial banquet. Popular anger was fuelled by press descriptions of this as a 'gluttonous orgy', and claims the tricolor cockade had been abused. The arrival of these troops was also viewed as an attempt to intimidate the Assembly.[57]

On 5 October 1789, crowds of women assembled outside the Hôtel de Ville, urging action to reduce prices and improve bread supplies.[58] These protests quickly turned political, and after seizing weapons stored at the Hôtel de Ville, some 7,000 marched on Versailles, where they entered the Assembly to present their demands. They were followed by 15,000 members of the National Guard under Lafayette, who tried to dissuade them, but took command when it became clear they would desert if he did not grant their request.[59]

When the National Guard arrived later that evening, Lafayette persuaded Louis the safety of his family required their relocation to Paris. Next morning, some of the protestors broke into the Royal apartments, searching for Marie Antoinette who escaped; they ransacked the palace, killing several guards. Although the situation remained tense, order was eventually restored, and the Royal family and Assembly left for Paris, escorted by the National Guard.[60] By announcing his acceptance of the August Decrees and Declaration, Louis committed to constitutional monarchy, and his official title changed from 'King of France' to 'King of the French'.[61]

The Revolution and the church

In this caricature, monks and nuns enjoy their new freedom after the decree of 16 February 1790.

Historian John McManners argues "in eighteenth-century France, throne and altar were commonly spoken of as in close alliance; their simultaneous collapse ... would one day provide the final proof of their interdependence." One suggestion is that after a century of persecution, some French Protestants actively supported an anti-Catholic regime, a resentment fuelled by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire.[62] Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote it was "manifestly contrary to the law of nature... that a handful of people should gorge themselves with superfluities while the hungry multitude goes in want of necessities."[63]

The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Catholic Church to the state; although the extent of religious belief has been questioned, elimination of tolerance for religious minorities meant by 1789 being French also meant being Catholic.[64] The church was the largest individual landowner in France, controlling nearly 10% of all estates and levied tithes, effectively a 10% tax on income, collected from peasant farmers in the form of crops. In return, it provided a minimal level of social support.[65]

The August decrees abolished tithes, and on 2 November the Assembly confiscated all church property, used to back a new paper currency, the assignats. In return, the state assumed responsibilities such as paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned.[66] On 13 February 1790, religious orders and monasteries were dissolved, while monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life.[67] The Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 12 July 1790 made them employees of the state, as well as establishing rates of pay and a system for electing priests and bishops. Pope Pius VI and many French Catholics objected to this since it denied the authority of the Pope over the French Church. In October, thirty bishops wrote a declaration denouncing the law, further fuelling opposition.[68]

When clergy were required to swear loyalty to the Civil Constitution in November 1790, fewer than 24% did so; the result was a schism with those who refused, the 'non-juring' or 'Refractory clergy'.[69] This stiffened popular resistance against state interference, especially in traditionally Catholic areas such as Normandy, Brittany and the Vendée, where only a few priests took the oath and the civilian population turned against the revolution.[68] Widespread refusal led to further legislation against the clergy, many of whom were forced into exile, deported, or executed.[70]

Political divisions

The period from October 1789 to spring 1791 is usually seen as one of relative tranquility, when some of the most important legislative reforms were enacted. While certainly true, many provincial areas experienced conflict over the source of legitimate authority, where officers of the Ancien Régime had been swept away, but new structures were not yet in place. This was less obvious in Paris, since the formation of the National Guard made it the best policed city in Europe, but growing disorder in the provinces inevitably affected members of the Assembly.[71]

Centrists led by Sieyès, Lafayette, Mirabeau and Bailly created a majority by forging consensus with monarchiens like Mounier, and radicals such as Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexandre Lameth. At this stage, extremists like Maximilien Robespierre were a small minority, as were reactionaries like Cazalès and Maury who denounced the Revolution in all its forms. As time progressed, groups outside the Assembly began competing for political influence, including the Paris Commune and National Guard; perhaps the most significant was the Jacobin club. Originally a forum for general debate, by August 1790 it had over 150 members, who split into different factions; several of these broke away, such as the Club of '89.[72]

The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 celebrated the establishment of the constitutional monarchy.

The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the Ancien Régime – armorial bearings, liveries, etc. – which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the émigrés. On 14 July 1790, and for several days following, crowds in the Champ de Mars celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille with the Fête de la Fédération; Talleyrand performed a mass; participants swore an oath of "fidelity to the nation, the law, and the king"; the King and the royal family actively participated.[73]

The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the terms of the Tennis Court Oath, the communes had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution. Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau prevailed, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution.[74]

In late 1790 the French army was in considerable disarray. The military officer corps was largely composed of noblemen, who found it increasingly difficult to maintain order within the ranks. In some cases, soldiers (drawn from the lower classes) had turned against their aristocratic commanders and attacked them. At Nancy, General Bouillé successfully put down one such rebellion, only to be accused of being anti-revolutionary for doing so. This and other such incidents spurred a mass desertion as more and more officers defected to other countries, leaving a dearth of experienced leadership within the army.[75]

Meanwhile, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organisations: any individual gained the right to practise a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.[76]

Flight to Varennes

The return of the royal family to Paris on 25 June 1791, after their failed flight to Varennes

Louis XVI was increasingly dismayed by the direction of the revolution. His brother, the Comte d'Artois and his queen, Marie Antoinette, urged a stronger stance against the revolution and support for the émigrés, while he was resistant to any course that would see him openly side with foreign powers against the Assembly. Eventually, fearing for his own safety and that of his family, he decided to flee Paris to the Austrian border, having been assured of the loyalty of the border garrisons.

Louis cast his lot with General Bouillé, who condemned both the emigration and the Assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmédy. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace dressed as servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.

However, late the next day, the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes and returned to Paris. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.[77] The King's flight had a profound impact on public opinion, turning popular sentiment further against the clergy and nobility, and built momentum for the institution of a constitutional monarchy.[77]

Completing the constitution

As most of the Assembly still favoured a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groups reached a compromise which left Louis XVI as little more than a figurehead: he was forced to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to abdication.

However, Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under Lafayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, killing between 13 and 50 people.[78] The incident cost Lafayette and his National Guard much public support.

In the wake of the massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.[79]

Meanwhile, in August 1791, a new threat arose from abroad: the King's brother-in-law Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, King Frederick William II of Prussia, and the King's brother Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, declaring their intention to bring the French king in the position "to consolidate the basis of a monarchical government" and that they were preparing their own troops for action,[80] The flight of the king and the decline of the French monarchy (summer 1791–summer 1792).</ref> hinting at an invasion of France on the King's behalf.[81]

The meeting at Pillnitz Castle in 1791 which created the Declaration of Pillnitz, which threatened an invasion of France

Although Leopold himself sought to avoid war and made the declaration to satisfy the Comte d'Artois and the other émigrés, the reaction within France was ferocious. The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely hastened their militarisation.[82]

Even before the Flight to Varennes, the Assembly members had determined to debar themselves from the legislature that would succeed them, the Legislative Assembly. They now gathered the various constitutional laws they had passed into a single constitution, and submitted it to the recently restored Louis XVI, who accepted it, writing "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad, and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal". The King addressed the Assembly and received enthusiastic applause from members and spectators. With this capstone, the National Constituent Assembly adjourned in a final session on 30 September 1791.[83]

Legislative Assembly; October 1791 to September 1792

The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, elected by those 4 million men – out of a population of 6 million men over the age of 25 – who paid a certain minimum amount of taxes.[84] Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. Early on, the King vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, such disagreements would lead to a constitutional crisis.

Late in 1791, members of the Assembly who supported war against Austria and Prussia became known as 'Girondins', after the province of Gironde. Those who opposed war were dubbed 'Montagnards' or 'Jacobins'; the dispute hardened into a bitter enmity over the next year and a half.{ The Girondins saw war as a way to strengthen support for their revolutionary government, and were confident of victory; On 20 April 1792, the French Revolutionary Wars began when French troops invaded the Austrian Netherlands.[85]

Failure of the constitutional monarchy

The Legislative Assembly degenerated into chaos before October 1792. Francis Charles Montague concluded in 1911, "In the attempt to govern, the Assembly failed altogether. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and a people debauched by safe and successful riot."[86]

Lyons argues that the Constituent Assembly had liberal, rational, and individualistic goals that seem to have been largely achieved by 1791. However, it failed to consolidate the gains of the Revolution, which continued with increasing momentum and escalating radicalism until 1794. Lyons identifies six reasons for this escalation. First, the king did not accept the limitations on his powers, and mobilised support from foreign monarchs to reverse it. Second, the effort to overthrow the Roman Catholic Church, sell off its lands, close its monasteries and its charitable operations, and replace it with an unpopular makeshift system caused deep consternation among the pious and the peasants. Third, the economy was badly hurt by the issuance of ever increasing amounts of paper money (assignats), which caused more and more inflation; the rising prices hurt the urban poor who spent most of their income on food. Fourth, the rural peasants demanded liberation from the heavy system of taxes and dues owed to local landowners. Fifth, the working class of Paris and the other cities – the sans-culottes – resented the fact that the property owners and professionals had taken all the spoils of the Revolution. Finally, foreign powers threatened to overthrow the Revolution, which responded with extremism and systematic violence in its own defence.[87]

Constitutional crisis

In the summer of 1792, a large number of Parisians were against the monarchy, and hoped that the Assembly would depose the king, but the Assembly hesitated. At dawn on 10 August 1792, a large, angry crowd of insurgents and popular militias, supported by the revolutionary Paris Commune,[88] marched on the Tuileries.[89] They attacked the palace and killed the Swiss Guards who were assigned for the protection of the king.[88]

Around 8:00 am, Louis opted to seek safety with his wife and children in the Assembly, sitting in permanent session in Salle du Manège opposite the Tuileries.[89] Little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of who were Jacobins and just after 11:00 am, they voted to 'temporarily relieve the king', effectively suspending the monarchy.[90] In reaction, on 19 August the Prussian general Duke of Brunswick invaded France[91] and besieged Longwy.[89]

On 10 August 1792 the Paris Commune stormed the Tuileries Palace and killed a part of the Swiss Guards

On 26 August, the Assembly decreed the deportation of refractory priests in the west of France, as "causes of danger to the fatherland", to destinations like French Guiana. In reaction, peasants in the Vendée took over a town, in another step toward civil war.[89] What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. With enemy troops advancing, the Commune looked for potential traitors in Paris.[92][93]

On 2, 3 and 4 September 1792, hundreds of Parisians, supporters of the revolution, infuriated by Verdun being captured by the Prussian enemy, the uprisings in the west of France, and rumours that the incarcerated prisoners in Paris were conspiring with the foreign enemy, raided the Parisian prisons and murdered between 1,000 and 1,500 prisoners, many of them Catholic priests, aristocrats but also common criminals. Jean-Paul Marat, an ally of Robespierre, urged the rest of France to follow the example of Paris; neither the Assembly or Paris Commune seemed either able or willing to stop the bloodshed.[89]

Gangs of National Guardsmen and fédérés entered the prisons where they killed over 1,400, mostly nonjuring priests. The Commune then sent a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example, and many cities launched their own massacres of prisoners and priests in the "September massacres". The Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. In October, however, there was a counterattack accusing the instigators, especially Marat, of being terrorists. This led to a political contest between the more moderate Girondists and the more radical Montagnards inside the convention, with rumour used as a weapon by both sides. The Girondists lost ground when they seemed too conciliatory. But the pendulum swung again and after Thermidor, the men who had endorsed the massacres were denounced as terrorists.[92][93]

Chaos persisted until the Convention, elected by universal male suffrage and charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. The following day – 22 September 1792, the first morning of the new Republic – was later retroactively adopted as the beginning of Year One of the French Republican Calendar.[94]

French Revolutionary Wars

From May 1792 to June 1815 France was engaged almost continuously (with two short breaks) in wars with Britain and a changing coalition of other major powers. The many French successes led to the spread of the French revolutionary ideals into neighbouring countries, and indeed across much of Europe. However, the final defeat of Napoleon in 1814 (and 1815) brought a reaction that reversed some – but not all – of the revolutionary achievements in France and Europe. The Bourbons were restored to the throne, with the brother of King Louis XVI becoming King Louis XVIII.

French victory over the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792

The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, many of the Feuillants, and the Girondins specifically wanted to wage war. The King (and many Feuillants with him) expected war would increase his personal popularity; he also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat: either result would make him stronger. The Girondins wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe and, by extension, to defend the Revolution within France. The forces opposing war were much weaker. Barnave and his supporters among the Feuillants feared a war they thought France had little chance to win and which they feared might lead to greater radicalisation of the revolution. On the other end of the political spectrum Robespierre opposed a war on two grounds, fearing that it would strengthen the monarchy and military at the expense of the revolution, and that it would incur the anger of ordinary people in Austria and elsewhere. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, may have wished to avoid war, but he died on 1 March 1792.[95] France preemptively declared war on Austria (20 April 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later. The invading Prussian army faced little resistance until it was checked at the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792) and forced to withdraw.

The French Revolutionary Army defeated the combined armies of Austrians, Dutch and British at Fleurus in June 1794.

The new-born Republic followed up on this success with a series of victories in Belgium and the Rhineland in the fall of 1792. The French armies defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Jemappes on 6 November, and had soon taken over most of the Austrian Netherlands. This brought them into conflict with Britain and the Dutch Republic, which wished to preserve the independence of the southern Netherlands from France. After the French king's execution in January 1793, these powers, along with Spain and most other European states, joined the war against France. Almost immediately, French forces suffered defeats on many fronts, and were driven out of their newly conquered territories in the spring of 1793. At the same time, the republican regime was forced to deal with rebellions against its authority in much of western and southern France. But the allies failed to take advantage of French disunity, and by the autumn of 1793 the republican regime had defeated most of the internal rebellions and halted the allied advance into France itself.

This stalemate ended in the summer of 1794 with dramatic French victories. The French defeated the allied army at the Battle of Fleurus, leading to a full Allied withdrawal from the Austrian Netherlands. They pushed the allies to the east bank of the Rhine, allowing France, by the beginning of 1795, to conquer the Dutch Republic itself. The House of Orange was expelled and replaced by the Batavian Republic, a French satellite state. These victories led to the collapse of the anti-French coalition. Prussia, having effectively abandoned the coalition in the fall of 1794, made peace with revolutionary France at Basel in April 1795, and soon thereafter Spain also made peace with France. Britain and Austria were the only major powers to remain at war with France.

Colonial uprisings

Slave revolt in Saint Domingue

Although the French Revolution had a dramatic impact in numerous areas of Europe, the French colonies felt a particular influence. As the Martinican author Aimé Césaire put it, "there was in each French colony a specific revolution, that occurred on the occasion of the French Revolution, in tune with it."[96]

The Haitian Revolution (Saint Domingue) became a central example of slave uprisings in French colonies. In the 1780s, Saint-Domingue had been France's wealthiest colony, producing more sugar than all the British West Indies colonies put together. During the Revolution, the National Convention voted to abolish slavery in February 1794, months after the rebelling slaves had already announced an abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue.[97] However, the 1794 decree was only implemented in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Guyane, and was a dead letter in Senegal, Mauritius, Réunion and Martinique, the last of which had been conquered by the British, who maintained the institution of slavery on that Caribbean island.[98]

First Republic 1792–1795

Proclamation of the First Republic

Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Concorde, facing the empty pedestal where the statue of his grandfather, Louis XV previously stood

In late August, elections were held for the National Convention; in the interval before it assembled, a series of extra-judicial killings took place in Paris, known as the September Massacres. Responsibility is still disputed, variously being ascribed to Georges Danton or Jean-Paul Marat; while there is no direct proof of their involvement, they did nothing to stop it. Over four days from 2 to 6 September, members of the National Guard summarily executed between 1,100 to 1,600 prisoners, of whom more than 72% were common criminals.[99]

It was in this atmosphere the Convention assembled on 20 September, split into three primary groups; radical Montagnards, including Robespierre, Danton and Marat, moderate Girondins, headed by Brissot, and the majority or la Plaine, who belonged to neither. Headed by Bertrand Barère, Pierre Joseph Cambon and Lazare Carnot, this central faction acted as a swing vote, preventing complete deadlock.[100] On 22 September, monarchy was replaced by the French First Republic and a new calendar introduced, 1792 becoming Year One of the new Republic.[101]

The next few months were taken up with the trial of Citoyen Louis Capet, formerly Louis XVI; while members of the Convention were evenly divided on the question of his guilt, they were increasingly influenced by radicals concentrated in the Jacobin clubs and Paris Commune. The Brunswick Manifesto issued by the Allies in July threatened retaliation against those who opposed their advance or reinstatement of the monarchy. This made it easy to portray him as a threat to the Revolution, confirmed when extracts from his personal correspondence allegedly showed him conspiring with Royalist exiles serving in their armies.[102]

On 17 January 1793, the Assembly condemned Louis to death for "conspiracy against public liberty and general safety", by a margin of 361 to 288; another 72 members voted to execute him subject to a variety of delaying conditions. The sentence was carried out on 21 January on the Place de la Révolution, now the Place de la Concorde.[103] Horrified conservatives across Europe called for the destruction of revolutionary France; in February the Convention anticipated this by declaring war on Britain and the Dutch Republic; these countries were later joined by Spain, Portugal, Naples and the Tuscany in the War of the First Coalition.[104]

Political crisis; Fall of the Girondins

By declaring war, the Convention hoped to mobilise revolutionary fervour and blame rising prices, shortages and unemployment as arising from external threats. Instead, the Parisian urban poor directed their anger against the Girondins, and when the first conscription measure or Levée en Masse was announced on 24 February, it sparked riots. Many Girondin deputies now left Paris, seeking to marshall support in the regions; already unsettled by changes imposed on the church, in March the traditionally conservative and Royalist Vendée rose in revolt. On 18th, Dumouriez was defeated at Neerwinden and defected to the Austrians, followed by risings in Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulon, Marseilles, Caen. The Republic seemed on the verge of collapse. [105]

The urgency of these issues led to the creation on 6 April 1793 of the Committee of Public Safety, an executive committee accountable to the Convention.[106] The Girondins made a fatal political error by indicting Marat before the Revolutionary Tribunal for allegedly directing the September massacres; he was quickly acquitted, further isolating them from the sans-culottes. After the radical Jacques Hébert called for a popular revolt against the "henchmen of Louis Capet" on 24 May, he was arrested by the Commission of Twelve, a Girondin-dominated tribunal set up to expose 'plots'. When a delegation from the Commune protested, the Commission warned that "if by your incessant rebellions something befalls the representatives of the nation,...Paris will be obliterated".[105]

Growing discontent and economic hardship allowed the Jacobin clubs to mobilise against the Girondins; backed by the Commune and elements of the National Guard, on 31 May they attempted to seize power in a coup. Although persuaded to disperse, on 2 June the Convention was surrounded by a crowd of up to 80,000, demanding cheap bread, unemployment pay and political reforms, including restriction of the vote to the sans-culottes, and the right to remove deputies at will.[107] Ten members of the Commission, plus another twenty-nine members of the Girondin faction were arrested, and on 10 June, Robespierre and the Jacobins took over the Committee of Public Safety.[108]

On 24 June, the Convention adopted the new Constitution, which contained various progressive and radical reforms, in particular the establishment of universal male suffrage. However, normal legal processes were suspended following the assassination of Marat on 13 July by the Girondist-sympthiser Charlotte Corday, which the Committee of Public Safety used as an excuse to take control. The new revolutionary state had four main areas of focus; economic regulation, war, punitive violence against internal opponents, and replacement of political debate by state ideology. In many ways, this was a return to the France of Louis XIV.[109]

Although many of the provinces were in open rebellion against Paris, this did not necessarily mean they were united. While areas like the Vendée and Brittany were strongly Catholic and Royalist, the majority were led by moderate Girondists who supported the Republic but opposed the regime in Paris. On 17 August, the Convention voted a second levée en masse; despite initial problems in equipping and supplying such large numbers, by mid-October Republican forces had re-taken Lyon, Marseilles and Bordeaux, while defeating Coalition armies at Hondschoote and Wattignies.[110]

Revolutionary Terror

Queen Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine, 16 October 1793

The Reign of Terror began as a way of harnessing revolutionary fervour, but quickly degenerated into the settlement of personal grievances. At the end of July, the Convention set price controls over a wide range of goods, with the death penalty for hoarders, and on 9 September 'revolutionary groups' were established to enforce them. On 17th, the Law of Suspects ordered the arrest of suspected "enemies of freedom", initiating what became known as the "Terror". According to archival records, from September 1793 to July 1794 some 16,600 people were executed on charges of counter-revolutionary activity; another 40,000 may have been summarily executed or died awaiting trial.[111]

Fixed prices, death for 'hoarders' or 'profiteers', and confiscation of grain stocks by groups of armed workers meant by early September Paris was suffering acute food shortages. However, the biggest challenge was servicing the huge public debt inherited from the former regime, which continued to expand due to the war. Initially financed by sales of confiscated property, this was hugely inefficient; since few would buy assets that might be repossessed, fiscal stability could only be achieved by continuing the war until French counter-revolutionaries had been defeated. As internal and external threats to the Republic increased, the position worsened; dealing with this by printing paper money or assignats devalued the currency and those most impacted were the urban poor, or sans-culottes.[112]

On 10 October, the Convention recognised the Committee of Public Safety as the supreme Revolutionary Government, and suspended the Constitution until peace was achieved.[113] In mid-October, former queen Marie Antoinette was found guilty of a long list of crimes and guillotined; two weeks later, the Girondist leaders arrested in June were also executed, along with Philippe Égalité. Revolutionary terror was not confined to Paris; after the recapture of Lyons, over 2,000 were killed, one of the last being Jean Ripet, the public executioner, whose hard work did not save him.[114]

Georges Danton; Robespierre's close friend and Montagnard leader, executed 5 April 1794

At Cholet on 17 October, the Republican army won a decisive victory over the Vendée rebels, with the remnants escaping over into Brittany. Another defeat at Le Mans on 23 December ended the rebellion as a major threat, although the insurgency continued until 1796. The brutal repression that followed has been debated by French historians since the mid-19th century, with some calling it a genocide.[115] Between November 1793 to February 1794, over 4,000 were drowned in the Loire at Nantes under the supervision of Jean-Baptiste Carrier, with historian Reynald Secher claiming as many as 117,000 died between 1793 to 1796. Although those numbers have been challenged, François Furet concluded it "not only revealed massacre and destruction on an unprecedented scale, but a zeal so violent that it has bestowed as its legacy much of the region's identity."[116] [b]

At its peak, the slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts could place one under suspicion, while even its supporters were not immune. Under the pressure of events, splits appeared within the Montagnard faction, with violent disagreements between radical Hébertists and moderates led by Danton.[c] The Robespierre viewed their dispute as de-stabilising the regime, while as a Deist he objected to the anti-religious policies advocated by the atheist Hébert; he was arrested and executed on 24 March with 19 of his colleagues, including Carrier.[120] To retain the loyalty of the remaining Hébertists, Danton was arrested, and executed on 5 April along with Camille Desmoulins, after a show trial that arguably did more damage to Robespierre than any other act in this period.[121]

The Law of 22 Prairial, or 10 June, denied "enemies of the people" the right to defend themselves, while those arrested in the provinces were now sent to Paris for judgement; from March to July, executions in Paris increased from five to twenty-six a day.[122] Many Jacobins ridiculed the festival of the Cult of the Supreme Being on 8 June, a lavish and expensive ceremony led by Robespierre, who was also accused of circulating claims he was a second Messiah. The relaxation of price controls and rampant inflation caused increasing unrest among the sans-culottes, while the improved military situation reduced fears the Republic was in danger. Many feared their own survival depended on his removal; during a meeting on 29 June, three members of the Committee of Public Safety called him a dictator in his face.[123]

Robespierre responded by not attending sessions, allowing his opponents to build a coalition against him. In a speech made to the Convention on 26 July, he claimed certain members were conspiring against the Republic, an almost certain death sentence if confirmed; when he refused to give names, the session broke up in confusion. That evening he made the same speech at the Jacobins club, where it was greeted with huge applause and demands for execution of the 'traitors'. It was clear if his opponents did not act, he would; in the Convention next day, Robespierre and his allies were shouted down. His voice failed when he tried to speak, a deputy crying "The blood of Danton chokes him!"[124]

The execution of Robespierre on 28 July 1794 marked the end of the Reign of Terror.

The Convention authorised his arrest; after a failed suicide attempt, he was executed on 28 July with 19 colleagues, including Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Georges Couthon, followed by 83 members of the Commune.[125] The Law of 22 Prairial was repealed, while any surviving Girondists expelled in June 1793 were reinstated as Convention deputies; in November the Jacobin Club was closed and banned.[126]

There are various interpretations of the Terror; Marxist historian Albert Soboul saw it as necessary to defend the Revolution from external and internal threats. Others, including François Furet, argued these had little to do with the Terror, and its violence was a product of the intense ideological commitment of the revolutionaries, whose Utopian goals required exterminating any opposition.[127] A middle position suggests the Terror was not inherent to the ideology of the Revolution, but the product of a series of complex internal events, combined with a genuine foreign threat.[128] Scholars have also argued its violence served a sacrificial function.[129]

The Thermidorean reaction

Although the victors of Thermidor had asserted their control over the Commune by executing their leaders, some of the leading "Terrorists" retained their positions. They included Paul Barras, later a member of the Directory, Joseph Fouché, director of the killings in Lyon, who served as Minister of Police under the Directory, the Consulate and Empire. Others were exiled or prosecuted, a process that took several months; it was only in November that the Convention felt secure enough to close the Jacobins club.[130]

The fall of Robespierre did not yet end the bloodshed; Southern France saw a wave of revenge killings, directed against alleged Jacobins, Republican officials and Protestants. Food shortages arising from a poor 1794 harvest were exacerbated in Northern France by the need to supply the army in Flanders, while the harsh winter made it difficult to transport goods around the country. By April 1795, the assignat was worth only 8% of its face value; in desperation, the sans culottes rose again.[131] They were quickly dispersed and the main impact was another round of arrests, while Jacobin prisoners in Lyon were summarily executed.[132]

In order to end the Chouannerie in western France and pacify the Vendee, the December 1794 Treaty of La Jaunaye allowed freedom of worship and the return of Catholic priests who had refused to swear loyalty to the Republic.[133] This went some way towards ending unrest in the regions, although in October 1795 the government reinstated the requirement for all priests to take an oath of loyalty. This was helped by military success; in January 1795, French forces helped the Dutch Patriots movement set up the Batavian Republic, securing their northern border.[134] For the first time, the survival of the Republic seemed assured; in April 1795, the Peace of Basel ended the war with Prussia, followed by Spain.[135]

The Directory; 1795–1799

The convention on 22 August 1795 approved the new "Constitution of the Year III". A French plebiscite ratified the document, with about 1,057,000 votes for the constitution and 49,000 against.[136] The results of the voting were announced on 23 September 1795, and the new constitution took effect on 27 September 1795.[136] The new constitution created the Directoire (English: Directory) with a bicameral legislature.

The first chamber was called the 'Council of 500' initiating the laws, the second the 'Council of Elders' reviewing and approving or not the passed laws. Each year, one-third of the chambers was to be renewed. The executive power was in the hands of the five members (directors) of the Directory with a five-year mandate.[137]

The early directors did not much understand the nation they were governing; they especially had an innate inability to see Catholicism as anything else than counter-revolutionary and royalist. Local administrators had a better sense of people's priorities, and one of them wrote to the minister of the interior: "Give back the crosses, the church bells, the Sundays, and everyone will cry: 'vive la République!'"[137]

The Directory denounced the arbitrary executions of the Reign of Terror, but itself engaged in large scale illegal repressions, as well as large-scale massacres of civilians in the Vendee uprising. The economy continued in bad condition, with the poor especially hurt by the high cost of food.

State finances were in total disarray; the government could only cover its expenses through the plunder and the tribute of foreign countries. If peace was made, the armies would return home and the directors would have to face the exasperation of the rank-and-file who had lost their livelihood, as well as the ambition of generals who could, in a moment, brush them aside. Barras and Rewbell were notoriously corrupt themselves and screened corruption in others. The patronage of the directors was ill-bestowed, and the general maladministration heightened their unpopularity.[138]

A small French force tried to invade Britain in February 1797. This contemporary image shows troops landing near Fishguard in Wales. The troops were later forced to surrender.

The constitutional party in the legislature desired toleration of the nonjuring clergy, the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the émigrés, and some merciful discrimination towards the émigrés themselves. The directors baffled all such endeavours. On the other hand, the proto-anarchist/communist conspiracy of Babeuf was easily quelled. Little was done to improve the finances, and the assignats continued to fall in value until each note was worth less than the paper it was printed on; debtors easily paid off their debts.[139] A series of financial reforms started by the Directory finally took effect after it fell from power.[citation needed]


Although committed to Republicanism, the Directory distrusted democracy.[citation needed] Historians have seldom praised the Directory; it was a government of self-interest rather than virtue, thus losing any claim on idealism. It never had a strong base of popular support; when elections were held, most of its candidates were defeated. Its achievements were minor.[140][141] Brown stresses the turn towards dictatorship and the failure of liberal democracy under the Directory, blaming it on, "chronic violence, ambivalent forms of justice, and repeated recourse to heavy-handed repression."[142]

General Napoleon and his troops crossing the bridge of Arcole in 1796

The election system was complex and designed to insulate the government from grass roots democracy. The parliament consisted of two houses: the Conseil des Cinq-Cents (Council of the Five Hundred) with 500 representatives, and the Conseil des Anciens (Council of Elders) with 250 senators. Executive power went to five "directors," named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the Conseil des Cinq-Cents. The universal male suffrage of 1793 was replaced by male census suffrage based on property. The voters had only a limited choice because the electoral rules required two-thirds of the seats go to members of the old Convention, no matter how few popular votes they received.[143]

Citizens of the war-weary nation wanted stability, peace, and an end to conditions that at times bordered on chaos. Nevertheless, those on the right who wished to restore the monarchy by putting Louis XVIII on the throne, and those on the left who would have renewed the Reign of Terror, tried but failed to overthrow the Directory. The earlier atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between parties impossible.[144] The Directory régime met opposition from Jacobins on the left and royalists on the right (the latter were secretly subsidised by the British government). The army suppressed riots and counter-revolutionary activities. In this way the army and in particular Napoleon gained total power.[145]

Coups d'état

Parliamentary elections in the spring of 1797, for one-third of the seats in Parliament, resulted in considerable gains for the royalists,[146] who seemed poised to take control of the Directory in the next elections. This frightened the republican directors and they reacted, in the Coup of 18 Fructidor V (4 September 1797), by purging all the winners banishing 57 leaders to certain death in Guiana, removing two supposedly pro-royalist directors, and closing 42 newspapers.

The new, 'corrected' government, still strongly convinced that Catholicism and royalism were equally dangerous to the Republic, started a fresh campaign to promote the Republican calendar (officially introduced in 1792), with its ten-day week, and tried to hallow the tenth day, décadi, as substitute for the Christian Sunday. Not only citizens opposed and even mocked such decrees, also local government officials refused to enforce such laws.[146]

France was still waging wars, in 1798 in Egypt, Switzerland, Rome, Ireland, Belgium and against the US, in 1799 in Baden-Württemberg. When the elections of 1798 were again carried by the opposition, the Directory used the army to imprison and exile the opposition leaders and close their newspapers.[citation needed] Increasingly it depended on the Army in foreign and domestic affairs, as well as finance.

In 1799, when the French armies abroad experienced some setbacks, the newly chosen director Sieyes considered a new overhaul necessary for the Directory's form of government because in his opinion it needed a stronger executive. Together with successful general Napoleon Bonaparte who had just returned to France, Sieyes began preparing another coup d'état, which took place on 9–10 November 1799 (18–19 Brumaire VIII), replacing the five directors now with three "consuls": Napoleon, Sieyes, and Roger Ducos.[146] That coup some historians consider the closing of the specifically republican phase of the French Revolution.[147]

Exporting the Revolution

The Army at first was quite successful. It conquered Belgium and turned it into a province of France; conquered the Netherlands and made it a puppet state; and conquered Switzerland and most of Italy, setting up a series of puppet states. The result was glory for France and an infusion of much needed money from the conquered lands, which also provided direct support to the French Army. However, the enemies of France, led by Britain and funded by the inexhaustible British Treasury, formed a Second Coalition in 1799 (with Britain joined by Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria). The allies scored a series of victories that rolled back French successes, retaking Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands and ending the flow of payments from the conquered areas to France. The treasury was empty. Despite his publicity claiming many glorious victories, Napoleon's army was trapped in Egypt after the British sank the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Napoleon escaped by himself, returned to Paris and overthrew the Directory in November 1799.[148][149]

French-Dutch victory under General Brune and General Daendels against the Russians and British in 1799

Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution in 1797–99. He consolidated old units and split up Austria's holdings. He set up a series of new republics, complete with new codes of law and abolition of old feudal privileges. Napoleon's Cisalpine Republic was centred on Milan. Genoa the city became a republic while its hinterland became the Ligurian Republic. The Roman Republic was formed out of the papal holdings and the pope was sent to France. The Neapolitan Republic was formed around Naples, but it lasted only five months before the enemy forces of the Coalition recaptured it. In 1805 Napoleon formed the Kingdom of Italy, with himself as king and his stepson as viceroy. In addition, France turned the Netherlands into the Batavian Republic, and Switzerland into the Helvetic Republic. All these new countries were satellites of France and had to pay large subsidies to Paris, as well as provide military support for Napoleon's wars. Their political and administrative systems were modernised, the metric system introduced, and trade barriers reduced. Jewish ghettos were abolished. Belgium and Piedmont became integral parts of France.[150]

Most of the new nations were abolished and returned to prewar owners in 1814. However, Artz emphasises the benefits the Italians gained from the French Revolution:

For nearly two decades the Italians had the excellent codes of law, a fair system of taxation, a better economic situation, and more religious and intellectual toleration than they had known for centuries... Everywhere old physical, economic, and intellectual barriers had been thrown down and the Italians had begun to be aware of a common nationality.[151]

Media and symbolism


A copy of L'Ami du peuple stained with the blood of Marat

In the Old regime there were a small number of heavily censored newspapers that needed a royal licence to operate. Newspapers and pamphlets played a central role in stimulating and defining the Revolution. The meetings of the Estates-General in 1789 created an enormous demand for news, and over 130 newspapers appeared by the end of the year. Among the most significant of these newspapers in 1789 were Marat's L'Ami du peuple and Elysée Loustallot's Revolutions de Paris. The next decade saw 2,000 newspapers founded, with 500 in Paris alone. Most lasted only a matter of weeks. Together they became the main communication medium, combined with the very large pamphlet literature.[152] Newspapers were read aloud in taverns and clubs, and circulated hand to hand. The press saw its lofty role to be the advancement of civic republicanism based on public service, and downplayed the liberal, individualistic goal of making a profit.[153][154][155][156] By 1793 the radicals were most active but at the start the royalists flooded the country with their press the "Ami du Roi" (Friends of the King) until they were suppressed.[157] Napoleon only allowed four newspapers, all under tight control.


Symbolism was a device to distinguish the main features of the Revolution and ensure public identification and support. In order to effectively illustrate the differences between the new Republic and the old regime, the leaders needed to implement a new set of symbols to be celebrated instead of the old religious and monarchical symbolism. To this end, symbols were borrowed from historic cultures and redefined, while those of the old regime were either destroyed or reattributed acceptable characteristics. These revised symbols were used to instil in the public a new sense of tradition and reverence for the Enlightenment and the Republic.[158]

La Marseillaise

Rouget de Lisle, composer of the Marseillaise, sings it for the first time in 1792.

"La Marseillaise" (French pronunciation: ​[la maʁsɛjɛːz]) became the national anthem of France. The song was written and composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, and was originally titled "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin". The French National Convention adopted it as the First Republic's anthem in 1795. It acquired its nickname after being sung in Paris by volunteers from Marseille marching on the capital.

The song is the first example of the "European march" anthemic style. The anthem's evocative melody and lyrics have led to its widespread use as a song of revolution and its incorporation into many pieces of classical and popular music. Cerulo (1993) says:[159]

[T]he design of "La Marseillaise" is credited to General Strasburg of France, who is said to have directed de Lisle, the composer of the anthem, to 'produce one of those hymns which conveys to the soul of the people the enthusiasm which it (the music) suggests.'

English cartoon attacking the excesses of the Revolution as symbolised by the guillotine; between 18,000 and 40,000 people were executed during the Reign of Terror.


Hanson notes, "The guillotine stands as the principal symbol of the Terror in the French Revolution."[160] Invented by a physician during the Revolution as a quicker, more efficient and more distinctive form of execution, the guillotine became a part of popular culture and historic memory. It was celebrated on the left as the people's avenger and cursed as the symbol of the Reign of Terror by the right.[161] Its operation became a popular entertainment that attracted great crowds of spectators. Vendors sold programmes listing the names of those scheduled to die. Many people came day after day and vied for the best locations from which to observe the proceedings; knitting women (tricoteuses) formed a cadre of hardcore regulars, inciting the crowd. Parents often brought their children. By the end of the Terror, the crowds had thinned drastically. Repetition had staled even this most grisly of entertainments, and audiences grew bored.[162]

What it is that horrifies people changes over time. Doyle comments:

Even the unique horror of the guillotine has been dwarfed by the gas chambers of the Holocaust, the organized brutality of the gulag, the mass intimidation of Mao's cultural revolution, or the killing fields of Cambodia.[163]

Tricolore cockade

Cockades were widely worn by revolutionaries beginning in 1789. They now pinned the blue-and-red cockade of Paris onto the white cockade of the Ancien Régime. Camille Desmoulins asked his followers to wear green cockades on 12 July 1789. The Paris militia, formed on 13 July, adopted a blue and red cockade. Blue and red are the traditional colours of Paris, and they are used on the city's coat of arms. Cockades with various colour schemes were used during the storming of the Bastille on 14 July.[164]


The unofficial but common National Emblem of France is backed by a fasces, representing justice.

Fasces are Roman in origin and suggest Roman Republicanism. Fasces are a bundle of birch rods containing an axe. The French Republic continued this Roman symbol to represent state power, justice, and unity.[158]

Liberty cap

Early depiction of the tricolour in the hands of a sans-culotte

The Liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian cap, or pileus, is a brimless, felt cap that is conical in shape with the tip pulled forward. It reflects Roman republicanism and liberty, alluding to the Roman ritual of manumission of slaves, in which a freed slave receives the bonnet as a symbol of his newfound liberty.[165]

Role of women

Club of patriotic women in a church

Historians since the late 20th century have debated how women shared in the French Revolution and what long-term impact it had on French women. Women had no political rights in pre-Revolutionary France; they were considered "passive" citizens; forced to rely on men to determine what was best for them. That changed dramatically in theory as there seemingly were great advances in feminism. Feminism emerged in Paris as part of a broad demand for social and political reform. The women demanded equality for women and then moved on to a demand for the end of male domination. Their chief vehicle for agitation were pamphlets and women's clubs; for example, a small group called the Cercle Social (Social Circle) campaigned for women's rights, noting that "the laws favor men at the expense of women, because everywhere power is in your hands."[166] However, in October 1793, the country's all-male legislative body voted to ban all women's clubs. The movement was crushed. Devance explains the decision in terms of the emphasis on masculinity in a wartime situation, Marie Antoinette's bad reputation for feminine interference in state affairs, and traditional male supremacy.[167] A decade later the Napoleonic Code confirmed and perpetuated women's second-class status.[168]

When the Revolution opened, groups of women acted forcefully, making use of the volatile political climate. Women forced their way into the political sphere. They swore oaths of loyalty, "solemn declarations of patriotic allegiance, [and] affirmations of the political responsibilities of citizenship." De Corday d'Armont is a prime example of such a woman; engaged in the revolutionary political faction of the Girondins, she assassinated the Jacobin leader, Marat. Throughout the Revolution, other women such as Pauline Léon and her Society of Revolutionary Republican Women supported the radical Jacobins, staged demonstrations in the National Assembly and participated in the riots, often using armed force.[169]

The March to Versailles is but one example of feminist militant activism during the French Revolution. While largely left out of the thrust for increasing rights of citizens, as the question was left indeterminate in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,[170] activists such as Pauline Léon and Théroigne de Méricourt agitated for full citizenship for women.[171] Women were, nonetheless, "denied political rights of 'active citizenship' (1791) and democratic citizenship (1793)."[170]

On 20 June 1792 a number of armed women took part in a procession that "passed through the halls of the Legislative Assembly, into the Tuileries Gardens, and then through the King's residence."[172] Militant women also assumed a special role in the funeral of Marat, following his murder on 13 July 1793. As part of the funeral procession, they carried the bathtub in which Marat had been murdered (by a counter-revolutionary woman) as well as a shirt stained with Marat's blood.[173] On 20 May 1793 women were at the fore of a crowd that demanded "bread and the Constitution of 1793." When their cries went unnoticed, the women went on a rampage, "sacking shops, seizing grain and kidnapping officials."[174]

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, a militant group on the far left, demanded a law in 1793 that would compel all women to wear the tricolour cockade to demonstrate their loyalty to the Republic. They also demanded vigorous price controls to keep bread – the major food of the poor people – from becoming too expensive. After the Convention passage law in September 1793, the Revolutionary Republican Women demanded vigorous enforcement, but were counted by market women, former servants, and religious women who adamantly opposed price controls (which would drive them out of business ) and resented attacks on the aristocracy and on religion. Fist fights broke out in the streets between the two factions of women.

Meanwhile, the men who controlled the Jacobins rejected the Revolutionary Republican Women as dangerous rabble-rousers. At this point the Jacobins controlled the government; they dissolved the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, and decreed that all women's clubs and associations were illegal. They sternly reminded women to stay home and tend to their families by leaving public affairs to the men. Organised women were permanently shut out of the French Revolution after 30 October 1793.[175]

Prominent women

Olympe de Gouges wrote a number of plays, short stories, and novels. Her publications emphasised that women and men are different, but this shouldn't stop them from equality under the law. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen she insisted that women deserved rights, especially in areas concerning them directly, such as divorce and recognition of illegitimate children.[176]

Madame Roland (a.k.a. Manon or Marie Roland) was another important female activist. Her political focus was not specifically on women or their liberation. She focused on other aspects of the government, but was a feminist by virtue of the fact that she was a woman working to influence the world. Her personal letters to leaders of the Revolution influenced policy; in addition, she often hosted political gatherings of the Brissotins, a political group which allowed women to join. As she was led to the scaffold, Madame Roland shouted "O liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!"[177]

Most of these activists were punished for their actions. Many of the women of the Revolution were even publicly executed for "conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic".[178]

Counter-revolutionary women

A major aspect of the French Revolution was the dechristianisation movement, a movement strongly rejected by many devout people. Especially for women living in rural areas of France, the closing of the churches meant a loss of normalcy.[179]

When these revolutionary changes to the Church were implemented, it sparked a counter-revolutionary movement among women. Although some of these women embraced the political and social amendments of the Revolution, they opposed the dissolution of the Catholic Church and the formation of revolutionary cults like the Cult of the Supreme Being.[180] As Olwen Hufton argues, these women began to see themselves as the "defenders of faith".[181] They took it upon themselves to protect the Church from what they saw as a heretical change to their faith, enforced by revolutionaries.

Counter-revolutionary women resisted what they saw as the intrusion of the state into their lives.[182] Economically, many peasant women refused to sell their goods for assignats because this form of currency was unstable and was backed by the sale of confiscated Church property. By far the most important issue to counter-revolutionary women was the passage and the enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. In response to this measure, women in many areas began circulating anti-oath pamphlets and refused to attend masses held by priests who had sworn oaths of loyalty to the Republic. These women continued to adhere to traditional practices such as Christian burials and naming their children after saints in spite of revolutionary decrees to the contrary.[183]

Economic policies

Early Assignat of 29 September 1790: 500 livres
The value of Assignats (1789–96)

The French Revolution abolished many of the constraints on the economy that had slowed growth during the ancien regime. It abolished tithes owed to local churches as well as feudal dues owed to local landlords. The result hurt the tenants, who paid both higher rents and higher taxes.[184] It nationalised all church lands, as well as lands belonging to royalist enemies who went into exile. It planned to use these seized lands to finance the government by issuing assignats. It abolished the guild system as a worthless remnant of feudalism.[185] It also abolished the highly inefficient system of tax farming, whereby private individuals would collect taxes for a hefty fee. The government seized the foundations that had been set up (starting in the 13th century) to provide an annual stream of revenue for hospitals, poor relief, and education. The state sold the lands but typically local authorities did not replace the funding and so most of the nation's charitable and school systems were massively disrupted.[186]

The economy did poorly in 1790–96 as industrial and agricultural output dropped, foreign trade plunged, and prices soared. The government decided not to repudiate the old debts. Instead it issued more and more paper money (called "assignat") that supposedly were grounded seized lands. The result was escalating inflation. The government imposed price controls and persecuted speculators and traders in the black market. People increasingly refused to pay taxes as the annual government deficit increased from 10% of gross national product in 1789 to 64% in 1793. By 1795, after the bad harvest of 1794 and the removal of price controls, inflation had reached a level of 3500%. The assignats were withdrawn in 1796 but the replacements also fuelled inflation. The inflation was finally ended by Napoleon in 1803 with the franc as the new currency.[187]

Napoleon after 1799 paid for his expensive wars by multiple means, starting with the modernisation of the rickety financial system.[188] He conscripted soldiers at low wages, raised taxes, placed large-scale loans, sold lands formerly owned by the Catholic Church, sold Louisiana to the United States, plundered conquered areas and seized food supplies, and levied requisitions on countries he controlled, such as Italy.[189]

Long-term impact

Liberty Leading the People, painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830

The French Revolution had a major impact on Europe and the New World, decisively changing the course of human history.[190] It ended feudalism and created the path for future advances in broadly defined individual freedoms.[191] [7] [10] Its impact on French nationalism was profound, while also stimulating nationalist movements throughout Europe.[192] The influence was great in the hundreds of small German states and elsewhere, where it was either inspired by the French example or in reaction against it.[193]


The changes in France were enormous; some were widely accepted and others were bitterly contested into the late 20th century.[194] Before the Revolution, the people had little power or voice. The kings had so thoroughly centralised the system that most nobles spent their time at Versailles, and thus played only a small direct role in their home districts. Thompson says that the kings had "ruled by virtue of their personal wealth, their patronage of the nobility, their disposal of ecclesiastical offices, their provincial governors (intendants) their control over the judges and magistrates, and their command of the Army."[195]

After the first year of revolution, the power of the king had been stripped away, he was left a mere figurehead, the nobility had lost all their titles and most of their land, the Church lost its monasteries and farmlands, bishops, judges and magistrates were elected by the people, and the army was almost helpless, with military power in the hands of the new revolutionary National Guard. The central elements of 1789 were the slogan "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" and "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen", which Lefebvre calls "the incarnation of the Revolution as a whole."[196]

The long-term impact on France was profound, shaping politics, society, religion and ideas, and polarising politics for more than a century. Historian François Aulard writes:

"From the social point of view, the Revolution consisted in the suppression of what was called the feudal system, in the emancipation of the individual, in greater division of landed property, the abolition of the privileges of noble birth, the establishment of equality, the simplification of life.... The French Revolution differed from other revolutions in being not merely national, for it aimed at benefiting all humanity."[197]

Religion and charity

The most heated controversy was over the status of the Catholic Church.[198] From a dominant position in 1788, it was almost destroyed in less than a decade, its priests and nuns turned out, its leaders dead or in exile, its property controlled by its enemies, and a strong effort underway to remove all influence of Christian religiosity, such as Sundays, holy days, saints, prayers, rituals and ceremonies. The movement to dechristianise France not only failed but aroused a furious reaction among the pious.[199][200]

During the Terror, extreme efforts of dechristianisation ensued, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France. An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether, with civic festivals replacing religious ones. The establishment of the Cult of Reason was the final step of radical dechristianisation. These events led to a widespread disillusionment with the Revolution and to counter-rebellions across France. Locals often resisted de-Christianisation by attacking revolutionary agents and hiding members of the clergy who were being hunted. Robespierre, himself a Deist, and the Committee of Public Safety]] were forced to denounce the campaign,[201] replacing the Cult of Reason with the deist but still non-Christian Cult of the Supreme Being. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the de-Christianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905. The persecution of the Church led to a counter-revolution known as the Revolt in the Vendée.[202]

The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the de-Christianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905. Napoleon's Concordat was a compromise that restored some of the Catholic Church's traditional roles but not its power, its lands or its monasteries. Priests and bishops were given salaries as part of a department of government controlled by Paris, not Rome. Protestants and Jews gained equal rights.[203] Battles over the role of religion in the public sphere, and closely related issues such as church-controlled schools, that were opened by the Revolution have never seen closure. They raged into the 20th century. By the 21st century, angry debates exploded over the presence of any Muslim religious symbols in schools, such as the headscarves for which Muslim girls could be expelled. J. Christopher Soper and Joel S. Fetzer explicitly link the conflict over religious symbols in public to the French Revolution, when the target was Catholic rituals and symbols.[204]

The revolutionary government seized the charitable foundations that had been set up (starting in the 13th century) to provide an annual stream of revenue for hospitals, poor relief, and education. The state sold the lands but typically local authorities did not replace the funding and so most of the nation's charitable and school systems were massively disrupted.[186]

In the ancien regime, new opportunities for nuns as charitable practitioners were created by devout nobles on their own estates. The nuns provided comprehensive care for the sick poor on their patrons' estates, not only acting as nurses, but taking on expanded roles as physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries. During the Revolution, most of the orders of nuns were shut down and there was no organised nursing care to replace them.[205] However, the demand for their nursing services remained strong, and after 1800 the sisters reappeared and resumed their work in hospitals and on rural estates. They were tolerated by officials because they had widespread support and were the link between elite male physicians and distrustful peasants who needed help.[206]


Two thirds of France was employed in agriculture, which was transformed by the Revolution. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became more a land of small independent farms. Harvest taxes were ended, such as the tithe and seigneurial dues, much to the relief of the peasants. Primogeniture was ended both for nobles and peasants, thereby weakening the family patriarch. Because all the children had a share in the family's property, there was a declining birth rate.[207][208] Cobban says the revolution bequeathed to the nation "a ruling class of landowners."[209]

In the cities, entrepreneurship on a small scale flourished, as restrictive monopolies, privileges, barriers, rules, taxes and guilds gave way. However, the British blockade virtually ended overseas and colonial trade, hurting the port cities and their supply chains. Overall, the Revolution did not greatly change the French business system, and probably helped freeze in place the horizons of the small business owner. The typical businessman owned a small store, mill or shop, with family help and a few paid employees; large-scale industry was less common than in other industrialising nations.[210]

A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research paper found that the emigration of more than 100,000 individuals (predominantly supporters of the Old Regime) during the Revolution had a significant negative impact on income per capita in the 19th century (due to the fragmentation of agricultural holdings) but became positive in the second half of the 20th century onward (because it facilitated the rise in human capital investments).[211] Another 2017 paper found that the redistribution of land had a positive impact on agricultural productivity, but that these gains gradually declined over the course of the 19th century.[212][213]


The Revolution meant an end to arbitrary royal rule and held out the promise of rule by law under a constitutional order, but it did not rule out a monarch. Napoleon as emperor set up a constitutional system (although he remained in full control), and the restored Bourbons were forced to go along with one. After the abdication of Napoleon III in 1871, the monarchists probably had a voting majority, but they were so factionalised they could not agree on who should be king, and instead the French Third Republic was launched with a deep commitment to upholding the ideals of the Revolution.[214][215] The conservative Catholic enemies of the Revolution came to power in Vichy France (1940–44), and tried with little success to undo its heritage, but they kept it a republic. Vichy denied the principle of equality and tried to replace the Revolutionary watchwords "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" with "Work, Family, and Fatherland." However, there were no efforts by the Bourbons, Vichy or anyone else to restore the privileges that had been stripped away from the nobility in 1789. France permanently became a society of equals under the law.[216]


The Jacobin cause was picked up by Marxists in the mid-19th century and became an element of communist thought around the world. In the Soviet Union, "Gracchus" Babeuf was regarded as a hero.[217]

Europe, outside France

Economic historians Dan Bogart, Mauricio Drelichman, Oscar Gelderblom, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal described codified law as the French Revolution's "most significant export." They wrote, "While restoration returned most of their power to the absolute monarchs who had been deposed by Napoleon, only the most recalcitrant ones, such as Ferdinand VII of Spain, went to the trouble of completely reversing the legal innovations brought on by the French."[218] They also note that the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars caused England, Spain, Prussia and the Dutch Republic to centralize their fiscal systems to an unprecedented extent in order to finance the military campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars.[218]

According to Daron Acemoglu, Davide Cantoni, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson the French Revolution had long-term effects in Europe. They suggest that "areas that were occupied by the French and that underwent radical institutional reform experienced more rapid urbanization and economic growth, especially after 1850. There is no evidence of a negative effect of French invasion."[219]

A 2016 study in the European Economic Review found that the areas of Germany that were occupied by France in the 19th century and in which the Code Napoleon was applied have higher levels of trust and cooperation today.[220]


On 16 July 1789, two days after the Storming of the Bastille, John Frederick Sackville, serving as ambassador to France, reported to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Francis Osborne, 5th Duke of Leeds, "Thus, my Lord, the greatest revolution that we know anything of has been effected with, comparatively speaking – if the magnitude of the event is considered – the loss of very few lives. From this moment we may consider France as a free country, the King a very limited monarch, and the nobility as reduced to a level with the rest of the nation.[221]" Yet Britain saw minority support while the majority, and especially the among aristocracy, strongly opposed the French Revolution. Britain led and funded the series of coalitions that fought France from 1793 to 1815, and then restored the Bourbons.

Philosophically and politically, Britain was in debate over the rights and wrongs of revolution, in the abstract and in practicalities. The Revolution Controversy was a "pamphlet war" set off by the publication of A Discourse on the Love of Our Country, a speech given by Richard Price to the Revolution Society on 4 November 1789, supporting the French Revolution (as he had the American Revolution), and saying that patriotism actually centers around loving the people and principles of a nation, not its ruling class. Edmund Burke responded in November 1790 with his own pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, attacking the French Revolution as a threat to the aristocracy of all countries.[222][223] William Coxe opposed Price's premise that one's country is principles and people, not the State itself.[224]

Conversely, two seminal political pieces of political history were written in Price's favor, supporting the general right of the French people to replace their State. One of the first of these "pamphlets" into print was A Vindication of the Rights of Men by Mary Wollstonecraft (better known for her later treatise, sometimes described as the first feminist text, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman); Wollstonecraft's title was echoed by Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, published a few months later. In 1792 Christopher Wyvill published Defence of Dr. Price and the Reformers of England, a plea for reform and moderation.[225]

This exchange of ideas has been described as "one of the great political debates in British history".[226] Even in France, there was a varying degree of agreement during this debate, English participants generally opposing the violent means that the Revolution bent itself to for its ends.[227]

In Ireland, the effect was to transform what had been an attempt by Protestant settlers to gain some autonomy into a mass movement led by the Society of United Irishmen involving Catholics and Protestants. It stimulated the demand for further reform throughout Ireland, especially in Ulster. The upshot was a revolt in 1798, led by Wolfe Tone, that was crushed by Britain.[228]


German reaction to the Revolution swung from favourable to antagonistic. At first it brought liberal and democratic ideas, the end of guilds, serfdom and the Jewish ghetto. It brought economic freedoms and agrarian and legal reform. Above all the antagonism helped stimulate and shape German nationalism.[229]


The French invaded Switzerland and turned it into an ally known as the "Helvetic Republic" (1798–1803). The interference with localism and traditional liberties was deeply resented, although some modernising reforms took place.[230][231]


The Brabant Revolution broke out in the Austrian Netherlands in October 1789, inspired by the revolution in neighbouring France, but had collapsed by the end of 1790.

The region of modern-day Belgium was divided between two polities: the Austrian Netherlands and Prince-Bishopric of Liège. Both territories experienced revolutions in 1789. In the Austrian Netherlands, the Brabant Revolution succeeded in expelling Austrian forces and established the new United Belgian States. The Liège Revolution expelled the tyrannical Prince-Bishop and installed a republic. Both failed to attract international support. By December 1790, the Brabant revolution had been crushed and Liège was subdued the following year.

During the Revolutionary Wars, the French invaded and occupied the region between 1794 and 1814, a time known as the French period. The new government enforced new reforms, incorporating the region into France itself. New rulers were sent in by Paris. Belgian men were drafted into the French wars and heavily taxed. Nearly everyone was Catholic, but the Church was repressed. Resistance was strong in every sector, as Belgian nationalism emerged to oppose French rule. The French legal system, however, was adopted, with its equal legal rights, and abolition of class distinctions. Belgium now had a government bureaucracy selected by merit.[232]

Antwerp regained access to the sea and grew quickly as a major port and business centre. France promoted commerce and capitalism, paving the way for the ascent of the bourgeoisie and the rapid growth of manufacturing and mining. In economics, therefore, the nobility declined while the middle class Belgian entrepreneurs flourished because of their inclusion in a large market, paving the way for Belgium's leadership role after 1815 in the Industrial Revolution on the Continent.[233][234]


The Kingdom of Denmark adopted liberalising reforms in line with those of the French Revolution, with no direct contact. Reform was gradual and the regime itself carried out agrarian reforms that had the effect of weakening absolutism by creating a class of independent peasant freeholders. Much of the initiative came from well-organised liberals who directed political change in the first half of the 19th century.[235]

North America


The press in the colony of Quebec initially viewed the events of the Revolution positively.[236] Press coverage in Quebec on the Revolution was reliant, and reflective of public opinion in London, with the colony's press reliant on newspapers and reprints from journals from the British Isles.[237] The early positive reception of the French Revolution had made it politically difficult to justify withholding electoral institutions from the colony to both the British and Quebec public; with the British Home Secretary William Grenville remarking how it was hardly possible to "maintain with success," the denial "to so large a body of British Subjects, the benefits of the British Constitution".[238] Governmental reforms introduced in the Constitutional Act 1791 split Quebec into two separate colonies, Lower Canada, and Upper Canada; and introduced electoral institutions to the two colonies.[238]

French migration to the Canadas was decelerated significantly during, and after the French Revolution; with only a small number of artisans, professionals, and religious emigres from France permitted to settle in the Canadas during that period.[239] Most of these migrants moved to Montreal or Quebec City, although French nobleman Joseph-Geneviève de Puisaye also led a small group of French royalists to settle lands north of York (present day Toronto).[239] The influx of religious migrants from France reinvigorated the Roman Catholic Church in the Canadas, with the refectory priests who moved to the colonies being responsible for the establishment of a number of parishes throughout the Canadas.[239]

United States

The French Revolution deeply polarised American politics, and this polarisation led to the creation of the First Party System. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Republican Party led by former American minister to France Thomas Jefferson favoured revolutionary France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. George Washington and his unanimous cabinet, including Jefferson, decided that the treaty did not bind the United States to enter the war. Washington proclaimed neutrality instead.[240] Under President John Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France from 1798 until 1799, often called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. However, the two entered negotiations over the Louisiana Territory and agreed to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, an acquisition that substantially increased the size of the United States.


The French Revolution has received enormous amounts of historical attention, both from the general public and from scholars and academics. The views of historians, in particular, have been characterised as falling along ideological lines, with disagreement over the significance and the major developments of the Revolution.[241] Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the Revolution was a manifestation of a more prosperous middle class becoming conscious of its social importance.[242]

Other thinkers, like the conservative Edmund Burke, maintained that the Revolution was the product of a few conspiratorial individuals who brainwashed the masses into subverting the old order – a claim rooted in the belief that the revolutionaries had no legitimate complaints.[243] Other historians, influenced by Marxist thinking, have emphasised the importance of the peasants and the urban workers in presenting the Revolution as a gigantic class struggle.[244] In general, scholarship on the French Revolution initially studied the political ideas and developments of the era, but it has gradually shifted towards social history that analyses the impact of the Revolution on individual lives.[245]

Historians until the late 20th century emphasised class conflicts from a largely Marxist perspective as the fundamental driving cause of the Revolution.[246] The central theme of this argument was that the Revolution emerged from the rising bourgeoisie, with support from the sans-culottes, who fought to destroy the aristocracy.[247] However, Western scholars largely abandoned Marxist interpretations in the 1990s. By the year 2000 many historians were saying that the field of the French Revolution was in intellectual disarray. The old model or paradigm focusing on class conflict has been discredited, and no new explanatory model had gained widespread support.[248][249] Nevertheless, as Spang has shown, there persists a very widespread agreement to the effect that the French Revolution was the watershed between the premodern and modern eras of Western history.[248]

Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in history. It marks the end of the early modern period, which started around 1500 and is often seen as marking the "dawn of the modern era".[250] Within France itself, the Revolution permanently crippled the power of the aristocracy and drained the wealth of the Church, although the two institutions survived despite the damage they sustained. After the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges earned since the Revolution, but they remembered the participatory politics that characterised the period, with one historian commenting: "Thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways; they voted; they joined new organisations; and they marched for their political goals. Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism an enduring option."[251]

Some historians argue that the French people underwent a fundamental transformation in self-identity, evidenced by the elimination of privileges and their replacement by rights as well as the growing decline in social deference that highlighted the principle of equality throughout the Revolution.[252] The Revolution represented the most significant and dramatic challenge to political absolutism up to that point in history and spread democratic ideals throughout Europe and ultimately the world.[253] Throughout the 19th century, the revolution was heavily analysed by economists and political scientists, who saw the class nature of the revolution as a fundamental aspect in understanding human social evolution itself. This, combined with the egalitarian values introduced by the revolution, gave rise to a classless and co-operative model for society called "socialism" which profoundly influenced future revolutions in France and around the world.

See also


  1. ^ In 1781, Louis allegedly refused to appoint him Archbishop of Paris on the grounds 'an Archbishop should at least believe in God'.[27]
  2. ^ Other estimates of the death toll range from 170,000 [117] to 200,000–250,000 [118]
  3. ^ In one exchange, a Hébertist named Vadier threatened to 'gut that fat turbot, Danton', who replied that if he tried, he would 'eat his brains and shit in his skull'.[119]


  1. ^ Livesey 2001, p. 19.
  2. ^ Jourdan 2007, p. 188.
  3. ^ Hunt 2009, pp. 20-22.
  4. ^ Rossignol 2006, pp. 51-52.
  5. ^ Fursenko, McArthur 1976, p. 484.
  6. ^ Tombs, Tombs 2007, p. 179.
  7. ^ a b c Palmer, Colton 1995, p. 341.
  8. ^ Shlapentokh 1996, pp. 220–228.
  9. ^ Desan, Hunt, Nelson 2013, pp. 3,8,10.
  10. ^ a b Fehér 1990, pp. 117–130.
  11. ^ Sargent, Velde 1995, pp. 474–518.
  12. ^ Baker 1978, pp. 279–303.
  13. ^ Jordan 2004, pp. 11–12.
  14. ^ Jourdan 2007, p. 187.
  15. ^ Blanning 1997, p. 26.
  16. ^ Weir 1989, p. 98.
  17. ^ Weir 1989, p. 96.
  18. ^ Olwen 1983, p. 304.
  19. ^ Tilly 1983, p. 333.
  20. ^ Tilly 1983, p. 337.
  21. ^ Doyle 2002, pp. 45–49.
  22. ^ Doyle 2002, pp. 73–74.
  23. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 109-112.
  24. ^ White 1995, pp. 229-230.
  25. ^ Hibbert 1982, p. 35.
  26. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 287-292.
  27. ^ Bredin 1988, p. 42.
  28. ^ Doyle 1990, p. 93.
  29. ^ Doyle 1990, p. 59.
  30. ^ Schama 1989, p. 335.
  31. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 116-117.
  32. ^ Doyle 1990, pp. 99-101.
  33. ^ Frey, Frey 2004, pp. 4-5.
  34. ^ Doyle 2001, p. 38.
  35. ^ Neely 2008, p. 56.
  36. ^ Furet 1995, p. 45.
  37. ^ Schama 1989, p. 343.
  38. ^ Hibbert 1982, p. 54.
  39. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 354-355.
  40. ^ Schama 1989, p. 356.
  41. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 357-358.
  42. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 380-382.
  43. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 404-405.
  44. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 423-424.
  45. ^ Hibbert 1982, p. 93.
  46. ^ Lefebvre 1962, pp. 187–188.
  47. ^ Lefebvre 1962, p. 130.
  48. ^ Forster 1967, pp. 71–86.
  49. ^ Furet, Ozouf 1989, p. 112.
  50. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 442-444.
  51. ^ Baker 1995, pp. 154-196.
  52. ^ Ludwikowski 1990, pp. 452-453.
  53. ^ Lefebvre 1962, p. 146.
  54. ^ Jefferson 1903, p. May 8,1825.
  55. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2007, p. 190.
  56. ^ Ludwikowski 1990, pp. 456-457.
  57. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 459-460.
  58. ^ Doyle 1990, p. 121.
  59. ^ Schama 1989, pp. 460-463.
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  • Lewis, Gwynne (2002). The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-40991-6.
  • Livesey, James (2001). Making Democracy in the French Revolution. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00624-9.
  • Ludwikowski, Rhett (1990). "The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the American Constitutional Development". The American Journal of Comparative Law. 2. JSTOR 840552.
  • Martin, Jean-Clément (1987). La Vendée et la France (in French). Éditions du Seuil.
  • McManners, John (1969). The French Revolution and the Church (1982 ed.). Praeger. ISBN 978-0-313-23074-5.
  • Neely, Sylvia (2008). A Concise History of the French Revolution. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-3411-7.
  • Palmer, Robert; Colton, Joel (1995). A History of the Modern World. Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-43253-1.
  • Rude, George (1991). The French Revolution: Its Causes, Its History and Its Legacy After 200 Years. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-3272-7.
  • Sargent, Thomas J; Velde, Francois R (1995). "Macroeconomic features of the French Revolution". Journal of Political Economy. 103 (3).
  • Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens, A Chronicle of The French Revolution (2004 ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-101727-3.
  • Schama, Simon (1977). Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands, 1780–1813. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-216701-7.
  • Scott, Samuel (1975). "Problems of Law and Order during 1790, the "Peaceful" Year of the French Revolution". The American Historical Review. 80 (4). JSTOR 1867442.
  • Shusterman, Noah (2014). The French Revolution. Faith, Desire, and Politics. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-66021-1.
  • Soboul, Albert (1975). The French Revolution 1787–1799. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-394-71220-8.
  • Soboul, Albert (1977). A short history of the French Revolution: 1789–1799. Geoffrey Symcox. University of California Press, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-520-03419-8.
  • Thompson, J.M. (1959). The French Revolution. Basil Blackwell.
  • Tilly, Louise (1983). "Food Entitlement, Famine, and Conflict". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 14 (2). JSTOR 203708.
  • Tombs, Robert; Tombs, Isabelle (2007). That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-4024-7.
  • Wasson, Ellis (2009). A History of Modern Britain: 1714 to the Present. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4051-3935-9.
  • Weir, David (1989). "Tontines, Public Finance, and Revolution in France and England, 1688–1789". The Journal of Economic History. 49 (1). JSTOR 2121419.
  • White, Eugene Nelson (1995). "The French Revolution and the Politics of Government Finance, 1770–1815". The Journal of Economic History. 55 (2). JSTOR 2123552.
  • Woronoff, Denis (1984). The Thermidorean regime and the directory: 1794–1799. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-28917-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)


Surveys and reference

  • Andress, David, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2015). excerpt, 714 pp; 37 articles by experts
  • Aulard, François-Alphonse. The French Revolution, a Political History, 1789–1804 (4 vol. 1910); famous classic; volume 1 1789–1792 online; Volume 2 1792–95 online
  • Azurmendi, Joxe (1997). The democrats and the violent. Mirande's critique of the French Revolution. Philosophical viewpoint. (Original: Demokratak eta biolentoak, Donostia: Elkar ISBN 84-7917-744-6).
  • Ballard, Richard. A New Dictionary of the French Revolution (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Bosher, J.F. The French Revolution (1989) 365 pp
  • Davies, Peter. The French Revolution: A Beginner's Guide (2009), 192 pp
  • Gershoy, Leo. The French Revolution and Napoleon (1945) 585 pp
  • Gershoy, Leo. The Era of the French Revolution, 1789–1799 (1957), brief summary with some primary sources
  • Gottschalk, Louis R. The Era of the French Revolution (1929), cover 1780s to 1815
  • Hanson, Paul R. The A to Z of the French Revolution (2013)
    • Hanson, Paul R. Historical dictionary of the French Revolution (2015) online
  • Jaurès, Jean (1903). A Socialist History of the French Revolution (2015 ed.). Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-3500-1.; inspiration for Soboul and Lefebvre, one of the most important accounts of the Revolution in terms of shaping perspectives;
  • Jones, Colin. The Longman Companion to the French Revolution (1989)
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) excerpt and text search
  • McPhee, Peter, ed. (2012). A Companion to the French Revolution. Wiley. ISBN 978-1-118-31641-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Madelin, Louis. The French Revolution (1916); textbook by leading French scholar. online
  • Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution (1987), 234 pp; hundreds of short entries.
  • Popkin, Jeremy D. A Short History of the French Revolution (5th ed. 2009) 176 pp
  • Scott, Samuel F. and Barry Rothaus, eds. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789–1799 (2 vol 1984), short essays by scholars vol. 1 online; vol 2 online
  • Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789–1815. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (2nd ed. 2003, 430 pp excerpts and online search from

European and Atlantic History

  • Amann, Peter H., ed. The eighteenth-century revolution: French or Western? (Heath, 1963) readings from historians
  • Brinton, Crane. A Decade of Revolution 1789–1799 (1934) the Revolution in European context
  • Desan, Suzanne, et al. eds. The French Revolution in Global Perspective (2013)
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Goodwin, A., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 8: The American and French Revolutions, 1763–93 (1965), 764 pp
  • Palmer, R.R. "The World Revolution of the West: 1763–1801," Political Science Quarterly (1954) 69#1 pp. 1–14 JSTOR 2145054
  • Palmer, Robert R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. (2 vol 1959), highly influential comparative history; vol 1 online
  • Rude, George F. and Harvey J. Kaye. Revolutionary Europe, 1783–1815 (2000), scholarly survey excerpt and text search

Politics and wars

Economy and society

  • Anderson, James Maxwell. Daily life during the French Revolution (2007)
  • Andress, David. French Society in Revolution, 1789–1799 (1999)
  • Kennedy, Emmet. A Cultural History of the French Revolution (1989)
  • McPhee, Peter. "The French Revolution, Peasants, and Capitalism," American Historical Review (1989) 94#5 pp. 1265–80 JSTOR 906350
  • Tackett, Timothy, "The French Revolution and religion to 1794," and Suzanne Desan, "The French Revolution and religion, 1795–1815," in Stewart J. Brown and Timothy Tackett, eds. The Cambridge History of Christianity vol. 7 (Cambridge UP, 2006).


  • Dalton, Susan. "Gender and the Shifting Ground of Revolutionary Politics: The Case of Madame Roland." Canadian journal of history (2001) 36#2
  • Godineau, Dominique. The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution (1998) 440 pp 1998
  • Hufton, Olwen. "Women in Revolution 1789–1796" Past & Present (1971) No. 53 pp. 90–108 JSTOR 650282
  • Hufton, Olwen. "In Search of Counter-Revolutionary Women." The French Revolution: Recent debates and New Controversies Ed. Gary Kates. (1998) pp. 302–36
  • Kelly, Linda. Women of the French Revolution (1987) 192 pp. biographical portraits or prominent writers and activists
  • Landes, Joan B. Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Cornell University Press, 1988) excerpt and text search
  • Melzer, Sara E., and Leslie W. Rabine, eds. Rebel daughters: women and the French Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1992)
  • Proctor, Candice E. Women, Equality, and the French Revolution (Greenwood Press, 1990) online
  • Roessler, Shirley Elson. Out of the Shadows: Women and Politics in the French Revolution, 1789–95 (Peter Lang, 1998) online

Historiography and memory

  • Andress, David. "Interpreting the French Revolution," Teaching History (2013), Issue 150, pp. 28–29, very short summary
  • Censer, Jack R. "Amalgamating the Social in the French Revolution." Journal of Social History 2003 37(1): 145–50. online
  • Cox, Marvin R. The Place of the French Revolution in History (1997) 288 pp
  • Desan, Suzanne. "What's after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography," French Historical Studies (2000) 23#1 pp. 163–96.
  • Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), 1120 pp; long essays by scholars; strong on history of ideas and historiography (esp pp. 881–1034 excerpt and text search
  • Furet, François. Interpreting the French revolution (1981).
  • Germani, Ian, and Robin Swayles. Symbols, myths and images of the French Revolution. University of Regina Publications. 1998. ISBN 978-0-88977-108-6
  • Geyl, Pieter. Napoleon for and Against (1949), 477 pp; summarizes views of major historians on controversial issues
  • Hanson, Paul R. Contesting the French Revolution (2009). 248 pp.
  • Kafker, Frank A. and James M. Laux, eds. The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations (5th ed. 2002), articles by scholars
  • Kaplan, Steven Laurence. Farewell, Revolution: The Historians' Feud, France, 1789/1989 (1996), focus on historians excerpt and text search
  • Kaplan, Steven Laurence. Farewell, Revolution: Disputed Legacies, France, 1789/1989 (1995); focus on bitter debates re 200th anniversary excerpt and text search
  • Kates, Gary, ed. The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies (2nd ed. 2005) excerpt and text search
  • Lewis, Gwynne. The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (1993) online; 142 pp.
  • McPhee, Peter, ed. (2012). A Companion to the French Revolution. Wiley. ISBN 978-1-118-31641-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link); 540 pp; 30 essays by experts; emphasis on historiography and memory
  • Reichardt, Rolf: The French Revolution as a European Media Event, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2010, retrieved: 17 December 2012.
  • Ross, Steven T., ed. The French Revolution: conflict or continuity? (1971) 131 pp; excerpt from historians table of contents

Primary sources

External links

Preceded by
Ancien Régime (Old Regime)
French Revolution
Succeeded by
French First Republic