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The French Revolution

576-580 - Causes of French Revolution 

581-582 - Reform + Constitution 

583-588 - War + Radicalisation

589-592 - The Terror

593        - The Directory

604.       - Effects of the French Revolution

The French Revolution of July 1789 is widely seen as the birth of modern Europe, an era of nation-states, rapid economic growth and progressive social policy.  The overthrow of the absolutist Bourbon monarchy by a popular Parisian led uprising led to a complete revolution in political, economic and social thinking. 


God-given power of King and Church was no longer seen as sufficient; in its place came man-made laws enshrining individualist Enlightenment ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity.  Economic privileges of monarchy, nobility and Church were repealed in favour of a new system which saw land redistributed more widely amongst the people and taxes shared amongst everyone.  Socially, gender equality between men and women was established on the law books of the new French Republic along with the granting of multiple freedoms previously denied for the masses, such as speech, assembly, marriage, movement and expression. 


Even in its excesses such as the Terror, the Committee for Public Safety and the September Massacres, the French Revolution set a template for future authoritarian regimes of the 20th century.  To start with however, we need to uncover why the French people chose 1789 as the year in which they would choose to get rid of a system which had only a few decades before had seen France become the most powerful kingdom in Europe...

What is historical perspective? Revolutionary newspaper project...

Individual/pairwork - create newspaper for the time of the French Revolution

Ind - 5 topics from the worksheet minimum
Pairs - 10 topics from worksheet minimum

Topics can be includede in variety of forms - articles, letters, crosswords/puzzles, sports pages etc... - again choose from worksheet

6 newspaper styles - choose your favourite 

REMEMBER - your newspaper has to be from the point of view you selected at the start of this project - NO FLIPFLOPPING

Minimum required for this project is a front page, 5/10 topics covered, authentic style chosen....that will get basic marks

To get higher marks you must make this newspaper convincing - ads, pics, features, speech slogans, quotes, other features etc etc - USE IMAGINATION





Robespierre information and summaries







Open publication - Free publishing - More chapter 6

 History Channel documentary examining the causes, events & consequences - BBC documentary looking at Robespierre & the Terror

BBC Filthy Cities - Rev France


- `Little Dictator` clip - how does this show Napoleon? 

Who composed it?  Why?



BBC Rise of Napoleon : Hero or Villain



 PBS Empires series -Napoleon - 3/4 Summit of Greatness

PBS Empires series - Napoleon - 4/4 The End

Napoleonic Code  - Toussaint L`Ouverture & Haitian revolution 1791-1803





Revolutionary figures

Khan Academy lectures - FR (14-17); Nap (20-25)



Industrial history of France

Crash Course World History - French Revolution

History Channel documentary examining the causes, events & consequences 

 - BBC documentary looking at Robespierre & the Terror

French Revolution - Tearing up History

- BBC documentary about FR through the story of art

BBC Filthy Cities - Revolutionary France social conditions

Robespierre's Cult of supreme Being

Pt I - La Révolution française - Les Années Lumières

Pt II - La Révolution française - Les Années Terribles

(be warned - Pt II contains some pretty gory stuff)


- La Révolution française was filmed in 1989 for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

It charts events from the 1788 calling of the Estates-General to the death of Robespierre in 1794.

Co-produced by France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Canada, it was filmed in both English and French

 `Little Dictator` clip - how does this show Napoleon? Who composed it?  Why?



BBC Rise of Napoleon : Hero or Villain



PBS Empires series -Napoleon - 3/4 Summit of Greatness 

PBS Empires series - Napoleon - 4/4 The End

Napoleonic Code

French Revolution Historiography - how can history change over time?




The French Revolution (1789–1799)

Summary of Events


Feudalism and Unfair Taxation

No one factor was directly responsible for the French Revolution. Years of feudal oppression and fiscal mismanagement contributed to a French society that was ripe for revolt. Noting a downward economic spiral in the late 1700s, King Louis XVI brought in a number of financial advisors to review the weakened French treasury. Each advisor reached the same conclusion—that France needed a radical change in the way it taxed the public—and each advisor was, in turn, kicked out.

Finally, the king realized that this taxation problem really did need to be addressed, so he appointed a new controller general of finance, Charles de Calonne, in 1783. Calonne suggested that, among other things, France begin taxing the previously exempt nobility. The nobility refused, even after Calonne pleaded with them during the Assembly of Notables in 1787. Financial ruin thus seemed imminent.


The Estates-General

In a final act of desperation, Louis XVI decided in 1789 to convene the Estates-General, an ancient assembly consisting of three different estates that each represented a portion of the French population. If the Estates-General could agree on a tax solution, it would be implemented. However, since two of the three estates—the clergy and the nobility—were tax-exempt, the attainment of any such solution was unlikely.

Moreover, the outdated rules of order for the Estates-General gave each estate a single vote, despite the fact that the Third Estate—consisting of the general French public—was many times larger than either of the first two. Feuds quickly broke out over this disparity and would prove to be irreconcilable. Realizing that its numbers gave it an automatic advantage, the Third Estate declared itself the sovereign National Assembly. Within days of the announcement, many members of the other two estates had switched allegiances over to this revolutionary new assembly.


The Bastille and the Great Fear

Shortly after the National Assembly formed, its members took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing that they would not relent in their efforts until a new constitution had been agreed upon. The National Assembly’s revolutionary spirit galvanized France, manifesting in a number of different ways. In Paris, citizens stormed the city’s largest prison, the Bastille, in pursuit of arms. In the countryside, peasants and farmers revolted against their feudal contracts by attacking the manors and estates of their landlords. Dubbed the “Great Fear,” these rural attacks continued until the early August issuing of the August Decrees, which freed those peasants from their oppressive contracts. Shortly thereafter, the assembly released the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which established a proper judicial code and the autonomy of the French people.


Rifts in the Assembly

Though the National Assembly did succeed in drafting a constitution, the relative peace of the moment was short-lived. A rift slowly grew between the radical and moderate assembly members, while the common laborers and workers began to feel overlooked. When Louis XVI was caught in a foiled escape plot, the assembly became especially divided. The moderate Girondins took a stance in favor of retaining the constitutional monarchy, while the radical Jacobins wanted the king completely out of the picture.


Outside of France, some neighboring countries feared that France’s revolutionary spirit would spread beyond French land. In response, they issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which insisted that the French return Louis XVI to the throne. French leaders interpreted the declaration as hostile, so the Girondin-led assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia.


The Reign of Terror

The first acts of the newly named National Convention were the abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of France as a republic. In January 1793, the convention tried and executed Louis XVI on the grounds of treason. Despite the creation of the Committee of Public Safety, the war with Austria and Prussia went poorly for France, and foreign forces pressed on into French territory. Enraged citizens overthrew the Girondin-led National Convention, and the Jacobins, led by Maximilien Robespierre, took control.


Backed by the newly approved Constitution of 1793, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety began conscripting French soldiers and implementing laws to stabilize the economy. For a time, it seemed that France’s fortunes might be changing. But Robespierre, growing increasingly paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences, embarked upon a Reign of Terror in late 1793–1794, during which he had more than 15,000 people executed at the guillotine. When the French army successfully removed foreign invaders and the economy finally stabilized, however, Robespierre no longer had any justification for his extreme actions, and he himself was arrested in July 1794 and executed.


The Thermidorian Reaction and the Directory

The era following the ousting of Robespierre was known as the Thermidorian Reaction, and a period of governmental restructuring began, leading to the new Constitution of 1795 and a significantly more conservative National Convention. To control executive responsibilities and appointments, a group known as theDirectory was formed. Though it had no legislative abilities, the Directory’s abuse of power soon came to rival that of any of the tyrannous revolutionaries France had faced.




Napoleon (1799-1815)

Summary of Events


Rise to Power

Meanwhile, the Committee of Public Safety’s war effort was realizing unimaginable success. French armies, especially those led by young general Napoleon Bonaparte, were making progress in nearly every direction. Napoleon’s forces drove through Italy and reached as far as Egypt before facing a deflating defeat. In the face of this rout, and having received word of political upheavals in France, Napoleon returned to Paris. He arrived in time to lead a coup against the Directory in 1799, eventually stepping up and naming himself “first consul”—effectively, the leader of France. With Napoleon at the helm, the Revolution ended, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.


As First Consul, Napoleon began a program to consolidate his power. He ended the current rift between France and the Church by instituting the Concordat of 1801. France was then involved in several wars. In 1802, Napoleon signed the Peace of Amiens, a temporary peace with the British. In order to be able to concentrate solely on his European affairs, he sold France's Louisiana territory to the U.S. in 1803. And in 1804, he set the foundation for much of Europe's legal system by establishing the Napoleonic Code. In 1804, Napoleon did away with the Consulate and crowned himself Emperor in an extravagant coronation ceremony.



In 1805, Napoleon was planning an invasion of England when the Russian and Austrian armies began marching towards France. Napoleon's forces defeated them at Austerlitz, but not before the British fleet had destroyed Napoleon's navy at Trafalgar. At this time, Napoleon expanded his Empire by creating the Confederation of the Rhine in Germany and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in Poland. By now, Napoleon controlled almost all of Western Europe with the exception of Spain. He decided to try and destroy the economy of his major enemy, Britain, by instituting the Continental System, under which all European ports would refuse to accept British shipments. He failed in this task, and in trying to force Spain to comply touched off the Peninsular War. Russia and Prussia, however, did cooperate with Napoleon for a few years under the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).


Defeat & Exile

In 1810, Josephine, although the mother of two children by her previous husband, had not yet provided Napoleon with any heirs; distressed by this, he had his marriage to her annulled and married the 18-year-old Austrian archduchess Marie Louise. She gave birth to a son in 1811. Around this time, Czar Alexander I withdrew Russia from the Continental System. In 1812, Napoleon's Grand Army entered Russia in order to punish Alexander, but the ravages of the deadly Russian winter decimated his army. Meanwhile, affairs in France began to look unstable. Napoleon rushed back to Paris and raised a new army, only to be defeated by a coalition of European forces at Leipzig in 1814.


Napoleon was then exiled to the isle of Elba, where he plotted his return. With the great powers of Europe deep in negotiations over how to redivide the continent, Napoleon escaped from Elba, sneaked into France, and raised a new army in the period known as the Hundred Days. In June 1815, the armies of Wellington and Blucher defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Napoleon was again exiled, this time to distant Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.

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