The French Revolution
What was the French Revolution?
The French Revolution was a period of time in France when the people overthrew the monarchy and took control of the government.
The Storming of the Bastille
When did it take place?
The French Revolution lasted 10 years from 1789 to 1799. It began on July 14, 1789 when revolutionaries stormed a prison called the Bastille. The revolution came to an end 1799 when a general named Napoleon overthrew the revolutionary government and established the French Consulate (with Napoleon as leader).
The French Estates
Before the French Revolution, the people of France were divided into social groups called “Estates.” The First Estate included the clergy (church leaders), the Second Estate included the nobles, and the Third Estate included the commoners. Most of the people were members of the Third Estate. The Third Estate paid most of the taxes, while the nobility lived lives of luxury and got all the high-ranking jobs.
The French Government was in constant turmoil throughout the revolution. At the start of the revolution, representatives from the Third Estate established the National Assembly where they demanded that King Louis XVI give them certain rights. This group soon took control of the country. They changed names over time to the Legislative Assembly and, later, to the National Convention. After the Reign of Terror, a new government was formed called the Directory. The Directory ruled until Napoleon took control.
Reign of Terror
The darkest period of the French Revolution is called the Reign of Terror which lasted from 1793 to 1794. During this time, a man named Robespierre led the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety. He wanted to stamp out any opposition to the revolution, so he called for a rule of “Terror.” Laws were passed that said anyone suspected of treason could be arrested and executed by guillotine. Thousands of people were executed including Queen Marie Antoinette and many of Robespierre’s political rivals.
Many of the new political ideas and alliances of the French Revolution were formed in political clubs. These clubs included the powerful Jacobin Club (led by Robespierre), the Cordeliers, the Feuillants Club, and the Pantheon Club.
The French Revolution completely changed the social and political structure of France. It put an end to the French monarchy, feudalism, and took political power from the Catholic church. It brought new ideas to Europe including liberty and freedom for the commoner as well as the abolishment of slavery and the rights of women. Although the revolution ended with the rise of Napoleon, the ideas and reforms did not die. These new ideas continued to influence Europe and helped to shape many of Europe’s modern-day governments.