The 18th century drew to a close, and France’s involvement in the “American War of Independence (1775-1783)” added to the extravagant spending by King Louis XVI (1754-1793) and his Queen; Marie Antoinette. Yet he wasn’t totally to blame for the financial situation the country found itself in, for he inherited a debt left by King Louis XV. The combination was pushing the country ever closer to bankruptcy.
The French Revolution started in 1789 and ended in 1799 with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, as France’s saviour and he proclaimed himself as Emperor of France in 1804.
French citizens redesigned the political landscape of their country, and some 17,000 people were known to have been executed, as this reign of terror swept across France.
France faced huge debts, and taxation of its people could not plug the hole in its economy. New reforms put forward, were instantly blocked by the clergy and nobility, eager to hang on to their tax exemptions.
Poverty existed within the peasantry groups, who themselves, depended on good harvests for basic subsistence. In 1787 and 1788 harvests had been poor, prices rose and fear of large scale famine was on the cards.
Even so, the peasants of the land were expected to pay feudal dues (The legal and social system in which people were given land and protection by a lord, in return for which they worked and fought for him) and obligations to the aristocracy.
King Louis XVI stepped in and called upon the Estates General (A medieval representative that had the power to deal with a financial crisis, consisting of; clergy – nobility – commoners) allowing the people to list their grievances. The Estates General met in 1789, and claimed frustration and obstruction by the clergy and aristocrats. This led to the formation of the National Assembly (The National Assembly claimed to legitimately represent the French population) and the drawing up of a constitution which limited Monarchy intervention.
In 1789, the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille, whilst peasants and farmers attacked manors and estates belonging to their landlords, until they be freed from oppressive contracts.
In 1790 the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” (The document granted due process in judicial matters and established sovereignty amongst the French citizens. It made it clear, every person was seen as equal) was written with the collaboration of Maximilien de Robespierre, this was the foundation to the French Constitution.
The National Assembly may have taken the first steps towards creating a New France through the Constitution, yet rifts existed between radical and more moderate members.
This was to come to a head in 1791-92 as Louis XVI attempted an escape from Paris.
Louis, anxiously felt for the safety of his family, as they were nothing more than prisoners in Tuileries Palace, and believed fleeing was their only option.
On the nights of 20th and 21st June 1791, the royal party was arrested at Varennes on route to the border. This attempt of escape compromised his position and that of the monarchy.
They returned to Paris, as prisoners, they were seen as enemies of the Revolution… Which left the question, how long would they keep Louis and Marie Antoinette alive?
This would cause the assembly to become divided.
The moderate Girondins, (Girondins were moderates in the National Convention who controlled the legislative assembly) stood up to be counted, and voted that France should retain a constitutional monarchy. Whilst on the other hand were the Jacobins (Jacobins were a radical wing of representatives in the National Convention, led by Robespierre calling for democratic solutions to France’s issues) with Robespierre as their president, who wanted King Louis XVI, gone forever, he even called for his execution.
Neighbouring countries, dreaded the thought of France’s revolutionary tactics would spread to other lands. They stepped in by issuing the “Declaration of Pillnitz,” calling that the French return Louis XVI, to his rightful place, on the throne.
It was seen as a declaration of hostile intent and the Girondin’s declared war on Austria and Prussia.
In January 1793, the National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a Republic. Louis was tried for treason and executed.
France’s war with Austria and Prussia suffered as foreign armies entered deeper and deeper into France.
The Jaconin’s overthrew the Girondin’s and took control, conscripting people to the French Army. It seemed France’s fortunes were ever changing.
Robespierre paranoia led to a reign of terror between 1793-1794, where some 17,000 counter revolutionaries were executed at the guillotine.
With foreign armies being pushed back across French borders. It wasn’t long before the Revolutionary Government questioned Robespierre true motives… On the 27th July 1794, he was arrested and executed on the 28th at the guillotine.
Following the removal of Robespierre a period of governmental restructuring took place, leading up to a new Constitution of 1795.
The Committee of Public Safety’s conscription drive had enlarged their armies, as they defended France against invasion by Prussia and Austria.
A young Napoleon Bonaparte trail blazed his armies through Italy and Egypt, winning considerable fame for himself and wealth as he tore through Europe.
With political upheaval in France, Napoleon returned to Paris in 1799, putting down a coup against the Directory, and naming himself “First Consul” leader of France. The Revolution was over, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.
In May of 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte received the title: Emperor of France