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Events of the French Revolution

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 10 months, 3 weeks ago

La prise de la Bastille, painting by Charles Thévenin, 1793



Focus Question: What were the important events of the French Revolution?



A. the role of the Estates General and the National Assembly

B. the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789

  • Women's March on Versailles, October 5, 1789


C. the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen


  • Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Female Citizen



D. the execution of Louis XVI in 1793



E. the Terror

F. the rise and fall of Napoleon

G. the Congress of Vienna



Learning Materials  


external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png





This video compares and contrasts the French Revolution with the American Revolution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTTvKwCylFY


View a map of France during the French Revolution

  • This map details the area of France during the revolution and includes the areas that were revolting in 1793 as well as the cities that joined with Paris in 1789.


Link here for a lesson plan on important events during the French Revolution



A) The Estates General and the National Assembly

The Estates General was the legislative body of France, consisting of three "estates": the clergy, the nobility, and everybody else in France.


  • In 1789, it was a relic of past years, last meeting in 1614 (Roberts pg. 350).
    • It was outside the previously dominant Absolutist political philosophy, where the King made decisions without consulting the legislature.


  • In 1789 King Louis XVI was forced to summon the Estates General due to the serious and impending economic crisis. As mentioned above, rising population, food shortages, and government bankruptcy had led to widespread starvation. 


    • The three estates couldn’t come to a decision about how to deal with the crisis in France. 


      • In the end, the Third Estate (the common people) broke off and called themselves the National Assembly. The National Assembly claimed that it most legitimately represented the French people. 


        • On June 20, 1789, the Third Estate establishes the Tennis Court Oath (depicted below) which would meet "until the constitution of the kingdom is established and consolidated upon solid foundations."



Link here for a lesson plan that includes the Estates General and the Tennis Court Oath


The Storming of the Bastille, Painting by Henry Singleton



B) The Storming of the Bastille

The poor people in Paris had been gathering together to protest their lack of food. In July of 1789 a rumor spread that the King’s army was going to attack them to quell the protest.


The people decided that they needed weapons to resist such an attack. The crowd numbering nearly 1,000 first attacked the Hotel des Invalides to obtain approximately 30,000 weapons, then turned their attention to the Bastille where it was known that a large stock of gunpowder was stored.


They were met by a garrison of approximately 114 armed guards (consisting primarily of 'invalides' - French soldiers who were incapable of serving in the field) who fired into the crowd killing almost 100 people.


The people continued to fight until the prison surrendered. In spite of the fact that the Bastille met with their demands for surrender, enraged rioters killed and beheaded several guards and the governor of the Bastille, the Marquis de Launay, parading their heads through the Paris on pikes.

The map details French territory during the French Revolution and displays the areas that were in revolt in 1793. The map also highlights, using red dots, the cities that joined with Paris for the revolution in 1789.


Link here for a first-hand primary source account of the attack, courtesy of the British Library.


Link here for a lesson plan on the storming of the Bastille


Women's March to Versailles

The storming of Bastille inspired more to join the cause, especially women. Women at this time were considered head of the house in regards to taking care of children, cleaning, cooking, and shopping for household needs. During this time a shortage of bread began, but that did not apply to royalty who had supplies backed up for themselves. Women grew agitated as they struggled to provide food on the table and marched to Versailles. Rumors also circled that the King and/or his troops stopped on the French Revolution tricolor. What began as a few hundred, gathered up to 6,000 women who grew increasingly angry along the 12 mile trek from Paris to the Versailles Palace that the royal family stayed in. Upon arrival the women beheaded some guards and stormed the castle with pikes, cannons, fishing knives, and even some of the heads in hand, demanding bread be shared. The royal family was then force to march back to Paris as a virtual prisoner.

This is a great cartoon visual of the series of events.

Women's March to Versailles

C) Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen


In August of 1789 the National Assembly wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, a revolutionary document that emphasized Enlightenment ideals. It argued that all men should be treated equally under the law. It also advocated popular sovereignty (the election of ruling officials).

Speech Denouncing the New Conditions of Eligibility, Robespierre, October 22, 1789.

Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen, 1795.

Click here for an activity on the Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen

Slavery during the French Revolution 


  • During the French Revolution the French colony of Saint Domingue now known as Haiti lead the first successful slave revolt in the new world.


  • It started during the national assembly when representatives were sent to Paris to try and secure the freedom and rights of slaves.


  • After the National assembly capitulated and gave rights to free blacks most plantation owners ignored it which sparked a large rebellion which was successful.  Fighting went on between France and the former slaves for a long time until the new French government outlawed slavery on February 4th 1794.


  • During Napoleon's rule he reinstated slavery in French colonies.


Portrait de Marie Olympe de Gouges

Portrait de Marie Olympe de Gouges

During this period of great liberalism, some elite women began to take decisive action proclaiming their rights. One such woman, Marie Olympe de Gouges, issued her own proclamation, aptly named Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. 

Like most outward progressives at the time, de Gouges would later face the guillotine under the Robespierre’s reign of terror in 1793.

Women played an important role in the French Revolution. Women used the revolution as a platform for their own rights.



D) Execution of Louis XVI

Between 1789 and 1793 the National Assembly took over France. They argued in favor of a constitutional monarchy and placed Louis XVI under arrest. He was later tried for treason, found guilty, and beheaded in January 1793.

Link here for resources on the execution of Louis XVI


To look at some primary sources exploring the execution of Louis XVI, click here or here

E) The Reign of Terror (1793-1794)

Began immediately after the execution of King Louis XVI. Louis XVI was not the only noble who met his fate at the guillotine. When Maximilien Robespierre took control of the National Assembly he made it his mission to rid France of all those who had opposed the Revolution. Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety found all those with anti-revolutionary sentiment and imprisoned or killed them. He also eventually turned on revolutionaries who didn’t support his policies. Robespierre’s Reign of Terror ended when people had had enough of the killings resulting in his own demise in 1794. Robespierre was the last victim of the Guillotine and the Reign of Terror.

If you are looking for a fabulous film chronicling the rise of Robespierre, please check out the 1983 French film Danton. Click here to see a selection showcasing the cult of conformity in the National Assembly blindly trusting the Committee of Public Safety.

Click here for the Khan Academy tutorial on the Reign of Terror

Click here for a BBC documentary on Maximilien Robespierre and the Reign of Terror

Click here for a lesson plan on the Reign of Terror

Jacobins The Jacobins were a group of political extremists who overthrew the old regime and established a government in 1793.

F) Rise of Napoleon


Portrait of Napoleon, 1812


Portrait of Napoleon, 1812


  • After Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, a legislature and executive body were founded in France. The executive body was known as the Directory and quickly became corrupt. 


  • Napoleon, a French general, was concerned by this corruption. When he returned to France in 1799, he joined a plot to overthrow the Directory. After the Directory was overthrown, he crowned himself Emperor in 1804.
    • Click here for a quick Ted-Ed video on Napoleon


A short biography of Napoleon

  • Napoleon centralized power and quickly decided to try to extend his rule. He used the French army to conquer most of continental Europe, setting his sights on Russia and Prussia. 


  • Napoleon’s army was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon was banished to the island of St. Helena where he died in 1821.

Click here for a timeline of Napoleon 


Click here for lesson plans to accompany the PBS documentary on Napoleon

external image Test_hq3x.pngQuiz Question

 The French people supported Napoleon Bonaparte because they hoped he would

  1. adopt the ideas of the Protestant Reformation
  2. restore Louis XVI to power
  3. provide stability for the nation
  4. end British control of France

Correct answer: 3

G) The Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna was a conference of European diplomats held from September of 1814 to June of 1815


  • The first goal was to establish a new balance of power in Europe which would prevent imperialism within Europe, such as the Napoleonic empire, and maintain the peace between the great powers. 


  • The second goal was to prevent political revolutions, such as the French Revolution, and maintain the status quo.


Map of Europe, after the Congress of Vienna, 1815
Map of Europe, after the Congress of Vienna, 1815

It was chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich, it attempted to offer a solution to European developments spearheaded by the French Revolution and Napoleonic conquests.

    • They wanted to restore the "Old Regime" of authoritarian politics. Ultimately, the Congress decided to return France to its 1789 borders, hoping this would quell the Revolutionary spirit of the past.

World History Lecture on the Congress of Vienna

Importance of the French Revolution


----It brought the People to the forefront of politics
----set the model for later revolutions, and
----changed the political map of Europe forever

Click here for an interactive map of Europe explaining the Congress of Vienna rulings 

Click here for primary sources from the Congress of Vienna 

Click here for a lesson plan on the Congress of Vienna, in which students hold a mock meeting to repair Europe 

external image Test_hq3x.pngSample TEST Question
Which of the following best describes why a specific group supported the French Revolution of 1789?
a) The bourgeoisie revolted because the growing national debt hampered their commercial relations with other nations.
b) Peasants revolted to escape high taxes and their feudal obligations to nobles.
c) Prominent members of the nobility revolted because they resented the growing wealth and power of merchants and manufacturers
d) Artisans revolted to protest the working conditions of an emerging factory system.


Websites of Interest:
[1]Barber, N (2006). The Complete Idiot's Guide to European History. New York, New York: Penguin Group. Pages 219 – 249.
[2]Liberty, Equality, FraternityRetrieved on February 26, 2010: http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/ 
[3]Maximilien Robespierre and the French Revolution”. Retrieved on February 26, 2010 from Yale Open Courses: http://oyc.yale.edu/history/european-civilization-1648-1945/content/sessions/lecture06.html.
[4] “Napoleon” Retrieved on February 26, 2010 from Yale Open Courses: http://oyc.yale.edu/history/european-civilization-1648-1945/content/sessions/lecture07.html
[5] “Causes of the French Revolution.” Retrieved on February 26, 2010 from The Corner: http://www.thecorner.org/hist/f3/fr_revo_causes.htm.
[6]Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens. Retrieved on February 26, 2010 from Yale Law: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp
[7]Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. Retrieved from February 26, 2010 PINN: http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/book-sum/gouges.html.
[8]The Execution of Louis XVI. Retrieved on February26, 2010 from The History Guide: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/louis_trial.html
[9]Clip from Danton. Retrieved on February 26, 2010:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGvbEOSFle0\
“[10]Origins of the French Revolution”. Retrieved on February 26, 2010 from Fordham University: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/lect/mod10.html.
[11]The French Revolution. A History Channel Presentation. Retrieved on February 26, 2010: see links above from YouTube
[12]Hunt, Lynn (2001). Exploring the French Revolution. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from Exploring the French Revolution Web site: http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/
[13]Center for History and New Media, (2007). Imaging the French Revolution. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from Imaging the French Revolution Web site: http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/imaging/about.html
[14](1789). Declaration of the Rights of Man. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from The Avalon Project Web site: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/rightsof.htm
[15]Foundation Napoleon, (2006). Napoleon.Org. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from Foundation Napoleon Web site: http://www.napoleon.org/en/home.asp
[16]Brainard, Jennifer (2003). The French Revolution. Retrieved March 1, 2007, from HistoryWiz Web site: http://www.historywiz.com/oldregime.htm 

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