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The French Revolution was a watershed event in modern European history that began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this period, French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. The upheaval was caused by widespread discontent with the French monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI, who met his death by guillotine, as did his wife Marie Antoinette. Although it failed to achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, the French Revolution played a critical role in shaping modern nations by showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
Causes of the French Revolution
As the 18th century drew to a close, France’s costly involvement in the American Revolution, and extravagant spending by King Louis XVI and his predecessor, had left the country on the brink of bankruptcy.
Not only were the royal coffers depleted, but two decades of poor harvests, drought, cattle disease and skyrocketing bread prices had kindled unrest among peasants and the urban poor. Many expressed their desperation and resentment toward a regime that imposed heavy taxes—yet failed to provide any relief—by rioting, looting and striking.
In the fall of 1786, Louis XVI’s controller general, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, proposed a financial reform package that included a universal land tax from which the privileged classes would no longer be exempt.
To garner support for these measures and forestall a growing aristocratic revolt, the king summoned the Estates-General (les états généraux) – an assembly representing France’s clergy, nobility and middle class – for the first time since 1614.
The meeting was scheduled for May 5, 1789; in the meantime, delegates of the three estates from each locality would compile lists of grievances (cahiers de doléances) to present to the king.
READ MORE: How the American Revolution Influenced the French Revolution?
Rise of the Third Estate
France’s population had changed considerably since 1614. The non-aristocratic members of the Third Estate now represented 98 percent of the people but could still be outvoted by the other two bodies.
In the lead-up to the May 5 meeting, the Third Estate began to mobilize support for equal representation and the abolishment of the noble veto—in other words, they wanted voting by head and not by status.
While all of the orders shared a common desire for fiscal and judicial reform as well as a more representative form of government, the nobles in particular were loath to give up the privileges they enjoyed under the traditional system.
Tennis Court Oath
By the time the Estates-General convened at Versailles, the highly public debate over its voting process had erupted into hostility between the three orders, eclipsing the original purpose of the meeting and the authority of the man who had convened it.
On June 17, with talks over procedure stalled, the Third Estate met alone and formally adopted the title of National Assembly; three days later, they met in a nearby indoor tennis court and took the so-called Tennis Court Oath (serment du jeu de paume), vowing not to disperse until constitutional reform had been achieved.
Within a week, most of the clerical deputies and 47 liberal nobles had joined them, and on June 27 Louis XVI grudgingly absorbed all three orders into the new assembly.
The Bastille and the Great Fear
On June 12, as the National Assembly (known as the National Constituent Assembly during its work on a constitution) continued to meet at Versailles, fear and violence consumed the capital.
Though enthusiastic about the recent breakdown of royal power, Parisians grew panicked as rumors of an impending military coup began to circulate. A popular insurgency culminated on July 14 when rioters stormed the Bastille fortress in an attempt to secure gunpowder and weapons; many consider this event, now commemorated in France as a national holiday, as the start of the French Revolution.
The wave of revolutionary fervor and widespread hysteria quickly swept the countryside. Revolting against years of exploitation, peasants looted and burned the homes of tax collectors, landlords and the seigniorial elite.
Known as the Great Fear (la Grande peur), the agrarian insurrection hastened the growing exodus of nobles from the country and inspired the National Constituent Assembly to abolish feudalism on August 4, 1789, signing what the historian Georges Lefebvre later called the “death certificate of the old order.”
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
In late August, the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen), a statement of democratic principles grounded in the philosophical and political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The document proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replace the ancien régime with a system based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.
Drafting a formal constitution proved much more of a challenge for the National Constituent Assembly, which had the added burden of functioning as a legislature during harsh economic times.
For months, its members wrestled with fundamental questions about the shape and expanse of France’s new political landscape. For instance, who would be responsible for electing delegates? Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? Perhaps most importantly, how much authority would the king, his public image further weakened after a failed attempt to flee the country in June 1791, retain?
Adopted on September 3, 1791, France’s first written constitution echoed the more moderate voices in the Assembly, establishing a constitutional monarchy in which the king enjoyed royal veto power and the ability to appoint ministers. This compromise did not sit well with influential radicals like Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton, who began drumming up popular support for a more republican form of government and for the trial of Louis XVI.
French Revolution Turns Radical
In April 1792, the newly elected Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia, where it believed that French émigrés were building counterrevolutionary alliances; it also hoped to spread its revolutionary ideals across Europe through warfare.
On the domestic front, meanwhile, the political crisis took a radical turn when a group of insurgents led by the extremist Jacobins attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792.
The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries, the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic.
On January 21, 1793, it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.
READ MORE: How a Scandal Over a Diamond Necklace Cost Marie Antoinette Her Head
Reign of Terror
Following the king’s execution, war with various European powers and intense divisions within the National Convention ushered the French Revolution into its most violent and turbulent phase.
In June 1793, the Jacobins seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondins and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity.
They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror (la Terreur), a 10-month period in which suspected enemies of the revolution were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre, who dominated the draconian Committee of Public Safety until his own execution on July 28, 1794.
His death marked the beginning of the Thermidorian Reaction, a moderate phase in which the French people revolted against the Reign of Terror’s excesses.
French Revolution Ends: Napoleon’s Rise
On August 22, 1795, the National Convention, composed largely of Girondins who had survived the Reign of Terror, approved a new constitution that created France’s first bicameral legislature.
Executive power would lie in the hands of a five-member Directory (Directoire) appointed by parliament. Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, now led by a young and successful general named Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Directory’s four years in power were riddled with financial crises, popular discontent, inefficiency and, above all, political corruption. By the late 1790s, the directors relied almost entirely on the military to maintain their authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field.
On November 9, 1799, as frustration with their leadership reached a fever pitch, Bonaparte staged a coup d’état, abolishing the Directory and appointing himself France’s “first consul.” The event marked the end of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, in which France would come to dominate much of continental Europe.
WATCH: The Rise of Napoleon
Summary of French Revolution
The French Revolution that took place from 1789 to 1799 was a crucial period in the history of French, European and Western Civilizations. The uprising that brought the regime of King Louis XVI to its end is known as the French Revolution. This was the phase, when absolute monarchy was overthrown and Republicanism took its place. During the French Revolution, the Roman Catholic Church also underwent a radical restructuring.
The First Republic fell to a coup d'etat. A coup d'Etat is the sudden overthrow of the ruling government through unconstitutional means. The part of the state establishment overthrows the government and replaces just the high-level figures.
After the fall of the First Republic, France oscillated among Republic, Empire and Monarchy.
The French Revolution was a crucial turning point in the history of Western democracy. From the age of absolutism and aristocracy.
It brought the transformation from the age of absolutism and aristocracy. The French Revolution brought the age of the citizenry as the dominant political force.
French Revolution launched the slogan "Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!" meaning "Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!". This slogan was very popular. It was to popular to such extent that later it became the rallying cry for activists. These activists who promoted democracy and were aggainst oppressive governments could identify with the slogan.
CAUSES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
In 1789, France was facing many economic difficulties. Despite of this fact, it was one of the richest European nations of that time. Louis XVI was very popular at that time and was known as the Estates-General of 1789. However, the nobility and many of the king's ministers were not very popular.
There are many factors that led to the political and socioeconomic upheaval of the French Revolution. The ancien regime had an old aristocratic order. The aristocratic order succumbed to the ambitions of the rising.
History Grade 10 - Topic 3 Essay Questions
In 1789 the bloody French Revolution began, which would continue till the late 1790’s. The aim of the revolution was to overthrow the monarchy and uproot the system of feudalism, and replace it with ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity. The French revolution occurred for various reasons, including poor economic policies, poor leadership, an exploitative political- and social structures.
The political causes of the French revolution included the autocratic monarchy, bankruptcy and extravagant spending of royals. To understand the causes of the French Revolution, one needs to understand France’s political structure before the revolution began. An autocratic monarchy means that French society was governed by an all-powerful king or queen, believed to have been given divine right to rule by God. These monarchs were hereditary rulers, which meant that the son or daughter of the monarch would be the next ruler. As many believed the monarchs to be a “representative of God”, they did not question the orders of their rulers. But this unlimited power of the monarchs soon led to abuse. Under King Louis XIV reign all monarchs could have anyone arrested and imprisoned by the Letter de Cachet. The monarchs did not care for their subjects as even the innocent could be arrested and imprisoned at any time. This caused anxiety, panic and fear in France.
King Louis XIV reigned from 1643 to 1713.  After his death, his great-grandson, King Louis XV became king at the age of five. Both his parents and brother had passed away in 1712, and a regent, Philippe II, was appointed who would govern till he came of age. When King Louis XV finally took the throne, he was a lazy leader who lacked self-confidence and spent more time with his mistresses than with the affairs of state. His national policies never had firm direction. He became known as the “butterfly monarch”. His involvement in the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) drained France’s treasury. While the country was bankrupt and many citizens were impoverished, taxes were generated to sustain a large army. King Louis XV contributed to France’s bankruptcy due to overspending on his luxurious lifestyle and wars.
The next leader, Louis XVI (1774 – 1793) reign also set the stage for a revolution. King Louis XVI is remembered as a simple man, but his wife Marie Antoinette lived in the lap of luxury.  Louis XVI inherited the kingdom and all the debt of France when he became king. He failed to fix the financial situation. The expensive upkeep of his palace and the unnecessary spending of Marie Antoinette angered the French population. Especially as the tax system excluded nobility from paying tax, while the poor paid for the royals’ luxurious lifestyles. By 1786 Charles de Calonne, the general of finances, warned against raising taxes of the poor as it could lead to unrest.  As King Louis XVI did not want to tax nobility, De Calonne had to approach European Banks for loans.  While King Louis was unable to fix France’s financial situation, his wife continued with her extravagant lifestyle. Marie-Antoinette’s never-minded response to the poor suffering is mostly reflected in the quote: “Let them eat cake”. Even though no evidence could be found that she truly said it, the famous quote does portray the monarchy’s attitude. While many were starving, the monarchy turned a blind eye. This quote shows how oblivious they were to the suffering of their people.
The defective administration of generations of monarchs set the stage for a French revolution. The poor were no longer willing to pay for the monarchy’s extravagant lifestyles and unwise foreign policies. People were starting to revolt against the idea of “divine rule” and started to question the authority and wisdom of their monarchs.
The second cause of the French revolution was based on the social structure of France. French society was based on the relics of feudalism, which divided the French population in to three classes based on the Estate System.  According to the Estate System, people’s status and rights were determined by the estate they owned.  The three estates included the clergy, the nobility and the peasants.
The first estate consisted of the clergy, which was subdivided into two groups, the upper and lower clergy. The higher clergy were at the top of the hierarchy in French society, while the lower clergy were impoverished. The higher clergy lived extravagantly, exploiting people and exempt from paying taxes.  While the lower clergy was also employed as workers of the church, monasteries and educational institutions, but not in high positions such as the higher clergy. 
The second estate consisted of the nobility, which included two groups, namely the court nobles and the provincial nobles.  They were also exempt from paying taxes. However, the provincial nobles actually cared for the people, while the court nobles only focused on leading scandalously wealthy lives. 
The third estate consisted of the peasants, which included the sweepers, farmers and cobblers.  They were the lowest classes in French society, who were forced to pay taxes to sustain the luxuriously living of the first and second estate.
But besides the unequal taxing given to the third estate, they were also unequally represented in court. The third estate represented 98% of the French population, yet they were outvoted by the first two estates. The third estate fought against this unequal representation and began to mobilize support for abolishing the noble veto. This meant that votes would be counted by the amount of people in favor or against a law, rather than nobles dictating laws. This led to opposition from the first two estates, who wanted to remain in control.
To fight against the current voting system, the Third Estate met on 17 June 1789 alone to change the title of National Assembly.  Three days later, they met at an indoor tennis court and undertook the Tennis Court Oath, declaring that would not end their fight until they achieved judicial, fiscal and governmental reform.  On 27 June, after 47 liberal nobles joined the Third Estate’s cause, Louis XVI accepted all three orders into a new assembly.
The rise of the third estate against the Estate System and unequal representation due to the class structure also gave rise to the French Revolution. The poor were angered to pay for the luxurious lifestyles of first and second estate. They were also tired of having 2% of the population veto all their rights and having inequal representation in court even though they made up 98% of French society.
Another cause of the French revolution was the economic conditions of France. King Louis XIV “Seven Years War” left France bankrupt. His foreign policies led to expensive foreign wars, which emptied the coffers of the royal treasury. After his death, he was succeeded by Louis XVI. But as previously shown, even though the king was simple, his wife continued with frivolous spending. King Louis XVI also refused to listen to the economic counsel given to him, which led to necessary economic changes being ignored.
Firstly, when Louis XVI took the throne, Turgot was appointed Minister of Finance in 1774. Turgot’s first duty was to rid France of their debt.  He came up with a solution to appease the peasants and fix France’s financial situation by minimizing spending of the royal court and imposing taxes on all three estates.  However, Turgot’s solution was dismissed after Marie Antoinette intervened. Turgot was fired and Necker was appointed as the new Finance Minister in 1776. Necker remained King Louis XVI Finance Minister for seven years.  During his time he published a report of the income and expenses of the government, to appease the French population.  But in 1783, he was also fired. Finally, Calonne was appointed Minister of Finance in 1783. Calonne advised the king to improve France’s financial situation by approaching European banks for a loan.  The European banks were not keen to lend money to France, but Calonne was able to obtain a loan. Calonne’s solution proved problematic. When France finally did receive a loan, their debt doubled within three years from 300, 000, 000 to 600, 000, 000.  Thereafter, Calonne realized that his solution was not feasible and urged the king to impose taxes on all three classes. Finally, Calonne was also dismissed.
King Louis XVI economic decisions finally set the stage for the revolution. The monarchy refused to impose taxes on all three estates, while the royals continued living in a lap of luxury. These decisions created economic instability in France. The peasants were angered, as while they were starving, they had to maintain the standard of living for the rich. Therefore, the economic conditions in France was one of the main reasons for the revolution.
Ultimately, there was three main reasons for the French Revolution. The Estate System, economic policies and autocratic monarchy gave rise to a bloody revolution, which led to the need for equality, liberty and fraternity in France.
Lindsay Champion, “Bloody Battles, Crazy-Long Books & Broadway: A (Sorta) Historically Accurate Timeline of Les Misérables, Broadway (Uploaded: 23 March 2014), (Accessed: 29 April 2020) Image Source
Essay 2: What is the Legacy of the French Revolution of 1789 or What were the consequences of the French Revolution?
Tip: If there is a term that is unfamiliar to you, please check out our French Revolution Glossary some definitions.
The Bloody French Revolution officially began when hundreds of French city workers stormed the Bastille fortress in Paris in 1789.  Although the revolution came to an end in the late 1790’s, its legacy (or consequences) had a significant impact on the World, especially other European countries. This statement will be examined by discussing various political and socio-economic legacies of the French Revolution of 1789, while discussing how the idea of the possibility that popular mobilization can overthrow established monarchies and aristocracies rose from the French Revolution of 1789.
When discussing the legacy of the French Revolution, it is important to understand the causes of the revolution as it gives one a better understanding of the desired outcomes. For example, one of the main causes was that French citizens who belonged to the Third Estate. grew significantly tired of the absolute power and wealth of the French monarchy and wanted a political system that represented the popular interests. Consequently, one of the direct consequences of the revolution was that France became a Republic which indicated a step towards liberty, equality and democracy.  This need for liberty and equality spread to many other countries and especially to countries in central Europe, where popular protest and movements called for the election of parliaments and to ultimately demolish the feudalistic-approach of European life. 
As briefly mentioned, the French Revolution of 1789 demonstrated that an organized group of popular protest and mutual interests could demolish something as established as old monarchies and aristocracies.  This idea significantly led to the revolution of the slaves of Saint-Domingue, a French Colony on one of the Caribbean Islands, who mobilized themselves for the fight for their independence.  In 1804 this movement was able to finally break free from French colonial rule and establish the Republic of Haiti.
When discussing the political movements that were influenced by the French Revolution, it is also important to discuss the Socio-Economic legacies that were influenced by the changes in the political environments. For example, the fall of the monarchy also meant that the French system of estates (based on Feudalism) also crumbled. This meant that the French middle class were able to gain better opportunities through acquiring more land (as the Church’s lands were nationalized) and having to pay less taxes (as they did not have to pay Feudal taxes anymore).  Furthermore, the elite classes (such as the nobles and corrupt clergy) lost most of their power and privileges. Therefore, it is evident that the revolution led to a significant change in the political, social and economic structures of France.
With the middle class and “peasants” (in this context, French farmers) gaining more opportunities and a better standard of living and the decline of Feudalism, as well as the loss of extreme privileges of the clergy and nobleman, a need for the growth in Nationalistic sentiments continued. Consequently, instead of the protection provided by the Feudalistic-structure, a French army was established.  Other examples of the lasting spread of French Nationalism, is the change of France’s flag (the Tricolore), the National anthem (the Marseillaise) and the creation of France’s National Day (Bastille Day).  The legacy of French Nationalism out of the French Revolution still exists today.
When discussing the causes and outcomes of the French Revolution of 1789, it evident that the outcomes of the revolution had a lasting impact on the French political, social and economic way of life. As seen in the examples of the changing social structures, the change in the tax system and finally the strong rise in French Nationalism. It is also important to note the legacy created by the ideology of the French Revolution and its effect on many European countries. For example, as seen in the growth of the Jacobin movements. One of the most significant phenomena surrounding the French Revolution of 1789 and its legacy, is that the world was able to witness how people were able to organize themselves to fight for National interest and take down century old ways of life. This ultimately led to the legacy and the birth of the idea of the possibility of differing political ideologies. 
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French Revolution Timeline
The beginning of the modern history of Europe is marked by the French Revolution. It uprooted the feudal system as well as the rule of the monarch. This revolution started in the year 1789 when Louis XVI was the king of France and end with the levitation of Napoleon Bonaparte.
France was a prosperous country in the 18th century, but it had a problem collecting taxes because of the structure of society. The people with the money nobles and clergy never paid the taxes. By 1789, France was deeply in debt.
The nobles and clergy were enjoying all the special privileges of the country while the commoners were living in poverty and misery.
The end of the French Revolution abolished Monarchy From France and the country evolved to be more democratic.
All these events were of high significance in the history of not only France but also the entire world. Which event do you think was the most impactful?
French Revolution Timeline (1775-1815)
Longest reign of any monarch in European history. Consolidated power and believed in absolutism.
Introduction of the Vingtieme
Income tax paid by the 2nd and 3rd estates. The percentage fluctuated with time. Tax was abolished by the National Assembly in 1789.
War of Spanish Succession
France loses colonies in North America and prestige in Europe.
Reign of Louis XV
September 1, 1715 - May 10, 1774
Reign plagued by instability, defeats and low finances. Set the mechanism for the French Revolution to erupt 15 years after his death.
War of Austrian Succession
December 16, 1740 - October 18, 1748
France regains several colonies following Austria's defeat.
Louis XV reduces income tax
Louis XV breaks his promise to eliminate the income tax, reducing it to 5% upon the Paris Parlement/s request.
Introduction of the Capitation
Head tax paid by the 2nd and 3rd estates. Percentage fluctuated with time. Was abolished in 1789 by the National Assembly.
Seven Years War
May 28, 1754 - February 10, 1763
France lost many colonies in North America and India to the British. The French navy was destroyed and taxes were raised in order to fund the military throughout the war.
Royal Proclamation Act
Proclamation by King George III of Britain that prevented colonists from settling in Louisiana. This was a key factor leading to the American Revolution.
Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte is born on the island of Corsica to a moderately wealthy family. He is sent to military school at the age of 9 and after graduating quickly rises up the military ranks to become a prominent general in the Siege of Toulon and the Vendemiaire Uprising until he is promoted to command the Army of the Interior and the Army of Italy in 1796.
Reign of Louis XVI
May 10, 1774 - January 21, 1794
Last absolute monarch to rule France. Was guillotined in 1794 following instability and war within France as a result of the French Revolution in 1789.
American War of Independence
April 19, 1775 - September 3, 1783
American victory over the British. France assisted the United States, but amassed large war debts as a result of the war, which would contribute to a fiscal crisis that led to the French Revolution in 1789.
First Term of Jacques Necker
June 29, 1777 - May 19, 1781
Raised money to support the American Revolution through loans. Concealed the true extent of the debts incurred by the government in his published set of accounts (Compte Rendu). Dismissed as economic woes crippled the country.
Term of Charles Alexandre de Calonne
November 3, 1783 - April 8, 1787
Argued that fiscal reform was necessary to save France from bankruptcy. Believed that everyone should be liable to direct taxation and tariffs should be abolished. Convened the Assembly of Notables in 1787 to accept his proposals but was dismissed. Louis dismissed him amid a mounting crisis.
Meeting of the Assembly of Notables
February 1787 - May 25, 1787
Assembly of Notables met to hear out Calonne/s tax reform proposals but rejected them for fear of facing the brunt of the new taxes. Assembly was dismissed by Brienne in May.
Term of Archbishop de Brienne
April 20, 1787 - August 25, 1788
Summoned the Estates-General in an attempt to resolve the economic crisis devastating France. Parlement was exiled from Paris, and Brienne attempted to mediate between the Parlement and King. Parlement reluctantly accepted loans and Brienne resigned after failure to raise further loans.
Convocation of the Estates-General
Louis summons the Estates-General to meet at Versailles on May 1, 1789.
Second Term of Jacques Necker
August 25, 1788 - July 11, 1789
Held the Estates-General in May 1789 where cahiers were read out loud to the crown. Discontent amongst the lower estates led to their departure and the creation of the National Assembly. Failure of the National Assembly to compromise with the othr estates and the monarchy led to Necker/s dismissal, news reached Paris a day later and rioting ensued.
Meeting of the Estates-General
Estates-General met to attempt tax reform. The third estate was at odds with the other two estates. When demands were not met, the third estate split off to form the National Assembly and create a constitution for France. Vote by Head vs. Vote by Order was also an issue.
Creation of National (Constituent) Assembly
June 17, 1789 - September 30, 1791
The third estate split off from the other two states, forming its own assembly to discuss the economic and social issues facing France. The assembly would take charge to draft a constitution and govern France following the Storming of the Bastille.
Tennis Court Oath
Oath is taken by members of the National Assembly to not disband until France is given a written constitution.
Louis XVI holds a Seance Royale
Louis holds a Seance Royale to ignore the recent events and attempts to maintain his authority.
Louis XVI's Decision Reversal
Louis reverses his decision of June 23rd and demands that the third estate meets with the other two states. He also accepts Vote by Head.
Dismissal of Jacques Necker and Aftermath
July 11, 1789 - July 14, 1789
Louis dismisses Necker on July 11th. By this time he has 25,000 troops stationed in the Paris-Versailles area. News of Necker's dismissal reaches Paris on July 12th. The next day shops were looted and barricades set up to protect demonstrators from attack. Many soldiers disobeyed the King's orders and joined the Parisian demonstrators instead.
July 14, 1789 - December 25, 1799
The French Revolution officially started with the Storming of the Bastille and unofficially ended with the adoption of the Constitution of Year VIII (December 25, 1799).
Storming of the Bastille
Parisians seize 28,000 muskets and 20 cannons from Les Invalides and marched to a prison, the Bastille, in search of ammunition. Attack from prison guards led to the mob attacking the prison, freeing many prisoners and beheading the prison master. Many people die and the prison is heavily damaged. The French Revolution officially starts on this date.
Establishment of Paris Commune and National Guard
Paris Commune was established to defend the interests of the Parisian mob from the despotic monarchy. The National Guard was a citizen's militia created to protect Parisians. Only the wealthy could, however, join the National Guard.
The Great Fear
July 20, 1789 - August 6, 1789
After events in Paris, revolution erupted across France, both peaceful (Dijon, Poitiers) and violent (Bordeaux, Lyon). In the countryside, peasants revolted against feudal dues, tithes, and taxes, destroying the property of the nobility and often killing them as well. Panic swept across the country until the National Assembly abolished seigneurial dues in August.
August 5, 1789 - August 11, 1789
The nobility made major political concessions in a series of decrees, notably abolishing tithes, tax privileges, and other special privileges, creating an equal taxation system and allowing all citizens to run for office. The sale of grain was also deregulated.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
The D.R.M.C. promotes various freedoms for men across France, including promoting natural rights of liberty and equality, free will, freedom of speech, public accountability, right to a fair trial and punishment and the right to private property.
Reform was undertaken by the National Assembly, including reforming the political organization of France, economic reform, establishing voting criteria, reforming the taxation and legal systems, and restraining the Church. This happened alongside the severe food crisis that occurred and Louis' "imprisonment" in Paris.
March of the Fisherwomen on Versailles
With the King not officially supporting the August Decrees or the DRMC, along with a severe bread shortage in Paris, thousands of women and soldiers stormed the Hotel de Ville and later Versailles demanding change. Louis agreed to supply Paris with grain and was forcibly moved to Paris, along with the Paris Commune.
Nationalization of Church Land
Church property was given to the government and then redistributed through auctions and the sale of assignats - land-backed bonds. Many Catholics were upset with the loss of control of the Church within France. France is now reorganized into 83 departments, 547 districts, and 43,360 communes/cantons.
Civil Constitution of the Clergy
Members of the Catholic Church are asked to take an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and the bishops and priests were now to be elected and paid by the state. This split the Church and many began to question the actions of the state towards the Church. Internal trade barriers are also abolished at this time.
Louis' Flight to Varennes
In an attempt to seek outside assistance, Louis and his family attempted to flee to the Austrian Netherlands undercover. Their attempt was foiled and the King was brought back to Paris. Confidence in Louis reached an all-time low and demands for a republic grew.
Champs de Mars massacre
Louis refused to rule as a constitutional monarch and on July 17th, 50,000 gathered at the Champs de Mars, carrying a petition demanding for a republic. The event was brutally suppressed by the National Guard, angering the nation.
Declaration of Pilnitz
Austria and Prussia demanded the restoration of Louis to his full powers and if these demands were not met, a war would ensue.
Constitution of 1791
The constitution of 1791 included the DRMC and other aspects of governing such as the suspensive veto of the King and a unicameral legislature and defining "active" vs. "passive" citizens. The constitution unofficially remained until 1795.
Creation of the Legislative Assembly
October 1, 1791 - September 20, 1792
The Legislative Assembly held elections for new representatives, but few ran (self-denying ordinance). The assembly was split between the Girondins/Jacobins/Cordeliers and the Feuillants/Monarchists. Collapsed due to inactive support for a republic.
French Declaration of War against Austria
France declares war against Austria but flees at the sight of the enemy. Antoinette, Lafayette, and the Girondins (Brissot) supported the war, while Robespierre did not. The French military was in very poor shape with thousands of generals having left the country. Refractory priests were deported and crown guards disbanded. More troops were called up from the provinces to fight against Austria. Louis attempted to veto these laws.
French Revolutionary Wars
April 20, 1792 - March 25, 1802
The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of multiple wars between France and other European nations attempting to contain the French Revolution. The wars were initially characterized by multiple defeats but after the Battle of Valmy the French took the offensive and invaded Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. The wars unofficially ended with the Treaty of Amiens which brought a year of peace to Europe.
War of the First Coalition
April 20, 1792 - October 18, 1797
The war between the First French Republic and Britain, Prussia, Austria, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal, Sardinia, and Naples. Resulted in various French victories. Only Britain remained in the war following the Treaty of Campo Formio.
Journée of the Sans-Culottes
Following a failed Jacobite uprising on June 20th, anger continued to build up untl rioting spilled out in Paris. The Legislative Assembly declared a state of emergency and within a month passive citizens were allowed into the National Guard and to run for municipal office. Robespierre re-entered the political arena and demanded an overthrow of the government.
The Duke of Brunswick declared his intent to restore the French King to his full powers, outraging the nation. Anti-monarchial sentiment spiraled out of control.
August Journées (Attack on the Tuileries)
August 3, 1792 - August 10, 1792
With the mayor of Paris' demands for a republic ignored (August 3) and his murder a day later (August 4), the sans-culottes overthrew the Paris Commune (August 9) and replaced it with the Revolutionary Commune. and then attacked the Tuileries Palace (August 10), which left around a thousand dead. Louis was now a prisoner of the people.
Trial of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
The King and Queen of France were put on trial and found guilty of betraying the people and committing high treason. They were to be placed under permanent house arrest until a later execution date.
September 2, 1792 - September 7, 1792
Marat called for the execution of anti-revolutionaries as the Austro-Prussian forces were closing in on Paris. Within six days, about 1,400 prisoners were murdered by the sans-culottes which sent shock across the continent regarding the brutality of the sans-culottes.
Battle of Valmy
52,000 Frenchmen defeated 34,000 Prussians and pushed the Prussians back across the Rhine. This followed another French victory over the Austrians in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). France was now on the offensive.
Creation of the National Convention
September 20, 1792 - October 26, 1795
The National Convention would be predominantly led by the Jacobins, including Robespierre, who would initiate the Reign of Terror and bring about the death of thousands. The Girondins and the Cordeliers would both be purged from the National Convention and the Convention would only lose authority through the Coup of Thermidor.
Declaration of the Republic
France's monarchy was abolished and the nation was declared a republic on September 22nd.
Committee of General Security Established
October 1792 - October 26, 1795
The Committee of General Security was established as an executive within the National Convention that oversaw police security, surveillance, and spying.
Decree of Fraternity
France would now be "obliged" to free other states from tyrannical monarchies and took over the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), the Rhineland, Nice, Savoy, and Avignon. This came at the heel of the revealing of the Armoire de Fer documents, which revealed the King's correspondence with his ministers and other nations asking for help, which discredited Louis even more.
Execution of Louis XVI
After being found guilty, Louis was imprisoned until a vote in the National Convention voted in the majority for his execution. Girondins who voted to preserve his life were labeled as counterrevolutionaries and would be purged from the National Convention.
Reign of Terror
The National Convention orchestrated the Reign of Terror to remove all opposition to it and resulted in the execution of several thousand and left France in political turmoil and instability.
A rebellion in the south and west of France occurred in support of the deposed King and the monarchy, which resulted in a prolonged civil war and the genocide of approximately 200,000-400,000 people. The rebellion was crushed by the Directory following the relaxation in the Reign of Terror.
Committee of Public Safety Established
April 6, 1793 - October 26, 1795
The Committee of Public Safety is established as an executive within the National Convention, which controls all aspects of the government. Revolutionary tribunals, Representatives-on-Mission, Comites de Surveillance and the Summary Execution Decree are all created at this time.
Purge of the Girondins
Following the passing of the first maximum and dechristianization in May, 80,000 National Guardsmen surrounded the convention demanding the expulsion of the Girondins. 29 are arrested and executed. Brissot, the leader of the Girondins, is also executed. Disturbances in 60 of the 83 departments were reported shortly after the executions (Federalists vs. Centralists).
Constitution of 1793 (Year I)
The Constitution of Year I was a constitution proposed by the National Convention, however, it was never implemented. The constitution would have granted for a republic with an unicameral legislature and fewer civil rights and liberties than the previous constitution.
Assassination of Marat
Marat was assassinated by a Girondist sympathizer (Charlotte Corday) for his revolutionary stances and support of the Jacobins. She was executed four days later. The death penalty for hoarders was passed around this time as well. Robespierre then joined the CPS on July 27th and the Reign of Terror woul dbe carried out by the Jacobins for the next 12-14 months.
Levéé en Masse Passed
The Levée en Masse is passed, which forces able-bodied men across France to join the ranks of the army (mandatory conscription). The Armée Revolutionnaire was then passed, which allowed sans-culottes in Paris to secure food, round up counterrevolutionaries, mobilize the nation's resources and establish revolutionary justice in areas lacking "revolutionary enthusiasm", notably the south and west of France.
Siege of Toulon
August 29, 1793 - December 19, 1793
The Siege of Toulon was an offensive launched by French Republican forces under Napoleon and other generals against the Royalist and Anglo-Spanish forces occupying the city. The offensive was successful and Napoleon was promoted to lead the French Army of Italy following his decisive victory in Toulon.
Law of Suspects Passed
The Law of Suspects was passed by the National Convention, which allowed it to establish revolutionary tribunals and try those who were deemed "enemies of the revolution" and anyone who was an enemy or committed treason against the Republic.
General Maximum Passed
The General Maximum was passed by the National Convention, which regulated the price of food in relation to workers' wages. The prices eventually rose with the increase in wages and became wildly unpopular by 1794. The National Convention also passes a law which restricts assemblies in the departments and Paris from meeting regularly.
Adoption of the Revolutionary Calendar
A new revolutionary calendar is adopted by the National Convention which sets 1792 as the first year (first year of the republic) and has 14 months instead of 12 based on non-Christian times of the year. The Constitution of 1791 is also suspended at this time.
Execution of Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette, former Queen of France, is executed after being seen as a remaining symbol of the Ancien Regime and an enemy of the republic. Austria is outraged by the news of the execution.
Law of Frimaire Passed
The Law of Frimaire was passed by the National Convention which gave the CGS and CPS full executive power over the nation. Agents Nationaux, appointed by the CPS, were sent out to the departments to ensure that revolutionary laws were being followed.
Law of Ventose Passed
The Law of Ventose was a law passed by the National Convention which confiscated the properties of those who fled the country or those who were exiled and redistributed them to the needy. It was believed that the enemies of the republic had forfited their civil rights, including their right to private property.
Execution of Jacques Hebert
Leftist Jacques Hebert was executed along with other Hebertists for opposing the Jacobins in the National Convention. This move was wildly unpopular with the sans-culottes, who supported Hebert.
Execution of Georges Danton
Georges Danton and other Cordeliers were executed by the Jacobins after they declared that the Reign of Terror should be relaxed and that prisoners should be released. This move was also unpopular with the sans-culottes.
Introduction of the Cult of the Supreme Being
Robespierre proposed the Cult of the Supreme Being to replace Catholicism in France, which advocated for the worship of intelligence and reason. This move was very unpopular across France and was deemed improper by many. The National Convention never fully endorsed it. The Convention also abolished all revolutionary tribunals apart from the one in Paris in May as well to consolidate power.
Law of the 22 Prairial Passed
After an attempted assassination on Robespierre, the Law of the 22 Prairial was passed which strengthened the position of prosecutors and limited the ability for suspects to defend themselves in court. No witnesses, evidence or jurors were needed to try suspects and only the judge's verdict was needed in determining whether someone was guilty - or not.
Coup of Thermidor
July 26, 1794 - July 28, 1794
Robespierre stood up in the National Convention to claim that traitors were seated amongst the deputies, but he could not name any. Several deputies conspired against him and had him arrested on July 27th and executed a day later for betraying the revolutionary cause.
Execution of Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien Robespierre was executed for "betraying the revolutionary cause" and ended two years of political terrorism in the nation and after his death, the Reign of Terrorism was dismantled.
August 1794 - October 1797
Following the death of Robespierre, anti-republican and anti-Jacobin violence erupted across France and attacks against Republicans and Jacobins soared, especially in the south and west of France. Attacks were carried out by monarchists, victims of the Terror, Girondins, and Muscadins. The White Terror subsided with an improvement in France's political stability by 1797.
April 1, 1795 - April 2, 1795
10,000 sans-culottes marched on the National Convention demanding immediate economic relief to Paris but were suppressed by the National Guard. The decline of the sans-culottes had begun.
Large demonstrations held by the sans-culottes against the National Convention were again suppressed by the National Guard. With the radical phase of the revolution now over, the sans-culottes were a spent force.
Louis XVIII declared in Verona, Italy the promise to restore the institutions of the Ancien Regime and threatened to punish all regicides. The threat to the republic's existence was growing considerably.
Constitution of 1795 (Year III)
The Constitution of Year III gave birth to the directory that would govern France until 1799. The Directory was a complicated bicameral legislature and only males who paid taxes were able to vote in annual elections.
25,000 royalist sympathizers gathered in front of the National Convention in an attempt to overthrow the government. Napoleon Bonaparte was called in to defend the legislature and opened cannon fire on the crowd, killing over 300 (whiff of grapeshot). This success advanced Napoleon's career and would compel him to overthrow the legislature himself in the near future.
Establishment of the Directory
October 26, 1795 - November 10, 1799
Fearing the return of the monarchy and popular sovereignty, the Directory was to be a bicameral legislature and all males who paid taxes were eligible to vote. Elections were to be held every year for a third of all the seats in each house. An electoral college was established, from which deputies were chosen to sit in the house. 5 Directors were chosen from the legislature to lead the executive branch of the government. This process was very inefficient but slowed down the process for creating laws. The Directory was the most stable government during the French Revolution, but was also its weakest, calling on the assistance of the military numerous times to defend it. Napoleon Bonaparte and several others would overthrow the Directory in the Coup of Brumaire.
First Italian Campaign
March 27, 1796 - October 18, 1797
French armies led by Napoleon defeat the Austro-Italian forces in several battles and culminated in the Treaty of Campo Formio, which gave France Nice, Savoy, Avignon and the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). It also created satellite states in Italy and split the Venetian Republic between France and Austria. Austria was severely weakened as a result of the war.
Coup d'Etat of Fructidor
September 3, 1797 - September 4, 1797
With the growing amount of seats gained by monarchists in the Directory (44% of all seats) and with two directors (Barthelemy and Carnot) sympathetic to the monarchists, Napoleon sent General Augerau to protect Republican directors and had troops surround the council and arrest Barthelemy, Carnot, and 53 other monarchist deputies. Laws were passed which annulled election results in 49 departments and removed 177 deputies, while another law deported those arrested to Guiana. The Directory began to turn into a dictatorship with the failure of liberal democracy due to chronic violence, ambivalent forms of justice, and repeated recourse to heavy-handed repression.
War of the Second Coalition
The War of the Second Coalition was a war between France and Britain, Austria, Prussia, Portugal, Naples and Russia. The war was predominantly indecisive but ended with a French victory at the Treaty of Amiens and secured Napoleon's position in France and Europe. It was followed by the longest stretch of peace between 1789 and 1815.
French Revolution timeline: 1789
This French Revolution timeline lists significant events and developments in the year 1789. This timeline has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest an event for inclusion in this timeline please contact Alpha History.
January 9th: Paris records its 57th straight frost, as France suffers from one of its coldest winters. Reports of orchards dying and food stores spoiling are common.
January 24th: Rules and instructions for electing delegates to the Estates-General are finalised and sent out to districts.
January: Emmanuel Sieyes publishes What is the Third Estate?, a pamphlet emphasising the importance of France’s common classes and calling for greater political representation.
January: Louis XVI orders the drafting and compilation of cahiers de doleances or ‘books of grievances’. These cahiers are to be presented at the Estates-General.
February: Elections for delegates to the Estates-General commence across France.
April 27th: Rumours about wage freezes triggers the Reveillon riots and Henriot riots in Paris.
May 2nd: Delegates to the Estates-General are now present at Versailles and are presented to the king at a formal gathering.
May 5th: The Estates-General opens at Versailles. The opening session is addressed by the king, minister for justice Barentin and Jacques Necker, who expresses the king’s desire that voting be conducted by order rather than by head.
May 6th: The First Estate (voting 134 to 114) and Second Estate (voting 188 to 46) both endorse voting by order. The Third Estate refuses to meet separately or vote on the issue.
May 27th: Sieyes moves that delegates for the Third Estate affirm their right to political representation.
June 4th: Louis XVI’s seven-year-old son, Louis Joseph Xavier, dies of tuberculosis. His younger brother Louis-Charles becomes Dauphin of France.
June 10th: Sieyes proposes that representatives of the First and Second be invited to join the Third Estate, in order to form a national assembly.
June 13th: At the Estates-General, several delegates from the First Estate cross the floor to join the Third Estate.
June 17th: The Third Estate, now joined by some members of the First and Second Estates, vote 490 to 90 to declare themselves the National Assembly of France.
June 20th: After being locked out of its meeting hall, the newly formed National Assembly gathers in a nearby tennis court. There they take the famous Tennis Court Oath, pledging to remain until a constitution has been passed.
June 23rd: At the seance royale, the king delivers a conciliatory speech to the Three Estates and calls on them to return to their separate chambers. He also proposes a reform package to share the taxation burden. The king’s demands are ignored by the National Assembly.
June 24th: More clergymen and nobles, including the Duc d’Orleans, elect to cross the floor and join the National Assembly.
June 27th: Louis XVI backs down and orders delegates from the First and Second Estates to join the National Assembly. On advice, he also orders the army to mobilise and gather outside Paris and Versailles.
June 27th: A group of commissioners are appointed to reform and standardise France’s system of weights and measures.
June 30th: A crowd of 4,000 storms a prison on the left bank of the Seine, freeing dozens of mutinous soldiers.
July: Food prices continue to soar, especially in the cities. In Paris, most workers are spending 80 per cent of wages on bread alone.
July 1st: Louis XVI orders the mobilisation of royal troops, particularly around Paris.
July 2nd: Public meetings at the Palais Royal express great concern at the troop build-up and the king’s intentions.
July 6th: The National Assembly appoints a committee to begin drafting a national constitution.
July 8th: The National Assembly petitions the king to withdraw royal troops from the outskirts of Paris.
July 9th: The National Assembly reorganises and formally changes its name to the National Constituent Assembly.
July 11th: Jacques Necker is dismissed by the king. He is replaced by Baron de Breteuil, a conservative nobleman who despises political change.
July 11th: Lafayette proposes that France adopt a ‘Declaration of Rights’, based on the American Bill of Rights.
July 12th: News of the sacking of Necker reaches Paris and generates outrage and fears of a royal coup. This triggers the Paris insurrection. The next two days are marked by demonstrations, riots, attacks on royal officers and soldiers and the sacking of monasteries and chateaux.
July 13th: Fearing a royalist military invasion, the people of Paris begin to gather arms. Affluent Parisians vote to form a citizens’ militia, the National Guard. The role of the National Guard is to protect the city and prevent property damage and theft.
July 14th: The Bastille, a large fortress, prison and armoury in eastern Paris, is attacked and stormed by revolutionaries. Several officials are murdered, including de Launay, governor of the Bastille, and de Flesselles, mayor of Paris.
July 15th: American Revolutionary War veteran the Marquis de Lafayette is appointed commander of the National Guard.
July 15th: Advised that royal troops near Paris were at risk of becoming revolutionary, the king orders them away from the city.
July 16th: The National Constituent Assembly insists on Necker’s recall. The king relents and reappoints him.
July 16th: Large numbers of royal troops massing outside Paris and Versailles are withdrawn.
July 17th: The first signs of the Great Fear begin to appear in rural France. The National Constituent Assembly begins drafting a constitution.
July 22nd: Two prominent figures, finance minister Foullon and commissioner of Paris de Sauvigny, are murdered by Paris mobs.
August 1st: The National Constituent Assembly commits to drafting and accepting a declaration of rights.
August 4th: The National Constituent Assembly begins to dismantle seigneurial feudalism, with many noblemen in the assembly voting to surrender their own privileges and feudal dues. These reforms are codified in the August Decrees.
August 11th: The reforms of August 4th are ratified by the Assembly, albeit with several less-radical amendments.
August 26th: The National Constituent Assembly passes the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
September 10th: The National Constituent Assembly votes 849 to 89 to create a unicameral (single chamber) legislative assembly.
September 11th: The National Constituent Assembly votes 673 to 325 to grant the king a suspensive veto.
September 12th: Jean-Paul Marat‘s radical newspaper The Friend of the People is published on the streets of Paris for the first time.
September 15th: The king uses his suspensive veto and refuses to endorse the August Decrees.
October 1st: The National Constituent Assembly gives in principle agreement to a constitutional monarchy.
October 4th: News reaches Paris that royal soldiers at Versailles stomped on tricolour cockades at a drunken party.
October 5th: Hundreds of Parisian citizens, including large numbers of women, march on Versailles, accompanied by the National Guard. During the night a mob invades the royal apartment and threatens the queen.
October 6th: The king agrees to leave Versailles for Paris, accompanied by the mob and the National Guard. The royal family are received in Paris by a cheering crowd, after which they take up residence at the Tuileries.
October 6th: The king agrees to withdraw his veto and ratify the August Decrees.
October 9th: The National Constituent Assembly agrees to move from Versailles to Paris. It also declares Louis XVI to be “king of the French”, rather than “king of France”.
October 22nd: The National Constituent Assembly begins debating voting rights and the question of ‘active citizens’ and ‘passive citizens’.
November 2nd: The National Constituent Assembly nationalises church lands, passing the Decree on Church Lands and declaring that all ecclesiastical lands are “at the disposal of the nation”.
November 3rd: The National Constituent Assembly votes to suspend the parlements.
November 9th: The National Constituent Assembly relocates to the Tuileries Palace.
December 14-16th: The National Constituent Assembly reforms provincial government, creating 83 new departements.
December 19th: The National Constituent Assembly begins the sale of church lands and approves a first release of 400 million assignats, a paper bond backed by income from these sales. The assignats become a de facto paper currency.
December 22nd: The National Constituent Assembly begins organising elections for the new legislative assembly.
The French Revolution: A Complete History
A nuanced history of the French Revolution, which shows that its facts are anything but fixed.
What the French Revolution was depends, perhaps more than any other major historical event, on what you choose to believe about it. Was it a great epoch in the history of the modern West, or an ugly and unnecessary carnage? Was it the product of the collapse of the French state from inside, or of irresistible social pressures? Was it a brave attempt to create a constitutional state betrayed by irresponsible radicals, or a radical bid to bring happiness to the world betrayed by compromisers and aristocrats? Was it a doomed descent into anarchic violence, or a desperate, but managed, effort to resist enemies on all sides?
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The Revolutionary Wars
Externally, Revolutionary France was regarded as dangerous by the other European monarchies who viewed it with both fear and anger. This led to the French Revolutionary Wars, a series of military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802. They pitted the French Republic against Great Britain, Austria and several other monarchies. Though it initially suffered various reverses, France, under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, was able to conquer a wide array of territories by 1802. Success in the French Revolutionary Wars allowed the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.
1789 - French Revolution ends rule of monarchy going back to 9th century followed by establishment of the First Republic.
1799 - Napoleon Bonaparte leads coup to overthrow government consolidates position with new constitution.
1804-1814 - Napoleon crowns himself emperor of First French Empire series of military successes brings most of continental Europe under his control.
1815 - Napoleon defeated in Battle of Waterloo monarchy reestablished.
1848 - Fall of King Louis-Philippe Louis-Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, proclaimed president of Second Republic.
1852-1870 - Louis-Napoleon takes title of Napoleon III in Second Empire.
1870-71 - Franco-Prussian War, ending in French defeat, loss of Alsace-Lorraine and end of the Second Empire Third Republic lasts until 1940.
1877 - Republicans win general elections, ending hopes of a monarchist revival.
1914-18 World War I - Massive casualties in trenches in north-east France 1.3 million Frenchmen are killed and many more wounded by the end of the war.
1918 - Anglo-French offensive - backed by fresh American troops - forces Germany to an armistice on 11 November.
1919 - Peace Treaty of Versailles. France regains Alsace-Lorraine Germany agrees to reparations.
1936-38 - Rise of the Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing forces.
1939-45- World War II - Germany occupies much of France. Vichy regime in unoccupied south collaborates with Nazis. General de Gaulle, undersecretary of war, establishes government-in-exile in London and, later, Algiers. Rise of French Resistance.
1944 - Allied forces land at Normandy leading to liberation of France. De Gaulle sets up provisional government. Purge against former collaborators.
1946 - De Gaulle resigns as provisional president, replaced by Socialist Felix Gouin.
1946-58 - Fourth Republic is marked by economic reconstruction and the start of the process of independence for many of France's colonies.
1951 - France joins West Germany and other European nations in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) - leading to the formation in 1957 of the European Economic Community (EEC).
1954 First Indochina War ends - French defeated at Battle of Dien Bien Phu in north-west Vietnam.
Algerian War of Independence begins.
1956 - Colonial rule ends in Morocco and Tunisia.
1958 - De Gaulle returns to power on back of Algerian crisis and founds the Fifth Republic, with a stronger presidency.
1962 - Algeria granted independence from French colonial rule.
1968 May - Student revolt against government policies and lack of social reform escalates into national strike.
1969 - De Gaulle leaves office. Georges Pompidou elected president.
1970 - De Gaulle dies of stroke.
1974 - Pompidou dies, succeeded by Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
1981 - Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand is elected president.
1986 - Centre-right victory in legislative elections of 1986 leads to "co-habitation" - a left-wing president and a right-wing prime minister, Jacques Chirac.
1988 - Mitterrand re-elected.
1992 - France signs Maastricht Treaty on European union.
1995 - Jacques Chirac elected president, ending 14 years of Socialist presidency.
France attracts international condemnation by conducting a series of nuclear tests in the Pacific.
1997 - Lionel Jospin becomes prime minister.
2000 September - Chirac embroiled in corruption scandal. He dismisses newspaper allegations.
2001 June - Compulsory military service abolished.
2002 January - Euro replaces franc, first minted in 1360.
Jospin resigns, Chirac re-elected
2002 May - Jacques Chirac re-elected president, trouncing National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of voting. Le Pen's showing in the first round sent shockwaves across France and Europe and galvanised French voters into mass street demonstrations.
Lionel Jospin, the main left-wing presidential contender whom Le Pen knocked out in the first round, resigns the premiership and the Socialist Party leadership.
2002 June - Landslide victory in legislative elections for centre-right UMP. Jean-Pierre Raffarin's centre-right government confirmed in office, marking an end to the "cohabitation" years when Chirac had to work with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.
2002 November - Widespread public sector strikes over government privatisation plans bring country to a standstill.
2003 March - Constitution changed to allow devolution to regions and departments of powers over economic development, transport, tourism, culture and further education. Amendments also provide for local referendums, to give people more say in local decisions.
2003 May-June - Proposed pension reforms spark industrial action as workers protest against prospect of having to pay higher contributions over longer periods.
2003 July - Corsica referendum, first to follow March constitutional amendments, narrowly votes against establishment of unified assembly with limited powers to raise and spend taxes. Paris had hoped that a yes vote would end separatist violence.
Parliament approves controversial reforms to pension system.
2004 March - President Chirac's UMP routed in regional elections.
2004 November - Nicolas Sarkozy takes over as leader of UMP.
2005 January - Trade unions organise wave of public sector strikes against proposed labour, pension and welfare reforms.
2005 May - Referendum goes against proposed EU constitution. The result prompts a political shake-up, including the resignation of Prime Minister Raffarin.
2005 June - International project group says France is to host the world's first experimental nuclear fusion reactor at Cadarache, near Marseille.
2005 October - One-day national strike in protest at welfare reforms, low pay and privatisation plans causes widespread disruption.
2005 October-November - Deprived, largely immigrant, communities in north-east Paris are hit by riots after two youths of North African origin are electrocuted in an electricity substation. The authorities deny that they were being chased by police at the time.
Unrest escalates and spreads to other cities. Government introduces emergency measures to try to restore order.
2006 March-April - New youth employment laws spark mass demonstrations in Paris and other cities across France. As protests continue, the legislation is scrapped.
2006 June - Upper house of parliament passes a bill setting tough new restrictions on immigration. The rules make it harder for low-skilled migrants to settle.
Sarkozy becomes president
2007 May - Nicolas Sarkozy, the former interior minister and leader of the ruling conservative UMP, wins a decisive victory in the second round of the presidential election.
2007 June - The UMP wins parliamentary elections, but with a reduced majority. The party insists it still has a mandate to carry out its proposed reforms.
Mr Sarkozy fulfils his pre-election promise to appoint women to half the posts in the new cabinet, and brings in people from across the political divide.
2007 August - France signs controversial arms deal worth nearly 300m euros with Libya.
2007 September - Legislation tightening entry rules for immigrants' relatives is passed.
2007 November - Civil servants take to the streets, along with workers from the transport and energy sectors, to protest against Mr Sarkozy's planned cuts in pay and jobs, and reform of pension benefits. There is widespread disruption of public services.
2008 February - France formally ratifies Lisbon Treaty on reform of European Union.
2008 October - European governments pledge up to 1.8 trillion euros as part of co-ordinated plans to shore up their financial sectors, hit hard by the global financial crisis. France says it will inject 10.5bn euros into the country's six largest banks.
2009 June - Government says it will set up a commission to study the extent of burka-wearing in France after President Sarkozy said such garments undermine the dignity of citizens.
2010 March - Ruling UMP suffers heavy defeat in regional elections, losing control of all but one of the 22 regions in mainland France and Corsica.
2010 June - Government announces public spending cuts of 45bn euros in effort to reduce high level of public debt.
2010 July - Prosecutors launch inquiry into allegations that L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt made illegal donations to President Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign.
2010 August - France begins to dismantle illegal Roma (gypsy) camps and to deport their residents back to Romania and Bulgaria, as part of a package of new security measures.
2010 September - EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding urges the European Commission to take legal action against France over its deportations of the Roma, calling it a "disgrace". The threat of legal action is lifted after France pledges to implement a 2004 EU directive on freedom of movement.
2010 September-October - Hundreds of thousands turn out in several waves of trade union-led protests against government plans to raise retirement age to 62.
2010 November - France concludes military and nuclear accord with UK. Under the terms of the new treaty, the two countries will cooperate in testing nuclear warheads.
2011 March - France plays prominent role in imposing and enforcing no-fly zone over Libya.
2011 April - Face veil ban comes into force.
2011 May - French political establishment is shaken by arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been tipped as a strong Socialist candidate for the presidency, in New York on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.
2011 August - Government announces package of austerity measures aimed at reducing public deficit by 12bn euros over two years. In November it announces a further 7bn euros of cuts in 2012 and 11.6bn euros in 2013.
2011 September - Credit rating agency Moody's downgrades the two biggest French banks, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, because of concerns over their exposure to Greek debt. Credit Agricole later announces a cut of 2,350 jobs worldwide.
2011 October - Francois Hollande chosen as Socialist presidential candidate after a novel primary campaign that attracted more than two million voters.
2011 November - Prime Minister Francois Fillon leads politicians and religious leaders in condemning a petrol-bomb attack by Islamic extremists that destoryed the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it had named the Muslim Prophet Muhammad as a "guest editor".
2011 December - Former President Jacques Chirac receives a suspended jail sentence for diverting public funds and abusing public trust during his term as mayor of Paris.
2012 January - France loses its top AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's along with Spain and Italy.
The Senate approves a bill making it a crime to deny genocide was committed by Ottoman Turks against Armenians during World War I. President Sarkozy is expected to sign it into law by the end of February. Turkey threatens retaliatory measures.
2012 March - French Islamist Mohamed Merah shoots dead seven people, including three Jewish schoolchildren, in Toulouse. He is shot dead in a police siege of his flat. France bans militant Islamist preachers from entering the country, beginning with the Qatari-based Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
2012 May - Francois Hollande wins presidential election.
French police detain the last military leader of the Basque separatist group Eta, Oroitz Gurruchaga Gogorza, and his deputy Xabier Aramburu in a joint operation with Spain.
French Revolution: Causes, Significant, Events
French Revolution, one of the major revolutions in European history. The revolution marks a turning point in France’s history and in world history in general. Forms of government, morals, ideologies, and social development were greatly affected by it in all Europe and even in the U.S. The beginning of the French Revolution is generally dated from June 1789. But the crisis in political and economic affairs in France in that period was so great that social unrest, rioting, and rebellion were common for two years before. The end of the revolutionary periods was marked by the establishment of the Empire by Napoleon in 1804.
The basic causes of the French Revolution were rooted in the rigidities of French society in the 18th century. Lines of distinction between classes were tightly drawn, and opportunities for social advancement were very few.
The economy was not growing as fast as it should have been. Then needs of an increasing population were not being met. The government was inefficient and unrepresentative. Economic problems made the heavy tax-exempt but nearly so, while the peasants and middle classes were subjected to greater and greater burdens. Crops failed, and trade was stagnant.
The people could no longer be taxed, but the government faced bankruptcy unless new revenues were found. The only solution was to tax the privileged classes. But they were jealous of their privileged position. Although they were not completely unwilling to contribute some additional taxes, they never understood how grave the economic crisis was.
They say the crises as only some form of financial corruption that could be explained away by firing the king’s finance ministers. The liberal ideas of the French Enlightenment had been absorbed by some of the clergy and the nobility but only by a very few. The upper classes in France in 1789 were more jealous of their privileges than they had been at any time in the 100 years before.
When the French aided the Americans during the American Revolution, they only sent men and ships and guns but lent substantial financial aid as well. As a result, the budget of the French government was thrown out of balance. When economic depression in France made the ever-growing debt even greater, the state seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. It was necessary to vote for new taxes.
The king’s power was not as absolute as he pretended it was, and no new taxes could be decreed unless the king’s edicts were registered in the district courts, the parliaments. Their members were mostly members of the privileged classes and were always ready to oppose the king’s measures.
Because of their continual refusal to register tax and reform edicts, it was necessary for the king, Louis XVI, to find some other way of legalizing his edicts France had never had a parliament exactly like the British, but it had a similar institution called the States-General. Unlike the British institution, it met very frequently. The last one had met in 1616. The States-General was called, and it convened in May, 1789.
When the estates met, the third estate wished to vote with the first two houses. The clergy and nobility and the king insisted the houses vote separately. But the third decided that it was more representative of the French people than the other two estates and that it was not fair to allow the first two estates so much power.
On June 17, 1789, they converted themselves into a National Assembly, or Constituent Assembly, and resolved to draw up a new constitution for France. The king closed down the hall, but the members went to a nearby tennis court and there took an oath (June 20) not to disband until a constitution was written. The pressure of public opinion was so much in their favor that Louis XVI was forced to recognize them, as he did by the end of the month.
Bad crops and famine conditions contributed to the unrest. During July there were spontaneous peasant uprisings all over France. On July 14 a Paris mob stormed and demolished the Bastille, and old fortress housing political prisoners. On August 4, the assembly, led by certain enlightened nobles, abolished feudal rights and privileges with compensation to owners.
A few years later the compensation was also abolished. On August 27 a Declaration of the Rights of Man, similar to the American Bill of Rights, was issued. The new constitution was completed by July, 1790, and the king accepted it. But Louis XVI’s behavior was never consistent. In July, 1791, he tried to flee the country in order to reconquer it with the aid of Austrian and Prussian armies.
He was caught, however, and popular feeling ran against him. He now accepted a revised constitution, in September, 1791, and the assembly dissolved. A legislative assemble was elected, and it met from October, 1791, to September, 1792.
The legislative assembly was dominated by the Girondists, who wished to set up a federal republic. When the war broke out with Austria in April, 1792, there was no longer any reason for tolerating Louis XVI. He had plotted with his wife’s family, which ruled Austria, and was now an enemy of the state.
The National Convention, which reigned from September, 1791, to October, 1795, was the government of the Reign of Terror. It was the one that executed the king in January, 1793. The convention was ruled by two committees under the domination of Roberspirre from 1793 to 1794. Robespierre saw to the execution of his enemies and was rampant, the war was at the doorstep, and bread riots were common.
The tide turned in another direction, and a stronger executive power in the form of the Directory (1795-1799) was set up. A five-man committee ruled the country. Meanwhile, Napoleon was making his name famous for his military success. Napoleon allied with two directors in the Directory and with his brother Lucien, who was president of the Council of Five Hundred, and assembly under the Directory. On Nov. 9, 1799, in the Coup d’Etat de Brumaire, he overthrew the government. A form of government modeled on the old Roman type was set up. Napoleon was elected first consul for ten years. By 1804 Napoleon assumed the title of emperor, and the absolute monarchy was revived.
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