Introduction to the French Revolution

This pathway will cover the French Revolution – here’s an overview of what we’ll be looking at, and why it matters.


The importance of the French Revolution


The French Revolution was a pivotal moment in world history, and its importance cannot be overstated. It marked the beginning of a new era of political thought and action, one that would shape the modern world. The ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity – which were so central to the revolution – have become fundamental principles for many countries around the globe.

The impact of the French Revolution can be seen in practically every aspect of the modern nation state. Principles such as education for all, the abolition of feudalism, and progressive taxation all owe a huge amount to the principles of the French Revolution.

What was the French Revolution?

The French Revolution was a period of political and social upheaval that began in 1789. It saw the overthrow of the monarchy, the establishment of a republic, and sweeping changes to France’s legal system, government structure, and society as a whole. The revolution was driven by popular discontent with an oppressive regime that had become increasingly out-of-touch with its citizens.


The main actors involved in the French Revolution were King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Dauphin Louis-Charles, Jean-Paul Marat, Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte – some of the most important names in French history.

When did the French Revolution happen?


Although the exact period of the French Revolution is hotly contested, most contemporary historians agree that the Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille – a symbol of the absolute power of the monarchy – and ended in 1799 with the establishment of the French Consulate.

The revolutionaries worked to create a new constitution that would guarantee the rights of citizens and limit the power of the government. The Revolution ultimately led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military leader and political leader. He became Emperor of France in 1804.

Why did the French Revolution happen?


There are a lot of complex reasons which led to the French Revolution, but they can be broadly grouped into three categories.

First and foremost, France in the 1780s was seriously suffering financially. This was a result of overspending by successive monarchs. This spending came primarily as a result of numerous costly, unsuccesful wars. This led to widespread poverty, hunger, and unrest in France.

Secondly, an intellectual movement towards ideas of individual liberty and republicanism had been steadily building in Enlightenment France. These ideas are best embodied in the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau.

Finally, France’s system of Estates and Absolute Monarchy was far too powerful. Many other European nations, such as Britain and The Netherlands, had made steps towards a more constitutional system of government. But France retained an outdated and elitist system of social stratification – until eventually its population had had enough.

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What Was The French Revolution?;

The French Revolution is actually not all that easy to define. Here we discuss how best to consider this period.

The Nested Conflicts Leading to the French Revolution;

The causes of the French Revolution are complex. This tile discusses the multiple internal conflicts in France that made conditions ripe for upheaval.

Towards a Constitutional Monarchy;

The period 1789-1791 was a time of uncertainty in France. This tile covers the attempts to establish a constitutional monarchy – and their disastrous failure.

1791-1792: Old Enemies and a New Republic;

This tile covers the latter period of constitutional monarchy in France, as it became increasingly clear that Louis XVI’s position was untenable.

1793-94: Terror For the People and Death for the Monarchs;

This period saw France’s descent into outright chaos, with political violence on a scale never seen before.

1794-99: les Années Folles of Thermidor and the Directory;

This tile covers the mid-1790s, as France recovered from the violence of the earlier part of the decade.

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