Tag Archives: French Revolution

Establishment of the Directory

Establishment of the French Directory

On the 2nd November 1795, the Directory was established in France. Created as a result of the Thermidorean Reaction that ended the dominance of the Committee of Public Safety, the Directory survived for four years before it was overthrown by Napoleon in the coup of the 18th Brumaire.

The Thermidorean Reaction that began on the 27th July 1794 had seen the National Convention turn against the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution, leading to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and 21 others. This was followed by a purge of other radicals in what became known as the White Terror.

Having alienated itself from the radical left-wing, the National Convention also faced threats from the right that culminated in the Royalist attack on the 13th Vendémiaire which was put down by Napoleon Bonaparte with a whiff of grapeshot.

Prior to the Royalist uprising, the National Convention had ratified a new constitution known as the Constitution of the Year III. This established a bicameral legislature and a five-man Directory that wielded executive power. However, the Directory was unsuccessful at dealing with the domestic problems facing France and even the military victories against foreign enemies were not enough to secure much support. In response the Directory used the Army to repress its opponents, which served to fuel the opposition even further and give the Army increasing power within France.

By 1799 even the government realised that it could not continue for much longer. On the 9th November Napoleon began a coup that replaced the Directory with the Consulate and effectively brought the French Revolution to an end, ten years after it began.

Napoleon crowns himself Emperor

The rise of Napoleon to become Emperor of the French

On the 2nd December 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of the French at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. His coronation was attended by Pope Pius VII, but significantly he did not place the crown on the new Emperor’s head.

Napoleon had risen to prominence during the French Revolution, during which he led a number of successful campaigns in the Revolutionary Wars. He returned to France in 1799, where the coup of 18 Brumaire resulted in him becoming First Consul. Having secured the Senate’s agreement that he could rule by decree, Napoleon then began extending his political control.

In January 1804 the secret police exposed a plot supported by the previous Bourbon royal family to assassinate Napoleon. He used this as an excuse to reinstate hereditary leadership under his own family, as a way to avoid a return of the Bourbons. This was supported by a constitutional referendum in November that year, in which over 99% of voters cast their ballots in favour. Notably 52% of the eligible population abstained.

The Coronation itself was a lavish affair that referenced various elements of Carolingian tradition, the ancien regime, and the French Revolution. Although Napoleon crowning himself is sometimes presented as an unplanned move by the new Emperor, there is evidence that it was agreed in advance. However, this still didn’t please everyone. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who had originally dedicated his 3rd Symphony to Napoleon, reportedly exclaimed, ” Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!”

Napoleon's domestic policy hexagons

Napoleon’s domestic policies – virtual hexagon activity using @classtools

This activity uses the excellent ‘virtual hexagons generator’ tool from www.classtools.net to give students a range of information about Napeoleon’s domestic policies. They can rearrange the hexagons to create a framework for an essay answer, colour-code them, and delete/add as required.

Access the full-screen interactive version at http://www.classtools.net/hexagon/201604-AFB5ZC

Napoleon's escape from Elba

Napoleon’s escape from exile on Elba

On the 26th February 1815, Napoléon Bonaparte escaped exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba and sailed to the French mainland. After landing at the coastal town of Golfe-Juan on the first of March, he led his supporters to Paris where he began a period of government known as the Hundred Days.

On the 11th April 1814 Napoleon had agreed to the Treaty of Fontainebleau, in which he abdicated the throne following his defeat in the War of the Sixth Coalition. The treaty ended his rule of France but allowed him to keep his title as emperor. He was granted sovereignty of the island of Elba and, following a failed suicide attempt, arrived on the island on the 30th May.

Throughout the nine months and 21 days that he remained on Elba, Napoleon observed with interest the unfolding situation in France under the restored Bourbon king. Meanwhile he implemented a series of social and economic reforms on the island. However, his confidence in the likelihood of a popular revolt in his favour led to him leaving the island while the Great Powers were distracted by internal arguments at the Congress of Vienna. The British navy ships that were supposed to ensure he was unable to escape his exile were not present when, on the 26th February, Napoleon headed for the French mainland on board the brig Inconstant accompanied by almost a thousand troops.

Napoleon’s arrival in France on the 1st March was greeted with enthusiasm, and he quickly secured a small army with whom he marched to Paris. His arrival on 20th March led Louis XVIII to flee the city.