The French Revolution

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The Origins of the French Revolution

This revision podcast presents the background to the French Revolution.  Beginning with the impact of the Enlightenment on 18th Century Europe, it goes on to examine a variety of factors that led to the Revolution.  Long-term issues that are covered include the Estates System, the emergence of the bourgeoisie and the changing economy, taxation and financial problems, and the effect of the population increase.  Shorter term causes that are explained include the impact of King Louis XVI, the Assembly of the Notables, the Estates General, and the Tennis Court Oath.  Factors are explained thematically to make it easier to organise ideas during revision, and it’s hoped that this will in turn help you create a well-structured answer.

          

 

What was life like in pre-Revolutionary France?

First-hand accounts from 18th Century writer Arthur Young, who travelled through France in the years before the revolution.  Excellent overview of the inequality of life between the French peasantry compared to that of the nobility.  Extract from Curriculum Bites.

France 18th Century

France in the late 18th Century

The French economy under Louis XVI

Tennis Court Oath

The Estates General, Tennis Court Oath and National Assembly

Tennis Court Oath

The Tennis Court Oath – 20th June 1789

On the 20th June 1789 at Versailles in France, the National Assembly swore the Tennis Court Oath in which they vowed not to separate until a written constitution had been established for the country.

Faced with enormous financial difficulties, Louis XVI had called a meeting of the Estates General that first convened in early May. This involved representatives of the three Estates – the clergy, the nobility and the non-privileged common people known as the Third Estate – meeting with the king at Versailles in an attempt to solve the economic crisis. However, the allocation of votes was unfair so the representatives of the Third Estate separated themselves from the main group and met separately. On the 13th June, by which time they had been joined by some nobles and the majority of the clergy, they declared themselves the National Assembly.

However, when the king ordered their usual meeting room to be closed and guarded by soldiers, the National Assembly feared that the king was about to force them to disband. The National Assembly instead relocated to a nearby building used for playing jeu de paume, a forerunner of modern tennis, where they swore the oath. The Tennis Court Oath therefore didn’t really happen in a tennis court, but the name has stuck.

The Oath was significant for being a collective action by French citizens against their king. Faced with such opposition Louis finally relented and, on June 27th, he ordered the remaining nobles to join the National Assembly and ended the Estates General.

The first phase of the French Revolution, 1789 – 91

This revision podcast is designed for students studying the French Revolution.  Beginning with the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, this episode explores the first phase of the revolution up to the summer of 1791.  Beginning with the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, it goes on to explore the challenges faced by the Constituent Assembly.  The terms of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy are explained before going on to present an overview of the terms of the Constitution published in September.  The podcast then explores the challenges to the revolution including the emigrées, divisions between the Jacobins and the Girondins, and the role of foreign powers.  The episode concludes with an overview of the Flight to Varennes and the demonstration at the Champs de Mars.

          

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Storming of the Bastille

The storming of the Bastille

Storming of the Bastille

Short overview of the storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789

The morning of the 14th July 1789 saw the beginning of the French Revolution when Parisian revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, a large fortress, prison and ammunition store that symbolised everything that was wrong with the monarchy.

Despite having earlier legalised the National Assembly following the Tennis Court Oath, King Louis XVI had ordered royal troops to surround Paris and had dismissed his popular finance minister, Jacques Necker. These actions led the Parisian crowd to believe that Louis was preparing to overthrow the Assembly.

Although the Bastille had been a symbol of tyranny for its imprisonment of people without trial, when it was stormed it only contained seven prisoners. One was a deranged Irishman who believed himself to be God and Julius Caesar. In addition there was another so-called ‘lunatic’, four forgers, and the Comte de Solages – an aristocrat who had been imprisoned at the request of his own family for committing incest.

The fortress was not attacked in order to free these prisoners. The mob was much more interested in seizing gunpowder from the Bastille’s stores to use in the 28,000 muskets they had taken earlier that day from the Hôtel des Invalides. The fortress was guarded by 82 French soldiers and a further 32 Swiss mercenaries when the mob arrived. Despite initial attempts to calm the crowd the Bastille’s governor, Marquis Bernard-Rene de Launay, ordered the guards to open fire when around 300 rioters broke into the first courtyard. When a group of deserters from the French army joined the mob, de Launay surrendered. He was later beheaded by the crowd.

French Revolution Political Spectrum

The political spectrum during the French Revolution

A great diagram to illustrate the political spectrum during the French Revolution. Original source unknown.

Click to download as a PDF