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European History


The French Revolution

Unrest stems from population increase, famine, popular Enlightenment ideas that promote democracy and lower prestige of monarchy, monarchy’s financial crisis, and increasing view that the parliaments and the public represent the French nation more than the monarch does

1787–1788: Government’s attempts at reform fail

1789: King Louis XVI (r. 1774–1792) opens meeting of Estates-General to resolve financial problems (Estates-General is a meeting of three estates—clergy, nobles, and all others)

  • 1789:Priest Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès says the Third Estate (non-clergy, non-nobles) is the true French nation and should have political power

  • Estates-General goes further than expected, renames itself National Assembly, turns absolute monarchy into constitutional monarchy (king answerable to an elected legislature), abolishes noble privilege

  • Parisians storm Bastille (old prison seen as symbol of injustice)

  • Women of Paris force king to come to Paris from Versailles

1791: Louis XVI tries to flee France, denounces Revolution

1792: France becomes a republic, promoting “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” but women lack right to vote or participate

  • Government creates new calendar, metric system

  • Republic takes control of Catholic Church; move is divisive

  • Sans-culottes (“those wearing long pants”) and tricolor (red, white, blue) flag symbolize republican support

1792: France wars against anti revolution European powers

  • War continues sporadically for 23 years, spreading nationalism, democracy, and suffering across the continent

1793–1794:Reign of Terror: Government in hands of a few radicals (Jacobins) led by Maximilien Robespierre

  • Aristocrats and some peasants start counterrevolution

  • Federalists want decentralized revolution; crushed by Jacobins

  • Over 20,000 people guillotined, including King Louis XVI and wife, Marie-Antoinette

1794: Robespierre’s regime falls; replaced by unstable government called the Directory (lasts until 1799)