Category Archives: Digital Timeline

Vendée Defeat at Nantes

Along with other areas outside of Paris, the Vendée was becoming more opposed to the revolution and violent. Religion was the first divisive factor causing unrest in the Vendée. The countryside in the Vendée was anti-revolution and in support of the refractory church, but the towns and cities were republican, in support of the revolution. Once the Convention enacted a conscription policy for men to fight in the name of the republic, malcontent in the Vendée was heightened and civil unrest ensued (Shusterman, 182). Peasants initiated military engagements and large peasant armies fought in two different places: Machecoul in the Marais, and Saint-Florent in the Mauges. Led by Charette and Cathalineau, the rebels decided to attack Nantes, the region’s most important city. When the fighting moved from the area around Nantes to the city itself, Cathalineau was shot. The fighting then turned towards the republicans’ advantage, eventually resulting in their victory.

If the Vendéans had succeeded in taking Nantes, they would have become “masters of the situation”(Shusterman, 186), altering the course of the revolution. The event at Nantes shows religion’s strong influence in motivating a counter-revolutionary military campaign. Religion did not play the same role in the Federalist Revolt. The Vendée defeat at Nantes evened out the fighting between the republicans and the counter-revolutionaries, which allowed for the revolution to successfully protect itself and continue in Paris.

Works Cited

William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001).

Noah Shusterman, The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics (Routledge, 2014).

Federalist Revolt

In this second phase of the revolution, much of France had begun to turn against Paris and the revolution. The growing division between the Girondins and the Montagnards, and the supremacy of the Montagnards in terms of leadership, eventually led to the expulsion of the Girondins from the Convention by the Montagnards. The Federalist Revolt was led by many different groups: some were made up of the expelled Girondins who had fled Paris and were important leaders in the movement, others were Royalists who assumed the revolt was in the name of the monarchy (Shusterman, 177). These differing agendas show that the Federalist Revolt did not have a single, cohesive goal besides their opposition to the Montagnards, Robespierre, and Marat. This was viewed from Paris as a grave danger, for some even counter-revolutionary, but in reality it did not have the resources or strong leadership to threaten the revolution in Paris (Shusterman, 178).

Works Cited

William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001).

Noah Shusterman, The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics (Routledge, 2014).

Women’s March on Versailles

For several months following an especially bad harvest, the people of Paris were experiencing bread shortages. This mainly affected the women since they were in charge of feeding their children and husbands. Armed with broomsticks, pitchforks, swords, and guns with no ammunition, the women gathered at the Hotel de Ville in Paris and demanded bread. They were hungry and frustrated, which eventually prompted them to make the 12 mile walk to Versailles and demand bread from the king himself (Shusterman, 50-51). Bread was not the women’s sole demand. They also had the goal of getting the King to approve the Assembly’s Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (Dwyer & McPhee, 30). As a result of the successful march, the King returned to Paris with the people, and accepted the Decree of August 11 and the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (Shusterman, 43). The Women’s March on Versailles holds significance in many ways. First of all, it shows the dichotomy between the lavishness of Versailles and the starvation people were experiencing in Paris. The women physically at Versailles signifies these two worlds meeting, and the detached monarchy finally facing the realities of the common people. The march also exhibits the mob mentality that was characteristic of the times. En route to Versailles, the women killed two soldiers protecting the palace and boasted their heads on pikes. This is consistent with the previous riots in Paris that also escalated to the point of parading public killings. Once the women arrived at Versailles, their rioting “was a mixture of protest and celebration” (Shusterman, 51). Their greeting of the king with both grievances and praise shows the politics of the time: at this point, the people only wanted to transition to a constitutional monarchy, not get rid of the monarchy entirely.    

 

Works Cited

 

William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001).

Noah Shusterman, The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics (Routledge, 2014).

The September Massacres

The September Massacres were a set of paranoid reactions to the looming possibility of an Austrian assault on Paris (Dwyer and McPhee, 66-67). During this five-day period the confused and angry masses of Paris would execute close to 1,500 prisoners at the Abbaye, the Carmes, and La Force Prison (Shusterman, 135-138). The Massacre also occurred due to the power vacuum created by the relative inactivity of the Assembly and the newly formed Commune prior to the event itself (Shusterman, 131-137). The Legislative Assembly took a somewhat active role in attempting to quell these violent demonstrations and acts, while the Commune and influential figures like Danton and Robespierre remained idle or called upon other cities to follow the example of the Parisians (Shusterman, 138). The Massacre signified the need for political reconciliation in France’s legislative bodies, as this event only widened the gap between the Girondins and the Jacobins (Shusterman, 140-141). It also served as a precursor to the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, which would create a profound communal sense of uproar that would turn Paris into a city plagued by bloodlust and turmoil.

The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789

The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789 is especially important to the beginning of the Revolution. While it is easy to focus on Paris leading up to the Revolution, as it was a political hotspot, the rural countryside was still a pivotal aspect of revolutionary France. Not only did agriculture provide food for the majority of the nation, but it was also the central aspect of France’s economy. In fact, Lavoisier, a French polymath chemist, likened the rural countryside to be “a vast grain factory; stock only being employed to cultivate and to manure the soil” (Jones 39 However, consistently poor harvests beginning in the 1780’s lead to an increasing price in cereals. This made it impossible to feed everyone in rural and urban communities (Vovelle 86). This crisis demonstrated how essential farmers were to pre-revolutionary French economy and society.

The Crisis involved ongoing harvest shortages that spanned nearly 10 years. For example, in 1785 the future President John Adams wrote to President Jefferson “The [French] country is a heap of ashes. Grass is scarcely to be seen and all sorts of grain is short, thin, pale and feeble, while flax is quite dead…I pity this people from my soul…” (Adams). More specifically, in 1787 drought throughout summer led to an overestimation of crop yields. Because of this, the urban population distrusted the farmers, and vice versa. Low yields and poor planning by the government resulted in economic recession and growing distrust between the urban and rural populations, ultimately leading to upheavals and unrest such as the Great Fear of 1789.

 

The Noble Revolt

Two years before the Prise de la Bastille (July 14, 1789), the Noble Revolt took place. This social event was characterized by the nobility’s revolted against the King’s order and its refusal to accept economic reform that would have halted noble tax exemption. More importantly, this revolt led Louis XVI to call for the Estates-General the following year (Merriman, 441), a crucial event in for the future of the French Revolution. The cause of this revolt can be traced to February 1787 when finance minister, Alexandre Calonne, presented his reform plan to 144 handpicked nobles present at the Assembly of Notables who all opposed it (Doyle, 35). As the king and Calonne unsuccessfully tried to convince the Nobles to accept reform, in August 1787 Louis XVI met this opposition by exiling the Parlement of Paris to the city of Troyes (Merriman, 441). The revolt that the Parlement of Paris had sparked, was quickly backed by provincial parliaments all around the kingdom. In an attempt to calm the tense situation and reinstate his authority, Louis XVI requested the return of the Parlement of Paris from exile in November 1787 (Merriman, 441). This short revolt took an end then, but the topics that had once sparked it remained and helped lead to further change. Furthermore, the Noble Revolt, for the first time, publicly symbolized the nobility’s long lasting resistance to royal despotism. In other words, the fact that this revolt took place at a moment where economic reform was necessary, proved that the crown was in a weak position.  

Doyle, William. The French Revolution. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Merriman, John M. A History of Modern Europe: from the French Revolution to the Present.  Vol. 2, W.W. Norton, 2010.

 

Death of Louis XVII; comte de Provence become pretender to French throne (Louis XVIII)

After the execution in 1793 of Louis XVI in the midst of the French Revolution, his son Louis-Charles became Louis XVII at age 7 and the young “King of France” in the eyes of the royalists. However, Louis XVII had been imprisoned by revolutionaries and died from illness at age 10 in 1795. At this time France was a republic, therefore the monarchy was not acknowledged as legitimate and to non-royalists Louis XVII was never king at all (Shusterman, 245).

According to Comte de Provence, Louis XVI’s brother, Louis XVII had reigned as king from prison, in fact he served as his nephew’s regent. Therefore, to Comte de Provence he reigned under the name of Louis XVIII after his nephew’s death (Shusterman, 245). Louis XVIII was labeled as “the pretender” to the French throne before and after Louis XVII’s death. Being “the pretender” meant that Louis XVIII declared himself as king even before the death of his nephew. Considering the young age of Louis XVII, Comte de Provence saw it necessary to take over the duties of king as the young king’s regent. These claims are often seen as confusing and “delusional” considering the monarchy was not in order, but were supported by royalists nevertheless (Shusterman, 245).

Louis XVIII had been out of Paris for 25 years because of the revolution and finally returned in 1814 (Dwyer and McPhee, 193). Louis XVIII officially reigned as king during the Bourbon Monarchy when the constitutional monarchy was restored and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte allowed him to take the throne as long as he agreed to a constitution (Shusterman, 252).

Dwyer, Philip G, and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2002.

Shusterman, Noah. The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2014.

Massacre on the Champ de Mars

Unsure of how to deal with the growing revolution and seeking protection, Louis XVI and the royal family escaped Paris in the Flight to Varennes. Upon a forced return, the National Assembly decided the king would remain involved with the government if he signed a constitution. On July 17, 1791 the Cordeliers (a radical, populist group) created a petition calling for the abdication of Louis XVI. Parisians supported this because they disagreed with the constitution allowing the king to remain in power, for they no longer trusted Louis XVI after his flight. An estimated 50,000 people appeared at the plain of Champ de Mars insisting the king give up his right to rule (Dwyer & McPhee, 57).

Lafayette, commander of the National Guard and supported by both the royal family and the people of Paris, noticed that the crowd was becoming violent and called in the National Guard. When the soldiers arrived they reported the crowd as “peaceful people on their Sunday promenades” (Shusterman, 98). The unarmed petitioners were shocked and unprepared when the soldiers began to fire at them. The origins of the order to fire remains unclear, however most suspicions lie with Lafayette (Dwyer & McPhee, 55).

The National Guard’s shooting resulted in around 50 casualties and several injuries (Shusterman, 98). The significance of this massacre does not lie within its victims, but in the ideas it solidified. A divide in the rich and poor, the shooters and the victims, suggested a foreboding civil war in France (Shusterman, 101). The Massacre on the Champ de Mars marked the first massacre on the Third Estate and only furthered Parisian motivations to revolt, and to do so violently (Dwyer & McPhee, 56).

Dwyer, Philip G, and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2002.

Shusterman, Noah. The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2014.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Coup d’Etat

November 9, 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte implemented his prepared coup d’état. Before his takeover of the government, Napoleon was both a popular and successful general in the French army who led military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. The phrase coup d’état describes Napoleon’s seizure of the French government at the Palace of Saint-Cloud, a few miles outside of Paris. Here, the French Directory was overthrown and the Consulate was installed as the new form of government, led by Napoleon who would act as First Consul. Napoleon instrumented his coup by giving a powerful speech to his soldiers denouncing the politicians, the soldiers then escorted out the deputies who refused him power which effectively dissolved the Directory. The takeover was planned principally by Napoleon and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, an important figure in the Revolution who would later become a Consul alongside Napoleon, and Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, a former minister. The coup was also made possible with the help of deputies who were allied with Napoleon, namely his brother Lucien. At the time of his coup, France was wracked by political instability from within and faced rebellions in many territories. The unpopularity of the Directory as well as France’s political disarray allowed for Napoleon’s takeover to be successful, and the need for a stable government ensured that he stayed in power. Napoleon’s coup d’état is a key moment during the French Revolution as it represents the definitive end of the Revolution and a very distinct transition to another phase of French history.

 

Bell, David A. Napoleon: A Concise Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Dwyer, Philip G., and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2006.

Shusterman, Noah. The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics. London: Routledge,   2014.

The Fall and Execution of Robespierre

On July 26th, 1794, Robespierre returned to the Convention to give a speech denouncing the Committee of Public Safety, General Safety, and other various members of the convention who he believed discredited the revolution by using excessive violence, for example, some of the representatives on the missions abused their power to conduct mass drowning and shootings of suspected rebels (Dwyer and McPhee 110). In his speech, he suggested a new purge of deputies, but his refusal to name specific individuals alarmed many of his listeners. His opponents used this chaotic moment to condemn Robespierre as a tyrant and demand his removal. They wanted to dispose of Robespierre to protect themselves from the guillotine. On July 27th, Robespierre, his brother, and other “Robespierrist” officials were arrested and sent to prison. However, the city prisons refused to hold Robespierre, so Robespierre and his supporters moved to the Hôtel de Ville. Upon hearing Robespierre’s liberation, the National Guard entered the Hôtel de Ville on July 28th and made the arrest. Afterward, Robespierre and the surviving Robespierrists were taken to the Revolutionary Tribunal. They were quickly condemned to death and sent to the guillotine. Robespierre’s execution effectively ended the Terror, which many of his opponents would later blame him for, tarnishing his reputation.

Works Cited

Dwyer, Philip, and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon. London: Routledge.