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French Revolution


Between 1789 and 1802 France was wracked by a revolution which radically changed the government, administration, military and culture of the nation as well as plunging Europe into a series of wars. France went from a largely feudal state under an absolutist monarch to a republic which executed the king and then to an empire under Napoleon Bonaparte.

Although historians are agreed that the French Revolution started in 1789 they are divided on the end date. A few histories stop in 1795 with the creation of the Directory, some stop in 1799 with the creation of the Consulate, while many more stop in 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte became Consul for Life or 1804 when he became Emperor. A rare few continue to the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. This site prefers 1802.

The French Revolution in Brief:

A medium term financial crisis, caused partly by French involvement in the American War of Independence, led to the French crown first calling an Assembly of Notables and then, in 1789, a meeting called the Estates General in order to impose new tax laws. The Estates General was composed of three ‘Estates’: the clergy, the nobility and the rest of France. This 'third estate', informed by long term doubts over the constitution of France and the development of a new social order of bourgeoisie, declared itself a National Assembly and decreed the suspension of tax, taking French sovereignty into its own hands.

After a power struggle which saw the National Assembly take the Tennis Court Oath not to disband, the king gave in and the Assembly began reforming France, scrapping the old system and drawing up a new constitution with a legislative assembly. This continued the reforms, but it created divisions in France by legislating against the church and declaring war on nations which supported the French king. In 1792 a second…...

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