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French Revolution 1789-1799: Events, Timeline, Causes, Impact

Last Updated : 11 Jan, 2024
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French Revolution 1789-1799: The French Revolution of 1789 CE was a significant event in the history of the modern world that began in 1787 and ended in 1799. This revolution started against the feudalist mode of economy, autocratic monarchy, over-the-top economic exploitation, class privilege, and the apathy of the king towards the citizens of France.

The French Revolution Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, Its overthrow of the Monarchy influenced the decline of absolute Monarchies in other parts of Europe. In this article we will elaborate Complete Story of this Revolution, the Timeline, causes, and effects of the French Revolution in a hierarchal way. so read the whole article patiently to understand what, why, and how of it.

French Revolution 1789

French Revolution of 1789 – Overview

In the French Revolution of 1789, Apart from the existing oppressed and dissatisfied class, there was an overall contradiction in the economic and political structure of the state. The king was the highest official of the government and political power was centralized. The feudal state was the sole axis of the whole country and people lacked most civil liberties. Moreover, there was a strict ban on freedom of speech, writing, and publication. There was the hegemony of the church and the people were barred from religious freedom. The king held ownership over the entire income of France With a stagnant economy and a lack of self-government, the poor people stormed ‘Bastille’ the king’s fortress in Paris, and ended the monarchy.

The French Revolution was a period of major social violent which began in 1787 and ended in 1799. It completely changed the relationship between the rulers and those governed people and also it redefines the nature of political power. King Louis XVI needed more money, but He Had failed to raise more taxes when he had called a meeting with Estates General. This instead turned into a protest and viloent conditions in France.

Causes Of French Revolution of 1789

The main causes that led to the French Revolution are as follows:

1. Political Causes of the French Revolution

The Economic policies of King Louis XVI was despotic and due to his indiscreet policies, the colonies of India and America were removed from France, and France was crushed in the Seven Years’ War. Added to this the king and the rest of the nobility’s extravagant lifestyle were commenced through the treasury. 

2. Social Causes of the French Revolution

Inequality in French society was split into three categories. The first estate included clergy, the second was aristocracy and the third included the peasant-laborer and the middle class incorporating the merchants and the intelligentsia. The first and the second estate were the privileged class, the third was the exploited one. They were exploited by kings, feudatories, and clergy. This divided them into two classes the exploiting and the exploited class and increased the discontent between them.

Religious Discontent – There were more than a hundred thousand religious priests in France at that time. The life of some of the priests was so opulent, that some did not even have arrangements for two meals a day. The Churches held more than 40% of the total land, the poor people were running out of land for agriculture. A religious tax called Tithes, which was voluntary was collected forcibly. This increased the discontent among the public. 

3. Economic Causes of the French Revolution

From the economic point of view, at that time the condition of France was worse than the rest of Europe. The primary reason for this was the grave expenditure of warfare, corruption, overbearing taxation, and the extravagant life of monarchy.

The first and the second estate were kept tax-free. There was no computation of income and expenditure of the first two estates.

  • The seven years war emptied the treasury of the state. When King Louis XIV got the throne he inherited an empty treasury. Under Louis XVI’s rule, France was supporting American colonies in the freedom struggle. The war expenditure increased an extra debt of 1 billion livres (the unit of currency in France till 1794) to preexisting 2 billion livers. 
  • The 10% interest in the war debts kept increasing and pressurized the French government to increase the tax rates in the country. Along with several indirect taxes on daily use articles like salt and tobacco, direct taxes called Taille was collected by the government.
  • The first and the second estate were exempted from paying the taxes and the whole burden fell on the third estate. On one hand, where the peasants had to bear the burden of taxes the working class didn’t get their wages on time which pushed them further into poverty. 

4. Rise of the Middle Class

The farmers and workers could not resist the French elite. The newly emerged middle class of society made up for this shortcoming. This middle class included thinkers, teachers, traders, lawyers, doctors, etc. They were neither extremely rich nor poor, thus they held unique political importance similar to the merchants of the Roman Empire. 

5. The Effect of Enlightenment

At this time France was going through the Renaissance period. The philosophers and writers in France awakened French society by exposing the glorification of ancient traditions of France. The names of Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu are particularly notable among these scholars. These views spread like wildfire among the peasants and working class and functioned as an ideological backbone of the French Revolution.

French Revolution Timeline

The Estates-General who used to be equivalent to the British Parliament) collapses when members of the Third Estate – which symbolizes ‘the people’ – form their own National Assembly, to campaign for constitutional reform. It was is a big challenge to the King’s authority. and originates the revolution.

French Revolution timeline are as follows:

20 June 1789: Collapse of Estates-General

The Estates-General collapses when members of the Third Estate – who was the people from their own National Assembly. It challenge to King’s authority and French Revolution of 1789 has begun!

14 July 1789: Storming of Bastille

The Estates-General collapses when members of the Third Estate of their own National Assembly, to campaign for constitutional reform.

22 September 1792: French Republic established

A wave of revolutionary hysteria sweeps through Paris, which leads to rebels storm the prison fortress of the Bastille, a symbol of royal authurityness.

June 1793: Reign of Terror begins

This proclaimed the Abolition of the monarchy in French Revolution and established the French Republicon on 21 January 1793.

1795: The Directory takes power

A new regime Directory get into the Power in France in 1795.

9 November 1799: Napoleonic era begins

This is considered as the end of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era.

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Phases of the French Revolution

Phases 1: Meeting of the Estates-General

The middle class was of the opinion that fiscal and judicial reform was the need but there was opposition from the nobles of the hour, the nobles were against the idea of giving up the privileges they had enjoyed under the traditional system. They were not happy with this ideology of the middle class and stood very strongly against it.

When the meeting was conditionally over, the question over the voting process turned to open hostility between the three orders, thus the original purpose of the meeting and the authority of the king who called for it to be neglected.

Talking further regarding the voting process having failed the Third Estate met alone and formally adopted the title of National Assembly on June 17, 1789. They all gathered in a nearby indoor tennis court where they took the oath of office. This oath was known as the Tennis Court Oath. Members of this new assembly vowed not to disperse until reforms have been initiated.

As no option was left Loius XVI had the absorb the three assemblies into the new order.

Phases 2: French Revolution Begins

The military was moving around the whole country which was not acceptable to anyone. This led to the Bastille Fortress on July 14, 1789. This event marked the beginning of the French Revolution

A wave of revolutionary fervor spread rapidly throughout the countryside, which led to a peasant revolt that saw many homes of tax collectors burnt as well as those of the aristocrats themselves. All this led to tension between the communities and the middle-class generals.

This period is known as the Great Fear – In which the National Assembly finally dealt a fatal blow to feudalism on August 4, 1789. The old order had finally ended.

Phases 3: Rights for the Man and Citizen

Rights of Man and of the Citizen were adopted on August 4, 1789, by The National Assembly. The charter was grounded on democratic principles, drawing from the philosophical as well as political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jena-Jacques Rosseau. The declaration was published on August 26, 1789

The Constitution was adopted on September 3, 1791. The constitution then symbolized a new French society where the king would have limited powers with a moderate assembly wielding the most power.

On September 3, 1791, The French constitution was adopted. Limiting the powers of the king, was not enough for the more important members of the assembly for example Maximilien de Robespierre who wanted Loise XVI to stand trial.

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Phases 4: Reign of Terror

The revolution took a turn when a group of non-army people attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested  Louis XVI on August 10, 1792

The following month many who were accused of being the ‘enemies of the revolution’ were massacred in Paris. Some of these included the moderate voices of the revolution. The Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention which proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of France and the Abolition of the monarchy in French Revolution.

King Loise XVI was condemned to death on January 21, 1793, and executed for treason. His wife, Marie Antoinette would follow him nine months later.

Robespierre’s death began a moderate phase during which the people of France revolted against the excesses committed during the region of terror This was known as the Thermidorian Reaction.

Phases 4: End of French Revolution

August 22, 1795 – The National Convention, composed of the moderates

The Directory’s rule was marked by financial crises and corruption. Also, they had much of their authority to the army that was united in the country.

Effect of the French Revolution

Effect of the French Revolution are as follows:

1. Effect at the Social Level:

As a result of the revolution, the feudal system of France came to an end. This provided suitable social space to ordinary people by establishing the just principle of equality. The privileges of the elite ended. Along with this, many movements in late and early America took inspiration from the revolt. The practice of French colonial slavery in America was abolished and it was made the Republic of Haiti.

2. Effect at the Economic Level:

With the obliteration of the power and privileges of the aristocrats, a similar system of tax arose in the whole country. The system was based on the principle of economic equality. With the result of the French Revolution, feudalism ended and capitalism unfolded. The capitalist mode of production affected not only France but the rest of the world including India. Capitalism helped in the development of concepts like the socialist economy and mixed economy. 

3. Effect at the Political Level:

popular sovereignty by ending the monarchy based on divine principles.

The declaration of human rights, principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity made humans an important part of history.

The triumph of political greatness through the French revolution provided power to the freedom struggle in Europe and other countries like India.

The ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity mentioned in the Indian constitution were shaped by the French constitution.

Impact of the French Revolution

The French revolution unlocked the opportunity of developing a major transformation in the structure of society. It offered an eminent philosophical and social space for the formation of the ideological basis of Communism. People started initiating debates around individual rights and control of social power. 

Karl Marx, in his book, The Holy Family, wrote, “…the French Revolution gave rise to ideas which led beyond the ideas of the entire old world order. The revolutionary movement which began in 1789… gave rise to the communist idea… This idea, consistently developed, is the idea of the new world order.”

The socialist revolution in Russia referred to as the Russian revolution followed the ideals of equality, democracy, and fraternity set during the French revolution. The leader of the Russian revolution, Vladimir Lenin was also inspired by the French revolution. About French revolutions, Lenin said, “Take the great French Revolution. It is with good reason that it is called a great revolution.”

The French Revolution of 1789 AD was a landmark in world history. The revolution swayed the socio-economic and political life of France and affected the rest of the world. Equality, Freedom, Democracy, sovereignty, secularism, welfare state are the ideas of the French Revolution that are still giving momentum to the world.

Role of Women in the French Revolution

Women had no political freedoms in pre-Revolutionary France; they couldn’t cast a ballot or hold any political office. They were thought of as “aloof” residents, compelled to depend on men to figure out what was best for them in the public authority. It was the ones who characterized these classifications, and ladies had to acknowledge male control in the political circle.

Ladies were instructed to be focused on their spouses and “every one of his inclinations… [to show] consideration and care… [and] earnest and careful enthusiasm for his salvation.” A lady’s schooling frequently comprised of figuring out how to be a decent spouse and mother; hence, ladies shouldn’t be associated with the political circle, as the restriction of their impact was the raising of future residents.

Probably the best impact foretelling the progressive and conservative changes in ladies’ jobs was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s instructive composition Emile (1762). For more about the role of women in the French Revolution.

French Aristocracy and the French Revolution

The French Revolution, a pivotal period in European history, was significantly influenced by the French aristocracy’s role and actions. This elite class, comprising nobles and high-ranking clergy, held immense power and privilege in pre-revolutionary France, contributing to the social and economic inequalities that fueled the revolution.

  1. Privileged Lifestyle and Tax Exemptions: The French aristocracy enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, characterized by opulent estates and extravagant spending. They were exempt from many taxes, placing a disproportionate financial burden on the lower classes, particularly the Third Estate, which included peasants, artisans, and the Bourgeoisie and French Revolution. This tax system exacerbated economic disparities and heightened public resentment.
  2. Political Influence and Resistance to Change: Aristocrats held significant influence in the government, often resisting reforms that threatened their status and wealth. Their opposition to financial and social reforms proposed by ministers like Turgot and Necker demonstrated their reluctance to alleviate the fiscal crisis and social unrest.
  3. The Estates-General and the Revolution: The convening of the Estates-General in 1789, aimed at addressing France’s financial crisis, became a turning point. The aristocracy’s insistence on maintaining traditional voting by estates, where each estate had one vote, led to a deadlock with the Third Estate. This impasse was pivotal in the Third Estate’s decision to break away and form the National Assembly, igniting the revolutionary movement.
  4. End of Aristocratic Privileges: As the revolution progressed, the National Assembly abolished feudal privileges, including those of the aristocracy, through the August Decrees of 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen further undermined aristocratic dominance by promoting equality and individual rights.
  5. Impact on European Aristocracy: The French Revolution’s impact extended beyond France, challenging the established order across Europe. It inspired revolutionary movements in other countries and led to a reevaluation of aristocratic privileges and governance.

In conclusion, the French aristocracy played a crucial role in the onset and progression of the French Revolution. Their resistance to change and the inequalities perpetuated by their privileges were key factors in the revolutionary fervor that transformed not only France but also set a precedent for societal change in Europe.

French Revolution – FAQs

What Were the Main Causes of the French Revolution?

The French Revolution was primarily caused by societal inequalities, financial crises, the influence of Enlightenment ideas, and the ineffective rule of Louis XVI.

How Did the French Revolution Impact Modern Society?

The Revolution significantly influenced modern political ideologies, promoting concepts like democracy, nationalism, and the rights of the individual.

What Was the Role of the Estates-General in the French Revolution?

The Estates-General, convened in 1789, played a pivotal role by highlighting the deep divisions in French society, eventually leading to the Revolution.

Who Were the Key Figures in the French Revolution?

Notable figures include Maximilien Robespierre, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon Bonaparte, each playing distinct roles in the Revolution’s progression.

How Did the French Revolution Affect the Church and Religion?

The Revolution led to the confiscation of Church property, the establishment of a secular state, and significant changes in the religious landscape of France.

When did the French Revolution Start?

The French revolution started on 14th July 1789. When Paris mob was hungry due to the lack of food from poor harvests, upset at the conditions of their lives and got angry on their King and Government, stormed the prison. This turned out to be more symbolic than anything prisoners were found.

What is the political symbol of the French Revolution?

There were nine political symbols of the French Revolution.

The symbols and their meaning are given below:

  • Red Phrygian Cap: It represents freedom from subjugation.
  • Winged Woman: It represents the intensity of the law.
  • Broken Chain: It represents freedom from slavery.
  • Bundle of Rods: It represents that strength lies in solidarity.
  • An Eye within a Triangle Radiating Light: It represents information that eliminates obliviousness
  • Blue-White-Red: This represents public shades of France.
  • Scepter: It represents the intensity of despotism.
  • Snake Biting its Tail to form a ring: It represents a ring that has neither a start nor an end.
  • Law Table: It represents law is the equivalent for all.

Which Group of French Society benefited from the Resolution?

French society was divided into 3 estates, and the third States who benefited from the Resolution was the middle-class members, peasants, artisans, landless labours, servents, merchants, etc. of French society benefited from the French resolutions.

What is the start and end date of French Revolution?

The French Revolution began in 1789 and lasted until 1794. The French revolution Timeline – 5 May 1789 to 9 November 1799

What is the French Revolution In short?

The French Revolution was a time of social and political upheaval in France and its colonies which started in 1789 and ended in 1799.

Who started French Revolution?

On July 14 1789 Paris mob, started this revolution due to due to a lack the food from poor harvests, the conditions of their lives and annoyement with their King and administration.

When French Revolution Ended?

 French Revolution ended with the formation of the French Consulate in November 1799.

Who won the French Revolution?

Napoleon crushed the opposition, and sought to abolish all stir by declaring himself Emperor of France in 1804, ending the revolution.

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