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French Revolution

Modern period in the world starts from the fifteenth and sixteenth century with three major events–Geographical discoveries, Renaissance and Reformation. Politically, the French Revolution marked a new phase along with the Russian Revolution.

The French Revolution was started in 1789. It was directed against absolute monarchy, the privileged nobility and the despotic Roman Catholic Church. The revolution took place for about 10 years from 1789 to 1799. The ideals were liberty, equality and fraternity.

The French Revolution took place during the time of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The rule of the king was tyrannical and despotic. There was financial bankruptcy and the King and the Queen lived in pomp and grandeur.

Heavy taxes were levied on the poor peasants (unprivileged class). The taxation policy was discriminative—the privileged classes such as nobles, higher clergy, etc., were not taxed.
The three French writers, Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau, influenced the French Revolution. The American war of Independence also had a great impact on this revolution.

The French society was divided into three estates––the First Estate consisting of higher clergy, the Second Estate comprising the nobles and the Third Estate consisting of poor peasants, artisans and lower clergry.

The King summoned for a meeting to introduce reforms. He wanted to hold the meeting separately for all the three estates. The Third Estate comprising peasants refused and formed the ‘National Assembly’ in the Royal Tennis court. At this stage, Mirabeau assumed the leadership. Necker, the financial adviser, recommended concession to the Third Estate but the king did not accept this proposal and sent his royal troops to control the Third Estate. Demonstrations and riots broke out throughout France. The erratic mob attacked the prisoners of Bastille in Paris. Bastille fell within two and a half hours on 14 July 1789. This day is even now celebrated as the Independence Day in France. Paris became practically independent and the monarchy collapsed. The King, the Queen and the Dauphin (the little prince) were virtually made prisoners in the old royal palace.

A Constituent Assembly was formed, and according to this, uniform administration was introduced in France. Legislative Assembly was formed which consisted of Gerondists and Jacobins. Elections were to be held on the basis of Universal Adult Franchise. The reign of terror took place during this period. The King and the Queen were pronounced guilty of conspiracy and were guillotined. There was utter confusion in France and many innocent priests, nobles, men and women of noble birth were killed. Many villages were burnt and thousands were massacred.
Finally, the French Revolution came to an end with the capture of power by Napoleon Bonaparte, who was popularly known as the ‘Child of French Revolution’.

After the French Revolution, a consulate was formed with Napoleon Bonaparte as the First Consul in 1799. Later, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as the Emperor of France in 1804. He introduced many domestic reforms to develop France. These included introduction of Legion of Honor, beautification of Paris, establishment of Bank of France, establishment of University of France, providing jobs for the unemployed and making peace with the church by signing Concordat. He won many battles and raised his nation’s prestige. He defeated major powers such as Austria, Russia, and France. He failed to capture Great Britain. The European nations, Great Britain, France and Russia, allied together and defeated Napolean in the Battle of Waterloo or Hundred Days of War in 1815. He was imprisoned in the rocky island of St. Helena.

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