After a lengthy and somewhat dubious political trial, King Louis XVI was condemned to death and was executed at the Place de la Revolution on January 21, 1793
IntroductionLiberty, equality, fraternity! Those were the cries of the French Revolution. France had been a powder keg for decades as wealthy aristocrats grew richer and the poor grew hungry and more desperate. The match was struck when the French king Louis XVI and his hated Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette, refused to address—or perhaps could not address—the problems of the people. The revolution began on July 14, 1789, when commoners and soldiers alike attacked the Bastille, a hated prison and symbol of the regime. It was a pivotal moment in European history as the French deposed and executed their monarch. A bold experiment, the principles of the Revolution later went awry during the Reign of Terror and left the way open for Napoleon Bonaparte to sweep into power.
- The early revolutionaries in France were influenced by the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was the U.S. minister to France at the time and was sympathetic to the causes of the Revolution although he condemned its violence. Jefferson even hosted a meeting of French revolutionary leaders. His support of the Revolution got him into trouble at home.
- Although the Bastille was a hated prison, there were only seven prisoners within its walls on the day it was attacked and two of those were noblemen. The attackers were actually more interested in the large quantity of weapons and ammunition stored there.
- On the night of June 21, 1791, after two years of virtual house arrest, the King and his family tried to escape dressed as servants. The escape was not well planned, and they were easily caught. La Nuit de Varennes is an excellent movie about a stagecoach following the fleeing royals.
- The Reign of Terror, led by Robespierre, led to the death of more than 18,000 citizens by the guillotine in the years 1793 to 1794. Immortalized by Charles Dickens in his Tale of Two Cities, the picture of open tumbrils carrying innocent people to kneel before the guillotine as it falls to strike off their heads is the most common image of the Revolution. Robespierre was himself sent to the guillotine on July 28, 1794. It was a moment of poetic justice.
- Although she was villified by the French as vain and weak, it was Marie Antoinette who held her family together after their capture at Varennes. She was eventually accused of treason to the state. Her children were taken from her, and her husband was executed. She spent her last days in prison with the head of her best friend being paraded on a pike outside her window. After her final confession, a priest exhorted her to courage. She replied: “Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?”
All Resources by Category
- Did Marie Antoinette Really Say "Let Them Eat Cake"?
- French Revolution - Magill's Guide to Military History
- How Long Did The French Revolution Last?
- What Was The Coup D'éTat Of 18 Brumaire?
- What Was The French Revolutionary Calendar?
- What was the Oath of the Tennis Court?
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