The French Revolution was an outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment, when human reason took precedence over the teachings of the church and the power of the monarchy and nobility. Prior to this period, the monarchies of Europe began to strengthen their power into absolutism and the divine right of kings, in which only God is superior to the person sitting on the throne. The success of the American Revolution, leading to the break of the American colonies from the British Empire, inspired many in Europe to establish a more liberal government, in which the will of the people is supreme (as elaborated in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract). This would eventually lead to widespread revolutions in many European countries in 1848.
Weak harvests in Europe, especially in France, led to much poverty and hunger, seen in A Tale of Two Cities when the Monseigneur met the peasant woman who wanted merely a stone to mark the grave of her husband who died of hunger. This led revolutionaries (such as the Defarges and the Jacquerie) to gather together forces of the common people to rise up against the nobility. The cruelty to those imprisoned (often unjustly) in the Bastille prison (such as Doctor Manette), sparked the Revolution, in which the Bastille was torn down. The nobility and the monarchy (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, along with their court) were executed at the guillotine. Eventually, the revolutionaries began to turn on each other, resulting in the Reign of Terror, the guillotines running constantly, killing thousands. Beginning in 1789, the Revolution began to run down by 1799, after which Napoleon Bonaparte seized power, leading France in a conquest of much of Europe.