The French Revolution - A History Thread

Discussion in 'Writers' Corner' started by SoulPunisher, Jul 5, 2019.

  1. Prelude

    The Estates General
    Unlike, say, the Kingdom of England, France did not have a Parliament - it had an 'Estates General'; a purely advisory body that had no real power and had its members selected by the King, but sought to at least make the presence of France's three 'estates' (the common people, the clergy, and the nobility) known to the reigning monarch.

    The first Estates General was summoned in 1302 as an attempt to resolve a dispute between the King of France and the Pope, which started due to the Pope banning any Catholic church from transferring their property to the French Crown officially due to 'the King's spendthrift lifestyle', although in reality it was because the King was taxing the church. The Estates General didn't really do much, as the French King eventually just arrested the Pope and then the Pope died of old age anyway and his successor, a Frenchman, did not have an issue with his homeland doing this.

    The Estates General sat a few more times until 1614, when the French Crown decided it never needed to call another one again. Combined with the absolute monarchy that France lived under (in the Kingdom of Great Britain, for example, the British Crown was a symbolic position that was a slave to Parliament), you begin to see why the people of France, an enlightened society that was the most well-read of Greek democratic philosophy unfit to live under feudalism (something every other European country had long abandoned), did not want to live under feudalism any more.

    Money and Economy
    In 1756, the Seven Years' War broke out, and France led an alliance of the Holy Roman Empire (modern day Germany + Austria + Czechia), Russia, Spain, and the Mughal Empire (modern day India) against Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, and some German states; France was eventually abandoned by Russia in 1762, and Spain proved to be utterly incompetent as an ally - after running out of money to fight the war with, France surrendered to the British in 1763 and thus surrendered its position as the dominant world power. They didn't like this; so when the American Revolution broke out in 1775, the French Crown immediately started chucking money at the Thirteen Colonies and, starting in 1778, directly militarily intervened on their side. They got a few of their colonies back with the signing of the peace treaty in 1783, but the money they chucked at the Americans... was never coming back. Nor was their prestige, as Britain wasn't weakened at all by this move.

    The French Crown was bankrupt. To combat this, it raised a bunch of taxes and created new ones. A lot more new ones.

    But the money problems were not endemic to the French Crown. France was the most populous nation in Europe, containing a hefty 26 million people, 21 million of whom were poor people working in agriculture, which was a poorly paid industry that forced them to seek extra work. Hunger was a part of peasant family life and this was further compounded when, in 1788, the annual crop yield completely failed and the peasants had no food. The nobility still continued to enjoy fancy clothes, lavish feasts, and mansions that looked like palaces to the peasantry that lived on either farms or in slums; there was no place more that this was exemplified than in the monarchy itself.

    Welcome to 1789.
  2. Chapter I: The National Assembly

    Following a series of demonstrations in the major cities of Paris, Dijon, and Toulouse, the King was forced to call an Estates General for the first time in 175 years, and this time allowed the estates to elect their representatives. On top of that, he lifted the restrictions on the press, in effect creating the free press - pamphlets and newspapers that criticised King Louis and called for a reform of the government ended up all over Paris. One of these newspapers was owned by a man called Jean-Paul Marat, who wrote in support of the Third Estate and would became very influential later on in the revolution.

    The First Estate represented 100,000 Catholic clergymen and elected 300 delegates; The Second Estate represented 400,000 members of the nobility and elected 300 delegates; the Third Estate represented roughly 25 million people and had 1,200 delegates, most of them being carefully selected lawyers and landowners - ordinary working people were completely excluded from even being considered for election.

    When the Estates General was formed in the Palace of Versailles in May 1789, all three of the estates complained about taxes and the third estate complained that the nobility were abusing their aristocratic privilege by not levying taxes on themselves. In response, King Louis decided that he would allow the Estates General to vote on taxes - however, traditionally the First and Second Estates had more power than the Third Estate and utterly dwarfed it in voting power, and for this Estates General the Third Estate demanded that the concept of estates be abolished, and abide by the concept that one member has one vote. The First Estate was divided on the issue, and the Second Estate refused to listen entirely.

    So, on June 17th, the Third Estate decided to leave the Estates General and formed the National Assembly, which they believed was 'for the people' and not for the 'rich elites' that dominated the Estates General. Most of the members of the First Estate proclaimed their support. The National Assembly believed that it had equal power to the French Crown. Threatened, King Louis ordered that his deputies lock the 'National Assembly' out of its usual meeting place, so they decided to meet inside of his tennis court instead and swore that they would not leave until they give the Kingdom of France a new constitution that has the French Crown's backing. The King started moving the French Army into Paris to burst into the tennis court and forcibly disperse them.
  3. Chapter II: The Bastille

    The gathering soldiers all throughout Paris inspired a large degree of anger and fear among the Parisian populace, who already feared that the King and the nobility were planning to hoard the country's food for themselves and starve the commoners to death. This fear had spread all throughout France, and many countryside peasants had taken to burning down the nobility's houses. However, in these regions there wasn't really any fighting between the armed forces and the people: in Paris, there was. On July 12th, the French Guards, the King's house guard, started attacking the protesting commoners in Paris. On July 13th, the people of Paris started to arm themselves by looting weapon shops for guns and gunpowder. On July 14th, they needed more gunpowder.

    The Bastille had been built throughout the 1300s as France feared a land invasion from England during the Hundred Years' War. It was marked as a state prison in 1417, before becoming the home of English soldiers in 1420 to 1436 when they occupied Paris. It became a prison for France's worst criminals during the reign of King Louis XI (1461 - 1483), essentially becoming some kind of European version of a 1400s Guantanamo Bay, and especially became a symbol of the monarchy's authority. It also had a lot of gunpowder. A lot of gunpowder.

    On July 14th 1789, 900 Parisians gathered outside of the Bastille and demanded that all of its gunpowder and weapons be handed over. The Bastille's guards were confused and scared and started shooting into the crowd, killing 83 people. The crowd shot back, killing 1 guard. Some members of the French Army had mutinied and went to the Bastille with some cannons, a lot of guns, and their actual training. They blew a hole in the Bastille's gates with the cannons, the drawbridge fell down, and the crowd stormed the Bastille. They dragged the Bastille's commander outside, as well as 6 guards, and beat them all to death. They looted it of its weapons and gunpowder and then demolished the entire castle.

    By August, the King had refused to budge in his position of... "do nothing and hope it all blows over." So on August 4th, the National Constituent Assembly (what the National Assembly had renamed itself as) published the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen', which was basically the French Constitution and guaranteed 'liberty for all', said that all men are equals, and pledged the abolition of feudalism. The King didn't like this and refused to sign off on it, but was forced to after the Palace of Versailles, his house, was threatened with the same fate as the Bastille.

    The National Constituent Assembly scrubbed France clean of the Old Regime's administrative system, replacing it with a new system that divided France into districts, cantons (states), and communes that were governed by elected regional assemblies, and the country's judges were also transformed into an elected office. They planned to turn France into a constitutional monarchy, similar to the way the Kingdom of Great Britain functioned.

    At this time, the NCA was divided into three factions: 'The Right Wing' (they sat to the right of the President's chair), who opposed the overthrow of the monarchy and wanted it to retain some powers, led by Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès; the Monarchists, who wanted to turn France into a constitutional monarchy that resembled the British Parliament and monarchy, led by Jean-Joseph Mounier; and 'The Left' (they sat to the left of the President's chair), who supported the overthrow of the monarchy and the installation of democracy, and were led by Honoré Mirabeau and Marquis de Lafayette, but had a growing radical movement in the form of the Jacobins, led by Jacques Pierre Brissot.

    The NCA was united throughout the next year, which saw all of the Roman Catholic Church's property nationalised by the French state, the complete abolition of monastic orders and the nobility, and a restructure of the clergy's power structure - as well as the demand to force them into swearing an oath to defend the constitution; the Pope was not pleased and condemned the NCA. Many of the French nobility were, obviously, not pleased with having their land and their titles taken away and fled to Prussia and set up armed groups, with the support of other European governments, there; the NCA did itself no favours in regards to this threat by declaring the emigrants traitors to France and pledging to spread the revolution all across Europe. "But that's just words!" you may be saying. "No," I tell you, because the NCA occupied the Papal territory of Avignon in May 1791 to fulfil this promise.

    The threat of the emigrants on the 'frontier' was made evident in June 1791, when King Louis and Queen Marie attempted to abscond to the Eastern Frontier of France, in an attempt to give the armed nobility and monarchy-supporting army based in Verdun a bargaining chip. They made it as far as the town of Varennes near Alscace-Lorraine before they were captured. This incident made the French people hostile to the King and Queen themselves, rather than just the power of their offices. The King and Queen were completely confined to Tuileries Palace in Paris and the NCA began to tip towards the complete abolishment of the French monarchy. In what looked like an admission of defeat, King Louis signed the constitution, and the NCA was abolished - in its place came the Legislative Assembly.

    The Legislative Assembly was elected by taxpaying citizens - 1.9 million people voted for the Patriotic Society (economic liberal constitutional monarchists) thus giving them 345 seats; 1.5 million voted for the Society of the Friends of the Constitution (aka the Feuillant Club, non-radical Jacobins that supported the constitutional monarchy), thus giving them 264 seats; and 774,000 people voted for the Jacobins (radicals who wanted the complete overthrow of the monarchy), thus giving them 136 seats.

    Welcome to 1792.