THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

The French Revolution is certainly one of the most extraordinary in the history of the world.

The French Revolution was caused by depression, overpopulation, unemployment, inflation and food shortage which could be linked back to the loss of the American War to the British and the overprivilege of its aristrocracy.

The first phrase of the revolution lasted for ten years from 1789 to 1799.

The catalyst was the storming of the Bastille, a state prison in the east of Paris and long seen as a symbol of political tyranny, by a mob of nearly a thousand people on the afternoon of 14th July 1789 which led to the killing of the prison  Governor De Lournay.

Today, Bastille Day, 14th July, is a celebrated day on the French calendar and a public holiday for all French citizens.

Louis XV1 was not the last King of France but he was certainly the one who paid the highest price when he was among the 40,000 who were executed by the guillotine during the two year Reign of Terror which pitted France into military conflict with Britain and Spain.

Ironically, Maximilian Robpierre, the man who was behind many of the executions, ended up suffering the same fate as those he had executed.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a respected Corsican General who saw opportunity when he led a coup d-etat in November 1799.

This took the revolution into a new second phrase as the Corsican proclaimed himself to be Emperor and sought to create a French empire across Europe which was similar to that centuries before of the Romans.

Napoleon Bonaparte, tyrannical and manipulative, was the new Julius Caesar.

He established the Napoleonic Code  which provided freedom of religion, government jobs for the most qualified,  a civil law and a tax code.

The French took it to the ultimate extreme for 12 years from 1793 to 1805 when they sought to remove all religious and royalist influence from public life and introduced the Republican Calendar based on decimal time.

Voltaire, the pen-name for Francois-Marie Arouet, was certainly one of the great French ‘thinkers’ of the Age of Enlightenment. Even though he died in 1778 at the age of eighty three, what he expressed certainly had some bearing on events which led to the Revolution.

He had once said that he opposed democracy because the majority of the people were hopelessly unenlightened.

What Voltaire might have meant is that religion needed to co-exist with intellect for those hopelessly unenlightened.  The majority of the population were peasants and of catholic faith.

The Revolution entered a third phrase when Napoleon lost a number of key military battles in Europe, notably Leipzig and Waterloo and was exiled to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean by coalition forces who had entered Paris.

The fourth phase of the French Revolution happened as the monarchy was restored.

The Bourbon dynasty ruled for sixteen years from 1814 to 1830 and was followed for a further eighteen years by the House of Orleans until 1848.

There were further phases of the Revolution which led to the coming of the Second, Third and Fourth Republics, only interrupted by Nazi-German occupation of France during World War Two.

It is perhaps interesting to make a brief comparison between what happened in England as a result of the English Civil War 1649-1653 and the first two phrases of the French Revolution 1789-1814

Unlike Britain and the events of the Glorious Revolution there in 1688 when the temptation to become a constitutional republic was resisted in favour of a hereditary monarchy, France would never again return to monarchial rule.

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