Contemporary historians widely regard the French Revolution as one of the most important events in human history and one of the most influential (if not the most influential) revolutions of all time. This period of far-reaching social and political upheaval lasted from 1789 to 1799 and resulted in the violent overthrew of the monarchy and the rise of Napoleon. The divide between rich and poor in French society caused extreme resentment and anger. Those on the bottom saw the wealthy grow increasingly richer, while they got nothing though they worked the hardest. The lower classes decided to rebel and create a new, fairer society. Their basis for reform was grounded in the desire for democracy, citizenship, and inalienable rights.
The effect of the French Revolution had a massive impact, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Europe split into pro- and anti-revolutionary groups; with the anti-revolutionary ones being anti-intellectual, pro-religion, and thereafter viewed public gatherings with suspicion. The revolution established a republic and eventually culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon that rapidly brought many of its principles to Western Europe and beyond. Though you are probably versed in its legacy, these are 25 Things About The French Revolution You Probably Overlooked.
Prior to the beginning of the French Revolution peasants were so poor and the cost of food so high that many starved to death. A loaf of bread was equal to a week’s pay.
The rich were born rich and the poor were born poor. It was impossible for a person who was born poor to become wealthy since this could happen only by birth. The French Revolution changed this dismal fate for France’s citizens.
What was even more frustrating is that the poor were the ones who had to pay taxes, while the rich did not.
This was the situation throughout Europe at the time, not just France. It is estimated that ninety-seven percent of Europe’s people struggled to survive, while the remaining three percent lived a life of wealth and luxury.
The American Revolution and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4 sent shockwaves throughout Europe, giving hope to many poverty-stricken peasants in France who wanted to see the powerful aristocracies of Europe fall.
Although scholarly debate continues about the exact causes of the revolution, the fact that France was the most populous country in Europe and crop failures in much of the country in 1788 came on top of a long period of economic difficulties appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On July 14, 1789, the people of Paris were afraid that the army had been ordered to attack them. They armed themselves and marched to the Bastille, a royal fort used as a prison, in search of gunpowder. The revolution had begun.
Because they didn’t have powerful explosives, the men, women, and children who stormed the Bastille tore it down brick by brick. The bricks were given away or sold as symbols of the breakdown of tyranny.
When the Bastille was eventually captured only seven prisoners were found inside.
The Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, and writer, famous for his libertine sexuality and pornographic fiction, was among the seven prisoners.
A tennis court was the first official meeting place of the French Revolution. Members of the Third Estate (the masses)—the clergy and nobility made up the First and Second Estates, respectively—gathered on June 20, 1789, on a tennis court near the Palace of Versailles after being locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General. Here they formed the National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath. This was also the first time French citizens publicly opposed King Louis XVI.
If you enjoyed this list, you might enjoy 25 Things About The Revolutionary War You Might Not Know.