25 Things About The French Revolution You Probably Overlooked

Posted by , Updated on April 6, 2016

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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.

25

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.

BreadSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
24

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.

French RevolutionSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
23

What was even more frustrating is that the poor were the ones who had to pay taxes, while the rich did not.

paintingSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
22

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.

PaintingSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
21

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.

United States Declaration of IndependenceSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia

20

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.

crop failuresSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
19

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.

the BastilleSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
18

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.

bricksSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
17

When the Bastille was eventually captured only seven prisoners were found inside.

The BastilleSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
16

The Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, and writer, famous for his libertine sexuality and pornographic fiction, was among the seven prisoners.

Marquis de SadeSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
15

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.

Tennis Court OathSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia

If you enjoyed this list, you might enjoy 25 Things About The Revolutionary War You Might Not Know.

14

The swift-killing guillotine that was wildly popularized during the French Revolution remained a legal form of execution in France until 1981.

guillotineSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: boisdejustice.com (not CC)
13

During the French Revolution many people were sent to the guillotine. Many more were beheaded in the years following the revolution as well, in an era known as the Reign of Terror. It is estimated that more than forty thousand people were executed.

the guillotineSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
12

One of them was King Louis XVI, who was beheaded on January 12, 1793. The charge that led to his execution suggested he had conspired with Austria and Prussia, enemies of France at the time.

Source: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia Source: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
11

When the royal family attempted to escape, they didn’t get very far due to the king’s vanity. See, the king’s face was on every French coin, a fact that helped the rebels easily recognize him.

French coinsSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
10

King Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette, was seen by the French as someone who flaunted her wealth and privilege. This created a great deal of resentment toward her. She was eventually beheaded, just like her husband.

King Louis XVISource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
9

It is believed that Marie Antoinette paid her executioner with a purse of gold coins to make sure the blade he would use to behead her was sharp enough to give her a quick, clean death.

Marie AntoinetteSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
8

One of the main leaders of the French Revolution was Maximilien de Robespierre. He was known for sending his opponents and others to the guillotine. In 1794 he was captured and beheaded.

Maximilien de RobespierreSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: commons.wikimedia.org
7

In the years following Robespierre’s execution Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France.

Napoleon-bonaparteSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
6

Charles Dickens wrote a book that was set during the French Revolution titled A Tale of Two Cities.

A Tale of Two CitiesSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
5

Ever heard of the French Revolutionary Calendar? No? Well, this was a calendar created and implemented during the revolution for about twelve years from late 1793 to 1805 by the new French government, and later used for eighteen days during the Paris Commune of 1871. The revolutionary system was designed in part to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, and was part of a larger attempt at decimalization in France.

French Revolutionary CalendarSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
4

Something that many people don’t know is that the French Revolution resulted in the freeing of ten thousand African slaves.

African slavesSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
3

Prior to the French Revolution, it was illegal to worship as a Protestant or a Jew because these religions were illegal. After the revolution people were free to follow these religions.

Source: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia Source: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: Wikipedia
2

France celebrates its Independence Day on July 14 each year with a parade on the Champs-Élysées, followed by many other events and festivities such as dances, concerts, and parties around the country.

Champs-ÉlyséesSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: commons.wikimedia.org
1

"Let them eat cake” is the traditional translation of the French phrase Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, supposedly spoken by Marie Antoinette on learning that the peasants had no bread. However, most historians agree she probably didn’t care enough about the peasants to ever utter these words.

CakeSource: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

SEE ALSO: 25 of History's Deadliest Dictators »

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