French Wars

The French Revolution that Changed Europe (part 2)

continuation from part 1

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

The declaration of the Rights of man and of the citizen was adopted on August 4 1791 by the NCA and founded on democratic principles. It gave equal opportunities, freedom of speech and a representative government to all French citizens. The process leading to its adoption and creation of a new constitution was phenomenal and tasking due to the yoke of the harsh economic situation and violence in the country.

Nonetheless a brand new constitution was written and adopted by the assembly on September 3, 1791.

The Revolution turns bloody (Reign of Terror)

Some influential radicals such as Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and others did not accept some of the resolutions. They advocated for a more republican system of government and the trial of King Louis.

Violence became the order of the day all over France; killings and looting became a norm with uncountable deaths being recorded on daily basis. Robespierre and his followers came a terror to not just nobles and the Church; he attacked all who opposed him.

Before the revolution, the church was the largest single landowner, holding more than 10% of lands in the kingdom. But during and after the revolution they had been weakened and thus lost its powers to the state.

Lands were taken over by the state and sold to French citizens to raise revenues and to take care of the poor and orphaned which previously had been under the purview of the church.

By 1789, monastic vows was abolished which led to monks and nuns returning back to private life while a few of them got married.

The desecration of the church created a rift between the revolutionist and citizens of France. Churches and religious images were burnt down with priests massacred in their numbers.

This led to widespread disillusionment; as a result a new group of counter-revolutionist sprang and grew across France. Locals attacked revolutionary agents and hid members of the clergy in their homes.

The Revolutionary wars of France

The activities of the leaders of the revolution soon created fear and worry in the minds of other European rulers. They reasoned that if left checked it would motivate citizens in their own countries to rise against them.

France at war
France at war

The British and France were engaged incessantly in battle from May 1792 to June 1815. This unhealthy relationship inspired The British to form coalition of European countries to stop the export of revolution beyond the borders of France.

Nonetheless, despite the coalition the French armies were able to at the initial stage of the war defeat the coalition.

The success of France in battle with Britain and other European countries led to the spread of the ideals of the revolution across Europe. However the advancement if France was repelled when Napoleon and his army was defeated in 1815.

In August 1791 the King of Prussia had muted the idea of invading France to rescue the King. In response to this threat on April 20, 1792, France declared war on Austria accusing them of harboring French counter-revolutionary forces. This action forced Prussia to join Austria against France. A coalition of European armies was then formed to fight against the French armies; with Britain and Prussia leading the vanguard.

They advanced right into French territory with little resistance but withdrew from areas it conquered by September 20, 1792. Weeks later France forces invaded and conquered the Austrian Netherlands and replaced it with the Batavian Republic, as a French satellite state.

Prussia abandoned the coalition fighting against France and in 1794 made peace with them while Spain in April 1795 signed peace treaties with France. Britain and Austria were then left as the only powers at war with France.

 The Death of King Louis

a Guillotine
A Guillotine

There were claims of betrayal against the Queen, Marie-Antoinette; she was Austrian-born and was sister to Austrian Emperor Leopold II. She was accused of collaborating with her brother; the emperor to invade France.

Due to this accusation on August 10, 1792, a large crowd of Parisians broke into the palace killing the Swiss guards charged with guarding the King. The King fled the palace and took refuge at the assembly that was in session.

Parisians in an orgy of blood went on a killing spree, they raided prisons in Paris murdering close to 1000 and 1500 prisoners most of whom were catholic priest and nobles.

Other states influenced by the killing launched attacks against prisoners in their respective states and killed them.

France was then declared a republic on September 21, 1792 by the National Assembly and abolished monarchy same day.

On January 21, 1793 King Louis was condemned to death for treason and crimes against the state and sent to the Guillotine. After his death his severed head was paraded around the crowd in mockery. Nine months later his wife Marie was sent to the guillotine too.

After the death of the King and his wife France further descended into chaos and violence. In June 1793, a group known as the Jacobins took control of the National Convention, establishing radical policies, including the establishment of a new calendar and the abolishment of Christianity.

The killings and violence that took place during this period was spearheaded by Maximilien Robespierre “The Incorruptible” as he was called. He pioneered the infamous Reign of Terror during the revolution.

Numerous public executions took place with about 16,594 people killed under the guillotine with as many as 40,000 prisoners executed with or without trial.

The mere suspicion of being against the revolution or showing more zeal than those in power could send someone to the guillotine without trial.

Meanwhile, Robespierre who had become notorious for sending people to the guillotine, worked tirelessly to enthrone tyranny and instigated execution of politicians that opposed him.

However events turned against him when others ganged up against him. A decree was approved to arrest him along with the group he led; the Jacobins. On July 29, 1793 they were all beheaded.

After the death of Robespierre another group, the Thermidorian arose; they were a more moderate movement of French citizens who revolted against the reign of the Jacobins.

The Directory (1795-1799)

Due to the collapse of France political structure in the late 1790s the military was in disarray; it was hard to maintain order within the ranks. Soldiers deserted the army and defected to other countries which resulted in depletion of experienced manpower.

At a convention on August 22, 1795, a directory with executive powers was approved made up of five men. The convention also approved and created a bicameral legislature. However the Directory was rejected by the Jacobins and Royalist in the parliament.

The Jacobins and Royalist unhappy with the creation of the Directory attempted to seize power. This attempt was however ruthlessly put down by the army led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Directory then aware of the importance of the army began to lean more on them to carry out its statutory responsibilities.

The creation of the Directory did little to stop the carnage going on in the country as the economy continued to suffer. Funds were however raised from tributes and the plundering of foreign countries the army conquered as the war raged on.

By 1798, France was at war with, Switzerland, Rome, Belgium, Egypt, and Ireland and against the US, in 1799 in Baden-Wurttemberg.

The Directory weakened by its inability to stabilize the country used repressions and massacre of opponents (the Royalist) to prevent opposition to them.

The Coup

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

To consolidate its powers after Royalist won one-third of seats in the parliament, a member of the Directory, Director Sieyes carried out a coup.

Sieyes who wanted a stronger executive collaborated with Napoleon Bonaparte, a successful general and planned a coup which took place on 9-10 November 1799.

The coup replaced the five-man Directory and replaced it with three ‘consuls’. They were Napoleon, Sieyes and Roger Ducos. This event according to historians brought to an end, the Republican era of the French Revolution.


Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul

Napoleon then used his military might to ease out Sieyes and Roger and effectively declared himself ‘First Consul’.

He conquered substantial part of Italy and other parts of Europe creating new republics and installing puppet governments to consolidate his power in Europe.

He made himself King of the Kingdom of Italy as he called it, changed the Netherlands to Batavian Republic, and Switzerland he renamed Helvetic Republic.

These new territories were mandated to pay subsidies and military support to Napoleons agenda. These gains were however upturned when a second coalition of military forces was formed in 1799. The coalition comprised Britain (the Leader), Ottoman Empire, Austria and Russia.

The allies reclaimed substantial territories from France and then stopped financial payments flowing to them.

With a depleted treasury Napoleon who at that time was trapped in Egypt, escaped and returned to France and ousted the directory and became the sole ruler of France.

The war came to an end in 1815 when Napoleon was sent on exile and his forces totally defeated.

Impact of the revolution 

The French Revolution had a major impact in Europe and the New World for it brought to end feudalism and gave birth to modern nationalism in Europe.

Before the revolution, in France the people had little or no say in the affairs of state, but just one year into the revolution Kings, nobles had their powers stripped away from them. The king became a mere figure head. Nobles lost their title while the church lost its monasteries and lands.

Historians consider the French Revolution as an event that primarily advanced the course of humanity. It led to the most universally significant change in France and Europe.

The ‘declaration of the rights of man and Citizen’ was one code that revolutionized France and Europe. It brought Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to French citizens.

Also Italy benefitted immensely from this revolution for it established an efficient taxation system, fair codes of law and a better economic condition. It created awareness in Italians to have a common nationality.

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