World History






























French Revolution

In 1789, the common people of France overthrew their king.

France was deeply in debt from supporting the American Revolution against the British, France’s oldenemy. King Louis XVI convened the Estates General to discuss raising taxes. Representatives from the Third Estate, mostly bourgeoisie, knew they would be out-voted by the other two estates and be stuck paying the new taxes. Frustrated, the Third Estate declared it was the nation’s new parliament, the “National Assembly.” When locked out of their meeting room, the Assembly met on a tennis court and swore an oath not to go home until France had a modern constitution. The king called out the army.

In 1789, France was ripe for revolution. Not only were the bourgeoisie angry about having little say in government, the peasants and urban poor were hungry after two years of bad harvests. As the king’s troops marched toward Versailles, the enraged people of Paris stormed and captured the Bastille, a prison that represented the Ancien Regime. (Bastille Day, July 14, is France’s Independence Day.)

Bastille = a fortress in Paris built in the 14th century and used in the 17th–18th centuries as a state prison. Its storming by the mob on 14 July 1789 marked the start of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution was underway. The Paris mob executed the mayor and paraded his head through the streets on a pole. Throughout the countryside, peasants attacked the nobility and burned feudal documents. The National Assembly abolished feudalism in France, and in the streets the common people shouted, “Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternite’!” (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood). Hungry women armed themselves and marched to Versailles; they forced the king to return to Paris where they placed him under house arrest.

French Revolution = the revolution that overthrew the monarchy in France (1789), and led to the beheading of the King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.

feudalism = a strict (and mostly hereditary) class system that existed in Europe during the Middle Ages; a system of government where the king allotted land to his lords and barons. The lords and barons would then pledge their loyalty to the king and promise to protect his rule.