MemberMay 12, 2021 at 12:02 pm::
On 14 July 1789 a furious, hungry mob attacked the Bastille prison in the centre of Paris. They surged into the prison, liberating four bewildered counterfeiters, an aristocrat accused of debauchery and two mad men. There were no other prisoners. Then they turned their attention to destroying the hated building to which so many ordinary people had been committed without trial. Then the angry tide swept throughout Paris. Soon the severed heads of feeble assistants and commandant of the royal-fortress prison swayed from the rebels pikes.
The storming of the Bastille marked the beginning of a bloody revolution which completely demolished the foundations on which the 800 years of French monarchy rested. It was a revolution in which the down-trodden common man demanded from the absolute monarch his right to ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. It was a revolution that cost the king his power, then his throne, then his liberty, and finally his life.
The causes of the revolution ran deep. Years of religious persecution, arrest and imprisonment without trial, arbitrary taxation and near starvation had driven the deprived masses to take this extreme step. Their stomachs and pockets were empty but their minds were fed by the thoughts and ideals propagated by the French philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau. Also, contributing greatly to their morale was the recent example of the American revolution.
Ironically, the Revolution found its most conspicuous victims among those who had themselves created it. Even after the execution of the royal family the Revolution progressed into a still more bloody phase of a counter-revolution remembered in history as ‘The Reign of Terror’. Thousands of heads rolled at the guillotine before the madness ended and a new system of government called the Directory, was set up.
The Revolution saw the rise of a young dynamic soldier, Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to become the general of the French army at the age of twenty-six. Napoleon overthrew the Directory in 1799. The French Revolution was finally over. Napoleon set up a government called the Consulate. As the First Consul, Napoleon was a dictator, that is, a leader with absolute powers.
A mere 10 years after the Revolution, France had exchanged one ruler for another. Nonetheless, Napoleon kept many of the changes made during the revolution.
*Background of Unrest *
The French Revolution was a deep-rooted revolt by many classes of people against the whole order of society. It stemmed from longstanding grievances.
In the 1700s, the people of France were divided into three groups called estates-the nobles, the clergy, and the third estate.
1. The Nobles were land owners and spent most of their time enjoying themselves at court, and were exempted from paying taxes. 2. The Clergy shared many of the privileges of the nobles.
3. The Third Estate was made up of the bourgeoisie (businessmen, and professionals like lawyers and journalists), peasants and serfs.