15 Important French Revolution Dates
Originally published by Molli in August 2020 and Updated by Ruth in August 2022
The French Revolution is one of the most important moments in French history. It also had a major impact on the rest of Europe, due to decades of wars that would follow the Revolution. It also inspired other nations’ revolutionary movements and led to the end of inequalities in Europe such as feudalism, upper-class privileges, and inequalities in general.
There were many aspects that led to the French Revolution, such as a corrupt monarchy with serious debt, unfairly high taxes, bad harvests, as well as the American Revolution. French citizens were inspired by the measures that the Americans took to free themselves from the British, and aspired to free themselves from the French monarchy.
There are several important French Revolution dates! Keep reading to find out the 15 most important!
1. Meeting with the Estates-General, May 5, 1789
The Estates-General was an assembly that represented the three classes, or “estates” in France at the time: the clergy, or the First Estate, the nobility, or the Second Estate, and the commoners, or the Third Estate.
The Estates-General had already met several times, but due to the fact that each Estate was granted one vote, the clergy and the nobility often ganged up against the commoners, leaving them powerless.
The Estates-General of 1789 was called by King Louis XVI in order to address the monarchy’s financial crisis. In learning more about the crisis and recognizing that the two other Estates could easily place the burden of solving the crisis on the commoners through taxes, the Third Estate formed their own National Assembly. On May 5, 1789, the new National Assembly attempted to negotiate with the clergy and the nobility, but an agreement couldn’t be reached.
2. The Tennis Court Oath, June 20, 1789
When the National Assembly and the First and Second Estates butted heads over the financial crisis, King Louis XVI decided to close the hall where the National Assembly held meetings.
Undeterred, the National Assembly gathered on a tennis court to make a plan. The group agreed to stay together until they could come up with a new constitution for France. Their agreement was dubbed “The Tennis Court Oath.”
3. The storming of the Bastille Prison, July 14, 1789
By July, revolutionaries were fed up with the monarchy’s resistance to change. Plus, the general director of finances named Jacques Necker was fired by the king. Necker was sympathetic to the National Assembly, and the French saw his dismissal as a direct attack on the Assembly.
In response, a group of angry French citizens stormed the Bastille Prison in Paris on July 14, 1789. The revolutionaries stole gun powder and weapons in order to be able to defend themselves against the monarchy. The Storming of the Bastille is often considered to be the debut of the French Revolution.
4. Declaration of the Rights of Man, August 26, 1789
On August 26, 1789, the National Assembly released “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.” The document contained the basic beliefs of the revolutionaries. It boasted 17 articles, the most important declared that all men were born free and equal. The charter would inspire the new French constitution.
5. Women’s march on Versailles, October 5, 1789
Due to irresponsible spending and poor harvests, the people of France were going hungry. Plus, the king raised the price of bread to make up for his financial problems. This only served to fuel the revolutionaries’ fire and there was much unrest. Groups of women began to protest in the Parisian markets, with little to no response from the monarchy.
On October 5, 1789, a group of mostly women marched from Paris to Versailles. They were frustrated that the royal family seemed to live in a world of luxury completely separate from their own. The group killed several palace guards and demanded that the king live in Paris amongst the people. Left with no choice, the royal family was forced to follow the mob back to Paris where they were placed under the watchful eye of the new National guards.
6. The Royal family attempts to escape, June 20, 1791
Newly installed in Paris, the king began to fear for his own life and his family’s. He came up with a plan to flee from France and set up camp in Austria to wait out the Revolution.
On June 20, 1791, the royal family disguised themselves as servants and were able to sneak out of the Tuileries Palace where they were being held by the National guards. However, the very next day the king was recognized in Varennes. He and the rest of the family were quickly arrested and brought back to Paris.
7. The King’s execution, January 21, 1793
After the royal family’s attempt to flee France, popular opinion really began to turn against King Louis XVI and the French considered him a traitor. On August 10, 1792, a group of around 20,000 angry Parisians stormed the Tuileries Palace demanding justice. The king and the queen were arrested and placed in jail.
On September 21, 1792, the monarchy was officially abolished and France was officially a new Republic. The Republic charged the king with treason, and he was found guilty. On January 21, 1793, the King was executed in front of a crowd in Paris by guillotine.
8. The Reign of Terror, September 1793-July 1794
The Reign of Terror is one of the darkest periods in French history. Before it began, in March 1793, the National Assembly was replaced by the National Convention. Within the Convention was a group called the Committee of Public Safety, which was created to protect the new Republic against traitors. The head of the committee was a man named Maximilien Robespierre.
Robespierre arrested 500,000 suspected traitors. 17,000 were executed by the committee, and 25,000 died in custody.
9. Robespierre’s execution, July 27, 1794
Ironically, Robespierre let his newfound power go to his head and began to get out of control. Other members of the committee and the new government began to fear for their lives in the midst of Robespierre’s killing spree.
On July 27, 1794, Robespierre was guillotined like so many of his victims, bringing an end to the Reign of Terror.
10. Coup d’état, November 9-10, 1799
After Robespierre’s death, a new constitution was written. This new document created a group of leaders called the Directory which was made up of 5 members. But, as more time went on the Directory became corrupt and began to experience financial difficulties due to mismanagement.
On November 9-10, 1799, a coup d’état forced out the Directory and replaced it with three “consuls,” one of whom was Napoleon Bonaparte. This coup is sometimes called the Coup of 18th Brumaire (in reference to the date according to the new French Revolution calendar), and many historians consider it to be the end of the French Revolution.
11. Abolition of Feudalism – August 4, 1789
On 4 and 11 August 1789, the Constituent Assembly abolished the entire feudal system. It abolished both the Manorialism of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate.
Manorialism was an integral part of feudalism by which peasants were rendered dependent on their land and on their lord. Tithes were one-tenth of annual earnings taken as a tax for the support of the church.
The peasants got their land free and also no longer paid the tithe to the church. During the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges.
12. Civil Constitution of the Clergy – July 12, 1790
After several months of questioning what they wanted their government to look like, the Legislative Assembly was created along with a constitution on July 12th. In addition to creating a limited monarchy, it also worked to separate the government from the church.
13. French Revolutionary Wars – April 20, 1792 – March 25, 1802
Revolutionary France was considered dangerous by the other European monarchies who viewed it with both fear and anger. This led to the French Revolutionary Wars, a series of military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802. They pitted the French Republic against Great Britain, Austria, and several other monarchies. It began when France, anticipating an attack, declared war on Prussia and Austria in the spring of 1792.
Though initially, it suffered various reverses, France, under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, was able to conquer a wide array of territories by 1802, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in the French Revolutionary Wars allowed the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.
14. New Constitution Adopted – August 22, 1795
After the Reign of Terror, France needed to have a constitution for the republic. The Constitution of the Year III was signed into legislation on August 22nd. However, this new constitution put the power in a directory of only five wealthy directory members.
The Directory wasn’t doing a good job, and people were furious. Therefore, a royalist mob took to the streets to bring down The Directory. On September 21st, Napoleon Bonaparte saved the Directory, starting his rise to power.
15. Napoleon Defeated in Russia – June 24, 1814
After a long and hard battle with Russia, they defeated Napoleon and his army on June 24th after the French lost 300,000 soldiers due to battles, hunger, and weather.
After this defeat, Napoleon was exiled to Elba but came back for 100 days in 1815. Only to be defeated again.
With Napoleon defeated, the relation of Louis XVI mounted the throne once again. On July 8th, the monarchy was once again restored in France, ending the French Revolution.
You’ve likely already heard of the French Revolution, and now you know the most important dates of the movement! This inspiring moment in French history would go on to have an impact on France and Europe for decades to come, so it’s important to know at least a little bit about the details!
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