French Revolution 1789 – 1799 Causes and Events

French Revolution - Storming the Bastille

This timeline is a chronology of the causes and events of the French Revolution.

NB – The Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 has been given as the start of the events of the revolution. However, some historians give the meeting of the Estates General on 5th May as the start of the revolution.

Causes of the French Revolution
1715 – 1789
Enlightenment
The period known as the Enlightenment gave rise to the Philosophes in France. These thinkers challenged the established order, including organised religion.
1756 – 1763
Seven Years’ War
This began as a conflict between France and Britain in North America and escalated to a costly major conflict. It ended with the loss of territory for France.
1774 (10th May)
King Louis XV died and his grandson, Louis XVI, King of France. Louis had been married for four years to Marie Antoinette of Austria. Louis XVI was an absolute monarch – he had total power in the country. However, Louis was not a strong King, he respected the ancient traditions of monarchy and society, yet he desired the love of his people. This meant that he was reluctant to make strong decisions for the country. Although he had a ‘government’ of ministers, they rarely met collectively.
1774 (24th August)
Anne Robert Jacques Turgo was appointed Controller-General of Finances. Turgot told the King that expenses needed to be reduced and that he should stop giving expensive favours. He also opposed any French involvement in the American War of Independence. His suggestion that all three Estates should pay tax made him unpopular with the clergy, who did not pay tax, and the nobility who paid a vastly reduced tax.
1775 (19th April)
American War of Independence
Colonists in the 13 states of America rebelled against British rule and war began.
1776 (12th May)
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was dismissed.
1776 (4th July)
American Declaration of Independence
Largely written by Thomas Jefferson, this declaration proclaimed the independence of the Thirteen Colonies of America from Britain.
1777 (29th June)
Jacques Necker, a Swiss banker, was appointed Director-General of the Treasury. Necker, a Protestant, could not be made a minister. He tried to restructure the tax system by combining some taxes and also improving hospitals and prisons. Necker advised the King against supporting the American War of Independence.
1777 (October)
King Louis supported the American revolutionaries against Britain in the American War of Independence and sent them 10,000 men and financial support.
1781 (February)
Frustrated with the King’s continual high level of spending, Necker published his report to the King detailing the poor financial state of France.
1781 (19th May)
Jacques Necker was dismissed. His dismissal was not well-received by the people.
1783 (3rd September)
Peace of Paris
The American colonists gained independence from Britain.
1783 (3rd November)
Charles Alexandre de Calonne was appointed Controller-General of Finances. Calonne wanted to introduce a new tax system in France.
1787 (February)
Assembly of Notables
This was a meeting of high ranking nobles and clergy to discuss the financial situation in France. Finance Minister Calonne had selected those he believed would be sympathetic to tax reform. However they refused to agree any reform of the tax system.
1787 (8th April)
Calonne was dismissed and exiled to Lorraine.
1787 (April)
Etienne Charles de Lomenie de Brienne was appointed Director-General of Finance. He introduced a land tax which met fierce opposition.
1788 (August)
Director-General of Finance, Brienne was forced to resign.
1788 (25th August)
Jacques Necker was recalled as Controller-General of Finances.
1788 (7th September)
Jacques Necker declared a ban on the export of grain. Poor harvests had led to an increase in prices and the price of bread had risen. This meant hardship and hunger for the poor who could not afford to buy bread.
1789 (24th January)
Louis XVI summoned the Estates General to meet in May. The Estates General was comprised of representatives of the three estates of society. The First Estate was made up of the clergy (about 0.5% of the population) who owned around a tenth of all land in France. The Second Estate was made up of the nobility (about 1% of the population) who owned around a third of all land in France. The Third Estate represented everyone else (around 98.5% of the population). The Third Estate was made up of a middle class called the bourgeoisie who were becoming increasingly wealthy due to the rise of industry and commerce; skilled and unskilled workers, some of whom owned property; and the peasants, around 80% of the population.
1789 (5th May)
The Estates General met in Paris. Necker had succeeded in increasing the representation of the Third Estate. Necker also wanted France to move to a constitutional monarchy like Britain where the First and Second Estates would form one chamber and the Third Estate another.
1789 (17th June)
National Assembly
The representatives of the Third Estate met independently for the first time in the Salle des États. They formally adopted the title National Assembly and declared all existing taxes illegal.
1789 (18th June)
King Louis ordered that the Salle des États be closed. He claimed that work needed to be done on the building before he made a speech in two days’ time.
1789 (20th June)
The ‘Tennis Court Oath’
Prevented from meeting in the Salle des États the National Assembly met in a tennis court near Versailles. Here an oath was sworn that they would not be disbanded until a new constitution had been agreed.
1789 (23rd June)
King Louis XVI addressed the Estates General and stated that the decisions of the National Assembly were invalid.
1789 (July)
The price of bread and other foodstuff had reached an all time high.
1789 (9th July)
The National Assembly reformed as the National Constituent Assembly.
1789 (11th July)
Louis XVI dismissed Necker who had become increasingly unpopular with the nobility. The people saw this as an attack on the National Constituent Assembly and began to gather and protest.
1789 (13th July)
The people began blocking the streets into Paris to prevent troops reaching the city.
Events of the French Revolution
1789 (14th July)
Storming of the Bastille
Crowds of angry people stormed the Bastille. They wanted to seize gunpowder and ammunition that was housed there. Troops stationed in the building fired on the crowd killing 93 people but they were soon overpowered. The governor, de Launay surrendered but was then killed by the angry crowd.
1789 (15th July)
Louis XVI knew he had to back down if he were to calm the situation. He withdrew his troops from Paris. Lafayette, who had been one of the founders of the National Constituent Assembly was given control of the National Guard.
1789 (17th July)
Jacques Necker was recalled as Finance Minister.
1789 (late July)
Large numbers of the noble classes exiled themselves from France. They believed that their lives and positions were in serious danger.
1789 (4th – 11th August)
August Decrees
A total of 19 new measures were introduced with a view to calm the situation. The measures included: Abolition of feudalism; church taxes were abolished; all people would be taxed at the same rate; all people could hold public office or military rank; hunting rights were abolished.
1789 (10th August)
Armed revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
1789 (26th August)
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
This publication was written by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Abbé Sieyès in collaboration with Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence. It declared that ‘Men are born free and remain free and equal in their rights.’
1789 (11th September)
At this point it was still hoped that France could move to a constitutional monarchy. It was agreed that while Louis could no longer veto new laws he could delay them.
1789 (14th September)
Louis XVI ordered troops to strengthen his bodyguard.
1789 (1st October)
Troops from the Royal Flanders Regiment arrived at Versailles. Their arrival was celebrated with a sumptuous banquet and copious amounts of wine. It was reported that drunken soldiers urinated on and destroyed the new tricolour cockades. Newspapers stated that Louis had witnessed this act but he had actually left earlier and was not involved.
1789 (4th October)
The actions of the soldiers at Versailles on the 1st October had infuriated people, particularly as so many people were suffering hardship and hunger and also because they wanted change. People began to gather in Paris.
1789 (5th October)
The March of the Women/ October Days
Huge numbers of people had assembled in Paris and a large number of these were women protesting about the poverty they were facing, especially the shortage of bread. They demanded that stores of bread be released but when no response was received they decided to march to the Palace of Versailles, the seat of Royal government. Many of the marchers were armed and some had stolen cannon. They demanded that the King return to Paris and deal with the bread shortage. Louis sent a message to the protesters promising to agree to the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
1789 (6th October)
In the early hours of the morning a group of women stormed the Palace of Versailles intent on finding and killing Queen Marie Antoinette. The Queen heard the commotion and fled through the palace. The women were cleared from the palace but Louis XVI had no choice but to agreed to the revolutionaries’ demands and relocate to Paris. The royal party accompanied by the mob reached Paris and were installed in the Tuileries Palace.
1790 (13th February)
All monasteries and convents were closed. Monks and nuns were encouraged to become private citizens.
1790 (19th May)
The National Assembly abolished hereditary nobility.
1790 (12th July)
Civil Constitution of the French Clergy
This was an act that regulated the Catholic church in France. The aim was to bring the revolution to religion and stamp out corruption and abuse in the church. Churchmen would become employees of the government and would be required to swear allegiance to France.
1790 (10th August)
Jacobin Club
This was the most prominent of the political clubs in France. Membership was by subscription and was chiefly confined to the bourgeoisie who could afford the fees. They supported the continuation of the monarchy albeit with reduced powers.
1790 (27th November)
The clergy were forced to swear allegiance to France. Those that refused (more than 50%) were removed from their posts.
1791 (10th March)
Pope Pius VI condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.
1791 (20th June)
Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their family left the Tuileries Palace dressed as servants. Their servants were disguised as nobles. They aimed to leave France and seek refuge in Austria. Louis left behind a proclamation denouncing the revolution.
1791 (21st June)
The royal family were recognised at Varennes. They were arrested and returned to Paris where the King and Queen were placed under house arrest.
1791 (17th July)
Champ de Mars Demonstration
Jacques Brissot, a radical member of the Jacobins, began a petition to depose Louis XVI and make France a republic. The petition stated that the flight of the royal family should be taken as an abdication of the monarch. Huge crowds gathered to sign the petition. The National Guard, commanded by Lafayette, were called to maintain order and fired into the crowd killing 50 people. The crowd dispersed and Brissot went into hiding.
1791 (27th August)
Declaration of Pillnitz
King Frederick William II of Prussia and the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II of Austria declared their support for King Louis XVI and a restoration of monarchical government.
1791 (3rd September)
A new constitution was introduced that established a constitutional monarchy. The monarch retained the power to appoint ministers and veto acts. However, this was not well-received by Robespierre, Desmoulins, Danton and others who wanted to severely reduce the power of the king and move to a republican style of government.
1791 (14th September)
King Louis XVI swore allegiance to the new constitution.
1791 (1st October)
Legislative Assembly
Following elections, the new Legislative Assembly held its first meeting. Most of the 745 men elected were members of the bourgeoisie class. Many were also inexperienced politicians – members of the National Constituent Assembly had been barred from standing for election.
1791 (October)
The Girondins
This term was given to those radical revolutionary members of the Legislative Assembly who advocated a French Republic. They included Jacques-Pierre Brissot, Jean Marie Roland and Francois Buzot.
1792 (20th April)
War of the First Coalition
The Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia. Members of the French nobility had fled to Austria and Prussia and it was believed that they were amassing support.
1792 (late April)
The French army invaded and conquered the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium and Luxembourg).
1792 (25th April)
The guillotine was used for the first time when highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was executed. The guillotine was thought to be a more humane method of execution in line with enlightenment ideals.
1792 (13th June)
Prussia declared war on France.
1792 (25th July)
Brunswick Manifesto
The Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Austrian and Prussian troops, issued a statement threatening the French people with violence if the French royal family were harmed.
1792 (9th August)
The Paris Commune was established.
1792 (early 10th August)
The continuation of the monarchy, continued poverty and shortage of food as well as the Brunswick Manifesto inflamed the situation in Paris. Many Parisians decided to take matters into their own hands and stormed the Tuileries palace. They killed the King’s guards and went in search of the royal family. Louis and his family managed to escape and sought refuge with the Assembly.
1792 (late morning, 10th August)
A session of the Legislative Assembly, attended mainly by Jacobins, agreed that the monarchy of France should be suspended. Louis was placed under arrest. The suspension of the monarchy meant that new elections had to be held.
1792 (19th August)
The Prussian Duke of Brunswick invaded France in support of King Louis XVI and took Longwy and Verdun.
1792 (26th August)
The Legislative Assembly stated that those members of the clergy that had refused to swear an oath in support of France should be deported to French colonies such as French Giuana.
1792 (2nd September)
A large mob of revolutionary Parisians, believing that prisoners in Paris were conspiring with the Prussians, broke into the prisons and murdered more than 1,000 prisoners.
1792 (3rd September)
Jean-Paul Marat, a revolutionary, wrote an open letter calling for all of France to rise up.
1792 (20th September)
Battle of Valmy
The French used cannons to force the Prussians to retreat.
1792 (20th September)
National Convention
Following the suspension of the monarchy in August and another election with universal male suffrage, the first meeting of the National Convention was held. Members of the convention were broadly divided into two camps – the Girondins, who wanted to make France a republic led by the bourgeoisie and then foment revolution throughout Europe, and the Montagnards led by Robespierre who wanted a republic in which all classes were equal and entitled to share in the government of France.
1792 (22nd September)
The National Convention proclaimed the First French Republic.
1792 (6th November)
Battle of Jemappes
The French secured a victory over Austria at this battle.
1792 (3rd December)
The trial of Louis XVI, called Louis Capet, began. He was charged with 33 crimes against the people of France that were deemed treason. The crimes included: sending the army against Parisians, refusing to agree to the revolution and trying to escape to Asutria.
1793 (17th January)
Louis was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed by guillotine.
1793 (21st January)
King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine in the Place de la Révolution (Place de la Concorde).
1793 (late January)
War of the First Coalition
Britain, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch Republic joined Austria and Prussia against France.
1793 (1st February)
France declared war on Britain and the Netherlands.
1793 (February)
There were riots in Paris when food prices rose.
1793 (24th February)
The National Convention introduced conscription. This was not well-received and the rioting spread throughout France.
1793 (Spring)
War of the First Coalition
The coalition had managed to push the French back and began an advance into France.
1793 (6th April)
Committee of Public Safety
The role of this body was to preserve the new republic by stopping foreign attacks and internal rebellion. The committee of 12 included Danton, Robespierre, Couthon, Saint-Just and Carnot.
1793 (2nd June)
Robespierre called for a move to eradicate corruption in the Convention. The National guard surrounded the National Convention demanding the arrest of a number of Girondins.
1793 (24th June)
The new Constitution of France was introduced.
1793 (23rd August)
The Committee of Public Safety introduced mass conscription to help defend France.
1793 (September)
The Girondin faction had taken control of the National Convention.
1793 (17th September)
Reign of Terror – Law of Suspects
The Law of Suspects, introduced by the National Convention, detailed the characteristics that set a person against the revolution. Included were those that supported a return of the monarchy, relatives of those nobles that had fled France and those that failed to get a certificate of loyalty from their local watch committee. Those deemed to be suspects were executed. This began a reign of terror.
1793 (29th September)
The Law of the Maximum
This law introduced price controls to stop the continual rising prices. However, producers sold their goods on the black market rather than in the regular markets. This created a more severe shortage of food and drove prices higher.
1793 (Autumn)
War of the First Coalition
The French army had managed to stop the coalition’s advance into France.
1793 (Autumn)
The Committee of Public Security sent representatives to check that army generals were conducting the war in the best interests of France.
1793 (Autumn)
The Committee of Public Security sent armed representatives to arrest farmers and seize their crops. This forced collection of food was not popular and angered the rural communities.
1793 (16th October)
Marie Antoinette was found guilty of crimes against the state and was executed by guillotine.
1793 (17th October)
The republican army defeated a rebel force in the Vendee region. The people of Vendee fled across the River Loire to Brittany. Those that were caught were drowned in the river. It is estimated that in the following six months around 4,000 people were drowned in the Loire.
1793 (24th October)
French Republican Calendar
A new calendar was introduced to replace the traditional Christian calendar. It introduced a decimal system whereby a minute was 100 seconds, an hour 100 minutes, a day 10 hours and a week 10 days. Additionally the year 1792 was declared to be year 1. Although use of the calendar was mandatory, few people used it or were able to make sense of the different calculations for time.
1793 (24th October)
21 Girondins who had been arrested in June were put on trial. They were found guilty and executed by guillotine on 31st October.
1793 (November)
Revolts in Bordeaux, Lyon and Normandy had been put down. Representatives were sent to punish those that had taken part in the Lyon revolts. Over the following six months around 2,000 people were executed by guillotine or firing squad.
1793 (December)
Reign of Terror
During 1793 around 250 people were guillotined and more than 2,500 death sentences were passed in Paris. Mob violence killed many more people suspected of being against the Republic, hoarding food, illegally trading or deserting the army. Outside of Paris, anyone accused of taking part in rioting was executed by firing squad or guillotine.
1793 (4th December)
Law of 14 Frimaire
This law removed the power of representatives by decreeing that they could no longer take action without the authority of the Committee of Public Safety. The Committee now had full power of central and local government.
1793 (12th December)
Remnants of the Vendee force that had fled to Brittany in October met the Republican army. Around 10,000 rebels were killed.
1794 (during)
Despite the forced collection of food, there were still food shortages. The people blamed Robespierre for the shortages.
1794 (26th June)
War of the First Coalition – Battle of Fleurus
The French defeated the coalition and pushed them out of the Austrian Netherlands.
1794 (29th June)
Maximilien Robespierre was publicly called a dictator.
1794 (26th July)
The opponents of Robespierre had managed to gain the upper hand in the Convention.
1794 (27th July)
Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon were arrested.
1794 (28th July)
Maximilien Robespierre, Louis Saint-Just and George Couthon were executed by guillotine.
1795 (early)
War of the First Coalition
France took control of the Netherlands. The ruling House of Orange was expelled and the new Batavian Republic was proclaimed.
1795 (21st February)
The new government marked a shift against the reign of terror and began making moves towards freedom of religion.
1795 (5th April)
War of the First Coalition – Peace of Basel
Prussia agreed a peace with France
1795 (7th April)
French Republican Calendar
Mandatory use of the new calendar and decimal time was suspended.
1795 (22nd July)
War of the First Coalition – Peace of Basel
Spain agreed a peace with France
1795 (August)
War of the First Coalition – Peace of Basel
Peace was agreed between the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and France. The conclusion of this peace effectively ended the War of the First Coalition.
1795 (22nd August)
Constitution of Year III
This new constitution for France was agreed and established a bicameral legislature comprised of the Council of Ancients and the Council of the Five Hundred. Government would be by a committee of five, known as the Directory, appointed by Parliament.
1795 (3rd October)
Royalists in Paris rebelled against the new constitution. Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed to defend the Tuileries Palace. As the crowd approached the palace, Napoleon fired into the crowd killing around 1,400 people. The rest fled.
1795 (2nd November)
The Directory
This committee of five members now took over the government of France.
1796 (March)
Young General Napoleon Bonaparte convinced the Directory to give him command of a French army in order to invade Italy.
1797 (Spring)
New elections were held and pro-royalists made significant gains. This alarmed the Directory who determined to stop any move towards a restoration of monarchy.
1797 (April)
Napoleon Bonaparte was victorious in Italy. His victory prompted Austria to agree peace terms.
1797 (September)
In a bid to stabilise the economy, two-thirds of the national debt was written off.
1798 (during)
Finance minister, Vincent Ramel, reformed the tax system. He introduced a tax on windows and doors and a tax on goods entering towns as well as reforming the system of tax collection.
1798 (early)
Napoleon told the Directory that France could not defeat Britain and got them to agree an invasion of Egypt with a view to establishing a French colony there.
1798 (1st July)
Napoleon landed in Egypt at the head of 54,000 men. Napoleon had brought along a number of scientists and scholars to investigate, draw and describe Egypt and its culture.
1798 (2nd July)
Napoleon took control of Alexandria.
1798 (24th July)
Battle of the Pyramids
Napoleon was victorious and took control of Cairo.
1798 (1st August)
Battle of the Nile
The British defeated the French in this naval battle.
1798 (October)
The people of Cairo rebelled against the French rule in Egypt and killed any Frenchmen they discovered on the streets.
1799 (21st May)
Siege of Acre
The French army had placed the city of Acre under siege but failed to take the city.
1799 (25th July)
Battle of Abukir
Napoleon and the French army had returned to Egypt and defeated an Egyptian force at Abukir.
1799 (23rd August)
Napoleon knew that ultimately the Egyptian campaign would fail. He decided to return to France while he could still be seen as a victorious general. Taking a small retinue with him, he left Cairo supposedly to make a voyage in the Nile. Instead he left for France leaving his army in Egypt under the control of General Kléber.
1799 (8th October)
Napoleon landed in France and made his way to Paris.
1799 (9th November)
Coup d’Etat
Emmanuel Sieyes, Napoleon Bonaparte and Roger Ducos organised a successful coup d’état. The Directory was overthrown and they proclaimed the French Consulate with themselves as three ruling consuls. However, Napoleon was soon calling himself First Consul and he dominated the new government. The years of the French Revolution were over.

 

Published Jun 9, 2020 @ 9:00 pm – Updated – Sep 14, 2020 @ 10:29 am

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). French Revolution 1789 – 1799 Causes and Events. Available: https://www.totallytimelines.com/french-revolution-causes-and-events. Last accessed October 25th, 2020