the french revolution- page under construction
biographical information (for card quizzes)
Information about the Marquis de Lafayette
Born: September 6, 1757
Died: May 20, 1834
The Marquis de Lafayette was a French general who played important roles in two revolutions in France and volunteered his time and money to help the American cause during the Revolutionary War (1775–83).
Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, in the province of Auvergne, France. His father was killed while fighting against the British in the Seven Years' War (1756–63). His mother and grandfather died when he was thirteen, leaving him a wealthy orphan. After studying in the Collège du Plessis in Paris, France, Lafayette joined the French army in 1771. In 1773 he married Adrienne de Noailles. However, he was not ready to settle down to the life of a wealthy man. After the outbreak of the American Revolution, he volunteered to help the new country in its fight against France's historic enemy, England.
King Louis XVI (1754–1793) refused to allow Lafayette to go to America, but Lafayette sailed anyway, after buying a ship with his own money. In June 1777 he landed in North Carolina. The Continental Congress had given him a commission as a major general, but his actual duties were as assistant to General George Washington (1732–1799). He assisted in battles against the British in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and eventually was sent back to France in an attempt to obtain greater French support for the Americans.
Upon returning to his homeland in 1779, Lafayette was arrested for having disobeyed the king, but all was soon forgiven. Although not all his proposals for aid to the Americans were approved, Lafayette returned to America in 1780 in command of French forces that were sent to help. In 1781 he was given command of the defense of Virginia with the rank of major general. He drew English commander Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805) into a trap at Yorktown, Virginia; Cornwallis was blockaded by the American forces and by French troops under Admiral de Grasse. Cornwallis's surrender was the high point of Lafayette's military career.
Return to France
When Lafayette returned to the French army in 1782, he was considered a hero. He became a leader in the movement against the French monarchy (absolute rule by a single person). In 1789 he took a seat in the Estates General, the French legislature. The adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (loosely based on the Declaration of Independence) was his idea, and he was given the command of the Parisian National Guard, a force of citizen-soldiers created to defend the new constitutional monarchy. Lafayette favored a moderate course (a gradual rate of change) for the Revolution but found that many others were not so willing to wait. His popularity declined, and his command to his troops to fire on a mob in 1791 led to his dismissal as command of the guard.
However, the beginning of war against Austria and Prussia in 1792 returned Lafayette to military life as commander of the army of the Ardennes. In August he crossed over into Austria with a few fellow officers. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war until 1797, when Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) obtained his release from jail but did not permit him to return to France. Lafayette had become so politically powerless that when he did return in 1799 without permission, he was given a military pension and allowed to live quietly in Lagrange, France.
When Napoleon stepped down as emperor in 1814, Lafayette was elected to the Legislative Chamber and demanded that Napoleon be kept out permanently. The return to power of the monarchy in 1815 after the Hundred Days (Napoleon's brief second reign) returned Lafayette to a position as a leader of the opposition to Kings Louis XVIII and Charles X. In 1824 Lafayette visited America as a guest of the government on a tour that lasted fifteen months. Congress rewarded him for his efforts during the American Revolution with money and land. When he returned to France in 1825, he was known as the "hero of two worlds."
Lafayette did not regain political prominence until revolution broke out again in 1830. Named to command the reestablished National Guard, he supported the naming of Louis Philippe as a constitutional monarch. He was dismissed from the guard the following year and became a critic of the new king. When Lafayette died in Paris on May 20, 1834, he had few followers left. His biggest influence was as a living symbol—of friendship between France and America, and of the men who wanted a better world but could not accept terror and cruelty as the ways to bring it into being.
For More Information
Gottschalk, Louis R. Lafayette Comes to America. Chicago.: University of Chicago Press, 1935.
Grote, JoAnn A. Lafayette: French Freedom Fighter. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001.
Kramer, Lloyd S. Lafayette in Two Worlds. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Maddox, Margaret. Lafayette in the French Revolution through the October Days. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.
Woodward, W. E. Lafayette. New York; Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1938.
Information about Maximilien de Robespierre
Born: May 6, 1758
Died: July 28, 1794
Maximilien de Robespierre was the leading voice of the government that ruled France during the French Revolution. He was largely responsible for the Reign of Terror, in which thousands of suspected French traitors were executed.
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was born on May 6, 1758, in Arras, France. His mother died when he was only six and his father, a lawyer, abandoned the family soon afterward. Robespierre received a law degree from the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, France, and practiced law in Arras. He began to assume a public role as a voice calling for political change and wrote articles detailing his opinions. At age thirty he was elected to the Estates General, the French legislature.
Role in early revolution
During the first period of the French Revolution (1789–91), in which the Estates General became the National Assembly, Robespierre made many speeches. His ideas were seen as extreme: his belief in civil liberty and equality, his refusal to compromise, and his anger toward all authority won him little support in the legislature. He favored giving the vote to all men, not just property owners, and he opposed slavery in the colonies. Robespierre was more popular at meetings of a Paris club called the Jacobins, whose members admired him and referred to him as "the Incorruptible" because of his honesty and firm sense of right and wrong.
When Robespierre's term as a legislator ended in September 1791, Robespierre remained in Paris, spending time at the Jacobins and publishing a weekly political journal. During this period he was a critic of King Louis XVI (1754–1793) and those who supported a limited, constitutional monarchy (rule by a single person). Robespierre, deeply suspicious of the king, spoke and wrote in opposition to the course of events until August 1792, when the monarchy was overthrown and the First French Republic was established.
Period in power
A group of representatives was quickly elected to draft a constitution and to govern the country in the meantime, and Robespierre was elected to attend. As a spokesman for the Jacobins in the National Convention, he was a harsh critic of the king, who was finally placed on trial, convicted, and executed in January 1793. In the months that followed Robespierre turned his anger on a group of moderates (those who prefer less abrupt change) called the Girondins, leading the effort to have their members removed from the convention, arrested, and executed.
In July 1793 Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, which acted to protect the republic during the dual problems of foreign war (most of Europe was fighting against the Revolutionary government in France) and civil war (which threatened to bring down that government). It executed people who were suspected of supporting the king or making plans to take over the government. Thousands were put to death with a quick trial or no trial at all. This became known as the Reign of Terror.
Robespierre faced increased opposition on both sides. Included among these were the Hébertists, a group that controlled the Paris city government and was upset with wartime shortages and increased prices, and the Indulgents, moderate Jacobins who felt that the Reign of Terror should be relaxed since the war had ended. Robespierre had leaders of both groups rounded up and executed, including Georges Jacques Danton (1759–1794), who had once been a close associate of his. Robespierre and his supporters claimed that they wanted to create a Republic of Virtue in which citizens would live honest, moral lives and serve the community.
Downfall and execution
Opposition to Robespierre continued to grow. More and more of the public, now that the military crisis was over, wanted a relaxation, not an increase, of the terror. In July 1794 Robespierre spoke for the need of the Committee of Public Safety to continue its activities. His opponents took a stand against him and on July 27 they voted for his arrest. He and his followers were quickly released, however, and they gathered to plan a rising of their own. But the opposition leaders rallied their forces; Robespierre and his supporters were captured that night and executed the next day. The period of the Thermidorian Reaction, during which the Terror was ended and France returned to a more moderate government, began with the deaths of Robespierre and his supporters.
For More Information
Hardman, John. Robespierre. New York: Longman, 1999.
Haydon, Colin, and William Doyle, eds. Robespierre. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Jordan, David P. The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. New York: Free Press, 1985.
McGowen, Tom. Robespierre and the French Revolution in World History. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2000.
Information about King Louis XVI
Louis XVI (1754-1793)
Louis was king of France when the monarchy was overthrown during the French Revolution. He was guillotined in 1793.
Louis was born at Versailles on 23 August 1754. In 1770, he married Marie Antoinette, daughter of the emperor and empress of Austria, a match intended to consolidate an alliance between France and Austria. In 1774, Louis succeeded his grandfather Louis XV as king of France.
Louis initially supported attempts by his ministers Jacques Turgot and later Jacques Necker to relieve France's financial problems. French support for the colonists in the American War of Independence had brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, accusations of frivolity, extravagance and scandalous behaviour against the queen, Marie Antoinette, further discredited the monarchy.
In 1789, to avert the deepening crisis, Louis agreed to summon the 'estates-general' (a form of parliament, but without real power) in order to try and raise taxes. This was the first time the body had met since 1614. Angered by Louis' refusal to allow the three estates - the first (clergy), second (nobles) and third (commons) - to meet simultaneously, the Third Estate proclaimed itself a national assembly, declaring that only it had the right to represent the nation.
Rumours that the king intended to suppress the assembly provoked the popular storming of the Bastille prison, a symbol of repressive royal power, on 14 July 1789. In October, Louis and his family were forced by the mob to return to Paris from their palace at Versailles. In June 1791, they attempted to escape, which was considered proof of Louis' treasonable dealings with foreign powers. He was forced to accept a new constitution, thereby establishing a constitutional monarchy.
Nonetheless, against a background of military defeat by Austria and Prussia, the revolutionary leadership was becoming increasingly radicalised. In September 1792, the new National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic. Louis was found guilty of treason and executed at the guillotine on 21 January 1793. Marie Antoinette was executed nine months later.
Information about Queen Marie Antoinette
Born: November 2, 1755
Vienna (now in Austria)
Died: October 16, 1793
Marie Antoinette was the queen of France at the outbreak of the French Revolution (1787–99). Her extravagant lifestyle, which included lavish parties and expensive clothes and jewelry, made her unpopular with most French citizens. When the king was overthrown, Marie Antoinette was put in jail and eventually beheaded.
A royal marriage
Marie Antoinette was born on November 2, 1755, in Vienna (now in Austria), the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. She was the eleventh daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Francis I (1708–1765) and the empress Maria Theresa (1717–1780). In 1770 she married Louis XVI (1754–1793). Louis was the French dauphin, or the oldest son of the king of France. He became king fours years later in 1774, which made Marie Antoinette the queen.
The personalities of the two rulers were very different. Louis XVI was withdrawn and emotionless. Marie Antoinette was happy and careless in her actions and choice of friends. At first the new queen was well liked by the French citizens. She organized elegant dances and gave many gifts and favors to her friends. However, people began to resent her increasingly extravagant ways. She soon became unpopular in the court and the country, annoying many of the nobles, including the King's brothers. She also bothered French aristocrats, or nobles, who were upset over a recent alliance with Austria. Austria was long viewed as France's enemy. Among the general French population she became the symbol for the extravagance of the royal family.
The queen intervenes
Marie Antoinette did not disrupt foreign affairs as frequently as has been claimed. When she first entered France she interrupted an official German greeting with, "Speak French, Monsieur. From now on I hear no language other than French." She sometimes tried, usually without great success, to obtain French support for her homeland.
The queen's influence on domestic policy before 1789 has also been exaggerated. Her interference in politics was usually in order to obtain jobs and money for her friends. It is true, however, that she usually opposed the efforts of reforming ministers such as A. R. J. Turgot (1727–1781) and became involved in court scandals against them. Activities such as the "diamond necklace affair," where the queen was accused of having an improper relationship with a wealthy church official in exchange for an expensive necklace, increased her unpopularity and led to a stream of pamphlets and articles against her. The fact that after the birth of her children Marie Antoinette's way of life became more restrained did not alter the popular image of an immoral and extravagant woman.
The last days of the monarchy
In the summer of 1788 France was having an economic crisis. Louis XVI yielded to pressure and assembled the Estates General, which was a governmental body that represented France's three Estates—the nobles, the church, and the French common people. Marie Antoinette agreed to the return of Jacques Necker (1732–1804) as chief minister and to granting the Third Estate, which represented the commoners, as many representatives as the other two Estates combined. However, after such events as the taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 (French citizens overran a Paris prison and took the weapons stored there), Marie Antoinette supported the conservative court faction that insisted on keeping the royal family in power.
On October 1, 1789, the queen attended a banquet at Versailles, France, during which the French Revolution was attacked and insulted. A few days later (October 4–5) a Parisian crowd forced the royal court to move to Paris, where they could control it more easily. Marie Antoinette's role in the efforts of the monarchy to work with such moderates as the Comte de Mirabeau (1749–1791) and later with the constitutional monarchist A. P. Barnave (1761–1793) is unclear. But it appears that she lacked confidence in them. On June 21, 1791, the king and queen were captured at Varennes (a border town in France) after trying to escape. Convinced that only foreign assistance could save the monarchy, the queen sought the aid of her brother, the Holy Roman emperor Leopold II (1747–1792). At this time, many French military officers left the country. Thinking that France would be easily defeated, she favored a declaration of war against Austria in April 1792. On August 10, 1792, a Paris crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace and ended the monarchy.
The queen is dead
On August 13, 1792, Marie Antoinette began a captivity that was to end only with her death. She was jailed in various Parisian prisons. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to escape, Marie Antoinette appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal. She was charged with aiding the enemy and inciting civil war within France. The tribunal found her guilty and condemned her to death. On October 16, 1793, she went to the guillotine. (The guillotine was a machine used during the French Revolution to execute people by beheading them.) Marie Antoinette aroused sympathy by her dignity and courage in prison and before the executioner.
For More Information
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
Lever, Evelyne. Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Thomas, Chantal. The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette. New York: Zone Books, 1999.
Information about Napleon Bonaparte
Born: August 15, 1769
Died: May 5, 1821
Island of St. Helena
Napoleon Bonaparte, French emperor, was one of the greatest military leaders in history. He helped remake the map of Europe and established many government and legal reforms, but constant battles eventually led to his downfall.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born Napoleon Buonaparte on August 15, 1769, in the Corsican city of Ajaccio. He was the fourth of eleven children of Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Romolino. His father, a member of a noble Italian family, remained on good terms with the French when they took over control of Corsica.
Napoleon began his education at a boys' school in Ajaccio. Then, at age ten, he was allowed to enter French military schools for aristocrats and was sent in 1779, with his older brother Joseph, to the College of Autun in Burgundy, France. Napoleon later transferred to the College of Brienne, another French military school. While at school in France, he was made fun of by the other students for his lower social standing and because he spoke Spanish and did not know French well. His small size earned him the nickname of the "Little Corporal." Despite this teasing, Napoleon received an excellent education. When his father died, Napoleon led his household.
By 1785 Napoleon was a second lieutenant in the French army, but he often returned to Corsica. In 1792 he took part in a power struggle between forces supporting Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807), a leader in the fight for Corsican independence, and those supporting the French. After Paoli was victorious, he turned against Napoleon and the Bonaparte family, forcing them to flee back to France. Napoleon then turned his attention to a career in the army there. The French Revolution (1789–93), a movement to overthrow King Louis XVI (1754–1793) and establish a republic, had begun. Upon his return from Corsica in 1793, Napoleon made a name for himself and won a promotion by helping to defeat the British at Toulon and regain that territory for France.
After being imprisoned for ten days on suspicion of treason and refusing assignment to lead the Army of the West, Napoleon was assigned to work for the map department of the French war office. His military career nearly ended, but when forces loyal to the king attempted to regain power in Paris in 1795, Napoleon was called in to stop the
uprising. As a reward he was appointed commander of the Army of the Interior. Later that year Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais (1763–1814), and they were married in March 1796. Within a few days Napoleon left Josephine in Paris and started his new command of the Army of Italy. Soon the French troops were winning battle after battle against the Italians and Austrians. Napoleon advanced on Vienna, Austria, and engineered the signing of a treaty that gave France control of Italy.
Napoleon returned to Paris a hero, and he soon decided to invade Egypt. He sailed from Toulon, France, in May 1798 with an army of thirty-five thousand men. With only a few losses, all of lower Egypt came under Napoleon's control. He set about reorganizing the government, the postal service, and the system for collecting taxes. He also helped build new hospitals for the poor. However, at this time a group of countries had banded together to oppose France. Austrian and Russian forces had regained control of almost all of Italy. Then, in August 1798, the British destroyed French ships in the Battle of the Nile, leaving the French army cut off from its homeland. Napoleon left the army under the command of General Jean Kléber and returned to France with a handful of officers.
Leadership of France
Landing at Fréjus, France, in October 1799, Napoleon went directly to Paris, where he helped overthrow the Directory, a five-man executive body that had replaced the king. Napoleon was named first consul, or head of the government, and he received almost unlimited powers. After Austria and England ignored his calls for peace, he led an army into Italy and defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Marengo (1800). This brought Italy back under French control. The Treaty of Amiens in March 1802 ended the war with England for the time being. Napoleon also restored harmony between the Roman Catholic Church and the French government. He improved conditions within France as well by, among other things, establishing the Bank of France, reorganizing education, and reforming France's legal system with a new set of laws known as the Code Napoleon.
By 1802 the popular Napoleon was given the position of first consul for life, with the right to name his replacement. In 1804 he had his title changed to emperor. War resumed after a new coalition was formed against France. In 1805 the British destroyed French naval power in the Battle of Trafalgar. Napoleon, however, was able to defeat Russia and Austria in the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1806 Napoleon's forces destroyed the Prussian army; after the Russians came to the aid of Prussia and were defeated themselves, Alexander I (1777–1825) of Russia made peace at Tilsit in June 1807. Napoleon was now free to reorganize western and central Europe as he pleased. After Sweden was defeated in 1808 with Russia's help, only England remained to oppose Napoleon.
Napoleon was unable to invade England because of its superior naval forces. He decided to introduce the Continental System, a blockade designed to close all the ports of Europe to British trade. He hoped this would force the British to make peace on French terms. In Spain in 1808 the Peninsular War broke out over Spanish opposition to the placement of Napoleon's brother Joseph on the throne. The English helped Spain in this battle, which kept French troops occupied until 1814. In addition, Alexander I's decision to end Russia's cooperation with the Continental System led Napoleon to launch an invasion of that country in 1812. Lack of supplies, cold weather, and disease led to the deaths of five hundred thousand of Napoleon's troops.
Fall from glory
Napoleon had his marriage to Josephine dissolved and then, in March 1810, he married Marie Louise, the daughter of Emperor Francis II of Austria. Despite this union, Austria declared war on him in 1813. In March 1814 Paris fell to a coalition made up of Britain, Prussia, Sweden, and Austria. Napoleon stepped down in April. Louis XVIII (1755–1824), the brother of Louis XVI, was placed on the French throne. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, but after ten months he made plans to return to power. He landed in southern France in February 1815 with 1,050 soldiers and marched to Paris, where he reinstated himself to power. Louis XVIII fled, and Napoleon's new reign began. The other European powers gathered to oppose him, and Napoleon was forced to return to war.
The Battle of Waterloo was over within a week. On June 18, 1815, the combined British and Prussian armies defeated Napoleon. He returned to Paris and stepped down for a second time on June 22. He had held power for exactly one hundred days. Napoleon at first planned to go to America, but he surrendered to the British on July 3. He was sent into exile on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. There he spent his remaining years until he died of cancer on May 5, 1821.
For More Information
Asprey, Robert B. The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Asprey, Robert B. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Castelot, André. Napoleon. Paris: Rombaldi, 1974.
Markham, Felix. Napoleon. New York: New American Library, 1964.
Thompson, J. M. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952. Reprint, New York: Blackwell, 1988.