What is a revolution?
Perhaps readers with Science background would reply that the course of the Earth around the Sun is called a revolution. However, in History, the term takes on a whole different meaning. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a revolution as “a sudden, radical, or complete change” and “a fundamental change in political organization”. Throughout the course of history, there have been incidents of these sudden changes. An avid student of History would list the two most famous of them all—that is, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution.
This article is going to deal with some facts regarding the French Revolution. It occurred in the year 1789. It successfully overthrew a regime that had reduced itself to lavish partying and spending extravagantly on luxurious wealth, while the common man suffered with a heavy tax burden on his head. The following are some of the lesser-known facts about the Revolution and the Bourbon dynasty (the name of the ruling dynasty that was overthrown):
- France was the most powerful kingdom in Europe. Under the Bourbon kings, it was the most populous, the wealthiest, and thus, the most powerful. Louis XIV and Louis XV, the predecessors of the last Bourbon king, had an iron fist over his subjects. They were the ones who brought in the concept of divine rule and divine law in France. In other words, the king’s words were the law and defying him would be like defying god, which was unthinkable at the time.
- The French population was divided into three estates. The king was equivalent to the divine entity and under him were the rest of the population of France. The First Estate consisted of the Church and the clergy, the Second Estate consisted of the nobles, and the Third Estate consisted of the common people. Naturally, the Third Estate was the largest.
- The French Revolution was the first in the history of the world to have impacted every nation on a wide scale. In fact, every nationalist leader based most of their ideology on the ideas of the French Revolution. The impact was so vast that it was remembered and passed on for generations after the end of the Revolution. In the 19th Century, Indian nationalist leaders, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, were greatly influenced by it. It also fuelled the Russian Revolution in 1917.
- A lot of women took part in the Revolution. History is replete with scores of women participating in the political arena one way or another, but they seem to be mentioned very rarely in the accounts. One woman that holds some prominence in the events immediately succeeding the French Revolution is Olympe de Gouges. The revolutionaries pressured King Louis XVI to form a constitution. It was drafted by the National Assembly in 1791 and it greatly limited the absolute power of the monarch. Alongside this, the Assembly also drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (freedom of speech, right to life, etc.). Olympe de Gouges was the one to protest against the latter, as they excluded the women from attaining basic rights that each human being was entitled to. Her actions later led to her execution in 1793.
- King Louis XVI survived the Revolution. He and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, weren’t executed till after the revolution, when the Jacobins took over the French government. It was now converted into a republic with a constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The last King and Queen of France were executed in the year 1793, on different days.