The French Revolution


When Louis XVI became king of France in 1774 the country had many problems. His biggest problem was that he didn’t have any money. France helped the American colonists in the American Revolution . There were long and hard winters and most of the country didn’t have anything to eat. So Louis decided to get money from the noblemen of France because the peasants didn’t have any.

Louis was a weak king and he didn’t know anything about ruling a country. He married Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Austrian empress Maria Theresia.


For many hundred years the states-general was an assembly that represented the “estates” or classes of France. There were three of them

  • The First Estate was made up of religious leaders and the clergy.
  • The Second Estate were the aristocrats and noblemen
  • The Third Estate were peasants, workers and members of the middle class. These people paid most of the taxes but they had very little power in France.

In June 1789 the Third Estate made itself independent and got together as the National Assembly.


Louis XIV - The Sun King

Louis XIV - The Sun King


The Revolution of 1789


On July 14th, 1789 open rebellion against the king began. The Bastille, a famous prison in Paris where weapons were kept, was attacked. The middle and lower classes of France now had the power to rule the country.

Louis XVI remained king but he had no real power. He was taken from his palace at Versailles to Paris, where he was kept under house arrest. Louis thought that the only way to save France was to get help from other countries , so together with his wife and other noblemen, he tried to escape from France. But he was caught and brought back to Paris.

The National Assembly made many changes in France:

  • They took land away from the church.
  • Torture was banned.
  • People of every class could join the army.
  • The people elected the judges for the courts.
  • A constitution was created.


Other European countries were afraid that the French Revolution might spread to their own countries and in 1791 Prussia and Austria went to war against France.


Storming of the Bastille

Storming of the Bastille


The Reign of Terror


During 1791 and 1792 many groups tried to gain power . One of the most powerful groups were the Jacobins.

People who tried to help the king were arrested and usually beheaded. Radical men entered prisons and killed the prisoners—many of them in a very brutal way.

On September 2, 1792 a new convention abolished the monarchy and France became a republic. The king had to go to court and in January 1793 he and his wife Marie Antoinette were beheaded for the crimes they committed.

Many leaders of different groups rose to power , but when one of them got too powerful, he was usually killed. George Danton and Maximillian Robbespierre were two of them ,who became leaders of France for some time.

During this period many changes took place in the country.

  • Paper money was introduced.
  • The days of the week were renamed and a new calendar was made.
  • Churches were closed.
  • Priests and the clergy were treated very cruelly.


The coming of Napoleon

The Reign of Terror ended after some years when a powerful general , who had won many battles, came home from the wars against other European countries. His name was Napoleon I and he became the new leader of France.


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Related Topics



  • abolish = the same as “ban”
  • aristocrat = the same as a nobleman
  • arrest = to put into prison
  • assembly =meeting of representatives
  • ban = to put away with something ; it doesn’t exist any more
  • battle = a fight between armies in a war
  • behead = to kill somebody by cutting off his head
  • clergy = the people who work for the church
  • colonists = people who go away from their home country and live in a place far away. But they are still ruled by the king or queen.
  • commit = to do
  • constitution = a system of laws that a country has
  • convention = a large meeting of people of many different groups
  • court =place where a judge and jury decide if a person is guilty or not
  • crime = if you do something that is against the law
  • decide =choose to do something
  • empress =a woman who is the ruler of a group of countries
  • escape = to get away from a country
  • gain = to get, to reach
  • independent =to govern yourself , to be free
  • introduce =set up something new
  • join = to go to
  • judge =a person who is in control of a court and decides how criminals should be punished
  • leader = the first person in a country
  • nobleman =a man who is a member of the highest social class
  • peasant = poor people who live in the country and don’t have any land
  • prison = a place where criminals are kept
  • rebellion = if people fight against their king or queen
  • represent =stand for, symbolize
  • rule =govern
  • spread =to become larger and move to other places
  • taxes = the money you have to pay to the government
  • torture =to hurt someone and make them tell you things that you want to know
  • treat =act towards someone
  • weak = not strong
  • weapons = something that you use to fight with or attack someone