French Revolution--Setting

[ Setting ] [ Political Phase ] [ Violent Phase ] [ Napoleon ]

Lady Gaga/Gwen Stefani? on the French Rev
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For a humorous, blogger's version of French Rev (lots of oversimplification and error)
Pt 1
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Pt 2 < >
Pt 3 Reign of Terror <>

Additional useful sites on the French Revolution:
< >--The George Mason University site is a treasure trove; have a look!
< >--ditto!!

Not a commercial success, The French Revolution, featuring Jane Seymour as the unfortunate Queen
might be worth watching; it begins with a young Maximilien Robespierre presenting a tribute to the King

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If you are "into" the French Revolution, a charming version of The Scarlet Pimpernil was
produced by the British in 1982, starring Anthony Andrews, Ian McEllan, Jane Seymour.
Though somewhat silly, it's lots of fun.

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One of the epochal events of European and world history, the French Revolution sprang from
social, political, economic, financial, intellectual, diplomatic issues that went back decades in French history.
The extravagance of the court and the queen formed a focus for popular antagonism against the ancien regime,
though the causes were more complicated than the libellistes presented them.

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alas, the Indiana sites have all flown away--I acknowledge them, nevertheless.

For more on the Queen, follow link to [ Marie Antoinette ]
Anyone want to do a Marie Antoinette movie night?

The contributors to the Encyclopédie and its editors (Diderot, D'alembert) identified and critiqued the institutions of 18th century France, including and especially the lack of popular sovereignty, civic equality, and constitutional government. Quesnay--influenced by Adam Smith and the Physiocrats--called for laissez-faire economic reforms. They criticized mercantilism and its regulation/control of the economy. Rousseau advocated for egalitarianism (though not for women); Condorcet called for the abolition of slavery; Voltaire hoped for freedom of expression. These Enlightenment philosophes and their publications provided a context for the events to come.

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Although the coffee house pictured right is English, you get the idea. It was a place where men met to drink coffee (duh,) smoke their pipes, and discuss Enlightenment ideas. Clearly, they are men of wealth. Probably in France, they would more likely meet in a tavern and drink wine.

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Enlightenment ideas were discussed in elegant, Parisian salons hostessed by women such as Madam Roland, Madam de Stael, and Madam de Géoffrin. The royal couple(Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) and their failure to produce a male heir led the press to focus on the king's alleged impotence in all areas--much discussed in the salons and publicized in the scurrilous press.

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The lack of civic equality--especially nobles' tax exemptions--fueled Enlightenment critics. A cartoonist (left) depicted the "Society of Privilege and Inequality," suggesting that the Third Estate, especially the peasants (comprising 80% of the population,) carried the "useless" First and Second Estates on their collective backs: the peasants paid taxes to the state, a tithe or Peter's Pence to the Church, and manorial dues and services to their feudal lords. While the peasants may have been minimally concerned with pop sov and lim gov, they definitely wanted the abolition of feudalism. Peasants had very limited rights to raise rabbits and pigeons and/or to hunt on their lord's domain. Note in the graphic (left) how bunnies are eating their lettuce, and birds eating their seed!

For tax purposes, France was divided into three estates:
the "privileged orders"--First and Second Estates--and "Commons"--Third Estate.
The "privileged orders" paid no direct taxes!
The Estates General, as a popular assembly, had not convened since 1614.

First Estate (Clergy,) Second Estate (Nobility,) Third Estate (Commons) (gone, alas)




Though comprising only 10% of the population, the radical "Jacques" or sans-culottes (of French historians) posed a greater threat to the status quo than any other segment of French society. The sans-culottes, many of them from Faubourg St. Antoine (see map) and immortalized in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, played a role in the Revolution in the storming of the Bastille, the "kidnapping" of the royal family, the "Septembre Massacres," and the Reign of Terror. The sans-culottes were the working class. Kagan emphasizes their connection to the Jacobins and the Paris Commune during the Reign of Terror. Note the baggy pants and wooden shoes (sabots) in the illustration. In Global Week, 2015, one of the speakers commented on how revolutions (French, Russian) tend to begin in urban settings, led--not by rural peasants (who did not storm the Bastille, btw)--but by working class men and women, aided by middle class and upper middle class elites. You, class of 2016, did not hear his presentation, alas.

For the next exciting chapter in the French Revolution, visit the Political link below!

To cite on your bibliography:
McKee, Peggy. "French Revolution--the Setting." Online Available.
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To cite in text:

For Questions or Comments, contact < >


Background Image "Storming of the Bastille. Online available.
Unfortunately, the Indiana sites have all flown away.

Hodges, Miles. "Political Movers and Shakers of the Enlightenment"--France, 1999. Online available.
flown away, alas.

Isbell, Dr. "French Civilization." Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1996. Online available.
alas, flown away.

McPhee, Peter. "The French Revolution." Coursera. July, 2014.