Past Questions


(i) Mention two causes of the American War of Independence. (2)
(ii) Give two reasons why the Americans defeated the British during the War of Independence. (2)
(iii) Explain the influence of the American Revolution on events in France during the late
eighteenth century. (6)
(iv) Write an account of two of the following:
(a) The “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution.
(b) The consequences of the French Revolution.
(c) The main events during the 1798 Rebellion.
(d) The results of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.      (2×10)


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 12:26 am Comments (0)
Tags: , , ,


Past Questions



The execution of French king Louis XVI (London Times, 25th January, 1793)
About half past nine, the king arrived at the place of execution. Louis mounted the scaffold calmly, the trumpets sounding and drums beating during the whole time. He made a sign of wishing to speak to the multitude, the drums ceased, and Louis spoke these few words. I die innocent; I pardon my enemies. His executioners then laid hold of him and, an instant after, his head was separated from his body.
Since the king’s execution, a general consternation has prevailed throughout Paris; the Sans Culottes are the only persons that rejoice. The honest citizens, safe within their houses, could not suppress their heartfelt grief, and mourned in private with their families the murder of their much loved Sovereign. The Republican tyrants of France have murdered their king without even the shadow of justice, and of course they cannot expect friendship with any civilised part of the world. The vengeance of Europe will now rapidly fall on them.

Wolfe Tone and the French attempt to land at Bantry Bay, December 1796.

Extract from a speech by Wolfe Tone, 1798:
From my earliest youth, I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain, as the curse of the Irish nation; felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free or happy. I determined to apply all the powers, which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries. That Ireland was not able, of herself, to throw off the yoke, I knew. I therefore sought for aid, wherever it was to be found. Under the flag of the French Republic, I sought to save and liberate my own country.

A. Source D
(i) ‘The king met his death bravely’
Give one piece of evidence from the newspaper article to support this view. (2)
(ii) According to the article, who were the only persons to rejoice following the king’s
execution? (2)
(iii) Was the writer a supporter or an opponent of the king’s execution?
Give one piece of evidence from the source to explain your answer. (5)
B. Source E and Source F
(i) Why did the fleet sent by the French in 1796, shown in Source E, fail to land? (2)
(ii) In source F, what does Wolfe Tone consider to be the ‘curse of the Irish Nation’? (3)
(iii) Give two reasons why Wolfe Tone sought military help from the French. (4)

C. Write an account of one of the following topics:
(i) Causes of the American War of Independence.
(ii) The Reign of Terror in France, September 1793 to July 1794.
(iii) Reasons for the failure of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.           (12)



Source D
A picture of the Boston Massacre 1770 (engraving by Paul Revere).

Source E
A political cartoon from 1789 called “The Third Estate Awakens.”

An extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
“Therefore the National Assembly recognises and proclaims the following rights of man and
of the citizen:
Men are born free and equal in rights.
The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural rights of man. These rights are: liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression. Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others. No man ought to be uneasy about his opinions, even his religious beliefs, provided that this actions do not interfere with the public order established by law. The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man: every citizen can therefore talk, write and publish freely.”

A. Study source D which is an engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre.
(i) Do you think that the artist was a supporter or an opponent of British rule in America?
Give one reason to support your answer. (2)
(ii) Apart from the Boston Massacre, give two reasons why the American colonies
revolted against British rule in 1775. (4)
B. Source E is a political cartoon from France at the time of the French Revolution called “the
Third Estate Awakens.”

Source F is an extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was
passed by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789.
(i) In the cartoon, why do you think the nobleman and the priest look afraid? (2)
(ii) In Source F, what are the “natural rights of man”? (2)
(iii) From the Declaration, identify two freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of France? (2)
(iv) The Declaration was influenced by the ideas of Enlightenment writers. Name one famous Enlightenment writer. (4)

C. (i) Write an account of one of the following:
(a) The impact of the American War of Independence on France.
(b) The influence of the French Revolution on Ireland.
(c) The consequences of the unsuccessful rebellion of 1798, in Ireland.      (14)


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.


These are some of the short answer questions that have come up over the last few years:

Ordinary Level

  1. Explain one of the following terms from the Age of Revolution: Boston Tea Party; Guillotine; United Irishmen.
  2. In relation to one of the revolutions in America or France or Ireland in the eighteenth century, name a leader of that revolution and an event associated with that revolution.
  3. In relation to one of the revolutions in America or France or Ireland in the eighteenth century, name a leader of that revolution and one of his aims.
  4. Put the following events in the correct order. Please start with the earliest: The French Revolution; The 1798 Rebellion; The American War of Independence.

Higher Level

  1. Give two causes of the American Revolution
  2. What change came about as a result of the Act of Union 1801?
  3. Choose one of the revolutions (America or France or Ireland) and give two causes of that revolution.
  4. Which county was the scene of the most intense rebel activity during the 1798 rising?
  5. What was the Reign of Terror in France in the 1790s?
  6. Name two effects of the American War of Independence on either Ireland or France.
  7. Give two reasons why the Americans revolted against Britain in 1775.
  8. Give two reasons why there was a rebellion in Ireland in 1798.


History@ Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald

This content was created/compiled by Martin Daly.

In Brief:

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was the son of the Duke of Leinster and fought with the British army in America. He later became interested in the ideas of The French Revolution and came to the conclusion that a similar revolution was needed in Ireland. He joined the United Irishmen. He spent 1797 organising a rebellion in Leinster but was betrayed by informers. He was warned to escape but refused and was caught after his hiding place was betrayed. He was shot during his arrest and died of his wounds in prison a few days later.


More information:

  • Edward Fitzgerald, was fifth son of the Duke of Leinster, was born in October 1763 at Carton house, Leixlip. Co Kildare.
  • The family was an important part of the Protestant Ascendancy and Edward was born to a life of luxury and privilege.
  • He was educated in blackrock, Co Dublin.
  • In 1797 he fought in the American War of Independence but was injured and was rescued by a black man called Tony, who remained a servant of Fitzgerald until he died.
  • Edward fell in love with cousin but was rejected her name was Gerorgina Lennox.
  • In 1789 he traveled to Canada where he crossed the entire country only by compass for direction. During the trip he became Huran Indians near Detroit.
  • He returned from Canada he became interested in the ideas of the French Revolution.
  • He travelled to Paris and me met Thomas Paine who wrote book called Common Sense that inspired the American Revolution in 1776.
  • He returned to Ireland and was convinced of the need for change in Ireland, he joined the United Irishmen and called for a Revolution against British rule.
  • Lord Edward Fitzgerald spend 1797 organising a rebellion in Leinster, but his plans were betrayed by a number of informers in the United Irishmen. His family were of important part of the Protestant Ascendancy.
  • He was warned to escape, but he refused.
  • On the 18th of May 1798 he was hiding in Dublin on Thomas Street and the address was given to Authorities by Francis Magan Catholic barrister. Fitzgerald was shot during his arrest and died of his wounds in prison a number of days later.


American War of Independence

Fitzgerald joined the British Army in 1779, he served on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the  American Revolutionary War. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781, his life being saved by a newly-liberated black slave named Tony Small (‘Faithful Tony’), whom Lord Edward employed to the end of his life.

He was evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandoned the city.

Post-War Military Career

In 1783 FitzGerald returned to Ireland, where his brother, the 2nd Duke of Leinster, had procured his election to the Irish Parliament as a Member for Athy, a seat he held until 1790. He represented then Kildare County from 1790 to 1798. In Parliament he acted with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but took no prominent part in debate. After spending a short time at Woolwich to complete his military education, he made a tour through Spain in 1787; and then, dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox (who later married the 3rd Earl Bathurst), he sailed for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

Explorer in the “New World”

The romantic temperament of the young Irishman found congenial soil in the wild surroundings of unexplored Canadian forests, and the enthusiasm thus engendered for the “natural” life of savagery may have been already fortified by study of  Rousseau’s writings, for which at a later period Lord Edward expressed his admiration. In February 1789, guided by compass, he traversed the country, practically unknown to white men, from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternized; and in a subsequent expedition he was formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear tribe of Hurons as one of their chiefs, and made his way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he then returned to England.

Marries in France

His connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed Fitzgerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraced enthusiastically when he visited Paris in October 1792. He lodged with Thomas Paine and listened to the debates in the Convention. At a convivial gathering on the 18 November he supported a toast to “the speedy abolition of all hereditary titles and feudal distinctions”, and gave proof of his zeal by expressly repudiating his own title, a performance for which he was dismissed from the army

While in Paris, FitzGerald became enamoured of a young girl whom he chanced to see at the theatre,Procuring an introduction he discovered her to be a protégé of Madame de Sillery, Comtesse de Genlis. The girls name was Pamela (1773–1831).On 27 December 1792 FitzGerald and Pamela were married at Tournay, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French; and in January 1793 the couple reached Dublin.

The couple eventually had a son, named Edward and two daughters, Pamela and Louisa. After her husband’s death in Newgate Gaol, Dublin, Pamela, Lady Edward FitzGerald, was no longer welcome at Boyle Farm, the house of his brother Lord Henry FitzGerald in Thames Ditton. But her daughters found much happiness in the village, living with an aunt. After she died, her mortal remains were buried at St Nicholas Churchyard, Thames Ditton.

Return to Ireland

Ireland was by now seething with dissent which was finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen who had been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. Lord Edward FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returned to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately sprang to their defence but within a week of his return he was ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation, which Grattan had approved. However, it was not until 1796 that he joined the United Irishmen, who by now had given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795 was nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

Revolutionary activities

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone was in Paris endeavoring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceeded to Hamburg, where they opened negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, had told her that “all was known” about his plans, and advised her to persuade him not to go abroad. Also, in Hamburg Lord Edward met with Johan Anders Jägerhorn (or baron de Spurila, as he called himself), a Finnish Swede who had advocated Finnish autonomy and now acted as an intermediary between Lord Edward and the French.

The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg were made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. Pamela was entrusted with all her husband’s secrets and took an active part in furthering his designs; and she appears to have fully deserved the confidence placed in her, though there is reason to suppose that at times she counselled prudence. The result of the Hamburg negotiations was General Hoche’s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learnt from the informer MacNally that Lord Edward was among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which was now quickly maturing. He was specially concerned with the military organisation, in which he held the post of colonel of the Kildare regiment and head of the military committee. He had papers showing that men were ready to rise. They possessed some arms, but the supply was insufficient, and the leaders were hoping for a French invasion to make good the deficiency and to give support to a popular uprising. But French help proving dilatory and uncertain, the rebel leaders in Ireland were divided in opinion as to the expediency of taking the field without waiting for foreign aid. Lord Edward was among the advocates of the bolder course and there is some evidence that he favoured a project for the massacre of the Irish peers while in procession to the House of Lords for the trial of Lord Kingston in May 1798, despite the fact many were his own relations

Net tightens

It was probably abhorrence of such measures that converted Thomas Reynolds from a conspirator to an informer; at all events, by him and several others the authorities were kept posted in what was going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delayed the arrest of the ringleaders. But on the 12 March 1798 Reynolds’s information led to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. Lord Edward FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, was not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government were anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, and also avoid the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities, communicating their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to “traitors”. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Clare, said to a member of his family, “for God’s sake get this young man out of the country; the ports shall be thrown open, and no hindrance whatever offered.”

FitzGerald however refused to desert others who could not escape, and whom he had himself led into danger. On 30 March the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they saw fit to crush the United Irishmen, led to a campaign of vicious brutality in many parts of the country, and forced the United Irish executive to bring forward plans for the rising, with or without French aid.

Arrest and Death

Arrest of Lord Edward FitzGerald

The capture of Lord Edward FitzGerald, the most dangerous United Irish leader still at liberty, was now the top priority of Dublin Castle and on 9 May a reward of £1,000 was offered for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s, FitzGerald had been in hiding, but had twice visited his wife in disguise and was himself visited by his stepfather. Meanwhile, the date for the rising was finally fixed for 23 May and Fitzgerald awaited the day hiding in a house in Thomas Street, Dublin.

However, his hiding place was disclosed by a Catholic barrister and informer named Magan and on 18 May Town Major Henry C. Sirr led a military party to the house where Lord Edward was in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumped out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers Major Swan and Captain Ryan to surrender peacefully, FitzGerald stabbed Swan and mortally wounded Ryan with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He was only secured after Sirr shot him in the shoulder and was beaten unconscious by the rifle butts of the soldiers.

Fitzgerald's arrest

He was conveyed to Newgate Prison, Dublin where he was denied proper medical treatment. At the age of 34 he died of his wounds as the rebellion raged outside on the 4 June 1798. He was buried the next day in the cemetery of St Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property was passed, but was eventually repealed in 1819.

Shortly after his death, Lord Edward’s sister, Lady Lucy FitzGerald, authored the following statement regarding her brother’s fidelity to Ireland: Irishmen, Countrymen, it is Edward FitzGerald’s sister who addresses you: it is a woman but that woman is his sister: she would therefore die for you as he did. I don’t mean to remind you of what he did for you. ‘Twas no more than his duty. Without ambition he resigned every blessing this world could afford to be of use to you, to his Countrymen whom he loved better than himself, but in this he did no more than his duty; he was a Paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm Comments (1)
Tags: , , ,

Results of the French Revolution

  • The ideas of the Revolution especially those of the Republic: Liberty, equality and brotherhood spread across Europe.
  • Other countries were inspired to fight for these rights – including Ireland.
  • The French offered military assistance to any nation that wanted to fight to establish the principles of a republic.
  • The Bourgeoisie (middle-classes) of France had gotten their hands on the power that had been denied to them before the Revolution.
  • The French built up a huge army through the use of conscription (all men over the age of eighteen had to join the army). This army and its clever leader Napoleon Bonaparte had huge successes across Europe before being eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.


History@ Banagher College, Colaiste na Sionna

Published in: on May 8, 2010 at 6:02 pm Comments (0)
Tags: , ,

Maximilien Robespierre

This content was compiled/created by Mairéad Daly.

Maximilien Robespierre

In Brief:

Maximilien  Robespierre (6 May 1758 – 28 July 1794) is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He was a qualified lawyer and as the French Revolution took hold he led the radical party, the Jacobins, in the National Covention. He also  dominated the Committee of Public Safety that was set up to clamp down on ‘anti-revolutionary activities’ during the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.


Early Life

Maximilien de Robespierre was born in Arras, France.
He is sometimes rumoured to have been of Irish descent.

Maximilien was the oldest of four children and was conceived out of wedlock. In 1764, Madame de Robespierre died in childbirth. Her husband left Arras and wandered around Europe until his death in Munich in 1777, leaving the children to be brought up by their maternal grandfather and aunts.

Maximilien attended the collège of Arras when he was eight years old, already knowing how to read and write. In October of 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop, he got a scholarship at the Lycee Louis-le- Grand in Paris. Here he learned to admire the idealised Roman Republic.
Robespierre became more intrigued by the idea of a virtuous self, a man who stands alone accompanied only by his conscience.
Robespierre was a student of Rousseau, one of the most important writers of the enlightenment.

Shortly after his coronation, Louis XVI visited Louis-le-Grand. Robespierre, then 17 years old, had been chosen out of five hundred pupils to deliver a speech to welcome the king. On the day of the speech, Robespierre and the crowd waited for the king and queen for several hours in the rain. When they arrived, the royal couple remained in their coach for the ceremony and immediately left after it. Robespierre would become one of those who eventually sought the death of the king.

He gained the nickname ‘the incorruptible’ because he was regarded as a very honest and sincere man.

Early Politics

Robespierre believed that the people of France were fundamentally good and therefore the people needed only to speak in order to advance the well being of the nation.

In 1781, the bishop of Arras appointed him as judge but he quickly left his position because he could not bring himself to sentence people to death.

In 1789, aged only 30, Robespierre was elected as one of the representatives of the Third Estate at the meeting of the Estates-General called by Louis XVI. One of his fellow representatives, Mirabeau, said, “That young man believes what he says – he will go far!’. He was immensely popular with the sans culottes and the Paris mob.

He later became a member of the National Assembly. He joined a group called the Jacobins, who sat on the left side of the of the Assembly, and called for rapid change to the way France was governed. In January 1793, he, along with other allies like Jean-Paul Marat and Georges Danton, argued for the execution of King Louis following the Flight to Varennes.

The execution of Louis XVI

Robespierre’s Demise

On 2 June 1793, Robespierre and his fellow Jacobins seized power and he was voted leader of the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre really believed that he was acting to save France and the Revolution during The Terror.

During this period, he ordered the arrest of nearly half a million people and the execution of over 40,000. He was eventually arrested himself and, on 27 July 1794, he was executed by guillotine.

The ececution of Robespierre




Key Dates

6 May 1758 – Robespierre was born.
Oct. 1769 – He got a scholarship at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris.
1781 – He was appointed judge, but quickly left his position because he could not bring himself to sentence people to death.
1789 – He was elected as one of  the representatives of the Third Estate at meeting of the Estates General called by Louis XVI.
1793 – He became a member of the National Assembly and joined a group called the Jacobins.
2 June 1793 – Robespierre and his fellow Jacobins seized power and he was voted leader of the Committee of Public Safety.
24 July 1794 – He was executed by guillotine.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on at 2:11 pm Comments (4)
Tags: , ,

The Reign of Terror

Execution of Louis XVI

After the execution of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, France became a republic. This frightened the other monarchies of Europe who were afraid that the ideas of the Revolution might spread; this led to a war against England, Netherlands and Austria.

The Sans Cullottes were supporters of a group of radicals called the Jacobins who were led by a lawyer called Maximilien Robespierre. He believed that the country was not ready for war, that the revolution had to grow stronger first. To stamp out any opposition, the National Convention set up a 12-man Committee of Public Safety. Included on this comitteee was ‘the incorruptible’ Robespierre.

The committee passed several laws to ensure the continuation of the Revolution. These included:

  • The Law of Maximum which kept the price of bread down
  • The Law of Suspects which allowed the committee to arrest and execute anybody suspected of being against the Revolution

This law became increasingly used and as the committee became more paranoid, the death penalty and the guillotine were used more and more. This led to some 40,000 people (many of them innocent) being executed in the following year and was known as the Reign of Terror. Nobody knew who was safe from the committee.

Arrest of Robespierre

Eventuall Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety went too far. After executing numerous Catholic peasants in La Vendeé, some people in the National Convention had enough. Robespierre tried to increase the committee’s power to allow even more executions. On the 28th July, 1794 Robespierre and his followers were arrested and forced to face the same fate as  thousands of those who had come before their committee – the guillotine.


The French Revolution -The Reign of Terror



History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on at 2:09 pm Comments (0)
Tags: , ,

Marie Antoinette

This content was compiled by Patrick Frehill.

Marie Antoinette

In Brief:

Marie Antoinette – (born in Vienna 2 November 1755 – died in Paris, 16 October 1793) was an Archduchess of Austria and the Queen of France and Navarre. She was the fifteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I.

At the age of fourteen, on the day of her marriage to Louis-Auguste (Louis XVI), Dauphin of France, she became Dauphine de France. At the death of King Louis XV, in May 1774, her husband ascended the French throne as Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette assumed the title of Queen of France and Navarre. After seven years of marriage she gave birth to a daughter, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the first of their four children.

Her background as a the sister of the Austrian (France’s enemy) king made her immediately disliked in France; and when the hardship and poverty of the poor people of France grew, her extravagant lifestyle at Versailles increased the level of bitterness towards her across the country. After the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789. the royal family remained trapped in Paris. After trying with her husband to escape to Holland, they were captured at Varennes, returned to Paris and imprisoned.

During the Reign of Terror, at the height of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette’s husband was deposed (lost his position) as king.. Marie Antoinette was tried, convicted of treason and executed by guillotine on 16 October 1793, nine months after her husband.

In 1789 a mob descended on the palace at Versailles and demanded the royal family move to the Tuilerie palace inside Paris. From that point on the King and Queen were virtual prisoners. Antoinette sought aid from other European rulers including her brother, the Austrian Emperor, and her sister, Queen of Naples. After a failed attempt to flee Paris in 1791 Antoinette continued to seek aid from abroad. When Austria and Prussia declared war on France, she was accused of passing military secrets to the enemy. On August 10, 1792 the royal family was arrested on suspicion of treason and imprisoned. On January 21, 1793 King Louis XVI was convicted and executed on the guillotine.

Her children (Marie Therese and Louis XVII) were taken from her. Louis XVII was subjected to abuse by the family’s jailers and later died, supposedly of Tuberculosis and malnutrition. Marie Therese, her firstborn daughter was the only family member to survive.

The stories of Antoinette’s excesses are vastly overstated. In fact, rather than ignoring France’s growing financial crisis, she reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions that were based solely on privilege. In the process she offended the nobles, adding their condemnation to the scandalous stories spread by royal hopefuls. It was the nobility that balked at the financial reforms the government ministers tried to make, not the King and Queen, who were in favor of change. In truth, Antoinette and Louis were placed in harms’ way not only by elements of their personalities, but by the changing face of political and social ideology in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Her children (Marie Therese and Louis XVII) were taken from her. Louis XVII was subjected to abuse by the family’s jailers and later died, supposedly of Tuberculosis and malnutrition. Marie Therese, her firstborn daughter was the only family member to survive. For additional information about Marie Antoinette and Louis’s children

Antoinette followed her husband to the guillotine on October 16, 1793. She was executed without proof of the crimes for which she was accused. She was only 37 years old.

Marie Antionette before her execution

The Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814 after the fall of Napoleon I. The succession went to the closest living relative of Louis XVI who became Louis XVIII. He had escaped to Britain where he sat out the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars

After the family had been placed under arrest on August 10, 1792, Marie Therese remained with her mother and her paternal aunt, Madame Elizabeth until nearly a year later. On August 2, 1793, the queen was taken from her daughter and sister in law and was removed to another prison.

Unlike her mother and aunt, Marie Therese survived her time in prison from 1792 to 1795. Following this, she joined her uncle, the next King of France, Louis XVIII (Tsar Paul I of Russia) in exile and married her cousin, Louis Antoine duc d’Angouleme in 1799. She lived in various locations across Europe: Vienna, Russia and England, before returning to France in 1814 after the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Marie Therese did not remain in France long, however. She and her husband fled to England in 1830 after the betrayal of their Bourbon cousin, Louis-Philippe duc d’Orleans in which he spread the rumor that Charles X, the next Bourbon in line for the throne, had abdicated the throne of France. A few short minutes later, Marie Therese’s husband, Louis Antoine, the next in line abdicated, leaving Louis-Philippe to step into his place.

Unlike her mother and aunt, Marie Therese survived her time in prison from 1792 to 1795. Following this, she joined her uncle, the next King of France, Louis XVIII (Tsar Paul I of Russia) in exile and married her cousin, Louis Antoine duc d’Angouleme in 1799. She lived in various locations across Europe: Vienna, Russia and England, before returning to France in 1814 after the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte.




History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on at 1:34 pm Comments (1)
Tags: , ,

The Guillotine

This content was created/compiled by Eric Moloney.

In Brief:

The guillotine was a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation (cutting off the victim’s head). It was made up of a tall upright frame from which a blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, separating the head from the body. The device is famous for long being the main method of execution in France, especially during the French Revolution. The guillotine continued to be used long after the French Revolution in several countries.

Main Facts

  • The guillotine was a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation.
  • In 1971, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (28 May 1738 – 26 March 1814) proposed the use of the guillotine to carry out death penalties in France.
  • The first execution-by-guillotine was performed on highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier on April 25, 1792.
  • From June 1793 to July 1794 in France was known as The Terror.  Former King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793.
  • In July 1794 Maximilien Robespierre was arrested executed by Guillotine.
  • The last public guillotining was of Eugen Weidmann, who was convicted of six murders on 17 June 1939
    • The guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until France abolished the death penalty in 1981. The last guillotining in France was that of torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on 10 September 1977.

Other facts:

  • The total weight of a Guillotine was about 580 kilos (1278lb)
  • The blade weighed over 40 kilos (88.2lb)
  • Height of side posts was just over 4m (14ft)
  • The blade drop was 2.3m (88 inches)
  • Power at impact was 400 kilos (888lb) per square inch.


In Detail

The Guillotine

The guillotine was used for carrying out executions by decapitation. The blade was suspended from a tall upright frame, underneath which was a bench where the victim lay face down. The blade was raised with a rope and then allowed to drop; separating the victim’s body from the head, which then fell into a basket.

Sketches of the guillotine

Sensing the growing discontent, Louis XVI banned the use of the breaking wheel. In 1791, as the French Revolution progressed, the National Assembly researched a new method to be used on all condemned people regardless of class. Their concerns contributed to the idea that capital punishment’s purpose was the ending of life instead of the infliction of pain.

The basis for the machine’s success was the belief that it was a humane form of execution, contrasting with the methods used in pre-revolutionary, Ancien Régime France. In France, before the guillotine, members of the nobility were beheaded with a sword or axe, while commoners were usually hanged, a form of death that could take minutes or longer. Other more gruesome methods of executions were also used, such as the wheel, burning at the stake, etc. In the case of decapitation, it also sometimes took repeated blows to sever the head completely, and it was also very likely for the condemned to slowly bleed to death from their wounds before the head could be severed. The condemned or the family of the condemned would sometimes pay the executioner to ensure that the blade was sharp in order to provide for a quick and relatively painless death.

From June 1793 to July 1794 in France was known as The Terror.  Former King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793. Maximilien Robespierre became one of the most powerful men in the government, and the figure most associated with the Terror. The Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced thousands to the guillotine. Nobility and commoners, intellectuals and politicians all were liable to be executed on little or no grounds; suspicion of “crimes against liberty” was enough to earn one an appointment with “Madame Guillotine” (also referred to as “The National Razor”).

Execution of Louis XVI

For a time, executions by guillotine were a popular entertainment that attracted great crowds of spectators. Vendors would sell programs listing the names of those scheduled to die. Parents would bring their children. By the end of the Terror the crowds had thinned drastically. Excessive repetition had staled even this most grisly of entertainments, and audiences grew bored.

Eventually, the National Convention had enough of the Terror, partially fearing for their own lives, and turned against Maximilien Robespierre. In July 1794 he was arrested and executed in the same fashion as those whom he had condemned. This arguably ended the Terror, as the French expressed their discontent with Robespierre’s policy by guillotining him.

The last public guillotining was of Eugen Weidmann, who was convicted of six murders. He was beheaded on 17 June 1939, outside the prison Saint-Pierre rue Georges Clémenceau 5 at Versailles, which is now the Palais de Justice. The allegedly scandalous behaviour of some of the onlookers on this occasion, and an incorrect assembly of the apparatus, as well as the fact it was secretly filmed, caused the authorities to decide that executions in the future were to take place in the prison courtyard.

The guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until France abolished the death penalty in 1981. The last guillotining in France was that of torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on 10 September 1977.

Debate rages over whether the quickness of the execution was humane or not, as many doctors put forward the notion that it could take up to 30 seconds before the victim lost consciousness.

An estimated 40,000 people travelled on the tumbrils through Paris to die under Madame Guillotine.

The execution of Maximilien Robespierre


Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

Dr. Joseph Guillotin

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (28 May 1738 – 26 March 1814) was a French physician who proosed the use of the guillotine to carry out death penalties during the French Revolution.

As a member of the assembly Guillotin mainly directed his attention towards medical reform.  On 10 October 1789, during a debate on capital punishment, he proposed that “the criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by means of a simple mechanism”. The “mechanism” was defined as “a machine that beheads painlessly”. His proposal appeared in the Royalist periodical, Actes des Apôtres.

At that time, beheading in France was typically done by axe or sword, which did not always cause immediate death. Also, beheading was reserved for the nobility, while common people were hanged. Dr. Guillotin assumed that if a fair system was established where the only method of capital punishment was death by mechanical decapitation, then the public would feel far more appreciative of their rights.

Despite this proposal, Guillotin was opposed to the death penalty and hoped that a more humane and less painful method of execution would be the first step toward a total abolition of the death penalty. He also hoped that fewer families and children would witness executions, and vowed to make them more private and individualized. It was also his belief that a standard death penalty by decapitation would prevent the cruel and unjust system of the day.

Towards the end of The Terror, Guillotin was arrested and imprisoned because of a letter from Count Mere, who, about to be executed, commended his wife and children to the care of the doctor. He was freed from prison in 1794 after Robespierre fell from power, and abandoned his political career to resume the medical profession.

Guillotin was also one of the founders of the Academy of Medicine in Paris. He became one of the first French doctors to support Edward Jenner’s discovery of vaccination and in 1805 was the President of the Committee for Vaccination in Paris.

It is sometimes said that he was eventually guillotined himself, although he actually died of natural causes in Paris and is buried in the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


Useful Links:

The Guillotine on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillotine

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph-Ignace_Guillotin

A History of the Guillotine on About.com – http://europeanhistory.about.com/cs/frenchrevolution/a/Guillotine.htm

The Guillotine on napoleonguide.com – http://www.napoleonguide.com/guillotine.htm


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm Comments (7)
Tags: ,

The National Assembly

This content was compiled/created by Soracha Moran

Painting by Jacques-Louis David of the National Assembly making the Tennis Court Oath

In Brief:

Frustrated by their dealings with the First and Second Estates at the Estates General – particularly their insistence on vote par ordre (where each estate got just one vote for the entire group) – the Third Estate voted among themselves to form a new institution called the National Assembly where the other Estates could join them or not. On 20 June, they had arranged to meet at Versailles where – finding themselves locked out – they met instead at a nearby royal tennis court and took the Tennis Court Oath swearing  to continue meeting until they had achieved fairness and justice.

The National Assembly: 1789–1791

June 20, 1789 National Assembly members take Tennis Court Oath, pledging to create new constitution
July 14 Mob of Parisian citizens storms Bastille prison and confiscates weapons
July 20 Rural violence of Great Fear breaks out; peasants lash out at feudal landlords for several weeks
August 4 August Decrees release peasants and farmers from feudal contracts
August 26 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen issued
October 5 Parisian women march to Versailles in response to food crisis
February 1790 Government confiscates church property
July 12 Civil Constitution of the Clergy issued
Key People
Louis XVI –  French king; was forced to accept August Decrees and Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen when angry mob of women stormed Versailles in 1789
Jacques Necker –  Director general of finance sacked by Louis XVI in 1789; public outrage prompted his reinstatement
Marquis de Lafayette –  Nobleman who sided with National Assembly and created French National Guard

The Tennis Court Oath

Three days after splitting from the Estates-General, the delegates from the Third Estate (now the National Assembly) found themselves locked out of the usual meeting hall and convened on a nearby tennis court instead. There, all but one of the members took the Tennis Court Oath, which stated simply that the group would remain indissoluble until it had succeeded in creating a new national constitution.

Louis XVI

Upon hearing of the National Assembly’s formation, King Louis XVI held a general gathering in which the government attempted to intimidate the Third Estate into submission. The assembly, however, had grown too strong, and the king was forced to recognize the group. Parisians had received word of the upheaval, and revolutionary energy coursed through the city. Inspired by the National Assembly, commoners rioted in protest of rising prices. Fearing violence, the king had troops surround his palace at Versailles.

The Bastille

Blaming him for the failure of the Estates-General, Louis XVI once again dismissed Director General of Finance Jacques Necker. Necker was a very popular figure, and when word of the dismissal reached the public, hostilities spiked yet again. In light of the rising tension, a scramble for arms broke out, and on July 13, 1789, revolutionaries raided the Paris town hall in pursuit of arms. There they found few weapons but plenty of gunpowder. The next day, upon realizing that it contained a large armory, citizens on the side of the National Assembly stormed the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris.


Although the weapons were useful, the storming of the Bastille was more symbolic than it was necessary for the revolutionary cause. The revolutionaries faced little immediate threat and had such intimidating numbers that they were capable of nonviolent coercion. By storming one of Paris’s most notorious state prisons and hoarding weapons, however, the revolutionaries gained a symbolic victory over the Old Regime and conveyed the message that they were not to be trifled with.

The storming of the Bastille

Lafayette and the National Guard

As the assembly secured control over the capital, it seemed as if peace might still prevail: the previous governmental council was exiled, and Necker was reinstated. Assembly members assumed top government positions in Paris, and even the king himself travelled to Paris in revolutionary garb to voice his support. To bolster the defence of the assembly, the Marquis de Lafayette, a noble, assembled a collection of citizens into the French National Guard. Although some blood had already been shed, the Revolution seemed to be subsiding and safely in the hands of the people.

The Great Fear

For all the developments that were taking place in Paris, the majority of the conflicts erupted in the struggling countryside. Peasants and farmers alike, who had been suffering under high prices and unfair feudal contracts, began to wreak havoc in rural France. After hearing word of the Third Estate’s mistreatment by the Estates-General, and feeding off of the infectious revolutionary spirit that permeated France, the peasants amplified their attacks in the countryside over the span of a few weeks, sparking a hysteria dubbed the Great Fear. Starting around July 20, 1789, and continuing through the first days of August, the Great Fear spread through sporadic pockets of the French countryside. Peasants attacked country manors and estates, in some cases burning them down in an attempt to escape their feudal obligations.

The August Decrees

Though few deaths among the nobility were reported, the National Assembly, which was meeting in Versailles at the time, feared that the raging rural peasants would destroy all that the assembly had worked hard to attain. In an effort to quell the destruction, the assembly issued the August Decrees, which nullified many of the feudal obligations that the peasants had to their landlords. For the time being, the countryside calmed down.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Just three weeks later, on August 26, 1789, the assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document that guaranteed due process in judicial matters and established sovereignty among the French people. Influenced by the thoughts of the era’s greatest minds, the themes found in the declaration made one thing resoundingly clear: every person was a Frenchman—and equal. Not surprisingly, the French people embraced the declaration, while the king and many nobles did not. It effectively ended the ancien régime and ensured equality for the bourgeoisie. Although subsequent French constitutions that the Revolution produced would be overturned and generally ignored, the themes of the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen would remain with the French citizenry in perpetuity.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

The Food Crisis

Despite the assembly’s gains, little had been done to solve the growing food crisis in France. Shouldering the burden of feeding their families, it was the French women who took up arms on October 5, 1789. They first stormed the city hall in Paris, amassing a sizable army and gathering arms. Numbering several thousand, the mob marched to Versailles, followed by the National Guard, which accompanied the women to protect them. Overwhelmed by the mob, King Louis XVI, effectively forced to take responsibility for the situation, immediately sanctioned the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The next day, having little choice, the royal family accompanied the crowd back to Paris. To ensure that he was aware of the woes of the city and its citizens, the king and his family were “imprisoned” in the Tuileries Palace in the city

Though they focused on the king as figurehead, most of the revolutionaries were more against the nobles than the king. Everyday people in France had limited interaction with royalty and instead placed blame for the country’s problems on the shoulders of local nobility. A common phrase in France at the time was, “If only the king knew,” as though he were ignorant of the woes of the people. It was partly owing to this perspective that the assembly attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy alongside the king, rather than simply oust him and rule the nation itself.

The National Assembly and the Church

Over the next two years, the National Assembly took a number of progressive actions to address the failing economy and tighten up the country. A number of them targeted the Catholic Church, which was at the time one of the largest landholders in France. To jump-start the economy, the state in February 1790 confiscated all the church’s land and then used it to back a new French currency called the assignat. In the beginning, at least, the assignat financed the Revolution and acted as an indicator of the economy’s strength.

A short time later, in July 1790, the French Catholic Church itself fell prey to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, a decree by the National Assembly that established a national church system with elected clergy. The country was divided into eighty-three departments, each of which was governed by an elected official and represented by an elected bishop. The voting for these positions was open to anyone who met certain relatively lenient criteria, such as property ownership.

The Assembly’s Tenuous Control

Despite the National Assembly’s progress, weaknesses were already being exposed within France, and the Great Fear and the women’s march on Versailles demonstrated that perhaps the assembly didn’t have as much control as it liked to think. The revolution that the assembly was overseeing in Paris was run almost exclusively by the bourgeoisie, who were far more educated and intelligent than the citizens out in the country. Although the August Decrees helped assuage the peasants’ anger, their dissatisfaction would become a recurring problem. The differing priorities that were already apparent foreshadowed future rifts.

Most notable among the assembly’s controversial priorities was its treatment of the churches. Although France as a whole was largely secular, large pockets of devoutly religious citizens could be found all over the country. By dissolving the authority of churches, especially the Catholic Church—a move that greatly angered the pope—the assembly seemed to signal to the religious French that they had to make a choice: God or the Revolution. Although this was likely not the case, and certainly not the assembly’s intent, it nevertheless upset many people in France.

A poster form the French Revolution declaring Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death.

Factionalism and War

On Oct. 1, 1791, the Legislative Assembly convened. Some members joined the various political clubs of Paris, such as the Feuillants and Jacobins. Most deputies were middle-of-the-roaders, swayed by the more radical clubs and by the Girondists. Jacobinism was gaining in this period; “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” became a catch phrase.

Meanwhile abroad, early sympathy for the Revolution was turning to hatred. Émigrés incited the courts of Europe to intervene; in France, war was advocated by the royalists as a means to restore the old regime, but also by many republicans, who either wished to spread the revolution abroad or hoped that the threat of invasion would rally the nation to their cause. The Feuillant, or right-wing, ministers fell and were succeeded by those later called Girondists. On Apr. 20, 1792, war was declared on Austria, and the French Revolutionary Wars began. Early reverses and rumors of treason by the king again led Parisian crowds to direct action.

Revolution in 1792

An abortive insurrection of June 20, 1792, was followed by a decisive one on Aug. 10, when a crowd stormed the Tuileries and an insurrectionary commune replaced the legally elected one.  Under pressure from the commune, the Assembly suspended Louis XVI and ordered elections by universal manhood suffrage for a National Convention to draw up a new constitution. Mass arrests of royalist sympathizers were followed by the September massacres (Sept. 2–7), in which frenzied mobs entered jails throughout Paris and killed approximately 2,000 prisoners, many in grisly fashion.

The Republic

On Sept. 21, 1792, the Convention held its first meeting. It immediately abolished the monarchy, set up the republic, and proceeded to try the king for treason. His conviction and execution (Jan., 1793) reinforced royalist resistance, notably in the Vendée, and, abroad, contributed to the forming of a wider coalition against France. The Convention undertook the foreign wars with vigor but was itself torn by the power struggle between the Girondists and the Mountain (Jacobins and extreme left). The Girondists were purged in June, 1793. A democratic constitution was approved by 1.8 million voters in a plebiscite, but it never came into force.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on at 8:27 pm Comments (0)
Tags: ,