Maximilien Robespierre

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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 May 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm Comments (4)
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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.

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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.

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Napoleon Bonaporte

This content was created/compiled by Emma Dolan.

In Brief:

After the turmoil of the Reign of Terror, order was eventually restored by a new government called the Directory. One man eventually rose to control the directory and eventually all of France. This young general from the Mediterranean island of Corsica was called Napoleon Bonaporte. He went on to declare himself Emperor of France (1804) and led the French army as they conquered most of Europe before being finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. He was captured and imprisoned on the island of St. Helena where he stayed until his death in 1821.




Napoleon Bonaparte was Empire of France in the early 19th century. He is considered to be one of the most brilliant military leaders in history.

A young Napoleon

Early Life

Napoleon Bonaparte who is also known as the “little Corsican,” was born on August 15, 1769 in the city of Ajaccio, Corsica To a family of minor nobility. Napoleon was known as the little Corsican because of his height. In March 1779, his father sent him to the military school in Brienne. His achievements, particularly in mathematics, helped him win a place at the Royal Military School in Paris in October 1784. He was later accepted into the prestigious artillery section of the army. In December 1793, at the siege of Toulon, he played a major part in retaking this strategic port from the Royalists and their British allies. Within two years – in October 1795 – he had become Commander of the Army of the Interior.

First Consul

After success leading the Italian army in 1799, Napoleon staged a coup and declared himself First Consul of France. He revised many French laws, giving more freedom to the people, including expanded religious tolerance and the abolition of serfdom. He became enormously popular among the French people.


In 1804, after being declared “Consul for Life” by the people, Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France. With the confidence of this title, Napoleon began war efforts against nearly every major European power. These efforts were extremely successful.


The end for Napoleon came when he led a coup in Spain, establishing his brother, Joseph Bonaparte as the new king. The Spanish people rebelled and Napoleon had to commit endless troops to keep the nation under control. Over the next few years, Napoleon and his troops suffered serious losses to the Russians and the other European powers took advantage of the weakened state of his army.

Exile & Death

Defeated by the Sixth Coalition (including Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Britain), Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. He returned to France in 1815 to make an attempt at regaining power. He was defeated by the Prussian army and exiled again, this time to St. Helena. He died on the island in 1821.


Important Dates


Napoleon was born


Napoleon went to a military school in Brienne


Napoleon went to a Royal Military School in Paris


At the siege of Toulon, Napoleon played a major part in retaking this strategic port from the Royalists and their British allies.


He had become Commander of the Army of the Interior.


Napoleon staged a coup and declared himself First Consul of France


Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France.


Napoleon returned to France to make an attempt at regaining power.


Napoleon dies on St. Helena.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm Comments (1)
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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 –

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin on Wikipedia –

A History of the Guillotine on –

The Guillotine on –


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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King Louis XVI

This content was created/compiled by Joey Moloney.

Louis XVI


In Brief:

Louis XVI of France (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792. Although Louis was beloved at first, he was indecisive and was reluctant to accept change and this led some elements of the people of France to eventually view him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny of the Ancien Régime. He was found guilty of treason, and executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793. He was the only king of France to be executed.



Louis-Auguste de France, who was given the title of duc de Berry at birth, was born in the Palace of Versailles in France. Out of eight children, he was the third son of the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand, and thus the grandson of Louis XV of France. Louis-Auguste had a difficult childhood because his parents neglected him in favor of his bright and handsome older brother, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, who died at the age of ten in 1761. A strong and healthy boy, although very shy, Louis-Auguste excelled in his studies and had a strong taste for Latin, history, geography, and astronomy, and became fluent in Italian and English. He enjoyed manual activities such as hunting with his grandfather, Louis XV, and rough-playing with his younger brothers. From an early age, Louis-Auguste had been encouraged in another of his hobbies: locksmithing, which was seen as a ‘useful’ pursuit for a child.

Upon the death of his father, who died of tuberculosis on 20 December 1765, the eleven-year-old Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin. His mother, who had never recovered from the loss of her husband, died on 13 March 1767, also from tuberculosis. The strict and conservative education he received from the duc de La Vauguyon, “gouverneur des Enfants de France” (governor of the Children of France) from 1760 until his marriage in 1770 did not prepare him for the throne he was to inherit in 1774 at the death of his grandfather.


On 16 May 1770, at the age of sixteen, Louis-Auguste married the 14-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antoinette, his second cousin once removed. The marriage was met with hostility by the French public. France’s alliance with Austria had pulled France into the disastrous Seven Years War, in which they were soundly defeated by the British. By the time Louis-Auguste and Marie-Antoinette were married, the people of France regarded the Austrian alliance with intense dislike, and Marie-Antoinette was seen as an unwelcome foreigner. For the young couple, the marriage was initially amiable but distant — Louis-Auguste’s shyness meant that he failed to consummate the union, much to his wife’s distress, whilst his fear of being manipulated by her for Imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public. Over time, the couple became closer, and the marriage was consummated in July 1773.

Nonetheless, the couple failed to produce children for several years after that, placing strain upon the marriage, whilst the situation was worsened by the publication of obscene pamphlets (libelles) which mocked the infertility of the pair. One questioned, “Can the King do it? Can’t the King do it?”

The Royal couple had four children:

  • Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851)
  • Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789)
  • Louis-Charles (the future titular King Louis XVII of France) (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795)
  • Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix (9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787)


When Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774, he was 20. He had an enormous responsibility, as the government was deeply in debt, and resentment towards ‘despotic’ monarchy was on the rise. Louis also felt woefully unqualified for the job. He aimed to earn the love of his people by reinstating the parlements. While none doubted Louis’ intellectual ability to rule France, it was quite clear that, although raised as the Dauphin since 1765, he was indecisive and not firm enough to rule. In spite of his indecisiveness, Louis was determined to be a good king, stating that he “must always consult public opinion; it is never wrong.” Louis therefore appointed an experienced advisor, Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas who, until his death in 1781, would take charge on many important ministerial decisions.

As power drifted from him, there were increasingly loud calls for him to convoke the Estates-General, and in May 1789 he did so, summoning it for the first time since 1614 in a last-ditch attempt to get new monetary reforms approved. With the convocation of the Estates-General, as in many other instances during his reign, Louis placed his reputation and public image in the hands of those who were perhaps not as sensitive to the desires of the French public as he was. Because it had been so long since the Estates-General had been convened, there was some debate as to which procedures should be followed. Ultimately, the parliament of Paris agreed that “all traditional observances should be carefully maintained to avoid the impression that the Estates-General could make things up as it went along.” Under this decision, the King agreed to retain many of the divisionary customs which had been the norm in 1614, but which were intolerable to a Third Estate buoyed by the recent proclamations of equality. For example, the First and Second Estates proceeded into the assembly wearing their finest garments, while the Third Estate was required to wear plain, oppressively somber black, an act of alienation that Louis would likely have not condoned. He seemed to regard the deputies of the Estates-General with at least respect: in a wave of self-important patriotism, members of the Estates refused to remove their hats in the King’s presence, so Louis removed his to them.

The palace at Versailles


French involvement in the seven years war had left Louis XVI a disastrous inheritance. Britain’s victories had seen them capture most of France’s colonial territories. While some were returned to France at the 1763 Treaty of Paris a vast swathe of North America was ceded to the British.

This had led to a strategy amongst the French leadership of seeking to rebuild the French military in order to fight a war of revenge against Britain, in which it was hoped the lost colonies could be recovered. France still maintained a strong influence in the West Indies, and in India maintained five trading posts, leaving opportunities for disputes and power-play with Great Britain.


Louis was officially arrested on the 13th of August and sent to the Temple, an ancient Paris fortress used as a prison. On 21 September, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic and abolished the monarchy.

The Girondins were partial to keeping the deposed king under arrest, both as a hostage and a guarantee for the future. The more radical members – mainly the Commune and Parisian deputies who would soon be known as the Mountain – argued for Louis’s immediate execution. The legal background of many of the deputies made it difficult for a great number of them to accept an execution without due process of some sort, and it was voted that the deposed monarch should be tried before the National Convention.

On 11 December, among crowded and silent streets, the deposed king was brought from the Temple to stand before the Convention and hear his indictment, an accusation of High Treason and Crimes against the State.

The next day, a motion to grant Louis reprieve from the death sentence was voted down; 310 deputies requested mercy, 380 voted for the execution of the death penalty. This decision would be final. On Monday, 21 January 1793, stripped of all titles and honorifics by the republican government, Citoyen Louis Capet was guillotined in front of a cheering crowd in what today is the Place de la Concorde.

As Louis mounted the scaffold he appeared dignified and resigned. He attempted a speech in which he reasserted his innocence and pardoned those responsible for his death. He declared himself willing to die and prayed that the people of France would be spared a similar fate. He seemed about to say more when Antoine-Joseph Santerre, a general in the National Guard, cut Louis off by ordering a drum roll. The former king was then quickly beheaded.

Accounts of Louis’s beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely as the blade severed Louis’s spine. It is agreed however that, as Louis’s blood dripped to the ground, many in the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it.

The execution of Louis XVI




  • 1754-BORN
  • 1774-BECAME KING
  • 1770-GOT MARRIED



Wikipedia-King Louis The XVI

BBC History-King Louis The XVI




History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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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.

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Background to the French Revolution

France was ruled by a traditional European feudal system where people were divided into classes according to their birth. At the top was the King who was an absolute monarch. This meant that he had complete control over the country and did not have to consult with a parliament and could pass any law he wanted. He even had the power to have people arrested (lettre de Cachet) without trial or even killed. The King ruled over a system called the Ancien Régime.


Background to the Revolution (2)


This was made up of:

The First Estate: This was the Clergy of the Catholic Church. They were very powerful and controlled a lot of land, wealth and power.

The Second Estate: This was the nobles (counts, dukes, barons etc.). They were very wealthy and held many positions in the French government.

The Third Estate: This was the people who were not born into privilege. The vast majority of people in France were in this category. Some were educated professionals (doctors, lawyers etc.)  and successful business people  called the bourgeoisie while most were poor and uneducated labourers. They had very little influence or power.

One big issue was that virtually all the tax was paid by the Third Estate – the ones who could afford it the least. This meant that the third estate continued to struggle while the First and Second Estates remained in their privileged positions.

There were many taxes for the Third Estate to pay including:

Taille: Land tax paid to the state.

Tithe: Tax paid to the church.

Gabelle: A salt tax paid to the state.

Background to the Revolution (3)


Causes of the Revolution

  • The Royal family of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette lived a lavish lifestyle – living in a massive palace in Versailles with hundreds of servants; and spending their days hunting, gambling and feasting. This caused huge bitterness as the poor people of France struggled to make enough to eat. The people particularly despised Marie Antoinette for her heavy spending on clothes and jewelery. It didn’t help that she was the sister of the king of Austria – a country that was considered an enemy of France.

Marie Antoinette

  • This anger grew after two years of bad harvest between 1787 and 1789. The price of wheat doubled and the most important food for the poor people of France – bread – became scarcer.
  • A new movement called the Enlightenment started to become very popular in France. Writers in the movement like Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau encouraged people to question the world that they lived in. This included the divine right of kings, the king himself and the Ancien Régime; and their role in an unfair and unjust society where the lives of most people was a daily struggle.  Rousseau said: ‘Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.’


  • French soldiers returning from helping the colonists win independence in the American Revolution had been very impressed by the new country that was being born there. The ideas included in the American Bill of Rights where ‘all men are created equal’ had been heavily influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. The soldiers brought home from America the belief that a better society was possible.

  • The downside of being involved in the American Revolution was that it cost the French so much money that it nearly bankrupted the country. The American War of Independence was only one of several wars that the French had been involved in during the previous decades and by 1789 Louis XVI was out of money.
  • This led to Louis calling together the Estates General (French Parliament) so that he could raise taxes. It was the first time in over a century that it had met. The Estates General had representatives from all three estates. Louis knew however that he would have no problem getting the meeting to agree to him raising taxes on the Third Estate. This was because each estate only received one vote, regardless of how many representatives it had at the meeting. This meant that the First and Second Estate would always be able to outvote the Third Estate. The blatant unfairness of this system caused huge bitterness and eventually led them to break away to form their own meeting called the National Assembly.

Estates General


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Vinegar Hill

This content was created/compiled by Eoin Egan.

In Brief:

After their initial successes in Wexford at Oulart Hill, Enniscorthy and Wexford town, the rebels led by Bagenal Harvey and Fr. John Murphy were defeated after intense fighting at the Battle of New Ross. This loss took a heavy toll on the rebels and soon a British force led by General Lake drove them back until they were eventually cornered at their camp on Vinegar Hill. Even though they had about 15,000 men – outnumbering the British – their pikes and scarce muskets could not match the cannons and cavalry of their opponents. They were easily defeated with heavy casualties. The leaders escaped but were later captured. Bagenal Harvey was hanged on Wexford Bridge on 28 June while Fr. Murphy was caught and executed some days later.


Claymation rendition of the battle between the Wexford United Irishmen and the British Army in 1798 (created by Sean Murphy, Coláiste Naomh Phádraig).



More information:

Vinegar hill

The battle began shortly before dawn with an artillery bombardment of Irish positions on the hill.

Advance units quickly moved against rebel outposts under cover of the shelling and moved artillery closer as forward positions were secured.

The tightening ring forced the rebels into an ever-shrinking area and increased exposure to the constant shelling, including new experimental delayed-fuse shells resulting in hundreds of dead and maimed.

Mass charges by the rebels failed to break the lines of the advancing British military and the situation on Vinegar Hill soon became desperate for the rebels.

When British troops crested its eastern summit, the rebels began to withdrawal through a gap in the British lines later known as “Needham’s Gap”; named after the late arrival of General Needham’s brigade.

Attack on Enniscorthy

The British simultaneously launched an attack on Enniscorthy town to cut off the escape route via the bridge linking Vinegar Hill to the town, but were met with fierce resistance, led by William Barker.

British progress in the town was slow and they suffered heavy casualties as the town saw heavy street fighting for the second time in one month.

The rebels were eventually driven across the bridge, but were reinforced by a large contingent of newly arrived comrades, who managed to prevent the military from breaking through until most of the rebels had escaped along the eastern side of the River Slaney.

When it became clear that the bulk of the Irish were retreating from Vinegar Hill, the British cavalry were unleashed, closely followed by the infantry.

A massacre of hundreds of stragglers ensued, including many women and children, from a combination of the cavalry and infantry attack, but also from the field guns which were switched to grape shot to maximise casualties among the fleeing masses.

In addition, the British military were guilty of multiple instances of gang rape of females amongst the Irish camp.

Meanwhile, in Enniscorthy, British troops set fire to a makeshift hospital in the town, burning scores of trapped and helpless wounded Irish troops alive; their bodies were said to be still hissing in the embers the following day.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the rebel force streamed unmolested towards the Three Rocks camp outside Wexford town and, following the decision to abandon the town, split into two separate columns in a new campaign to spread the rebellion beyond Wexford.

One set out to the west, the other northwards towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with General Joseph Holt’s forces.

The defeat was therefore not the immediate crushing blow to the Wexford rebels that it has traditionally been depicted as, but it did alter the course of the fighting as continued resistance now took the form of mobile warfare, raids, and large scale guerilla-type operations.


Vinegar Hill, 1798 song



History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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Bantry Bay

This content was created/compiled by  Christine White and Lauren Moran.

In Brief:

After much persuasion from Wolfe Tone, the French (who were at war with Britain) finally sent help to Ireland. 43 ships and 15,000 men set sail from Brest in support of a hoped for armed rebellion led by the United Irishmen, who were determined to establish an Irish Republic. However the fleet, which was led by France’s greatest general, Lazare Hoche met Easterly storms and fog off the Irish coast.  This caused chaos and dispersed the fleet.  While some succeeded in anchoring in Bantry Bay, most were scattered in the Atlantic. After a few days, the order was given to abandon the attempted invasion and the few remaining ships in the bay that were seaworthy sailed for France. Any chance of catching the British by surprise had been ruined.

Wolfe Tone’s diary, December 29th:  ‘At four this morning, the commodore made the signal to steer for France; so that there is an end to our expedition for the present, perhaps forever.’



More Information:


Timeline of Bantry Bay

Dec 11, 1796 – on 11 December 1796 – A message was despatched with news that seven French ships of the line had arrived in Brest. This was part of the preparation for an invasion of Ireland. The French fleet left harbour and evaded the main British blockade fleet and sailed for Bantry Bay.

Dec 15, 1796 – 5. On December 15, 1796 – A French expedition of fourteen thousand men under the command of General Louis Lazare Hoche had set out from Brest for Bantry Bay in Ireland.

Dec 16, 1796 – On December 16th 1796, the expedition, consisting of forty-three sail, with an army of 15000 men, under the command of Hoche and Grouchy, left Brest. Tone, who now held the rank of adjutant-general in the French service, was on board the ‘Indomitable’. -In the night the ships were scattered. The ‘Fraternité’, with Hoche on board, never reached Ireland. But the French General Grouchy, with thirty-five sail, including the ‘Indomitable’, eventually made Bantry Bay.

Dec 21, 1796 – They stayed in the Bay for two weeks without an attack from theBritish fleet, which was then in Spithead.

However, storms scattered them and most returned to France.

“They come, they come
See myriads come –
Of Frenchmen to relieve us;

Seize, seize the pike
Beat, beat the drum
They come, my friends
To save us.“

“Ils arrivent, ils arrivent.
Regarde les myriades de Français
Qui viennent nous libérer;

Prends, prends ton épieu
Bats, rebats du tambour
Ils sont ici, mes amis,
Pour nous sauver.“

Irish marching song / Chant de marche d’époque


General Lazare Hoche

Born: 24-Jun-1768

Birthplace: Versailles, France

Died: 18-Sep-1797

Location of death: Wetzlar, Nassau, Germany

Cause of death: Pneumonia

Gender: Male

Occupation: Military

Nationality: French

Executive summary: French General

Military service: French Army (1784-97).


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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