The French Revolution and Napoleon


Meeting of the Estates-General

May 5, 1789

Third estate declares itself National Assembly

June 17, 1789

First step in French Revolution; third estate had no legal right to act as National Assembly. Louis XVI sides with first estate, threatens to dissolve Estates-General.

Parisians storm the Bastille

July 4, 1789

A mob of Parisians storm the Bastille, a royal armory, and dismantle it brick by brick. At the same time, popular revolts break out throughout France in both cities and countryside.

National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the RIghts of Man and the Citizen

August 26, 1789

Proclamation of freedom and equal rights for all men and access to public office based on talent. All citizens to have the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press are coupled with outlawing of arbitrary arrests. Olympe de Gouges pens a female version of the Declaration.

Civil Constitution of the Clergy put into effect

July 12, 1790

Both bishops and priests to be elected by the people and paid by the state. Catholic church becomes enemy of Revolution.

Louis XVI flees France, is captured

June 20, 1791 - June 21, 1791

King Louis XVI seeks to flee France but is recognized, captured, and returned to Paris.

Foreign monarchs invite force to reestablish monarchical authority in France

August 27, 1791

The monarchs of Austria and Prussia, fearing the spread of revolution, invited other European monarchs to use force to reestablish monarchical authority in France.

First session of the Legislative Assembly

October 1, 1791

A limited constitutional monarchy; Legislative Assembly to make laws. To sit for two years, consist of 745 representatives chosen by indirect system of election w/ power in hands of more affluent members of society.

Attack on royal palace

August 10, 1792

Radical political groups in Paris took the king captive and forced Legislative Assembly to suspend monarchy and call for national convention (on basis of universal male suffrage) to decide future form of government. ~French Revolution to enter more radical stage~

National Convention abolishes monarchy, establishes republic

September 21, 1792

Newly elected National Convention begins sessions in September, dominated by lawyers (and other professionals), two-thirds of deputies under 45, almost all gained political experience b/c of Revolution. First step: abolish monarchy, establish republic.

Committee of Public Safety takes control of France

1793 - 1794

For a twelve-month period, from 1793 to 1794, the Committee of Public Safety (executive committee of twelve dominated by Maximilien Robespierre) controls France.

Louis XVI executed

January 21, 1793

The king is executed; the destruction of the old regime complete.


August 23, 1793

Committee of Public Safety decrees universal mobilization of nation. In less than a year, army of 650,000, by 1795 pushed allies back across Rhine and conquered Austrian Netherlands. ~French revolutionary army: important step in creation of modern nationalism.~

Reign of Terror

September 5, 1793 - July 28, 1794

Revolutionary courts instituted to protect Republic from internal enemies. 16,000 people officially guillotined. Revolutionary armies set up to bring cities and districts back under National Convention control. The Committee of Public Safety decided to make Lyons an example; by April 1794, 1,880 citizens of Lyons executed.

Slavery abolished in French colonies

February 4, 1794

France abolished slavery in the country in September 1791. However, French planters in West Indies opposed the abolition of slavery. The issue was revisited by the National Convention, and, guided by ideals of equality, slavery was abolished in the colonies.

Execution of Robespierre

July 28, 1794

Deputies fear for safety while Robespierre free to act (obsessed with purifying body politic of all corrupt). Enough votes gathered to condemn him to guillotine.

Adoption of Constitution of 1795 and the Directory

August 22, 1795

Reign of Terror came to a halt after Robespierre's death, National Convention reduced power of Committee of Public Safety. New constitution drafted in August 1795 reflecting desire for stability not sacrificing 1789 ideals. Five directors (Directory) acted as executive authority.

Coup d'état: Napoleon Bonaparte seizes power

November 10, 1799

Napoleon Bonaparte, a popular military general, seizes power. A new form of the Republic (called the Consulate) proclaimed in which Napoleon, as first consul, controlled entire executive authority of government.

Napoleon arranges concordat with Pope Pius VII

15 July 1801

Napoleon arranges a concordat with the pope that recognizes Catholicism as the religion of a majority of the French people. In return, the pope agreed to not raise the question of church lands confiscated during the Revolution. Catholic church no longer enemy of French government.

Napoleon made consul for life

August 2, 1802

Napoleon named "First Consul for Life".

France goes to war with Third Coalition

1803 - 1807

When Napoleon became consul in 1799, France was at war with the Second Coalition (Russia, Great Britain, Austria). A peace treaty was made in 1802, but war was renewed in 1803 with Britain, soon joined by Austria, Russia, Prussia (Third Coalition). In a series of battles from 1805-1807, Napoleon's Grand Army defeated the latter three's armies.

Haiti becomes first independent state in Latin America

January 1, 1804

In 1791, black slaves in western Hispaniola, inspired by the ideals of the French revolution, revolted against plantation owners. On January 1, 1804, the western part of Hispaniola announced its freedom and became Haiti, the first independent state in Latin America.

Napoleon returns France to monarchy

December 2, 1804

Napoleon has himself crowned as Emperor Napoleon I, returning France to monarchy.

Continental System

1806 - 1808

An alliance attempting to prevent British goods from reaching Europe in order to weaken Britain economically and destroy its capacity to wage war. However, the system failed.

Napoleon invades Russia

June 24, 1812 - January 1813

Largely because of the Russians' refusal to remain in the Continental System, Napoleon led his Grand Army of more than 600,000 men into Russia. Russian forces retreated and refused to give battle, torching villages and countryside to keep Napoleon's army from food. An indecisive and costly victory for Napoleon was won at Borodino, and when he reached Moscow, he found the city ablaze. Lacking food and supplies, the army abandoned the campaign and retreated in terrible winter conditions. Only 40,000 of the original 600,000 men managed to arrive back in Poland in January 1813.

Paris captured

March 1814

Paris captured in March 1814, and Napoleon sent into exile on island of Elba.

Napoleon returns

March 20, 1815

Napoleon, bored in exile, slips back into France. Troops go over to his side and he enters Paris in triumph.

Napoleon's final defeat

June 18, 1815

Having decided to strike first, Napoleon raised another army and moved to attack the allied forces in present-day Belgium. At Waterloo on June 18, Napoleon met a combined British-Prussian army and suffered a bloody defeat. This time, he was exiled to Saint Helena for the final time.