The meeting was called due to the French government having financial problems. One of the first issues that came up at the Estates General was how they would vote. The king said that each estate would vote as a body (each estate would get 1 vote). The members of the Third Estate did not like this. It meant that they could always be outvoted by the much smaller First and Second Estates. They wanted the vote to be based on the number of members.
The Tennis Court Oath
20 June 1789
King Louis XVI did not condone the formation or the actions of the National Assembly. He ordered the building where the National Assembly was meeting (the Salle des Etats) closed. The National Assembly was not to be denied so they met on a local tennis court (called the Jeu de Paume). While at the tennis court the members took an oath to keep meeting until the king recognized them as a legitimate government body.
The Storming of the Bastille
14 July 1789
On the morning of July 14, the revolutionaries approached the Bastille. They demanded that the military leader of the Bastille, Governor De Launay, surrender the prison and hand over the gunpowder, but he refused. As negotiations dragged on, the crowd became agitated. In the early afternoon, they managed to get into the courtyard. Once inside the courtyard, they began to try and break into the main fortress. The soldiers in the Bastille became scared and fired into the crowd. The fighting had began. The turning point in the fight came when some of the soldiers joined the side of the crowd. De Launay soon realized that the situation was hopeless. He surrendered the fort and the revolutionaries took control. The Storming of the Bastille set off a series of events that led to the overthrow of King Louis XVI and the French Revolution. The success of the revolutionaries gave commoners throughout France the courage to rise up and fight against the nobles who had ruled them for so long.
The Reign of Terror
5 September 1793 - 27 July 1794
France was ruled by the Terror. People had to be careful of everything they said, what they did, and who they talked to. The slightest hint of opposition to the revolutionary government could mean prison or even death. Sometimes revolutionaries accused people they didn't like or wanted to get rid of without any evidence. All anyone had to do was accuse someone, and they were considered guilty. Around 17,000 people were officially executed in France, including 2,639 in Paris. Many more died in prison or were beaten to death in the streets. Over 200,000 people were arrested. The guillotine was a device used to execute people during the Terror. At one point during the Terror, the Committee of Public Safety eliminated the right to a public trial and a lawyer for people suspected of treason. Queen Marie Antoinette was one of the first people executed during the Terror. The Committee of Public Safety created a new calendar and a new state religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being. They suppressed Christianity and even executed a group of nuns who refused to renounce their faith.
The Rise of Napoleon and Creation of an Empire
1803 - 1815
From 1803 to 1815, France was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, a series of major conflicts with various coalitions of European nations. In 1803, partly as a means to raise funds for future wars, Napoleon sold France’s Louisiana Territory in North America to the newly independent United States for $15 million, a transaction that later became known as the Louisiana Purchase. In October 1805, the British wiped out Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. However, in December of that same year, Napoleon achieved what is considered to be one of his greatest victories at the Battle of Austerlitz, in which his army defeated the Austrians and Russians. The victory resulted in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine. Beginning in 1806, Napoleon sought to wage large-scale economic warfare against Britain with the establishment of the so-called Continental System of European port blockades against British trade. In 1807, following Napoleon’s defeat of the Russians at Friedland in Prussia, Alexander I (1777-1825) was forced to sign a peace settlement, the Treaty of Tilsit. In 1809, the French defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram, resulting in further gains for Napoleon. During these years, Napoleon reestablished a French aristocracy (eliminated in the French Revolution) and began handing out titles of nobility to his loyal friends and family as his empire continued to expand across much of western and central continental Europe.
Napoleon's Empire Collapses
6 April 1814
Napoleon surrendered and gave up the French throne, ending his reign. Napoleon had a great desired to defeat Britain. Even though he had conquered most of Europe. He committed three mistakes that led him to the collapse of his empire. Napoleon’s desire for power led him to the peak of his empire but also to the end of it. His efforts to crush Great Britain and expand the French Empire made him commit three big mistakes. In 1806, Napoleon set up a blockade to the rest of the European nations but, Great Britain managed to help pirates transport good to France. In response to the French blockade the British made their own blockade which was more effective than the French. Another important mistake was the effort of Napoleon to conquer Portugal through Spain. Spanish began guerrillas that inspired other nationalist ideas in other colonies. In 1812 Napoleon tried to invade Russia. As the winter temperatures began to fall the Russian army attacked the French. This and other factor decreased the number of the Grand Army soldiers from 420000 to 10000. Taking advantage from its weakness Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden joined forces and declared war to France. Even though Napoleon managed to establish an army it was too weak for the other armies to which France lost the war.
The Congress of Vienna
September 1814 - June 1815
Meeting among the great powers of Europe, i.e., Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia (France participated in some of the decisions) in Vienna, Austria from September 1814 to June 1815. These powers met to arrange a peace settlement after almost a decade of war against Napoleon. The leaders of the great powers who represented themselves at Vienna were Emperor Francis I of Austria, King Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia, and Czar Alexander I of Russia. The leaders of Great Britain and France were represented by their foreign ministers, Viscount Castlereagh and Prince Talleyrand, respectively. Prince Klemens von Metternich, the foreign minister of Austria, however, dominated the conference. Metternich had three goals at the congress: first, he wanted to prevent future French aggression by surrounding France with strong countries; second, he wanted to restore a balance of power (see above), so that no country would be a threat to others; and third, he wanted to restore Europe’s royal families to the thrones they held before the Napoleonic Wars. He accomplished his first goal by making the countries around France stronger (the Austrian Netherlands and Dutch Republic united to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands; thirty-nine German states were loosely joined to create the German Confederation, which was dominated by Austria; Switzerland became an independent state; and the Kingdom of Sardinia was strengthened by annexing Genoa). Metternich’s second goal was accomplished by having France return to its borders of 1790 and relinquishing all territory conquered by Napoleon. Additionally, France was forced to pay an indemnity and accept an army of occupation for five years. Lastly, Metternich accomplished his third goal by restoring the Bourbons to the thrones in France, Spain, and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (the brother of Louis XVI inherited the throne of France as Louis XVIII).