The French Revolution is discussed as an absolute historical phenomenon. Which were its revolutionary elements? Which were its causes? Was it a bourgeois revolution? In any case, the French Ancien Régime, as a paradigm, had lost its vigour. It is discussed whether the Revolution was inevitable.
Next, the prelude to the Revolution is described. One of the main players was King Louis XVI: his youth and education, his character. His wife was Queen Marie-Antoinette. a Habsburg princess: her youth and education, how she became French, and her marriage to King Louis. From the first she was much vilified. It is discussed how the king fulfilled his task and the problems he encountered, and also whether the queen had influence on public affairs. The sordid and nefarious affaire du collier, which did the royal couple much damage, is extensively related.
It is evident that the king was not really up to his task; public finance was in a sorry state; the bourgeoisie was disaffected. There were some modest attempts at reform. Then, rather suddenly, the States General were convoked, for the first time since 1614. This caused great enthusiasm and much agitation; everywhere political clubs were founded. The king asked his citizens to formulate their wishes, which they did in the six thousand cahiers de doléance. The elections were general, but restricted to men; they choose 1064 delegates. divided over the three estates. The king opened the sesssions on May 5, 1789. Already on June 20 the Third Estate declared that it was the Constituante, which would give France a constitution. The situation rapidly radicalized. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille was stormed. This meant that the populace began to play a role; the countryside too became rebellious. The two other Estates, that of the clergy and the nobility, joined the Third Estate, so that the States General had become the Assemblée nationale. On August 4 it abolished all feudal privileges, fourteen days later followed by the Déclaration de l'homme et du citoyen.
On November 5, 1789, the Paris populace forcefully brought the royal family from Versailles to the Tuileries in Paris. On July 22, 1790, the Assemblée voted the Constitution civile du clergé, which brought the Church in line with the radical movement. All priest were required to take an oath of allegiance to it; half the clergy refused to do this. Henceforth there were prêtres constitutionels and prêtres refractaires. On June 21. 1791, the royal family tried to flee to a fortress town in the east of the country, but was intercepted and brought back. The Assemblée completed its task by producing a constitution, which went into force on September 4, 1791, The monarchy was not abolished and the king retained the executive power. The people was declared sovereign, but there would be census suffrage,
The elections led to a new Assemblée, the Législative. divided between moderates and radicals (the Jacobins). The position of the king rapidly weakened; according to the Paris populace there should be a republic. On August 10 the Royal family was arrested by armed men of the Paris National Guard and imprisoned in the Temple in Paris. A new radical governent was installed; one of the radical leaders was Robespierre. Hundreds of suspected persons were arrested and imprisoned. In September 1792 a enraged mob killed hundreds and hundreds of them, during the `September Massacres'. On April 10, 1792, revolutionary France declared war on Prussia and Austria. Prussian troops invaded France and marched on Paris, but were stopped on September 20 by the so-called `cannonade of Valmy', after which they evacuated France. That same day the Législative was disbanded and succeeded by the Convention, chosen by universal male suffrage. It immediately proclaimed the Republic and in October introduced a totally new calendar.
On December 11, 1792, the king was brought before the Convention in order to be judged as an enemy of the people. On January it voted, with a majority of one vote, that he must be executed. The next day his head fell under the guillotine. The queen spent the winter of 1792/1793 in a dark and damp cell in the Conciergerie. On October 14, 1793, she appeared before a revolutionary court, which condemned her to death. On the 16th her head fell under the guillotine. In several parts of France there were rebellions.
The Revolution had several instruments of power, the Convention being one of them; another was the Comité du salut public, led by Robespierre, which acted as the government. Next there was the Tribunal révolutionnaire, for condemning the enemies of the Revolution. These enemies were done away with by the guillotine. Robespierre's career is described as well as his ideology. He had a religion of his own, the `cult of the Supreme Being'. Yet, there was also another cult, that of `the Goddess of Reason'.
The sessions of the Convention characterized by constant strife between the moderates, the Girondins, and the radicals, the Jacobins. One of the most radical members, Marat, was murdered in his bath. With the help of the military the Jacobins expulsed their opponents. Then, in September 1793, la Grande Terreur began: the Jacobins eliminated everyone who was not radical enough, mostly by means of the guillotine.
After the execution of the king in January 1792 Britain, the Dutch Republic, Spain and some other countries declared war on France. France reacted with general mobilization. The revolutionary army drove all invading armies from the soil of France. Then the radicals began to fight among each other. Robespierre eliminated all opposition to the right and the left of him, until he himself was brought down, His head fell under the guillotine in July 1794, which meant the end of the radical revolution.
The revolution was dismantled; there came a new constitution and a new Convention. The moderates took over. The revolutionary armies were successful; Belgium was conquered in 1794 and the Dutch Republic in 1795; it became the Batavian Republic Germany lost all territories west of the Rhine. Bonaparte fought successfully in North Italy. In 1797 Austria concluded the Peace of Campo Formio with France; Britain remained at war with France. An analytical assessment of the Revolution is presented.
Read the complete text of Chapter 1: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. part 8, part 9.
Napoleon's youth and (military) education is described.
Although he became a French officer, he has considered to opt for a political career in Corsica, but he finally opted for France.
He made himself a name during the siege of Toulon in 1793. for which he was made a brigade general. In 1795 he suppressed a rebellion against the new regime in Paris. He now was made a division general; in March 1796 he got an army of his own, the Armée de l'Italie. Just before he had married Joséphine de Beauharnais.
He easily conquered Piedmont and the Duchy of Milan. He then campaigned against the Austrians, once again at war with France. In April 1797 a preliminary peace treaty was signed; Austria ceded Belgium to France. In North Italy he created the Cisalpine Republic, a vassal state of France. Venice was occupied by French troops. In October 1797 the Peace of Campo Formio was signed; Venice became Austrian; the German Empire ceded all territories west of the Rhine to France,
In Paris the new regime, the Directoire, was threatened by the royalists, but was saved by military action in September 1797. In December the victorious Bonaparte arrived in the capital.
Since Britain was still at war with France, Bonaparte convinced the Directoire that it could be brought down by an attack on India, This led to the Egyptian campaign (1798-1799), which began with the conquest of Egypt, but ran aground in Syria. Bonaparte deserted his army and returned to Paris.
Switzerland became the Helvetian Republic; the Republic of Genoa became the Ligurian Republic. French troops invaded the Papal States. In 1799 Pope Pius VI was abducted to France, where he died in August 1799.
In 1798 the Second Coalition War began, with Britain, Russia, Austria, Naples and Turkey fighting France. A conspicuous element of this war was a Anglo-Russian landing on the Dutch coast. After three months of fighting the allied troops were embarked again, without having achieved much, In Paris Napoleon prepared a coup, which he executed on November 6, 1799; it almost failed.
Read the complete text of Chapter 2: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.
The hapless Directoire was replaced by a Consulat of three persons of whom Napoleon naturally was one. A new constitution was framed; there would be two representative bodies. The new constitution was subjected to a plebiscite, in which only a minority of the voters took part. There was opposition and even armed rebellion, especially in the Vendée.
Soon Napoleon was First Consul and then Consul å vie. He wanted peace with the Church; there were long negotiations for a Concordat. Pius VII was Pope then. On July 15, 1801, it was signed. It recognized the Catholic religion as the religion of the majority of the French citizens; the Constitution civile du clergé was abolished, with which the schism in the French Church came to an end. However, Napoleon added of his own accord a number of `organic articles' to the Concordat, which strengthened the grip of the state on the Church.
In 1803 a conspiracy against Napoleon was discovered, in which several generals were involved. There were arrested and executed or imprisoned. Then it was believed that the young Duc d'Enghien was involved in another conspiracy. Although he was entirely innocent, he was abducted and executed.
Fighting the Austrians Napoleon campaigned in North Italy, where he obtained a great victory in the Battle of Marengo on June 14, 1800, which led to an armistice with Austria. On February 9, 1801, the Peace of Lunéville was signed, which made an end of the war; only Britain remained in it. Yet, it signed the Peace of Amiens on March 25, 1802. The German Diet of 1802 reduced the number of German states with a hundred and twelve. Soon there were new difficulties with Britain which in 1803 led to the resumption of the war. In May 1804 it was decided to make Napoleon emperor of the French.
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The sacre took place in Paris on December 2, 1804, with Pope Pius VII present. It is explained how Napoleon used almost all his brothers as rulers in his system of government. Nearly all of them were incompetent, with the exception of his brother Louis, whom he made King of Holland, 1806-1810. Napoleon created a new nobility. He needed a successor; since Joséphine had not given him children, he divorced her and married the Austrian duchess Marie-Louise of Habsburg in 1810. A son, Napoleon `1I', was born in 1811.
Britain found new allies, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Naples and Sweden, with which the Third Coalition War (1805-1807) began. After the French fleet was defeated by Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, Napoleon gave up all hope of invading England. On December 2, 1805, Napoleon obtained his most famous victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. Austria had to sign the Peace of Presburg, by which it lost much of its territory. Napoleon turned the Cisalpine Republic into the Kingdom of Italy, of which he himself became king. Naples was defeated and got the emperor's brother Joseph as king. The states of West Germany were assembled in the Rheinbund, with Napoleon as its protector. Later a Kingdom of Westphalia was created for Napoleon's brother Jerôme. The Autrian emperor Francis I dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in 1806; in 1804 Austria became an empire.
The relationship between Napoleon and Pius VII was tense and became ever tenser as a result of the emperor's vexations. Rome was occupied by French troops. In July 1809 the Pope was abducted and lodged in Savona. He was requested to cede the Papal States to France, but he steadfastly refused to do so. In 1812 he was forcefully abducted to Paris. After Napoleon's defeat in 1814 he returned to Rome.
With Austria out of the way Napoleo attacked Prussia, which led to his triumphal entry in Berlin on October 27, 1806
It was in Berlin that Napoleon signed a decree installing the `Continental System'. As it was meant to strangle England economically, it forbade all commerce with Britain. Pushing on eastward, Napoleon entered Warsaw on December 19, 1806.
Russia was still at war with France and campaigned on Prussian territory, where its troops were several times defeated by the French. In June 1807 French troops reached the Njemen, the frontier with Russia. A French-Russian armistice was signed. A summit meeting between Napoleon and czar Alexander I was arranged. They met in Tilsit, where peace was concluded on July 7, 1807. Prussia lost a great part of its territory.
The problem with the Continental System was that it leaked. The neutral countries were not part of it. Napoleon fought Sweden and Denmark to force them into it, and then turned to Spain and Portugal. Marching through Spain the French occupied Lisbon on November 30, 1807.
In order to obtain the collaboration of Spain Napoleon deemed it necessary to invade this country in 1808. Joseph was tranferred from Naples to Madrid (Murat became King of Naples). Yet, almost immediately a revolt broke out, which France could never suppress. although Napoleon poured tens of thousands of soldiers into it and once went there himself. The French had also to cope with a revolt in the Tyrol.
In Germany a new spirit of nationalism was developing; Austria saw a leading role for itself in this. In April 1809 it began a war with France, with which the Fourth Coalition War began. Napoleon immediately hit back and occupied Vienna on May 13, 1809. But the Austrian army was not defeated. The rebellion in Spain went on; the British, under Wellington, landed troops in Portugal, and the Portuguese rose in revolt against France. The Austrians campaigned in North Italy, but were driven back over the Alps. Napoleon confronted the Austrians in the Battle of Wagram on July 6, 1809, and defeated them. This led to the Peace of Vienna, on October 15, 1809, which cost Austria much of its territory. France annexed the Papal States and the Kingdom of Holland in 1810. There were reasons for concern: marshal Bernadotte defected to Sweden,
Read the complete text of Chapter 4: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.
The situation of 1810 is reviewed. Wellington was fighting France in Spain. The French offensives of 1810 and 1811 failed; in 1812 Wellington began a successful offensive, with the help of Spanish militias. On August 13, 1812, he entered Madrid.
The steadily worsening relation with Russia finally led to warfare. Napoleon's armies began to cross the Njemen on June 22. 1812; he came with a force of half a million men, recruited from many Europeam countries. On September 7, 1812, a great battle with the Russians was fought at Borodino. On the 15th Napoleon entered Moscow. A large part of the city went up in flames, but Napoleon stuck to it for another month; the retreat began on October 19, 1812; it became one of the great horror stories of history. Almost the whole army was lost. Napoleon left his army on December 5, 1812, and speeded to Paris.
The general situation in the beginning of 1813 is described. On March 16, 1813, Prussia declared war on France, with which the Fifth Coalition War began. Germany was restless. The Russians invaded Germany; German states choose their side. and also Sweden. Napoleon had again assembled a large army with which he marched to Saxony. Several times he and his generals defeated the Russians and the Prussians. Meanwhile Spain was irrevocably lost.
Murat was quite ready to betray Napoleon, but in the end fought with him. Austria joined the anti-French coalition. In September 1813 Napoleon suffered his first defeat in the field in the Battle of Leipzig against Russian, Austrian and Prussian forces. All of Germany was lost now; the Kingdom of Westphalia ceased to exist; the Rheinbund was dissolved. An immediate effect of Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig was that the Netherlands revolted and were lost to France. Wellington crossed the Pyrenees amd invaded France. Italy too was lost. Only France remained.
France was invaded from all sides, Wellington in the south, Russians, Prussians and Austrians in the north-east. Napoleon tried to check them, was more than once successful, but suffered his first defeat on French soil on February 1, 1814. A Dutch army joined the allies. An Austrian army, coming from Italy, invaded France in the south-east. The allies reached Paris in March and occupied it on March 31, 1814. The Sénat deposed Napoleon. Napoleon's marshals refused to fight any longer.
The Bonapartes no longer played a role. Napoleon got the island of Elba, the sovereign of which he became. He escaped from it at the end of February 1815, landed in France and made a triumphal entry in Paris The Fifth Coalition was hastily revived. Napoleon assembled his last great army and marched north with it. South of Brussels he was stopped by the allies and had to fight the Battle of Waterloo, June 16-18, 1815, and was heavily defeated. For the second time he resigned and was now a prisoner of war. He spent his last days on the English island of St.Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821. The volume is concluded with an assessment of Napoleon' persona and career.
Read the complete text of Chapter 5: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.