Pictures from the French Revolution

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Wilde, Robert. "Pictures from the French Revolution." ThoughtCo, Jan. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/pictures-from-the-french-revolution-4123085. Wilde, Robert. (2017, January 13). Pictures from the French Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pictures-from-the-french-revolution-4123085 Wilde, Robert. "Pictures from the French Revolution." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pictures-from-the-french-revolution-4123085 (accessed October 20, 2017).
01
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Louis XVI and Old Regime France

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Louis XVI of France. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Pictures were important during the French Revolution, from the grandly painted masterpieces which helped define revolutionary rule, to the basic drawings appearing in cheap pamphlets. This collection of pictures from the Revolution has been ordered and annotated to take you through the events.

Louis XVI and Old Regime France: the man illustrated in all his royal finery is Louis XVI, King of France. In theory he was the latest in a line of absolute monarchs; that is to say, kings with total power in their kingdoms. In practice there were many checks on his power, and the changing political and economic situation in France meant his regime continued to erode. A financial crisis, caused largely by involvement in the American Revolutionary War, meant Louis had to seek out new ways of financing his kingdom, and in desperation he called an old representative body: the Estates General.

02
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The Tennis Court Oath

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The Tennis Court Oath. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Tennis Court Oath: Shortly after the deputies of the Estates General met, they agreed to form a new representative body called the National Assembly which would take sovereign powers from the king. As they gathered to continue discussions they discovered they had been locked out of their meeting hall. While the reality was workmen inside preparing for a special meeting, the deputies feared the king was moving against them. Rather than split, they moved en masse to a nearby tennis court where they resolved to take a special oath to reinforce their commitment to the new body. This was the Tennis Court Oath, taken on June 20th 1789 by all but one of the deputies (this lone man may be represented on the picture by the fellow seen turning away at the lower right hand corner.) More on the Tennis Court Oath.

03
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The Storming of the Bastille

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The Storming of the Bastille. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Storming of the Bastille: perhaps the most iconic moment in the French Revolution was when a Paris crowd stormed and captured the Bastille. This imposing structure was a royal prison, a target of many myths and legends. Crucially for the events of 1789, it was also a storehouse of gunpowder. As the Paris crowd grew more militant and took to the streets to defend themselves and the revolution, they searched for gunpowder to arm their weapons, and Paris’ supply had been moved for safekeeping to the Bastille. A crowd of civilians and rebel soldiers thus attacked it and the man in charge of the garrison, knowing he was unprepared for a siege and wanting to minimise violence, surrendered. There were only seven prisoners inside. The hated structure was soon torn down.

04
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The National Assembly Reshapes France

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The National Assembly of the French Revolution. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The National Assembly Reshapes France: The deputies of the Estates General turned themselves into a brand new representative body for France by declaring themselves a National Assembly, and they soon went to work reshaping France. In a series of extraordinary meetings, none more so than that of August 4th, the political structure of France was washed away for a new one to be put in place, and a constitution was drawn up. The Assembly was finally dissolved on September 30th 1790, to be replaced by a new Legislative Assembly.

05
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The Sans-culottes

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Sans-culottes. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Sans-culottes: the power of the militant Parisians – often called the Paris mob – was of great importance in the French Revolution, driving events forward at crucial times through violence. These militants were often referred to as ‘Sans-cullotes’, a reference to the fact they were too poor to wear the culottes, a knee high piece of clothing found on the rich (sans meaning without). In this picture you can also see the ‘bonnet rouge’ on the male figure, a piece of red headware which became associated with revolutionary freedom and adopted as official clothing by the revolutionary government.

06
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March of the Women to Versailles

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March of the Women to Versailles. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

March of the Women to Versailles: as the revolution progressed, tensions arose over what King Louis XVI had the power to do, and he delayed passing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. A surge of popular protest in Paris, which increasingly saw itself as the protector of the revolution, led around 7000 women to march from the capital to the King at Versailles on the 5th 1791. They were hurriedly accompanied by the National Guard, which insisted in marching to join them. Once at Versailles a stoic Louis allowed them to present their grievances, and then took advice over how to defuse the situation without the mass violence that was brewing. In the end, on the 6th, he consented to the crowds’ demand to come back with them and stay in Paris. He was now an effective prisoner.

07
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The Royal Family is caught at Varennes

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Louis XVI Confronted by Revolutionaries at Varennes. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Royal Family is caught at Varennes: having been bought to Paris at the head of a mob, the royal family of Louis XVI were effectively imprisoned in an old royal palace. After much worrying on the part of the king, a decision was taken to try and flee to a loyal army. On June 20th 1791 the royal family thus disguised themselves, crowded into a coach, and set off. Unfortunately, a set of delays and confusions meant their military escort thought they weren’t coming and thus wasn’t in place to meet them, meaning the royal party was delayed in Varennes. Here they were recognised, trapped, arrested, and returned to Paris. To try and save the constitution the government claimed Louis has been abducted, but the long, critical note the king had left behind damned him.

08
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A Mob Confronts the King

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A Mob Confronts the King at the Tuileries. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

As the King and some branches of the revolutionary government worked to create a lasting constitutional monarchy, Louis remained unpopular thanks, in part, to his use of the veto powers he’d been given. On June 20th this anger took the form of a Sans-culotte mob who broke into the Tuileries palace and marched past the King, shouting their demands. Louis, showing a determination often lacking, stayed calm and spoke to the protestors as they filed past, giving some ground but refusing to yield the veto. Louis’ wife, the Queen Marie Antoinette, was forced to flee her bedrooms thanks to a section of the mob that broke in baying for her blood. Eventually the mob left the royal family alone, but it was clear they were at the mercy of Paris.

09
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The September Massacres

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The September Massacres. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The September Massacres: In August 1792 Paris felt itself increasingly under threat, with enemy armies closing in on the city and supporters of the recently deposed king threatening his enemies. Suspected rebels and fifth columnists were arrested and imprisoned in great numbers, but by September this fear had turned to paranoia and sheer terror, with people believing the enemy armies aimed to link up with the prisoners, while others were loathe to travel to the front to fight lest this group of enemies escape. Driven on by the bloody rhetoric of journalists like Marat, and with the government looking the other way, the Paris mob exploded into violence, attacking the prisons and massacring the prisoners, be they men, women or in many cases, children. Over a thousand people were murdered, mostly with hand tools.

10
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The Guilllotine

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The Guilllotine. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Guilllotine: Before the French Revolution, if a noble was to be executed it was by beheading, a punishment which was swift if done correctly. The rest of society, however, faced a range of long and painful deaths. After the revolution began a number of thinkers called for a more egalitarian method of execution, among them Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who proposed a machine which would execute everyone quickly. This developed into the Guillotine – the Dr. was always upset it was named after him – a device which remains the most visual representation of the revolution, and a tool which was soon used frequently. More on the Guillotine.

11
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Louis XVI's Farewell

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Louis XVI's Farewell. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Louis XVI's Farewell: The monarchy was finally fully overthrown in August 1792, by a planned uprising. Louis and his family were imprisoned, and soon people began to call for his execution as a way of fully ending the kingdom and giving birth to the Republic. Accordingly, Louis was placed on trial and his arguments ignored: the end result was a forgone conclusion. However, the debate about what to do with the ‘guilty’ king was close, but in the end it was decided to execute him. On January 23rd 1793 Louis was taken before a crowd and guillotined.

12
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Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette, Queen Consort of France thanks to her marriage to Louis XVI, was an Austrian archduchess, and probably the most hated women in France. She had never fully overcome prejudice about her heritage, as France and Austria had long been at odds, and her reputation was damaged by her own free spending and exaggerated and pornographic slanders in the popular press. After the royal family were arrested, Marie and her children were kept in the tower shown in the picture, before Marie was placed on trial (also illustrated). She stayed stoic throughout, but gave a passionate defence when she was accused of child abuse. It did no good, and she was executed in 1793.

13
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The Jacobins

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The Jacobins. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Jacobins: Right from the start of the revolution, debating societies had been created in Paris by deputies and interested parties so they could discuss what to do. One of these was based in an old Jacobin monastery, and the club became known as the Jacobins. They soon became the single most important society, with associated chapters all over France, and rose to positions of power in the government. They became sharply divided over what to do with the king and many members left, but after the Republic was declared, when they were led largely by Robespierre, they again dominated, taking the lead role in the Terror.

14
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Charlotte Corday

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Charlotte Corday. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Charlotte Corday: If Marie Antoinette is the most (in)famous women connected to the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday is the second. As the journalist Marat had repeatedly stirred up the Paris crowds with calls for mass executions, he had earned a considerable number of enemies. These influenced Corday, who decided to take a stand by assassinating Marat. She gained entrance to his house by claiming she had the names of traitors to give him and, speaking to him while he lay in a bath, stabbed him to death. She then remained calm, waiting to be arrested. With her guilt in no doubt, she was tried and executed.

15
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The Terror

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The Terror. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Terror: The French Revolution is, on one hand, credited with such developments in personal freedom and liberty as the Declaration of the Rights of Man. On the other, it reached depths like the Terror. As the war seemed to be turning against France in 1793, as huge areas rose up in rebellion, and as paranoia spread, militants, bloodthirsty journalists and extreme political thinkers called for a government which would move swiftly to strike terror into the hearts of counter-revolutionaries. From this government by Terror was created, a system of arrest, trial and execution with little emphasis on defence or evidence. Rebels, hoarders, spies, the unpatriotic and in the end just about anyone were to be purged. Special new armies were created to sweep France, and 16,000 were executed in nine months, with the same again dead in prison.

16
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Robespierre gives a speech

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Robespierre gives a speech. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Robespierre gives a speech: The man more associated with the French Revolution than any other is Robespierre. A provincial lawyer elected to the Estates General, Robespierre was ambitious, clever and determined, and he gave over a hundred speeches in the early years of the Revolution, turning himself into a key figure even though he wasn’t a skilled speaker. When he was elected to the Committee of Public Safety he soon basically became the committee and decision maker of France, driving the Terror to ever greater heights and attempting to turn France into a Republic of Purity, a state where your character was as important as your actions (and your guilt judged the same way).

17
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Thermidorian Reaction

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Thermidorian Reaction. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Thermidorian Reaction: In June 1794 the Terror reached its end. Opposition to the Terrorists had been growing, but Robespierre - increasingly paranoid and distant - triggered a move against him in a speech which hinted at a new wave of arrests and executions. Accordingly, Robespierre was arrested, and an attempt to raise the Paris mob failed thanks, in part, to Robespierre having broken their power. He and eighty followers were executed on June 30th 1794. There followed a wave of retaliatory violence against the Terrorists and, as the image illustrates, a call for moderation, devolved power and a new, less sanguinary, approach to the revolution. The worst of the bloodshed was over.