Note to reader: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Bonjour! We are about to start studying the French Revolution in European history, so you know what that means–I have some printables to share with you! I also wanted to jot down a few thoughts about the French Revolution for kids to be able to comprehend what a watershed moment it was in history.
Full disclosure: when it comes to revolutions, I am a MUCH bigger fan of the 1776 variety than the 1789 variety. If that upsets you, feel free to click away because you won’t much like this article, ha! (We can part as friends–in fact, here’s a sweet coloring page as a consolation prize!)
Avante” to the French Revolution facts!
In 1789, the people of France were fed up. They were tired of being ruled by an absolute monarchy, and they were tired of dealing with the opulence of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.
The French Monarchy: King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette was married to King Louis XVI and was very unpopular with the people of France. She was often ridiculed for her expensive taste and her seeming lack of concern for the plight of her subjects. While she wasn’t directly responsible for the outbreak of the French Revolution, she did become a symbol of everything that was wrong with the monarchy.
The French people were tired of paying high taxes to support the king and queen’s lavish lifestyle while they struggled to make ends meet.
So, they did what any reasonable group of people would do in their situation: they stormed the Bastille…
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what you expected. But stay with me; this is going to be long but interesting! The French Revolution was one of the most important events–not just in French history, but in WORLD history–and it led directly to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
It also resulted in a lot of government oppression, which is why it’s often contrasted with the American Revolution—which led to freedom. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Causes of the French Revolution
Like most revolutions, the French Revolution started with some discontented people who were looking to overthrow the existing government. In this case, those people were peasants who were so desperate for food that they were resorting to eating grass.
When they heard about Marie Antoinette’s opulent spending on things like furnishing her private château, Petit Trianon, they were furious. The people of France were starving!
There were actually many causes of the French Revolution, but most historians agree that three of the main factors were: economic hardship, political crises, and social inequality.
France was spending more money than it was bringing in thanks to costly wars and the lavish lifestyle of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This led to high taxes for the common people and a growing national debt.
France had an absolutist monarchy, meaning that King Louis XVI had complete control over the government; however, many people believed that he was not using his power wisely.
They thought he should consult with parliament (the Estates-General) more often instead of making decisions on his own. Additionally, there was a lot of anger about France’s involvement in costly wars in America and Europe.
Upset that the king wasn’t listening to them, members of the Third Estate finally formed the National Assembly in order to have their voices heard. The National Assembly played a key role in shaping this “new France.”
French society was divided into a very strict class system with three different classes: the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (everyone else). The Third Estate made up 97% of the population but paid almost all of the taxes while having very little say in how their country was run. Naturally, they started to get frustrated with this arrangement.
These three factors above—economic hardship, political crises, and social inequality—all played a role in creating unrest among the people of France which would eventually lead to revolution.
This widespread discontent among the people bubbled over in 1789 when…
The citizens stormed the Bastille!
On July 14th, 1789—which has since become known as Bastille Day—a group of angry citizens stormed the Bastille, a fortress prison in Paris where political prisoners were kept. This was a symbolic act against the king’s absolute power, and it signaled the beginning of the French Revolution.
The results of the French Revolution: a tyrannical French government!
While the American Revolution had led to a new political system based on freedom and democracy, the French Revolution led to chaos and oppression.
After America won its independence from Britain, it set up a system of government where all men were considered equal and had certain rights and freedoms—such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The French revolutionary government: “out of the frying pan and into the fire!”
In France, however, things did not go so smoothly.
At first, it seemed like the French Revolution may produce the desired effect of freedom, but then it went wrong. Very wrong. The people learned that a “representative” government could quickly turn tyrannical when the conditions were right..er, I mean wrong.
(There are so many factors that led to this, and it would take a MUCH longer treatise to address them, but let’s just say that the foundations of the French Revolution were faulty: built on the vain philosophies of man and humanistic thinking.) The early days of the French Revolution were marked by false hope
and promise, and they quickly turned into a nightmare.
The Jacobins seize power
In September of 1793, a radical group called the Jacobins seized control of the government and instituted the “Reign of Terror.” The Jacobins were one of the most radical political clubs in France.
During this time, anyone suspected of being an enemy of the state was ruthlessly executed without trial. Historians estimate that as many as 17,000 people were brutally killed! (In reality, the number is probably closer to 40,000…)
The Directory takes control
Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with the general population. Eventually, a group of military leaders known as the Directory overthrew the Jacobins and took control of the government. This government was more moderate and helped restore a little stability in France, but it collapsed amid instability, infighting,
In 1799, a general named Napoleon Bonaparte took control of the government and instituted some much-needed reforms.
Under his rule, the economy improved and education was made available to all citizens, regardless of social class. He also did away with the old feudal system that had kept the peasantry in poverty for so many years. Napoleon lowered the taxes of the poor farmers and introduced a more fair and fixed tax system. During his reign, the French slave trade was also abolished!
Unfortunately, he became increasingly tyrannical and was eventually overthrown and exiled–twice. (During his first exile on the isle of Elba, he escaped and attempted to return to power!) After his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington, he was again exiled–this time to another island: Saint Helena.
Even though Napoleon’s rule didn’t stand the test of time, it did lay the groundwork for the modern French Republic that exists today.
The rise of a new ideology
The French Revolution demonstrated that revolutions can sometimes lead to tyranny and oppression instead of more freedom for the people.
Benjamin Constant put it beautifully in his 1819 essay, ” [the French revolutionaries] demand[ed] that the citizens should be entirely subjected in order for the nation to be sovereign, and that the individual should be enslaved for the people to be free.”
The French Revolution was a pivotal moment in European history, and its effects were felt throughout the continent. One of the most significant aspects of the revolution was its impact on ideas about socialism.
Prior to the revolution, many Europeans had only a vague understanding of what socialism was; after the revolution, socialist ideas began to gain a wider foothold. The revolution also spurred the development of new, more radical forms of socialism. In the centuries since the French Revolution, socialism has become a major political force in Europe, and its ideas have inundated many modern institutions around the world.
French Revolution for kids booklist!
I do hate to end this blog post on the downer-that-is-socialism, so let’s end on a happier note: BOOKS! Yay!
I plan to snag this one for sure–it’s graphic novel format looks so engaging! (We haven’t read it yet, so I can’t vouch for the content!)
On that note, check out this GORGEOUS board book:
Lit for Little Hands: Les Misérables
It looks sooo beautiful and incredible. I am tempted to buy it, even though I have no need for a board book at this stage in my life, ha! Wait..I do have toddler nieces and nephews! (Mental note to add to Christmas list….)
Who Was Marie Antoinette?
Another one that I have added to my cart! I am interested in reading this aloud (or maybe I will get the audiobook) in order to understand a bit more about France’s last Queen.
Who Was Napoleon?
I have added this to our holiday reading list, as well! Napoleon is such a perplexing figure to learn about..there are so many dichotomies in his life! While writing this blog post, I realized how little I know about him! I am interested to learn more.
SOTW Volume 3
Well, I mentioned before how I had put off listening to SOTW because of the dramatic style of the beloved narrator….but now, I am SO sad we waited so long! (His style has grown on me, btw!) We CONSUMED Volume 2 this semester and I am running to buy Volume 3, so we can start on that!
Take a glance at this note when downloading these French Revolution
for kids: printable activities!
Please take a look at this note regarding prudent use of the Plum Jolly website. Thank you in advance for playing fair!