A: Plan of the InvestigationThis investigation seeks to ascertain the ways in which the French Monarchy was responsible for the Revolution, and thus its own downfall. Following a narrative of key events, each major monarchical error is identified, and analyzed in detail.
Subsequently, the sources used in this investigation undergo a comprehensive evaluation in which their clarity, detail, bias and value are carefully considered. This investigation is a success if the main failings that led to the Monarchy’s demise are elucidated, and the limitations of each source are understood.B: Summary of EvidenceBy 1788, the French Monarchy was dangerously close to bankruptcy. A fiscal crisis swept the nation. Louis XVI, the King of France, was advised by his councillors to sanction a meeting of the Estates General, an antiquated representative body, for the first time in nearly two centuries. Many Frenchmen were pleased to see that the “good king” had decided to seek advice from them.
1 The King went so far as to invite people of all classes to list their complaints in a series of booklets, known as cahiers. The peasants requested the abolition of the corvï¿½e, compulsory labour on the roads. The middle class was dissatisfied with counterproductive economic regulations, and the fact that only the nobility could hold high office in the military, the church and the state. Essentially, the Third Estate, comprising the 25 million non-noble Frenchmen, had presented a unified front to the King.
2They asked the Monarchy for two things: That the taxation immunity enjoyed by the Clergy and Nobles be repudiated, and that France write a constitution ensuring basic rights for its citizens, and the limitation of governmental powers. Although Louis was in favour of minor concessions as a result of listening to his people, he was worried by an increase in incidents of lawlessness in urban France. Though his people had elucidated many of the problems that plagued French society, Louis was incapable of solving them, due to the fact that he was receiving conflicting advice from different factotums.
Some of his palace aides suggested that the only reason to convene the Estates General was to raise funds with which to bolster the old governmental institutions. The more liberal members of the royal council attempted to convince Louis that because the Third Estate had been incited, it was essential to tax the nobles and clergymen, and use the acquired money to appease the mob.3On May 5, 1789, representatives of the three estates travelled to Versailles to hear the government’s arguments.
The King and his finance minister, Necker, both told the audience that the French nation was faced with a financial crisis of unparalleled proportions. The agents of the Third Estate were particularly vexed by the fact that though Louis had doubled their representation in the Estates General, and that they represented about 95% of the French population, that they could still be outvoted by the other two estates. In frustration, the Third Estate began to encourage members of other estates to join them.
On June 17, they declared themselves the National Assembly.In defiance of the King, the Third Estate’s members met at a Tennis Court at Versailles on June 20, and swore that they would do all in their power to write a constitution. Louis, due to the persistence of his more reactionary advisors, took a hard line against the commoners.4 Three days after the Tennis Court oath, he reprimanded the deputies of the Third Estate and suggested that their actions were childish and ineffectual, and that they should leave immediately. Mirabeau, a noble who was speaking on behalf of the Third Estate asked the Duc de Brï¿½zï¿½, the King’s representative, to tell Louis that: “only bayonets can drive us forth.” Although there was a sufficient number of troops in the vicinity, the King could not muster the decisiveness to remove the Third Estate’s deputies.Because he was unwilling to bring sufficient force to bear on the Revolutionaries, and troops refused to fire at the people, Louis was forced to make major concessions, namely that, in the Estates General, the privileged classes would sit with the Third Estate. Sensing that the Monarchy was losing power, Count Artois and Marie Antoinette persuaded the King that foreign troops were necessary to maintain order in Paris.
Because he was under the influence of his reactionary ministers, the King took further heavy-handed action in early July5. He dismissed his immensely popular reformist Finance Minister, Necker, as well as three other liberal-leaning ministers.Despite the fact Necker had assiduously attempted to ameliorate a hopeless financial situation, the King blamed him for France’s economic collapse.
When word of his dismal reached the turbulent Paris streets, mobs began to pillage the shops, in search of arms. Their ranks were swelled by rebellious soldiers, previously members of the French Guards. On July 14, the Bastille, the King’s ancient fortress, a proud symbol of his putative hegemony, was stormed by the riotous Parisians. This unprecedented act of lawlessness fuelled the flight of Count Artois, and a number of other conservative nobles, out of the city. Three days later, Louis returned to Paris from Versailles. He recalled Necker to office, and portrayed himself as a friend of the mobs in the streets, who, though originally suspicious, eventually cheered him.6Though the King temporarily retrieved some popularity, the signatories of the Tennis Court Oath had not forgotten their promise, and, in the spring of 1791, they completed the document which changed France into a limited Monarchy. The National Assembly could now make laws and collect taxes.
The King could no longer appoint local officials, control France’s relations with other nations, or dissolve the assembly. The Nobles had lost their privileges, the Church its wealth, and the King, his absolutism. The ideas of the enlightenment that had spread across Europe’s governmental scene now finally found their way into France. Despite the fact Louis had no choice but to accept the nascent reforms, he harboured a great deal of indignation towards them, and their authors.7On June 21, 1791, the King absconded from Paris. In attempt to seek help, Louis left Paris in search of troops still loyal to the Monarchy. The royal family were found, recognized and apprehended at Varennes.
When news of his flight reached urban Paris, the King’s image took a major blow, and, with the passing of Mirabeau, he had no diplomatic orator capable of arguing in favour of his interests with the people.8 Crowds began to assemble seeking the complete abrogation of the King’s role. Though that crowd was dispersed, their views were becoming more and more prevalent in the recently renamed Legislative Assembly; the ranks of the Girondins, a radical left-wing faction, were swelling. The fiercely patriotic Legislative Assembly declared war on the Austrians and the French in 1792, and mobilized the armies of France to “defend the Revolution.
“As anti-monarchical sentiment increased in the crowds, the King and Queen were labelled traitors and Austrian sympathizers. For the Revolutionaries, their suspicions were confirmed when the invading Austro-Prussian army wrote a belligerent manifesto threatening to sack Paris if the King was harmed. On August 10, a Revolutionary committee approved the eradication of the Monarchy, and the Tuileries was promptly stormed. The Throne of France had fallen.C: Evaluation of SourcesThe famous Catholic Historian Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution focuses on the personalities that triggered the coming of Revolution. Though his histrionic version of some of the French Revolution’s major figures is questionable at times, he provides a remarkable synopsis of the Monarchy’s role in its own demise. He also provides a great deal of detail about the military campaigns of the Revolutionary army, usefully showing how far the French were willing to go to spread their Revolution, and dismantle their Monarchy.William L.
Langer’s A Survey of European Civilizations includes a concise narrative of the French people’s Revolutionary initiative. It is too ambitious on occasion however; it is difficult to believe that the mindset and feeling of the Parisian mobs at every moment can be traced with such precision as this book does. Nevertheless, Langer has composed an objective examination of one of the world’s key political events.William Doyle’s Very Short Introduction to the French Revolution adduces six perspectives, each one depicting the same event.
This unconventional approach makes the book a refreshing read. The second chapter, “Why it Happened” is particularly helpful in depicting the failures of the Ancien Rï¿½gime, and the inherent flaws in the French Monarchy. Though it’s minimal in length, it provides a succinct summation of the Monarchy’s role in its own demise.D: AnalysisSince one of the major catalysts of the Revolutionary period in France was the seemingly unending financial disaster the nation was plagued with. The King employed a number of finance ministers in the hopes of averting an economic apocalypse. Though Turgot, Calonne and Necker were given an opportunity to formulate economic policy, before they could implement substantive reforms, the King intervened, and switched finance ministers9.
Financial suggestions that were enacted, such as massive loans, led to the accumulation of a massive national debt, and only served to exacerbate the tempestuous economic situation. Every move Louis made in an attempt to solve problems deepened the French predicament, and thus the Monarchy deserves a great deal of blame in this regard.10In addition to making poor policy decisions, the decadent image of the Monarchy that reached the unpretentious sans-culottes ensured that the street folk bore a great deal of resentment to the royal family. Whether or not the stories of Marie Antoinette’s unparalleled lavishness were true, the residents of urban Paris heard the tales, and believed them.
11 The exuberant self-indulgence that Parisians felt embodied their royal family led them to believe that they were not a concern of the Monarchy, and that they had to do something to get their rulers’ attentions. Even if the accounts of monarchical luxury were exaggerated, it is true that the royal family was extremely isolated from non-Royal affairs. For Marie Antoinette, any kind of interaction with the destitute or poorer elements of French society was absolutely abhorrent.12 Clearly, this detachment from the affairs of the people led the neglected Frenchmen to bear ill-will towards the Monarchy, and thus could be more easily compelled to iconoclastic activity.Since the King and Queen were so isolated and unaware of their people’s activities, their attempts to convince dissatisfied Frenchmen of the value of the Monarchy can be characterized as apathetic.
13 With the death of Mirabeau, a moderate political figure, who, in the various incarnations of the Assembly, promulgated the virtues of the people as well as the Monarchy14, Louis had few supporters courageous enough to halt the spread of Revolutionary fervour. This meant that in the area of public relations, the Revolutionaries maintained unchallenged hegemony, and thus the demagogic ability to control the mob.As well as being separated from their people, the Monarchy was also ideologically separated from not only France, but the rest of the continent. The Enlightened Despotisms of Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia entertained, ironically enough, the French philosophers whose ideas were triggering a Revolution in political thought. French courts were devoid of men like Rousseau and Voltaire who contributed in large part to the formation of the French Revolution’s ideological undertones. Because the Monarchy was unaware of the enlightenment discussions in the clubs and jardins, they were unable to counter the enlightenment sentiments that became more and more popular as the 18th century continued.In addition to the fact that many of his wife’s weaknesses were palpable, Louis XVI’s shortcomings were also evident.
His ambivalence in pivotal governmental decisions led to disastrous ramifications for the Monarchy. During the journï¿½es, he often was unable to mobilize sufficient troops to restore order. Even if adequate forces could be dispatched, Louis was often too frail and weak-minded to order them to take the necessary disciplinary action.
15 As the Count of Artois noted, “If you want an omelette, you must not be afraid of breaking eggs.16” Louis’ lack of decisiveness permitted the Revolutionary movement to gain steam, extract concessions from him, and eventually, to guillotine him. Marie Antoinette made the mistake of suggesting that foreign troops should be used to quell Parisian uprisings.
Though Prussian Hussars and Swiss mercenaries were reliably disciplined, their use angered Frenchmen unused to the presence of foreign troops on their soil.E: ConclusionUpon close inspection, one can see exactly why monarchical incompetence was so central in the galvanization of Revolution in France, and why history has been so unkind to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Economic errors, a flatulent image, isolation from non-royal affairs and the philosophical trends of the era, the mismanagement of the military and poor public relations combined to destroy the French throne, and change the world.