Week 8: From Reform to Revolution

Textbook reading: Censer & Hunt, Chapter 2. This week we address two deceptively simple questions: first, why did the tensions that characterized late eighteenth-century society and politics produce revolution in France? What, in other words, set that kingdom apart from all the other European polities? Or is the contrast an anachronistic illusion? Second, we ask why constitutional monarchy proved incapable of securing legitimacy in the three years after 1789. Why, in other words, did the Revolution eventually produce a Republic? Read for discussion in class: Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, “What is the Third Estate?” (1789) [Canvas].

The Collapse of the Old Regime in France

I. Discussion: Abbé Sieyès, “What is the Third Estate?”

Image: Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès

II. Power, Privilege and Reform in France in the Reign of Louis XVI

Image: Joseph-Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802), Portrait of Louis XVI (1775)
Image: Henri Bertin, Contrôlleur-Général (1759-1763)
Image: Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Contrôlleur-Général (1774-1776)
Image: Jacques Necker, Contrôlleur-Général (1776-1781)

III. The Fiscal Crisis of the French State

Image: A lit de justice (12 September 1715)
Image: A lit de justice (6 August 1787)

IV. Desacralization of the Monarchy
A. The Damiens Affair (1757) and the King's Body
B. The Wrath of “Grub Street”: Scandal Literature and the Erosion of Royal Prestige

Image: The Execution of Robert-François Damiens, 1757
Image: Illustration from Essais historiques sur la vie de Marie-Antoinette (

V. Crisis and Protest: The “Pre-Revolution”
A. The Failure of Institutional Reform: Calonne's Reforms and the Assembly of Notables
B. Things Fall Apart: The Upheavals of 1788 and 1789

Image: Satire of the “Assembly of Notables” (22 February 1787)
Image: Alexandre Debelle (1805-1897), La journée des Tuiles [7 June 1788] (1890)
Image: Arthur Young (1741-1820)

VI. From Estates General to National Assembly
A. The Question of Voting: Answering Sièyes
B. A Turning Point: The Tennis Court Oath (20 June 1789)

Image above: Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755-1842), Portrait of Charles Alexandre, Vicomte de Calonne (1734-1802). Calonne was Controller-General of Finances under Louis XVI (1781-1787); in that capacity, he sought to remedy the looming bankruptcy of state finances in the 1780s. Image source: Wikipedia Commons. Image right: Antoine-François Callet (1741-1823), Portrait of Louis XVI (1788). Oil on canvas, 278 x 196 cm. Musée National du Château, Versailles. Image source: Ville de Clermont-Ferrand.

From Constitutional Monarchy to Republic

Read for discusison in class: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (26 August 1789) in Censer & Hunt, 45-47, Louis-Marie Prudhomme, “On the Influence of the Revolution on Women” (1791), in Censer & Hunt, 79-81, and Marie Olympe de Gouges, The Rights of Woman (1791) [Canvas]

I. Introduction: Jacques-Louis David’s Tennis Court Oath

Image: Inaugural Ceremonies at the Estates General, 5 May 1789
Image: Jacques-Louis David, The Tennis Court Oath
Text: An Annotation of The Tennis Court Oath

Image: The Tennis Court as it appears today

II. Dismantling the Seigneurial Order in Rural France
A. Pressure from Below: The ‘Great Fear’ and the Storming of the Bastille
B. The August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man

Excursus: Top Ten Grievances on the Eve of the Revolution
Image: An Eighteenth-Century View of the Bastille
Image: The Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789
Text: The August Decrees (1789)

Image: The Salle du Manège, seat of the National Assembly

III. Disussion: The Declaration, Prudhomme, and Marie Olympe de Gouges

Image right: Jean-François Carteaux (1751-1813), Louis XVI, roi de France (1791). 306 cm x 322 cm. Musée nationale du Château de Versailles. This equestrian portrait of Louis XVI is typical of the complex blend of revolutionary and monarchical symbolism that characterized the first phase of the revolution in France. The king's equestrian pose continues an ancient mode of representing royal authority visually. Louis also wears medallions of the Orders of Saint-Esprit and of the Golden Fleece. But his uniform is red, the color of the city of Paris, not white, the color of the French royal dynasty. In his right hand, Louis carries an épée with the legend La Loi, as if to suggest that the king's authority is no longer absolute, but an executive office in the service of a sovereign legislature. Image source: L'Histoire par l'Image.


IV. Sources of Unity
A. Euphoria and Revolutionary Possibilism
B. Symbolizing Unity: The Revolution's First Anniversary (14 July 1790)

Map: The Départements of Revolutionary France (1790)
Image: Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of Lafayette at the Festival of the Federation (1790)

V. Sources of Division
A. Religion: The Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the Emergence of Counterrevolutionary Opposition
B. Politics: Clubs, Legislation, and the ‘General Will’
C. Power: Local versus Central Authority
D. Class: Nobility under the Constitutional Monarchy

Image: Commemorative Plate on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790)
Map: Non-juring priests, by department (1791)
Image: The Jacobin Club (Exterior)
Image: The Jacobin Club (Interior)
Image: An Assignat (1791)
Image: A Coffer of Assignats

Image: Louis-Philippe
II, Duke of Orléans, a.k.a. Philippe Égalité

Images above: [top] Charles Monnet (1732-1808), La fête de la Fédération (1790). Engraving by Helman. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Image source: L'Histoire par l'Image. [bottom] Fête du Champs de Mars dit de la Fédération (1790). Both images depict the Festival of the Federation, held on 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the Revolution.

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