French and Swiss troops fire at revolutionaries, 1789

Background

The French Revolution of 1789 brought down the monarchy, the aristocracy and the church and marked a dramatic end to the old regime in France.

The revolutionary movement shook France between 1787 and 1799, resurfacing in various forms throughout the following century.

There is no complete agreement on the causes of the revolution but the key factors included:

  • France's failure to feed its population
  • The exclusion of the growing bourgeoisie (middle classes) from political power
  • The growing reluctance of the peasants to support an oppressive feudal system
  • The high cost of France's participation in the American Revolutionary War
  • The widely read writings of philosophers advocating social and political reform

Taken from: Five plates representing scenes of the French Revolution
Date: 1804
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 1850.c.28