Chronological Summary
of the French Revolution

[Drawn up by "Philo" for the Edition of 1857]

Part I: The Bastille (May 10, 1774 - October 5, 1789)


Louis XV dies, at Versailles, May 10, 1774, of small pox, after a short illness: Great-grandson of Louis XIV; age then 64; in the 59th year of his nominal "reign". Retrospect to 1774; sad decay of "Realized Ideals," secular and sacred. Scenes about Louis XV's deathbed; Scene of the Noblesse entering, "with a noise like thunder," to do homage to the New King and Queen. New King, Louis XVI, was his Predecessor's Grandson; age then near 20, — born August 23, 1754. New Queen was Marie-Antoinette, Daughter (8th daughter, 12th child) of the great Empress Maria-Theresa and her Emperor Francis (originally "Duke of Lorraine," but with no territory there); her age at this time was under 19 (born November 2, 1755). Louis and she were wedded four years ago (May 16, 1770); but had as yet no children, — none till 1778, when their first was born; a Daughter known long afterwards as Duchess d'Angoulême. Two Sons followed, who were successively called "Dauphin"; but died both, the second in very miserable circumstances, while still in boyhood. Their fourth and last child, a Daughter (1786), lived only 11 months. These two were now King and Queen, piously reckoned themselves "too young to reign."

December 18, 1773, Tea, a celebrated cargo of it, had been flung out in the harbour of Boston, Massachusetts: June 7, 1775, Battle of Bunker Hill, first of the American War, is fought in the same neighbourhood, far over seas.


Change of Administration. Maurepas, a man now 73 years old and of great levity, is appointed Prime-Minister; Vergennes favourably known for his correct habits, for his embassies in Turkey, in Sweden, gets the Department of Foreign Affairs. Old Parlement is reinstated: "Parlement Maupesou," which had been invented for getting edicts, particularly tax-edicts, "registered," and made available in law, is dismissed. Turgot, made Controller-General of Finances ("Chancellor of the Exchequer" and something more), August 24, 1774, gives rise to high hopes, being already known as a man of much intelligence speculative and practical, of noble patriotic intentions, and of a probity beyond question.

There are many changes, but one steady fact, of supreme significance, continued Deficit of Revenue, — that is the only History of the Period. Noblesse and Clergy are exempt from direct imposts, no tax that can be devised, on such principle, will yield due ways and means. Meanings of that fact; little surmised by the then populations of France. Turgot aiming at juster principles, cannot: "Corn-trade" (domestic) "made free," and many improvements and high intentions — much discontent at Court in consequence; famine-riots withal and "gallows forty feet high." Turgot will tax Noblesse and Clergy like the other ranks; tempest of astonishment and indignation in consequence; Turgot dismissed, May 1776. Flat snuff-boxes come out, this summer, under the name of Turgotines, as being "platitudes" (in the notion of a fashionable snuffing public), like the Plans of this Controller. Necker, a Genevese become rich by Banking in Paris, and well seen by the Philosophe party, is appointed Controller in his stead (1776); — and there is continued Deficit of Revenue.

For the rest, Benevolence, Tolerance, Doctrine of universal Love and Charity to good and bad. Scepticism, Philosophism, Sensualism portentous "Electuary," of sweet taste, into which "Good and Evil," the distinctions of them lost, have been mashed up. Jean-Jacques, Contrat-Social: universal Millennium, of Liberty, Brotherhood and whatever is desirable, expected to be rapidly approaching on those terms. Balloons, Horse-races, Anglomania. Continued Deficit of Revenue. Necker's plans for "filling up the Deficit" are not approved of, and are only partially gone into: Frugality is of slow operation; curtailment of expenses occasions numerous dismissals, numerous discontents at Court from Noblesse and Clergy, if their privilege of exemption be touched, what is to be hoped?

American-English War (since April 1775); Franklin, and Agents of the Revolted Colonies, at Paris (1776 and afterwards), where their Cause is in high favour. Treaty with Revolted Colonies; February 6, 1778; extensive Official smugglings of supplies to them (in which Beaumarchais is much concerned) for some time before. Departure of French "volunteer" Auxiliaries, under Lafayette, 1778. "Volunteers" these, not sanctioned, only countenanced and furthered, the public clamour being strong that way. War from England, in consequence; Rochambeau to America, with public Auxiliaries, in 1780: — War not notable, except by the siege of Gibraltar, and by the general result arrived at shortly after.

Continued Deficit of Revenue: Necker's ulterior plans still less approved of; by Noblesse and Clergy, least of all. January, 1781, he publishes a Comte Rendu ("Account Rendered," of himself and them). "Two hundred thousand copies of it sold"; — and is dismissed in the May following. Returns to Switzerland; and there writes New Books, on the same interesting subject or pair of subjects. Maurepas dies, November 21, 1781: the essential "Prime-Minister" is henceforth the Controller-General, if any such could be found; there being an ever-increasing Deficit of Revenue, — a Millennium thought to be just coming on, and evidently no money in its pocket.

Siege of Gibraltar (September 13, to middle of November, 1782): Siege futile on the part of France and Spain; hopeless since that day (September 13) of the red-hot balls. General result arrived at is important: American Independence recognized (Peace of Versailles, January 20, 1783). Lafayette returns in illustrious condition; named Scipio Americanus by some able-editors of the time.


Ever-increasing Deficit of Revenue. Worse, not better, since Necker's dismissal. After one or two transient Controllers, who can do nothing, Calonne, a memorable one, is nominated, November, 1783. Who continues, with lavish expenditure raised by loans, contenting all the world by his liberality, "quenching fire by oil thrown on it"; for three years and more. "All the world was holding out its hand, I held out my hat." Ominous scandalous Affair called the Diamond Necklace (Cardinal de Rohan, Dame de Lamotte, Arch-Quack Cagliostro the principal actors), tragically compromising the Queen's name who had no vestige of concern with it, becomes public as Criminal-Trial, 1785; penal sentence on the above active parties and others, May 31, 1786: with immense rumour and conjecture from all mankind. Calonne, his borrowing resources being out, convokes the Notables (First Convocation of the Notables) February 22, 1787, to sanction his new Plans of Taxing, who will not hear of them: so that he is dismissed, and "exiled," April 8, 1787. First Convocation of Notables, — who treat not of this thing only, but of all manner of public things, and mention States-General among others, — sat from February 22 to May 25, 1787.


Cardinal Loménie de Brienne, who had long been ambitious of the post, succeeds Calonne. A man now of sixty, dissolute, worthless — divises Tax-Edicts, Stamp-tax (Edit du Timbre, July 6, 1787) and others, with "successive loans," and the like, which the Parlement, greatly to the joy of the Public, will not register. Ominous condition of the Public, all virtually in opposition; Parlements, at Paris and elsewhere, have a cheap method of becoming glorious. Contests of Loménie and Parlement. Beds-of-Justice (first of them, August 6, 1787); Lettres-de-Cachet, and the like methods; general "Exile" of Parlement (August 15, 1787), who return upon conditions, September 20. Increasing ferment of the Public. Loménie helps himself by temporary shifts till he can, privately, get ready for wrestling down the rebellious Parlement.

1788. January - September.

Spring of 1788, grand scheme of dismissing the Parlement altogether, and nominating instead a "Plenary Court (Cour Plénière)," which shall be obedient in "registering" and in other points. Scheme detected before quite ripe. Parlement in permanent session thereupon, haranguing all night (May 3); applausive idle crowds inundating the Outer Courts; D'Espréménil and Goeslard de Monsabert seized by military in the grey of the morning (May 4), and whirled off to distant places of imprisonment: Parlement itself dismissed to exile. Attempt to govern (that is, to raise supplies) by Royal Edict simply, — "Plenary Court" having expired in the birth. Rebellion of all the Provincial Parlements; idle Public more and more noisily approving and applauding. Destructive hailstorm, July 13, which was remembered next year. Royal Edict (August 8), That States-General, often vaguely promised before, shall actually assemble in May next. Proclamation (August 16), That "Treasury Payments be henceforth three-fifths in cash, two-fifths in paper," — in other words, that the Treasury is fallen insolvent. Loménie thereupon immediately dismissed: with immediate explosion of popular rejoicing, more riotous than usual. Necker, favourite of all the world, is immediately (August 24) recalled from Switzerland to succeed him, and is hailed "Saviour of France."

1788. November, December.

Second Convocation of the Notables (November 6 — December 12), by Necker, for the purpose of settling how, in various particulars, the States-General shall be held. For instance, Are the Three Estates to meet as one Deliberative Body? Or as Three, or Two? Above all, what is to be the relative force, in deciding, of the Third Estate or Commonalty? Notables, as other less formal Assemblages had done and do, depart without settling any of the points in question; most points remain unsettled, — especially that of the Third Estate and its relative force. Elections begin everywhere January next. Troubles of France seem now to be about becoming Revolution in France. Commencement of the "French Revolution," — henceforth a phenomenon absorbing all others for mankind, — is commonly dated here.

1789. May, June.

Assembling of States-General at Versailles; Procession to the Church of St. Louis there, May 4. Third Estate has the Nation behind it, wishes to be a main element in the business. Hopes, and (led by Mirabeau and other able heads) decides, that it must be the main element of all, — and will continue "inert," and do nothing, till that come about: namely, till the other Two Estates, Noblesse and Clergy, be joined with it; in which conjunct state it can outvote them, and may become what it wishes. "Inertia," or the scheme of doing only harangues and adroit formalities, is adopted by it; adroitly persevered in, for seven week: much to the hope of France; to the alarm of Necker and the Court.

Court to intervene. Hall of Assembly is found shut (Saturday, June 20); Third-Estate Deputies take Oath, celebrated "Oath of the Tennis-Court," in that emergency. Emotion of French mankind. Monday, June 22, Court does intervene, but with reverse effect: Séance Royale, Royal Speech, giving open intimation of much significance, "If you, the Three Estates, cannot agree, I the King will myself achieve the happiness of my People." Noblesse and Clergy leave the Hall along with King. Third Estate remains pondering this intimation. Enter Supreme-Usher de Brézé, to command departure; Mirabeau's fulminant words to him: exit De Brézé, fruitless and worse, "amid seas of angry people." All France on the edge of blazing out: Court recoils; Third Estate, other Two now joining it on order, triumphs, successful in every particular. The States-General are henceforth "National Assembly"; called in Books distinctively "Constituent Assembly"; that is, Assembly met "to make the Constitution," — perfect Constitution, under which the French People might realize their Millennium.

1789. June, July

Great hope, great excitement, great suspicion. Court terrors and plans: old Maréchal Broglie, — this is the Broglie who was young in the Seven-Years War; son of a Marshal Broglie, and grandson of another, who much filled the newspapers in their time. Gardes Françaises at Paris need to be confined to their quarters, and cannot (June 26). Sunday, July 12, News that Necker is dismissed, and gone homewards overnight; panic terror of Paris, kindling into hot frenzy; — ends in besieging the Bastille; and in taking it, chiefly by infinite noise, the Gardes Françaises at length mutely assisting in the rear. Bastille falls, "like the City of Jericho, by sound," Tuesday, July 14, 1789. Kind of "fire-baptism" to the Revolution; which continues insuppressible thenceforth, and beyond hope of suppression. All France, as National Guards, "to suppress Brigands and enemies to the making of the Constitution," takes arms.

1789. August - October.

Scipio Americanus, Mayor Bailly and "Patrollotism versus Patriotism" (August, September). Hope, terror, suspicion, excitement, rising ever more, towards the trancendental pitch; — continued scarcity of grain. Progress towards Fifth of October, called here "Insurrection of Women." Regiment de Flandre has come to Versailles (September 23); Officers have had a dinner (October 3), with much demonstration and gesticulative follery, of an anti-constitutional and monarchic character. Paris, semi-delirious, hears of it (Sunday, October 4), with endless emotion; — next day, some "10,000 women" (men being under awe of "Patrollotism") march upon Versailles; followed by endless miscellaneous multitudes, and finally by Lafayette and National Guards. Phenomena and procedure there. Result is, they bring the Royal Family and National Assembly home with them to Paris; Paris thereafter centre of the Revolution, and October Five a memorable day.

1789. October - December.

"First Emigration," of certain higher Noblesse and Princes of the Blood; which more or less continues through the ensuing years, and at length on an altogether profuse scale. Much legal inquiring and procedure as to Philippe d'Orléans and his (imaginary) concern in this Fifth of October; who retires to England for a while, and is ill seen by the polite classes there.

Part II: The Constitution (January 1790 - August 12, 1792.)


Constitution-building, and its difficulties and accompaniments. Clubs, Journalisms; advent of anarchic souls from every quarter of the world; February 4, King's visit to Constituent Assembly; emotion thereupon and National Oath, which flies over France. Progress of swearing it, detailed. General "Federation," or mutual Oath of all Frenchmen, otherwise called "Feast of Pikes" (July 14, Anniversary of Bastille-day), which also is a memorable Day. Its effect on the Military, in Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte's experience.

General disorganization of the Army, and attempts to mend it. Affair of Nanci (catastrophe is August 31; called "Massacre of Nanci"; irritation thereupon. Mutineer Swiss sent to the Galleys; solemn Funeral-service for the Slain at Nanci (September 20), and riotous menaces and mobs in consequence. Steady progress of disorganization; of anarchy spiritual and practical. Mirabeau, desperate of Constitution-building under such accompaniments, has interviews with the Queen, and contemplates great things.

1791. April - July.

Death of Mirabeau (April 2): last chance of guiding or controlling this Revolution gone thereby. Royal Family, still hopeful to control it, means to get away from Paris as a first step. Suspected of such intention; visit to St. Cloud violently prevented by the Populace (April 19). Actual Flight to Varennes (June 20); and misadventures there: return captive to Paris, in a frightfully worsened position, the fifth evening after (June 25): "Republic" mentioned in Placards, during King's Flight; generally reprobated. Queen and Barnave. A Throne held up; as if "set on its vertex," to be held there by hand. Should not this runaway King be deposed? Immense assemblage, petitioning at Altar of Fatherland to that effect (Sunday, July 17) is dispersed by musketry, from Lafeyette and Mayor Bailly, with extensive shrieks following, and leaving remembrances of a very bitter kind.

1791. August.

Foreign Governments,who had long looked with disapproval on the French Revolution, now set about preparing for actual interference. Convention of Pilnitz (August 25-27): Emperor Leopold II, Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, with certain less important Potentates, and Emigrant Princes of the Blood, assembling in this Pilnitz (Electoral Country-house near Dresden), express their sorrow and concern at the impossible posture of his now French Majesty, which they think calls upon regular Governments to interfere and mend it: they themselves, prepared at present to "resist French aggression" on their own territories, will co-operate with said Governments in "interfering by effectual method." This Document, of date August 27, 1791, rouses violent indignations in France; which blaze up higher and higher, and are not quenched for twenty-five years after. Constitution finished; accepted by the King (September 14); Constituent Assembly proclaims "in a sonorous voice" (September 30), that its Sessions are all ended;—and goes its way amid "illuminations."

1791. October - December.

Legislative Assembly, elected according to the Constitution, the first and also the last Assembly of that character, meets October 1, 1791; sat till September 21, 1792; a Twelve-month all but nine days. More republican than its predecessor, inferior in talent; destitute, like it, of parliamentary experience. Its debates, futilities, staggering parliamentary procedure (Book V, cc. 1-3). Court "pretending to be dead,"—not "aiding the Constitution to march." Sunday, October 16, L'Escuyer, at Avignon, murdered in a Church; Massacres in the Ice-Tower follow. Suspicions of their King, and of each other; anxieties about foreign attack, and whether they are in a right condition to meet it; painful questionings of Ministers; continual changes of Ministry,—occupy France and its Legislative with sad debates, growing ever more desperate and stormy in the coming months. Narbonne (Madame de Staël's friend) made War-Minister, December 7; continues for nearly half a year; then Servan, who lasts three months; then Dumouriez, who, in that capacity, lasts only five days (had, with Roland as Home Minister, been otherwise in place for a year or more); mere "Ghosts of Ministries."

1792. February - April.

Terror of rural France (February-March); Camp of Jalès; copious Emigration. February 7, Emperor Leopold and the King of Prussia, mending their Pilnitz offer, make public Treaty, That they specifically will endeavour to keep down disturbances, and if attacked will assist one another. Sardinia, Naples, Spain, and even Russia and the Pope, understood to be in the rear of these two. April 20, French Assembly, after violent debates, decrees war against Emperor Leopold. This is the first Declaration of War, which the others followed, pro and contra, all around, like pieces of a great Firework blazing out now here now there. The Prussian Declaration, which followed first, some months after, is the immediately important one.

1792. June.

In presence of these alarming phenomena, Government cannot act; will not, say the People. Clubs, Journalists, Sections (organized population of Paris) growing ever more violent and desperate. Issue forth (June 20) in vast procession, the combined Sections and leaders, with banners, with demonstrations; marching through the streets of Paris "To quicken the Executive," and give it a fillip as to the time of day. Called "Procession of the Black Breeches" in this Book. Immense Procession, peaceable but dangerous, finds the Tuileries gates closes, and no access to his Majesty; squeezes, crushes, and is squeezed, crushed against the Tuileries gates and doors till they give way; and the admission to his Majesty, and the dialogue with him, and behaviour in his House, are of an utterly chaotic kind, dangerous and scandalous, though not otherwise than peaceable. Giving rise to much angry commentary in France and over Europe. June Twenty henceforth a memorable Day. General Lafayette suddenly appears in the Assembly, without leave, as is splenetically observed: makes fruitless attempts to reinstate authority in Paris (June 28); withdraws as an extinct popularity.

1792. July.

July 6. Reconciliatory Scene in the Assembly, derisively called Baiser L'amourette. "Third Federation," July 14, being at hand,—could not the assembling "Federates" be united into some Nucleus of Force near Paris? Court answers, No; not without reason of its own. Barbaroux writes to Marsailles for "500 men who know how to die"; who according get under way, though like to be too late for the Federation. Sunday, July 22, Solemn Proclamation that the "Country is in Danger."

July 24, Prussian Declaration of War; and Duke of Brunswick's celebrated Manifesto, threatening France "with military execution" if Royalty were meddled with: the latter bears date Coblentz, July 27, 1792, in the name of both Emperor and King of Prussia. Duke of Brunswick commands in chief: Nephew (sister's son) of Frederick the Great; and Father of our unlucky "Queen Caroline": has served, very young, in the Seven Years War, under his Father's Brother, Prince Ferdinand; and often in command of detachments bigger or smaller; and had gained distinction by his swift marches, audacity and battle-spirit: never hitherto commanded any wide system of operations; nor ever again till 1806, when he suddenly encountered ruin and death at the very starting (Battle of Jena, October 14 of that year). This proclamation, which awoke endless indignation in France and much criticism in the world elsewhere, is understood to have been prepared by other hands (French-Emigrants chiefly, who were along with him in force), and to have been signed by the Duke much against his will. "Insigne vengeance," "military execution," and other terms of overbearing menace: Prussian Army, and Austrians from Netherlands, are advancing in that humour. Marseillese, "who know how to die," arrive in Paris (July 29); dinner-scene in the Champs Elysées.

1792. August.

Indignation waxing desperate at Paris; France, boiling with ability and will, tied up from defending itself by "an inactive Government" (fatally unable to act). Secret conclaves, consultations of Municipality and Clubs; Danton understood to be the presiding genius there. Legislative Assembly is itself plotting and participant; no other course for it. August 10, Universal Insurrection of the Armed Population of Paris; Tuileries forced, Swiss Guards cut to pieces. King, when once violence was imminent, and before any act of violence, had with Queen and Dauphin sought shelter in the Legislative-Assembly Hall. They continue there till August 13 (Friday-Monday), listening to the debates, in a reporter's box. Are conducted thence to the Temple "as Hostages,"—do not get out again except to die. Legislative Assembly has its Decree ready, That in terms of the Constitution in such alarming crisis a National Convention (Parliament with absolute powers) shall be elected; Decree issued that same day, August 10, 1792. After which the Legislative only waits its existence till it be fulfilled.

Part III: The Guillotine (August 10, 1792 - October 4, 1795.)

1792. August - September.

Legislative continues its sittings till Election be completed. Enemy advancing, with armed Emigrants, enter France, Luxembourg region; take Longwy, almost without resistance (August 23); prepare to take Verdun. Austrians beseiging Thionville, cannot take it. Dumouriez seizes the Passes of Argonne, August 29. Great agitation in Paris. Sunday, September 2, and onwards till Thursday 6, September Massacres: described Book I, cc. 4-6. Prussians have taken Verdun, September 2, (Sunday, while the Massacres are beginning); except on the score of provisions and of weather, little or no hindrance. Dumouriez waiting in the Passes of Argonne. Prussians detaining three weeks forcing these. Famine, and torrents of rain. Battle of Cannonade of Vamly (September 20). French do not fly, as expected. Convention meets, September 22, 1792; Legislative had sat till the day before, and now gives place to it: Republic decreed, same day. Austrians, renouncing Thionville, beseige Lille (September 28-October 8); cannot: "fashionable shaving-dish," the splinter of a Lille bombshell. Prussians, drenched deep in mud, in dysentary and famine, are obliged to retreat: Goethe's account of it. Total failure of that Brunswick Enterprise.

1792. December - 1793. January.

Revolutionary activities in Paris and over France; King shall be brought to "trial." Trial of the King (Tuesday, December 11-Sunday 16). Three Votes(January 15-17, 1793): Sentence, Death without respite. Executed Monday, January 21, 1793, morning about 10 o'clock. English Ambassador quits Paris; French Ambassador ordered to quit England (January 24). War between the two countries imminent.

1793. February.

Dumouriez, in rear of the retreating Austrians, has seized the whole Austrian Netherlands, in a month or less (November 4-December 2 last); and now holds tht territory. February 1, France declares War against England and Holland; England declares in turn, February 11: Dumouriez immediately invades Holland; English, under Duke of York, go to the rescue: rather successful at first. Committee of Salut hence. June 1, Howe's Sea-victory; and Fable of the Vengeur. General Jourdan: Battle of Fleurus, sore stroke against the Austrian Netherlands (June 26).

Conspiracy of Mountain against Robespierre: Tallien and others desirous not to be "eaten." Last scenes of Robespierre: July 28 (10 Thermidor, Year 2), guillotined with his Consorts; — which, unexpectedly, ends the Reign of Terror. Victorious French Armies: enter Cologne, October 6; masters of Spanish bulwarks (Dugommier shot), October 17: Duke of York and Dutch Stadtholder in ruinous condition. Reaction against Robespierre "whole Nation a Committee of Mercy." Jacobins Club assaulted by mob, shut up, November 10-12. Law of Maximum abolished, December 24. Duke of York goes home; Pichegru and 70,000 overrun Holland; frost so hard, "hussars can take ships."


Stadtholder quits Holland, January 19; glad to get across to England. Spanish Cities "opening to the petard" (Rosas first, January 5, and rapidly thereafter, till almost Madrid comes in view). Continued downfall of Sansulottism. Effervescence of luxury; La Cabarus; Greek Costumes; Jeunesse Dorée; balls in flesh-coloured drawers. Sansculottism rises twice in Insurrection; both times in vain. Insurrection of Germinal ("12 Germinal," Year 3, April 1, 1795); ends by "two blank cannot-shot" from Pichegru.

1795. April-October.

Prussia makes Peace of Bâle (Basel), April 5; Spain, Peace of Bâle is three months later. Armies everywhere successful: Catalogue of Victories and Conquests hung up in the Convention Hall. Famine of the lower classes. Fouquier-Tinville guillotined (May 8) Insurrection of Prairial, the Second attempt of Sansculottism to recover power ("1 Prairial," May 20); Deputy Féraud masacred: — issues in the Disarming and Finishing of Sansculottism. Emigrant Invasion, in English ships, lands at Quiberon, and is blown to pieces (July 15-20); La Vendée, which had before been three years in Revolt, is hereby kindled into a "Second" less important "Revolt of La Vendée," which lasts some eight months. Ractionary "Companies of Jesus," "Companies of the Sun," assassinating Jacobins in the Rhone Countries (July-August), New Constitution; Directory and Consuls, — Two-thirds of the Convention to be re-elected. Objections to that clause. Section Lepelletier, and miscellaneous Discontented, revolt against it: Insurrection of Vendémiaire, Last of the Insurrections ("13 Vendémiaire, Year 4," October 5, 1795); quelled by Napoleon. On which "The Revolution as defined here, ends", — Anarchic Government, if still anarchic, proceeding by softer methods than that of continued insurrection.