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The scene of carnage after the French Revolution

On January 21, 1793, a large crowd of people had assembled in the "Place de la Revolution" in Paris eagerly expecting to see the execution of Louis XVI, the King of France. The guillotine stood in the middle of the Square ready to execute France's traitor monarch who kept his people under the perfect mine of misery.


Execution of Louis XVI - German copperplate engraving, 1793

Suddenly, the doomed king of France, Louis XIV appeared in an open carriage and got down at the guillotine. He mounted the guillotine and laid his head upon the block amid the cheers and cries of "Long live the nation". The very people who had exclaimed "Long live the King" on the coronation of King Louis XVI, now made triumphal cries over his death.

This dramatic transmutation of attitude in French people towards their rulers was a result of a series of events that took place in the 18th century France. People had suffered most under the monarchy, clergy an nobility that supported the king. People desperately wanted freedom in the management of their affairs and they needed total abolition of the privileges of birth.

Their misery was so much heightened that Arthur Young, an Englishman who travelled to pre-revolutionary France, misidentified a 28-year-old woman to be an old woman of 70! Even the farmers who were a little more "prosperous" recoiled at the idea of living well as they knew that taxation would tax their breath.

The French Revolution took place against the backdrop of economic and political crisis. By now, the States-General which represented the nation had been totally out of operation and the kings of France had not consulted the States-General for around 175 years!

The Third Estate which comprised middle classes and the peasantry organised minor rebellions against the king, nobility and the clergy and pledged to bring a new constitution to France.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV became known as the "Sun King" because he impressed the image of sun as his royal badge and called himself "L'etat, C'est moi" ('I am the State'). Even though he encouraged art on a grand scale, he fought expensive wars in the Netherlands and against Spain to gain new territories.

A magnificent palace at Versailles with an astounding number of 5,000 courtiers and attendants living inside was built on his orders.

But his life of luxury and the corrupt practices of nobility and clergy brought about an explosion of unrest in people.

Before long, the people of France exploded into revolution and they swept away Louis' reign to set up a Parliament in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The middle class and peasantry assisted by the people mounted massive protest campaigns on the streets. In 1789, they attacked Bastille and freed the prisoners. This made king Louis and his supporting nobility powerless.

In spite of the attempts by the king and his queen Mary Antoinette to flee to Austria, they were captured in the city of Vareness and brought back to Paris.

Key figures

In 1792, under Jacobean influence, the King's powers were curtailed and the nobility loyal to king Louis were remanded.The new republic of France convicted Louis XVI of corruption. In 1793 they executed Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette.

During a reign of terror, 17,000 nobles and other enemies of the people were executed.

Voltaire was a landmark figure in shaping the public opinion for the revolution against the corrupt reign of King Louis.

He ruthlessly criticised the malpractices of the royal family, authority of the clergy and their privileges through writings and poetry.

Rousseau was another philosopher who made the French people aware of the existing political set up and opened their eyes to the weaknesses and corruption of the French government.

Rousseau claimed that the people should oust any ruler who is not prepared to meet the expectations of people.

These influential ideas highlighted the corruption by the privileged nobility clergy and the king and the urgent need to rise' against injustice.

Maximilian Robes Pierre

Maximilian Robes Pierre was a prominent figure before and after the French Revolution.

He possessed the gift of the gab to impress people and to point out the danger in the ruthless administration of King Louis' regime.

His ideas were frequently inspired by those of Rousseau the French thinker of his time. The people under ruthless suppression were awakened by his persuasive words and were led to attack the Bastille.

The rebels freed the political prisoners in Bastille and captured the store houses of gun powder and armouries.

With the fall of the French monarchy, thousands were sent to the guillotine daily. Robes Pierre, Danton and Marret fought one-another for power. Robes Pierre's rule is known as the reign of terror in the post-revolutionary period. Robes Pierre was not hesitant to kill all his opponents but he was an honest person as far as state affairs were concerned.

As he came to power the people earnestly believed that he would establish a peaceful government in France. People soon became disillusioned as they witnessed a reign of terror instead of a reign of prosperity after the revolution.

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