The Oxford History of the French Revolution

The Oxford History of the French Revolution

The Oxford History of the French Revolution

The Oxford History of the French Revolution

Synopsis

The French Revolution of 1789 lasted for almost ten years, and when it ended, the political and social order of France had been dramatically altered. The absolute rule of the monarch had ceased, and feudalism had been destroyed. With the end of the ancien regime, the new bourgeois gained political power at the expense of the aristocracy and Church. The revolution upset not only established institutions in France, but had serious repercussions throughout Europe. The Oxford History of the French Revolution provides a comprehensive and powerful account of the extraordinary events in France and Europe between 1789 and 1799. Opening with the accession of Louis XVI in 1774, eminent historian William Doyle describes the collapse of the Government, the calling of the Estates-General and the Principles of 1789. He then traces the fascinating history of France through revolution, terror, and counter-revolution, to the triumph of Napoleon in 1802, analyzing throughout the impact of the events on Europe. "The French Revolution took the whole of Europe by surprise," he writes. "To be sure, all educated Europeans were aware in the 1780's that they lived in an age of upheaval and defiance of authority.... But if any great monarchy seemed destined soon to collapse, it was not that of the French Bourbons." By examining the Revolution in its European context, Doyle shows how a movement which began with optimism and general enthusiasm ("the news was romantic and thrilling...people thronged bookshops and reading rooms clamouring for the latest information") soon became a tragedy, not only for the ruling orders, but for millions of ordinary people all over Europe. As the contagion for upheaval spread across Europe, churches were plundered, pious fraternities dissolved, and the paper money issued by the new authorities plummeted in value. It was the common people, he reveals, who paid the price for the destruction of the old political order and the struggle to establish a new one. This monumental work offers a thoughtful, well-researched, and complete guide to all the major ideas and events of the French Revolution. Published on the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution, The Oxford History of the French Revolution will not only become the standard reference on the subject but will provide new answers and insights into one of the most important events in European history.

Excerpt

The king of France needed no coronation. He reigned by the grace of God from the moment his predecessor breathed his last, and a coronation was purely customary. So the argument was heard, even in the highest circles, that the elaborate consecration of Louis XVI, arranged for 11 June 1775 in the traditional setting of Rheims cathedral, was a waste of public money. A month beforehand, the countryside around Paris, and many districts of the city, had been shaken by rioting against high flour and bread prices. The disturbances led to talk of postponing the ceremony, and the approaches to Rheims were ringed with precautionary troops. And far fewer people than expected made the journey to the capital of Champagne to witness the historic spectacle. Innkeepers complained of unlet rooms, and caterers of wasted supplies. But when, that brilliant morning, the cathedral doors were flung open to reveal the young monarch crowned and enthroned in glory, invested with the sceptre of Charlemagne and anointed with the holy oil of Clovis, men broke down and wept despite themselves.

The son of St Louis, the Most Christian King of France and Navarre, had sworn that day to uphold the peace of the Church, prevent disorder, impose justice, exterminate heretics, maintain forever the prerogatives of the Order of the Holy Spirit, and pardon no duellist. Three days later, in the summer heat, he ritually touched 2,400 stinking sufferers from scrofula, the disfiguring disease believed by countless generations to be curable through the miraculous touch of an anointed king. And all this still left him time to write letters to his 74-year-old chief minister, who had remained at Versailles; and to resist the attempts of an empty-headed queen to have her favourites given office. Court intrigues could not be expected to stop merely because the king was being crowned. And so the ceremonies that Louis XVI observed that week, the motions he went through, were a strange blend of momentous and trivial, significant and purely formal, meaningful and empty. The powers he exercised, the promises he made, the regalia he wore, all resulted from a long, tortuous, and often haphazard evolution.

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