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Episode
152

The French Revolution

Apr 23, 2021
History
-
28
minutes
18th Century
France
Revolution
Napoleon
Kings & Queens
European history

It is the most famous revolution in Europe and saw the continent's most populous country execute its monarch and restructure its society.

From guillotines to out of touch queens, the French Revolution is the story of how France became the country of "liberté, égalité, and fraternité".

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today, as part three of this three part mini-series on the Age of Revolution, we are going to be talking about The French Revolution.

[00:00:33] As far as revolutions go, it’s up there with the American Revolution as the political event that has had the most lasting impact on the world we live in.

[00:00:44] Over a period of 10 years, Europe’s most populous country went from a monarchy to a republic, and ended up becoming what most people today would call a dictatorship.

[00:00:58] We will tell this story with the same format as the episodes on the Industrial Revolution and American Revolution. 

[00:01:05] First, we’ll discuss the causes of the revolution, then the course, what actually happened, and finish by discussing the consequences.

[00:01:14] So, causes, course, and consequences - I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:19] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, I think it's just over 50 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:53] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:02] OK then, The French Revolution.

[00:02:05] Our story starts, of course, in France.

[00:02:08] France in the 18th century was one of the most powerful countries in Europe, and therefore, the world. 

[00:02:16] It was home to some of the most influential thinkers, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Denis Diderot. 

[00:02:23] It was seen as a great defender of freedom, having supported the United States in its battle for independence against Great Britain, as we heard about in the last episode.

[00:02:35] Its population had grown from 18 to 26 million during the 18th century, and it was the most populous country in Europe.

[00:02:45] If this was all you knew about France in 1789, you could be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering why the country was thrown into revolution, its entire society turned on its head.

[00:03:01] Beneath the surface though, beneath these superficial soundbites, not everything was rosy, it wasn't all OK.

[00:03:10] France was a deeply unequal society. It was in effect a feudal society with corruption at every level in this unequal pyramid.

[00:03:22] Peasants worked the land for very little pay, while the aristocrats, the richest in society enjoyed a luxurious standard of living.

[00:03:33] The financial and military support that France had provided to the United States of America had cost the country dearly, and the nation was very poor. 

[00:03:44] It was also impoverished, it had lost a lot of money, through lengthy wars against the British, including the so-called Seven Years’ War, which went on from 1756 to 1763, which resulted in an expensive defeat for France.

[00:04:03] The large increase in population, combined with several years of bad weather and bad harvests, had meant that there were food shortages throughout the country, and huge price increases.

[00:04:17] On the throne was King Louis XVI. 

[00:04:21] Beside him was his queen, Marie Antoinette, a deeply unpopular woman due to her complete lack of sympathy towards normal French people, a love of spending large amounts of money and some unfortunate prejudice against her because she was Austrian.

[00:04:39] So, the French state owed large amounts of money, it had big debts, but France wasn’t collecting enough money in taxes to pay its bills. 

[00:04:50] Taxes in France in the mid 18th century were paid mainly by the poor, by the peasants

[00:04:57] The richest people in French society paid very few taxes, and their lifestyles were financed by poor people’s taxes. 

[00:05:07] What’s more, the system of collecting taxes was not only inefficient but it also resulted in the tax collectors [so called tax farmers] themselves becoming rich. 

[00:05:22] If you have listened to the episode from a couple of weeks ago about Tax, and remember our example of Arlette in Paris, it’s clear that things have changed dramatically.

[00:05:34] King Louis XVI needed to find a way of generating extra money, and the simplest way to do that, or so he thought, would be to raise taxes. 

[00:05:45] But although he was the king of France, he didn’t have the power to just snap his fingers and put through a tax raise. 

[00:05:54] To do that, he would need to call something called the States-General. This was a body, a national assembly, that represented the three classes of French society, as it had been divided.

[00:06:08] The first state, or class, was the Clergy, the members of the church.

[00:06:14] The second class was the nobility, the richest and most powerful non-religious members of society.

[00:06:22] These two classes owned the vast majority of all of the land, and with it, they controlled the money, and the country.

[00:06:31] And the third class was everyone else, the commoners.

[00:06:35] This third class, this everyone else class, represented 99% of French society. It was almost everyone.

[00:06:45] But the problem was that the voting system in this States-General was one vote for one class, it didn’t matter that the third class represented 99% of the population, it only got one vote.

[00:07:01] And given that the first and second classes had very similar aims and motivations, remember that was the Clergy and the Nobility, they could veto, they could vote down anything proposed by the third class, by everyone else.

[00:07:19] This States-General was called by Louis XVI in 1789, the first time it had been called since 1614, the first time in almost 200 years.

[00:07:32] But to state the obvious Europe was a very different place, and France was a very different country in 1789 compared to what it had been in 1614.

[00:07:44] Enlightenment ideas, which you might remember from the Enlightenment episode (which you can find on the website), had been flourishing, there had been certain freedoms of the press and freedoms of speech that meant people could question the old ideas, they could ask themselves why things needed to continue in that way.

[00:08:06] Why was it right that the first two classes should be able to have effective control over the legislation, when they represented a tiny minority of the population. 

[00:08:19] The States-General couldn’t come to an agreement, and to cut a long story short, the third class broke away and declared themselves to be a new National Assembly, and that they wouldn’t stop until a new constitution of France was created.

[00:08:37] King Louis relented, he gave up, there were limited reforms, and there was a feeling that change was afoot in France, there was change in the air, that finally the people were being given some of the power and representation that had been denied to them.

[00:08:56] According to an eyewitness account, a historian of the revolution called François Mignet, people were, and I'm quoting here, "intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm" they were drunk with liberty and enthusiasm.

[00:09:12] But there were rumours of an aristocratic conspiracy, that the King was about to send in the Swiss Guards, his own soldiers, to crack down on the common people.

[00:09:25] On July 14th, a large group of Parisians, people from Paris, congregated outside the Bastille, a large fortress in central Paris.

[00:09:36] The Bastille was a symbol of royal power - it had been used as a prison, and it also contained large amounts of weapons that these protestors wanted to get their hands on.

[00:09:48] The protestors stormed the Bastille, they broke into it, they killed the man who was in charge of it, and cut off his head and put it on a pole.

[00:09:59] And this day was for many the start of the French Revolution. 

[00:10:05] Indeed, it’s celebrated as a public holiday in France, in English it's called Bastille Day, July 14th.

[00:10:12] At the time, although the protestors inside the Bastille probably knew something exciting and important was happening, they weren’t to know quite how important it was to be.

[00:10:25] Louis XVI was still king of the country, but it was clear that the balance of power had shifted away from him.

[00:10:34] By the end of August there were wide-sweeping reforms, requiring aristocrats to pay taxes, and reducing the tax burden on the poorest, reducing the amount of tax that the poorest had to pay.

[00:10:48] The Catholic Church, which had previously held an iron grip over the lives of ordinary French people, and required them to pay large amounts in taxes directly to the church, was also losing control. 

[00:11:04] France was moving away from being a country controlled by king and church, to one controlled by its citizens. 

[00:11:13] This might seem like a trivial thing to us now, it might seem unremarkable and obvious, but it was a huge shift for French people at the time, who had previously been required to pay large taxes to landowners, the church and aristocrats, suffering without enough food to put on their table while the richest in society enjoyed lavish lives of leisure.

[00:11:39] Also in August of 1789 the Declaration of The Rights of Man and The Citizen was published, which was a monumentally important document. 

[00:11:50] It was inspired by the Enlightenment thinkers, from Rousseau to Montesquieu, and by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, 13 years before; it quickly enshrined in law the rights that applied to men in France.

[00:12:07] Unfortunately it was normally men, not women, and it didn’t actually say anything against slavery, but it was a big step forward compared to the previous situation.

[00:12:20] The period from late 1789 through to early 1791 was actually relatively peaceful, especially considering what was to come.

[00:12:30] It was peaceful in terms of bloodshed, there weren’t that many people being killed, but there was intense debate about what sort of society France should become.

[00:12:43] What place did a monarchy have in the future of the country? What should be done with the king?

[00:12:50] The more radical side was led by a man called Robespierre, who believed that the future of revolutionary France wasn’t compatible with the king: the king had to go.

[00:13:02] In any case, Louis XVI was losing power, and losing power fast. 

[00:13:07] In 1791 he and his family tried to flee the country, apparently in order to meet pro-Royalist soldiers who would join him in a counter-revolution, but he was recognised and brought back to Paris.

[00:13:24] Louis XVI was now effectively trapped in France, a prisoner in his own country, and with a fraction of the power he had held a few years beforehand.

[00:13:37] Although large parts of the country were swept up in a revolutionary mood, not everyone was. 

[00:13:44] Many aristocrats had fled France to reunite with relations in places like Austria, with the view that they would be safer there, and they could mount an attack back on France and retake their country.

[00:13:59] And although the revolutionaries and the king didn’t see eye to eye, they both supported the idea of going to war with Austria, which France did in 1792. 

[00:14:11] For the revolutionaries, they wanted to spread the idea of revolution throughout Europe. 

[00:14:18] And King Louis XVI, why did he support the war? 

[00:14:22] Well, he was a bit stuck, and thought that if France went to war and lost, then his relations in Austria would be happy to put him back on the French throne.

[00:14:35] The war didn’t go particularly well for France to start off with. The Prussians had joined forces with the Austrians, and the French suffered numerous defeats.

[00:14:47] The Austro-Prussian army issued a document called the Brunswick Manifesto that said that if the French royal family was harmed, Paris would be burned to the ground, and no protester’s life would be spared.

[00:15:01] The document was intended to intimidate the French, but it had the opposite effect. They imprisoned the French royal family and on August 10th 1792 they abolished the French monarchy.

[00:15:17] Five months later, on January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI was executed, after having been found guilty of the crime of high treason, of betraying his country.

[00:15:31] As his head was sliced off his body using a new device called the guillotine, this ended the near thousand year rule of absolute monarchy in France.

[00:15:43] Nine months later, his wife, the incredibly unpopular Marie-Antoinette, met the same fate.

[00:15:50] Now, it’s worth spending a minute just talking about Marie-Antoinette. 

[00:15:54] Firstly, probably the most famous quote of the French Revolution is attributed to Marie-Antoinette, and that’s “let them eat cake”. 

[00:16:04] That’s how it’s normally translated in English, which is actually a bit of a mistranslation. She said “let them eat brioche”, which was very much a luxury bread at the time, so it doesn’t mean she was any less out of touch, but she wasn’t literally saying cake like a birthday cake.

[00:16:23] And the second thing about this quote is that she probably never said it. 

[00:16:28] Sorry. 

[00:16:29] The quote actually appeared in the writings of Rousseau when Marie-Antoinette was only 9 years old, so even though it might be the most famous quote from the French Revolution, it’s not actually true.

[00:16:44] What does seem to be undeniable though is that Marie-Antoinette was hideously out of touch with the fate of the common French person. 

[00:16:54] At Versailles, the royal palace, she had her own farm built for her, so she could pretend to be a common farmer, but she was presumably sitting down on a nice chair, stroking a lamb and eating some brioche rather than getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to milk the cows.

[00:17:14] In any case, by October 1793 she was being taken to the guillotine in a cart, to be publicly executed

[00:17:23] It certainly wasn’t how she thought she would be received when she, daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, one of the richest and most powerful noble families in Europe, moved from Austria to marry Prince Louis, at the age of just 14 years old.

[00:17:40] At the same time as this was all taking place, the more moderate revolutionaries had lost the ideological battle about the path that the revolution should take, and the political climate was ruled by the more radical faction, led by Robespierre.

[00:17:58] France was thrown into a period now referred to as The Reign of Terror, where 40,000 people were killed for counter-revolutionary behaviour. 

[00:18:09] But soon things got to Robespierre’s head, he became drunk on his own power, and he ended up tasting the cold steel of the guillotine himself in July of 1794.

[00:18:24] So, we have whizzed through this, we’ve gone very fast through this period, so let’s just pause for a minute to take stock.

[00:18:34] Over the period of 5 years, the entire French tax system was turned on its head, France got a new constitution, the country declared the universal rights of man, the monarchy was abolished, France declared war on Austria, the king and then queen were both executed, the revolutionaries have been fighting among themselves, and tens of thousands of people have been killed.

[00:18:58] Quite a busy period in French history, right?

[00:19:01] During all this, a young army officer was distinguishing himself through military campaigns, and rising through the ranks of the French army.

[00:19:13] His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

[00:19:16] He had crushed a royalist uprising, a movement in support of the monarchy, in 1795. 

[00:19:23] He then won decisive victories in what is now northern Italy in 1796, and after invading Malta and Egypt in 1798, he returned to France, overthrew the government that was in place, and declared himself to be the First Consul of France, essentially the most powerful person in the country.

[00:19:45] This was in 1799, and with it he declared that the French Revolution was over. 

[00:19:53] Now, we have evidently skipped over quite a bit here, but this is a not-so-brief summary of the course of the French revolution.

[00:20:01] Let’s move on to the consequences, because the consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, both in France and further afield.

[00:20:12] Let’s start with France.

[00:20:14] Of course, you will now know that there is now no monarchy in France. 

[00:20:19] But Louis XVI wasn’t the last king of France, and the First French Republic only lasted from 1792 to 1804, when Napoleon got power hungry and declared himself to be the Emperor of France. 

[00:20:36] And France had Emperors, or kings in various different forms until 1870, almost 100 years after the French had first decided they didn’t want a monarch.

[00:20:49] Since 1870 France has been a full republic, without a monarch - although the French newspapers do enjoy suggesting that various Prime Ministers have king-like ambitions.

[00:21:01] So, from a governmental and constitutional point of view, the French revolution set France on the course of moving away from a monarchy and towards what it is now, a republic.

[00:21:15] In terms of more European consequences, the decision of the continent’s most populous country to overthrow its monarchy, decapitate the king and queen, and proclaim a republic had a profound impact.

[00:21:31] For the royal families of other European countries, many of whom were of course closely related to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution was pretty scary. If the French people had risen up and got rid of the monarchy, what was to stop people in their own countries from doing exactly the same thing?

[00:21:54] It was clear now that monarchs weren’t untouchable, that they existed because the people of the country allowed them to exist, rather than because of some god-given right.

[00:22:08] Indeed, this idea of a king or queen being a representative of the people, rather than the people being his or her subjects, is one of the most important consequences of The French Revolution. 

[00:22:21] The very idea of the nation state, of a country formed of its people, existed before The French Revolution, but the events of 1789 to 1799 really underlined the fact that a country is composed of its citizens, and it’s the citizens that have the power to decide the fate of the country.

[00:22:44] This is even more the case for the French Revolution than the American Revolution, as the American revolutionaries were rising up against their colonial masters, while the French were rising up against the entire political system of their own country.

[00:23:02] In terms of French nationalism, the events of the French Revolution brought the country together, and there was a new found sense of unity between French people, with everyone united around the Liberté, égalité, fraternité - the freedom, equality, and brotherhood that are at the centre of the French Constitution.

[00:23:24] This phrase was first used by Robespierre in 1790, and has continued to be the national motto of France to this day.

[00:23:33] And it has had a profound impact on the global concept of the rights of the individual, and what we now refer to as Human Rights. 

[00:23:43] To stress, before the Declaration of The Rights of Man and of The Citizen, this really wasn’t an obvious concept, at least in Europe.

[00:23:53] Society was deeply divided between rich and poor, the aristocracy, nobles and the church and everyone else. 

[00:24:02] The French Revolution proposed that there were universal rights, universal privileges that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of who they were.

[00:24:13] And while the majority of French people today are very proud of the events and consequences of the French Revolution, not all are.

[00:24:23] I remember this being clear to me when I was about 14 years old. My brother and I were doing French exchanges.

[00:24:31] I had been sent to stay for a week with a boy called Sylvain, who had relatively left-wing, liberal parents.

[00:24:39] My brother had been sent to stay with a boy called Charles, whose family had a large house in the countryside with old paintings of aristocratic family members.

[00:24:51] The week we stayed with them was over the 14th July, and we experienced two differing ways to celebrate Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the revolution.

[00:25:04] With the family I was staying with there were great festivities, fireworks, we went out and it was a time of great joy.

[00:25:12] But when we went to find my brother, he had had a different experience. 

[00:25:18] While most of France was celebrating, the old aristocratic family he had been with had basically closed their doors and not even acknowledged the fact that it was a day of any importance.

[00:25:32] Presumably this family had ancestors who had lost their heads in the revolution, so it was no time for celebration.

[00:25:40] And even outside France, politicians and leaders are often cautious when asked about The French Revolution. 

[00:25:49] Margaret Thatcher, the ex Prime Minister of Britain, said “It resulted in a lot of headless corpses, (headless bodies), and a tyrant (a dictator)”. 

[00:25:59] She is of course talking about Napoleon.

[00:26:02] In the interests of balance and fairness, perhaps we should end with a quote from the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, which centres on Paris and London during the period of the French Revolution.

[00:26:17] Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

[00:26:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The French Revolution, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Age of Revolution.

[00:26:55] The historians among you will note that The French Revolution definitely wasn’t the end of the Age of Revolution, as it and the American Revolution actually inspired revolutions throughout Europe and further afield during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:27:11] But we have to end somewhere, and what better place to end with the most famous revolution in Europe.

[00:27:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:22] Especially for the French listeners out there, what do you think the lasting impact of The French Revolution has been? How would France have been different without it?

[00:27:32] I would love to know - for the members among you, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:45] And as a final reminder, if you are not yet a member of Leonardo English but you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, the key vocabulary, and all of the bonus episodes, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:28:08] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:28:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today, as part three of this three part mini-series on the Age of Revolution, we are going to be talking about The French Revolution.

[00:00:33] As far as revolutions go, it’s up there with the American Revolution as the political event that has had the most lasting impact on the world we live in.

[00:00:44] Over a period of 10 years, Europe’s most populous country went from a monarchy to a republic, and ended up becoming what most people today would call a dictatorship.

[00:00:58] We will tell this story with the same format as the episodes on the Industrial Revolution and American Revolution. 

[00:01:05] First, we’ll discuss the causes of the revolution, then the course, what actually happened, and finish by discussing the consequences.

[00:01:14] So, causes, course, and consequences - I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:19] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, I think it's just over 50 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:53] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:02] OK then, The French Revolution.

[00:02:05] Our story starts, of course, in France.

[00:02:08] France in the 18th century was one of the most powerful countries in Europe, and therefore, the world. 

[00:02:16] It was home to some of the most influential thinkers, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Denis Diderot. 

[00:02:23] It was seen as a great defender of freedom, having supported the United States in its battle for independence against Great Britain, as we heard about in the last episode.

[00:02:35] Its population had grown from 18 to 26 million during the 18th century, and it was the most populous country in Europe.

[00:02:45] If this was all you knew about France in 1789, you could be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering why the country was thrown into revolution, its entire society turned on its head.

[00:03:01] Beneath the surface though, beneath these superficial soundbites, not everything was rosy, it wasn't all OK.

[00:03:10] France was a deeply unequal society. It was in effect a feudal society with corruption at every level in this unequal pyramid.

[00:03:22] Peasants worked the land for very little pay, while the aristocrats, the richest in society enjoyed a luxurious standard of living.

[00:03:33] The financial and military support that France had provided to the United States of America had cost the country dearly, and the nation was very poor. 

[00:03:44] It was also impoverished, it had lost a lot of money, through lengthy wars against the British, including the so-called Seven Years’ War, which went on from 1756 to 1763, which resulted in an expensive defeat for France.

[00:04:03] The large increase in population, combined with several years of bad weather and bad harvests, had meant that there were food shortages throughout the country, and huge price increases.

[00:04:17] On the throne was King Louis XVI. 

[00:04:21] Beside him was his queen, Marie Antoinette, a deeply unpopular woman due to her complete lack of sympathy towards normal French people, a love of spending large amounts of money and some unfortunate prejudice against her because she was Austrian.

[00:04:39] So, the French state owed large amounts of money, it had big debts, but France wasn’t collecting enough money in taxes to pay its bills. 

[00:04:50] Taxes in France in the mid 18th century were paid mainly by the poor, by the peasants

[00:04:57] The richest people in French society paid very few taxes, and their lifestyles were financed by poor people’s taxes. 

[00:05:07] What’s more, the system of collecting taxes was not only inefficient but it also resulted in the tax collectors [so called tax farmers] themselves becoming rich. 

[00:05:22] If you have listened to the episode from a couple of weeks ago about Tax, and remember our example of Arlette in Paris, it’s clear that things have changed dramatically.

[00:05:34] King Louis XVI needed to find a way of generating extra money, and the simplest way to do that, or so he thought, would be to raise taxes. 

[00:05:45] But although he was the king of France, he didn’t have the power to just snap his fingers and put through a tax raise. 

[00:05:54] To do that, he would need to call something called the States-General. This was a body, a national assembly, that represented the three classes of French society, as it had been divided.

[00:06:08] The first state, or class, was the Clergy, the members of the church.

[00:06:14] The second class was the nobility, the richest and most powerful non-religious members of society.

[00:06:22] These two classes owned the vast majority of all of the land, and with it, they controlled the money, and the country.

[00:06:31] And the third class was everyone else, the commoners.

[00:06:35] This third class, this everyone else class, represented 99% of French society. It was almost everyone.

[00:06:45] But the problem was that the voting system in this States-General was one vote for one class, it didn’t matter that the third class represented 99% of the population, it only got one vote.

[00:07:01] And given that the first and second classes had very similar aims and motivations, remember that was the Clergy and the Nobility, they could veto, they could vote down anything proposed by the third class, by everyone else.

[00:07:19] This States-General was called by Louis XVI in 1789, the first time it had been called since 1614, the first time in almost 200 years.

[00:07:32] But to state the obvious Europe was a very different place, and France was a very different country in 1789 compared to what it had been in 1614.

[00:07:44] Enlightenment ideas, which you might remember from the Enlightenment episode (which you can find on the website), had been flourishing, there had been certain freedoms of the press and freedoms of speech that meant people could question the old ideas, they could ask themselves why things needed to continue in that way.

[00:08:06] Why was it right that the first two classes should be able to have effective control over the legislation, when they represented a tiny minority of the population. 

[00:08:19] The States-General couldn’t come to an agreement, and to cut a long story short, the third class broke away and declared themselves to be a new National Assembly, and that they wouldn’t stop until a new constitution of France was created.

[00:08:37] King Louis relented, he gave up, there were limited reforms, and there was a feeling that change was afoot in France, there was change in the air, that finally the people were being given some of the power and representation that had been denied to them.

[00:08:56] According to an eyewitness account, a historian of the revolution called François Mignet, people were, and I'm quoting here, "intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm" they were drunk with liberty and enthusiasm.

[00:09:12] But there were rumours of an aristocratic conspiracy, that the King was about to send in the Swiss Guards, his own soldiers, to crack down on the common people.

[00:09:25] On July 14th, a large group of Parisians, people from Paris, congregated outside the Bastille, a large fortress in central Paris.

[00:09:36] The Bastille was a symbol of royal power - it had been used as a prison, and it also contained large amounts of weapons that these protestors wanted to get their hands on.

[00:09:48] The protestors stormed the Bastille, they broke into it, they killed the man who was in charge of it, and cut off his head and put it on a pole.

[00:09:59] And this day was for many the start of the French Revolution. 

[00:10:05] Indeed, it’s celebrated as a public holiday in France, in English it's called Bastille Day, July 14th.

[00:10:12] At the time, although the protestors inside the Bastille probably knew something exciting and important was happening, they weren’t to know quite how important it was to be.

[00:10:25] Louis XVI was still king of the country, but it was clear that the balance of power had shifted away from him.

[00:10:34] By the end of August there were wide-sweeping reforms, requiring aristocrats to pay taxes, and reducing the tax burden on the poorest, reducing the amount of tax that the poorest had to pay.

[00:10:48] The Catholic Church, which had previously held an iron grip over the lives of ordinary French people, and required them to pay large amounts in taxes directly to the church, was also losing control. 

[00:11:04] France was moving away from being a country controlled by king and church, to one controlled by its citizens. 

[00:11:13] This might seem like a trivial thing to us now, it might seem unremarkable and obvious, but it was a huge shift for French people at the time, who had previously been required to pay large taxes to landowners, the church and aristocrats, suffering without enough food to put on their table while the richest in society enjoyed lavish lives of leisure.

[00:11:39] Also in August of 1789 the Declaration of The Rights of Man and The Citizen was published, which was a monumentally important document. 

[00:11:50] It was inspired by the Enlightenment thinkers, from Rousseau to Montesquieu, and by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, 13 years before; it quickly enshrined in law the rights that applied to men in France.

[00:12:07] Unfortunately it was normally men, not women, and it didn’t actually say anything against slavery, but it was a big step forward compared to the previous situation.

[00:12:20] The period from late 1789 through to early 1791 was actually relatively peaceful, especially considering what was to come.

[00:12:30] It was peaceful in terms of bloodshed, there weren’t that many people being killed, but there was intense debate about what sort of society France should become.

[00:12:43] What place did a monarchy have in the future of the country? What should be done with the king?

[00:12:50] The more radical side was led by a man called Robespierre, who believed that the future of revolutionary France wasn’t compatible with the king: the king had to go.

[00:13:02] In any case, Louis XVI was losing power, and losing power fast. 

[00:13:07] In 1791 he and his family tried to flee the country, apparently in order to meet pro-Royalist soldiers who would join him in a counter-revolution, but he was recognised and brought back to Paris.

[00:13:24] Louis XVI was now effectively trapped in France, a prisoner in his own country, and with a fraction of the power he had held a few years beforehand.

[00:13:37] Although large parts of the country were swept up in a revolutionary mood, not everyone was. 

[00:13:44] Many aristocrats had fled France to reunite with relations in places like Austria, with the view that they would be safer there, and they could mount an attack back on France and retake their country.

[00:13:59] And although the revolutionaries and the king didn’t see eye to eye, they both supported the idea of going to war with Austria, which France did in 1792. 

[00:14:11] For the revolutionaries, they wanted to spread the idea of revolution throughout Europe. 

[00:14:18] And King Louis XVI, why did he support the war? 

[00:14:22] Well, he was a bit stuck, and thought that if France went to war and lost, then his relations in Austria would be happy to put him back on the French throne.

[00:14:35] The war didn’t go particularly well for France to start off with. The Prussians had joined forces with the Austrians, and the French suffered numerous defeats.

[00:14:47] The Austro-Prussian army issued a document called the Brunswick Manifesto that said that if the French royal family was harmed, Paris would be burned to the ground, and no protester’s life would be spared.

[00:15:01] The document was intended to intimidate the French, but it had the opposite effect. They imprisoned the French royal family and on August 10th 1792 they abolished the French monarchy.

[00:15:17] Five months later, on January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI was executed, after having been found guilty of the crime of high treason, of betraying his country.

[00:15:31] As his head was sliced off his body using a new device called the guillotine, this ended the near thousand year rule of absolute monarchy in France.

[00:15:43] Nine months later, his wife, the incredibly unpopular Marie-Antoinette, met the same fate.

[00:15:50] Now, it’s worth spending a minute just talking about Marie-Antoinette. 

[00:15:54] Firstly, probably the most famous quote of the French Revolution is attributed to Marie-Antoinette, and that’s “let them eat cake”. 

[00:16:04] That’s how it’s normally translated in English, which is actually a bit of a mistranslation. She said “let them eat brioche”, which was very much a luxury bread at the time, so it doesn’t mean she was any less out of touch, but she wasn’t literally saying cake like a birthday cake.

[00:16:23] And the second thing about this quote is that she probably never said it. 

[00:16:28] Sorry. 

[00:16:29] The quote actually appeared in the writings of Rousseau when Marie-Antoinette was only 9 years old, so even though it might be the most famous quote from the French Revolution, it’s not actually true.

[00:16:44] What does seem to be undeniable though is that Marie-Antoinette was hideously out of touch with the fate of the common French person. 

[00:16:54] At Versailles, the royal palace, she had her own farm built for her, so she could pretend to be a common farmer, but she was presumably sitting down on a nice chair, stroking a lamb and eating some brioche rather than getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to milk the cows.

[00:17:14] In any case, by October 1793 she was being taken to the guillotine in a cart, to be publicly executed

[00:17:23] It certainly wasn’t how she thought she would be received when she, daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, one of the richest and most powerful noble families in Europe, moved from Austria to marry Prince Louis, at the age of just 14 years old.

[00:17:40] At the same time as this was all taking place, the more moderate revolutionaries had lost the ideological battle about the path that the revolution should take, and the political climate was ruled by the more radical faction, led by Robespierre.

[00:17:58] France was thrown into a period now referred to as The Reign of Terror, where 40,000 people were killed for counter-revolutionary behaviour. 

[00:18:09] But soon things got to Robespierre’s head, he became drunk on his own power, and he ended up tasting the cold steel of the guillotine himself in July of 1794.

[00:18:24] So, we have whizzed through this, we’ve gone very fast through this period, so let’s just pause for a minute to take stock.

[00:18:34] Over the period of 5 years, the entire French tax system was turned on its head, France got a new constitution, the country declared the universal rights of man, the monarchy was abolished, France declared war on Austria, the king and then queen were both executed, the revolutionaries have been fighting among themselves, and tens of thousands of people have been killed.

[00:18:58] Quite a busy period in French history, right?

[00:19:01] During all this, a young army officer was distinguishing himself through military campaigns, and rising through the ranks of the French army.

[00:19:13] His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

[00:19:16] He had crushed a royalist uprising, a movement in support of the monarchy, in 1795. 

[00:19:23] He then won decisive victories in what is now northern Italy in 1796, and after invading Malta and Egypt in 1798, he returned to France, overthrew the government that was in place, and declared himself to be the First Consul of France, essentially the most powerful person in the country.

[00:19:45] This was in 1799, and with it he declared that the French Revolution was over. 

[00:19:53] Now, we have evidently skipped over quite a bit here, but this is a not-so-brief summary of the course of the French revolution.

[00:20:01] Let’s move on to the consequences, because the consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, both in France and further afield.

[00:20:12] Let’s start with France.

[00:20:14] Of course, you will now know that there is now no monarchy in France. 

[00:20:19] But Louis XVI wasn’t the last king of France, and the First French Republic only lasted from 1792 to 1804, when Napoleon got power hungry and declared himself to be the Emperor of France. 

[00:20:36] And France had Emperors, or kings in various different forms until 1870, almost 100 years after the French had first decided they didn’t want a monarch.

[00:20:49] Since 1870 France has been a full republic, without a monarch - although the French newspapers do enjoy suggesting that various Prime Ministers have king-like ambitions.

[00:21:01] So, from a governmental and constitutional point of view, the French revolution set France on the course of moving away from a monarchy and towards what it is now, a republic.

[00:21:15] In terms of more European consequences, the decision of the continent’s most populous country to overthrow its monarchy, decapitate the king and queen, and proclaim a republic had a profound impact.

[00:21:31] For the royal families of other European countries, many of whom were of course closely related to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution was pretty scary. If the French people had risen up and got rid of the monarchy, what was to stop people in their own countries from doing exactly the same thing?

[00:21:54] It was clear now that monarchs weren’t untouchable, that they existed because the people of the country allowed them to exist, rather than because of some god-given right.

[00:22:08] Indeed, this idea of a king or queen being a representative of the people, rather than the people being his or her subjects, is one of the most important consequences of The French Revolution. 

[00:22:21] The very idea of the nation state, of a country formed of its people, existed before The French Revolution, but the events of 1789 to 1799 really underlined the fact that a country is composed of its citizens, and it’s the citizens that have the power to decide the fate of the country.

[00:22:44] This is even more the case for the French Revolution than the American Revolution, as the American revolutionaries were rising up against their colonial masters, while the French were rising up against the entire political system of their own country.

[00:23:02] In terms of French nationalism, the events of the French Revolution brought the country together, and there was a new found sense of unity between French people, with everyone united around the Liberté, égalité, fraternité - the freedom, equality, and brotherhood that are at the centre of the French Constitution.

[00:23:24] This phrase was first used by Robespierre in 1790, and has continued to be the national motto of France to this day.

[00:23:33] And it has had a profound impact on the global concept of the rights of the individual, and what we now refer to as Human Rights. 

[00:23:43] To stress, before the Declaration of The Rights of Man and of The Citizen, this really wasn’t an obvious concept, at least in Europe.

[00:23:53] Society was deeply divided between rich and poor, the aristocracy, nobles and the church and everyone else. 

[00:24:02] The French Revolution proposed that there were universal rights, universal privileges that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of who they were.

[00:24:13] And while the majority of French people today are very proud of the events and consequences of the French Revolution, not all are.

[00:24:23] I remember this being clear to me when I was about 14 years old. My brother and I were doing French exchanges.

[00:24:31] I had been sent to stay for a week with a boy called Sylvain, who had relatively left-wing, liberal parents.

[00:24:39] My brother had been sent to stay with a boy called Charles, whose family had a large house in the countryside with old paintings of aristocratic family members.

[00:24:51] The week we stayed with them was over the 14th July, and we experienced two differing ways to celebrate Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the revolution.

[00:25:04] With the family I was staying with there were great festivities, fireworks, we went out and it was a time of great joy.

[00:25:12] But when we went to find my brother, he had had a different experience. 

[00:25:18] While most of France was celebrating, the old aristocratic family he had been with had basically closed their doors and not even acknowledged the fact that it was a day of any importance.

[00:25:32] Presumably this family had ancestors who had lost their heads in the revolution, so it was no time for celebration.

[00:25:40] And even outside France, politicians and leaders are often cautious when asked about The French Revolution. 

[00:25:49] Margaret Thatcher, the ex Prime Minister of Britain, said “It resulted in a lot of headless corpses, (headless bodies), and a tyrant (a dictator)”. 

[00:25:59] She is of course talking about Napoleon.

[00:26:02] In the interests of balance and fairness, perhaps we should end with a quote from the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, which centres on Paris and London during the period of the French Revolution.

[00:26:17] Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

[00:26:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The French Revolution, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Age of Revolution.

[00:26:55] The historians among you will note that The French Revolution definitely wasn’t the end of the Age of Revolution, as it and the American Revolution actually inspired revolutions throughout Europe and further afield during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:27:11] But we have to end somewhere, and what better place to end with the most famous revolution in Europe.

[00:27:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:22] Especially for the French listeners out there, what do you think the lasting impact of The French Revolution has been? How would France have been different without it?

[00:27:32] I would love to know - for the members among you, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:45] And as a final reminder, if you are not yet a member of Leonardo English but you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, the key vocabulary, and all of the bonus episodes, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:28:08] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:28:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today, as part three of this three part mini-series on the Age of Revolution, we are going to be talking about The French Revolution.

[00:00:33] As far as revolutions go, it’s up there with the American Revolution as the political event that has had the most lasting impact on the world we live in.

[00:00:44] Over a period of 10 years, Europe’s most populous country went from a monarchy to a republic, and ended up becoming what most people today would call a dictatorship.

[00:00:58] We will tell this story with the same format as the episodes on the Industrial Revolution and American Revolution. 

[00:01:05] First, we’ll discuss the causes of the revolution, then the course, what actually happened, and finish by discussing the consequences.

[00:01:14] So, causes, course, and consequences - I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:19] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, I think it's just over 50 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:53] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:02] OK then, The French Revolution.

[00:02:05] Our story starts, of course, in France.

[00:02:08] France in the 18th century was one of the most powerful countries in Europe, and therefore, the world. 

[00:02:16] It was home to some of the most influential thinkers, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Denis Diderot. 

[00:02:23] It was seen as a great defender of freedom, having supported the United States in its battle for independence against Great Britain, as we heard about in the last episode.

[00:02:35] Its population had grown from 18 to 26 million during the 18th century, and it was the most populous country in Europe.

[00:02:45] If this was all you knew about France in 1789, you could be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering why the country was thrown into revolution, its entire society turned on its head.

[00:03:01] Beneath the surface though, beneath these superficial soundbites, not everything was rosy, it wasn't all OK.

[00:03:10] France was a deeply unequal society. It was in effect a feudal society with corruption at every level in this unequal pyramid.

[00:03:22] Peasants worked the land for very little pay, while the aristocrats, the richest in society enjoyed a luxurious standard of living.

[00:03:33] The financial and military support that France had provided to the United States of America had cost the country dearly, and the nation was very poor. 

[00:03:44] It was also impoverished, it had lost a lot of money, through lengthy wars against the British, including the so-called Seven Years’ War, which went on from 1756 to 1763, which resulted in an expensive defeat for France.

[00:04:03] The large increase in population, combined with several years of bad weather and bad harvests, had meant that there were food shortages throughout the country, and huge price increases.

[00:04:17] On the throne was King Louis XVI. 

[00:04:21] Beside him was his queen, Marie Antoinette, a deeply unpopular woman due to her complete lack of sympathy towards normal French people, a love of spending large amounts of money and some unfortunate prejudice against her because she was Austrian.

[00:04:39] So, the French state owed large amounts of money, it had big debts, but France wasn’t collecting enough money in taxes to pay its bills. 

[00:04:50] Taxes in France in the mid 18th century were paid mainly by the poor, by the peasants

[00:04:57] The richest people in French society paid very few taxes, and their lifestyles were financed by poor people’s taxes. 

[00:05:07] What’s more, the system of collecting taxes was not only inefficient but it also resulted in the tax collectors [so called tax farmers] themselves becoming rich. 

[00:05:22] If you have listened to the episode from a couple of weeks ago about Tax, and remember our example of Arlette in Paris, it’s clear that things have changed dramatically.

[00:05:34] King Louis XVI needed to find a way of generating extra money, and the simplest way to do that, or so he thought, would be to raise taxes. 

[00:05:45] But although he was the king of France, he didn’t have the power to just snap his fingers and put through a tax raise. 

[00:05:54] To do that, he would need to call something called the States-General. This was a body, a national assembly, that represented the three classes of French society, as it had been divided.

[00:06:08] The first state, or class, was the Clergy, the members of the church.

[00:06:14] The second class was the nobility, the richest and most powerful non-religious members of society.

[00:06:22] These two classes owned the vast majority of all of the land, and with it, they controlled the money, and the country.

[00:06:31] And the third class was everyone else, the commoners.

[00:06:35] This third class, this everyone else class, represented 99% of French society. It was almost everyone.

[00:06:45] But the problem was that the voting system in this States-General was one vote for one class, it didn’t matter that the third class represented 99% of the population, it only got one vote.

[00:07:01] And given that the first and second classes had very similar aims and motivations, remember that was the Clergy and the Nobility, they could veto, they could vote down anything proposed by the third class, by everyone else.

[00:07:19] This States-General was called by Louis XVI in 1789, the first time it had been called since 1614, the first time in almost 200 years.

[00:07:32] But to state the obvious Europe was a very different place, and France was a very different country in 1789 compared to what it had been in 1614.

[00:07:44] Enlightenment ideas, which you might remember from the Enlightenment episode (which you can find on the website), had been flourishing, there had been certain freedoms of the press and freedoms of speech that meant people could question the old ideas, they could ask themselves why things needed to continue in that way.

[00:08:06] Why was it right that the first two classes should be able to have effective control over the legislation, when they represented a tiny minority of the population. 

[00:08:19] The States-General couldn’t come to an agreement, and to cut a long story short, the third class broke away and declared themselves to be a new National Assembly, and that they wouldn’t stop until a new constitution of France was created.

[00:08:37] King Louis relented, he gave up, there were limited reforms, and there was a feeling that change was afoot in France, there was change in the air, that finally the people were being given some of the power and representation that had been denied to them.

[00:08:56] According to an eyewitness account, a historian of the revolution called François Mignet, people were, and I'm quoting here, "intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm" they were drunk with liberty and enthusiasm.

[00:09:12] But there were rumours of an aristocratic conspiracy, that the King was about to send in the Swiss Guards, his own soldiers, to crack down on the common people.

[00:09:25] On July 14th, a large group of Parisians, people from Paris, congregated outside the Bastille, a large fortress in central Paris.

[00:09:36] The Bastille was a symbol of royal power - it had been used as a prison, and it also contained large amounts of weapons that these protestors wanted to get their hands on.

[00:09:48] The protestors stormed the Bastille, they broke into it, they killed the man who was in charge of it, and cut off his head and put it on a pole.

[00:09:59] And this day was for many the start of the French Revolution. 

[00:10:05] Indeed, it’s celebrated as a public holiday in France, in English it's called Bastille Day, July 14th.

[00:10:12] At the time, although the protestors inside the Bastille probably knew something exciting and important was happening, they weren’t to know quite how important it was to be.

[00:10:25] Louis XVI was still king of the country, but it was clear that the balance of power had shifted away from him.

[00:10:34] By the end of August there were wide-sweeping reforms, requiring aristocrats to pay taxes, and reducing the tax burden on the poorest, reducing the amount of tax that the poorest had to pay.

[00:10:48] The Catholic Church, which had previously held an iron grip over the lives of ordinary French people, and required them to pay large amounts in taxes directly to the church, was also losing control. 

[00:11:04] France was moving away from being a country controlled by king and church, to one controlled by its citizens. 

[00:11:13] This might seem like a trivial thing to us now, it might seem unremarkable and obvious, but it was a huge shift for French people at the time, who had previously been required to pay large taxes to landowners, the church and aristocrats, suffering without enough food to put on their table while the richest in society enjoyed lavish lives of leisure.

[00:11:39] Also in August of 1789 the Declaration of The Rights of Man and The Citizen was published, which was a monumentally important document. 

[00:11:50] It was inspired by the Enlightenment thinkers, from Rousseau to Montesquieu, and by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, 13 years before; it quickly enshrined in law the rights that applied to men in France.

[00:12:07] Unfortunately it was normally men, not women, and it didn’t actually say anything against slavery, but it was a big step forward compared to the previous situation.

[00:12:20] The period from late 1789 through to early 1791 was actually relatively peaceful, especially considering what was to come.

[00:12:30] It was peaceful in terms of bloodshed, there weren’t that many people being killed, but there was intense debate about what sort of society France should become.

[00:12:43] What place did a monarchy have in the future of the country? What should be done with the king?

[00:12:50] The more radical side was led by a man called Robespierre, who believed that the future of revolutionary France wasn’t compatible with the king: the king had to go.

[00:13:02] In any case, Louis XVI was losing power, and losing power fast. 

[00:13:07] In 1791 he and his family tried to flee the country, apparently in order to meet pro-Royalist soldiers who would join him in a counter-revolution, but he was recognised and brought back to Paris.

[00:13:24] Louis XVI was now effectively trapped in France, a prisoner in his own country, and with a fraction of the power he had held a few years beforehand.

[00:13:37] Although large parts of the country were swept up in a revolutionary mood, not everyone was. 

[00:13:44] Many aristocrats had fled France to reunite with relations in places like Austria, with the view that they would be safer there, and they could mount an attack back on France and retake their country.

[00:13:59] And although the revolutionaries and the king didn’t see eye to eye, they both supported the idea of going to war with Austria, which France did in 1792. 

[00:14:11] For the revolutionaries, they wanted to spread the idea of revolution throughout Europe. 

[00:14:18] And King Louis XVI, why did he support the war? 

[00:14:22] Well, he was a bit stuck, and thought that if France went to war and lost, then his relations in Austria would be happy to put him back on the French throne.

[00:14:35] The war didn’t go particularly well for France to start off with. The Prussians had joined forces with the Austrians, and the French suffered numerous defeats.

[00:14:47] The Austro-Prussian army issued a document called the Brunswick Manifesto that said that if the French royal family was harmed, Paris would be burned to the ground, and no protester’s life would be spared.

[00:15:01] The document was intended to intimidate the French, but it had the opposite effect. They imprisoned the French royal family and on August 10th 1792 they abolished the French monarchy.

[00:15:17] Five months later, on January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI was executed, after having been found guilty of the crime of high treason, of betraying his country.

[00:15:31] As his head was sliced off his body using a new device called the guillotine, this ended the near thousand year rule of absolute monarchy in France.

[00:15:43] Nine months later, his wife, the incredibly unpopular Marie-Antoinette, met the same fate.

[00:15:50] Now, it’s worth spending a minute just talking about Marie-Antoinette. 

[00:15:54] Firstly, probably the most famous quote of the French Revolution is attributed to Marie-Antoinette, and that’s “let them eat cake”. 

[00:16:04] That’s how it’s normally translated in English, which is actually a bit of a mistranslation. She said “let them eat brioche”, which was very much a luxury bread at the time, so it doesn’t mean she was any less out of touch, but she wasn’t literally saying cake like a birthday cake.

[00:16:23] And the second thing about this quote is that she probably never said it. 

[00:16:28] Sorry. 

[00:16:29] The quote actually appeared in the writings of Rousseau when Marie-Antoinette was only 9 years old, so even though it might be the most famous quote from the French Revolution, it’s not actually true.

[00:16:44] What does seem to be undeniable though is that Marie-Antoinette was hideously out of touch with the fate of the common French person. 

[00:16:54] At Versailles, the royal palace, she had her own farm built for her, so she could pretend to be a common farmer, but she was presumably sitting down on a nice chair, stroking a lamb and eating some brioche rather than getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to milk the cows.

[00:17:14] In any case, by October 1793 she was being taken to the guillotine in a cart, to be publicly executed

[00:17:23] It certainly wasn’t how she thought she would be received when she, daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, one of the richest and most powerful noble families in Europe, moved from Austria to marry Prince Louis, at the age of just 14 years old.

[00:17:40] At the same time as this was all taking place, the more moderate revolutionaries had lost the ideological battle about the path that the revolution should take, and the political climate was ruled by the more radical faction, led by Robespierre.

[00:17:58] France was thrown into a period now referred to as The Reign of Terror, where 40,000 people were killed for counter-revolutionary behaviour. 

[00:18:09] But soon things got to Robespierre’s head, he became drunk on his own power, and he ended up tasting the cold steel of the guillotine himself in July of 1794.

[00:18:24] So, we have whizzed through this, we’ve gone very fast through this period, so let’s just pause for a minute to take stock.

[00:18:34] Over the period of 5 years, the entire French tax system was turned on its head, France got a new constitution, the country declared the universal rights of man, the monarchy was abolished, France declared war on Austria, the king and then queen were both executed, the revolutionaries have been fighting among themselves, and tens of thousands of people have been killed.

[00:18:58] Quite a busy period in French history, right?

[00:19:01] During all this, a young army officer was distinguishing himself through military campaigns, and rising through the ranks of the French army.

[00:19:13] His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

[00:19:16] He had crushed a royalist uprising, a movement in support of the monarchy, in 1795. 

[00:19:23] He then won decisive victories in what is now northern Italy in 1796, and after invading Malta and Egypt in 1798, he returned to France, overthrew the government that was in place, and declared himself to be the First Consul of France, essentially the most powerful person in the country.

[00:19:45] This was in 1799, and with it he declared that the French Revolution was over. 

[00:19:53] Now, we have evidently skipped over quite a bit here, but this is a not-so-brief summary of the course of the French revolution.

[00:20:01] Let’s move on to the consequences, because the consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, both in France and further afield.

[00:20:12] Let’s start with France.

[00:20:14] Of course, you will now know that there is now no monarchy in France. 

[00:20:19] But Louis XVI wasn’t the last king of France, and the First French Republic only lasted from 1792 to 1804, when Napoleon got power hungry and declared himself to be the Emperor of France. 

[00:20:36] And France had Emperors, or kings in various different forms until 1870, almost 100 years after the French had first decided they didn’t want a monarch.

[00:20:49] Since 1870 France has been a full republic, without a monarch - although the French newspapers do enjoy suggesting that various Prime Ministers have king-like ambitions.

[00:21:01] So, from a governmental and constitutional point of view, the French revolution set France on the course of moving away from a monarchy and towards what it is now, a republic.

[00:21:15] In terms of more European consequences, the decision of the continent’s most populous country to overthrow its monarchy, decapitate the king and queen, and proclaim a republic had a profound impact.

[00:21:31] For the royal families of other European countries, many of whom were of course closely related to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution was pretty scary. If the French people had risen up and got rid of the monarchy, what was to stop people in their own countries from doing exactly the same thing?

[00:21:54] It was clear now that monarchs weren’t untouchable, that they existed because the people of the country allowed them to exist, rather than because of some god-given right.

[00:22:08] Indeed, this idea of a king or queen being a representative of the people, rather than the people being his or her subjects, is one of the most important consequences of The French Revolution. 

[00:22:21] The very idea of the nation state, of a country formed of its people, existed before The French Revolution, but the events of 1789 to 1799 really underlined the fact that a country is composed of its citizens, and it’s the citizens that have the power to decide the fate of the country.

[00:22:44] This is even more the case for the French Revolution than the American Revolution, as the American revolutionaries were rising up against their colonial masters, while the French were rising up against the entire political system of their own country.

[00:23:02] In terms of French nationalism, the events of the French Revolution brought the country together, and there was a new found sense of unity between French people, with everyone united around the Liberté, égalité, fraternité - the freedom, equality, and brotherhood that are at the centre of the French Constitution.

[00:23:24] This phrase was first used by Robespierre in 1790, and has continued to be the national motto of France to this day.

[00:23:33] And it has had a profound impact on the global concept of the rights of the individual, and what we now refer to as Human Rights. 

[00:23:43] To stress, before the Declaration of The Rights of Man and of The Citizen, this really wasn’t an obvious concept, at least in Europe.

[00:23:53] Society was deeply divided between rich and poor, the aristocracy, nobles and the church and everyone else. 

[00:24:02] The French Revolution proposed that there were universal rights, universal privileges that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of who they were.

[00:24:13] And while the majority of French people today are very proud of the events and consequences of the French Revolution, not all are.

[00:24:23] I remember this being clear to me when I was about 14 years old. My brother and I were doing French exchanges.

[00:24:31] I had been sent to stay for a week with a boy called Sylvain, who had relatively left-wing, liberal parents.

[00:24:39] My brother had been sent to stay with a boy called Charles, whose family had a large house in the countryside with old paintings of aristocratic family members.

[00:24:51] The week we stayed with them was over the 14th July, and we experienced two differing ways to celebrate Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the revolution.

[00:25:04] With the family I was staying with there were great festivities, fireworks, we went out and it was a time of great joy.

[00:25:12] But when we went to find my brother, he had had a different experience. 

[00:25:18] While most of France was celebrating, the old aristocratic family he had been with had basically closed their doors and not even acknowledged the fact that it was a day of any importance.

[00:25:32] Presumably this family had ancestors who had lost their heads in the revolution, so it was no time for celebration.

[00:25:40] And even outside France, politicians and leaders are often cautious when asked about The French Revolution. 

[00:25:49] Margaret Thatcher, the ex Prime Minister of Britain, said “It resulted in a lot of headless corpses, (headless bodies), and a tyrant (a dictator)”. 

[00:25:59] She is of course talking about Napoleon.

[00:26:02] In the interests of balance and fairness, perhaps we should end with a quote from the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, which centres on Paris and London during the period of the French Revolution.

[00:26:17] Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

[00:26:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The French Revolution, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Age of Revolution.

[00:26:55] The historians among you will note that The French Revolution definitely wasn’t the end of the Age of Revolution, as it and the American Revolution actually inspired revolutions throughout Europe and further afield during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:27:11] But we have to end somewhere, and what better place to end with the most famous revolution in Europe.

[00:27:18] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:22] Especially for the French listeners out there, what do you think the lasting impact of The French Revolution has been? How would France have been different without it?

[00:27:32] I would love to know - for the members among you, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:45] And as a final reminder, if you are not yet a member of Leonardo English but you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles, the key vocabulary, and all of the bonus episodes, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:28:08] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:28:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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