French Revolution Facts
French Revolution Facts

50 Surprising French Revolution Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published August 23, 2019
  • A cook's assistant who defended the Queen during the French Revolution was fried in butter and then burned alive by the mob.[7]
  • After Louis XVI's head was cut off during the French Revolution, people dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood and sold locks of his hair as souvenirs. One such handkerchief was found over 200 years later—hidden in a dried squash.[7]
  • On the scaffold, Marie Antoinette accidentally stepped on the executioner's foot. Her last words were, "Pardon me, monsieur."[7]
  • French revolutionaries tore down the Bastille by hand because they didn't have any explosives.[1]
  • During the French Revolution, revolutionaries published libelle pamphlets. These pamphlets contained strange erotica in an attempt to undermine the personal lives of the French nobility.[1]
  • Third Estate Facts
    Under the Ancien Regime (before the French Revolution), society was divided into three classes: the First Estate (clergy), the Second Estate (nobility), and the Third Estate (commoners)
  • In France, a taille was a tax on wages and land. Only the Third Estate (the peasants) had to pay it. This inequality helped trigger the French Revolution. Those who could afford to pay taxes, the upper class, paid hardly any taxes at all.[1]
  • The first public zoo, Menagerie Jardin des Plantes, was created in Paris during the French Revolution. The National Assembly decided that aristocrats' exotic animals should be donated to the menagerie at Versailles.[1]
  • France was nearly bankrupt from both the Seven Years' War and from helping the Americans during their Revolutionary War. The economic strain increased tension between the economic classes in France, which helped lead to the French Revolution.[1]
  • Prior to the French Revolution, France's finance minister, Jacques Necker, suggested the royal family adopt a budget to save money. He was promptly fired.[1]
  • Over 10,000 African slaves were freed as a result of the French Revolution in 1794. However, Napoleon restored slavery and the slave trade in 1802.[1]
  • Maximilien Robespierre, a bourgeois lawyer, triggered the most bloody chapter of the French Revolution, known as the Reign of Terror. Between 1793–1794 alone there were 16,694 death sentences.[6]
  • Robespierre, one of the bloodiest leaders of the French Revolution, made violence an official government policy, arguing that "terror is nothing more than speedy, severe, and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue."[6]
  • Charles Dickens wrote a book set during the French Revolution titled A Tale of Two Cities. The book contains some of the most powerful descriptions of the causes and effects of the French Revolution.[8]
  • Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; - the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!

    - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

  • Robespierre, a leader of the Reign of Terror, replaced Catholicism with a so-called religion named the "Cult of the Supreme Being," with himself as the head.[6]
  • In July 1794, Reign of Terror leader Robespierre tried to shoot himself to avoid arrest. He was unsuccessful, and he severely wounded his jaw. At the guillotine the next day, his last words were "Merci, monsieur," after someone gave him a handkerchief to wipe his bloody jaw.[6]
  • During the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), an estimated 40,000 people were executed or murdered. While the guillotine was invented as a humane method of execution, its efficiency meant more people could be executed.[6]
  • During the French Revolution, the guillotine was the preferred method of execution. The last person do die by guillotine (and the last person to be legally beheaded in the Western world) was Hamida Djandoubi, in 1977. France abolished capital punishment in 1981.[6]
  • Among the guillotine's nicknames was Madame la Guillotine, the Widow, the Patriotic Shortener, the National Razor, the Regretful Climb, and the Silence Mill.[1]
  • Before the French Revolution, a hailstorm wiped out crops, leading to widespread food shortages and creating inflated bread prices.[1]
  • The French Revolution went through several stages and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon.[1]
  • The storming of the Bastille marks the unofficial beginning of the French Revolution, and France celebrates Bastille Day as a national holiday on July 14.[1]
  • Bastille Facts
    The Bastille represented the royal authority in Paris

  • The French Revolution had many long-lasting effects on modern history, including triggering the decline of absolute monarchies around the world and unleashing a wave of global conflicts.[1]
  • The French Revolution is one of the most important events in human history. It resulted in the rise of modern nationalism, decline of the power of the Catholic Church, the spread of liberalism, and it ushered in the age of revolutions.[6]
  • Amid international condemnation, Louis XVI was beheaded in January 1793.[1]
  • During the French Revolution, all measures of time were switched from base 12 to base 10, including a 10-day week. The experiment lasted 12 years.[1]
  • Marianne French Revolution
    Marianne is the national personification of the French Revolution. She personifies liberty, reason, and the Goddess of Liberty
  • The cry of the French Revolution, "liberte, fraternite, egalite," became the clarion call for other upheavals in modern history, such as the Russian Revolution over 100 years later.[1]
  • The French Revolution triggered total war. The government turned France and its citizens toward the objective of military conquest.[1]
  • Several factors led to the Revolution, including increasing economic inequality, environmental disasters, national debt, and political ideas from the Enlightenment.[1]
  • According to German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, the rise of the public sphere, or an area outside the control of the state, weakened the power of the crown. Examples of the public sphere include newspapers, reading clubs,  journals, masonic lodges, and coffee houses.[1]
  • Charlotte Corday, a moderate supporter of the Revolution, assassinated the more extreme Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub on July 13, 1793. She was guillotined four days later for her actions.[1]
  • Olympe de Gouges, a playwright in France, published the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen." The Jacobins guillotined her in November 1793.[8]
  • One of Marie Antoinette's loyal friends, Princess de Lamballe, was literally ripped to pieces in the streets of Paris. After she refused to swear a loyalty oath to the French Revolution, the assembly threw her into the street, where a mob was waiting.[5]
  • October March Facts
    The Women's March on Versaille was one of the most significant and early events of the French Revolution
  • Nearly 60,000 women marched in France to protest the price and scarcity of bread. Their protest turned the tide against royal rule.[1]
  • While most people associate the French Revolution with the guillotine, revolutionaries used other types of mass murder. For example, between 1793–1794, suspected anti-revolutionaries in the town of Nantes were murdered by drowning. Between 1,800 and 4,600 people died.[1]
  • Some of the most infamous and horrific events during the French Revolution were the September Massacres of 1792. Over five days, mobs of revolutionaries slaughtered over 1,200 people.[1]
  • During the French Revolution, all symbols of the monarchy were attacked, and the buried corpses of kings, queens, and consorts were dug up and destroyed.[4]
  • One of the symbols of the French Revolution was the tricolor cockade, which was a red, white, and blue circular emblem. Those who didn't wear the emblem were suspected of treason and in danger of being executed.[2]
  • The Phrygian cap (similar to the cap Smurfs wear) was a symbol of the revolution. In ancient Rome, slaves were given the cap when they were set free.[2]
  • One of the symbols of the French Revolution was the fasces. A fasces is a bundle of wooden rods tied around an ax and is the root of the word fascist. In Ancient Rome, the fasces represented the unity and power of the people.[2]
  • On June 20, 1789, the Third Estate (the poor) in France occupied a tennis court near the castle and swore an oath that they would not go home until the King agreed to help. They also formed a new parliament called the National Assembly. Many priests and nobles joined.[6]
  • Tennis Court Oath Fact
    On June 20, 1789, commoners took the Tennis Court Oath, promising not to give up until their goals had been accomplished

  • The storming of the Bastille was gory. Even though there were only seven prisoners at the time, the mob dragged Launay, the man in charge of the Bastille, through the streets. After being beaten, Launay cried, "Enough! Let me die!" The mob stabbed him to death, sawed off his head, and chopped his body to pieces.[1]
  • Before the French Revolution, a loaf of bread was equal to a week's pay. Many peasants simply starved to death.[1]
  • When the angry mob stormed the Bastille, only seven prisoners were inside. Among them was the Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat famous for his libertine sexuality and pornographic fiction.[1]
  • A tennis court was the first official meeting place of the French Revolution.[2]
  • When the royal family tried to escape, they didn't get very far. The king's face had been stamped on every French coin, making it easy for the rebels to easily recognize him.[1]
  • Before the French Revolution, it was illegal to worship as a Jew or Protestant. After the revolution, people were free to worship as they pleased.[1]
  • King Louis XVI Execution
    The execution of King Louis XVI changed the world
  • During the French Revolution, executions were a popular form of entertainment. People would get there early to get a good seat and buy programs listing those who were going to be executed that day. People would even bring their children.[2]
  • During the French Revolution, revolutionaries used a cannibalistic spy named Tarrare to send messages via his stomach. Tarrare had an insatiable appetite and would compulsively eat stray cats and even dead bodies. He died horribly, and an autopsy revealed that not only was his body filled with pus, his entire digestive system was mutated.[3]
  • The starving French people disliked Marie Antoinette's extravagant lifestyle and nicknamed her "Madame Deficit."[1]
  • At the time of his execution, Reign of Terror leader Robespierre was riddled with illnesses. Perhaps suffering from the autoimmune disorder sarcoidosis, he was riddled with jaundice, pockmarks, severe nose bleeds, and involuntary facial twitches.[9]

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