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French Revolution: Reign of Terror

This guide suggests resources for general use on the topic of the French Revolution

About this Guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide a time-saving pathway to information on the French Revolution, particularly "The Reign of Terror" period that ran from September 5, 1793 - July 28, 1794.

 

Declaration of the Rights of Man...

Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, Painted by Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier.  Includes "Eye of providence" symbol (eye in triangle)  Image Details: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65758

Why the Guillotine?

The Guillotine was developed by a doctor and politician, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin who advocated medical reform and opposed the death penalty. Guillotin's revolutionary method was considered least painful means of execution, and therefore--for the person being executed--most humane.

Public domain

Guillotine History

Public domain

Marie Antionette awaiting execution - Jacques-Louis David, Musée du Louvre, Paris

 

These works are public domain in country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer.

Lessons of History

The Estates General: three political bodies with the majority of voting power being held by the 3% of the population, which included clergy (first estate) and the nobility (second estate). The third estate, 97% of the population, included peasants, artisans, and the bourgeoisie (middle class, which also owned most of the land in France). Moreover, the nobility and clergy were exempt from taxation! 

Political Issues and Time Line

Timeline

  • July 1788: France Bankrupt: Louis XVI calls the Estates General to address taxation
  • June 1789: Third Estates declares itself the National Assembly
  • July 14, 1789: Storming of the Bastille
  • August 4, 1789: Nobles surrender their privileges
  • June 1791: Failed escape of Louis XVI (with Austrian troops waiting to greet them at the border--and initiate a counter-revolutionary plan, disguised in bourgeois clothing, the royal family was caught at Varennes, France).
  • April 20, 1792: France declares war on Austria
  • September 1792: Abolition of the Monarchy, Terror Begins
  • Jan 21, 1793: Execution of Louis XVI (the Queen’s execution followed in October)
  • April 5, 1794: Execution of Georges Danton (and his loyal friends)
  • July 28, 1794: Last execution of the Reign of Terror: Maximilien Robespierre

The King and Queen of France, 1774–1792

Photograph of monument to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, King and Queen of France (both executed in 1793) located at the Basilica of St. Denis, Paris. Photograph taken May 30, 2016.

King and Queen of France monument: Photograph taken by Dawn Ady, June 2016

Movies

Without losing sight of the dire inequities in 18th century France, this program paints a portrait in which Marie Antoinette emerges as a sympathetic and courageous figure.

Narrator: Blair Brown.

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