Timeline of the French Revolution

Key Facts

  • The French revolution took place between 1789 and 1799.
  • Peasants and the poor wanted equality for all.
  • It leads to the execution of the king at that time, King Louis XVI.

The Revolution Begins (1789)

  • January: “What is the Third Estate?” is published by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès.
  • January 24: King Louis XVI says that elections for delegates will be done by the Estates-General.
  • May 2: The deputies are presented by the Estate-Generals to the King at Versailles. The clergy and nobles are welcomed with formal ceremonies and processions; the Third Estate is not.
  • May 6: The Deputies of the Third Estate and the other estates refuse to meet separately and invite the clergy and nobility to join them.
  • May 20: The clergy agrees to start paying personal taxes and renounces its special tax privileges.
  • May 22: The nobility renounces its special tax privileges. The three estates, however, are unable to agree on a common programme.
  • May 25: Having been delayed by election procedures, The Third Estate deputies from Paris, arrive in Versailles.
  • June 3: Jean Sylvain Bailly is elected as the leader of the Third Estate deputies.
  • June 4: Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy, becomes the new Dauphin because of the death of the eldest son and heir of Louis XVI.
  • July 6: A committee of thirty is formed by the National Assembly and is tasked with writing a new Constitution.
  • July 9: The National Assembly is restructured and becomes the National Constituent Assembly.
  • July 13: The National Assembly declares itself in permanent season. At the Hôtel de Ville, city leaders begin to form a governing committee and an armed militia.
  • July 14: A large armed crowd storms Bastille where only seven prisoners are held but there was a large supply of gunpowder, which the crowd wanted. After hours of resistance, the governor of the fortress de Launay, finally surrenders and is killed by the crowd as he exits. The crowd also kills de Flesselles, the provost of the Paris merchants.
  • July 15: Jean Sylvain Bailly is named the mayor of Paris, and Lafayette is appointed Commander of the newly formed National Guard.
  • July 16: Necker is reinstated as finance minister and withdraws royal troops from the centre of the city. The newly elected Paris assembly votes for the destruction of the Bastille fortress.
  • July 17: Bailly and Lafayette welcome the king as he visits Paris. Some prominent members of the nobility, including the Count of Artois, the Prince de Condé, the Duke of Enghien, the Baron de Breteuil, the Duke of Broglie, the Duke of Polignac and his wife leave France in fear of what was going to happen.
  • July 18: A much more radical revolution is called for through the book La France Libre, written by Camille Desmoulins arguing that revolutionary violence is justified.
  • July 22: Berthier de Sauvigny, the intendant of Paris, and his father-in-law are massacred by an armed mob because of speculating in grain.
  • July 21-August 1: Riots and a peasant revolt begins in Strasbourg, Le Mans, Colmar, Alsace and Hainaut.
  • July 28: Le Patriote Français, an influential newspaper of the revolutionary movement, known as the Girondins, is published by Jacques Pierre Brissot.
  • August 4: Reformists are appointed by the king, leading to the abolishment of privileges and feudal rights of the nobility.
  • August 7: Publication of A Plot Uncovered to Lull the People to Sleep” by Jean-Paul Marat, denounces the reforms of August 4 as insufficient and demands a much more radical revolution. Marat quickly becomes the voice of the most turbulent sans-culottes faction of the Revolution.
  • August 23: The Assembly proclaims freedom of religious opinions.
  • August 24: The Assembly proclaims freedom of speech.
  • August 27: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
  • August 27: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is largely drafted by Lafayette and is adopted by the Assembly.
  • August 28: The Assembly contemplates giving the king the power to veto legislation.
  • August 30: An uprising at the Palais-Royal is organised by Camille Desmoulins to block the proposed veto for the king and to force the king to return to Paris. The uprising fails.
  • August 31: A two-house parliament and a royal right of veto are proposed by the Constitution Committee of the Assembly.
  • September 9: A mob assassinates the Mayor of Troyes.
  • September 11: The king is given the power to temporarily veto laws for two legislative sessions.
  • September 15: A radical pamphlet, Discours de la Lanterne aux Parisiens, justifying political violence and exalting the Parisian mob, is published by Desmoulins.
  • September 16: First issue of Jean-Paul Marat’s newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple, proposing a radical social and political revolution.
  • September 19: Three hundred members are elected by districts in a new municipal assembly in Paris.

Women’s March on Versailles

  • October 5: Marat’s newspaper demands a march on Versailles to protest the extravagance of the royal family. Thousands of women take part in the march, joined in the evening by the Paris National Guard led by Lafayette.
  • October 6: A crowd of women invade the Palace. The women demand that the king and his family accompany them back to Paris, and the King agrees. The National Assembly also decides to relocate to Paris.
  • October 10: Lafayette is named commander of the regular army in and around Paris by the National Assembly. The Assembly also modifies the royal title from “King of France and Navarre” to “King of the French”. A more humane form of public execution is proposed by Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, which is eventually named “the guillotine”, after him.
  • October 12: Louis XVI secretly writes to King Charles IV of Spain, complaining of mistreatment. The Count of Artois secretly writes to Joseph II of Austria requesting a military intervention in France.
  • October 19: The National Assembly’s first meeting in Paris is held at the chapel of the archbishop’s residence next to Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • October 21: A state of martial law to prevent future uprisings is declared by the national assembly.
  • November 2: The Assembly votes to place the property of the Church at the disposition of the Nation.
  • November 28: First copy of Desmoulins’ weekly Histoire des Révolutions de France et de Brabant, attacks royalists and aristocrats.
  • December 1: Admiral d’Albert is arrested by revolting sailors of the French Navy in Toulon.
  • December 9: The Assembly decides to divide France into departments, in place of the former provinces.
  • December 19: Introduction of the assignat, a form of currency based not on silver, but on the value of the property of the Church, now under the control of the State.
  • December 24: The Assembly decrees that Protestants are eligible to hold public office. Jews are still excluded.

1790 – the Rise of the Political Clubs

  • January 7: Riots occur in Versailles demanding lower bread prices.
  • January 18: A fierce attack by Marat on finance minister Necker.
  • January 22: Marat is protected by a crowd of sans-culottes and escapes to London as Paris municipal police try to arrest him.
  • February 13: The taking of religious vows is forbidden by the national assembly in order to suppress the contemplative religious orders.
  • February 23: Parish priests all over France are made to read aloud the decrees of the Assembly.
  • February 28: Serving in the army no longer guarantees nobility.
  • March 8: The National Assembly allows the institution of slavery to continue in French colonies and permits the establishment of colonial assemblies.
  • March 12: The properties of the Church are sold by the municipalities.
  • March 29: Pope Pius VI condemns the Declaration of the Rights of Man in a secret consistory.
  • April 5-June 10: A series of pro-Catholic and anti-Revolutionary riots in various French provinces including Vannes, Nimes, Toulouse, Toulon and Avignon protests measures taken against the church.
  • April 17: Foundation of the Cordeliers Club meet, and it emerges as one of the most vocal proponents of radical change.
  • April 30: Riots in Marseille. Three forts are captured, and the commander of Fort Saint-Jean, the Chevalier de Beausset, is assassinated.
  • May 12: Lafayette and Jean Sylvain Bailly form the Society of 1789.
  • May 18: Marat returns to Paris and resumes publication of L’Ami du People.
  • May 22: The Assembly decides that it alone can make decisions on issues of war and peace, but that war can only be declared by the King.
  • May 30: Lyon celebrates the Revolution with a Fête de la Fédération. Lille holds a similar event on June 6, Strasbourg on June 13 and Rouen on June 19.
  • June 3: Uprising of biracial residents of the French colony of Martinique.
  • June 19: The titles, orders and other privileges of the hereditary nobility are abolished by the National Assembly.
  • June 26: Diplomats of England, Austria, Prussia and the United Provinces meet at Reichenbach to discuss possible military intervention to stop the French Revolution.
  • July 12: Clergymen lose their special status and are required to take an oath of allegiance to the government.

War and the Overthrow of the Monarchy 1792

  • August 10: Storming of the Tuileries Palace. The National Guard of the insurrectional Paris Commune and revolutionary fédérés from Marseille and Brittany attack the Tuileries Palace. The king and his family take refuge in the Legislative Assembly. The Swiss Guards defending the Palace are massacred. The Legislative Assembly provisionally suspends the authority of the king, and orders the election of a new government, the Convention.
  • August 11: The Assembly elects a new Executive Committee to replace the government. Danton is named Minister of Justice. The municipalities are authorised to arrest suspected enemies of the Revolution, and royalist newspapers and publications are banned.
  • August 13: Royal family imprisoned in the Temple.
  • August 14: Lafayette tries unsuccessfully to persuade his army to march on Paris to rescue the royal family.
  • August 17: At the demand of Robespierre and the Commune of Paris, who threatens an armed uprising if the Assembly does not comply, the Assembly votes for the creation of a Revolutionary Tribunal, the members of which are selected by the Commune, and the summoning of a National Convention to replace the Assembly.
  • August 18: The Assembly abolishes the religious teaching orders and those running hospitals, the last remaining religious orders in France.
  • August 19: Lafayette leaves his army and goes into exile. The coalition army of Austrian and Prussian soldiers, and of French émigrés, led by the Duke of Brunswick, crosses the northern and eastern borders into France.
  • August 21: First summary judgment by the Revolutionary Tribunal and execution by the guillotine of a royalist, Louis Collenot d’Angremont.
  • August 22: The Paris Commune orders that persons henceforth be addressed as Citoyen and Citoyenne (“Citizen”) rather than Monsieur or Madame.
  • August 22: Royalist riots in Brittany, Vendée and Dauphiné.
  • September 2: Capitulation of Verdun, without a fight, to Brunswick’s troops.