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The French Revolution- NCERT Notes UPSC


  • The French Revolution was a period of radical political and social change in France that began in 1789 and ended in 1799.

  • It was inspired by the Enlightenment ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and challenged the absolute monarchy and the feudal system.

  • It led to the establishment of a republic, the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, the Reign of Terror, the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the emergence of nationalism and democracy in Europe.

Causes of the Revolution in France

  • The main causes of the revolution were social, economic, and political.

  • Socially, France was divided into three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The first two estates enjoyed privileges and exemptions from taxes, while the third estate bore the burden of taxation and had no political representation.

  • Economically, France was in a state of crisis due to the wars waged by Louis XVI, the lavish spending of the royal court, the bad harvests, and the high prices of food. The government was heavily in debt and tried to impose new taxes on the third estate, which sparked resentment and resistance.

  • Politically, France was ruled by an absolute monarch who claimed divine right and denied the people any say in the affairs of the state. The king was advised by corrupt and incompetent ministers who ignored the grievances of the people. The people were influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers who advocated for the rights of man and the separation of powers.

Key Events of the Revolution

  • The revolution began with the meeting of the Estates General in May 1789, where the third estate demanded a fair representation and a vote by head. When the king refused, the third estate declared itself the National Assembly and vowed to draft a constitution for France.

  • On July 14, 1789, a mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny, and freed the prisoners inside. This event marked the beginning of the popular uprising and the end of the old regime.

  • On August 26, 1789, the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which proclaimed the equality of all men, the sovereignty of the people, and the natural rights of liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

  • On October 5, 1789, thousands of women marched to Versailles and demanded bread and the return of the king to Paris. The king agreed and moved to the Tuileries Palace, where he was effectively a prisoner of the revolution.

  • On June 20, 1791, the king and his family attempted to flee the country, but were captured and brought back to Paris. This event exposed the king’s disloyalty and eroded his legitimacy.

  • On September 21, 1792, the National Convention abolished the monarchy and proclaimed France a republic. The next day, the king was put on trial for treason and sentenced to death. He was executed by the guillotine on January 21, 1793.

  • On January 21, 1793, France declared war on Britain, Holland, and Spain, joining the war against Austria and Prussia that had started in 1792. This led to the formation of the First Coalition, a coalition of European powers that opposed the revolution and sought to restore the monarchy.

  • On July 27, 1793, Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the radical Jacobins, became the head of the Committee of Public Safety, a powerful body that oversaw the war effort and the domestic affairs. He initiated the Reign of Terror, a period of mass executions of suspected enemies of the revolution, which lasted until July 28, 1794, when he himself was executed by his rivals.

  • On August 22, 1795, the National Convention adopted a new constitution that established a Directory, a five-member executive that ruled France until November 9, 1799, when it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte, a young and successful general who had won several victories against the enemies of the revolution.

France under Napoleon

  • Napoleon Bonaparte became the first consul of France, and later the emperor, after he staged a coup d’etat against the Directory. He consolidated his power by reforming the administration, the legal system, the education, the finance, and the religion of France. He also expanded his empire by conquering most of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia.

  • Napoleon was a brilliant military leader who won many battles against the coalitions of European powers that tried to stop his ambitions. He also spread the ideals of the revolution to the lands he conquered, abolishing feudalism, establishing civil codes, and promoting nationalism.

  • Napoleon faced several challenges and setbacks, such as the resistance of the British navy, the revolt of the Spanish people, the invasion of Russia, and the rise of nationalism in Germany and Italy. He was eventually defeated by the Seventh Coalition at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and exiled to the island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821.

Causes of Napoleon’s Downfall

  • The main causes of Napoleon’s downfall were his overconfidence, his miscalculations, his enemies, and his legacy.

  • Napoleon was overconfident in his abilities and underestimated his opponents. He made several mistakes, such as invading Russia in 1812, which resulted in the loss of most of his army and the weakening of his empire.

  • Napoleon faced a coalition of enemies who were determined to end his rule and restore the balance of power in Europe. They included Britain, Prussia, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and later Spain and Portugal. They fought against Napoleon in several wars, such as the War of the Third Coalition, the Peninsular War, the War of the Fifth Coalition, the War of the Sixth Coalition, and the War of the Seventh Coalition.

  • Napoleon left a legacy that inspired both admiration and resentment among the peoples of Europe. He was seen as a hero by some, who admired his achievements and reforms, and as a tyrant by others, who hated his oppression and wars. He also sparked the rise of nationalism and liberalism, which challenged the old order and shaped the future of Europe.

Impact and Significance of the Revolution

  • The French Revolution had a profound impact and significance on France and the world, as it changed the course of history and the fate of nations.

  • The revolution transformed France from a feudal monarchy to a modern republic, based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It abolished the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, and granted rights and citizenship to the people. It also created a new political culture, based on the concepts of sovereignty, representation, and constitution.

  • The revolution influenced the world by spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment and the revolution to other countries and regions. It inspired other movements and revolutions, such as the Haitian Revolution, the Latin American wars of independence, the Greek War of Independence, the Belgian Revolution, the Polish Uprising, the Italian Risorgimento, the German Unification, and the Spring of Nations. It also challenged the old order of Europe, and paved the way for the emergence of new ideologies, such as nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and communism.

Consequences of the French Revolution

  • The French Revolution had both positive and negative consequences for France and the world, as it brought about both progress and suffering.

  • The positive consequences of the revolution were the abolition of feudalism, the establishment of democracy, the promotion of human rights, the reform of society, the development of culture, and the advancement of science.

  • The negative consequences of the revolution were the violence, the terror, the war, the instability, the dictatorship, the oppression, and the backlash.

Previous Year Civil Service Questions on the French Revolution

Here are some of the previous year civil service questions on the French Revolution, along with their answers:


Q1. Which of the following statements is/are correct about the French Revolution?

a) It put an end to the absolute monarchy and feudal system in France

b) It led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte as the emperor of France

c) It influenced the American Revolution of 1776

d) Both (a) and (b)

Ans. d) Both (a) and (b)


Q2. Which of the following events is known as the symbol of the French Revolution?

a) The storming of the Bastille

b) The execution of Louis XVI

c) The declaration of the rights of man

d) The reign of terror

Ans. a) The storming of the Bastille


Q3. Which of the following was/were the outcome(s) of the French Revolution?

a) The emergence of nationalism and democracy in Europe

b) The spread of the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity

c) The formation of the First Coalition against France

d) All of the above

Ans. d) All of the above


Q4. Which of the following was/were the cause(s) of Napoleon’s downfall?

a) His invasion of Russia in 1812

b) His defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815

c) His miscalculation of the strength of his enemies

d) All of the above

Ans. d) All of the above


Q5. Which of the following was/were the legacy(ies) of the French Revolution?

a) The creation of a new political culture in France

b) The inspiration of other movements and revolutions in the world

c) The challenge to the old order of Europe

d) All of the above

Ans. d) All of the above

  1. Examine the impact of the French Revolution on European politics and society. (UPSC 2019)

  2. Discuss the role of women in the French Revolution and its impact on gender equality. (UPSC 2017)

  3. Evaluate the significance of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in the context of the French Revolution. (UPSC 2015)


  • The French Revolution was a landmark event in world history.