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"The Padua Circular" (5 July 1791)

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Even after the aborted flight of the royal family in June 1791, Emperor Leopold von Habsburg of Austria, brother of Marie Antoinette, continued his efforts to organize a coalition of French émigré nobles and other European powers that would invade France and put an end to the Revolution. In this letter, written shortly after the forced return of Louis and Marie Antoinette to Paris (which... Read More »

"The Royal Orgy" (1789)

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In 1789, with the collapse of old regime censorship as well as a sense of liberation from traditional moral constraints, printed libels against the Queen became both more common and more intense. An example of this greater intensity is this light opera, with raunchy lyrics set to popular tunes. Not intended to be performed, the pamphlet spoofs the Queen’s great interest in opera and her... Read More »

Thumbnail of a older photograph depicting a girl sucking her thumb

19th-century American Children and What They Read

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19th-century American Children and What They Read is a website born of a passion for exactly that—material written for children, and occasionally by children, in the 19th century.

20 June 1791, Anonymous Drawing

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In this depiction of the King’s arrest, the Queen risks her body to save her son, the crown prince.

4 August Decrees

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In late July 1789, as reports of several thousand separate yet related peasant mobilizations poured into Paris from the countryside, a majority of them against seigneurial property, the deputies of the National Assembly debated reforming not just the fiscal system or the constitution but the very basis of French society. In a dramatic all–night session on 4–5 August, one deputy after another... Read More »

9 Thermidor: The Conspiracy against Robespierre

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This account of the proceedings in the Convention Hall on the 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794) describes how Robespierre and Saint–Just, facing an organized attack by other members of the Committee of Public Safety, tried one last gamble, appealing to the deputies of the "Right" to come to their aid. These deputies repudiated the appeal, and the Convention unanimously voted for the... Read More »

A Bread Riot

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Bread was the basic staple of most people’s diets, and variations in the price of bread were keenly felt by the poor, especially by women who most frequently bought bread in the marketplace. Women would sometimes protest against what they thought to be unjust price increases for bread in what were known as "bread riots." As this excerpt shows, these were not usually violent, nor did they... Read More »

A British Observer of the September Massacres

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A British diplomat in Paris here describes, in dispatches back to London, the goings–on in Paris in early September, in light of news of advances by the Duke of Brunswick’s Prussian forces toward the capital. This diplomat was naturally most concerned with reporting the readiness of the Parisians to resist the British, which is evident in his focus on the National Assembly’s call to arms and... Read More »

A Conqueror of the Bastille Speaks

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Having assembled at the traditional protest place in front of the City Hall, known as place des grèves (meaning sandbar, which it was, but which has come to mean "strike"), the crowd set off in search of ammunition. Eventually arriving at the Bastille, the crowd demanded that the few guardians of the fortress surrender. One participant, Keversau, here describes in heroic terms the event that... Read More »

A Defender of the Bastille Explains His Role

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The soldiers stationed at the fortress did not see themselves as resisting the Revolution so much as keeping watch on a rather insignificant outpost that had nothing at all to do with the major events transpiring in Versailles. In this passage, a Swiss officer named Louis de Flue describes how his contingent was overrun and how he was brought back to the City Hall where, to his surprise, he... Read More »

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