If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

French Revolution (part 3) - Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror. Created by Sal Khan.

Want to join the conversation?

  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Deepro
    At Sal said Prussia joined with Austria against France.
    But wasn't the monarch of Prussia, Leopold II, the brother of Marie Antoinette?
    (18 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user DanielRocha96
      The growing French Revolution presented a double risk for Leopold II. First, he was aware that the life of his sister, Marie Antoinette, was in risk (she was the wife of the deposed king, so you can imagine her situation). She constantly urged him to help her.

      And second, he knew very well that the Revolution would spread very quikly and even that it could reach his dominions...
      (15 votes)
  • aqualine seedling style avatar for user John
    Doesn't being guillotined hurt?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • piceratops seed style avatar for user Andrew Thomas
      I would say it doesn't. The Guillotine is actually a very thoughtful execution machine. What it does it is cuts through your neck and spinal cord which cuts off all the nerves in your body. This means that the brain cant send any message of pain to the body because A) the head is no longer attached, and B) there was no connection to the spinal cord so the receptors of the body can't feel it. If there was a time where the head didn't come totally off (which there was) you would die anyways because without the commands from the brain to tell the body what to do, the heart would stop beating and you would die anyways.
      (18 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Agustinus Pamungkas
    In 1789, did the women's march eventually find "hordes of grain" on the Versailles or was the rumor a propaganda tactic that was deployed by the National Assembly of France/ The Third estate?
    (18 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot johnny style avatar for user gerard clarke
    if they executed luis xvi how did he come back after napolean was exiled to that island near italy
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Peter Adamka
      Louis XVI - beheaded 1793 - monarchy was canceled
      Louis XVII - son of Louis XVI - lived in France (child), acknowledged by monarchists in exile - +1795 (10y.)
      Louis XIII - brother of Louis XVI - crowned in exile
      1814- Restoration - Louis XVIII. returned to france as legal king
      1815- 'Hundred days' - Napoleon I.
      1815-1824 - reign of Louis XVIII
      1824-1830 - Charles X. (brother of Louis XVI & Louis XVIII)
      1830 - 'July revolution' - establishing constitutional monarchy
      1830-1848 - Louis Philipe I. (son of Louis XVIII)
      (19 votes)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Daniel
    Why did France help America against Britain???
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Brookie Cookie
    why is the video so long?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
    Dr. Guillotin hoped to reform capital punishment in France to not only make it more humane, but to make it equal for all classes. How were different classes executed before the guillotine, and how does the guillotine make capital punishment equal?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user jp83491
      During the 1700's, executions in France were public events where entire towns gathered to watch. A common execution method for a poor criminal was quartering, where the prisoner's limbs were tied to four oxen, then the animals were driven in four different directions ripping the person apart. Upper-class criminals could buy their way into a less painful death by hanging or beheading.But after the guillotine was invented everyone was executed with the guillotine.
      (7 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Grace Charlton
    At does anybody know the name of the painting?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot donald style avatar for user вenjaмιn
    Wouldn't an army of, let's say, 100 well trained and paid soldiers, be able to win against, let's say 200 untrained peasants? I am referring to .
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user Sudarshan
      Both sides have their advantages. 200 untrained peasants have quantity but not quality. The paid soldiers have the opposite, they have quality but not quantity. The result depends on which side gets a jump on the other or if they have any blockades or things to hide behind.
      (1 vote)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Sarah Ricks
    If most of the Reign of Terror was happening in and around Paris, what was happening in the countryside and in the south of France? Were people still rioting and being executed there as well, just not in such a concentrated degree as in Paris?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf orange style avatar for user Richard Liu
      There was rioting through France, urban and rural. In the rural countryside, it was oftentimes equally brutal since the peasants rose up against their landlords and the nobility, massacring them en masse.
      Hope this helped :)
      Happy holidays!!
      (7 votes)

Video transcript

Where we left off in the last video, we saw that things were already starting to get ugly. As early as October of 1789 we saw the Women's March where there were these suspicions that the royals were hoarding the grain. So they marched to Versailles and they essentially stormed Versailles and forced the royals, forced Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to move back to Paris. Then things continued to be tense. There were uprisings. The king didn't know what to do. He obviously didn't like the situation. People became more and more suspicious of the king. Nobles were leaving the country, they were emigrating out of France. The king and queen themselves started to get paranoid that, gee, you know, maybe people have even more radical notions than this constitutional monarchy. Maybe we ourselves should escape. So then we saw in 1791-- and let me write this all down in a timeline. We're now in 1791. And this is review of the last video. June, we saw the royals try to escape. But they're captured in Varennes and they're sent back to Paris to essentially to be in house arrest in the Tuileries. This is the building right here, it doesn't exist anymore. But if you go to Paris and if you visit the Louvre, you'll see the Louvre opens across the street into the Tuileries Garden. And this is where that building used to be. So the royals end up in house arrest at the Tuileries. This was in June. Then, in July in 1791, once again, all review from the last video. People said, hey they tried to escape, that's equivalent to abdication of the throne. They don't even want to be our king and queen and we don't need kings and queens to begin with. So the most radical elements, the most radical leftist elements, in particular the Jacobins, they started getting petitions in the Champ-de-Mars to essentially get people to say, we don't need a royalty anymore. We just need a republic. We need a state without kings and queens. But then, the National Assembly sent in some troops. Things got ugly. Rocks were thrown, shots were fired, 50 people died. And you have the Champ-de-Mars Massacre. So things are really, really heating up. And then we saw at the end of 1791, to make things even worse, we're not even at the end. In August, we had the Declaration of Pillnitz, which we saw was the rulers of Austria and Prussia saying that they don't like what's happening to the royals in France. And for obvious reasons. Well one, Leopold II was the brother of Marie-Antoinette. But even more profound, they didn't like this notion of people rising up against royalty. That might give people in their own empires, or in their own countries ideas about what to do with them. So even though this might have not been taken seriously, this was just a declaration by these guys. This made people in France even more paranoid. Now, while all of this was happening, you might have remembered the Tennis Court Oath that occurred several years ago. Where they said we promise to create a constitution. And so a constitution does get created. So in 1791, the National Assembly, or the constituent assembly, actually does create a constitution of 1791, which establishes France as a constitutional monarchy. So they're saying, yeah, we'll still have a king. But it'll be more of a figure head. Not necessarily someone who can create laws. The National Assembly will be responsible for that. The king will get a few abilities to veto legislation and whatnot. But most of their powers are removed. So this was a constitutional monarchy. And it's really along the lines of what was already going on in Great Britain. But this, on some levels, it's a major achievement. They had that oath to create a constitution. But on a whole other level, things are getting so ugly in France, and in particular, in Paris. The Revolution was really focused on what was going on in Paris and Versailles. Things were getting so ugly that this is the starting to become a sideshow. And to some degree, the revolutionaries have gone beyond wanting just a constitutional monarchy. They're starting to think about wanting a republic. We saw that during the Champ-de-Mars Massacre. People started signing signatures to actually have a republic. And then were fired on, which probably makes them want to have a republic even more. Now the other thing you might remember from the very first video, is the thing that really precipitated this whole Revolution. Or at least in my mind, one of the main things that precipitated this whole Revolution is that France was broke. And people are going hungry. This is happening the whole time while all these politicians and revolutionaries and royalties are moving around and trying to kind of strategize their position. No one has solved either of these problems the entire time. There is no money in France. There is a famine, people are going hungry. And so pretty much everyone, whether you look at Louis XVI, let me look at him again, it's always nice to remember what he looked like. Whether you're talking about Louis XVI, who's now in house arrest. Or whether you're talking about many of the revolutionaries, everyone starts to say, gee, how can we solve this problem? People are going to throw us out if we don't solve this problem of hunger and being broke. So as you'll see in history many times, the best solution for that, or the perceived best solution, is to start a war. So they declare war on Austria. And if you think about it from Louis XVI's point of view, he thought of it as kind of a win-win situation. If the war is successful, and he kind of threw his weight behind the war. And this happened-- let me write down the dates. That always helps me frame where it happens. So this was kind of ending 1791, and then war is declared in April, this is now 1792. And then this, right here, is in April. And if you think about it, this was a win-win, or at least from Louis XVI's point of view, it was a win-win. If they did will well in the war, it might make him more popular, might make him stronger. They might be able to plunder the wealth of other countries to help to build France's coffer. If the war goes badly and France loses, then what's going to happen? Then you're going to have Austria and probably the other people you're at war with. We'll see very quickly, France is going to be at war with most of the powers of Europe. But if you lose the war, these powers, which are controlled by monarchs, they're going to essentially get rid of the revolutionaries and probably put Louis XVI back in power. So from Louis XVI's point of view, it was a good idea. And for a lot of the revolutionaries, they wanted to solve these two problems. So they said, hey yeah, that would be good if we could plunder other countries. If we could steal grain from other countries to make at least the French less hungry. And maybe we can spread the Revolution. We can topple all of these other kings. This won't just be a French Revolution, this will be an all of Europe Revolution. So they declared war on Austria. Very quickly, they tried to attack the Austrian Netherlands, which was kind of disjoint from the rest of Austria. So they attacked right there into the Austrian Netherlands. Although they got kind of bogged down there. It wasn't as successful as they thought it would be. And Prussia, which as you might remember, participated in the Declaration of Pillnitz, decided to enter the war on the side of Austria. So Prussia attacks and at first, it's pretty, pretty successful. It's able to make some headway into France. And then the general in charge of the Prussian army, the Duke of Brunswick, he makes the Brunswick Manifesto. Let me write that down. Which is essentially just like the Declaration of Pillnitz, but it has a lot more teeth behind it now. Because this dude, the Duke of Brunswick, he's actually, he's got an army invading France. And he declares, his manifesto is saying, I intend to overthrow this whole revolutionary government. And I intend to install the king again. All of this happened in April of 1792. Declare war on Austria seemed like a win-win for the king. The revolutionaries wanted to spread the Revolution and plunder other countries. And then immediately, Prussia jumps in, starts attacking France, and says we're going to install the king. So you could imagine, this is making the revolutionaries even more paranoid about what the king is up to. They think that the king has some type of secret deal with the Prussians, or with the other enemies that they're going up against. So in August of 1792, it's only a few months later, four or five months later. In August of 1792, you essentially had the Commune of Paris. And when I say the Commune of Paris, it's really the government of Paris at this time. And it's been taken over by even more revolutionary people, mainly Jacobins. And they storm where the royal family is staying, at the Tuileries, which is that building right here. And this painting right here is a depiction of the revolutionaries, mainly Jacobins, who are actually storming the Tuileries. And they imprison Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Because they're like, hey the Prussians have an army, and they've already declared the intention to install the king. We're going to imprison the king because we don't know what he's up do. So they imprison-- my spelling-- imprison Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette. And they're also able to do some machinations within the actual National Assembly. And there's actually a rump session of the National Assembly, which means that a lot of the opponents weren't there. So it was a session where it was mainly the leftists, the radicals, the Jacobins were there. And so in August at that rump session, the assembly declares a republic. Which is equivalent to saying that Louis XVI is no longer king. And this nation we have, or this country we now have, will never have a king. It is now a republic. It as a government without a king. And while all of this was happening, you have these gangs kind of going around the region around Paris. And they're just trying and killing people that just seem to be suspicious, seem to be allied in some way with the nobility or with the king, or in someway a royalist. They want eventually for the monarchy to come back. And in those riots, in those arbitrary executions and killings, they actually ended up killing over 1,400 people. 1,400 executed at this time. So you can see, things are getting uglier and uglier and uglier. The king is imprisoned. And you're going to see that he's not going to be imprisoned long. But it's not going to end well for him. And essentially, the revolutionaries have said France is now a republic. All while they're at war with two major powers, with the Austrians and the Prussians. Now they are eventually able to hold off, and when I say they, I'm talking about armies of France. They are eventually able to hold off the invading Prussian army. They call it the Stalemate of Valmy, not clear who won. The Prussians weren't that eager to go into France. So they didn't push too hard or send too many more troops. So for at least temporarily, the external threat was diffused, if you want to call it that way. And so the National Assembly went forth and said-- they got rid of-- I mean, they had already declared a republic. But they went even further. So this is now, we're in September of 1792. You had the Stalemate at Valmy. And then the National Assembly, or the National Convention said, hey, we're going to create a new constitution. So that constitution of 1791 did not last too long. It lasted about a year. So a new constitution. The intent is to create a new constitution. Now, while all that's said, this bloodshed that we saw after they imprisoned Louis XVI, these kind of riots in Paris and these arbitrary killings, this is just a foreshadowing of much worse that's going to come in the very next year. By 1793-- let me write this down in a bloody color. So 1793 we're in now. So the National Assembly, the first thing that they do, or maybe I should say even more particular. In January of 1793, remember they've already deposed the king, they have him imprisoned, they're at war with these other countries that have stated the intention to put the king back into power. So the first thing they do is they execute Louis XVI. And this is a picture of the execution. He was guillotined. And this right here is Doctor Guillotine. And it was actually invented, this right here is the guillotine, and it was actually invented as a more humane way to kill people. At the time they said, when we kill people, it's not for them to feel pain, it's more to just kill them. So we'll use this very humane instrument called the guillotine. Where you use a blade to very quickly chop off someone's head. And it was invented by this physician right here. But, the one of the first important people they got to try it out was Louis XVI, guillotined in January. And then in February, remember people are still going hungry, they're still eager to spread the Revolution, they still want to plunder other countries. So in February, the National Assembly, or the National Council, the revolutionary government, declares war on Britain and the Dutch Republic. You don't know who this is, I'm going to tell you in a second. And Dutch Republic. Now you're probably saying, gee, how does France, this one country right here, how is it able to have war against Austria, Prussia? Now declaring war against the Dutch and Great Britain. And actually the month before, Spain and Portugal had declared war, had kind of jumped in on the side of Austria and Prussia. So how does this one country, France, how does this one revolutionary government fend itself off against the armies of so many nations? And the answer to that is that the revolutionary government declared in February what they called the Levee en Masse. And I'm not French, so I'm saying it wrong, I'm sure. Which was essentially the first version of what we now call the draft. And they were able to actually, they actually said every able-bodied young man in France who was unmarried will now be in the army. And so they were able to immediately raise several hundreds of thousands of soldiers. And actually within a couple of years, there's several accounts of it, but it might have been over one million plus soldiers. Which is very different from how many of these other kingdoms would raise their armies. They would pay salaries to professional soldiers. So these at the time were smaller armies than what France was able to muster up through the revolutionary government saying look, this is a government for the people by the people. So now you're not fighting for a king, you're fighting for yourself. You're fighting for your own representation so you don't get so subjected by foreign kings. So everyone jumped in the war effort. So they essentially had the largest army in Europe. But I keep repeating, all of this was in the context of unrest throughout France. There were royalists out there wanting to be counter revolutionaries. People were going hungry. So to kind of, I guess, clamp down on things, in April of 1792, the National Assembly created the Committee of Public Safety, which sounds like a very nice committee. And they essentially become the default government, or we can say the de facto government. And it was put in control of this nice looking gentleman right here, Maximilien Robespierre. Seems like a very civilized fellow. But really what the Committee of Public Safety was good at was being hugely political, hugely paranoid. And under especially Maximilien Robespierre's control, who was especially paranoid, anyone-- if they just caught a whiff of someone being not radical enough, or maybe too radical, or someone I just didn't like, or someone who might help depose me-- they just started guillotining people. So this is really the start of the Reign of Terror. So roughly over the next year, on the order of, give or take, 16,000 people are guillotined. They go to Doctor Guillotine's humane invention. And they are only estimates of this. There wasn't good accounting of this. But it's believed that as many as 40,000 people were summarily executed. Which essentially means you're guilty of this, I know you're guilty, hey, you over there with a gun, please shoot this person for me. So this was an extremely bloody time. And just so you imagine, most of this was occurring in and around Paris. So all of a sudden, in one little city, it was a major city, but you have tens of thousands of people being massacred, just if this guy, or the people who are plotting with this guy, or the people who are plotting against this guy, thought or caught a whiff of you being not completely loyal to the Revolution. Now eventually, people eventually got suspicious of Maximilien Robespierre. They're saying, hey, all your paranoia is hurting the Revolution more than helping it. So then in the Thermidorian Reaction-- it sounds like it's some type of a refrigerator or heater. Now this right here, this is in July of 1794. And it's called the Thermidorian Reaction, and I might do a whole video on this, because the revolutionary government, they actually created a new calendar. Where they renamed the month Thermidor, which was essentially July, it was shifted a little bit. And actually, it changed the number of hours in the day. They would have 10 hours a day, 100 minutes an hour, 100 seconds a minute. They would have three 10-day weeks per month. So they had this whole calendar. But Thermidor was the month of July. So it was really the July Reaction, where people got sick of Maximilien Robespierre. So in 1794, July 1794, he too. So what goes around comes around. So this right here, this is 1794, July. This right here is this nice-looking gentleman, and he, too, gets guillotined. Now, there's two other things that I want to point out. I'll take a few steps back into 1793. Just as a maybe a bit of a footnote. We saw that in January Louis XVI was executed for, I guess, depending on your opinion whether it was a good or a bad thing. In October Marie-Antoinette also executed. So this is in 1793, also executed. So nine months after her husband, executed. And then as one kind of small footnote at this point, as you can imagine, all of France was in unrest at the time. And then in 1793, there was a revolt. This was in July of 1793. So it's a year before the end of the Reign of Terror, really during the Reign of Terror. In the port of Toulon, there was a revolt against the revolutionary government. And it was put down, mainly with the help of an aspiring artillery captain. An artillery captain is someone who's essentially in charge of the cannons. And that artillery captain, who was able to help put down that revolt, and get a lot of, I guess, cred with the revolutionary government, his name was-- I need to write it someplace nice and new, and this is for foreshadowing of the next video-- so in July of 1793, in Toulon, a new artillery captain started to look like he really knows what he's doing. And his name is Napoleon Bonaparte. And he's going to have a lot to do with the next video.