Sunday, 19 August 2012
France rejoiced. After 200 years of absolute Monarchy it seemed the era of reason had arrived. In fact, the age of irrationality had arrived. Not only did the deputies in the Estates General lack political experience, they were irresponsible. Eventually Comte de Mirabeau, a renegade nobleman declared the Third Estate was the only constituent assembly. “We met together by National Will,” Mirabeau declared. “Force alone shall disperse us.”
Far from establishing the goal of national virtue, unrestrained violence ensued, beginning with the Storming of the Bastille.
Speculators profited, criminals from the provinces crowded Paris, rumour was rife, one of which was that the hated Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette, would order massacres. Fear replaced the old order.
In San Domingo the Declaration of the Right of Man led to the slaves rebelling and murdering their owners. In France bread was in short supply. The king and queen were referred to as ‘the baker and the baker’s wife.
On the 5th of October 1789 a mob incited by orators stormed Versailles. The royal family escaped through a secret passage. Rioters surrounded their coach. In Paris they were sent to the Palace of the Tuileries.
In England there was some sympathy for the French Revolution that was compared to the ‘Glorious Revolution in Britain in 1688”.
Although there were inevitable problems in Britain, King George III, a family man, was popular, and most of his subjects approved of Parson Woodforde’s prayer.
“And may so good a King long live to reign over us – and pray God that his amiable and beloved Queen Charlotte may now enjoy again every happiness this world can afford with so good a man, and may it long, very long continue with them both here and eternal happiness hereafter.”
When the French mob threatened the royal family’s life even John Wilkes, a champion of peoples’ rights to do as they pleased, declared. “New France is not a democracy, it is a mobacracy.”
For the time being, Britain did not interfere, perhaps in the hope of good coming out of evil.
The Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, hated the thought of war and avoided the subject in1789 and 1800. Then the political philosopher, Edmund Burke, published his Reflections on Revolution. The French wrote and spoke much of liberty but to Burke liberty could not be seen when nuns, who nursed the sick, were stripped naked and scourged in the street. Liberty, he stated, must be based on justice, law and morality.
By 1790 Burke had realised the so called dawn of French Utopia was a violent storm about to be loosed by the illegal, brutal and cruel excesses of the French mob.
The statesman, Mirabeau, died in May 1791. From then on republican clubs in control of the mobs were in power. In retrospect it seems inevitable that the Reign of Terror would lead to the king and queen’s execution, as well as the wholesale slaughter of aristocrats and many less well-born victims, and Britain’s long struggle against France.
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