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In which John Green continues his introduction to the history of the French Revolution, discussing Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's flight to Varennes, the constituent assembly's attempts to write a constitution of France, France's brief experiment with constitutional monarch, war with Austria and Prussia and then eventually the rest of Europe, and the rise of the French Republic--also guillotines and the use of the guillotine in Revolutionary France.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank, it's Wednesday.

We now return to the French Revolution, where, at the end of 1789, King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, find themselves under house arrest in Paris, while the French National Assembly is trying to write a constitution. We shall skip the year 1790 entirely, except to note that, 1. the National Assembly was not making anyone less hungry, and 2. the financial crisis continued, and also 3. a lot of nobles were starting to take their money and leave France, because being a noble in France, which had once been among the very best jobs in the entire world, was suddenly becoming sort of dangerous and unprofitable. These nobles were called the Emigres, only I'm pronouncing it wrong, because I'm American, and we pronounce everything in American.

By the middle of 1791, Louis and Marie Antoinette were starting to think, "You know, that Emigres life sounds pretty awesome." But they couldn't leave France, because they still fancied themselves the king and queen of it. So this general named Bouillé comes along, and says, "Listen, come live at my estate in the French countryside. Blue skies, clean air, no revolutionaries plotting your destruction..." For making this offer, by the way, Bouillé would later be likened to a "bloodthirsty despot" in the French National Anthem.

But anyway, in July (June) of 1791, Louis and Marie Antoinette decide to ride out for Bouillé's country estate. They dress up as servants, have their servants dress up as royals, sneak out of their house arrest, and if you've ever read a Shakespeare play, you know what happens next. The ruse is discovered and everyone lives happily ever after.

Well, the ruse was discovered, anyway. Still dressed as servants, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are captured in the city of Varennes just one day after leaving, and they are humiliatingly returned to Paris in their servant get-up. But the worst part about all of this is that some of the more radical revolutionaries, including a group called the Jacobins, argued that Louis XVI leaving Paris amounted to him basically abdicating the throne, and that, therefore, France has no king, which means that France can now become a Republic.

Alright, so, the next month, July, these Jacobins have a huge petition drive in the Champ de Mars and lots of people come to sign the petition, saying, "Yes, the king abdicated his throne, we should be a republic!" And then, troops controlled not by the king, but by the National Assembly, show up and end up firing on the crowd, killing fifty people. Now, you'll remember, the National Assembly was the voice of the revolution, the people who started the idea of a representational government for France, who went to that indoor tennis court in Versailles and pledged not to stop until we have a constitution! But suddenly, it's the National Assembly firing on a crowd to try to control revolutionary fervor.

You see this all the time in history during economic contractions. What looked like radical hope and change a year ago suddenly becomes "The Man." But by September of 1791, the National Assembly finally finishes its constitution, fulfilling the Tennis Court Oath and ushering in a constitutional monarchy in which the Legislative Assembly has most of the power, but the king has veto power on certain things. Around the same time, France's neighbors start to get pretty nervous about all this talk about "representational government." Especially the Holy Roman Empire, which, as Voltaire once famously noted, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

The Holy Roman Empire was a loose confederation of states, and the Holy Roman Emperor was a guy named Leopold II, who was not holy, not Roman, and not an emperor, since basically he only directly controlled Austria. But he was Marie Antoinette's brother. Also, like a lot of monarchs, Leopold II liked the idea of monarchies, and he wanted to keep his job as a person who gets to stand around wearing a dress, pointing at nothing, owning winged lion-monkeys made of gold.

And who can blame him? Leopold II figured that having a neighbor turn into a republic might be bad for his job security, so he, along with King Frederick William II of Prussia, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which promised to restore the French monarchy and, naturally, further radicalized the revolutionaries in France. Also, it's worth mentioning again that nothing that the Assembly, or the Jacobins, or King Louis XVI has done has done anything to address the underlying problems, which is that the French people are hungry and the country of France is broke.

But then, in April of 1792, finally, King Louis XVI and the National Assembly agree upon a plan. Let's invade Austria. The idea was to plunder Austria's wealth, and also sure up the food supply by stealing delicious Austrian cuisine.

Also, the revolutionaries thought that they might be able to, like, topple all of the European monarchies and spread revolution through the world, which made Prussia a little nervous, so they immediately joined Austria in a war against France. So, by August of 1792, France is still poor, people are still hungry, but now, they're fighting two wars. And it is then that a group of radical revolutionaries, led by the Jacobins, arrange for a Parliamentary session to which they cleverly do not invite the vast majority of Parliament, and declare France to be a republic, thereby invalidating France's year-old constitution.

And then, things get pretty bad pretty fast. Allow me to introduce you to my friend, the guillotine. During the monarchy, commoners and nobles had been put to death using different methods.

But of course, that's not going to work in an age of Enlightenment. The thinking went that capital punishment should be egalitarian and rationalist. So everyone should have the same death, and it should be humane.

Because, of course, rationally, we don't want to hurt condemned criminals; we just want to kill them. Which is precisely what happened to King Louis the XVI in January of 1793, thereby making it very difficult for Austria and Prussia to fulfill their promise of returning him to the throne. Within a month of decapitating their king, France was at war not only with Prussia and Austria, but also with Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Portugal.

In short, things seemed pretty bad. But don't worry: they're about to get much worse. Hank, I'm going to stop there for today, so Marie Antoinette can live until tomorrow afternoon.

My last French Revolution video will be uploaded tomorrow, and then you will educate us further on Friday, so I guess that I will see me tomorrow. At which point I promise to prove that I am not wearing pants.