12 March 2013

Triviality IV: The French Revolution

Come all without, come all within! Triviality's today, the first in a while. And that one about Dante and Bohemiens counted as a Triviality, even if I didn't necessarily title it as "Triviality III." So, let's begin!

I'm not one for openly discussing war and politics but there are some revolutions, at least the French Rev, that I find VERY interesting. Let's take a look at it and the backstory behind it, shall we?


Prologue: Ah, the French! I love the French! They have that stereotype (even though stereotypes are wrong) of being extremely scandalous. I like scandal. Not the show, SCANDAL, but scandal in general. But it's been proven that political extramarital scandals in France tend to get a candidate more votes. (Well, not entirely, as we'll see with the Bastille breakage further down the line.)*shrugs*

Act I: The Louises Three

Back in the 1700s, King Louis the XIV reigned. That's 14. X being 10, IV being 14. (The way I remember it is, 1 taken away from 5. 1-5, or IV. It's not mathematically correct, but it works for me. Then the opposite is just 16.)

Louis the 14th was known as the "Sun King." He got that name for basically being Apollo. Apollo (or Helios, but the Roman figures reigned eternal in that time) was the Sun God. Old Louis felt that he was as powerful as Apollo, as important as the sun. He had a large painting of him in the Sun Chariot, and he said his famous line,

"L'etat c'est moi!"

meaning "I am the state." At the time France was the largest empire in the world, or one of the largest. And he ruled all that. Well, he had his ministers, of course, he was a figurehead, but there you go.

So by the time we get down to his great-great-great-grandson Louis XVI, the 16th, the country is in shambles. It wasn't his fault. Little "Sixteenth" was genuinely concerned for the poor and destitute of France. He and his wife (Marie Antoinette, who never said "Let them eat cake") were touched by the plague of famine and destitution that was quite rampant in the times. But nonetheless, the monarchy was blamed. Why?

We've lost a lot of land, there's strife and misery, we wasted a lot of money helping out America, so he invoked "The Estates General," which was a committee held of 3 "estates". Basically a social heirarchy.

Act II: The Estates Un-Generally Speaking

The First Estate was comprised of the priests, monks, clergy, what-have-you. They were tax-exempt, owned most of the land in France, and enjoyed many benefits.

The Second Estate was the noblemen, the ones closest to the King. They really didn't have power in the times of Louis XIV and XV, but lately they had started to become more powerful under XVI.

And the Third Estate was your everyday hardworking peasantry men, the ones who made up the majority of French population. They elected their reps, just like today. They were pretty much the most screwed out of everyone, but doesn't that always turn out that way?

The Estates met for the first time since 1614 and since there were so many unclear reforms that were being made (think Congress everyday) Louis decided (or was forced, to be precise) to grant freedom of speech to everyone. Thus hell broke loose.

Act III: An Assembly and Prison Break

All the peasants suddenly had a say! Pamphlets and books were published supporting anarchy, reforms, the destruction of the monarchy, you name it! At around the same time, new elections and positions were being given out/voted for the Estates General, the result being about 1250 people were now in the committee.

Inspired by America's example, on June 17th, 1789 (my birthday, incidentally) the Third Estate grew fed up with the other castes and formed the National Assembly. The peasants and serfs were happy but then riots began, the resuly being on July 14th the Bastille, a national prison, is being broken open.

The Bastille only had 6 people in it, at the time. Some poets, writers, and the Comte de Solages, who was there on a sexual misdemeanor. (They evidentally weren't as free and easy as we know them for then.) There were no dangerous lunatics, maniacs, killers, etc. All fabrications, likely from said poets and writers, to cover up the fact that they were there. :) Louis had to go to Paris to settle the matter, and had to concede to the demands of the National Assembly.

The terror really began the year 1791. Louis and Madame de Antoinette were caught trying to escape their palace Versailles. They were tried for treason and they met Madame de Guillotine in January and September 1793, respectively. They weren't the only ones.

Act IV: Robespierre (No Relation To Perrier)

Enter Maximilien de Robespierre into our little pageant. A dry, boring lawyer, he had been a member of the Estates General (remember that?) and quickly grew powerful. He had been part of the Jacobins,  He never tired of making speeches testifying to the power and the wealth and the legend of William Bell Cicero, Cato, Horacio, and all those great men of the spirit. In short, the orators.

He was just as ineffectual as the monarchs he had helped depose. So, now, we watch as some soldiers drag him to the beautiful but sharp Madame de Guillotine next to the great scientist Antoine Laurent-Lavoisier (one of my favorite scientists.)

Act V: The End (With Some Napoleon-taine Ice Cream)

The Reign of Terror quickly ended after Robespierre.  at least 26,000 revolutionaries, soldiers, anarchists, and counterrevolutionaries met the Madame's sweet kiss. But there was war. There invariably always is. French soldiers had gone all over - Belgium, Italy, Spain, etc. And that needed to be dealt with. As it so happened, a fellow inversely proportional to his stature in history was able to take control of that.

Enter Napoleon, who everyone knows the story of. He becomes Emperor of France, has the Napoleonic Code, brings the miracle of Egyptology to Europe, and then is tried for being a rebel and an autocrat (which was true.) He is exiled in 1815 to Elba Island but comes back! His soldiers loved him. He was very popular with the men. Little short of a wonder that soon after escaping Elba he gains power again.

He loses it, of course. On June 17th, 1815. (My birthday is popular with the French, isn't it? :) At Waterloo, which everyone knows about. He is exiled to St. Helena, where he remains until his death in 1821 from stomach cancer. The curtain closes.

Then there were more revolutions, Napoleon III, Les Miserables, the barricades, singing, dancing, and Communism, but that's later. Hope you enjoyed today's history lesson.

-Rob (who had nothing to do with the revolution despite having some significant date-history)

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