What we don’t know about the French Revolution could fill a book; Davidson (Voltaire: A Life, 2010, etc.) has done just that—in spades.
In the 1780s, Louis XVI was running out of funds. His usual sources turned him down so he called the Estates General for the first time in nearly 200 years. The king allowed the Third Estate to have twice the delegates, as they represented more population. As such, those citizens finally found their voice and decried the separate meeting of the orders. Eventually, many clergy and some nobles joined them. No one notified the delegates that a meeting with the king was postponed, and this produced the Tennis Court Oath. As the king acceded to the Third Estate, the absolute monarchy simply fell over dead. The first three years of the revolution were reasonably peaceful, as most attempted to solve the eternal issues of bread and money. The dismissal of the cabinet led to anarchy, while the newly formed militia broke into the Bastille to retrieve arms. The National Assembly eliminated royal pensions, tax exemptions, and feudal privileges. With the end of class distinction, the ancient regime collapsed on Aug. 4, 1789. The assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, defined the nation as the source of sovereignty, overhauled local governments, instituted tax reform, and nationalized the church, with particularly devastating effect. The mob power unleashed by crowd hysteria over hunger and unemployment enabled the working class to assume power, leading to Robespierre and the reign of terror. Ultimately, the Revolution was a series of battles that continued until Napoleon took over. The revolutionaries had no plan or final destination; after 200 years, they’re still trying to get the Constitution right. Throughout the book, the author fills in the gaps in our knowledge about the revolution and its aftermath, and the helpful maps, graphics, and a timeline further illuminate the narrative.
An invaluable history of the French Revolution and its repercussions through the years.