A History of France
"Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical;
it is not a law at all."
- Maximilien Robespierre
The French Revolution was a time of great political upheaval and social unrest in the history of France. It radically changed the government, administration, military and culture of the nation and eventually lead to a series of wars throughout Europe and onto other continents. The outbreak of the Revolution began in 1789 and had come to an end by the time Napoleon Bonaparte had become Emperor in 1804.
Inspired in part by the outcome of the American Revolution, and the writings of such novelists as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the people of France had grown tired of monarchial rule. Louis XVI, the first King to come into power at the start of the Revolution, was an indecisive ruler who had put the country into great national debt. However, he and his wife, Marie Antoinette, continued to obsessively spend money which only angered the people of France more. In addition to the growing debt, there was a national food shortage; Malnutrition and death from starvation ran rampant through the streets.
The Estates General, made up of the First (the clergy), Second (the nobles) and Third (common people) Estates, convened to develop new tax and economic policies in the hopes of getting France back on its feet again. The Third Estate, discouraged by the 'bourgeoisie' ideals of the First and Second, disbanded and declared themselves the National Assembly. In doing so, they decreed the suspension of taxes, taking French liberty into their own hands.
King Louis XVI eventually gave in to the demands of the National Assembly, the later of whom worked hard to reform France and write a new constitution with the Legislative Assembly. But by 1792 a second revolution had sprung and the National Assembly was replaced by the National Convention. The National Convention led to the overthrow of monarchial rule in France, declared France as a Republic and led to the execution of King Louis XVI January 21, 1793.
The Committees of Public Safety and General Security were formed by the National Convention to manage the country's internal police and to ultimately restore order to the still growing radical and political movements in France. Terror was formally implemented as a legal policy. Led by Maximilien Robispierre, the "Reign of Terror" resulted in the public executions of over 16,000 people by way of the guillotine. However, many historians believe that as many as 40,000 people died during this infamous time.
As revolutionary France recovered from the Terror, a governing body known as The Directory presided over France. Thanks in part to rigged elections, the Directory remained in power from 1795 to 1799. The new constitution resulted in the creation of three consuls. Napoleon Bonaparte was the First Consul of France. The influential Napoleon quickly dominated the government and went on to establish himself as Consul for Life in 1802. By 1804, Napoleon did away with the system and declared himself Napoleon I, the first French Emperor, a title he held until 1814.
This historic collection of items and emphemera from the French Revolution actually begins in pre-revolutionary times with rare documents and letters signed by King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV, as well as other notable members of the royal families. The earliest documents, signed by King Louis XVII, date back as far as 1618. As the collection moves into the revolutionary period, it again boasts signed documents and letters, on official military and government stationery, from such notable figures as King Louis XVI, Louis Berthier (Chief of Staff to Napoleon), Jacques Neckor (Minister of Finance and Director of the French East India Company), Pope Pius VII, General Louis Lazare Hoche, Charles Talleyrand (Chief of Staff to Napoleon) and Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Several other military and political figures, including those who were later guillotined during the 'Reign of Terror,' are also featured. Highlighting the lot is a group of thirty letters from the Second French Revolution of 1830. These authentic hand written letters provide a rare, eyewitness account into what is commonly referred to as the 'July Revolution.' In addition, a document signed by Napoleon Bonaparte, dated March 1, 1808, is a handsome standout piece that comes housed in a red leather bound case and includes an original, giant, red wax seal. Finally, the crowned jewel of the collection is the actual chair from which Napoleon Bonaparte planned his attack during the nights leading up to the infamous Battle of Waterloo in 1815.