In the United States, workers have long been taught to believe that the greatest revolution of all times was of course the American Revolution of 1776 which overthrew monarchical rule in favor of the rule of the nascent bourgeoisie and landed slave-owning aristocracy of the thirteen English colonies in the New World. But as world-historic and impressive as that revolution was, it was almost immediately surpassed by the much more thorough-going revolution it inspired in that King-ruled nation whose military aid to the American colonial rebels was the chief reason why the colonies won the war against Great Britain: France.
The military aid which the French King Louis XVI gave to the Americans essentially won the war for the revolutionaries when the French Navy – some 29 ships strong – appeared in Chesapeake Bay to slam the door shut on any hope Cornwallis had of escaping the trap that had been sprung upon him by George Washington and the numerically superior French troops and their officers at Yorktown in 1781. There were more French soldiers with artillery present on the battlefield at this “Great American Victory” than there were Americans (up to 8800 French vs 8000 Americans – not counting the decisive 29 French ships of the line and their crews). The French very magnanimously allowed Washington the honor of accepting Cornwallis’ surrender.
Yet the French aid to the American revolution came at a high cost for the French monarchy whose finances, in a precarious condition even before the American Revolution began, were driven to the breaking point by the war with England that was a result of the French aid to the rebellious colonists. A series of bad harvests in France further reduced the taxes that could be levied on the people of France and created bread riots in their wake. The ruthless French monarchy’s response to these uprisings of the starving French peasants for bread led to the collapse of support for the French monarchy which led inexorably to its complete collapse in 1789.
The story of how the economic and political crisis in France grew into one of the world’s greatest revolutions has received perhaps its greatest literary tribute by Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin in his book “The Great French Revolution”. This book, which was recommended by none other than Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the even further-reaching Russian Bolshevik Revolution whose 100th anniversary is being celebrated this year. It was Lenin’s recommendation that put us on the trail of this book and we are pleased to present a chapter taken from the first volume of “The Great French Revolution” in which Kropotkin shows that the French revolution had roots that went far deeper into the French working class and peasantry than the American Revolution, whose leadership was from the beginning of hostilities dominated by the landed slaveowning aristocracy of the south and the wealthy merchants of the north. Whenever the spirits of the revolutionary bourgeoisie sagged during the struggle against the counterrevolutionary forces of the deposed aristocracy of France, it was the poor workers – the sans-culottes – and the French peasantry who demanded that the most radical and intransigent revolutionaries be pushed forward into the key positions of leadership of the Revolution. We hope you enjoy Chapter V – “The Spirit of Revolt: The Riots” from Volume One of Kropotkin’s “The Great French Revolution”. — IWPCHI
Excerpt from “The Great French Revolution” by Prince Peter Kropotkin
Chapter V: The Spirit of Revolt – The Riots
As is usual in every new reign, that of Louis XVI. began with some reforms. Two months after his accession Louis XVI. summoned Turgot1 to the ministry, and a month later he appointed him Controller-General of Finance. He even supported him at first against the violent opposition that Turgot, as an economist, a parsimonious middle-class man and an enemy of the effete aristocracy, was bound to meet with from the Court party.
Free trade in corn was proclaimed in September 1774,2 and statute labor was abolished in 1776, as well as the old corporations and guilds in the towns, which were no longer of any use except to keep up a kind of industrial autocracy, and by these measures hopes of reform were awakened among the people. The poor rejoiced to see the breaking down of the toll-gates, which had been put up all over France, and prevented the free circulation of corn, salt and other objects of prime necessity. For them it meant the first breach in the odious privileges of the landowners […]
Finally, in August of 1779, mortmain3 and personal servitude were suppressed upon the King’s private estates, and the following year it was decided to abolish torture, which was used in the most atrocious forms established by the Ordinance of 1670.4 “Representative Government,” such as was established by the English after their revolution,5 and was advocated in the writings of the contemporary philosophers, also began to be spoken of. With this end in view, Turgot had even prepared a scheme of provincial assemblies, to be followed later on by representative government for all France in which the propertied classes would have been called upon to constitute a parliament. Louis XVI. shrank from this proposal, and dismissed Turgot; but from that moment all educated France began to talk of a Constitution and national representation.6 However, it was no longer possible to elude the question of national representation, and when Necker7 became minister in July 1777, it came up again for discussion. Necker, who understood very well the wishes of his master, and tried to bring his autocratic ideas into some accord with the requirements of finance, attempted to manoeuvre by proposing the introduction of provincial assemblies only and relegating the possibility of a national representation to the distant future. But he, too, was met by a formal refusal on the part of the King. “Would it not be a happy contingency,” wrote the crafty financier, “that your Majesty, having become an intermediary between your estates and your people, your authority should only appear to mark the limits between severity and justice?” To which Louis replied: “It is of the essence of my authority not to be an intermediary, but to be at the head.” It is well to remember these words in view of the sentimentalities concerning Louis XVI. which have been propagated by historians belonging to the party of reaction. Far from being the careless, inoffensive, good-natured person, interested only in hunting, that they wished to represent him, Louis XVI., for fifteen years, until 1789, managed to resist the necessity, felt and declared, for new political reforms to take the place of royal despotism and the abominations of the old regime.
The weapon used by Louis XVI., in preference to all others was deceit. Only fear made him yield, and, using always the same weapons, deceit and hypocrisy, he resisted not only up to 1789, but even up to the last moment, to the foot of the scaffold. At any rate, in 1778, at a time when it was already evident to all minds of more or less perspicacity, as it was to Turgot and Necker, that the absolute power of the King had had its day, and that the hour had come for replacing it by some kind of national representation, Louis XVI. could never be
brought to make any but the feeblest concessions. He convened the provincial assemblies of the provinces of Berri and Haute-Guienne (1778 and 1779). But in the face of the opposition shown by the privileged classes, the plan of extending these assemblies to the other provinces was abandoned, and Necker was dismissed in 1781.
The revolution in America had, meanwhile, helped also to awaken minds,
and to inspire them with a breath of liberty and republican democracy. On July 4, 1776, the English colonies in North America had proclaimed their independence, and the new United States were recognized by France in 1778, which led to a war with England that lasted until 1783. All historians mention the effect which this war had on men’s minds. There is, in fact, no doubt that the revolt of the English colonies and the constitution of the United States
exercised a far-reaching influence in France, and helped powerfully in arousing the revolutionary spirit. We know, too, that the Declaration of Rights, drawn up by the young American States influenced the French revolutionists profoundly, and was taken by them as a model for their declaration. It might be said also that the war in America, during which France had to build an entire fleet to oppose England’s, completed the financial ruin of the old regime and
hastened its downfall. But it is nevertheless certain that this war was also the beginning of those terrible wars which England soon waged against France, and the coalitions which she organised against the Republic. As soon as England recovered from her defeats and felt that France was weakened by internal struggles, she used every means, open and secret, to bring about the wars which we shall see waged relentlessly from 1793 till 1815.
All these causes for the Great Revolution8 must be clearly indicated, for like every event of primordial importance, it was the result of many causes, converging at a given moment, and creating the men who in their turn contributed to strengthening the effect of those causes. But it must be understood that in spite of the events which prepared the Revolution, and in
spite of all the intelligence and ambitions of the middle classes, those ever-prudent people who would have would have gone on a long time waiting for a change if the people had not hastened matters. The popular revolts, growing and increasing in number and assuming proportions quite unforeseeen, were the new elements which gave the middle class the power of attack which they themselves did not possess.
The people had patiently endured misery and oppression under Louis XV.,
but as soon as that King died, in 1774, they began to revolt, knowing well that, with a change of masters at the palace, there comes an inevitable slackening of authority. A continuous series of riots broke out between 1775 and 1777.
These were the riots of hunger that had been repressed until then only by force. The harvest of 1774 had been bad, and bread was scarce. Accordingly rioting broke out in April 1775. At Dijon the people took possession of the homes of the monopolists, destroyed their furniture and smashed up their flour-mills. It was on this occasion that the governor of the town – one of the superfine gentlemen of whom Taine has written with so much complacence – said to the people those fatal words which were so often to be repeated during the Revolution: “The grass has sprouted, go to the fields and browse on it.” Auxerre, Amiens, Lille, followed Dijon. A few days later the “robbers,” for so the majority of historians designate the famished rioters, having assembled at Pontoise, Passy and Saint-Germain with the intention of pillaging the granaries, turned their steps toward Versailles. Louis XVI. wanted to go out on the balcony of the palace to speak to them, to tell them that he would reduce the price of bread; but Turgot, like a true economist, opposed this. The reduction in the price of bread was not made. The “robbers,” in the meantime, entered Paris
and plundered the bakeries, distributing whatever food they could seize among the crowd; but they were dispersed by the troops, and two of the rioters were hanged at the Place de la Greve, and as they were being hanged they cried out that they were dying for the people. Since that time the legend began to circulate in France about “robbers” overrunning the country – a legend that had such an important effect in 1789, as it furnished the middle classes in the
towns with a pretext for arming themselves. And from that time also began the placards insulting the King and his ministers which were pasted up at Versailles, containing threats to execute the King the day after his coronation, and even to exterminate the whole of the royal family if bread remained at the same price. Forged governmental edicts, too, began to be circulated throughout the country. One of them asserted that the State Council had reduced the price of wheat
to twelve livres (francs) the measure.
These riots were of course suppressed, but they had far-reaching consequences. Strife was let loose among the various parties. It rained pamphlets. Some of these accused the minister, while others spoke of a plot of the princes against the King, or made fun of the royal authority. In short, with men’s minds already in a state of ferment, the popular outbreaks were the sparks which ignited the powder. Concessions to the people, never dreamed of before, were openly discussed; public works were set on foot; taxes on milling were abolished, and this measure led the people of Rouen to declare that all manorial dues had been abolished, so that they rose in July to protest against ever paying them again. The malcontents evidently lost no time and profited by the occasion to extend the popular risings.
We have not the necessary documents for giving a full account of the popular insurrections during the reign of Louis XVI. – the historians did not trouble about them; the archives have not been examined, and it is only by accident that we learn that in such-and-such a place there were “disorders”. Thus, there were riots of a somewhat serious nature in Paris, after the abolition of the trade-guilds in 17769 – and all over France, in the course of the same year – as a result of the false reports respecting the abolition of all obligations in
the matter of statute labor10 and dues claimed by the landowners. But, according to the printed documents, it would appear also that there was a decrease in rioting in the years 1777 to 1783, the American war having perhaps something to do with this.
However, in 1782 and 1783, the riots recommenced and from that time went on increasing until the Revolution. Poitiers revolted in 1782; in 1786 it was Vizille’s turn; from 1783 to 1789 rioting broke out in the Cevennes, the Vivarais and the Gevaudan. The malcontents, who were nicknamed mascarats, wanting
to punish the “practitioners” who sowed dissension among the peasants to incite them to go to law, broke into the law courts and into the houses of the notaries and attorneys and burned all the deeds and contracts. Three of the leaders were hanged, others were sent to penal servitude, but the disorders broke out afresh, as soon as the closing of the parlements (Courts of Justice) furnished them with a new precedent11. In 1786 it was Lyons that revolted12.
The silk-weavers went on strike; they were promised an increase of wages, but troops were called out, whereupon there was a fight and three of the leaders were hanged. From that moment, up to the Revolution, Lyons became a hotbed of revolt, and in 1789 it was the rioters of 1786 who were chosen as electors.
Sometimes these risings had a religious character; sometimes they were to
resist military enlistment – every levy of soldiers led to a riot, says Turgot; or it might be the salt tax against which the people rebelled, or the exactions of the tithes. But revolts went on without intermission, and it was in the east, south-east and north-east – future hotbeds of the Revolution – that these revolts broke out in the greatest number. They went on steadily growing in importance, and at last, in 1788, after the dissolution of the Courts of Justice,
which were called parlements and were replaced by “Plenary Courts,” insurrections broke out in every part of France.
It is evident that for the mass of the people there was not much to choose between a parlement and a “Plenary Court.” If the parlements had refused sometimes to register edicts made by the King and his minister, they had on the other hand displayed no solicitude for the people. But the parlements had
shown opposition to the Court, that was enough; and when emissaries of the middle classes sought popular support for rioting, they were given it willingly, because it was a way of demonstrating against the Court and the rich.
In the June of 1787 the Paris parlement had made itself very popular by refusing a grant of money to the Court. The law of the country was that the edicts of the King should be registered by the parlement, and the Paris parlement unhesitatingly registered certain edicts concerning the corn trade, the convocation of provincial assemblies and statute labor. But it refused to
register the edict which was to establish fresh taxes – a new “territorial subvention,” and a new stamp duty. Upon this the King convoked what was called a “Bed of Justice,” and compelled his edicts to be registered. The parlement protested, and so won the sympathy of the middle classes and the people. There were crowds round the Courts at every sitting; clerks, curious idlers and common men collected there to applaud the members. To stop this,
the King banished the parlement to Troyes, and then riotous demonstrations began in Paris. The popular hatred was then being directed against the princes chiefly, especially against the Duke d’Artois and the Queen, who was nicknamed “Madame Deficit”.
The Exchequer Court of Paris (Cour des Aides), supported by the popular outburst, as well as by the provincial parlements and the Court of Justice, protested against this act of royal power, and, as the agitation was growing, the King was compelled to recall the exiled parlement. This was done on September 9, and evoked fresh demonstrations in Paris, during which the minister Calonne13 was burnt in effigy.
These disturbances were chiefly confined to the lower middle classes.
But in other localities they assumed a more popular character.
In 1788 insurrections broke out in Brittany. When the military commander
of Rennes and the Governor of the province went to the Breton parlement to
announce the edict by which that body was abolished, the whole town turned out immediately. The crowd insulted and hustled the two functionaries. The people in their hearts hated the Governor, Bertrand de Moleville, and the middle classes profited by this to spread a rumor that the edict was all owing to the Governor. “He is a monster that deserves to be strangled,” said one of the leaflets distributed among the crowd. When he came out of the palace, therefore, they pelted him with stones, and after several attempts some one threw a cord with a slip-knot over him. Fighting was about to begin – the young men in the crowd breaking through the ranks of soldiers – when an officer threw down his sword and fraternised with the people.
By degrees troubles of the same kind broke out in several other towns in
Brittany, and the peasants rose in their turn when grain was being shipped at Quimper, Saint-Brieuc, Morlaix, Pont-l’Abbe, Lamballe and other places. It is interesting to note the active part taken in these disorders by the students at Rennes, who from that time fraternised with the rioters14. In Dauphine, especially at Grenoble, the insurrection assumed a still more serious character. As soon as the military commander, Clermont-Tonnerre, had promulgated the edict which dissolved the parlement the people of Grenoble rose. The tocsin was rung, and the alarm spreading quickly to the neighboring villages, the peasants hastened in crowds to the town. There was a sanguinary affray and many were killed. The commander’s guard was helpless and his palace was sacked. Clermont-Tonnerre, with an axe held over his head, had to revoke the
It was the people, and chiefly the women, who acted on this occasion. As
to the members of the parlement, the people had a good deal of trouble to find them. They hid themselves, and wrote to Paris that the people had risen against their will, and when the people laid hands on them they were kept
prisoners – their presence giving an air of legality to the insurrection. The women mounted guard over these arrested members, unwilling to trust them even to the men, lest they should be allowed to escape.
The middle classes of Grenoble were in a state of terror. During the night they organized a militia of citizens that took possession of the town gates as well as of some military posts, which they yielded to the troops soon after. Cannon were trained on the rebels, while the parlement took advantage of the darkness to disappear. From June 9 to 14 reaction triumphed, but on the 14th news came that there had been a rising at Besancon and that the Swiss soldiers had refused to fire on the people. Upon this the people’s spirit revived, and it was proposed to convoke the Estates of the province. But fresh reinforcements of troops having been sent from Paris the disturbance subsided by degrees. The
agitation, however, kept up chiefly by the women, lasted some time longer15.
Besides these two risings mentioned by the majority of the historians, many others broke out at the same time in Provence, Languedoc, Rousillon, Bearn, Flanders, Franche-Comte and Burgundy. Even where no serious riots occurred advantage was taken of the prevailing excitement to keep up the discontent and to make demonstrations.
At Paris, after the dismissal of the Archbishop of Sens, there were numerous demonstrations. The Pont Neuf was guarded by troops, and several conflicts occurred between them and the people, of whom the leaders were, as Bertrand de Moleville remarks16, “those who later on took part in all the popular movements of the Revolution.” Marie-Antoinette’s letter to the Count de Mercy should also be read in this connection. It is dated August 24, 1788, and in it she tells him of her fears, and announces the retirement of the Archbishop of Sens and the steps she had taken to recall Necker; the effect produced on the Court by those riotous crowds can therefore be understood. The Queen foresaw that this recall of Necker would lessen the King’s authority; she feared “that they may be compelled to nominate a prime minister,” but “the moment is pressing. It is very essential that Necker should accept.”171819
Three weeks later, September 14, 1788, when the retirement of Lamoignon
became known, the riotings were renewed. The mob rushed to set fire to the houses of the two ministers, Lamoignon and Brienne, as well as to that of Dubois. The troops were called out, and in the Rue Melee and the Rue de Grenelle there was a horrible slaughter of people who could not defend themselves. Dubois fled from Paris. “The people themselves would execute justice,” said Les deux amis de la liberte. Later, still, in October 1788, when the parlement that had been banished to Troyes was recalled, “the clerks and the
populace” illuminated the Place Dauphine for several evenings in succession. They demanded money from the passers-by to expend on fireworks, and forced gentlemen to alight from their carriages to salute the statue of Henri Quatre20.
Figures representing Calonne, Breteuil21 and the Duchess de Polignac22
were burned. It was also proposed to burn the Queen in effigy. These riotous assemblies gradually spread to other quarters, and troops were sent to disperse them. Blood was shed and many were killed in the Place de la Greve. Those who were arrested, however, were tried by the parlement judges, who let them off with light penalties.
In this way the revolutionary spirit awoke and developed in the van of
the Great Revolution23. The initiative came from the middle classes certainly – chiefly from the lower middle classes – but, generally speaking, the middle
classes took care not to compromise themselves, and the number of them who opposed the Court, more or less openly, before the convoking of the States-General was very limited. If there had only been their few attempts at resistance France might have waited many years for the overthrow of royal despotism. Fortunately a thousand circumstances impelled the masses to revolt. And in spite of the fact that after every outbreak there were summary hangings, wholesale arrests and even torture for those arrested, the people did revolt, pressed on one side by their desperate misery, and spurred on by the
vague hopes of which the old woman spoke to Arthur Young24. They rose in numbers against the Governors of provinces, tax-collectors, salt-tax agents and even against the troops, and by so doing completely disorganized the governmental machine.
From 1788 the peasant risings became so general that it was impossible to provide for the expenses of the State, and Louis XVI., after having refused for fourteen years to convoke the representatives of the nation, lest his Kingly authority should suffer, at last found himself compelled to convoke, first the two Assemblies of Notables, and finally the States-General.
Prince Peter Kropotkin, “The Great French Revolution” Volume I,
Vanguard Press, May 1929 (2 volumes). Transcription by IWPCHI.
Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) – Known colloquially as “Turgot”
– French “progressive” economist and statesman. Appointed
Controller-General of Finance by Louis XVI, he proposed reforms to
the French system of government that would have created a
parliamentary system under a constitutional monarchy – and was
dismissed by Louis XVI as a result. Though he generally supported
its political ideals he unsuccessfully opposed French financial
support for the American revolutionary war “on grounds of
economy”. He ruthlessly suppressed the ‘guerre des farines’
(literally, ‘war of flour’ translated into English as ‘bread
riots’) that took place throughout France in May of 1775 as a
direct result of Turgot’s laissez-faire economic reforms of the
grain markets which led (then and now) to commodities speculators
buying up and hoarding grain in order to drive up prices (Turgot was
thus forced to abandon his own economic principles and restore state
control of the grain market). As an economist he was (is?)
considered to be an adherent to the “physiocratic” school of
economic theory in which agrarian, rural modes of production were
extolled as being morally superior to the pre-capitalist
manufacturing that was beginning to take place in major cities and
towns. This philosophy was perfectly suited to its time and the
predominance of agricultural over pre-industrial production under
late feudal period of European history. The Physiocrats proposed an
early form of laissez-faire economics that was based on rural
agriculture and on the idea that what motivated economic actors to
produce goods was primarily their pursuit of their own personal
interests; they imagined that by simply allowing free trade to exist
a balance would be achieved between the producers and their
exploiters (owners of land and merchants) which would allow everyone
to prosper. This completely discredited idea that free trade leads
to a more perfect and fair balance of trade between workers and
their exploiters is still one of the fundamental – and weakest –
‘principles’ of economics extolled by capitalist economists in
the 21st century. Turgot was one of the co-discoverers of
a fundamental truth of economic theory – the “law of diminishing
returns” – in which “successive applications of the variable
input will cause the product to grow, first at an increasing rate,
later at a diminishing rate until it reaches a maximum.” By
appointing Turgot as Controller -General Louis XVI was signalling
his own openness to progressive reforms of the French monarchical
system. The representatives sent to France by the 13 British
colonies that were to become the United States were so completely
taken in by this apparent openness to modern political and economic
ideas expressed by Louis XVI that they were tricked into believing
that he was a supporter of the revolutionary political ideals
espoused by the American revolutionaries of the late 1700s (which he
most definitely was not, as he would prove by his dismissal of
Turgot for his promotion of political ideas that ran parallel to
those of the leading American revolutionary political theorists).
[Note by IWPCHI. Sources: Wikipedia articles on “Anne Robert
Jacques Turgot”, “Physiocrats”, “Jacques Necker” and
that the farmer could not sell his corn for three months after the
harvest, the lord of the manor alone being entitled to do that. It
was one of the feudal privileges, which enabled the lord to sell it
at a high price.
(literally meaning ‘dead hand’) was a means by which landowners
could avoid honoring any feudal duties he was obligated to pay to
the King, by donating land to the Church and then recovering use of
the land by becoming a tenant of the Church. The monarchy was
thereby denied any income or tribute they would have been entitled
to had the land remained in private hands. Also, once land was
“donated” to the Church, it would remain in Church hands
forever. This practise resulted in the loss of a tremendous amount
of income and personal service due to the monarchy. It also over
time threatened to tremendously increase the wealth in land and
therefore the balance of power between the “three estates” that
existed in medieval European feudal society: mortmain benefitted the
ecclesiastical order in relation to the nobility and the peasantry.
of August 24, 1780. Breaking on the wheel existed still in 1785. The
parliaments, in spite of the Voltaireianism, and the general
refinement in the conception of life, enthusiastically defended the
use of torture, which was abolished definitely only by the National
Assembly. It is interesting to find (E. Seligman, La
justice en France pendant la Revolution, p.
97) that Brissot, Marat and Robespierre by their writings
contributed to the agitation for the reform of the penal code.
refers to England’s anti-Catholic “Glorious Revolution” of
1688. [Note by IWPCHI]
arguments upon which Louis XVI. took his stand are of the highest
interest. I sum them up here according to E. Samichon’s Les
Reformes sous Louis XVI.: assemblees provinciales et parlements. The
King found Turgot’s schemes dangerous,
and wrote: “Though coming from a man who has good ideas, his
constitution would overthrow the existing state.” And again,
further on: “The system of a rent-paying electorate would tend to
make malcontents of the non-propertied classes, and if these were
allowed to assemble they would form a hot-bed of disorder. … The
transition from the abolished system to the system M. Turgot now
proposes ought to be considered: we see well enough what is, but
only in our thoughts do we see what does not yet exist, and
we must not make dangerous experiments if we do not see where they
will end.” Vide also,
in Samichon’s Appendix A, the very interesting list of the chief
laws under Louis XVI. between 1774 and 1789.
Necker (1732- 1804) Swiss banker who became a French statesman and
finance minister for Louis XVI.
Kropotkin refers here, of course to the Great French Revolution of
1789 which is the subject of this book. – IWPCHI
cursory mention by Kropotkin of an event that was a serious blow
against the feudal version of the trade union movement and which
must have given an enormous impetus to petit-bourgeois and
proletarian support for political ideas involving the curtailing of
the power of the absolute monarchy is itself worthy of a book. If
you know of any on the subject please send the information to us. –
labor was (and is) compulsory unpaid labor required by the state or
(in feudal Europe, as in this example) by the landlord from
lower-class citizens (particularly from peasants). It exists in the
US today in an only slightly attenuated form as “workfare” and
prison labor programs in which refusal to perform the work required
can result in total loss of social benefits and/or a prison term or
(for people already imprisoned) an extension of their prison
sentence. – IWPCHI
de Vic and J. de Vaisette, Histoire generale du Languedoc,
continued by du Mege, 10 vols., 1840-1846
Genie de la Revolution.
Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne (1734-1802) Born into an upper-class
family, he was a lawyer considered to be “a man with notable
business abilities and an entrepreneurial spirit, while generally
unscrupulous in his political actions.” Louis XVI appointed him to
be “Controller-General of Finances” in the autumn of 1783 in
order to deal with the deteriorating financial crisis his monarchy
was faced with as a result of Louis’ monumental waste of funds on
luxurious living as well as rapidly mounting costs relating to the
war with England and with the rapidly deteriorating internal
political situation sweeping France. Almost every policy instituted
or attempted to be instituted by Calonne exacerbated the tensions
between the citizens of France and the monarchy. He was dismissed by
Louis in 1787 and exiled to Lorraine – and later on he exiled
himself to France’s bitter enemy Great Britain. He tried to make a
political comeback with the convocation of the Estates-General in
1789 but was refused entry to France. After the Revolution Calonne
joined the monarchist counterrevolutionaries assembling at Coblenz;
when they were defeated by the revolutionary French army under
Napoleon he returned to Great Britain. In 1802 his petition for
permission to return to France was granted by Napoleon; he died in
France a month after his return. – Note by IWPCHI Source: Wikipedia
article “Charles Alexandre de Calonne”
Chatelier, Histoire de la Revolution dans les departements de
l’ancienne Bretagne, 6
vols., 1836: vol. Ii pp. 60-70, 161, &c.
and Vaissete, vol. x. p. 637.
and Vaissete, p.136.
Feuillet de Conches, Lettres de Louis XVI., Marie-Antoinette
at Madame Elizabeth (Paris,
1864), vol. I. pp. 214-216: “The
written to you this evening, sir, and has notified my wish to you,”
wrote the Queen. “I think more than ever that the moment is
pressing, and that it is very essential that he (Necker) should
accept. The King fully agrees with me, and has just brought me a
paper with his own hand containing his ideas, of which I send you a
copy.” The next day she wrote again: “We must no longer
hesitate. If he can get to work tomorrow all the better. It is most
urgent. I fear that we may be compelled to nominate a prime
of Marie-Antoinette’s letters sent during the revolutionary
were sent with enciphered text written in white ink; it is not known
if this technique was used in this particular letter, but at least
one of her letters to de Mercy were enciphered and written in this
type of invisible ink (Source:
Note by IWPCHI.)
was recalled to the post of Controller-General of Finance on 25
August 1788. He was not appointed as Prime Minister until 16 July
1789 – two days after the storming of the Bastille. (Note by
IWPCHI sourced from Wikipedia article “Jacques Necker”.)
Quatre – King Henry IV of France (1553-1610; ruled from 1589-1610;
assassinated by fanatic Catholic Francois Ravaillac . Known as
“Henry of Navarre” and “Good King Henry” he was fondly
remembered by the workers and peasants of France for his relatively
friendly attitude towards the poor. He is credited with the
statement “If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my
realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday!”
The statue in Kropotkin’s reference to Henri Quatre was erected by
Henry IV and placed on the Pont-Neuf, which he also built, and which
stands in Paris to this day. – Note by IWPCHI Source: Wikipedia
article “Henry IV of France”.
Auguste Le Tonnelier de Breteuil (1730-1807) Baron de Breteuil – a
French aristocrat, diplomat, statesman and politician. At the time
this incident occurred Breteuil was the Secretary of State of the
Maison du Roi. He was serving the King and Queen Marie-Antoinette in
this role when the sordid tale known as “The Affair of the
Necklace” came to light. Popular support for the monarchy in
general and for Marie-Antoinette in particular was severely damaged
by the “Affair”; Breteuil’s defense of Marie-Antoinette in the
affair made him very unpopular. He was appointed to succeed Jacques
Necker as Prime Minister on 12 July 1789 – which was one of the
events that led to the storming of the Bastille prison just two days
later. After the Revolution, many aristocrats fled France one step
ahead of the executioner; Breteuil was appointed by King Louis XVI
(at the request of Marie) to be their Prime Minister-in-exile while
they were being held prisoners in France by the revolutionaries.
Breteuil was responsible for the plan for the failed escape of the
King and Queen from France in 1791. After the executions of Louis
and Marie and the death of the last heir to the Bourbon throne
Breteuil retired to a location near Hamburg. He was allowed by
Napoleon I to return to France in 1802; he died in France in 1807.
Note by IWPCHI sourced from Wikipedia article “Louis Auguste Le
Tonnelier de Breteuil”.
Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac (1749-1783)
Wikipedia describes her as being of the “ultra-monarchist”
faction of the French nobility. Stunningly beautiful in her
portraits, she was hated by the poor of France for her extravagant
lifestyle and for her alleged lesbian relationship with
Marie-Antoinette (which was reportedly not true). She was hated by
many in the aristocracy for the favoritism shown to her and her
family by the King and Queen which was seen as breaching social
etiquette of the time; it was widely resented that she obtained an
appointment as “Governess of the Children of France” which gave
her the important responsibility to oversee the education and
general upbringing of the children of the King and Queen. She and
her family went into exile in Switzerland shortly after the storming
of the Bastille prison. She died in Austria shortly after the
execution of Marie Antoinette in December of 1793.
fuller information, see Felix Roquain, L’esprit revolutionnaire
avant la Revolution.
reference is to a story Kropotkin relates in Chapter III of Vol. I
of this book (p.11). It comes from Arthur Young’s Travels in
relate anecdotes from a trip through France which Young undertook
shortly before the French Revolution got underway. “’Something
has to be done by some great folk for such poor ones’” Young
quotes the old woman as saying in reference to the ruling
aristocracy and monarchy of France. “She did not know who or how;
‘but God send us better’”.