The French revolution, one of the most terrifying political revolts in human history, changed not only France but every Europeans nation’s social ideals. But what if this bloody 10-year revolt had never happened? What if France’s monarchy had crushed the rebellion?
When the French revolution began in 1789 France was in massive debt and experiencing bad harvests. The poor harvests caused the inflation of bread prices, leading to starvation and death for the majority of the population. However, I believe that if the French royal family had made some smarter decisions, they may have been able to quell the revolution. Under the leadership of King Louis XVI, the French royal family made some atrocious decisions. France had sent supplies, troops and ammunition to support the Americans in the American Revolution, while at the same time supporting the Kingdom of Mysore in the Second Anglo–Mysore war. Both these expensive wars caused France to fall into heavy debt that not even kings of divine right could pay off. Divine right was the God-given right of a monarch to rule and have any action against them being counted as sin. Louis XVI could have stopped the French revolution, but he would have needed to stop many of his inappropriate actions in the political arena, such as the Mysore and American wars.
The most obvious way the revolution could have been stopped would have been the creation of an armed neutrality, meaning that France would only enter a war if attacked. This means that France would have not used their very limited resources to go into uneconomical wars, and this money could have been spent on buying supplies to supplement the food shortage. I believe this could have quelled the uneducated, starving peasants; one of the main reasons the peasants slaughtered the autocracy was because the rich could afford food while the poor could barely feed themselves. If the poor had been given food, the revolution would have been less likely. When France’s peasants gained their much-needed food, they caused what is known as the ‘reign of terror’, where the commoners slaughtered hundreds of the autocracy and took over many important government roles, throwing France into further turmoil.
In France’s darkest hour, when the French royal family was forcibly moved to Paris, they attempted to escape with Louis and his family fleeing Paris in the middle of the night in a heavy, six-horse carriage. Their aim was to make it to the royalist-supported town of Varennes, however they were spotted by a local 50 kilometers from their destination and were subsequently arrested. I believe that for this to have been successful, the royal family should have been split up into two groups and met halfway by disguised loyalists. Then they wouldn’t have needed a six-horse carriage, and even if one carriage was found, the other would still keep the ideal of divine right alive in the French people.
I believe that if the royal family had made a successful escape they would have been able to keep the faith of many uncertain farmers who, after the foiled escape, ended up supporting the republicans. If they had made it to Varennes, it is most likely these uncertain supporters would have regained their faith in the royal family, because Louis would have been able to gain the support of most European monarchs, as republicanism was seen as how many of us see communism today. As the French revolutionary army was in disarray when this political upheaval happened, they wouldn’t have been organised enough to face the unified forces of Austria, Great Britain and Prussia.
Ultimately, for these factors to have come into play, the majority of the French people would have needed to support the ideals of the royal family, stopping the French revolution before it even really began. Many wars in the past have shown us that without local support, a strong foreign government can’t hold their control of the land. For instance, if a government wants something but the majority of the people don’t, this can lead to the overthrowing of a government. For example, in Vietnam a large portion of the Vietnamese were against Australian and American intervention, bringing the downfall of South Vietnamese government. If the royals had gained the support of the local population, the French revolution could have being stopped and retained their powers.
In order to avoid the French revolution, the French people would needed to support the royal family and their rule, and while the French royal family could have stopped the revolution, they would have needed not only the support of foreign governments, but the support of the French people.
Words and artwork by Jack Barnes