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The Real Story of the French Revolution (Hardback)

Separating Myth From Reality 

Military > French Revolutionary Wars

By Mike Wells
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: The Real...
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 25 mono
ISBN: 9781399084529
Published: 31st July 2024


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The French Revolution was a period of radical political and societal change in the eighteenth century. Everyone knows about the guillotine and the grisly processions of tumbrils, but less is generally appreciated about the much greater violence in provincial France. This book examines the beliefs and assumptions about the French Revolution which have become popularised in films and novels but also accepted in standard accounts to see if they stand up to scrutiny. There is no attempt to deny the intense drama of the whole revolutionary period but rather to separate myth and reality. There are chapters on the development of the constitutional monarchy and its failure and also on the tragic period of the Terror which for many is the most characteristic period.

The role of women in this period is one of huge turmoil as well as the impact of the Revolution on the French colonies and in particular Saint-Domingue in the West Indies. This book looks at the leading figure in the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, with some myths being challenged and attempts to reach a realistic judgement as well as exploring some of the vivid, if at times horrifying, events of this key part of the history of colonialism.

It includes a critical look at commonly held beliefs about the Revolution and its aftermath. It is also an account of many of the highly colourful and dramatic events and personalities for those who want to get beneath the surface of one of the most absorbing periods of history. The range of extraordinary people in the Revolution has led to many fictional accounts and we look at many of their lives, but also at the way that a period of intense belief impacted ordinary people with often tragic results. It really was ‘the best of times and the worst of times’.

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About Mike Wells

Mike Wells read History at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. He is the author of over thirty textbooks for advanced level study on various aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, including the French Revolution and Napoleon, and a biography of Bismarck. He has also written about the history of warfare and aspects of American history, both of the USA and Latin America. He taught and examined history for many years and has lectured in the UK and in many different countries. Apart from history, his other passion is opera and his play about the composer Donizetti has been performed in Italy.

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In 1793 France was facing foreign invasion along its borders and a fierce political war was raging in Paris when a large-scale revolt, centred on the western Department of the Vendée, suddenly erupted, almost bringing the new-born French Republic to its knees. The immediate trigger for this Great War of the Vendée, barely known outside of France, was the attempted imposition of conscription but the region seethed at the erosion of its traditional values and way of life. The persecution of the Catholic Church and killing of the king symbolized to the Vendéens how dangerous the new Republic had…

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