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The French Revolution as Portrayed in 19th Century Encyclopedias

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Hye In
Term Paper, AP European History Class, May 2009

Table of Contents

I. The Third Estate
I.1 Definition
I.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : France
I.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : France
I.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : France
I.5 Analysis
II. Louis XVI.
II.1 Description
II.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : France
II.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : France
II.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : France
II.5 Analysis
III. Robespierre
III.1 Description
III.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : Revolution von Frankreich
III.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : Frankreich
III.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich
III.5 Analysis
IV. Conclusion

            The paper focuses on different perspectives of three encyclopedias: Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : Frankreich, Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich (3) (which are posted in WHKMLA, translated by Mr. Ganse). First two encyclopedias were different edition by the same publisher. First one was printed from 1809 to 1811, which is an era of Empire. The latter one was written from 1837 to 1841, which is an era of early nationalism and industrialization. However, the last one of the three encyclopedias is different encyclopedia but written around the same era of later version of Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon.
In order to compare and contrast perspectives of these encyclopedias, I made a list of key words and search for the specific statement that mentions about them. Among them, three keywords reflected subjectivity of three encyclopedias. Interestingly, those three key words were important figures during the French Revolution.
I analyzed specific part of the statement for each encyclopedia and added the overall comparison and contrast of three sources at the each of the definition statement. Three keywords are listed by chronological order below.

I. The Third Estate

I.1 Definition
            The Third Estate, one of the three estates of The Estates General(1788), consisted of peasants, middle class (bourgeoisie), and urban workers (proletariat). It proposed reform, and called for an end to the special privileges enjoyed by clergy and nobility: corvee, gabelle etc. On June 17, 1789, the Third Estate proclaimed itself to be the National Assembly and pledged that it would not disband until it had given France a constitution.

I.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article France
            The article usually degrades the Third Estate by using negative lexicons that emphasize the lack of confidence and vulnerability. For examples,

            The Third Estate only demanded to provide half of the delegates, so that it would provide 600 delegates, the nobility 300 and the clergy 300, a modest suggestion by 19/20 of the population.

            It uses the word ¡®only¡¯ to emphasize the humility of the Third Estate. Considering population of the Third Estate in the whole of the population, 600 delegates, twice of other delegates, is a reasonable demand.

            The Third Estate, excluded from the business of state for almost 200 years, while having the greates talents, showed a lack in confidence, in skills which are the fruit of experience and of business

            It accentuates the Third Estate¡¯s lack of confidence by saying if it were not for the help of few people like Count Mirabeau, the Third Estate would not be able to take the superiority in the Estates General.

            The Third Estate was joined, in part because of bitterness toward the court, in part out of desparation, which only searched a way out in violent revolutions, in part because of noble enthusiasm, by several members of the highest nobility ...

            It states that the Third Estate¡¯s passive participation of Sieyes¡¯s reformation.

            The majoriy of the nobility determinedly rejected a merger with the Third Estate. The clergy did join the Third Estate, and the combined assembly of both on June 17th declared itself to be the National Assembly.

            It alludes that even not until the establishment of the National Assembly that the Third Estate could not get enough support from the others.

            Now a royal session was announced, and again the Third Estate was bitterly humiliated by, while waiting for the king, being left to stand in the rain, while the First and Second Estate were inside the palace.

            It shows that even after the establishment of the National Assembly, the Third State could not overcome royal seniors.

I.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : France
            The decision forced through by the Third Estate that decisions should be made according to the number of heads resulted in the Third Estate gaining superiority over clergy and nobility, especially as the larger part of the former joined the Third Estate

            unlike the article above, it emphasizes that the Third Estate was the most powerful for its great percentage of population in the General Estates.

            According to the suggestion by Count Mirabeau the Third Estate declared it would not obey, and as now also a group of noblemen, lead by the Duke of Orleans, joined the Third Estate [by revoking their privileges], on June 17th 1789 the Third state proclaimed itself the National Assembly.

            It only states how Count Mirabeau, who was an enlightened noble who had renounced his privileges, leaded the Third Estate without any mentions about his estate. Also, the article does not mention much about the hardships the Third Estate had persuading the others to support them.

I.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich (3)
            Clergy and nobility demanded this matter to be taken care of by each estate individually; the Third Estate demanded this to be done jointly, by commissioners. After failed negotiations, the Third Estate moved on to the verification of the mandates. When the verification was completed, the Third Estate, at the suggestion of Abbe Sieyes, on June 17th declared itself to be the National Assembly, in which the not present delegates of the other estates were treated as absent.

            The article does not mention the estate of Abbe Sieyes. Also the Third Estate which is explained in this article is depicted as full of confidence as it considered the others who do not support them as absent.

            This threatened to cause the failure of Necker's plan, and in order to prevent the merger of the estates, the next session of the Third Estate was forbidden, and the hall of the estates occupied by guards. Still the delegates of the Third Estate assembled in the ball house under the presidency of Bailly and swore not to disband until he constitution were completed.

            The Third Estate according to this article is very active in that it holds another assembly in the ball house despite the disgrace of being rejected from meeting at Versailles by king and royals.

            The order given the end of the session for the estates to separate immediately was followed only by the nobility and by part of the clergy; alone the delegates of the Third Estate remained, and when the master of ceremonies reminded them of the royal order, Mirabeau spoke and got the assembly to declare that they only would give way if confronted by an armed force. But to provide such the king was too weak.

            It emphasizes the aggressiveness of the leader of the Third Estate, Mirabeau, in that he protested against the coercion of the King.

            On June 25th part of the nobility, lead by the Duke of Orleans, joined the Third Estate, on June 27th also the remainder of the nobility and the clergy, at the order of the helpless king, joined the National Assembly.

            Unlike other articles, this article mentions that at last even the ¡®helpless¡¯ king supported the National Assembly.

I.5 Analysis
            Unlike Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841 evaluates the Third State as quite powerful group. What¡¯s more, Article : Frankreich, Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich also shows the positive attitude toward the Third State, while the first encyclopedia emphasizes the incompetency of the Third Estate.

            It shows that encyclopedias written during the Industrial Revolution consider the Third Estate as the powerful group. However, Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 blames the Third Estate because rebellions are treated unfavorable in the Empire which controls the nation by only one emperor.

II. Louis XVI.

II.1 Description
            Louis XVI is the grandson of Louis ¥¹¥´, who became king in 1774. His queen was Marie Antoinette. Suspended and arrested during the Insurrection of 10 August 1792, he was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of treason, and executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793. He was the only king of France to be executed.

II.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : France
            With favourable prejudices, under good omina Louis XVI. ascended the defiled throne in 1774, a benevolent, simple, open, religious prince, a friend of the people, full of eagerness for truth and justice, a model of domestic virtues, but too malleable, without autonomy and determination, a game of alien inspirations and intrigues, careless, clumsy, stubborn against weak and honest opposition, shy and clumsy when it came to public speech and action, unable to defend the dignity of kingship and to uphold the glory of the highest throne.

            this article sees the king as a benevolent but not charismatic leader.

            On February 4th 1790, Louis XVI., in order to end mistrust, confirmed the new constitution, which is by far not completed yet. The royal domains are declared property of the state (in April); the king only retains palaces and forests.

            -by emphasizing the article shows Louis¥¹¥µ was a moral and frugal person who did not retain much land

            The former pressed for the deposition of the faithless monarch. But the moderate party prevailed, and Louis XVI. was confirmed on his throne. On September 14th he took an oath on the completed constitution, was declared the head of army and navy, was given a council of 6 ministers, which were responsible only to the nation, but the monarch was to be inviolable. How badly was this oath repaid to him !

            the article considers king¡¯s decision on the constitution as a mistake.

            Louis XVI. refused to sanction this harsh decree. He also refused to give his approval to the decision to ban the obstinate priests (who refused to take the oath of a citizen). His usage of the veto right caused ill will. Doubts were raised regarding the honesty of the monarch, he was blamed of being in understanding with the emigres and with the foreign powers.

            It depicts the king as the victim who was blamed in a wrong sens, despite his good will

            Leopold II. gave a resolute response : he did not regard Louis XVI. a free person, and as a monarch it was his obligation to save the honour of the monarchies, and as Emperor, to stand in for the honour of the German princes.\

            this article indirectly shows that Louis¥¹¥µ was a moderate monarch who truly pursued honesty and peace.

            He permitted it to happen that the people on August 9th-10th stormed the Tuileries, murdered the Swiss guards and all court servants they met, and caused the royal family to seek refuge in the National Assembly, from where Louis XVI. with wife and children were led away as prisoners, into the temple. Soon the king was informed of the decision which deposed him from the throne.

            It depicts the deposition of the king happened in a second, which was very sudden and abrupt.

            The tumultuary trial against Louis XVI. was orchestrated, conducted with unvbending harshness, with disregard to all juridical forms. State attorney and judge were one and the same person, the law which had declared the king for inviolable had to be silent.

            This article blames the unfairness of trials regarding Louis XVI.

II.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : Frankreich
            As simple as Louis XVI. lived himself, the wasteful spending at France's court continued, the debt increased.

            It blames the ignorance and extravagance of Louis XVI.

            The king still resisted, but when Parliament refused to approve new taxes, and none of the ministers who followed another in quick succession could not help, the king finally, on the advice of minister Necker, finally agreed in their convocation.

            It shows that even ministers did not support Louis XVI.

            Third state proclaimed itself the National Assembly. and the daunted king gave in.

            It explains Louis XVI. who gave up oppressing the National Assembly as daunted.

            The king had 20,000 men brought together, perhaps to prevent the outbreak of unrest, but by doing so he only accelerated the process. In Paris a terrible rebellion broke out, the Bastille, used as state prison, was stormed and razed to the ground, and the king was forced to remove his troops.

            It describes Louis XVI.¡¯s failed protection to oppress the outbreak, but says that it had a sideeffect of accelerating the riot.

            The mob invaded the Tuileries, insulted king and queen, and it came close to them being murdered by the excited mob. From now on any respect for the monarchy had disappeared, and as at this time the Emperor and the KIng of Prussia had declared war against France, and a Prussian army under the Duke of Braunschweig [in English usually called Duke of Brunswick] had invaded Lorraine, the hatred against a king who was suspected to side with the enemy increased even more

            This article states that as time goes, the respect for the monarchy had ¡°disappeared¡± and as a result Louis XVI.¡¯s defiled honor caused the interruption from outside power.

            The imprisoned king was sentenced to death by the Convent, and on January 21st 1793 decapitated by the guillotine. From now on the Convent not only persecuted friends of the king and of the old order, but even the better among their own.

            describes that after the death of Louis XVI., even others around king died too.

II.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich (3)
            In the meantime the National Assembly continued her work on the constitution, abolished hereditary nobility, granted the king the title "King of the French", but left him the addresses Sire and Majesty. Louis XVI. confirmed these and other decisions, and by his personal presence in the National Assembly on February 4th 1790 he caused general enthusiasm, and silenced the rumours claiming he would only play the act.

            Unlike the other articles, the attitude towards the National Assembly in this article is quite passive in that there is not much explanation about how he reacted, but stated that he just accepted it. In fact, Louis XVI. described as the tranquil monarch who caused "general enthusiasm and silenced the rumor".

            Namely from Marseille a considerable horde of the meanest kind arrived in Paris at the beginning of June, singing the Marseillaise (see there). Fearing this rabble, the king in the morning of June 20th was forced to have the Tuileries occupied by cannons and the Natinal Guard. At noon 50,000 insurgents broke into the palace. On this occasion the king' for he first time proved courageous wit combined with firmness, and impressed even this raw rabble ... The king now invested his only hope in the foreign powers

            Although this article shows Louis¥¹¥µ being afraid of rebels, this article states that King at least tried to resist through the foreign powers.

            On December 11th Louis XVI. appeared in front of the Convent as the accused, on December 26th Deseze held his brilliant defensive speech, on Januuary 19th 1793 the Convent sentenced him to death and on January 21st the king was publicly guillotined.

            Unlike other articles, it shows that there was a defensive speech before execution of Louis XVI.

II.5 Analysis
            The article sections on Louis XVI. show a directly opposite tendency to those on the Third Estate. Only the one written during 1809-1811 sympathized with Louis XVI. It considers him as a victim who is originally a benevolent leader. However, the other encyclopedias blame the incompetent and passive king who failed a lot to control the riots.

III Robespierre

III.1 Description
            Robespierre began his career in politics as a Radical, known as the Mountain. It dominated the National Convention and he ruled with Danton, Marat, and the Duke of Orleans. However, when the National Convention established the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre abused the authority, stabilizing their full control over the government, and carried out an intensifying Reign of Terror by executing other leaders who wanted moderation. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and it ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.

III.2 Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : Revolution von Frankreich
            A terrible triumvirate rose in the National Convent : Danton, Marat, Robespierre; from the Committee of Public Safety they terrorised the people, to whom they had described Louis XVI. to have been a bloodthirsty tyrant, and 40,000 revolutionary committees all over France, turned terror and judicial murder into a daily event.

            The advent of Robespierre in the National Convent was the tragedy for his terrorism

            At the begin of 1794 Robespierre publishes an irate manifesto against all monarchs, on March 24th he has the Ultrarevolutionaries executed (the priest of reason Hebert, the speaker of humanity Cloots), soon after Danton, Camille-Desmoulins and their supporters (April 5th), and the outcasts of mankind elevates himself to the revenger of a desecrated deity.

            It shows Robespierre¡¯s executing his rivals

III.3 Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : Frankreich
            While Lafayette formed the Club of the Feuillants of the moderates, among the Jacobins the Club of the Cordeliers emerged, partially consisting of evildoers such as Marat and Robespierre, partially of exalted Republicans

            Unlike other articles about Robespierre, it states that Marat and Robespierre were evildoers.
            Robespierre took the lead of the Committee of Public Safety, which named the victims who were executed by the revolutionary tribunal by the means of the guillotine. Terror ruled unhappy France, instead of a benevolent, while weak king now it had gotten a bunch of bloodthirsty villains as rulers, of whom all were afraid.

            Through the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre executed many.

            With iron severity did Robespierre rule, at the head of the Committee for Public Safety; even his own supporters did not dare to object; everyone trembled in front of the all powerful man.

            It shows Robespierre¡¯s absolute power that supporters of Robespierre were afraid to speak out against him.

            Robespierre in the beginning shared power with Danton and was supported by Marat, Collot d'Herbois, St. Just Couthon and Billaud de Varennes. Not satisfied with persecuting any man in Paris who stands out because of wealth, noblesse or scholarliness, and to remove by the guillotine, he also sent his commissioners into he provinces and there he had committees established similar to the Parisian one. With justification the period of his rule is thus described as Terror.

            Although the article says Robespierre¡¯s rule as terror, it takes quite a mutual attitude by mentioning reforms enacted by the national convention.

III.4 Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich (3)
            Only accusations, blaming and crude insults were uttered loudly by both sides. Marat and Robespierre finally labelled the Girondists traitors to the nation. But these still held the majority in the Convent, which opposed terrorism, and which instead wanted to see Marat tried and an investigation against the Commune opened, namely against Hebert, the main leader of the latter.

            It describes the way how Jacobins get the power over Girondists.

            When the people's idol, Marat, was murdered by Charlotte Corday on July 13th, Robespierre now shared supreme power and virtue with St. Just, Danton and Hebert. The Revolutionary Tribunal was uninterruptedly active, and delivered one victim after the other to the guillotine.

            A lot of revolutionaries was executed

            In the meantime the rivalry between Committee for Public Safety and the Paris Municipality had become clearer and clearer. Many seem to have come to the conclusion hat an end had to be put to terrorism. Robespierre instead, who controlled Convent and the Jacobins, continued to try to feed the rabble with rumours, and to quench its thirst for blood by exterminating anything immoral. His fellow party members for the larger part had become rivals or opponents. Only by spreading fear and terror he was able to hold on to his position, because an accusation in front of him was almost inevitably a sentence.
Since the mid of July there had been disputes in the National Convent. Robespierre accused Tallien and Fouche of conspiring with foreigners, and the latter spread the rumour of a long list of those to be murdered, composed by Robespierre.

            Robespierre used a cunning way to evoke fear through people so that he can take absolute power over people.

            Desmoulins and Fabre d'Eglantines and others who had distanced themselves from Hebert, who hoped he could hold his position by outdoing Robespierre in terms of bloodhirsty accusations, and who were in favour of alleviating the law of suspicion, now approached Danton and his personal supporters, while the Club of the Cordeliers and the Paris city council vied for his favour, and recognised the unlimited authority of the Committee for Public Safety.

            It shows that during the reign of terror, some gave up exercising dictatorial authority, urging a policy of moderation.

            Following the death of Danton, the Committee for Public Safety ruled unrestricted, and in it Robespierre. Fouquier de Tinville, the public prosecutor, was a tool the dictator used, to implement his system of exterminating anything immoral; but everone was immoral, who doubted in Robespierre's virtue

            Those who were opposed to Robespierre was considered immoral.

            But for Robespierre the procedure of the trial still was too slow and too complex. After he had celebrated the Festival of Reason with great glamour for the amusement of the people on June 8th, Couthon had to propose a law which stated, that in the case of accusations in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the hearing of witnesses as not necessary.

            According to this article, it seems that for Robespierre, execution is nothing more than boring and complex work.

III.5 Analysis
            All three encyclopedias generally shows negative attitude towards Robesspierre, but slight difference of information reflects the characteristics of the encyclopedia. Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 admits that rule of Robespierre was a tragedy, but does not elaborate much on how Robespierre controlled people. I suppose it might be because, still there was one ruler in France, who could be compared with Robespierre by people. However, later version of encyclopedia specifically explained how brutal Robespierre was.

IV. Conclusion
            Based on the comparison and contrast among three encyclopedias above, we can see that by the time, the way how encyclopedia defines person changes. Especially this is very prominent between Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 and Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841. Former one was edited by Christian Wilhelm Franke, and latter one was edited by Dr. Karl August Espe. They were born in different era. Because Christian Wilhelm Franke lived during Napoleon Era, his idea towards rebellions by the third esatate is conservative, while Dr. Karl August Espe is more open to the rebellions by bourgeois because during middle of eighteenth century, bourgeois extended their influence with great capital. Therefore, articles from Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 are pro-bourgeois because the writer lived in the same era with Dr. Karl August Espe. To conclude, articles of encyclopedia are affected by the background of the writer.

Primary Sources

Note : websites quoted below were visited in May 2009.
1.      Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Article : Revolution von Frankreich, German language text posted by Zeno
English translation on WHKMLA,

2.      Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Article : Frankreich, German language text posted by Zeno
English translation on WHKMLA,

3.      Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Frankreich (3) , German language text posted by Zeno,
English translation on WHKMLA,

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