Monthly Archives: June 2012

A future beyond oil: blueprint for economic growth.



It will come as no revelation that Azerbaijan makes most of its money from oil. With the world price reasonably high and ample oil reserves already proven to exist in this country it may seem that there is room for complacency. Further, new oilfields are being discovered all the time especially in the Caspian Sea. This country has enough oil to keep the country financially afloat for decades or even longer.

One should not lose sight of the fact that the oil will one day run out. Before that happens the world may increasingly switch to renewable energies both for environmental reasons and for economic reasons. Why should a non-oil producing country such as India with an insatiable thirst for energy pay money to another country if India can produce clean energy at home?

Azerbaijan’s economic growth figure for last year was just 0.1%. For a country with so much oil and natural gas this statistic is very unimpressive. The United Kingdom’s economy, which is considered to be performing poorly, is growing by 1% per year.

Nigeria is said to have the curse of the resource rich country. 99% of its export earnings come from oil. Because there is such an easy way to make money there is little incentive to diversify the economy. Of course it is only a tiny proportion of Nigerians who see much of this lucre.

Azerbaijan could save as much of its oil for export as possible by setting up renewable energy projects. With Baku being the windy city there is plenty of scope for wind turbines. Insulated housing would also help to reduce energy usage.

Azerbaijan could take a leaf out of the UAE’s book. For that matter, Qatar has also provided a shining example about how to move from a single resource economy to a diversified economy. Use the oil wealth to set up businesses of other kinds. The UAE and Qatar have a thriving financial services sector; they have tax free shopping; they host prestigious international sporting events; they attracts tourists and so on. By having no income tax they attract dynamic people to live and spend there. These countries have well-known national airlines. They also have international hub airports. Both of them are entrepots.

Azerbaijan has great potential as a manufacturing country. Labour is cheap – people can be employed for as little as 200 manat a month. Because of the oil reserves this country can provide electricity very cheaply. Likewise road and rail transport is very affordable indeed. There is very little crime. Employment legislation makes hiring and firing simple. There is no trades union trouble. Health and safety regulations are light touch to say the least.

Azerbaijan could do well in textiles or possibly more highly skilled sectors such as electrical goods and motor vehicles.

If Azerbaijan became a manufacturing centre how would it transport goods out of the country and to whom would she sell her wares? Azerbaijan has five immediate neighbours. One of them does not bear talking about. As for the others: Iran has a growing economy and an increasingly acquisitive bourgeoisie. Cultural and family ties would promote trade there. Russia is a huge neighbour and she too has a growing economy. Her population is very large and she has a small but affluent upper middle class. Historical and linguistic links would promote trade with her. With Russian manufacturing in the doldrums this is a market that is ripe for the picking. Georgia is a very small country and not a wealthy one. There are some family ties with this country. Principally, Georgia would be a conduit for transshipping goods on to third countries. Azerbaijan also has a small frontier with Turkey in the Nakhjivan region. Turkey and Azerbaijan almost share a language and there is a sense of fraternity between the two Turkic nations. The commonality between these countries would stimulate much trade. Turkey’s economy is growing very rapidly. She has a burgeoning and ever more affluent middle class.

Azerbaijan’s products could be shipped out through the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean; they could be transported overland into Iran and then shipped through the Gulf; they could be transported by road and rail through Russia and thence to Western Europe. Although Azerbaijan is not close to the wealthy markets of North America and Western Europe this has not been a big hurdle for China.

There are some reforms that would encouraged the establishment and maintenance of a thriving multisector economy. Reducing or ideally abolishing corporation tax and capital gains tax would be a major step forward. The Republic of Ireland reduced its corporation tax to be one of the lowest in the European Union and thereby became the regional headquarters of many multinational companies.

The loose regulatory framework means that his country has, in a sense, a very business-friendly climate. On the other hand there are things that make doing business here tricky and tiresome. Getting foreign workers into the country is a pain. Obtaining a visa and then a work permit it time-consuming and frustrating owing to pettifogging rules. Importing and exporting cargo needs to be a lot faster if this country is to become a major trader.

Azerbaijan is promoting itself as a tourist destination. There needs to be more joined-up thinking on this issue. Some wouldbe tourists will take one look at the tourist visa procedure and then go elsewhere. If there is any money to be made from admitting people let it simply be a case of stamping them on arrival as in Turkey. Better still, copy the Ukraine and abolish visa requirements for those from rich countries. Azerbaijan does not have a serious problem with illegal immigration especially from the Western World so there is no need to keep such irritating and fussy rules which serve no purpose. In fact they redound very much to this country’s disadvantage.

A rigorous education system free of favouritism would also help. It could not hurt to make English a compulsory language. This is one of India’s huge advantages over China, for example.

There is no reason why this country should rely on foreigners to do jobs that Azeris could easily do for themselves. The oil industry employs welding inspectors and electricians from the British Isles. Azerbaijan has had oil for 150 years. Azeris should have these jobs instead of this country paying well over the odds to foreigners who then remit the money to their home countries.

The roads and railways need to be improved to allow much faster distribution of goods. The 15 hour train journey to Tblisi could be cut to a third of that.

A sovereign wealth fund like Norway’s would mean that this country would grow ever richer. Moreover, there are plenty of people who are underemployed. Some of the work force is not very productive. Many workplaces are overmanned. The labour force could be rationalised and more people sent to work in wealth producing roles.

France in 1789: reform into revolution.



The key date of the French Revolution is 14 July 1789. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Revolution occurred on one day. The important thing to realise is that the French Revolution was a process that took place over several years and not an event that happened in a short space of time. The other surprising thing is that the French Revolution was not revolutionary in the beginning. It began as an attempt to reform the existing system to make it more durable. The reform process got out of hand and turned into the destruction of the existing system and its replacement with something very different. It is certainly a world historical event. No one can contest its significance and long lasting effect in France and beyond.



By the late 1780s France’s creaking economic system was on the verge of collapse. France’s national debt had reached an unmanageable level. The compound interest on the debt was causing the overall debt to climb with frightening speed. France could not even service the interest on the debt. Traditionally a vingtieme was levelled on the Third Estate to pay off the debt – a vingtieme d’industrie being a ‘twentieth’ – or 5% of one’s income. But a vingtieme became two vingtieme (10%) and two became three and so on. The detested gabelle (salt tax) was also levied. A series of bad harvests had reduced many of the poor – especially the politically crucial and volatile urban poor – to starvation. The price of bread rose like the ballooning national debt. Patently something needed to be done – fast.

An Assembly of Notables had been called in 1787 and 1788 but little had come of it. The Assembly of Notable was – as its name implies – a gathering of important persons. They were the highest aristocrats, churchmen and princes of the blood royal. It was an invited and not an elected body. This hand picked body of those whom the king thought worthy of advising him would not consent to being taxed.

Cahiers des Doleances had been sent around the country. These were books of complaints. People were encouraged to write what they thought was wrong with the country and to propose changes. Naturally this led to high expectations of instant and far-reaching reform. Louis XVI, in 1774, had appointed a finance minister named Jacques Necker. The actual title of this Swiss gentleman was director-general of finances. He could not hold the title ‘Comptroller’ which a man with his powers normally held, because he was a Protestant. French law at the time restricted such offices only to those who professed the Roman Catholic version of the Christian religion. Necker had managed France’s parlous economic condition for many years. However, he had lied about how grave the situation was. He managed to secure loans to keep France solvent despite enormous expenditure on the war against Great Britain. The public believed it to be rosier than it really was. He entered into political controversies and was sacked in 1787. He was replaced by Calonne.

Calonne looked through the books only to discover that the financial situation was much worse than everyone had been told. Calonne raised taxed and cut public spending – an unpopular course but the only sensible one. In 1788 Calonne was dismissed and Necker was recalled. Louis XVI had bowed to public pressure rather than addressing the problem. It was decided that France needed to discuss its many severe problems and find solutions. Therefore Louis XVI sent his officials to look through the history books to find out how the Estates-General worked. No one could remember the regulations for it since it had not met in 175 years. _____________________________________________________________________


In early 1789 in all parts of France elections were held for the Estates-General. There were over 100 000 clergy and they were to have 300 representatives in the Estates General. In each county the male clergy and religious elected representatives. There were 250 000 aristocrats and they elected 300 representatives. In each county the aristocrats elected who was to represent them. There were millions of men of the third estate. They had to at first elect 300 representatives. Then it was decided that since the Third Estate comprised a high majority of the populace they ought to be permitted 600 representatives. Perhaps surprisingly one did not need to belong to an estate to represent it. For instance, a member of the Third Estate could be elected to represent the First Estate. An aristocrat could represent the Third Estate if they elected him. Emmanuel Jospeh Sieyes was a priest (therefore in the First Estate) yet he was elected to represent the Third Estate. No political parties existed in France at the time.

In May 1789 the Estates-General assembled at Versailles. Many of the representatives had never been to Versailles or even travelled far from their homes. They were unsure what their role was but almost everyone expected and wanted major change and pronto. They were all got up in their full regalia. Once they representatives were all assembled the king and his entourage entered the hall. Everyone got to their feet out of deference to His Majesty. His Majesty the King slowly processed through the hall to the Throne. The clergy and the aristocracy sat to the king’s right and much nearer him. The Third Estate sat to his left and at the far end of the hall. Those who had hoped for quick and meaningful reform were disappointed. Louis XVI was no judge of the public mood. He did not like discoursing to large groups of people. He was even glummer than usual and he made a very long and tedious address from the Throne. He appeared to be irritable, uptight and melancholic – even angry. People took this to signify that he did not want the Estates-General to meet, that he was unsympathetic to the plight of the people and that he was against reform. However, the true reason for his gloomy and irascible demeanour was a closely guarded secret, his eldest son was dying. Perhaps it would have been better to go public with this so people would have read the king’s mind correctly and in fact been on his side.

The discussions continued for days. It was all very slow going. The Estates-General stuck rigidly to protocol laid down centuries earlier. Men who were eager to speak and to do something to help their starving compatriots rapidly grew frustrated. Jacques Necker arrived to give a speech. He misinterpreted what the Estates-General wanted from him. He gave them a windy speech on the financial situation. They had wanted to hear about a reform package.

The Third Estate disliked the situation of voting by order. That is to say the decision of each estate counted for one vote. So if the First Estate and the Second Estate wanted something they would have it. Those two estates could overrule the will of the Third Estate. The Third Estate wanted voting by head – that is the say the vote of every individual representative would carry equal weight. There were 1200 representatives and to get anything passed one would therefore need 601 votes. This proposed change was a significant break with the past. It would empower the Third Estate and enfeeble the First Estate and the Second Estate. Nevertheless there were some in those estates who agreed with it. Necker sided with this demand. Some of the king’s reactionary advisers counselled him against it. The three estates began to meet separately and discuss separate things. 1200 men was just too large and unwieldy a legislature. Almost no legislature has so many people. The Third Estate voted to rename itself the National Assembly. It invited the other estates to join them as the National Assembly but stated that if they other estates did not do so then the National Assembly would carry on irregardless. The other two estates mainly ignored the invitation – a few from the First Estate and Second Estate did troop along to the National Assembly. The king finally agreed to voting by head. By then it did not seem like a gesture of goodwill but a concession wrung out of him when he was desperate to shore up his rapidly eroding authority. One of the few positive outcomes of the predicament for the King was the fact that the royal debt was renamed the national debt. This semantic change of course did nothing to reduce the debt.

His Majesty the King became worried that reform had run away already. Reactionaries said that the King ought never to have summoned the Estates-General in the first instance and the sooner it could be closed down the better. They set their face against the least concession to liberal opinion. Louis XVI was never a strong leader. He was losing control. He fell under the spell of some reactionary aristocrats and clergy.

Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes published a tract entitled, ”What is the Third Estate?” He answered his own question, ”It is nothing.” He further asked, ”What does it desire?”. Again he answered this, ”To be something.” He said that the Third Estate was the French nation. He said that the aristocracy and clergy were foreign to the nation by reason of their lassitude. There were a number of odd theories doing the rounds at the time such as the notion that the French aristocracy originated centuries before in a region of Germany called Franconia. Sieyes underlined the fact that, according to him, the nobles were literally foreign. He went on to allude to the aristocracy as ”Franconians.”



On 20 June the National Assembly arrived at Salle d’Etats to find it locked. Louis XVI had ordered them to be locked out of their normal meeting place. The Estates-General had met only 7 weeks earlier and he was already trying to reverse some of its reforms. He wanted to dissolve the National Assembly and restore the three separate estates as well as annulling the changes agreed upon by the National Assembly. If there were three estates he could use divided and rule to play one estate off against the others. The National Assembly was having none of this. They resorted to the nearest public space the tennis court. Here they spontaneously took the Tennis Court Oath. They swore not to disperse until such time as France had a constitution. A constitution is a document stating the fundamental rights of citizens and stating how government is to function.

Louis XVI had the tennis court locked as well so the National Assembly moved to a church. He could not constantly have troops follow the National Assembly around Paris locking every large building. Some Second Estate reactionaries had stood aloof from the National Assembly. By 23 June virtually all of them had joined the National Assembly. The Estates-General was dead – never to rise again. The National Assembly had united the three estates. The king was being controlled by events and not the other way around. He and some reactionaries feared that all order might break down. They considered whether they might have to shut the National Assembly by force and dismiss or arrest the politicians.

Louis XVI through June had been summoning soldiers to Paris from distant parts of France. He had also hired foreign mercenaries. The National Assembly renamed itself the Constituent National Assembly since it began debating the constitution that it intended to adopt. Confusingly the French legislature kept changing its name over the next few years. Jacques Necker gave another mendacious summary of the financial outlook to the National Assembly. Louis XVI had had enough of Necker dishonesty. Necker’s lies had made the situation get far worse in the 1780s. If it had been tackled earlier it might have been soluble. His lying had made it much harder for Calonne to deal with the situation. Louis XVI therefore sacked Necker a second time. Politicians and some ordinary Parisians began to fear that His Majesty Louis XVI was planning to close the Constituent National Assembly by force. As we known in fact he considered this option but had not decided on it. Therefore the politicians and their supporters needed weapons with which to resist an attempt to return to the old system. Robbery and looting became very widespread in Paris. Other cities were consumed by bread riots. All the political machinations had not stopped the food prices rising apace.



The Bastille was a fortress in the middle of Paris a little north of the Seine. This castle housed some political prisoners but also it was Paris’ store of gunpowder. A mob surrounded it and attacked it. The governor of the castle de Launay fought on for a while. He feared that the Bastille would be taken by storm. He agreed to surrender when the mob promised to spare his life. He opened the gates for the mob to come in. De Launay was promptly killed and his head was put on a spike. More importantly the defender of the Constituent National Assembly now had plenty of muskets and gunpowder with which to resist any attempt to shut them down. Seven prisoners were found in the Bastille and they were set free. People often misunderstand the storming the Bastille as an attempt to rescue the prisoners. In fact that was hardly a consideration at all. The aim was to seize the arms. The Marquis de Sade was in the Bastille for writing his depraved paedophilic fantasies into the One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom. Other people had been imprisoned there for adultery, debt as well as being political dissidents.

The Bastille has since been utterly razed. Not one stone stands on another. A column stands where the castle used to. Some soldiers went over to the side of the Constituent National Assembly. Louis XVI did not try to punish anyone for what they had done. The mayor of Paris was also killed by supporters of the Constituent National Assembly. It seemed that Louis XVI could not guarantee the safety of even his most prominent officials.

The Constituent National Assembly set up a body of armed men called the National Guard. The National Guard was composed of citizen soldiers. They were part-timers who had civilian jobs too. It was under the control of the Constituent National Assembly and not of the king. The first commander of the National Guard was the Marquis de la Fayette. La Fayette was a Frenchman who had fought in American alongside the American Revolutionaries. He was influenced by the ideals of the American Revolution and wished to bring them home to France. He was a reformer rather than a radical. Jean Sylvain Bailly, the president of the Constituent National Assembly, was elected by them as the new mayor of Paris. A new system of government for the capital – a system called Commune – was set up.

Those who supported the reform process took the red and blue flag of Paris and placed the Bourbon colour white in between it to make the tricolore. At first they could not decided if the bars were to be horizontal or vertical. Louis XVI said he accepted all the changes. He was not in a strong position to do anything else. He accepted a tricolore cockade and wore it. When he placed the tricolore cockade hat on his royal head he cried, ‘Vive la nation’ and this was answered with choruses of ‘Vive le roi!’.



Some reactionary aristocrats began to leave the country. They spoke to their friends and relatives about how the situation in France was slipping towards anarchy. Those who moved abroad as political refugees became known as emigres. In the countryside news of the momentous changes in Paris filtered through. Some radical minded peasants attacked the chateaux of unpopular aristocrats to vandalise and or rob. The politicised peasants were especially keen on getting their hands on documents that stated that aristocrats had seigneurial rights over the Third Estate. These documents were burned. On 4 August the Constituent National Assembly abolished feudalism. No longer would certain social classes have privileges. No longer would certain social classes have their liberty restricted and be required to do unpaid labour for others. Certain cities had enjoyed special rights arising from royal charters and these too were swept away. Certain individuals had bought public offices which entitled them to enrich themselves. This selling of government posts had been one of the ways for the cash-strapped Bourbon regime to keep itself financially semi-solvent. There was to be no more church tithe – a tax paid to the Roman Catholic Church by everyone including those who were Protestants and Jews. Protestants and Jews, unsurprisingly, were particularly keen on the revolution since it emancipated them.


In August 1789 the Constituent National Assembly unveiled an epoch-making document – The Rights of Man and of Citizen. This charter was not a constitution as such but an expression of the principles that were to underpin the constitution that the Constituent Assembly was painstakingly drafting. At that stage it does not appear to have crossed anyone’s mind that the monarchy should be abolished. Some argued for an upper chamber for the Constituent National Assembly. The conservative-minded wanted such a chamber to be elected only by aristocrats. However, this proposal was defeated. Instead the Constituent National Assembly remained unicameral – that means that it had only one chamber. The king’s power was reduced to a suspensive veto. He had the right to refuse to sign legislation but this could only give pause for thought. He could delay the implementation of legislation but he could not block it indefinitely. It is noteworthy that no one seemed to think of removing his political power altogether – they simply wanted to downgrade it.

France was reorganised into 83 departments. A ‘departement’ is the equivalent of a county in the Anglophone world. The departement were all to be roughly equal in land area and population. The historic names for regions were abolished since they gave rise to regional identity. The new names for departements all came from geographical features such as rivers, mountains, lakes, the sea and so forth. The tax districts and the bishoprics were made co-terminus with the departements. The prime motive of the revolution was surely economic.

The illiterate, famished masses knew nothing of the minutiae of constitutional theories. They craved bread. The Constituent National Assembly hummed and hawed over hair-splitting differences concerning such abstruse matters while the ordinary people starved. Some politicians with their ear to the ground realised that the Constituent National Assembly had left the most pressing problem unaddressed: the economy. The Constituent National Assembly was in danger of becoming a useless talking shop. Honore de Mirabeau proposed that Jacques Necker be given plenipotentiary control over economic and fiscal affairs. It was done. Honore de Mirabeau was a moderate in politics and an aristocrat by birth. He was secretly being paid by Louis XVI to try to steer the Constituent National Assembly away from radicalism.



Rumours were abroad that Louis XVI regretted many of the changes that had taken place that year. In fact these rumours were accurate. A false rumour spread that on 1 October Louis XVI had stamped on the tricolore cockade out of his detestation for the Revolution. There was also talk that bread was being hoarded at Versailles. Thousands of women gathered in Paris determined to march to the royal palace at Versailles. They were mostly fishwives and other working class women. On 5 October 1789 the women mustered at the Hotel de Ville (the City Hall). Many thousands of members of the National Guard went there too. Their commander, La Fayette, did not want his men to go on the march to Versailles. They told him that they would go with him or over him. This scarcely concealed threat to mutiny made him gave in and go along with the women. It was a sign that respect for authority was breaking down. La Fayette contented himself with the thought that he would be able to keep order. They then began their march to Versailles.

The women took weapons with them including cannon. They women reached Versailles – there were a few men among them too. The National Guard under Lafayette went too. He was supposed to keep order but in fact his men held back from involvement on either side. The King’s bodyguard (the Swiss Guard) confronted the protestors and tried to keep them out of the palace precincts. They were reluctant to fire on women. La Fayette wanted his National Guardsmen to prevent the women from enetering the palace but they refused to intervene. The women broke into the palace. Some Swiss Guards who tried to bar their way were killed. La Fayette was able to hurry the queen out of her bedchamber moments before the mob broke in. Had the hated queen been cornered by the fishwives it is probable that she would have been killed on the spot.

His Most Christian Majesty Louis XIV appeared on the balcony to cries of ‘Vive le roi!’. Later Marie Antoinette appeared and she was booed. Some raised muskets against her. She did not retreat. After a few tense seconds the guns were lowered and people cheered her. The women demanded that the royal family return with them to Paris and put up in a palace in the city centre. Fearing further bloodshed La Fayette talked the king into agreeing to this demand. The royal family moved to Paris accompanied by the jubilant female protestors. The royal family was then accommodated in the Tuileries Palace. They were virtual prisoners. Emigres abroad entered into discussions with other monarchs. They were very concerned about the situation. Feudalism was over. People in other countries might get ideas. Emperor of Austria was very worried about the safety of his sister, niece and nephew. ___________________________________________________________


In November 1789 the Constituent National Assembly took a proper step towards putting the country on a sounder economic footing. Church property was declared to be at the disposal of the nation. The state assumed all the charitable functions of the Church. Soon Church land was sold off to raise capital.

In July 1789 the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was promulgated. The clergy were to receive a salary from the state and in return swear loyalty to the state. Some priests swore loyalty to the French State – they were called juring priests. Those who refused to do so were called non-juring priests. In the end only 24% of priests took the oath. In February 1790 monsatic orders were closed down. Monks and nuns were laicised. Some married. The closure of these religious houses gave the state access to much farmland.

The Pope of Rome was very concerned about these developments. Pope Pius VI ordered the clergy not to take the oath of allegiance to the French State. He valued the Church’s independence. He believed that clergy must be answerable to him and not to the government of another country. He insisted that the Church must be allowed to own property. He disliked what had happened in France and was worried that other countries might follow suit. The Government of France did not quibble with the dogma of the Catholic Church only with his property ownership and political loyalty.


Moderates in the Constituent National Assembly formed the Club of 1789. They wished to defend the gains of the Revolution but not to push much further. Those who were radical formed the Jacobin Club. The Jacobin were so-called because they met near the Jacobin Monastery. A faction somewhere in between the positions of the Club of 1789 and the Jacobins was the Girondins. The Girondins were called that because many of their members hailed from the Gironde departement which is in the south-west of France. The Montagnards was another revolutionary faction. They took their name from their habit of sitting at the top of the chamber – in the mountains, as it were.

Some clergy began to identify with the liberal cause. One of these was Talleyrand. Talleyrand, being Bishop of Autun, presided over the first anniversary of the Fall of the Bastille celebrations. He said mass at the commemoration. He was probably not acting out of principle. He was a man without moral scruple of a firm principle. He had astutely judged which way the public mood was going.



Army officers and naval officers found it hard to maintain discipline among their men. Soldiers and sailors became increasingly slack in their discipline and sometimes openly disrespectful. A large proportion of the army officers were nobles and a smaller proportion of naval officers were nobles. Nobles, especially of a conservative cast of mind, began to leave the country more and more. They were prompted by unease at the changes that France had undergone since 1789. They disliked the loss of royal authority and the ever more radical tone of the pronouncements of the Constituent National Assembly. They were often upset about the Roman Catholic Church becoming an agency of the state. Some were disturbed by attacks on property. They saw the Church property being appropriated wholesale by the State. They feared for their personal property. Those who had movable capital tended to move it abroad – beyond the tentacles the Constituent National Assembly. Some aristocrats sold their estates while the estate was still theirs to sell.

Some naval officers and army officers were threatened by their men. As more and more army officers and to a lesser extent naval officers moved abroad other men were promoted in their places. These newer officers were normally from the Third Estate. They were closer to their men and while they inspireD less antagonism they often had less innate authority and were of course less experienced.

Those who moved abroad moved to the Austrian Empire, particularly the Austrian Netherlands as it was adjacent to France. Some moved to the Rhineland states in Germany and to Prussia. Some moved to Spain and to the northern Italian states. A few moved to the United Kingdom. It should be remembered that there was no one Germany at the time. Germany was divided into roughly 360 countries. Some of them were little more than a large estate and others were considerable kingdoms such as Prussia. Italy likewise was divided into two dozen states. Some were city states such as Genoa, others were large kingdoms such as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Papal States as a series of fiefdoms of the Pope in central Italy.

French exiles found sympathetic ears among aristocrats in other countries. Conservatives and kings abroad grew more and more alarmed and the sweeping changes taking place in France. For a couple of centuries where France led Europe followed. People began to fear that the French Revolution would spread like a fever. Leopold II, Emperor if Austria, was especially keen to intervene. For the moment his sister was able to persuade him to stay his hand because if he did send troops into France it would do more harm than good.

The aristocrats who remained in France tended to be the less wealthy ones. They had less to lose and less opportunity to set up a new life in another country. They generally professed their approval of the changes wrought since 1789. In some cases this was genuine and in other cases it was opportunism or even an insincere expression of opinion in order to try to assure their safety.

The Constituent National Assembly became worried about the emigres. The emigres were not too discrete in their calls for other European monarchies to intervene to restore what they saw as sanity in France before the contagion spread. The Constituent National Assembly considered legislation to ban people from leaving the country without permission. Honore de Mirabeau counselled against this on the basis that such a law would negate the libertarian spirit of the Revolution. An individual must have the right to go where he please without hindrance. Mirabeau’s proposal was narrowly carried. Later, in 1791, Mirabeau died. The law against emigration was passed. Exiles also were declared to have forfeited their property. ___________________________________________________________________________________________


France introduced trial by jury. It was declared that the King had the right to propose war but only the Constituent National Assembly could agree or disagree to such a proposal. The rights of guilds were abolished. Anyone could practise any trade so long as he purchased a right to do so. This was good insofar as it ended the closed shop. However, this meant that some unqualified people tried to practise trades in which they were incompetent. Strikes were outlawed. Trade barriers were scrapped. This facilitated the movement of goods and at last did something to bring down the price of food. However, it made the state’s finances even worse.

Marie-Antoinette grew even more loathed. People said she was having an affair with the Marquis de la Fayette. This was demonstrably false since she loathed him both for his liberal opinions and his acquiesence in the royal family being shifted from Versailles to Les Tuileries. _______________________________________________________________________________________


Louis XVI rued the day he had called the Estates-General. Changes had gone much further than he had envisaged. He was reduced to being a mere ghost of a king. It would be very difficult to reverse most of the changes. He was in secret communication with other monarchs above all his brother-in-law the Emperor of Austria. At that stage Louis XVI refused to countenance calling for foreign armies to invade overthrow the Constituent National Assembly and restore the old system. Some reactionaries were calling for just such a course of action. Several plans for escape were drawn up. Marie-Antoinette had plenty of opportunities to escape with her daughter and her son Louis-Charles. However, she said she would not go without the king. If she fled it would make the king’s situation even more perilous.

Louis XVI dithered over whether to flee or not. He had trouble making up his mind over who would go with him and the exact details of any escape plan. When finally he decided that they would flee it had become harder to accomplish an escape. In June 1791 the escape kicked off. In the middle of the night the royal family climbed into a coach. Louis XVI left a note cancelling the milk. They assumed false identities. They had six passports for seven people. They left Paris without difficulty. They were heading for the Austrian Netherlands. The next morning the servants in the Tuileries Palace found the note that Louis XVI had written saying not to deliver any milk. This made them realise he was not just somewhere else in the huge palace. Why had he wasted time alerting his enemies like this?

The royal family chose a particularly large and heavy coach that moved slowly. The wheels had trouble. The servants were dressed in the royal livery. They stopped at an inn at the town of Varennes while the coach was repaired. It was almost 24 hours since they had left Les Tuileries Palace. Someone recognised the king’s face from the coins. The royal family were seized and escorted under guard. They were only 20 kilometres from the border. It took a week for them to get back to Paris. They were met by a sullen silent crowd.

The Jacobins, the most revolutionary of all factions, were incensed. The Flight to Varennes had strengthened their hand. For the first time they called for the abolition of the monarchy. Suspicion fell in Louis XVI. Why had he tried to make a break for it? He claimed he was going to a fortress town for greater safety and he wished to be able to organise the defence of France in case of an invasion being launched by Austria. This explanation was unconvincing because it was bogus. In 1791 Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz together with King Frederick of Prussia. They said that they were deeply concerned by the situation in France which menaced the peace and stability of Europe. They said that if any harm were to come to the Bourbons there would be grave consequences for those who hurt the Lord’s annointed. French emigres heartily approved of the text. Radical Frenchmen viewed it as a provocation.



In September 1791 France adopted a new constitution. Publicly Louis XVI said that he approved of this. It would have been foolhardy to say anything else.

Leopold II had died and been succeeded by his son Francis II. Francis II was also eager to intervene in France to save his aunt and cousins. He began to move troops to the borders of France. Francis II like his father was also happy to take advantage of disorder in France and the weakness of France’s armed forces to help himself to French territory.

One 20 April 1792 France declared war on Austria. Louis XVI privately was circumspect about the war but then he was circumspect about everything. He partly disapproved of such a move but the public clamour for war was irresistible. He could not afford to become even more unpopular. He could see a ray of hope on the horizon. If France were defeated then the revolutionary government could be overthrown and all the changes since 1789 could be reversed. The best thing that could happen for French reactionaries was a French defeat. On the other hand if France emerged victorious it might enhance the prestige of the Crown and perhaps Louis XVI could claw back some of the powers that he had forfeited. He had little sympathy for his wife’s nephew Francis II. Francis II like Leopold II had done nothing concrete to assist the embattled Bourbons. In fact both had antagonised revolutionaries in France and made the position of the Bourbons even more awkward than it already was.

The conservative faction in the National Assmebly, the Feuillants, were eager for war. Likewise the centrists (Girondins) also clamoured for war. Perhaps oddly in view of their later attitude it was the Jacobin faction that was most sceptical about the war. Maxemilien Robespierre sounded a note of caution. Robespierre acidly remarked, ”no one welcomes armed missionaries.” He realised that revolution was not necessarily a good for export. Liberals and radicals in neighbouring countries, especially the German states, were impressed by the French Revolution and wished to emulate it. However, they would find it hard to agree to being invaded by France. The high principles of the French Revolution would become besmirched by their association with territorial aggression.

Louis XVI vetoed a number of proposals to limit his power. He also refused to assent to a law to confiscate the property of emigres without trial. He refused to agree to a further extension of state control over the Roman Catholic Church – this was a matter of conscience for him. He became known by the cognomen Monsieur Veto and his wife as Madame Veto. People suspected Marie-Antoinette of being a spy for Austria.

The calls for the abolition of the monarchy became louder and more widespread. France suffered some heavy defeats. Radicals were inclined to say this was all down to spies and not ill-preparedness or a paucity of seasoned officers. Of course the food situation grew worse in war as men and horses were taken away from their farms for war service.

In August 1792 a mob burst into Les Tuileries and forced the king to don a Phrygian cap to show his solidarity with the Revolution. Another mass break in to Les Tuileries led to many of the Swiss Guard being killed. Louis XVI and his family were moved to the tower of the Temple in rather worse conditions. The Legislative Assembly voted to suspend the monarchy.

The United Kingdom foresaw the distinct possibility of war against France. Given that the French Army was performing so poorly indeed it seemed like a good chance for the UK to beat France and gain land. France became aware of the British preparations in case of war. France therefore declared war. This was a rather unwise move as France was in a bad enough situation already. War against the UK was not a foregone conclusion and the bellicose revolutionary government had made it certain. France also declared war on Prussia. Being a land based power with a legendary army Prussia was a much greater threat to France than the UK was. The last thing the French revolutionary government needed was more enemies. This was the War of the First Coalition. The UK, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire, Naples, the Ottoman Empire and Spain were soon all coalesced against revolutionary France. French emigres were often serving in these armies.

French emigres said they were not fighting against France but FOR France – the REAL France. They said the revolutionaries were a pretended government and they the emigres would bring back the proper government of France. The Duke of Brunswick made major inroads into France. His Prussian Army captured Verdun in late August 1792.

The Duke of Brunswick issued his famous Brunswick Manifesto stating his intention to crush the Revolution and put the king back on this Throne with full powers. With the major fortress city of Verdun in enemy hands it seemed likely that he would reach Paris. Many people were arrested and accused of being spies for Austria. Others were said to be spies for the United Kingdom or other hostile countries. Mostly they were Frenchmen who were accused of passing military secrets for money or out of ideological conviction. Foreigners were especially subject to suspicion. An espionage hysteria swept France. Non-juring priests were often accused of conspiring with foreign powers. To be fair most non-juring priests were of counter-revolutionary sympathies. Aristocrats who were not outspoken in their support for the Revolution were also liable to fall under suspicion.

The prisons of Paris and other cities became so choc full that churches were used as overflow prisons. In September 1792 some priests being transferred from one Paris prison to another were set upon and killed by a mob. This sparked off a mass killing of prisoners mostly without any semblance of a trial. Prison guards became killing prisoners who had been dubbed traitors and mobs entered prisons to kill the accused. About 1200 people were slain. Priests were the most likely to be killed in proportion to their numbers. Some did have shambolic trials mostly in front of drunken juries. The verdict was invariably guilty and the punishment was almost always death.

Elections were held. Almost every man in France over 21 was allowed to vote. This was subject to a one year residency requirement. Candidates for the National Convention had to be over the age of 25. The right to vote was for those who lived by the product of their labour. This excluded those who lived off rent or inheritance. This was probably the first democratic election in the world. In Ancient Athens the masses came and voted in the parliament itself and did not elect representatives. Further, Athens had plenty of slaves. In France in 1792 there were almost no slaves, not in France itself. There were slaves in the colonies of course, particularly the Antilles.

The National Convention met on 20 September 1792. The next day the National Convention voted to abolish the monarchy. France was declared a republic. For some reason the date of the abolition of the monarchy was always taken to be 22 September rather than the true date – 21 September. All royal and aristocratic titles were abolished. People were no longer even addressed as Mister, Mrs or Miss. Instead everyone was known as Citizen.

By what revolutionaries took to be an auspicious coincidence the day the National Convention met for the first time was the day that the Revolutionary Army pulled off a remarkable victory over the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy.

Louis XVI was imprisoned. He was not known by his surname ‘Bourbon’ but by the surname of the first dynasty of French kings. Therefore the ex-king was called ‘Citizen Louis Capet’.



The Terror killed many innocent people but also killed some guilty ones too. France ordered a levee en masse. That is to say that every man was liable for war service. Many served in the army and navy but some did non-military service such as repairing roads, loading supplies onto wagons and so forth.

Soldiers from Marsailles had a song they called, ‘The War song of the Army of the Rhine’. It was written, both music and lyrics, by Rouget de Lisle in 1792. As it was sung by men from Marsailles that it has become known as La Marsaillaise. It was officially adopted as the French National Anthem in 1795.

At the Battle of Valmy a half-trained French Revolutionary army pulled off a surprise victory over Prussia. Revolutionary France was saved – for the moment at least. The Coalition was thrown back. The French Revolutionary Army conquered all the land west of the Rhine and they conquered what we now call Belgium too. Back then it was known as the Austrian Netherlands. The French Revolutionary Government revived the ancient Latin name for the area – Belgium and set it up as a satellite state. This move was soon to become standard practice for conquered lands. It was the French conquest of the Austrian Netherlands that really riled the United Kingdom. Had this land not been taken by France then peace with the United Kingdom could have been preserved. The Dutch Republic also felt very threatened by this and declared war against France.

In La Vendee (west-central France) a royalist revolt began. The Counter-Revolutionaries in La Vendee were exercised by a number of things. The attack on their regional identity, their outrage at the treatment of the king, the burdensome taxes, the conscription of youths arising from the totally unnecessary and unwinnable war but above all else by the attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Officials of the Revolutionary Government were lynched. Non-juring priests were to the fore in leading the fightback against the Revolutionary Government.

One can study a map of the percentage of non-juring priests in different departements of France. The percentage of non-juring priests is a good indicator of the strength of counter-revolutionary sentiment in different regions. Based on this evidence one can see that the strongholds of counter-revolutionary opinion were La Vendee; Spanish border area; the Rhine Valley and the extreme north of France. By contrast the regions where the Revolution was most popular were the area immediately around Paris and also the south-east corner of France, bordering Italy.

The layout of the areas of strong counter-revolutionary feeling is partly explained as being areas where Paris traditionally had little authority because they were fairly far from the capital. Moreover, the border areas were safer areas for one to be a counter-revolutionary because one could receive succour from abroad and perhaps flee over the frontier should the need arise.

The royalist rebellion in La Vendee was eventually put down. At least 117 000 Vendeeans were killed. Some historians estimate the figure as double that. Civilians were often killed. SOme non-juring priests were crucified.



In January 1793 Louis XVI was put on trial. He was allowed time to prepare a defence. He was accused of various crimes. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against him was a series of letters found in a locked drawer. These letters, in his own hand, showed that he had been in correspondence with foreign monarchs and that he had conspired with them to invade France to bring about the defeat of the Revolutionary Government.

The National Convention acted as the court. Louis XVI was found guilty. The National Convention had more difficulty in deciding upon the sentence. Could the former king be executed? To do so might make him a martyr. It would fill other monarchs with rage and a determination to avenge his death. It would inspire the counter-revolutionaries. Perhaps he should be imprisoned instead. On the other hand it might be too risky to let the erstwhile king live. He would be a focal point for royalist plots. He could escape or be rescued. Moreover, some argued that justice demanded that the former king be put to death. Tens of thousands of minor royalists had been killed and it would be an abomination to suffer the tyrant to live.

In the end the National Convention narrowly voted that the former monarch be punished with death. Those who voted for death, as a rule of thumb, were the more radical deputies in the National Convention. On the other hand those who voted for lesser punishment such as incarceration, generally speaking, tended to be those who were of a more moderate political outlook. Louis XVI’s distant cousin was the Duke of Orleans. The Orleans family were a cadet branch of the Bourbons. The Duke of Orleans decided to be known as Philippe Egalite. Egalite meaning ‘equality’. He voted for his cousin to be put to death.

On 20 January 1793 Louis XVI was taken to Place de la Revolution as it was then called. Thereat he was made to kneel before the guillotine and his head was smitten from his body. The square where the monarch was put to death has since be renamed Place de la Concorde. His wife, daughter and son remained in prison.

It is said that Marie-Antoinette proclaimed her 8 year old son as King Louis XVII. Certainly royalists regarded the boy as being king.

In Septmeber 1793 Marie-Antoinette was put on trial. Her trial was a more hurried and manifestly unjust affair than that of her late husband. She was accused of having proclaimed her son as king which she denied. She was accused of having masturbated her son. She said, ”Nature herself refuses to answer such a question.” The prosecution had over reached themselves. This question was seen to be so cruel and the accusation so unbelievable that they had actually strengthened the defence and generated sympathy for Marie-Antoinette. Despite this tactical error on the part of the prosecution the outcome was never in doubt in the matter of Marie-Antoinette. She was adjudged guilty and sentenced to the supreme sanction. She was duly punished with death.

The young Louis XVII remained in prison in insanitary conditions. In 1795 he died of an illness. His sister remained locked up. After a few years, in a rare display of mercy, the Revolutionary authorities saw fit to release her.

Louis XVI’s brothers had left the country some years before. These were le Comte de Provence and le Comte d’Artois. Le Comte de Provence was proclaimed as King Louis XVIII by Royalists. Members of the House of Bourbon tended to have several forenames. Louis XVI and his brother Louis XVIII both had ‘Louis’ among their many forenames and that is why, confusingly, the brothers both reigned under the same name. So many French kings had used that name that it became almost synonymous with king.

The execution of Louis XVI caused Spain and a number of smaller countries to declare war on revolutionary France. To kill Louis XVI, in pragmatic terms, was surely a mistake.



France was at war against several other countries. With the Counter-Revolutionaries controlling various regions of France it was patent that the Revolution was very much in danger.

A Committee of Public Safety was established. The Committee of Public Safety was tasked with rooting out enemies of Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety was under the control of a Jacobin statesman named Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre came from a Third Estate family in northern France. He was academically gifted and had won a scholarship to College Louis le Grand. When Louis XVI had visited the college the star pupil was brought out to give a loyal address in Latin to the king. That pupil was Robespierre. Robespierre was known as the Incorruptible. He was known for his inflexible devotion to the Revolution. He had been a lawyer of liberal views before the Revolution and had called for the abolition of the death penalty. This was very far ahead of its time. However, as the Revolution wore on he came to be a very inhumane person. His extremely promiscuous use of the death penalty makes him one of the world’s most notorious state terrorists.

Thousands of people were accused of being Royalists and spies on behalf of foreign countries. After hasty trials they were guillotined. In Nantes mass drownings were used to extirpate supposed enemies of the people. Sometimes the condemned were forced to dig their own graves before their execution.

St Just was a young Jacobin deputy in the National Convention. He became the witch finder general of the Revolution.

The various revolutionary factions began squabbling among themselves. The Jacobins accused others, especially the Girondins, of being too moderate. Several leading Girondins were executed on trumped up charges. Those who refused to display sufficient revolutionary zeal were likely to be accused of being a counter-revolutionary. Those who had not supported the execution of the king were especially suspect.

The Law of Suspects was passed.

In July 1793 a Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat received word that someone needed to speak to him privately. Marat was suffering from a skin diseases so he spent a lot of time in the bath. Although he was a doctor he was keener on killing than curing. As a member of the Committee of Public Safety he had dispatched many to the guillotine on flimsy evidence. A young woman from Normandy came to speak to him because she had information about a counter-revolutionary plot. When she was close enough she stabbed him to death. Corday was avenging the death of her friends. She too was guillotined.

At least 18 000 people were executed for political crimes from 1793-1794. Some historians estimate that up to a further 40 000 people were put to death or died in prison whilst awaiting trial. Even those who were too extreme in their advocacy of revolutionary zeal could become suspect. Was their excess of vigour a means of disguising their true counter-revolutionary intentions?

An ultra radical faction called the enrages emerged. They were called this because they were ‘enraged’. The enrages were led by Herbert. They allied with the sans-culottes. The sans-culottes were the Paris working class. They had this nickname because they did not wear knee breeches that the middle and upper classes wore. Knee breeches were worn to show that one had a horse to ride since these trousers are the most sensible to wear if riding. The sans-culottes wore full length trousers. The sans culottes were attracted to the enrages policies of a fixed bread price.

The material condition of the French people did not improve. The Law of the Maximum was passed. This set a maximum price for foodstuffs and various other essential goods. This probably worsened the food shortage. The prices were artificially low so farmers did not bother to sell food to cities and even produced less. The Revolutionary Government sent troops into the countryside to requisition food.

The Ventose decrees of 1794 were passed. This allowed for the confiscation of the property of exiles and its redistribution among the poor. It was never fully carried out. It was popular and did a little to alleviate the paucity of food.

In 1794 the Battle of Fleurus was won. The Coalition was defeated in the Austrian Netherlands. The French Revolutionary Army conquered the Netherlands. The Netherlands was renamed the Batavian Republic. The House of Orange, who always held the Statholdership of the Netherlands for over 200 years, were expelled from the country. This new state was effectively a satrapy of France. In 1794 Prussia stopped fighting. In 1795 she formally made peace with France at the Treaty of Basel. France ruled all the land west of the River Rhine. Spain also made peace with France.


In 1793 the Revolutionary Government began an aggressive campaign of de-christianisation.

A new calendar was drawn up. It was officially adopted in October 1793. This was backdated to start on 21 September 1792 – this date was chosen as Day 1 of Year I because that day was the moment when the French Republic was proclaimed. The new calendar has a 10 day week. The last 2 days of the week were weekend days. There were 3 days in a month. Therefore there were 30 days in a month. 12 months made up the main part of a year – thus being composed of 360 days of ordinary time. There was a 5 day holiday at the end of a year to make up the year to 365 days. The 365 days were not part of any month.

The months were descriptive of the action of nature in the Northern Hemisphere during the time of that month. They took their names from Latin, Ancient Greek and French. They were Pluvose (rainy), Ventose (windy), Nivose (snowy), Brumaire (foggy), Vendemaire (vintage), Frimaire (frost), Germinal (seeds), Prairial (meadows), Floreal (flowers), Thermidor (heat), Fructidor (fruit) and Messidor (harvest).

The aim of adopting a new calendar was partly to bring about a completely new civilisation. Further, it made if tricky to figure out when Sunday was. It was difficult for Christians then to worship on Sunday. The celebration of other Christian feasts was made more difficult because it was hard to calculate the date of Easter and Christmas if everyone was using a new calendar.

A new religion was formulated called the Cult of Reason. A brief credo of this was written as, ”The French people believe in the Supreme Being and immortality of the soul.” This was inscribed on former churches and former cathedrals. These churches and cathedrals were converted to the purpose of being temples of the new faith. It was incongruous with this new supposedly rational religion inventing a new deity. However, revolutionaries recognised that the outlawing of Christianity had left a lacuna in the French national psyche. It was very difficult for people at the time to feel content without a religion. Furthermore, soldiers would be more willing to lay down their lives if they believed that paradise awaited them.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in the middle of Paris was renamed the Temple of the Supreme Being.

A festival of this new religion was held. Nubile girls were dressed as goddesses of reason and were paraded through the streets. In the summer of 1794 this cult reached its zenith.

The metric system was adopted. This system had been devised earlier but no country had officially introduced it. It involved millimetres, centimetres, metres and kilometres for distance. Weight was measured in grammes, kilograms and metric tonnes. Temperature was measured in degrees celsius. Volumes was measured in millilitres and litres. The system was based on the decimal system for ease of calculation. The system was meant to be internally consistent. From the Equator to either Pole was reckoned to be 10 000 km. In fact this was a small miscalculation. It was all rational and easy to comprehend.


It was widely perceived that the Terror had gone too far. It was incontestable that many innocent people had died. People had been killed for their opinions and even their thoughts. The Jacobin faction that held power had done very little to help ordinary people or to conduct the war to a successful conclusion. The other factions planned to oust the Jacobins. Chief among these factions was the Girondins.

In July 1794 doyens of the Jacobins were arrested and brought to trial. These luminaries included Maxemilien Robespierre and Louis Antoine St Just. All were found guilty as charged. They met the fate that they had devised for so many others. This slaying of Jacobins became known as the White Terror. The name is misleading since ‘White’ was the colour of the Bourbon flag and thus of conservatism. The Girondins were not royalists, they were just more moderate in their republicanism than the Jacobins had been.

The new Revolutionary Government became a little more moderate. Not so many people were accused of being backsliders and sent to the guillotine. The Cult of Reason lost its official sanction and rapidly withered. It had no firm support among the public.

The Girondins were clearly in the saddle. The persecution of Christianity was wound down. In 1795 Christianity was legalised again. This took much of the fervour out of the counter-revolutionary cause. However, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Revolutionary Government remained frosty. There was still the matter of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the expropriation of ecclesiastical property without compensation.

The counter-revolutionaries still presented a major threat to the survival of the revolutionary regime. However, the counter-revolutionaries did not have an immediate prospect of victory whereas in 1793 they had had such a realistic prospect. The counter-revolutionaries had control of much of Provence which is on the Mediterranean coast of France. They were supplied by the Royal Navy.

Counter-revolutionaries occasionally assassinated revolutionary figures. Girls who had participated in pageants of the Cult of the Supreme Being were sometimes murdered.


In 1795 France passed a new constitution. It was called the Constitution of Year III. It was approved by a referendum. The legislature became bicameral. There was the Council of Five Hundred. Its number of members was just as its name indicates. There was also a Council of Ancients. The Council of Ancients was made up of 250 men all aged over 40. One curious feature of the constitution is that universal manhood suffrage was abandoned. Only men of at least a little property were to be allowed to vote.

It was decided that France needed a leadership. The notable thing is that while there were some famous names of the Revolution earlier on there was no official leader. Revolutionaries felt that to have one man in charge would risk a dictatorship emerging. Therefore it was decided to establish a collective leadership of five men. This quintumvirate was called the Directory. The Directory was appointed for one year at a time. A director could be renewed in his post indefinitely. All five directors were equal to each other.

The Directory was later slimmed down to three men. The Directory disregared its own constitution. Elections were fixed and the police were used to lock up dissenters. Still a measure of stability was returning to France. People were weary of confusion and war. The royalist threat was receding.



France fought against her many enemies. By 1795 the main battlefield against the Holy Roman Emperor was in Italy. The northern Italian states were under Austrian domination. By that stage other countries had found it prudent to make peace with revolutionary France. Prussia, minor German states and Spain pulled out of the war. For the time being these absolute monarchies were willing to tolerate a revolutionary regime in France so long as it tolerated them. This left only the Holy Roman Empire and the United Kingdom in the field.

France had done well. She had gained territory and placed some neighbouring countries under her effective control. She exacted enormous indemnities from her bested enemies. This finally put French finances on an even keel. The trouble was as war became self-financing and even rewarding it was tempting to continue to press one’s luck and to carry on fighting without end.

There rose to fame a young Corsican officer named Napoleone Buonaparte. This Italian-accented youth had only started learning French at the age of 10. He trained as an artillery officer. He went along with the French Revolution. He identified with the Jacobin faction. His younger brother Lucien was more politically engaged. At the fall of the Jacobins Napoleone, as he still spelt his name, was imprisoned. It was possible that he would be executed. He was able to talk his way into being released partly because the army was very short of artillery officers.

Napoleone soon changed the spelling of his name to the French style – Napoleon Bonaparte. He was able to calculate the trajectory at which to fire cannon at Toulon to defeat the counter revolutionaries and British who held that Mediterranean port. The enemy was driven out. Napoleon was able to be promoted quickly partly due to his native abilities. He also had great opportunities because of the aristocrats who had fled abroad and other officers who were killed in action.

Napoleon took command of the troops in Italy. He found them often ill and underfed. They were very poorly equipped. He took an interest in their welfare and learnt many of their names. He soon won the affection of his men.

French policy in Italy, at first, had been to try to set up carbon copies of the French Republic in Italy. The Church was made an agency of the state. Monarchies were abolished. This inspired much resistance.

Napoleon was cannier than previous French conquerors. He sought to seduce local worthies and not to destroy the prevailing system. He successfully suborned many local aristocrats. He respect the rights of the Roman Catholic Church. Before long France had conquered northern Italy and driven out the military of the Holy Roman Empire. Napoleon looted many art treasures and had them sent back to France. His stock rose enormously.

With the Holy Roman Empire all but beaten there remained only the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire as enemies against France. The Counter-revolutionaries had few friends left. Most countries decided to accept that Revolution in France. France was no longer actively attempted to spread its revolution abroad.

The Directory back in France voted that non-juring priests would not be prosecuted. This did a lot to allay Catholic hostility to the French Revolution.



The British Empire could not be defeated, it seemed because of the Royal Navy. Ireland was then a sister kingdom of Great Britain. The Irish establishment was wedded to the connection to Great Britain. Radicals in Ireland were filled with admiration for the American Revolution and the French Revolution. They wished to replicate this revolution in Ireland but also to sever Ireland’s link with her neighbour. Irish radicals flocked to France. They lobbied Paris for a French army to be dispatched to Ireland in order to assist an Irish Revolution. There was an attempt to do so in 1796. The weather defeated this attempt. Napoleon considered sailing to Ireland and landing there to defeat Great Britain. In the end he decided to leave this to General Lazare Hoche. Napoleon set his own sights elsewhere.

Napoleon hit on a plan to smash the British Empire. He saw that India was the most valuable British colony. He wanted to take Egypt to cut the United Kingdom off from India. This showed a want of logic. There was no Suez Canal at the time. British ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India. Egypt is a very long way from India about 3000 kilometres. If a French army conquered Egypt then there would be a very long march to get to India. There were scorching deserts and very high mountains in between. How could a French army get all the way from Egypt to India without being more or less wiped out by enemy action and disease? How could such an army be supplied and given reinforcements. It was harebrained scheme and it should not have come as a surprise that it failed.

Napoleon was enamoured of the glamour of a loosely defined East. It was the beginning of a cult of Orientalism among Westerners. He considered converting to Islam or composing his own Quran. He spoke of wearing a turban and riding an elephant into India. His intention of conquering India by way of Egypt owes more to this fantasia than any workable plan.

In May 1798 Napoleon set sail from Mediterranean France to Egypt. He conquered Malta on the way. It was no longer ruled by the Knights of Malta as it had been for centuries. The Royal Navy was aware of Napoleon’s plan. They scoured the Mediterranean Sea and wished to intercept and sink the French fleet. Napoleon landed in Egypt and scored some easy victories. Napoleon’s men had modern weapons. Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was effectively an independent dominion of the Ottoman Empire. The Mamelukes had been ruling Egypt for centuries.

Napoleon won the Battle of the Pyramids hands down. The battle, despite the name, was not fought in sight of the pyramids. Napoleon’s infantry squares cut down Mameluke cavalry Napoleon entered Cairo. He greeted the Muslim leaders of the city with respect. He stressed his admiration for Islam.

Napoleon ruled northern Egypt without too much trouble. He sent men further down the Nile and there they ran into trouble trying to extend French control beyond what was feasible.

Napoleon took 200 savants with him. They were historians, scientists and linguists. He wanted a study of Egypt to be done and for Ancient Egypt to be better understood. Champoillon was the person he mostly famously had accompanying him. This man cracked the Rosetta Stone and thereby unlocked the long dead Ancient Egyptian languages.

Rather than wait for the Ottoman Army to counter-attack Napoleon decided to press his advantage. If he allowed the Ottomans time they would gather forces and attempt to retake Egypt. He marched north into Palestine. The French Army took the Holy Land without much difficulty. Napoleon kept pressing on – next into Lebanon and Syria. His men besieged the British and Ottoman forces at Acre. Many of Napoleon’s men began dying of plague. Napoleon took 2000 Ottoman prisoners. When the time came to retreat he ordered them all to be killed. This atrocity is a horrendous stain on his record.

The Royal Navy under Admiral Lord Nelson cornered the French Fleet in Aboukir Bay on the north coast of Egypt. The Royal Navy scored a stunning victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile. Most of the French warships were sent to Davy Jones’ locker.

Napoleon suddenly found himself out of touch with France. He could not receive more cannon, ammunition, reniforcements or even news. The Royal Navy’s domination of the Mediterranean was all but unchallenged. Napoleon decided to abandon his men in Egypt. Rather shamefully he took one of the few French ships left and sailed home. His successor in Egypt soon surrendered his entire army. In September 1799 Napoleon landed back in France.



The United Irishmen was a revolutionary secret society active in Ireland from 1793 onwards. Theobald Wolfe Tone was the leader of the United Irishmen. Government spies in Ireland learnt of the plan for the United Irishmen to launch a rebellion in May 1798. The United Irishmen were aware that they had very little chance of success without foreign military intervention.

The Irish Government searched houses for arms and found many caches. Key players in the United Irishmen conspiracy were arrested. The United Irishmen felt they had to strike before most of the leading members of their organisation were lifted. In May 1798 the rebellion started prematurely. The support of the Catholic peasantry for the rebellion was not as widespread as one may be led to believe. The Roman Catholic Church opposed the revolt. They had not forgotten the cruel persecution of the Church in revolutionary France even though this had been suspended a few years earlier. Despite the fact that the foot soldiers of the revolt were mostly working class Catholics the leaders were chiefly Protestant middle class intellectuals.

The rebellion achieved some success in County Wexford and in County Down. This was largely a jacquerie. Poor Catholic farmers were attacking the Government and Protestants more generally. Some massacres of Protestants took place in the South of Ireland. The revolt in Wexford was largely smashed at the Battle of Vinegar Hill.

The French Army landed at Mayo on the West coast of Ireland. They formed the Republic of Connaught together with United Irishmen elements there. The French Army printed proclamations saying that a democratic state was being established. It is worth pointing out that the language they printed the message in was English.

The French Army and its United Irishmen confederates got as far as Ballinamuck in the middle of Ireland. There they were defeated.

The United Irishmen were mainly executed. They almost all fought out of uniform and were rebels against the King of Ireland. The French soldiers were treated as soldiers.

Tone’s ship was captured by the Royal Navy off the coast of Donegal. He was taken to Dublin and tried for high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. He requested that he be shot as a soldier. His request was declined. In prison he cut his throat and died.

Many historians think that the Expedition to Egypt was a huge error. It did very little to weaken the British Empire and was a scandalous waste of French resources. Had all the effort gone into the expedition instead been diverted to Ireland then France would probably have conquered Ireland. Then France would have been in a much stronger position to attack Great Britain. Using Ireland as a launch pad the French Army could have sailed across the Irish Sea and landed at almost any point in Great Britain. The Royal Navy did not have enough ships to guard the English Channel and the Irish Sea at the same time.

Whither the Olympics?


Who should host the 2020 Olympics?

Three countries are in the running to host the summer Olympics in 2020. These are Turkey, Spain and Japan.

Japan has been selected twice before – in 1940 and 1964. For obvious reasons Olympics did not go ahead in Japan in 1940. The Japanese were exercising elsewhere at the time. Japan certainly has the dosh to put on the games. She co-hosted the 2002 Football World Cup with Korea. Japan has a slick transport system and very effective police.

It beggars belief that Spain is applying to host the Olympics. Spain hosted them in her second city – in Barcelona – back in 1992. With other European Union countries forking out tens of billions of Euros to help beleaguered Spain one wonders how cash-strapped Spain can possibly find the readies to host such a spectacular. Hosting the Olympics costs a minimum of 30 000 000 000 Euros. If the Spanish Government has such money to spare what on earth is it doing playing the mendicant? Either Spain’s financial situation is an awful lot healthier than we have been given to believe or else Spain is in absolutely no position to play host to the summer Olympics. I think it is the latter scenario that is the true one. On those grounds alone Spain ought to be removed from contention.

Turkey has been applying for years. They have previously been eliminated at an early stage. Now Turkey is a serious contender. The city that she is putting forward for consideration is her major city – Istanbul. She has the infrastructure. Istanbul certainly has plenty of hotel rooms! Turkey’s human rights record is pretty good nowadays.

Surely Turkey is the country that deserves the Games. With a growing economy she can afford the Games. Turkey wants the spotlight on her. More established rich countries do not see much benefit in hosting the Games. In London the Government speaks of a legacy from the Games. Looking at past host cities such as Athens and Barcelona one sees that the record on this is very mixed to say the least. Many stadia have become White Elephants. After the Games the facilities have often not been used again. The lugubrious sight of such dilapidated buildings stands as testimony to the vanity and transience of host city status. Wealth countries have finally woken up to the fact that hosting the Olympics is not worth it in monetary terms. Significantly the USA has not applied to host the Games since they last took place in the United States (Atlanta 1996).

Turkey would be the first Muslim country to host the Games and indeed the first Middle Easter country to do so. She should be given her turn.

Where will the Olympics be held in decades to come? More Middle Eastern oil boom economies will no doubt step up to the plate. Examples may include the UAE and Qatar. Qatar has already bagged the Football World Cup for herself in 2018. South Africa having succeeded with the World Cup may also wish to play host to the summer Olympics. As Brazil will be hosting the summer Olympics her continental rival Argentina may wish to match Brazil by also bringing the Olympics.

Azerbaijan also applied for the Olympics but was excluded fairly early on due to not having enough facilities. With hotel building going on apace this one shortcoming will soon be overcome. Other such countries like Kazakhstan may also apply to host the summer Olympics. With ‘India shining’, as the election slogan went, it is likely that she will before long allow her illustrious name to go forward to be considered as a host nation for the Olympiad.

There are Western countries that have emerged as significant economies in recent years that may wish to host the Olympics. Examples include Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Winter Olympics is a rather different story. Blatantly this must be held somewhere with ample snow. This thus restricts the choice to chilly climes such as one finds in Europe, parts of North America, North-East Asia, possibly Australasia’s mountains or those of the Andes. Unless artificial snow is going to be used then it is probable that the Winter Olympics will only be held in one of a few venues.

France right before the 1789 Revolution.


France in the immediate epoch before of the Revolution.

In 1789 Louis XVI was the King of France. His Bourbon dynasty has reigned for over two hundred years and they were related to previous dynasties of French kings France’s population stood at some 20 000 000 which was the largest of any European country. By way of comparison the population of Great Britain was only about 8 000 000 at the time.

France was the European superpower. Her sheer size enabled her to dominate the continent. Through a series of wars in the 18th century she had established herself as the leading country such that she was known as The Great Nation.

Although on land she was difficult to challenge it was at sea that France had been bested by the Royal Navy. In the Seven Year’s War (1757-64) France had lost some of her previous overseas colonies. In the American Revolutionary War (1776-83) it had been the policy of France had supported the revolutionaries. This had been successful in enabling the Revolution to win and the Thirteen Colonies to break away from the British Empire. However, France had not regained any territory.

France’s capital was Paris. The king’s principal palace was Versailles – some 20km south-west of Paris. Versailles was thought to be the most magnificent palace in the world. The richer aristocrats tried to spend as much times as they could in Versailles, sucking up the monarch. Between balls and parties they gambled, rode to the hounds, gossiped and committed adultery.

France’s cultural reach was enormous. French was the language favoured by the upper class throughout the Western World. From the United States to Russia and educated gentleman spoke French in addition to his native language. French literature, scientific discoveries, theatre, fashion and cooking were en vogue throughout Europe.

Thomas Jefferson, later president of the USA, described a dinner party in London in the 1780s. To his surprise the guests at the dinner all conversed in French but they were all British.


Language and regional diversity.

The official language of France was of course French. Perhaps only a third of the people of France could speak French. The aristocracy and clergy could all speak French as could the professional and mercantile classes. Among the peasantry and the urban proletariat French was only spoken by those in and around Paris. French was the lingua France of north-central France and some other major cities such as Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseilles.

What languages did the rest of the French speak? On the border with the Austrian Netherlands many spoke Flemish. In Normandy many spoke Norman-French which is of course a dialect of French. In Brittany most people spoke Breton. On the south-west border with Spain most folk spoke Basque. On the south-east border with Spain most spoke the Catalan language. In the Pyrenees many people spoke Spanish especially of the Aragonese dialect. In the countryside around Toulouse the major language was Occitan. In Provence most people spoke Provencal. Along the border with Savoy and the Republic of Genoa the majority of people spoke Genovese or Italian. In the Alps most people spoke the Valaisois dialect of French. Adjacent to Luxembourg most people spoke Luxembourgish. In the Alsace region most people spoke Alsatian. There were many German speakers in eastern France. There were other dialects of French such as Languedoc, Languedoil and Dauphine. Yes, these dialects of French share many words with standard French but they also had many words that were different from French. Prounciation was also very much at variance with French.

France was far from unique in be a multilingual European country at the time.

France’s roads were pretty bad. There were no turnpike trusts as in the British Isles to improve the roads and to build new ones. Therefore it fell to the state to manage the upkeep of the roads. The system of compulsory unpaid road work was unpopular and ineffectual.

There were very few canals in France. Moving people and goods was slow and difficult. Fragile items were likely to be broken due to uneven surfaces. The rich traveled by horse drawn coach. The richer a man the more horses pulled his coach – this also made the journey faster. The middling sort had a horse. The poor had to walk. It was often faster to travel by river boat than to ride or even to sail around the coast where practical.

France was divided into tax districts. To transport goods from one region of France to another one had to pay a tax. This was one way for the impecunious state to try and raise revenue. This was bad for trade and drove up prices.

France was divided into parlements or regions administered by a law court called a parlement. Each parlement had an intendant (or governor) ruling it on behalf of the king. Confusingly the parlement regions were not the same as the tax regions. A parlement region could be split among several tax regions and vice versa. If it seems confusing well, it was confusing!


The First Estate..

French society was divided into three estates. There was the First Estate that consisted of the clergy. That is to say that they were the priests, monks and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church. They comprised about 0.5% of the population of France.

Roman Catholicism was the state religion of France. In the Kingdom of France about 95% of people were Roman Catholics. The remaining 5% was made up of Protestants and Jews. Protestants and Jews were legally discriminated against.

A priest may be promoted to be a bishop. A bishop is in charge of many priests. A bishop may be promoted to be an archbishop who is in charge of several bishops. Some archbishops are made cardinals. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is the Pope. The Pope lives in Rome hence the word ‘Roman’ in Roman Catholic. When the Pope dies the cardinals get together and secretly vote on a new pope. They normally choose a cardinal.

The Roman Catholic Church owned about 10% of all the land in France. The Church was largely immune from tax. The land was used to grow food to feed the clergy and people that they looked after in institutions. The Church ran almost all schools, hospitals, universities, old folks’ homes, orphanages and so on.

There were priests, monks and nuns who lived close to the people. They had little money and they were sincere about their duties. Monks and nuns took vows of poverty and mostly kept them. They were not allowed to own anything personally. Only the community could own things. They often did good work in helping those in necessitous circumstances.

Even so-called poor priests were seldom actually poor by the standards of the time. They tended to have enough to eat and a decent house. There were priests in richer parishes with handsome salaries and houses. Some even had a few servants.

The bishops tended to live very well-indeed. A bishops’ house is called a palace and in those days a bishop’s house really was a palace. Bishops tended to have dozens of servants and an enormous income. The Bishops almost exclusively came from aristocratic families.

Archbishops were multimillionaires by modern standards. They often lived in enormous palaces and lived in the lap of luxury.

People tended to be promoted in the Church not on grounds of erudition, industry, spirituality or leadership qualities. Many were moved up the rungs of the ladder due to familial connexions. Bishops tended to appoint their nephews to plumb jobs of office. Some bishoprics became virtually hereditary. The Roman Catholic Church gave the world the word nepotism from the Latin for nephew. It was a case of Bob’s your uncle – having an influential relative gave one a very good chance of being placed in a high office.

France was divided into several archbishoprics or archdioceses. An archbishopric and an archdiocese is the same thing. We shall use the word archbishopric for the sake of consitency. Each archbishopric was ruled, in Church matters, by an archbishop. Within and archbishopric were several bishoprics of dioceses. A bishopric and a diocese are the same thing. We shall use the word bishopric for the sake of simplicity. A bishopric is ruled, in ecclesiastical affairs, by a bishop.

The archdiocese and dioceses did not conform to the boundaries of the parlement boundaries of the tax region boundaries.

Priests are required to take a vow of chastity. That is to say they they will abstain from sexual relations. The higher up the clergy one went the less this seemed to be observed. Many bishops flagrantly kept mistresses. A case in point would be Talleyrand.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Perigord was born into an aristocratic family. He had a deformed leg. Normally the choice for an aristocratic boy would be a career in the army or the Church. Since he was lame the army was ruled out. Therefore, despite not being godly, he entered the Church. He had no intention of keeping his vow of chastity and merrily carried on liaisons with a number of ladies.

The language of the Church was Latin. Likewise in school Latin was the main language although increasingly things were also taught in French. Pupils sometimes learnt Ancient Greek and even Hebrew. This gave them access to ancient texts in the original language.

The fact that Latin was the language of the educated elite in the Western world meant that a professor from Hungary, for example, could come to France. Likewise a priest from France could be sent to run a parish in another Catholic country such as Peru.


The Second Estate.

The second estate in France was made up of the aristocracy. The aristocrats had titles such as duke, marquis, count, viscount and baron. When an aristocrat died all his sons inherited a title. The trouble was that this meant that there were an awful lot of aristocrats but not that many great estates for them to lord it over. At this time the United Kingdom has about 1 000 nobles whereas France has 250 000. Even taking into account the UK’s smaller population it is still the case that France’s aristocracy was very disproportionately massive.

There were some aristocrats who were known as ‘the greats’. They had enormous estates and huge amounts of wealth. They were like mini-kings in their regions of the country. They spent a lot of time hobnobbing in Versailles and meeting the royal family.

There were aristocrats of the middling sort who has significant estates and serious wealth but they could not afford to go to Versailles too often. At Versailles one was expected to dress in a lavish style and this was ruinously expensive.

There were some aristocrats who were no more than gentlemen farmers in the British expression. They had substantial farmsteads but few airs or graces. They would have a handful of servants. They did not have the money or time to be making the trip to Versailles.

There were some aristocrats who despite inheriting a noble title were little more than peasants but free of feudal duties. They lived in modest houses and had small farms – they even had to plough their own fields. Such people were aristocrats in name only. Nevertheless, they tended to be excessively proud of their title because that was the only thing that set them apart from hoi peloi. They jealously guarded their aristocratic privileges because otherwise they would have do perform the same menial duties as peasants.

Perhaps the most important right of the aristocracy was to be exempt from taxation. This was a right that many aristocrats were very keen to hang onto especially those who were not rich.


The Third Estate

The Third Estate was composed of about 97% of the French populace. The majority of the Third Estate were peasants. The peasants were almost all illiterate and few of them spoke French. They eked out a living on tiny farms.

There were working class city people who were in the third estate. They were often labourers such as builders or servants.

The Third Estate included some small farmers who were not serfs. The Third Estate included shopkeepers, rich businessmen and professionals such as architects, dentists, doctors, lawyers and judges. Affluent merchants and the intelligentsia were offended that they were lumped in the same category with the unlettered plebeians. It was not so much the inequality that they objected to but the fact that they were classed alongside the lowliest. Many upper middle class men believed that it was a standing insult that they should be placed in the same group as the penniless. It was possible to be promoted into the aristocracy by being an official in the government and being appointed to high office. This was called the noblesse de robe (nobility of the gown). The noblesse d’epee (nobility of the sword) tended to look down their aquiline noses on the noblesse de robe whom they did not regard as being real aristocrats. In fact by the late 18th century being moved up into the Second Estate was very rare indeed.

The Third Estate was subject to la corvee. La corvee was unpaid work repairing the roads. The rich Third Estate could buy their way out of this but it was still resented by them that they had to go to the trouble of paying to avoid doing such labour.

The Third Estate pay taxes to the Church and to the Crown. They seldom owned land and had to pay rent on the farms that they used to produce food for themselves. They had to do some days of unpaid work on the land that the aristocrat had as his personal estate. They were a human resource with very few rights.

The political system.

France was admired for her cultural richness by the United Kingdom and the United States. On the other hand the primitiveness of her political system was regarded with derision by those same nations.

France has been called an absolute monarchy at this time. Some people take issue with this and say that it is an overstatement. In France the divine right of kings was believed in. That is to say that the king was appointed by god and everyone had not only a legal duty but also a religious obligation to be utterly obedient to the king. The Roman Catholic Church preached this doctrine.

The French Protestant Church was discriminated against and could hardly afford to antagonize the establishment lest rougher courses be taken. They had a lively memory of the massacre of Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. They too professed to believe in the divine right of kings. To say otherwise would be to invite regal wrath.

If France was not actually an absolute monarchy then it was very close to being one.

Louis XVI may have had very extensive powers in theory but he made up for it in feebleness of personality. He could easily be talked out of things by powerful aristocrats. ‘No, Your Majesty, you mustn’t do that. Sire, it would take away the ancient rights of the aristocracy who are your Majesty’s most faithful subjects.’ Under pressure the king would back down.

The Estates-General (parliament) had not met since 1614. Last time it had met it had got up the nose of the king at the time, Louis XIII. The number thirteen is lucky for some – not for the Estates-General. Louis XIII had ordered the Estates-General to be dissolved. Politicians who had annoyed the king were summarily executed. That was that.

Parlements did meet in the regions but they were law courts rather than legislatures. They were supposed to register and enforce royal edicts although sometimes they chose not to do so. There was a degree of debate allowed in such chambers. That was as close as France got to any notion of parliamentary government. It is also notable that government was not uniform – it was a little decentralized.

Censorship was strict. One was not allowed to say anything or publish anything that was critical of the monarchy or the Roman Catholic Church. Books, newspapers and the theatre were all carefully monitored. To denounce the royal family was the crime of lese-majeste.

People could be imprisoned by royal fiat. Aristocrats often persuaded the king to sign lettres de cachet which were orders for someone to be incarcerated without trial nor charge.

If France had been ruled by a benign genius the system might have worked beautifully. The trouble was, as Thomas Paine said of monarchs, one got an ass for a lion.

Louis XVI

Louis XVI was born in 1750. His grandfather was Louis XV. Louis XVI’s father died before Louis XV. Louis XVI spent much of his childhood therefore as the Dauphin – the heir to the Throne of France. Dauphin also means dolphin – this unusual title for a crown prince derives from the heraldic symbol that went with it.

Louis XVI was not a people person. He was retiring and more interested in things than in ideas. He was an amateur locksmith.

At the age of 16 a marriage between Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was arranged. Marie-Antoinette was the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Austria was a mighty empire in Central Europe at the time. It was made up of what we now call Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, northern Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, western Romania, southern Poland, western Ukraine and so on and so forth. Austria and France had been to war against each other many times. It was now time to bury the hatchet. A marriage alliance seemed to be a good step forward.

Marie-Antoinette’s first language was German but like a good princess she also mastered French. At the age of 14 she was brought to France. As she came to the border her clothes were taken off and she was dressed in French garments.

They young couple wed. It was not a love match and it was not supposed to be. After a day of feasting and heavy drinking Louis XVI wanted no more than to sleep. He had not evinced any sexual interest in either gender. He was reluctant to attempt to consummate his marriage. When he did so that night, under pressure, it all ended in tears. As he said, I am going to piss into her body. He could not get fully erect or ejaculate. At 16 it seemed bizarre that the prince was incapable of sexual intercourse. A medical examination revealed that he had phimosis – a condition whereby the foreskin is too tight for the glans penis. Full erection is painful. The foreskin can tear and bleed. It puts men off sex. After a simple surgery it was put right. Although he did his duty with regard to his ravishing bride he did not do so often and she did not conceive a child. Naturally it caused much gossip. It was almost a diplomatic incident. Year after year Marie-Antoinette failed to conceive a child.

In 1774 Louis XVI succeeded to the Throne of France upon the death of his paternal grandfather Louis of that name the fifteenth. Louis XVI was also the King of Navarre, a tiny realm in the Pyrenees whence his Bourbon ancestors had come in the 16th century. He was Co-Prince of Andorra, a miniscule country in the middle of the Pyrenees. The other Co-Prince being the Bishop of Urgel.

After ten years of marriage Marie-Antoinette at last gave birth to a child. There was much rejoicing. But in the intervening decade malicious rumours had grown up. People said that Marie-Antoinette was a lesbian and that most German women were Sapphic. In fact she was Austrian but at the time no distinction was drawn between German and Austrian. Marie-Antoinette, from having been a lesbian, was then accused of being a nymphomaniac. She was claimed to be having an affair well, with just about everybody. She was known to be fond of the Swedish ambassador Count Axel Ferssen. People accused her of committing adultery with him and with other men. Pornographic drawings of her allegedly engaging in orgies were circulated. These calumnies included the accusation that she had a penchant for unnatural intercourse.

Marie-Antoinette fancied herself as a shepherdess. She dressed as one and kept a menagerie of perfumed animals. She had some farmhouses built for herself.

She spent lavishly on clothes and such but a queen was supposed to reflect the majesty of her rank.

She was accused of involvement in the Diamond Affair. This was an attempt to defraud the Crown Jewellers of a staggering sum. In fact Cardinal de Rohan and a courtesan were involved in this.

Marie-Antoinette was unfortunate to be the victim of so many smears. She tried to keep her Austrian family informed of what was going on at the French court and was thus seen as little better than an enemy agent. She was accused of manipulating the king who was easily bored by politics.

At last she produced a second son and she had a daughter.

Marie-Antoinette was a scapegoat for those who saw that a lot was wrong with the government but did not wish to lay the blame at the king’s door. For those who disliked the monarchy full stop it seemed that the queen was an easy target.



France possessed a number of overseas territories in 1789. Most notable amongst these possessions was Haiti. Haiti is the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Haiti was peopled chiefly by those of African descent. The original inhabitants of the island had died out from contact with the common cold and other such communicable diseases borne by whites. Haiti was an ideal place to grow sugar cane and other such tropical crops. The French immigrants were loathe to do such back-breaking work in mosquito infested torrid climes themselves. Therefore Frenchmen sailed to West AFrica. Here many African countries were at war against each other. Those who lost were taken prisoner and made to work as slaves. They tended not to be exploited too intensely. French sailor purchased black people from other black people. The unfortunate slaves were then shipped in horrific conditions across the Atlantic. Many died on the crossing. The slave population of the French Antilles was not self-sustaining. This is partly because most of the people brought to the New World were male but also conditions were so hellish that life expectancy was short.

Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands were all involved in the Transatlantic slave trade. The trade became so profitable for some African kings that taking slaves became no longer incidental to war but in fact the primary motivation for war.

There were other French islands in the Antilles where most of the people were black slaves. These were Martinique, St Martin, Guadeloupe, Mustique and St Barthelemy. France had a small settlement on the coast of South American called French Guyana. France owned slave trading ports in West Africa. The principal among these was the island of Goree at the mouth of the River Senegal.

The French islands in the West Indies were ruled by a handful of white plantation owners. Some of them grew to be fabulously wealth on the backs of the slaves. There also grew up a community of biracial people who arose from the miscegnation of white slaveholders and overseers with black slave women.

France had lost most of her Indian empire in the 1750s when Lord Clive drove the French out. France retained Pondicherry on the south-east coast of India. France owned a handful of islands in the Indian Ocean such as Reunion and Mauritius.



Through the 18th century more Frenchmen had begun to question to the status quo. Was it right that most Frenchmen were dirt poor and the charmed circle lived in the most stupendous luxury? A microscopically small proportion of the population held political power. The rest were politically emasculated. There were many well-founded criticisms to be laid at the door of the French Government and the Roman Catholic Church. Yet to make a constructive criticism was to invite a term in a fetid dungeon. Should France not be reformed on a rational basis so as to allow the government to make more sensible decisions? The United Kingdom seemed to offer a model of a harmonious blend between monarchy, aristocracy and elected government. One cannot say democracy since the term was all but forgotten at the time and the United Kingdom only permitted the franchise to a small proportion of its menfolk.

Physiocrats were those in France who studied these problems and tried to propose solutions. Some French intellectuals became encyclopedists. They believed that a compendious knowledge of the world would allow one to come up with ways forward for France. These intellectual movements were abstruse indeed and unheard of by the great majority of Frenchmen.

Voltaire was one such Frenchman who possessed a withering contempt for the Roman Catholic Church. He saw it as a reactionary force. It stultified the development of the intellect in France and was an unwavering ally of royal dictatorship. The Church preached the message of social justice as propounded by Jesus but did the exact opposite.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Swiss philosopher who spent most of his adult life in France. He was from the French-speaking part of Switzerland so he wrote in French. Switzerland had parliamentary rule in her cantons with most men being allowed to vote. He was astonished and displeased by the absolutism that prevailed in France. He wanted society to return to its natural state of voluntary co-operation. He wanted people to be true to themselves. He saw the aristocratic system and the royal court with elaborate protocol as being very unnatural. He saw monarchy as being false and harmful. He called for radical political change and a much more equal society. His ideas were very influential among the French intelligentsia.

In other realms the monarch had begun a process of reform. In Austria the Emperor Joseph had tried to modernise the state and improve the condition of his polyglot subjects. In Prussia Frederick the Great tried to update the system and also to better the predicament of his people. This was enlightened despotism.

Frenchmen had served alongside American Revolutionaries. The American Revolution was about independence but also about restoring the primacy of the legislature over the executive. The United States came up with a constitution ensuring freedom of expression, freedom of religion, the right to own property, the abolition of feudal titles, habeas corpus and so forth. French soldiers and French sailors came into contact with these nostra. Some were attracted by the values that actuated the American Revolution and began to wonder if such high principles could not be replicated in La Patrie.

Frenchmen who were educated were well versed in classical texts. They looked back to Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. There they read of example of oligarchy. This attracted some of the clergy and the aristocracy. It could even appeal to the richest members of the Third Estate. Ancient Athens had had democracy and thus held allure for even the meanest of the Third Estate – or it could have done had they heard of it.

The US Constitution was finalised in 1788. This was widely reported in France. Those who itched for reform were fascinated by the new political system developed across the ocean.

Those who hungered for far-reaching change tended to be the educated and rich at the top of the Third Estate. The First Estate and the Second Estate did well out of the status quo but some of them too felt that reform was necessary. There were peasants and urban working class people who, however politically inarticulate, wanted their material situation to be ameliorated.

a trip to the second city



I hadn’t heard of Ganja until I came to Azerbaijan. I must admit that I found the name ‘Ganja’ wry.

I jumped on a train at 10 o’clock one night to chug my way to Azerbaijan’s second city. The platform was abuzz with people setting off across the country. The podgy povodnitsa insisted on seeing my passport. That hacked me off. Can you not board a train in this country without proving one’s identity? Evidently not. Aboard the train was mercifully half empty. I had a compartment to myself in first class. It was only 23 manat.

I read for an hour or so and supped on the goodies I had taken along. Then I hit the hay.

When I awoke we were deep in the countryside. It was rather more verdant than the Absheron Peninsula.

We drew into Ganja at about 7 in the morning. The station was large with a very high ceiling. Not that many alighted. It was a splendid summer dawn. I fended off numerous offers of taxi rides. After scoffing my brekker I ventured out into the street and found a cab. I offered 4 manat to go to Hotel de Luxe. To my surprise this offer was accepted straight off. In Baku a cabbie will normally ask for more. Traffic was very light.

The hotel was well-appointed and the reception area was bright and agreeably decorated. The diminutive receptionist was prematurely grey and an eminent belly spilled over his minging belt. I asked about the room price in Russian, having established that he did not speak Anglo-Saxon. It was 60 manat. My guidebook had said 40 but the book is a few years out of date. I pointed out to the rolly polly receptionist that the sign on the desk said 40. He told me that this was before the rennovation. Up we went. The room was reasonably spacious and the furniture was all of high quality. I liked the yellowish colour scheme. However, sheets were strewn across the floor and the place had patently not been clean. The receptionist told me to go to breakfast – included in the bill – and when I returned it would all be ‘super’.

I had my buffet and returned satisfied to find that the room had not been touched. I dozed for half an hour before an ancient chambermaid appeared and put things in order.

Ere long I was off and about town.

There was a little square not far from my hotel graced by a huge statue of Nariman Narimanov. Many shops stood there, bureaux de changes and travel agencies. They were offering mostly bus tickets and air tickets to Turkekey.

I saw an colossal flag pole taking pride of place beside the river. The gleaming fabric of the flag was a noble sight. In the distance I could make out the majestic peaks of the Caucusus – for once bereft of their patina of snow. The river was down in a pebble-scattered gorge. The river in this dry season was barely a dribble.

Over the bridge and in towards the centre of the city. There were many clothes boutiques and a bazaar stretched away to the left. I found most of the garments to be garish. The shop fronts themselves were all done up in perfectly bad taste.

The centre of the town had a parked running along beside the main street. The park is criss-crossed by numerous paved paths. The talls trees gave the impression of being in a jungle. The huge city hall building made quite and impression. I had the overall impression of a handsome city. Even the back streets were not too ugly. Some historic buildings stood here and there and were labelled in English.

I found the bottle house not far from the main street. This fascinating edifice is fronted by thousands of bottles. The house has various words in Russian written on it.

Ganja is home to some 300 000 people. It is not hard to find one’s way around. I was able to get the matroska to the railway station and back without difficulty. There are fewer displays of wealth than in Baku for the very good reason that there is less money about.

I headed back to my hotel at one point. As O spoke English – commenting on the home video that I was making – I was approached by a young Azeri man. He spoke to me in broken English and I addressed him in my rough Russian. He asked about my country. He told me he liked Moldova, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland and England. He asked me about the religion of my country. He wondered if most people were Muslim. Were they anti-Muslim? I began to form the impression that this poor chap was a few sandwiches short of a picnic. I was glad of him when a quarter of street children came up to me begging and he shooed them away. Later I tried to extricate myself from this circular conversation for my somewhat daft interlocutor. This gadfly would not be given the brush off easily. I took several goodbyes and a brisk walk to shake off my bandy-legged acquintance.

I found that very few people spoke English in Ganja. I had to make do with my feeble Russian. There were some people who did not speak that.

Try as I might I could not find a place selling a local dish called ‘hash’.

Though I enjoyed Ganja I would have got bored had I been there more than 24 hours.

Iceland – a cool destination.


BY Marmaduke O’Connor

What do most people know about Iceland? It is known for its lesbian president, eyebrowless singer Bjork, bankrupt banks, airplane grounding volcanoes and puffins. But there is more to this craggy northern land than you might think. No they do not any longer wear horned helmets plough the waters hell bent on burglary and buggery. Do you remember Bjork, as I mentioned her? That well weird one? When she won a massive award her acceptance speech was, ”I am a grateful grapefruit.” That was it – literally.

Iceland has two airlines. Not bad for a country that has a population of about a quarter of a million. I flew there on Air Iceland and very agreeable I found it. I sat beside a cock-eyed balding Icelander who could have passed for a Viking set on ravishing Irish maidens. The air hostesses themselves were fading beauties. These menopausal stewardesses applied their foundation valiantly but even a trowel full could not hide that age had wearied them and the years condemned. Being a snow swept rock in the Northern Atlantic this country had few ways to make money. Providing air and sea transport was one of them.

There are coaches to meet every arriving plane no matter how late. The bus drove us through the eery moonscape and was thoughtful enough to drop off each and every one at the place where he or she desired to be conveyed. A long haired Australian chap loudly regaled us with the ”hos-TEL” that he was going to lodge at. Funny how that unremarkable detail stays in my mind.

It does have a natural resource – geothermal energy. ”What prey you is that?”, I hear you ask. If you have done GCSE Geography you would know. The clue is in the name. How is your Ancient Greek? Perhaps worse than mine. Geo meaning ”world” and thermos ”heat” – there are volcanoes under Iceland. The lava gets a trifle warm. One pumps down H20 through pipes that pass through the underworld. Then the water comes back up from the bowels of the earth. The water is then boiling hot. The vapour rises and thus the steam turns turbines and thereby generates electricity.

Iceland defaulted on its debts and began rebuilding its battered economy. After a few months of woe it climbed out of the doldrums. Still staying in Iceland is not cheap. I had a main course at a midrange restaurant and it set me back of the order of twenty pounds sterling. As for joining the European Union and adopting the Euro these plucky Icelanders have boldly declared, ”boo suck to you Herman van Rumpoy stick your Brussels up your deficit!” With that these Norsemen saw of Johnnie foreigner.

The capital city of Iceland is – don’t all shout the answer at once – Rejkjavik. It means ‘smoking bay’ – not as in ”smoking de herb mon’. No, the smoke rose from the volcano by the bay. Vik is the bay part for this city lies beside the brine.

Rejkavik can look depressing in parts. It can be rather redolent of the arse end of North Britain what with dour dark grey buildings and what not. That said, this town does have some bright and charming buildings. Iceland is daring when it comes to modern architecture. Modern architecture can go very wrong but it has not done so here.

I pitched up at the Salvation Army for lodgings. For but a few British pounds I was given bed and board. This place is not for waifs and strays. It is a low end hotel. Though indeed such a humble place is well beneath my exalted station but needs must when the devil drives.

People keep saying that it is a small country – well it is in population but the area is larger than the United Kingdom. It is very unassuming. Security is low key. One can stroll right into the Althing – parliament – without being challenged. Being such a small society helps keep it peaceful.

There are many exciting activities to be enjoyed in this unique country. One can bathe in hot springs, go whale watching or peer into a live volcano. Puffin is a particular delicacy as is ram’s testicle – on that last one I shit you not! I myself went to an outdoor pool in October. You may think that in doing so I must be one of the S and M crowd but I will save that story for another publication. Anyhow, it was most pleasant to disport myself in the steaming waters.

The Icelanders tend to be frightfully good at conversing in the British tongue. Why are they so singularly gifted at speaking British? This is because with only 250 000 souls on the island they are painfully aware that nobody else speaks their language. But at their language is only a generation away from dying out these smart Scandinavians are at pains to keep it going. Every second person is a writer. They speak English with a winning lulling Scandinavian scantion and and tombre. With all that said about Icelandic being on the brink extinction it must be admitted that it owes a great deal to Norwegian.

Not a few Icelanders are fishermen. What the Icelanders do who are landsmen? Many are shepherds – and the simpler among them are bankers.

Should you wish to take a trip to the land of Snorri the Elder be sure to pack your long undergarments for it can be rather on the chilly side.

That is my Icelandic saga. I have done.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister visits the region.


On 13 June an Irish delegation visited Azerbaijan. The delegation was headed by Eamon Gilmore who is the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Mr Gilmore is currently lead the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Mr Gilmore and his entourage visited Georgia and Armenia. The OSCE is trying to see if they can help countries in the Caucusus to find a peaceful solution to their disagreements.

Mr Gilmore was accompanied by Mr Thompson who is the Irish ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan. It was Mr Thompson’s first visit to Azerbaijan. His Excellency is based in Ankara but intends to visit Azerbaijan every six months throughout his three year posting. His predecessor, Tom Russell, will be a hard act to follow. The former Irish ambassador to Russia and Azerbaijan also accompanied Mr Gilmore.

Mr Gilmore met Irish expatriates at the Landmark Hotel. It was impressed upon him by the Irish community that the Republic of Ireland ought to have her own embassy in Azerbaijan. As one Irishman said, ”representing Ireland in Azerbaijan from Ankara or Moscow will not cut it!” As Eire has recently closed embassies in Teheran and the Vatican City owing to austerity cutbacks it will be hard for Mr Gilmore to justify spending taxpayers’s lucre on opening a new embassy in a country that many Irish people could not find on the map.

The Tanaiste (Eamon Gilmore) was asked why people should invest in Ireland. He said, ”The three T’s – talent, tax and track record.” Asked to expand on this Mr Gilmore said, ”Corporation tax is 12.5% – the lowest in the European Union. We have a very talented labour force. We have a track record of inward investment. Ireland is the best small country to invest in.” As for when the Irish Republic would climb out of the recession, Gilmore said, ”We returned to growth last year.” Economic growth stands at an enviable 1.5% – much higher than Azerbaijan’s 0.1%. He admitted that unemployment remains stubbornly high at 14%. He was asked if there was any chance of the Republic of Ireland getting its own currency back, ”None whatsoever – the Euro is our currency” but he admitted that, ”the Euro has been going through some difficult times – there is no secret about that.” As for Greece leaving the Eurozone, Gilmore was more circumspect, ”I don’t think so” but would not rule it out. Mr Gilmore defended the public spending cuts that he and the Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, have had to implement owing to the tough economic climate. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) was minded to cut even more as his Fine Gael party is a centrist party. The centre-left Labour Party prevented this.

Eamon Gilmore became Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) in 2011. Mr Gilmore is leader of the Labour Party. Labour is currently the junior partner in a coalition government with Fine Gael. Gilmore is a former student radical who hails from Galway, a county in the west of Ireland. Gilmore’s days of blood red socialism are long behind him. He was once a member of Official Sinn Fein when it was secretly funded by the Soviet Union. Gilmore is open to charges of champagne socialism and being a professional politician. He has been a career politician almost his entire adult life. However, his party is in healthy shape – being the second largest party in the Irish Republic. Further, Labour holds the presidency of Ireland in the shape of Michael D Higgins. Mr Higgins recaptured Aras an Uachtrain (the presidential palace) for Labour in November after 14 years of presidency by Mary McAleese of the Fianna Fail Party.