The French Revolution
Become a member of TranslationDirectory.com at just
$8 per month (paid per year)
Use the search bar to look for terms in all glossaries, dictionaries, articles and other resources simultaneously
This is a glossary of the French Revolution. It generally
does not explicate names of individual people or their political associations;
those can be found in List of people associated with the French Revolution.
The terminology routinely used in discussing the French Revolution can
be confusing, even daunting. The same political faction may be referred
to by different historians (or by the same historian in different contexts)
by different names. During much of the revolutionary period, the French
used a newly invented calendar that fell into complete disuse after the
revolutionary era. Different legislative bodies had rather similar names,
not always translated uniformly into English. This article is intended
as a central place to clarify these issues.
The three estates
The estates of the realm in ancien régime France were:
- First Estate (Fr. Premier État , le clergé ) -
The clergy, both high (generally siding with the nobility, and it often
was recruited amongst its younger sons) and low.
- Second Estate (Fr. Second État , la noblesse )
- The nobility. Technically, but not usually of much relevance, the
Second Estate also included the Royal Family.
- Third Estate (Fr. Tiers État) - Everyone not included
in the First or Second Estate. At times this term refers specifically
to the bourgeoisie, the middle class, but the Third Estate also included
the sans-culottes, the laboring class. Also included in the Third Estate
were lawyers, merchants, and government officials.
Note: Fourth Estate, a term with two relevant
meanings: on the one hand, the generally unrepresented poor, nominally
part of the Third Estate; on the other, the press, as a fourth powerful
entity in addition to the three estates of the realm.
- Royalty - House of Bourbon, After the Empire was
- Nobility (Fr. noblesse) - Those with explicit noble
title. These are traditionally divided into
- "noblesse d'épée" ("nobility
of the sword")
- and "noblesse de robe" ("nobility
of the gown"), the magisterial class that administered royal
justice and civil government, often referring to those who bought
a title of nobility (rich merchants).
- Ci-devant nobility - Literally
"from before": nobility of the ancien régime (the Bourbon
kingdom) after it had lost its titles and privileges.
- Bourgeoisie - Roughly, the non-noble wealthy, typically
merchants, investors, and professionals such as lawyers.
- Active and passive citizens - During the period of
the Legislative Assembly, approximately half of the men of France were
disfranchised as "passive citizens". Only "active citizens",
a category based on taxes paid, could vote; they also formed the basis
of the National Guard.
- Sans-culottes - literally "those without
breeches", the masses of Paris.
- Peasants, who represent 90% of the French nation's
- Liberal monarchical constitution - Adopted October
6, 1789, accepted by the King July 14, 1790.
- The Constitution of 1791 or Constitution of September
3, 1791 - Establishes a limited monarchy and the Legislative Assembly.
- The Constitution of 1793, Constitution of June 24,
1793 (Fr. Acte constitutionnel du 24 juin 1793, or Montagnard
Constitution (Fr. Constitution montagnarde) - Ratified, but never
applied, due to the suspension of all ordinary legality October 10,
- The Constitution of 1795, Constitution of August
22, 1795, Constitution of the Year III, or Constitution of 5 Fructidor
- Establishes the Directory.
- The Constitution of the Year VIII - Adopted December
24, 1799, establishes the Consulate.
- The Constitution of the Year X - Establishes a revised
Consulate, with Napoleon as First Consul for Life.
- The Constitution of the Year XII - Establishes Bonaparte's
In roughly chronological order:
- The ancien régime - The absolute monarchy
under the Bourbon kings, generally considered to end some time between
the meeting of the Estates-General on May 5, 1789 and the liberal monarchical
constitution of October 6, 1789.
- Parlements - Royal Law courts in Paris and most provinces
under the ancien régime.
- The Estates-General, also known as States-General
(Fr. Etats-Généraux) - The traditional tricameral legislature
of the ancien régime, which had fallen into disuse since 1614.
The convention of the Estates-General of 1789 is one of the events that
led to the French Revolution. The Estates General, as such, met May
5–6 , 1789, but reached an impasse because the Third Estate refused
to continue to participate in this structure. The other two estates
continued to meet in this form for several more weeks.
- The Communes - The body formed May 11, 1789
by the Third Estate after seceding from the Estates General. On June
12, 1789 the Communes invited the other orders to join them:
some clergy did so the following day.
- The National Assembly (Fr. Assemblée Nationale)
- Declared June 17, 1789 by the Communes. The clergy joined them
June 19. This was soon reconstituted as...
- The National Constituent Assembly (Fr. Assemblée
nationale constituante); also loosely referred to as the National
Assembly - From July 9, 1789 to September 30, 1791 this was both the
governing and the constitution-drafting body of France. It dissolved
itself in favor of…
- The Legislative Assembly (Fr. Assemblée Legislative)
- From October 1, 1791 to September 1792, the Legislative Assembly,
elected by voters with property qualifications, governed France under
a constitutional monarchy, but with the removal of the king's veto power
on July 11, 1792, was a republic in all but name, and became even more
so after the subsequent arrest of the Royal Family.
- The Paris Commune (French revolution) - During the
waning days of the Legislative Assembly and the fall of the Monarchy,
the municipal government of Paris functioned, at times, in the capacity
of a national government, as a rival, a goad, or a bully to the Legislative
- Further, the Sections were directly democratic mass assemblies in Paris during
the first four years of the Revolution.
- The Provisional Executive Committee - Headed by Georges
Danton, this also functioned in August–September 1792 as a rival claimant
to national power.
- The National Convention, or simply The Convention
- First met September 20, 1792; two days later, declared a republic.
The National Convention after the fall of the Montagnards (July 27,
1794) is sometimes referred to as the "Thermidorian Convention". Three
committees of the National Convention are particularly worthy of note:
- The Committee of Public Safety (Fr. Comité
de salut public) - During the Reign of Terror, this committee
was effectively the government of France. After the fall of the
Montagnards, the committee continued, but with reduced powers.
- The Committee of General Security (Fr. Comité
de sûreté générale) - Coordinated the War effort.
- The Committee of Education (Fr. Comité de
- The tribunal révolutionaire 'revolutionary tribunal',
instituted in March–October 1793 to prosecute all threats to the
revolutionary republic, was the effective agent of the Comité de
Salut Public's reign of terror in Paris until its dissolution on
May 31, 1795.
- The Directory (Fr. Directoire) - From August
22, 1795, the Convention was replaced by the Directory, a bicameral
legislature that more or less institutionalized the dominance of the
bourgeosie while also enacting a major land reform that was henceforward
to place the peasants firmly on the political right. The rightward move
was so strong that monarchists actually won the election of 1797 but
were stopped from taking power by the coup of 18 Fructidor (September
4, 1797), the first time Napoleon played a direct role in government.
The Directory continued (politically quite far to the left of its earlier
self) until Napoleon took power in his own right, November 9, 1799 (or
18 Brumaire), the date that is generally counted as the end of the French
Revolution. The Directory itself was the highest executive organ, comprising
five Directors, chosen by the Ancients out of a list elected by the
Five Hundred; its legislative was bicameral, consisting of:
- The Council of Five Hundred (Fr. Conseil des
Cinq-Cents), or simply the Five Hundred.
- The Council of Ancients (Fr. Conseil des Anciens),
or simply the Ancients or the Senate.
- The Consulate (Fr. Consulat) - The period
of the Consulate (December 1799 - December 1804) is only ambiguously
part of the revolutionary era. The government was led by three indiviuduals
known as Consuls. From the start, Napoleon Bonaparte served as First
Consul (Fr. Premier Consul) of the Republic. In May 1802, a plebiscite
made Bonaparte First Consul for Life. In May 1804 the Empire was declared,
bringing the Revolutionary era to a yet more definitive end.
- The tribunat was one of the legislative chambers
instituted by the Constitution of year VIII, composed of 100 members
nominated by the Senate to discuss the legislative initiatives defended
by the government's Orateurs in the presence of the Corps législatif;
abolished in 1807
- Royalists or Monarchists - Generally refers specifically
to supporters of the Bourbon monarchy and can include both supporters
of absolute and constitutional monarchy.
- Jacobins - strictly, a member of the Jacobin club,
but more broadly any revolutionary, particularly the more radical bourgeois
- Feuillants - Members of the Club des Feuillants,
result of a split within the Jacobins, who favored a constitutional
monarchy over a republic.
- Republicans - Advocates of a system without a monarch.
- The Gironde - Technically, a group of twelve republican
deputies more moderate in their tactics than the Montagnards, though
arguably many were no less radical in their beliefs; the term is often
applied more broadly to others of similar politics. Members and adherents
of the Gironde are variously referred to as "Girondists" (Fr. "Girondins")
- The Mountain (Fr. Montagne) - The radical
republican grouping in power during the Reign of Terror; its adherents
are typically referred to as "Montagnards".
- Septembriseurs — The Mountain and others (such
as Georges Danton) who were on the rise in the period of the September
- Thermidorians or Thermidoreans - The more moderate
(some would say reactionary) grouping that came to power after the fall
of the Mountain.
- Society of the Panthéon, also known as Conspiracy
of the Equals, and as the Secret Directory - faction centered around
François-Noël Babeuf, who continued to hold up a radical Jacobin viewpoint
during the period of the Thermidorian reaction.
- Bonapartists - Supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte,
especially those who supported his taking on the role of Emperor.
- Émigrés - This term usually refers to those
conservatives and members of the elite who left France in the
period of increasingly radical revolutionary ascendancy, usually under
implied or explicit threat from the Terror. (Generically, it can refer
to those who left at other times or for other reasons.) Besides the
émigrés having their property taken by the State, relatives of
émigrés were also persecuted.
- Corvée - A royal or seigneurial tax, taken
in the form of forced labor. It came in many forms, including compulsory
military service and compulsory tillage of fields. Most commonly, the
term refers to a royal corvée requiring peasants to maintain the king's
- Gabelle - A tax on salt.
- Taille - A royal tax, in principle pro capita,
whose amount was fixed before collecting.
- Tithe - A tax to church.
- Aide - A tax on wine.
- Vingtième – 5% direct tax levied on income.
- Capitation – A poll tax.
of the French Revolutionary Calendar
Vendémiaire (French pronunciation: [vɑ̃demjɛʁ])
was the first month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named
after the French word vendange (grape harvest).
Vendémiaire was the first month of the autumn quarter (mois d'automne).
It started on the day of the autumnal equinox, which fell between September
22 and September 24, inclusive. It thus ended between October 21 and October
23. It follows the Sansculottides of the past year and precedes Brumaire.
Brumaire (French pronunciation: [bʁymɛʁ])
was the second month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was
named after the French word brume (fog) which occurs frequently
in France at that time of the year.
Brumaire was the second month of the autumn quarter (mois d'automne).
It started between 22 October and 24 October. It ended between 20 November
and 22 November. It follows the Vendémiaire and precedes the Frimaire.
In political/historical usage, Brumaire often refers to the coup
d'état of 18 Brumaire in the year VIII (9 November 1799), by which General
Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the government of the Directory to replace
it with the Consulate.
Frimaire (French pronunciation: [fʁimɛʁ])
was the third month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named
after the French word frimas, which means frost.
Frimaire was the third month of the autumn quarter (mois d'automne).
It started between November 21 and November 23. It ended between December
20 and December 22. It follows the Brumaire and precedes the Nivôse.
Nivôse (French pronunciation: [nivoz];
also Nivose) was the fourth month in the French Republican Calendar.
The month was named after the Latin word nivosus, which means snow.
Nivôse was the first month of the winter quarter (mois d'hiver).
It started between 21 and 23 December. It ended between 19 and 21 January.
It follows the Frimaire and precedes the Pluviôse.
The new names for the calendar were suggested by Fabre d'Églantine on
24 October 1793. On 24 November the National Convention accepted the names
with minor changes. So it was decided to omit the circumflex (accent
circonflexe) in the names of the winter months. So the month was named
Nivose instead of Nivôse. Historiography still prefers the
Pluviôse (French pronunciation: [plyvjoz];
also Pluviose) was the fifth month in the French Republican Calendar.
The month was named after the Latin word pluviosus, which means
Pluviôse was the second month of the winter quarter (mois d'hiver).
It started between January 20 and January 22. It ended between February
18 and February 20. It follows the Nivôse and precedes the Ventôse.
The new names for the calendar were suggested by Fabre d'Églantine on
October 24, 1793. On November 24 the National Convention accepted the
names with minor changes. It was decided to omit the circumflex (accent
circonflexe) in the names of the winter months. So the month was named
Pluviose instead of Pluviôse. Historiography still prefers
the spelling Pluviôse.
Germinal (French pronunciation: [ʒɛʁminal])
was the seventh month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was
named after the Latin word germen, which means germination
Germinal was the first month of the spring quarter (mois de printemps).
It started March 21 or March 22. It ended April 19 or April 20. It follows
the Ventôse and precedes the Floréal.
Germinal sometimes refers to the downfall and execution in March-April
1794—Germinal by the Republican Calendar-of the indulgents, Georges
Danton and Camille Desmoulins.
Floréal (French pronunciation: [flɔʁeal])
was the eighth month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was
named after the Latin word flos, which means flowering.
Floréal was the second month of the spring quarter (mois de printemps).
It started 20 April or 21 April. It ended 19 May or 20 May. It follows
the Germinal and precedes the Prairial.
Floreal is also the name of one town on Mauritius and another
Prairial (French pronunciation: [pʁɛʁjal])
was the ninth month in the French Republican Calendar. This month was
named after the French word prairie, which means meadow.
It was the name given to several ships.
Prairial was the third month of the spring quarter (mois de printemps).
It started May 20 or May 21. It ended June 18 or June 19. It follows the
Floréal and precedes the Messidor.
Messidor (French pronunciation: [mesidɔʁ])
was the tenth month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named
after the Latin word messis, which means harvest.
Messidor was the first month of the summer quarter (mois d'été).
It started June 19 or June 20. It ended July 18 or July 19. It follows
the Prairial and precedes the Thermidor.
Thermidor (French pronunciation: [tɛʁmidɔr])
was the eleventh month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was
named after the French word thermal which comes from the Greek
word "thermos" which means heat.
Thermidor was the second month of the summer quarter (mois d'été).
It started July 19 or 20. It ended August 17 or 18. It follows the Messidor
and precedes the Fructidor. During Year 2, it was sometimes called Fervidor.
Thermidor has come to mean a retreat from more radical goals and strategies
during a revolution, especially when caused by a replacement of leading
personalities (see Thermidor reaction).
Fructidor (French pronunciation: [fʁyktidɔʁ])
is the twelfth month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was
named after the Latin word fructus, which means "fruit".
Fructidor is the third month of the summer quarter (mois d'été).
By the Gregorian calendar, Fructidor starts on either August 18 or August
19 and ends exactly thirty days later, on September 16 or September 17.
Fructidor follows the month of Thermidor and precedes the Sansculottides.
Under this calendar, the Year I or "Year 1" began September 22, 1792
(the date of the official abolition of the monarchy and the nobility).
commonly known by their Gregorian dates
- The 14th of July—The storming of the Bastille, July
14, 1789. The flashpoint of the revolution.
- The 4th of August: The National Constituent Assembly
voted to abolish feudalism August 4, 1789.
- The 10th of August -- The storming of the Tuileries
Palace, August 10, 1792. The effective end of the French monarchy.
commonly known by their Revolutionary dates
- 22 Prairial Year II - Passage of a law greatly expanding
the power of the Revolutionary Tribunals.
- 9 Thermidor Year II - The fall of the Mountain and
the execution of Robespierre and others, July 27, 1794.
- 13 Vendémiaire Year IV - Failed coup and incidence
of Napoleon's "whiff of grapeshot", October 5, 1795
- 18 Fructidor Year V - The coup against the monarchist
restorationists, September 4, 1797.
- 22 Floréal Year VI - Coup in which 106 left-wing
deputies were deprived of their seats, (May 11, 1798).
- 30 Prairial Year VII - Coup backed militarily by
General Joubert, under which four directors were forced to resign (June
- 18 Brumaire Year VIII - The coup that brought Napoleon
to power, establishing the Consulate (November 9, 1799).
- The First Coalition - the opponents of France 1793
- 1797: Austria, England, Prussia, Sardinia, The Netherlands, and Spain.
- The Second Coalition - the opponents of France 1798
- 1800: Austria, England, Russia, and Turkey.
- The Vendée - Province where peasants revolted against
the Revolutionary government in 1793. Fighting continued until 1796.
- Fleur de lys - the lily, emblem of the Bourbon
- The "Marseillaise" - the republican anthem.
- Tricolor - the flag of the Republic, consisting of
three vertical stripes, blue, white, and red.
Cockades (Fr: cocardes) were rosettes or ribbons worn as a badge, typically
on a hat.
- Black cockade - Primarily, the cockade of the anti-revolutionary
aristocracy. Also, earlier, the cockade of the American Revolution.
- Green cockade - As the "color of hope", the symbol
of the Revolution in its early days, before the adoption of the tricolor.
- Tricolor cockade - The symbol of the Revolution (from
shortly after the Bastille fell) and later of the republic. Originally
formed as a combination of blue and red—the colors of Paris—with the
- White cockade - French army or royalist.
Other countries and armies at this time typically had their own cockades.
- Civil Constitution of the Clergy (Fr. Constitution
civile du clergé) - 1790, confiscated Church lands and turned the
Catholic clergy into state employees; those who refused out of loyalty
to Rome and tradition were persecuted; those who obeyed were excommunicated;
partially reversed by Napoleon's Concordat of 1801.
- Cult of Reason, La Culte de la raison - Official
religion at the height of radical Jacobinism in 1793-4.
- "Juror" ("jureur"), Constitutional priest
("constitutionnel") - a priest or other member of the clergy
who took the oath required under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.
- "Non-juror", "refractory priest" ("réfractaire"),
"insermenté" - a priest or other member of the clergy who refused
to take the oath.
- Assignats - notes, bills, and bonds issued
as currency 1790-1796, based on the and noble lands appropriated by
- Cahier - petition, especially Cahier de
Doléance, petition of grievances (literally "of sorrow").
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
(Fr. Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen - 1789;
in summary, defined these rights as "liberty, property, security, and
resistance to oppression."
- Flight to Varennes - The Royal Family's attempt to
flee France June 20–21, 1791.
- The "Great Fear" - Refers to the period of July and
August 1789, when peasants sacked the castles of the nobles and burned
the documents that recorded their feudal obligations.
- Lettre de cachet - Under the ancien régime,
a private, sealed royal document that could imprison or exile an individual
without recourse to courts of law.
- "Left" and right" - These political
terms originated in this era and derived from the seating arrangements
in the legislative bodies. The use of the terms is loose and inconsistent,
but in this period "right" tends to mean support for monarchical and
aristocratic interests and the Christian order and religion, or (at
the height of revolutionary fervor) for the interests of the bourgeousie
against the masses, while "left" tends to imply opposition to the same,
proto-laissez faire free marketeers and proto-communists.
- Terror - in this period, "terror" usually (but not
always) refers to State violence, especially the so-called Reign of
- Reactionary - coined during the revolutionary era
to refer to those who opposed the revolution and its principles and
sought a Restoration of the monarchy.
- September Massacres - the September 1792 massacres
of prisoners perceived to be counter-revolutionary, a disorderly precursor
of the Reign of Terror.
Published - May 2011
free glossaries at TranslationDirectory.com
free dictionaries at TranslationDirectory.com
to free TranslationDirectory.com newsletter
more translation jobs from translation agencies? Click here!
agencies are welcome to register here - Free!
translators are welcome to register here - Free!
your glossary or dictionary for publishing at TranslationDirectory.com
Please see some ads as well as other content from TranslationDirectory.com: