Besterman Lecture: Who were the French Revolutionaries?

Jacques-Louis David, The Tennis Court Oath

Jacques-Louis David, The Tennis Court Oath (public domain)

Professor William Doyle FBA (Bristol)

When Napoleon in 1799 declared that the French Revolution was over, he said that was because it was now established on the principles with which it began. The implication was that much of what had happened over the preceding decade of upheaval had not been in accordance with those principles. Napoleon took care, of course, not to state what they were: his constitution was the first since 1789 not to contain a declaration of basic rights. Yet everyone during the Revolution claimed to be acting on revolutionary principles, or denounced their opponents for betraying them. Can we distinguish between those who held to and those who ignored  or compromised revolutionary aspirations? This lecture will make the attempt, challenging some of the most enduring assumptions in revolutionary historiography.