The French Revolution was one of the bloodiest events in modern history. Between 1789 and 1799, French men and women went through dramatic changes in their social and political systems: They overthrew a monarchical system built on aristocratic and church privilege and attempted to replace it with a more democratic vision of society. But hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in France paid for these political and social transformations with their lives.
Though most people associate French revolutionary violence with the guillotine – a new-fangled contraption that efficiently killed an individual by lopping off his or her head in a single slice – bloodshed happened throughout the revolution in different ways. People attacked one another on the streets, in prisons, and even in churches. Men and women in the royal family, aristocracy, and the church were slain for their association with the Old Order. The lucky ones lost their heads. As the revolution progressed, various factions turned on each other; there was no single vision of a post-revolutionary world.
Was the entire French Revolution a bloody mess? Well, no. The French Revolution brought about important political and social changes that are still relevant today. But the fact remains that the revolution played out against a backdrop of violent upheaval.
Horrific French Revolution tales still have the power to shock and disturb even centuries after the events. These moments stand alongside brutal 21st-century rebellions, horrible things done by the Catholic Church, and terrible torture methods as moments in history when the dark side of human nature was laid bare for all to see. This most violent revolution was not just about egalité, fraternité, and liberté – it was actually more like egalité, liberté, and brutality.