Who won the French Revolution?

1789-1815 From the Bastille tower to the Congress of Vienna



This year the French Revolution begins. From 1789 to 1799 the old feudal regime, the Ancien Régime, was violently overturned. The political and social conditions in France are being reorganized. At the end of the development there is the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. The reasons for the beginning revolutionary process are complex; generally speaking, the inability of the ancien régime to find answers to the social and political problems of the 18th century is the starting point for revolutionary change. The rejection of reforms and the bankruptcy of Louis XVI, brought about by the expansion policy of Louis XIV, lead to social tensions and ultimately to the abolition of the old feudal system. The constituent national assembly that emerged from the revolution proclaims, among other things, human and civil rights as well as the abolition of feudal professional rights.

1791 - 1792

The new French Constitution comes into force; popular sovereignty and the separation of powers are anchored in it. The national convention, elected according to universal suffrage, abolished the kingship and condemned Louis XVI. ultimately to death.

1792 - 1797

The first coalition war takes place between Austria and Prussia on the one hand and revolutionary France on the other. Nonetheless, the French Revolution met with broad support among the intellectuals on the part of the opponent. The behavior of the French during their wars and the terrorist consequences of the revolution in France, however, soon allowed many German supporters to distance themselves from it. Nevertheless, the French Revolution subsequently promoted the German nation-state idea.


In the confusion after the execution of Louis XVI. the dictatorship of Robespierre is established. Although Robespierre is himself an outstanding figure in this terror regime, which claims thousands of victims within a very short time, Robespierre is executed. A few years later, Napoleon was able to take advantage of the power vacuum that had developed.


Napoleon distinguished himself as an outstanding general, conquered large parts of central Italy in the first coalition war and forced Austria to peace. Belgium, Lombardy and the German areas to the left of the Rhine fall to France.


On November 9th, the 18th Brumaire on the French revolutionary calendar, Napoleon comes to power through a coup d'état. He fought against England in Egypt and can now use military means to put himself to power. He is elected as the first of three consuls to head the government and declares the revolution to have been brought back to its basics and to have ended. In his position as first consul he is endowed with extensive powers.


Napoleon can be elected consul for life after a plebiscite, thus he has undermined the prevailing universal suffrage and can install an imperial regime.


As "Napoleon I." Napoleon is crowned emperor. In the interplay of diplomacy and military success, he succeeds in achieving hegemony over Europe. He enacts the "Code civil", later also called "Code Napoléon", which defines civil law in France to this day and has a decisive influence on European legal developments.


The Confederation of the Rhine is established under Napoleon's protectorate. By 1811 all German states except Prussia, Austria, Braunschweig and Kurhessen join it. As early as 1804, Emperor Franz II resigned the imperial crown following an ultimatum from Napoleon. This also marked the formal end of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". Prussia, on the other hand, demands the withdrawal of French troops to the right of the Rhine and the dissolution of the Rhine Confederation. The beginning "fourth coalition war" ends with Prussia's defeat in the double battle at Jena and Auerstedt. Napoleon is at the peak of his power for the next 5 years.


Napoleon invades Russia with the help of Austria and Prussia. The Russian-French relationship had deteriorated because Russia suffered economically from the so-called "continental barrier" imposed by Napoleon, which barred English goods from entering continental Europe. A main force of 400,000 soldiers - the "Grande Armée" - crossed the Vistula to the east. After the campaign, which was disastrous for Napoleon, he returns from Russia with only 30,000 soldiers. With the "Convention of Tauroggen" the Prussian General Yorck initiates the Russian-Prussian alliance in December.


March 16

Prussia, on the side of Russia, declares war on Napoleon, who is badly battered by the military. This declaration of war caused a veritable wave of patriotism and raised high hopes for the liberation of France. That is why the wars of 1813 and 1814 are also called "Wars of Liberation". Many volunteers sign up to fight Napoleon. The colors of the Lützow Freikorps - black uniform, red collar, golden buttons - will later form the German national colors.

12. August

Austria and Sweden join the Prussian-Russian alliance against Napoleon. England supports this primarily materially. After long negotiations, the allies agree to set up three armies in the region around Leipzig - the Northern Army, the Silesian Army in the east and the main army in the south.

August September

During the autumn campaign of 1813, on August 23, the Northern Army succeeded in defeating the French army in their advance on Berlin near Großbeeren. The allies of the French army could also inflict a defeat in the Battle of the Katzbach. Napoleon, on the other hand, decides the battles for Dresden against the main army of the allies for himself. After further defeats by the French, the ring around Napoleon tightened, he withdrew and gave up his expansion plans. Despite initial hesitation, the allies are pushing for a decisive battle against Napoleon.


October 14th

General Schwarzenberg, the commander in chief of the allies, advances against Napoleon at Liebertwolkwitz to investigate the position and strength of the enemy and to test the determination with which the Napoleonic army is defending the area south of Leipzig. The exploration developed into the largest cavalry battle of the Wars of Liberation, in which around 15,000 horsemen fight against each other. Although neither side can gain a decisive advantage, it is now clear that both sides want the decisive battle.

October, 16th

Napoleon concentrated his troops in the suburbs of Leipzig. The Battle of Nations begins. Members of around 30 peoples take part in the fighting. Immediately before the battle, the allies have around 205,000 deployable soldiers at their disposal. Napoleon, for his part, has around 200,000 men, which he concentrates mainly south and south-east of Leipzig. After a few preliminary battles, the battles of Wachau in the south and Möckern in the north begin. Although Napoleon initially succeeds in repelling the attack on his positions in Wachau, he cannot use this advantage to counterattack, as the reinforcements expected from the north do not arrive. Without the additional troops, the French counterattack ordered by Napoleon can only develop poorly. When the Battle of Wachau ended in the evening, neither side in the south of Leipzig had any clear advantages. On the other hand, Field Marshal Blücher won the battle at Möckern with the help of the Prussian General Yorck. Because Napoleon lacks these troops in the south, he cannot defeat the opposing center there and thus win the overall battle.

October 17th

The fighting rests on this Sunday. The allies receive further Prussian and Austrian reinforcements and are now superior.

October 18

Napoleon pulls his troops closer together around Leipzig and takes measures to secure the retreat. The allies are again deploying their main forces in the southeast. Although the Napoleonic troops defend themselves bitterly, the allies succeed in winning the victory over Napoleon. He was able to hold his main positions in Connewitz, Probstheida and Stötteritz, but in order not to wipe out his army completely, Napoleon ordered large parts of his troops to march via Lindenau in the afternoon.

October 19th

Unnoticed, Napoleon had the villages in the south-east of Leipzig evacuated during the night. He sends 30,000 soldiers to cover the retreat towards the west. The allies attacked Leipzig late in the morning. At noon the first units penetrate the city. The victorious monarchs Tsar Alexander, King Friedrich Wilhelm III. von Prussia and the Crown Prince of Sweden celebrate their victory in the market square, while the last fighting can still be heard in the city.

Around noon the troops of the Rhine Confederation from Saxony and Baden crossed over to the allies. Due to the premature demolition of the Elsterbrücke, tens of thousands of Napoleonic soldiers were cut off from retreat. Prince Josef Poniatowski, commander in chief of the Polish troops, dies while crossing the Elster, which has been swollen by the heavy rain.

After the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig, Napoleon withdrew to French soil. The Rhine Confederation dissolves by the end of the year.

Saxony is one of the losers in the Battle of Nations and is forced to give up extensive territories. As a result, it loses around 58 percent of its national territory with around 42 percent of its inhabitants, mainly to Prussia. These areas are combined in the newly founded Prussian province of Saxony - Prussia is thus finally a great power.



The allies enter Paris victoriously. Napoleon is deposed and sent to the Mediterranean island of Elba as a sovereign prince. At the Congress of Vienna, the European princes will be negotiating the reorganization of Europe from November. The political system of 1792 is largely reinstalled. In France, which also takes part in the congress, Louis XVIII. installed as king by Bourbon.


Napoleon returns from exile and marches on Paris. The allies take up the fight against him again. On June 18, he was finally defeated at Waterloo and exiled to the British Atlantic island of St. Helena.

The "German Confederation" is founded with the Vienna Congress Act. It consists of 37 sovereign principalities and four free cities and is founded as a counterpart to the national-liberal-constitutional movement in Germany. The tension in the German question will grow between these two directions for the next few decades. Representatives of the German national movement see their hopes for a united Germany disappointed, for which they had fought against Napoleon. In 1815 the (original) fraternity was founded in Jena, which wears the colors black, red and gold and wants to achieve the national unification of Germany under liberal auspices.

Russia, Prussia and Austria form the so-called "Holy Alliance". Almost all European states join it. Because of its defense of the socially conservative system under Metternich, it becomes the epitome of restoration.

Saxony is one of the losers in the Battle of Nations, is forced to cede extensive territory and loses around 58 percent of its national territory with around 42 percent of its inhabitants, mainly to Prussia. These areas are combined in the newly founded Prussian province of Saxony. Prussia is finally a great power.

The Duchy of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach was raised to the status of a Grand Duchy and gained several territories that had previously been in Saxony. After the Congress of Vienna, around 22 percent of today's Thuringian area belong to Prussia. The Kingdom of Saxony no longer has a share in Thuringia. Saxony compensates for these losses through the increased expansion of the state in economic and cultural terms. Due to the increasing industrialization, Saxony can compensate for the economic losses, but is also confronted more strongly with social problems that promote the development of the labor movement.