This French Revolution timeline lists significant events and developments in the year 1789. This timeline has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest an event for inclusion in this timeline please contact Alpha History.
January 9th: Paris records its 57th straight frost, as France suffers from one of its coldest winters. Reports of orchards dying and food stores spoiling are common.
January 24th: Rules and instructions for electing delegates to the Estates General are finalised and sent out to districts.
January: Emmanuel Sieyes publishes What is the Third Estate?, a pamphlet emphasising the importance of France’s common classes and calling for greater political representation.
January: Louis XVI orders the drafting and compilation of cahiers de doleances or ‘books of grievances’. These cahiers are to be presented at the Estates General.
February: Elections for delegates to the Estates General commence across France.
April 27th: Rumours about wage freezes triggers the Reveillon riots and Henriot riots in Paris.
May 2nd: Delegates to the Estates General are now present at Versailles and are presented to the king at a formal gathering.
May 5th: The Estates General opens at Versailles. The opening session is addressed by the king, minister for justice Barentin and Jacques Necker, who expresses the king’s desire that voting be conducted by order rather than by head.
May 6th: The First Estate (voting 134 to 114) and Second Estate (voting 188 to 46) both endorse voting by order. The Third Estate refuses to meet separately or vote on the issue.
May 27th: Sieyes moves that delegates for the Third Estate affirm their right to political representation.
June 4th: Louis XVI’s seven-year-old son, Louis Joseph Xavier, dies of tuberculosis. His younger brother Louis-Charles becomes Dauphin of France.
June 10th: Sieyes proposes that representatives of the First and Second be invited to join the Third Estate, in order to form a national assembly.
June 13th: At the Estates General, several delegates from the First Estate cross the floor to join the Third Estate.
June 17th: The Third Estate, now joined by some members of the First and Second Estates, vote 490 to 90 to declare themselves the National Assembly of France.
June 20th: After being locked out of its meeting hall, the newly formed National Assembly gathers in a nearby tennis court. There they take the famous Tennis Court Oath, pledging to remain until a constitution has been passed.
June 23rd: At the seance royale, the king delivers a conciliatory speech to the Three Estates and calls on them to return to their separate chambers. He also proposes a reform package to share the taxation burden. The king’s demands are ignored by the National Assembly.
June 24th: More clergymen and nobles, including the Duc d’Orleans, elect to cross the floor and join the National Assembly.
June 27th: Louis XVI backs down and orders delegates from the First and Second Estates to join the National Assembly. On advice, he also orders the army to mobilise and gather outside Paris and Versailles.
June 27th: A group of commissioners are appointed to reform and standardise France’s system of weights and measures.
June 30th: A crowd of 4,000 storms a prison on the left bank of the Seine, freeing dozens of mutinous soldiers.
July: Food prices continue to soar, especially in the cities. In Paris, most workers are spending 80 percent of wages on bread alone.
July 1st: Louis XVI orders the mobilisation of royal troops, particularly around Paris.
July 2nd: Public meetings at the Palais Royal express great concern at the troop build-up and the king’s intentions.
July 6th: The National Assembly appoints a committee to begin drafting a national constitution.
July 8th: The National Assembly petitions the king to withdraw royal troops from the outskirts of Paris.
July 9th: The National Assembly reorganises and formally changes its name to the National Constituent Assembly.
July 11th: Jacques Necker is dismissed by the king. He is replaced by Baron de Breteuil, a conservative nobleman who despises political change.
July 11th: Lafayette proposes that France adopt a ‘Declaration of Rights’, based on the American Bill of Rights.
July 12th: News of the sacking of Necker reaches Paris and generates outrage and fears of a royal coup. This triggers the Paris insurrection. The next two days are marked by demonstrations, riots, attacks on royal officers and soldiers and the sacking of monasteries and chateaux.
July 13th: Fearing a royalist military invasion, the people of Paris begin to gather arms. Affluent Parisians vote to form a citizens’ militia, the National Guard. The role of the National Guard is to protect the city and prevent property damage and theft.
July 14th: The Bastille, a large fortress, prison and armoury in eastern Paris, is attacked and stormed by revolutionaries. Several officials are murdered, including de Launay, governor of the Bastille, and de Flesselles, mayor of Paris.
July 15th: American Revolutionary War veteran the Marquis de Lafayette is appointed commander of the National Guard.
July 15th: Advised that royal troops near Paris were at risk of becoming revolutionary, the king orders them away from the city.
July 16th: The National Constituent Assembly insists on Necker’s recall. The king relents and reappoints him.
July 16th: Large numbers of royal troops massing outside Paris and Versailles are withdrawn.
July 17th: The first signs of the Great Fear begin to appear in rural France. The National Constituent Assembly begins drafting a constitution.
July 22nd: Two prominent figures, finance minister Foullon and commissioner of Paris de Sauvigny, are murdered by Paris mobs.
August 1st: The National Constituent Assembly commits to drafting and accepting a declaration of rights.
August 4th: The National Constituent Assembly begins to dismantle seigneurial feudalism, with many noblemen in the assembly voting to surrender their own privileges and feudal dues. These reforms are codified in the August Decrees.
August 11th: The reforms of August 4th are ratified by the Assembly, albeit with several less-radical amendments.
August 26th: The National Constituent Assembly passes the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
September 10th: The National Constituent Assembly votes 849 to 89 to create a unicameral (single chamber) legislative assembly.
September 11th: The National Constituent Assembly votes 673 to 325 to grant the king a suspensive veto.
September 12th: Jean-Paul Marat‘s radical newspaper The Friend of the People is published on the streets of Paris for the first time.
September 15th: The king uses his suspensive veto and refuses to endorse the August Decrees.
October 1st: The National Constituent Assembly gives in principle agreement to a constitutional monarchy.
October 4th: News reaches Paris that royal soldiers at Versailles stomped on tricolour cockades at a drunken party.
October 5th: Hundreds of Parisian citizens, including large numbers of women, march on Versailles, accompanied by the National Guard. During the night a mob invades the royal apartment and threatens the queen.
October 6th: The king agrees to leave Versailles for Paris, accompanied by the mob and the National Guard. The royal family are received in Paris by a cheering crowd, after which they take up residence at the Tuileries.
October 6th: The king agrees to withdraw his veto and ratify the August Decrees.
October 9th: The National Constituent Assembly agrees to move from Versailles to Paris. It also declares Louis XVI to be “king of the French”, rather than “king of France”.
October 22nd: The National Constituent Assembly begins debating voting rights and the question of ‘active citizens’ and ‘passive citizens’.
November 2nd: The National Constituent Assembly nationalises church lands, passing the Decree on Church Lands and declaring that all ecclesiastical lands are “at the disposal of the nation”.
November 3rd: The National Constituent Assembly votes to suspend the parlements.
November 9th: The National Constituent Assembly relocates to the Tuileries Palace.
December 14-16th: The National Constituent Assembly reforms provincial government, creating 83 new departements.
December 19th: The National Constituent Assembly begins the sale of church lands and approves a first release of 400 million assignats, a paper bond backed by income from these sales. The assignats become a de facto paper currency.
December 22nd: The National Constituent Assembly begins organising elections for the new legislative assembly.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn and S. Thompson, “French Revolution timeline 1789”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], http://alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/french-revolution-timeline-1789/.