This French Revolution timeline lists significant events and developments up to and including 1788. 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.
The Enlightenment, a period of intellectual curiosity, scientific investigation, philosophical and political debate, begins to reach its peak in France.
April: The War of the Austrian Succession is ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. This war ended in a stalemate, with no advantage for France, however it greatly expanded the French national debt.
October: Baron de Montesquieu publishes The Spirit of the Laws, a treatise on political philosophy. Montesquieu’s book explored different systems and conceptions of government, particularly the separation of powers.
August 23rd: Louis, Duc de Berry – the future Louis XVI – is born at Versailles.
November 2nd: Marie Antoinette, youngest daughter of Maria Theresa and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, is born in Vienna.
May 18th: The outbreak of the Seven Years’ War with Britain and her colonies, which further exacerbates the French debt crisis.
The French writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes The Social Contract, which explores the relationship between individuals, liberty and the state.
December 20th: Louis, Dauphin of France, dies of tuberculosis at Fointainebleau. His son, the future Louis XVI, becomes heir to the French throne.
May 16th: The marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France (the future Louis XVI) and the 14-year-old Austrian princess Marie Antoinette.
May 10th: The death of King Louis XV. His grandson, the Dauphin, becomes King Louis XVI.
August 24th: The new king appoints the French economist Anne Robert Turgot as his finance minister.
August-September: Poor grain harvests are recorded across France. The government implements emergency measures and the new king agrees to fix the price of bread.
April: The American Revolutionary War begins, after American colonists and British soldiers open fire at Lexington.
June: Louis XVI is crowned as king.
May: After attempting some limited economic reform, finance minister Anne Robert Turgot is dismissed by Louis XVI.
October: Swiss banker Jacques Necker is appointed as Turgot’s successor.
July: The young French nobleman Marquis de Lafayette sails to America and volunteers to fight with the American revolutionaries. He is later given a general’s commission in the American Continental Army.
February: The French government signs a military alliance with the American Continental Congress.
July: Louis XVI formally declares war on Britain and orders a full mobilisation of the French army and navy.
January: Jacques Necker publishes Compte Rendu, a comprehensive though rather misleading account of the national finances of France.
May 19th: Necker resigns as the controller-general of finances, after failures to implement reform and opposition from several quarters of the government.
October 22nd: Marie Antoinette gives birth to a son, Louis Joseph Xavier, Dauphin of France.
De Laclos publishes Les Liaisons Dangereuse (‘Dangerous Liaisons’), novel that depicts the French nobility as leisure loving, amoral and debauched.
September 3rd: The Treaty of Paris brings the American Revolutionary War to a close. Involvement in the war has cost the French government more than 1.8 billion livres.
November 3rd: The king appoints lawyer Charles de Calonne as the controller-general of finances.
August: Marie Antoinette and her inner circle become embroiled in the ‘Diamond Necklace affair’, following the theft of a necklace valued at around 2 million livres.
May 31st: Cardinal de Rohan and others are acquitted by the Paris parlement for their role in the ‘Diamond Necklace affair’. While she was not involved or implicated in the trial, Marie Antoinette is discredited by rumours.
August 20th: New finance minister Charles de Calonne informs Louis XVI that the nation is facing bankruptcy. He proposes immediate reforms including a new land tax, a stamp duty and commutation of the corvee.
September 26th: French ministers sign a trade agreement with England, containing reductions in duty for certain imports and exports.
December 29th: Seeking to push through his reforms and bypass the parlements, Calonne orders the convocation of the Assembly of Notables.
February 22nd: The first Assembly of Notables opens. Over the following days it hears evidence and testimony about the nation’s financial plight.
March: Calonne publicly floats his tax reforms, however they are opposed by the Assembly of Notables.
April 8th: Louis attempts to break the stalemate by dismissing Calonne as finance minister.
May 1st: The king appoints Etienne Brienne as finance minister, a move intended to win support from the Assembly of Notables.
May 25th: After debating and rejecting Brienne’s own package of taxation reforms, the first Assembly of Notables is dissolved.
June: Brienne sends bills proposing taxation reform to the parlements.
June 27th: The Brienne government issues an edict commuting the corvee and replacing it with a money tax, approximately one-sixth of the taille.
July: The Paris parlement rejects Brienne’s legislative proposals for reforming the taxation system.
August: The king dismisses the Paris and Bordeaux parlements, ordering them into exile.
September: Unable to register his taxation reforms, Brienne withdraws them and settles for an extension of the vingtieme.
October: The king allows the exiled parlements to be recalled and re-seated.
November 19th: At Brienne’s suggestion, the king calls a lit de justice to push through several reforms. This triggers protests from the parlement and the Duke of Orleans.
November 20th: The Duke of Orleans is exiled from Paris and Versailles by lettre de cachet after criticising the king’s treatment of the parlements.
January: The parlement registers further national loans but declares all lettres de cachet to be illegal.
May 3rd: The Paris parlement issues a “Declaration of the Fundamental Laws of France”. Among its clauses were strong criticisms of lettres de cachet and a demand that the Estates-General be convoked to verify any tax reforms.
May 4th: In response to the declaration above, the king issues lettres de cachet ordering the arrest of two members of the Paris parlement.
May 8th: The king and his ministers issue edicts removing some of the powers of parlements and formally abolishing the use of torture.
June 7th: Mobs protest in Grenoble and Brittany, demanding the reinstatement of their local parlement.
June: Church representatives authorise a don gratuit of only 1.8 million livres, less than one quarter the figure sought by the government.
July: Several provincial assemblies and gatherings demand the reinstatement of the parlements and the convocation of the Estates-General.
July 13th: Much of France is struck by a severe storm with prolonged heavy hail. This decimates already struggling crops and contributes to poor returns at harvest time.
August 8th: After learning the state is unable to meet its loan repayments, Brienne schedules the Estates-General for May 1789.
August 16th: Now virtually bankrupt, the government suspends making interest payments on some of its debts.
August 25th: Brienne resigns as finance minister and is replaced by Necker. His resignation triggers celebrations in Paris. Critics of Brienne are released from arrest or exile.
September 25th: The parlement decrees that the Estates-General convenes with the same structures and procedures as its previous assembly (1614). Several days later the parlement attempts to ban publications which demand political representation for the Third Estate.
October 5th: Necker convenes another Assembly of Notables to discuss arrangements for the Estates-General. He proposes that representation for the Third Estate be doubled.
November: The Society of Thirty, a group of liberal nobles in favour of constitutional reform, is formed at Versailles.
December 12th: After refusing Necker’s proposal to increase Third Estate representation and failing to provide any solutions to the taxation crisis, the second Assembly of Notables is dissolved.
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 to 1788”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/french-revolution-timeline-1788/.