The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France

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Macmillan, Dec 26, 2006 - History - 441 pages

For two hundred years, the Terror has haunted the imagination of the West. The descent of the French Revolution from rapturous liberation into an orgy of apparently pointless bloodletting has been the focus of countless reflections on the often malignant nature of humanity and the folly of revolution.

David Andress, a leading historian of the French Revolution, presents a radically different account of the Terror. In a remarkably vivid and page-turning work of history, he transports the reader from the pitched battles on the streets of Paris to the royal family's escape through secret passageways in the Tuileries palace, and across the landscape of the tragic last years of the Revolution. The violence, he shows, was a result of dogmatic and fundamentalist thinking: dreadful decisions were made by groups of people who believed they were still fighting for freedom but whose survival was threatened by famine, external war, and counter-revolutionaries within the fledging new state. Urgent questions emerge from Andress's trenchant reassessment: When is it right to arbitrarily detain those suspected of subversion? When does an earnest patriotism become the rationale for slaughter?

Combining startling narrative power and bold insight, The Terror is written with verve and exceptional pace-it is a superb popular debut from an enormously talented historian.


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User Review  - john257hopper - LibraryThing

This is a very well written historical narrative that, despite its title, really covers the whole of the French revolutionary period from the fall of the Bastille in July 1789 up to and beyond the ... Read full review

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User Review  - JeffV - LibraryThing

The Terror is an in-depth look at the French state leading up to and the years following the revolution of 1792. During this remarkable period of history, public executions (the Guillotine) became ... Read full review


Night Flight
a Hankering After Destruction
The Fall
The September Massacres
Dawn of a New Age
Things Fall Apart
Holding the Centre
IO Glaciation
Triumph and Collapse
Terror Against Terror
Timeline of the French Revolution to 1795
Cast of Characters

Faction and Conspiracy

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About the author (2006)

In the brief midsummer darkness of 20-21 June 1791, Louis XVI, King of the French, fled his capital and his people. Using secret passageways in the Tuileries palace, the royal family were spirited away by a small band of loyal followers, leaving central Paris in a hired hackney carriage driven by Axel von Fersen, a dashing young Swedish knight, and rumoured lover of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Outside the city walls Fersen left them to make his own escape, and the party embarked in a second-hand berline, a bulky coach pulled by a team of six horses. Louis had spurned the chance to flee in anything lighter and faster, because it would have meant traveling apart from his wife and their two children. Together, he reasoned, they were safer, but as the coach creaked and groaned eastwards towards the frontier fortress of Montmedy, laden down with the family, their attendants, bodyguards and luggage, it would prove a fatefully unwise choice.

The fugitives’ schedule had been carefully plotted, and relays of cavalry were to see them to safety, once they had passed into the jurisdiction of the marquis de Bouille, loyal governor of the frontier region. The departure had been delayed by several hours, however, by last-minute hesitations and confusions, and the berline was too slow to make up the time. The duc de Choiseul, commander of the first relay of horsemen, presumed the escape postponed (as it had been once already, after repeated earlier reschedulings), and ordered his men to withdraw to barracks, concerned that their presence was alarming the locals. He passed the same instruction to all the later relays. Ignorant of this critical decision, the royal party proceeded towards the first rendezvous. Escorted by only two horsemen, the berline meandered on across the rolling landscape of Champagne as morning turned to afternoon—twice the king ordered a rest-stop, and, casting aside all effort at concealment, chatted with passers-by as if nothing unusual was occurring.

Yet what was happening was amazing and traumatic. Not since the religious and political strife of the early seventeenth century had a king of France had to flee his people, and never had one made so brazenly—or so desperately—for the frontiers. This episode had been brought about by upheavals which were unprecedented in European history, with a long and tortured trail of antecedents reaching across Louis’ reign into that of his predecessor. If the king and his companions regarded their move with insouciance, this was a symptom of the wider delusions that the entire court laboured under, long after events had first decisively challenged their right to rule France as they saw fit…

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