The French Revolution is usually regarded as the main historical dividing line between Europe’s ancien regime and the modern world. It replaced a traditional social order based on hierarchy and privilege with a new one based on modern principles of freedom and equality. It swept away the structures of absolute monarchy, perfected in the latter half of the 17th century by Louis XIV, and replaced them with a parliamentary system based on electoral politics. The scale of the change was enormous and the process was long and physically violent, ending with a military coup d’état in 1799 which brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power. Yet once it had started neither France nor the world would ever be the same again. For, although much of its initial impact was confined to France, the shock waves spread to the rest of Europe with the revolutionary wars which began in 1792 and lasted for over twenty years until Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo.
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