The Prussians surrounded Paris, set up their HQ at the
Palace of Versailles, to the SW, and were able to bombard
much of the city with Krupps' big new
of Napoleon III
Defeated Emperor Napoleon III was overthrown as a result of
an unwise and unnecessary war with Prussia (Germany). His
army was defeated on the France's NE border with Germany in
1870. He was captured and taken to Berlin; meanwhile, people
took to the streets in Paris and the National Assembly
proclaimed the Third Republic.
Initial euphoria evaporated when Prussian troops continued
the war. They swept in to surround Paris, and occupied much
of the north in 1870. Britain stayed neutral, but insisted
that the Prussians did not interfere with the Channel ports.
The Prussians made their HQ in Versailles - a symbolic
gesture, since it was the home of Louis
XIV who had humiliated them in
the 17th century. While the Prussians besieged and starved
the city, the leaders of the new Republic were cut off from
the rest of the country. A few Republic politicians in the
provinces, like Gambetta and Faidherb, tried
to organise armed resistance to the Prussians, but poor
communications meant there was no coordination.
Meanwhile at Versailles, the triumphant
Prussians declared Wilhelm the new Kaiser of a united German
Because Paris was the centre of culture, many artists and
creative people were caught up in the events.
Hugo wrote an epic poem about the
brave but forlorn defence of Paris which was followed by the
bloody episode of the Paris Commune. The "Terrible Year"
made him a national hero and the living symbol of
republicanism in France.
When the Republic's moderate leaders announced that Paris
was running short of food and had to surrender, the Paris
mob felt betrayed and took to the streets. The Prussians
left the French republic to deal with its own radical
revolutionaries, which they did in a bloodthirsty way. The
Commune was crushed in 3 months, by which time more people
had been killed than in the Terror of the French
Revolution. The Paris mob's brief
revolt was a harsh comment on how bleak life could be for
ordinary people in 19th century France - a very unequal and
corrupt society that brutalised many of its poor.
Effects on the
After crushing the Paris Commune, the leaders of the new
Third Republic had to negotiate humiliating peace terms with
the victorious Prussians. Kaiser Wilhelm and his Chanellor
Bismarck insisted on annexing the rich Rhineland border
areas of Alsace and Lorraine - Louis
XIV had siezed from Germany back in the 17th
In the 19th century, Alsace-Lorraine had become an
important industrial area, with big iron and steel works.
After 1871, these industries grew up in the North instead,
protected by French tariffs from foreign competition.
researched on microbes in Lille after the war . The city is
an important centre for scientific and medical research with
The defeat was seen as a challenge to French pride. New
sporting clubs were established
(football, rugby, cycling, athletics), copying the idea from
Victorian England that young men would get fit and learn to
fight better through team games. In culture and science,
people set out to prove that the French could excel - like
Louis Pasteur, discovering microbes and how to clean
wounds while researching in a Lille brewery.
Above all, the French were determined to win back the
lost lands - the Prussian victory of 1870-71 made the
First World War inevitable (and
thus the Second World War