Model guillotine carved from sheep bones by a French prisoners of war. Copyright Plymouth City Council. Photography Relic Imaging Ltd.

French citizens changed the world for ever in 1789 when they revolted against their King Louis XVI. The monarchies of Europe invaded France, trying to crush the young French Republic before its “dangerous” ideas of egalitarianism and liberty could spread.

The Revolutionary Wars began, and the French armies successfully defeated British, German and Austrian invaders. The French used mass conscription and revolutionary enthusiasm to recruit huge numbers of soldiers.

The fraternity of the Revolution quickly turned to paranoia and tyranny. King Louis was executed for plotting with foreign monarchs to attack France. Suspicious of traitors and spies, the new French Republic turned inward, killing 40,000 people in 4 years of “Terror”. Aristocrats, priests, and unlucky revolutionaries were executed by guillotine, while French armies ravaged Belgium, Italy, and rebellious parts of France. Chaos was spreading across Europe.