I don't really understand the French Revolution. What started it, and what stopped it?

The French Revolution — the 10-year period from 1789 to 1799 during which France went from a monarchy ruled by King Louis XVI to a republic ruled by the people . . . and then to a dictatorship run by Napoleon — was one of the bloodiest times in European history. The main cause of the revolution was the French people's frustration with the king in his inability to deal with declining living conditions, namely the country's terrible financial situation, food shortages, and certain religious intolerances. As the people became more resentful of the power of the privileged few, they decided to take action to overthrow the monarchy and install a new government that would be based on a constitution and in which representatives of the people would run the country.

The storming of Bastille Prison is commonly seen as the first significant action of the revolution. This began as a result of King Louis, who had been feeling pressure from reformist groups, reorganizing the French Ministry, which the reformists took as the start of a royalist coup. Totally fed up with the monarchy, the French people took to open rebellion, and many insurgents seized control of the prison, killing the prison's governor and freeing several prisoners. The "Storming of the Bastille" became a symbol of the people rebelling against everything the monarchy represented, and "Bastille Day" is still celebrated in France today, much like Independence Day is celebrated in the United States as the symbolic end of British rule over the American colonies.

Many years of revolutionary struggle resulted in a new French constitution being ratified in 1795, in which the French parliament, composed of 500 representatives and 250 senators, was established. However, many of the remaining royalists continued to fight against the new government, and the opposition had to be suppressed by the French army, which was becoming more and more powerful. This allowed for the enigmatic General Napoleon Bonaparte to stage a coup of his own in 1799 and eventually become Emperor of France in 1804.