For all the controversy that continues to surround the course of events in France between the summoning of the Estates-General and the fall of Brienne in the summer of 1788 and the summoning of the Convention and the fall of the monarchy in the summer of 1792, it is nowhere in dispute that they constituted a revolution— that is, in the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary (s.v. III.7), ‘a complete overthrow of the established government in any country or state by those who were previously subject to it’. Indeed, they constituted such an overthrow in a manner and to a degree without precedent. Neither the English Civil War (and still less the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688) nor the War of American Independence are properly comparable with them. In calling the French Revolution ‘unnecessary’, therefore, I am not seeking to minimize either its importance (of which more later) or its novelty. Nor do I maintain that the problems by which the ancien régime was confronted could have been resolved by any scheme of reform which would have preserved intact the existing forms and distribution of power. I mean only that the Revolution was unnecessary in two different senses: first, it only took place as it did because of a wholly unfore-seeable series of coincidences; second, its eventual outcome in terms of the broad difference in social structure between eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century France would have happened in any case. These assertions, moreover, are not—or so I hope to show—as controversial as they may seem: properly stated, both should be equally acceptable to ‘orthodox’ and ‘revisionist’ historians alike.