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European & International History - French Revolution

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European & International History

The French Revolution

The Origins of the French Revolution

Mastering Modern European History Pg1

Slide1: Long term causes accumulate gradually in time while short term causes accumulate closer to the event.[pic 1]

Slide 2: The Ancien Regime (ancient reign): King Louis XVI ruled by divine right, if he failed to act according to reason, then he would face the judgement of god.

  •  Furthermore, it is a life based on traditional ideas in which people used to believe blindly in the power of the King. They had the idea that the King was appointed by God.[pic 2]
  • There was still the use of the Feudal System with the King on top and the peasants at the bottom. The peasants work hard on the land of the king or of the nobles.  The population structure in France was divided amongst three estates apart from the Feudal system.

Slide 3:

Royal officials in France acted as the “King” in the provinces. The Intendants oversaw troops and oversaw the collection of taxes. France was divided in 34 provinces. [pic 3]

The Intendents was a council acting on behalf of the King. These people in power were abusing of the system because not all they collected was sent to the monarch.

  • The King’s financial system was chaotic.  There was widespread abuse of the tax system and many groups in society (the clergy and the nobility) were exempt from tax.
  • It is not fair that the wealthy do not pay tax while the poor pay for tax. All must pay so that the system would be fair with everyone.

Slide 4:

The Three Estates

The First Estate -  The Clergy Antagonisms existed between the upper clergy and the cures (village priests) who understood the weight of taxation and feudal dues on their flocks.

The Second Estate – The Nobility

  1. Nobles of the Sword, conferred by birth
  2. Robe nobles, office holders in government
  3. Provincial nobility

Ennoblement could be conferred by purchasing a post in the government’s administration or in the law. If kept in the family for two or three generations, the title became hereditary.

Nobles privileges – tax exemption (taille and gabelle), exempt from corvee or forced labour on the roads, could wear a sword in public places and could be tried in special courts, exempt from military service.

The Third Estate – The Bourgeoisie and Peasants

The Bourgeoisie made their living in towns, their wealth was derived from trade investments or skills or from inheritances. The Bourgeoisie included rentiers, lawyers, financiers, doctors, shopkeepers, ship-owners, commercial traders, low-ranking office holders, craft workers and small-scale manufacturers

If you were born in an Estate, you could not change your estate. By the second half of the 18th century the third estate started enriching themselves and wanted to change their social status.

The First Estate

  • The Church at this period apart from a spiritual institution had some political influence.

The Second Estate

  • Nobles had privileges and social status and were exempt from taxation. This estate includes barons, Marie and counts.
  • Nobles of the Sword could defend themselves.
  • Robe Nobles had a post in the local government.
  • Provisional nobility spreads.
  • Ennoble made the title themselves and the ancient nobles did not like since they were an exclusive group.
  • Taille is known as income tax.
  • Gabelle is a tax on the consumption of salt. Salt was widely used during this period to preserve food.
  • Corvee was forced labour were the French people had to do some hours of service to their country. E.g. building

Third Estate

  • Bourgeoisie were middle class professionals such as doctors, merchants and bankers.
  • The society was pushing for change since they were not happy with the current local situation.

Slide 5:

J.H. Sherman ‘There was no fundamental hostility between the bourgeoisie and the nobility before the revolution.’

During the 18th century the dividing lines between the rich bourgeoisie and the nobility were becoming blurred.

  • Ennoblement of bourgeoisie families offended the pride of grandees with ancient titles who never accepted the idea that true nobility could be bought.
  • The corruption before the revolution had already began and the society of France was structured into estates.
  • The First Estate wanted to remain an exclusive group and were not ready to approve that the other people could improve.

Slide 6:

Feudalism was accepted as a system. People were given land and protection by lords and in return peasants would work and fight for them. Peasant revolts were spontaneous. Peasants aspirations were poor.

Agriculture was backward. The revolution in farming techniques taking place in Britain seemed to bypass the French countryside. The poor state of rural transport before the advent of railways, made it almost impossible to move foods to the market where peasants could receive decent prices. In 1788 harvests failed and millions of peasants had barely enough land to guarantee their survival. In the year of a good harvest they might scrape through.

  • The Industrial Revolution in Britain was advancing while France legged behind. Small revolts in France had stated the farmers were getting up against their Lords but it was still contained. At this period agriculture was the backward of the economy.

Slide 7:

Taxes and dues paid by peasants:

  1. taille – direct tax
  2. gabelle – salt tax
  3. tithes – c.8% of each year’s produce to the Church
  4. corvee –  forced labour on the roads; extremely unpopular

There was also tax on inheritance and on the produce of merchants.



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