Before the French revolution, social inequality was a huge problem in France. France was divided into three estates. The estate that a person was in determining their rights, obligations, and status. The first estate was made up of the Catholic clergy, including monks, nuns, priests, and bishops. The second estate was made up of the French nobility. The third estate consisted of all the other people of France. These people included peasants, merchants, poor lawyers, and poor labourers. The estates began to anger the citizens of the third estate. The third estate resented its several positions within French society. The third estate was forced to pay heavy taxes while the other two did not. Many people in the third estate felt as though they were being crushed by the clergy and nobility and were being treated very unfairly. This caused anger and chaos.
The tax burden on the third estate
The tax burden on the third estate was an important cause of the French revolution and explains how each of the different estates was treated. The First Estate in France owned 10% of the land, but their spokesmen provided only 0.5% of the population. The first estate was very wealthy and didn’t have to pay any taxes. They had many privileges including tithes which is where they take one-tenth of taxes to support the Church. The second estate owned 25% of the land and was 1.5% of the population. The second estate was free from paying most taxes and were allowed to collect dues from the third estate. On the other hand, the third estate took up 98% of the population, owned 65% of the land, and was forced to pay heavy taxes. This was one of the main reasons why the third estate was poor. Will all of their money being spent paying excessive taxes they had very little money to spend on food (the price of bread had also risen due to the rising of taxes). This burdened the third estate leading to their questioning this unjust Estates System and planning to overthrow it.
The monarchy spent money on unnecessary things which caused anger amongst the third estate. Using the money on buying extravagant luxuries, first by Louis XV and then by Louis XVI, increased the economic crisis facing France and was one of the primary reasons behind the revolution. One example of this was the construction and remodelling of the Palace of Versailles during the 17th and 18th centuries. Another example of unnecessary spending was the Marie Antoinette spent much money on refurbishing the Palace of Versailles, which included the Petit Trianon. She also spent lots of money on clothes, jewellery, and gambling. These large amounts of money being spend on unnecessary things by the French monarchy made the third estate very dissatisfied and began to view their leaders as wasteful while they had to suffer due to the poor economic state of the nation. The third estate had to pay all the taxes. Another reason that the French third estate was angry at the monarchy is that instead of helping with the food shortage when told about the bread shortage, Marie Antonette said “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake”. This led to national trouble and eventually to the revolution.
An important cause of the french revolution is the economic crisis that France was facing at the time. Throughout the 1700’s France was involved with several wars (mainly against Britain) which cost them a lot of money. One example of this was during the American war of independence against Britain. France had allied with the US and helped with America’s war efforts. This was very expensive and caused France to go into bankruptcy. King Louis XVI’s decision to help America during the war would soon cause him to be facing a financial crisis in his own country. Louis XVI tried to fix his country’s financial crisis by increasing tax rates on the third estate and new taxes for the nobility. By doing this Louis XVI failed to realise that the French nobility would work to block his plans and the third estate would soon become angry with the monarchy. Another reason the cause of France’s economic crisis was the expensive extravagant lifestyles of the French monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1623 the Palace of Versailles was first built by Luis XIII and over the next 155 years, the palace saw expensive renovations and additions. Marie Antoinette ordered a new theatre to be built in the Palace of Versailles. In total, the entire building of the Palace of Versailles would have cost France around $2 billion in today’s value. Marie Antoinette also spent lots of money on fancy clothing and jewellery. By spending money on all of these things it left little money to spend on food which caused a food shortage for the third estate (also because the first and second estates were eating it all). These large expenditures by the French monarchy were the main causes of France’s economic crisis which angered the third estate (because their taxes increased with every expenditure of the monarchy) and directly led to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
There are many other causes of the French Revolution but these are a few of the main ones.
Tennis court oath
The tennis court oath greatly impacted the direction of the French revolution. It was decided that in May in 1789 people from all the Estates should meet. The Third Estate demanded a share of power and constitution but these ideas were opposed by the other two estates and the king. The king tried to end the meeting but members from the third estate met in a nearby tennis court. They said that they would not go home until they were granted a constitution. They called themselves the National Assembly. The third estate took the tennis court oath voting “not to separate and reassemble whenever necessary until the kingdom’s constitution was established. The third estate benefited from the events of the tennis court oath because it showed that the people’s will could overpower the will of the monarch. The tennis court oath was a critical event in the French Revolution.
The storming of the Bastille
The storming of the Bastille was a significant event that showed that the lower class had more power than several higher classes thought. The Bastille was a prison fortress in Paris that was not heavily guarded because it held only a few common prisoners at the time. The Bastille was built to defend the eastern wall of Paris back in 1382 during the war against the English. On the 14th of July, 1798 an angry mob of members in the third estate stormed the Bastille. They had gathered 3000 rifles and a few cannons before storming the Bastille and after storming it they went inside to look for more weapons and ammunition. During the storming 7 prisoners were released. The Bastille was hated by all people of France because it stood for the powers of King Louis XVI and so the members of the third estate stormed it to show that they have power. The storming of the Bastille was a symbolic event and is celebrated in France every year.
March on Versailles
On the morning of October 5th, 1789, the woman set out on a march from Paris to Versailles in the hopes to get bread for it was too expensive for them to buy. They wanted to buy bread for their family. They were armed with pitchforks, pikes, and muskets. To the beat of a drum, the woman chanted “Bread! Bread!”. After hours of marching in the rain, the crowd arrived at the king's palace in Versailles. Once the crowd arrived at Versailles they demanded to meet the king (they called him Baker). A small group of women met with the king. He agreed to provide them food from the king's stores and promised more in the future. Some agreed with this arrangement but some stayed to the pretest longer. The Palace was broken into and the King stood on a balcony where he agreed to retire to Paris with the revolutionaries. They then demanded to see the Queen. They nearly killed her but she was saved by Lafayette who kissed her on the hand. The crowd calmed and allowed her to live. This became one of the most significant events of the French Revolution, eventually forcing the royals to return to Paris.
The royal family attempted to flee
The royal family fleeing was an important part of the French revolution and slowly led to their death and the end of the monarchy. The royal family consisted of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Louis XVII, Marie Therese, Louis Joseph, Sophie, Jean Amilcar, Armand Gagne. Sophie and Louis XVII both died before the French Revolution had begun aged 1 and 7. On June 21st, 1791 the royal family realised it was too dangerous to stay in France with everything that was going on around them so they decided to escape from Paris to Valenciennes. They were then caught in Varennes, and the revolutionary government’s trust faded completely and the revolutionary government became hostile towards the royal family. The royal family was then held captive. Marie and her children were kept separate from Louis XVI for a short while but then were separated. Louis XVI was executed on January the 21st, 1793. Louis-Charles was kept in a dark room where he was abused and was forced to give false accusations that he was sexually molested by his Mother and Aunt. These false accusations were then used during Marie Antoinette's trial on October 16th, 1793. Louis-Charles died at 10 years old due to tuberculosis. Marie Therese survived and then married Louis Duc d’Angouléme and died aged 72.
The overthrow of the monarchy
The monarchy had complete control over all aspects of society. These aspects included political power, economics, and all forms of authority. The overthrow of the monarchy happened on the 10th of August, 1792. King Louis and Mary-Antoinette attempted to escape Paris when they realised it was getting too dangerous. They were caught and were imprisoned in August 1792. This was the day the French revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy because they had found out that Louis XVI was guilty of treason. The person who led the overthrow of the monarchy was Georges Danton. He was a French Revolutionary leader, often credited as the chief in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic. By overthrowing the monarchy, France had begun a new error and leapt several closers to being equal as a country.
Execution of the king
The execution of the King greatly impacted the future of France. After the royal family had been imprisoned in Paris King Louis XVI was killed. King Louis XVI had failed to address France’s financial problems and was found guilty of treason. On January 21st, 1793 he was executed by Charles-Henri Sanson by use of the guillotine. He was executed in the Palace de la Concorde in Paris. After Louis was killed the reign of terror began in which Marie Antoinette was the first person killed. King Louis XVI failed to address France’s financial problems which caused famine and poverty for the lower estate.
There were many other events that took place during the French Revolution, these are the main ones.
Establishment of a republic in France
The French revolution led to the establishment of a republic in France. The National convention's first act was to establish the French First Republic and officially strip the king of all political powers. Disappointment with Louis XVI led to the establishment of the First French Republic on September 22nd, 1792. Shortly after, Louis XVI was executed in January. In June, an uprising in Paris replaced the National Assembly with the Committee of Public Safety, headed by Maximilien Robespierre.
The reign of terror
The reign of terror was a bloody time for France, killing thousands of innocent citizens. After the death of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette was killed making her the first victim during the reign of terror. The reign of terror lasted for over 6 months starting September 5th, 1793, and ending July 28th, 1794. The reign of terror was when most of the executions were done. The reign of terror was designed to fight the people that didn’t agree with the revolution and to prevent counter-revolution from gaining ground. Across France, over 30,000 people lost their lives during the reign of terror. The person in charge of the reign of terror, Maximillien Robespierre, said: “the softness of traitors will destroy us all”. As more blood was shed, people realised that this could not continue, so enemies of Robespierre planned to overthrow him. On July 27th, 1794 Maximillien Robespierre was removed from power and executed the next day making him the last victim of the reign of terror. During the events of the reign of terror, all possible supporters of the king were killed to prevent any chance of counter-revolution from happening.
The abolish of feudalism
The National Constituent Assembly abolished the feudal system and all the laws of the Old Regime. Acting on the night of 4 August 1789, the National Constituent Assembly announced, "The National Assembly abolishes the feudal system entirely." It abolished both the Athourtal rights of the Second Estate and the earnings gathered by the First Estate. The abolishment was directed both at the lands held by the nobility as well as the lands held by the Church. With the abolishment of feudalism, all the feudal privileges of the nobility were also revoked. By abolishing feudalism, over 50% of Males were now able to vote This caused more equality in France between the three estates (that were no longer there once feudalism was abolished).
Laying the groundwork of communism
The French Revolution didn’t directly produce 19th century ideologies known as Socialism and Communism. However, it did provide an intellectual and social environment in which these ideologies, and their spokesmen, could flourish. The French communist philosophers of the late 18th century not only criticized private property but also called for its abolition and the establishment of a society based on the egalitarian and communal ownership of property. French political agitator and journalist François-Noël Babeuf went to the extent of advocating violent revolutionary action in the name of socialization of wealth. Also, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, among the most important communist thinkers, were educated in late 18th and early 19th century when there was widespread revolutionary activity.
New modern nationalism
The French Revolution began the movement toward the new modern nation. French armies under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte captured territories, and the beliefs of Nationalism were spread across Europe. The Revolution didn’t just impact French Nationalism but had a great, long-lasting impact on all Europeans. Due to this, the struggle for national freedom became one of the most important subjects of 19th and 20th-century European and world politics.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military general, the first emperor of France, and one of the world's greatest leaders. In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte was made the First of three Consuls of France. It granted him unlimited executive power under another constitution. When Napoleon was declared the First Consul of France he said “Citizens! The revolution is established on the principles with which it began. It is over”. Now Napoleon began to set in motion some of his most impressive accomplishments. These accomplishments included launching the civil code of the French people, signing a concordat with the Vatican in an attempt to heal the wounds of the revolution’s effects on the papacy, and, on May 18th, 1804, orchestrating a national vote that proclaimed him emperor. During the war against various coalitions of European nations, Napoleon expanded his nation but just two years later after a disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon abdicated the throne and was exiled to the island of Elba. Today Napoleon is widely considered one of the greatest military generals in history.
These are only some of the consequences!