The French Revolution gave a new history to the country of France, who usually has a bad rep in history. Enlightenment thinking, structure of social classes, and poor harvests caused The Old Regime to fall. But how? We’ll start this series off right with the revolution.
For many, many years people believed in the King’s word, with (before the invention of the metric system), everything would be measured by the kings arm instead of feet or anything else. People believed in Divine Power, which meant that the King was given his power, and rightfully deserved it through God. But, This is the age of Enlightenment, my friends! The age of enlightenment brought new thinking to the minds of the stupid people — erm, working class of the French World.
This video is an amazing representation of what went through France before, during and after the Revolution. If you like history and videos similar to this, then head on over to HistoryTeacher’s Youtube Page.
Let’s take a look at the structure of the French social classes shall we? Ok. Now, the people were split into three separate Estates, labeled simply as First, Second and Third Estate. Here’s the kicker:
First Estate (Clergymen) : 1% of the population (owning 10% of land)
Second Estate (Nobility) : 2% of the population (owning 25% of land)
Third Estate (Everybody Else) : 97% of the population
Now, first and second class had these things called privilages which meant they…don’t have to pay taxes. Now, due to the French being in debt to help the Americans (MURICA) during their revolutionary war, and being in debt to several other things, the government needed a swift way to get out of debt. How? LET’S TAX 97% OF THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T REALLY HAVE MONEY!
In 1787, 10% of income earned by the third estate went to the government. This was their tithe payment, or taxes to the clergymen. However, by 1788 inflation caused the cost of food to go skyrocketing up! Now, 90% of their money went to bread! And where is that other 10% going? Tithe! Sneaky rich people!
Well, it kind of looked like this:
And yes, I know, I’m pro in Microsoft Paint.
Moving forward, the clergy, or first estate, owned roughly 10% of land, and the nobility, or second estate, owned roughly 25%. The third estate, essentially everyone worth a damn, saw that the top two classes, roughly 3% of the population, owned 35% OF THE COUNTRY’S LAND. Oh, it’s about to go down.
Now, let’s move to supply and demand. Poor harvests began, meaning there is less food. Supply and demand costs go up, bread costs more money, tithe payments remain, people are broke, people are hungry, people want answers, people are mad. Ok, simple right?
Short term causes also included the unpopular king Louis XVI and his “Austrian whore” of a wife (this is seriously the nickname given to her by the third estate), Marie Antoinette. The American (MURICA) Revolution, the 7 years war (that lasted 8 years, just saying), and several mini wars with a country known as Britain, left France in debt, and caused the tithe or tax prices to rise.
Louis XVI (Pronounced LEW-EE the Sixteenth), grandson of Louis the FIFTEENTH (very simply put his father died of smallpox and he continued the heir of the throne for his divine rights yadda yadda), married Marie Antoinette at the age of 15 to mend a relationship with Austria, longtime enemy of France. They were popular at first, being seen as a brand new age, and eventually had their downfall as two of the most unpopular figureheads in French History. How did it go from them being popular to them being sent to the guillotine? How does the Reign of Terror affect the future rebellion boiling at the banks of French Society? We’ll look more into the Old Regime’s downfall, the uprising of the Jacobins and much more in the next upcoming posts.
Vive le France!