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In 1789, France was the powerhouse of Europe, v a large overseas empire, solid colonial trade links as well as a growing silk trade at home, and was the center of the knowledge movement in Europe. The revolution which engulfed France shocked she European counterparts and readjusted the food of French politics and also government completely. Countless of its worths – liberté, égalité, fraternité – are quiet widely used as a motto today.

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1. Luigi XVI & Marie Antoinette

France had an absolute monarchy in the 18th century – life centred approximately the king, that had finish power. Whilst theoretically this can work well, it to be a system greatly dependent on the personality of the king in question. Louis XVI to be indecisive, shy and also lacked the charisma and also charm i m sorry his predecessors had actually so benefits from.

The court in ~ Versailles, just external Paris, had in between 3,000 and 10,000 courtiers living over there at any one time, every bound by strict etiquette. Together a huge and facility social collection required management by the king in bespeak to manage power, bestow favours and also keep a watchful eye over potential troublemakers. Louis simply didn’t have the capacity or iron will vital to carry out this.

Louis’ wife and also queen, Marie Antoinette, was an Austrian-born princess whose (supposedly) profligate spending, Austrian sympathies and alleged sexual deviancy to be targeted repeatedly. Incapable of exhilaration in a means which can have reinvented public opinion, the royal pair saw themselves become scapegoats for far an ext issues than those i beg your pardon they could control.


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Marie Antoinette in a basic muslin dress by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun.

Image Credit: windy Domain


As an pure monarch, luigi was also held somewhat responsible – along with his advisors – because that failures. Failures could only it is in blamed on advisors or exterior parties for so long, and by the late 1780s, the king self was the target of well-known discontent and anger rather than those approximately him: a dangerous place for an absolute monarch to be in. Whilst contemporaries may have perceived the king together being anointed through God, it was their subjects who allowed them to keep this status.

2. Inherited problems

By no way did luigi XVI inherit straightforward situation. The power of the French monarchy had peaked under louis XIV, and by the time Louis XVI inherited, France uncovered herself in an significantly dire financial situation, dilute by the seven Years War and also American war of Independence.

With an old and inefficient taxation device which saw big portions that the wealthiest parts of French society exempt from significant taxes, the burden was carried by the poorest and simply didn’t administer enough cash.

Variations by an ar also caused unhappiness: Brittany ongoing to pay the gabelle (salt tax) and the pays d’election no much longer had regional autonomy, for example. The system was clunky and also unfair, through some locations over-represented and also some under-represented in government and also through jae won contributions. It was desperately in need of scan reforms.The French economic climate was likewise growing significantly stagnant. Hampered by internal tolls and also tariffs, regional trade was slow and also the agricultural and industrial revolution which was hitting britain was much slower to arrive, and also to be adopted in France.

3. The manors System & the bourgeoise

The chateaus System was far from distinct to France: this old feudal social structure broke culture into 3 groups, clergy, nobility and everyone else. In the middle ages period, before the boom of the seller classes, this mechanism did broadly reflect the structure of the world. As an ext and much more prosperous self-made guys rose v the ranks, the system’s rigidity came to be an increasing resource of frustration. The brand-new bourgeoise course could just make the leap come the 2nd Estate (the nobility) through the practice of venality, the buying and also selling the offices.

Following parlements blocking of reforms, luigi XVI was persuaded to speak to an assembly recognized as the estates General, which had actually last been referred to as in 1614. Every estate attracted up a perform of grievances, the cahier de doleances, which were presented come the king. The event turned into a stalemate, v the an initial and second Estates continually voting to block the third Estate the end of a petty desire to save their standing firm, refusing to acknowledge the have to work with each other to achieve reform.

These deep divisions in between the estates were a major contributing aspect to the eruption that revolution. With an ever-growing and also increasingly loud 3rd Estate, the possibility of coherent societal readjust began come increasingly appear to be something the a possibility.

4. Tax & money

French finances to be a chaos by the late 18th century. The tax system permitted the wealthiest to stop paying virtually any tax in ~ all, and also given that wealth nearly always equalled power, any attempt to press through radical financial reforms was blocked by the parlements. Unable to adjust the tax, and also not daring to boost the burden on those who currently shouldered it, Jacques Necker, the finance minister, elevated money with taking the end loans quite than increasing taxes. Whilst this had some brief term benefits, loans accrued interest and pushed the nation further right into debt.

In an attempt to add some type of transparency to imperial expenditure and also to produce a much more educated and also informed populace, Necker published the Crown’s expenses and also accounts in a document known together the Compte rendu au roi. Instead the placating the situation, it in reality gave the people an understanding into other they had actually previously thought about to it is in none of your concern.

With France top top the brink the bankruptcy, and also people much more acutely aware and also less tolerant the the feudal financial mechanism they to be upholding, the situation was becoming much more and an ext delicate. Do the efforts to push through radical financial reforms were made, yet Louis’ influence was also weak to force his nobles to bend to his will.

5. The Enlightenment

Historians dispute the affect of enlightenment in the French Revolution. Individuals like Voltaire and also Rousseau espoused worths of liberty, equality, tolerance, constitution government and the separation that church and also state. In an er where proficiency levels to be increasing and printing to be cheap, these ideas were discussed and disseminated far an ext than vault movements had been.

Many likewise view the philosophy and ideals the the very first Republic as being underpinned by enlightenment ideas, and the motto most closely connected with the revolution itself – ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ – have the right to be viewed as a enjoy of key ideas in knowledge pamphlets.


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A portrait of Voltaire – the renowned French writer, philosopher and thinker, through Nicolas de Largillière (1724).

Image Credit: windy Domain


6. Negative luck

Many of these concerns were lengthy term components causing discontent and also stagnation in France, but they had actually not caused transformation to erupt in the very first 15 year of Louis’ reign. The real expense of living had increased by 62% between 1741 and 1785, and two succeeding years of poor harvests in 1788 and 1789 brought about the price of bread to be substantially inflated along with a drop in wages.

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This added hardship included an extra layer of resentment and also weight to the grievances that the third Estate, which to be largely made up of peasants and a couple of bourgeoise. Accusations of the extravagant spending of the royal family members – irrespective of their reality – additional exacerbated tensions, and the king and queen were progressively targets of libelles and assaults in print.