French Monarchy and Parlements

  • French royalty prior to French Revolution were a study in corruption and excess
  • Doctrine of divine right maintained kings were selected by God and thus perpetually entitled

-> resulted in absolute rule and provided commoners with no input into governance of France

  • No universal law in France; rather, laws varied by region and were enforced by local parlements (provincial judicial boards), guilds, or religious groups
  • Royal decrees had to be approved by parlements to come into effect à king was virtually powerless to do anything that would have a negative effect on any regional government
  • This “checks and balances” system operated in a government rife with corruption and operating without support of the majority

Power Abuses and Unfair Taxation

  • Bourbon monarchy, French nobility, and clergy increasingly abused their power
  • Bound French peasantry into compromising feudal obligations and refused to contribute any taxes
  • Blatantly unfair taxation arrangement did little to endear aristocracy to common people

France’s Debt Problems

  • Ill-advised financial manoeuvres in late 1700’s worsened financial situation of the already cash-strapped French government
  • Prolonged involvement in Seven Years’ War of 1756–1763 drained the treasury, as did France’s participation in American Revolution of 1775–1783
  • Also, France had a sizable army and navy to maintain, which was an expenditure of particular importance during those volatile times
  • Enormous costs associated with upkeep of King Louis XVI’s extravagant palace at Versailles and the frivolous spending of the queen, Marie-Antoinette, did little to relieve the growing debt
  • Decades of fiscal irresponsibility were one of the primary factors that led to French Revolution

Charles de Calonne

  • Controller general of finances in 1783; in 1786, France approached various European banks for loans but France’s financial woes were well known, so it found itself with no economic credibility
  • French financial system was a shambles; only system in place for raising new revenues was taxation but taxation only applied to peasants

The Assembly of Notables

  • Louis XVI called nobility together for a conference, the Assembly of Notables
  • Calonne urged the notables to agree to new taxes or to forfeit exemptions to current ones

-> nobility refused both plans and Calonne was dismissed

Revolution on the Horizon

  • By late 1780’s, it was increasingly clear that the system of Old Regime in France could not last

-> too irresponsible and oppressed too many people

  • As a result of Enlightenment, secularism was spreading in France, religious thought was becoming divided, and religious justifications for rule—divine right and absolutism—were losing credibility
  • Aristocracy and royalty ignored these progressive trends in French thought and society;  adhered firmly to tradition and archaic law à their intractability would cost them everything

The Bourgeoisie

  • Many studies focus on peasantry’s grievances (rising food prices, disadvantageous feudal contracts, general mistreatment by nobility) but these factors actually played a limited role in inciting Revolution -> it was wealthy commoners, the bourgeoisie, who initiated the  Revolution
  • Bourgeoisie were well versed in enlightened thought; many wealthier bourgeoisie had more money than some nobles, but lacked elite titles and thus were subject to same treatment and taxation as poorest peasants -> bourgeoisie acted as catalyst for Revolution, and once they started to act, the peasants were soon to follow
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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