The French Revolution Essay

2041 words - 8 pages

In the latter years of the eighteenth century, France was an aristocratic bureaucracy, presided over by sovereign monarch Louis XVI. France was ruled under the Ancien Régime; a social and political system established by the French in the early renaissance period of the fifteenth century, until the late eighteenth century where it was violently overturned in the French Revolution. ‘ Under the Ancien Régime the richer a man was, the less he paid.’1 The French Revolution, beginning in 1789 was an era of social and political upheaval that saw the collapse of the absolute monarchy and its prejudice class system. Before the French Revolution of 1789, France was subject to a social division dictated by ones circumstance of birth and wealth. The entire French population of twenty-three million was separated into three estates; the Nobility, Clergy and the Third Estate. This hierarchical division is often thought to be greatly responsible for the social discontent and unrest that would see the violent events of the French Revolution. The segregation of societal groups in post-renaissance France, the despotic monarchy, France’s involvement in the American War of Independence as well as pervasive food and financial crisis’ all played a significant role in the emergence of the French Revolution.

The three orders of social class; the Nobility, Clergy and the Third Estate were greatly disproportionate. At the outbreak of revolution in 1789, France had a total population of twenty-three million, only four hundred thousand of these were nobles. A further one hundred thousand were a part of the Clergy, a societal group with its own entitlements made up of priests, monks and nuns. The remainder of the population were a part of the Third Estate; a group with the least entitlements, subject to heavy taxation and the full oppression of the monarchy. The prominent disparity between these three estates lead to social discontent that would cause the swift and vehement French Revolution.

The first estate, also known as the Clergy, experienced select entitlements, ‘...besides its honorific preeminence, the Clergy possessed very great privileges.’2 The Clergy were exempt from certain conventions of law and were not subjected to direct taxes, instead they were to give free donations to the king, donations determined on the clergies own authority. This system meant that those of the first estate were rarely obliged to any form of taxation, especially taxation of free will. The Clergy were ‘closely allied with the monarchy, whose divine right was symbolized by the religious ceremony of coronation, the clergy exercised a control over thought in the interests of both Church and king, possessed a monopoly in education and shared in the censorship of everything that was lawfully printed.’3 Contributing to the Clergies power and affluence was the collection of tithes on its property; bishops often acted as lords over a village, and as a result, they were to receive payment...

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