Many know, and have studied the French Revolution, so it is only right to do an article on this monumental event. The French Revolution has claimed to have changed many things, some have even theorised that the French Revolution was the beginning of Capitalism, as lofty as the idea is, it is all entirely arguable. The Revolution had seen multiple changes in government and immense bloodshed, major Events that included, The imprisonment and murder of the royal family, The fall of the Bastille, the invention of the Guillotine, radical arts and papers and finally becoming a Republic under Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Revolution is without a doubt a world event and worthy of its immense field of study so as already stated it is something that The Groovy Historian should definitely write an article on and I have the pleasure to do so.
To understand the French Revolution we must look at the causes of it, the causes can essentially be put into three categories, Economic, Social and Political, just like every revolution to date.
The political issue rose from Louis XIV’s rule, long before the revolution had even occurred, the French monarchy had claimed absolute rule and that they were “Representatives of God” and thus creating the freedom to do whatever it was they wished, with this the monarchy enjoyed the luxurious lifestyle in which they indulged their every fancy. One major facet of dis-rest was the creation and use of the Letter de Catche in which they could arrest anyone at any time, which they happily did, showing absolutely no concern for their subjects. In Louis XIV’s rule he also participated in multiple wars that gained absolutely no benefit for France, other than dwindling France’s coffers, it has been noted that his arrogance was an aspect of his person in which a famous phrase he says “I am the State.” (Jay Caplan. In the King’s Wake: Post-Absolutist Culture in France, 1999) This pattern of doing whatever the king wanted was carried on by Louis XV who ascended the throne after Louis XIV, much like his predecessor he participated in a seven year war with England which only further dwindled the country coffers, and just like his predecessor he enjoyed the life of luxury. The final ruler before the revolution, Louis XVI was an incredibly weak ruler and his wife Marie Antoinette, a daughter of the Austrian Empress had effectively controlled the country, Marie Antoinette enjoyed lavish extravagance and indulged herself. This expenditure of the royals had gained the ire of all the peasantry as the people of France were largely living in less than comfortable conditions.
The second major cause was due to the social, political situation in France. France at the time was a very divided society and can be separated into 3 specific classes That of the Clergy, Nobles and the common people, this was also known as the three estates. The clergy were a divided body as well in which there was 2 classes, the higher clergy and the lower clergy. The higher clergy were corrupt and used their positions to exploit the common people. The higher clergy were the ones who ran the schools, monasteries and churches. They lived in luxury at the cost of their flock, this earned them immense hatred from the common people, the higher clergy also never paid taxes. The lower clergy were the ones that served the people but were left to live far from luxury and closer to the squalid conditions of the common people. The higher clergy were part of what was known as the first estate, the top of the dinner table as it were.
The nobles were of the second estate, much like the higher clergy they paid no taxes. The nobles who worked for the court were also rich in luxury as well as money, their position in society is not exactly what was the cause for the hatred they received from the common people but it was more to do with the act that they paid no heed to the troubles of their subjects. The interests of the court nobles was solely in their luxury and not in their responsibilities. Though the court nobles were atrocious people, the provincial nobles were much more in tune with their subjects. The provincial nobles still lived a life of reasonable comfort but nowhere close to that of a court noble but they also had more affection from the common people. The provincial nobles paid much heed to the request of their subjects but not enough to keep them happy.
The third estate was that of the lower classes such farmers, cobblers and cleaners, these were the people that had to pay the taxes, this was the biggest imbalance as they didn’t just pay the taxes they were exploited by the higher classes. The third estate was largely employed by the clergy and nobles to work on their estates, who paid them very little whilst the crown expected them to pay a lot. The outbreak of the revolution was firmly placed on the backs of the higher class third estate, those who were doctors, lawyers teachers and business men. This class of people was also known as the bourgeoisie and the French revolution is also known as the bourgeois revolution. The reason why these people were so disgruntled largely lay in the fact that they had wealth and social, as much as the lower nobility but were denied the same privileges. They were also expected to pay taxes like that of the lower classes. The anger of the bourgeoisie led them to inspire the lower classes with speeches about the rights of the people, this would eventually lead to the Revolution uprisings.
The Third reason was the economic crisis in France, France at this time was broke, it had no money. France’s expenditures in wars cost the country dearly, the participation in the American revolution and the Seven year war with England didn’t benefit France in any major way and both wars were essentially just out of rivalry and revenge against England for losses in the past and in particular the French and Indian war, in which they lost a number of territories. The coffers condition didn’t improve over the generations with king Louis XV & XVI it had only worsened as they both lived in extreme extravagance. In particular Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette lavished herself in expensive luxury. There were attempts by appointed ministers of economy to fix the issue but they were dismissed. The most ambitious of them was Callone who proposed that all the classes paid taxes but was also dismissed. The economy never improved and only got worse especially for the lower echelons of society.
These conditions made living in France unbearable, the king cared little for his people and only catered for himself and those of the higher classes with the need to live in luxury. Pointless expenditures on wars that had no benefits for France, the immense taxation of the lower classes, they had to pay whilst the higher classes did not. The unequal rights of the classes and the division within the higher classes created a hotpot in which Revolutionary sentiment could boil until it overflowed into a bloody, violent mess. These were the causes of the French Revolution.