The Precise Q: If you had to identify the most significant causes of the Revolution, what would they be? A: First and foremost, it would be most important to analyse the political situation of France before the Revolution. The long reign of Louis the XIV (1643-1715) marked absolute monarchy at its peak in France. When Louis XIII died the next in line to take the throne was only 5 years old, Louis XIV. His mother ruled for him along side the new Chief Minister, Mazarin, who had been trained by Richelieu. Mazarin was easily hated because of his overbearing attempts to raise taxes.
In the 1640’s a group of courageous nobles backed by peasants led a series of revolts against the crown. The revolts alarmed the young king into believing that only a country with absolute monarchy could prevent civil war. Louis believed that his power came from God and no one should question it since he had the divine right. After Mazarin’s death in 1661, Louis XIV ruled as an absolute monarchy. “L’etat c’est moi” in French, meaning “I am the state”, was Louis’ description of his power, which shows just how insane France was becoming.
Louis worked hard to build up France’s glorious monarchy while his people suffered from oppression. Because of his reign’s splendor, he was called the “Sun King.” Louis spent fortunes on lavish palaces and opulent city buildings. The most magnificent was Versailles, near Paris, where the royal family resided. Louis ordered many officials to live with him. Those who were against him spent their time pampering King Louis XIV in hopes that he would give them pensions or higher positions in his court.
In 1665 Louis the XIV named Jean Baptiste Colbert as his minister of finance to strengthen France’s economy. Colbert improved taxation, supported shipbuilding and the navy, and helped industry. These times did not last very long, though. Louis’ luxurious lifestyle and France’s frequent wars drained the treasury. France, unlike England, had no law that could halt the amount of money that the king could spend. Another reason for the decline was Louis’ religious intolerance.
Louis was worried that the “Huguenots” would cause rebellion, so he forced them to convert to Catholicism. When that did not work he reverted to persecution. Many of the Huguenots fled to Protestant countries and North America. After the end of the Thirty Years War Louis wanted to expand French lands to the north and east to give France a border that was easier to defend. To make this wish a reality Louis reorganised the French army. Other European states, afraid of what his actions would be, formed alliances to resist him.
Between 1667 and 1714 France went to war 4 times. The most destructive of these was the “War of the Spanish Succession”. The war went poorly for France, but the war ended before France suffered great losses, which resulted in more oppression of the French people. The Peace of Utrecht, made up of several treaties, restored the balance in Europe. By the end of Louis the XIV’s reign, the treasury was almost empty.
Wars and careless spending had left France in debt. These troubles were made worse by the wars during the reign of Louis XV. Financial problems helped weaken the monarchy and bring on the French Revolution in 1789. Another significant reason of conflict was the incredibly stupid Three Estates system. In France, preceding the Revolution, the citizens of the country were split up into three groups or estates.
The first estate was divided into two groups: the lower clergy and the higher clergy. The higher clergy came from wealthy families and the lower clergy consisted of parish priests. In the second estate were the nobles. They held the highest offices in government and paid little or no taxes. The third estate, which was the largest, consisted of peasants, city workers, and the middle class.
The people in the third estate were the merchants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, & government workers. Of the three estates, the first, second, and third, the first two of these groups had all the political power, though they were a mere two percent of the total population. They also had control over the majority of the land. To add to this the nobles, the second estate, forced the peasants of the third estate to do labor and give goods to them, at no charge. This abuse of power against the lower class gave the peasants a reason to despise their “superiors.” And to top it all off, the taxes which were inforced on the peasants were outrageously high. In some parts of the country taxes took almost half of a peasants already inadequate salary, while the rich nobles and clergy did not have to pay taxes.
To add to this the peasants were also forced to pay fees to the manor lord. These injustices caused the peasants to want a fairer taxing system and an end to payments of fees to the manor lord. Another major influence was the rising spirit of criticism, which began to take shape among a brilliant group of writers, the philosophes. These astonishing men, within a span of a few decades, produced a body of writings rarely, if ever equalled for so much challenging thought concentrated in such a time period. In many respects, the homeland of the philosophes was France.
France was graced with the presence of such great writers as Charles de Montesquieu, whose satirical works against existing institutions and his examination of laws and politics acted as a vital importance to the drive behind the Revolution. It was in Paris that Denis Diderot, the author of numerous philosophical tracts, began the publication of the Encyclopdie, which was meant to serve as both a source of knowledge and as a weapon. Yet, the most influential French writer and a personal hero of mine, was undoubtedly Voltaire, who is best depicted through his numerous pamphlets, essays, satires, and short novels, which popularised the science and philosophy of his age. And who could forget to brilliant madness of Rousseau, whose Social Contract, Emile, and Confessions are destined to create a lasting impression. The Enlightenment was to be a European rather than a uniquely French phenomenon and had its roots in an earlier age.
But now France had occupied the “center stage.” Although unexpected, ideas were being accepted in important circles, including even to some extent members of the privileged classes, that were incompatible with the assumptions and practices of the Bourbon monarchy. In the sense the mid-century decades were of critical importance. Q: Could you familiarise me with some of the highlights from the French Revolution? A: Why yes, of course I can. I would have to say the initial stages of the actual Revolution began during the rioting in Paris in April of 1789. Yes, I remember, it was a Friday, and the people were ready to stand up and fight for their FREEDOM. Ah yes, where was I, oh, the next event of the Revolution occurred in 1789 on June 17, when the Third Estate assumed the title of the National Assembly.
And the next important event was probably the “Tennis Court Oath,” which happened as a result of the Third Estate being locked out of the meeting place at Versailles, so they moved into the palace’s indoor tennis court. Many clergymen and a few nobles also moved to the tennis court. They demanded a constitution for France and for delegate to have a vote. To accomplish this, they all swore not to leave until their demands were met. Perhaps the next major event was the Fall of Bastille, which occurred n July 14, 1789, when the people of Paris were massed outside of the Bastille, a stone prison. Finally, the people marched in to retrieve guns and gunpowder. The guards not knowing what to do, fired on the people.
In the end about a hundred people were shot and killed, but the huge crowd had taken over the troops. The people killed the commander and the mayor and stuck their heads on a pole and paraded in the streets of Paris. The next major event happened on August 4, 1789, when the age of Feudalism in France was brought to an end. This stopped the Church from collecting taxes and most importantly, stopped the forced labor from the poor peasants. This also allowed positions in Church, government, and army to be open to all citizens of France. After the fall of feudalism, the next highlight was probably when the king fled to Varennes on June 20th, 1791.
They wanted not to leave France, but to be near a large military strong-point in case of attack on their land. Few townspeople noticed the royal coach, but the ones who did were quickly arrested, so as not to spread the word. This stunt caused the King to lose much support from his once loyal subjects. The “people” called private meetings and called for changes in the government of France. A year later, during the summer of 1792, France proceeded to declare war on Austria.
Prussia decided to back Austria so the two countries invaded France. A new government called the Commune imprisoned the king and took over power. The Commune held an election to choose representatives for the new assembly, later called the National Convention. And definitely the most significant highlight of the Revolution occurred in September of 1792, when the Nation Convention decided to kill both Louis the malformed XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette- the foreigner. Q: What was it like after Louis XVIs death? A: While we had won our independence, France now entered into the Reign of Terror.
The Reign of Terror was, in essence, the government against its opponents. The leader of the Committee of Public Safety was named Robespierre. He believed that everything that he did was for the good of France. In his ideal world everyone would be free, equal, and well educated. Robespierre launched a program that was to silence people who criticised the government in any way. There were special courts that tried people arrested for being “enemies” of the republic. During the period between September of 1793 and the July of 1794, there were between twenty and forty thousand people executed by means of the guillotine and others. Most of the men who were executed were clergymen, aristocrats, and common people.
This finally ended when Robespierre was arrested in July 27, 1794. The very next day he was escorted to the guillotine and was executed. This was the day that finally ended the Reign of Terror. The death of Robespierre let the moderates take charge. They removed price controls and limited the voting rights. A brand new Constitution, in 1795, created a republic.
The new republic was headed by the “Directory,” a group of five men. This new government did not do very well and soon fell apart. The Directory’s loss of power, in 1799, marked the end of the French Revolution. Q: What kind of short term effects and long term effects did the Revolution have? A: Well, I can give you some short term effects, but since I will be dead by the time any long term effects occur I can only speculate. The Old Regime was completely overturned which was one of the primary goals of the Revolution.
The absolute monarchy disappeared and the church and nobility lost their special privileges. This decline of the power of nobles and clergy’s contributed to the steady rise in the power of the bourgeoisie. The want and need for individual liberty and rights will be spread throughout the world. And the French Revolution will bring about the idea of nationalism, which will steadily spread throughout Europe.