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HIS109Y1 Lecture Notes - Feudalism, Girondins, Basic Law

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Kenneth Bartlett

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Dec. 1/2010
The French Revolution I
Fundamental principles upon which the ancien regime was built was described
by political observers and activists as being unfair, unjust, irrational and unnatural
Points of demarcation significant event in European history, broke from
traditions, perceptions and ideas associated with the old regime
New ideas in their place were driven by enlightenment ideals
Enlightenment ideals travelled across the continent becoming Europe-wide
However natural rights, & popular sovereignty generated into a new kind of
tyranny (Napoleon)
What did France look like on the eve of 1789?
Was archaic, vestige of its feudal past
Was divided into three estates:
Least numerous, influence of rationalism made the Roman Catholic Church an
extremely unattractive career choice for spiritually conscious men and women
Controlled lands exempt from regular forms of taxation, and these lands were
poorly cultivated
Dramatic variations in wealth and status within the clergy
Aristocratic clergy often didnt visit these lands, preferred to stay in the courts
because the idea of clerical living didnt appeal to aristocrats
Clergy were against these aristocratic bishops
Angry because they had to gave up their wealth not to help the poor &
disadvantaged, but to maintain the lives of these aristocrats
To peasants who needed more land, and to landlords who disliked the idea of
mort main land (or dead hand”) the church was seen as an oppressive group within
Most functions of the nobility no longer had any meaning (having to answer to
the king meant they had less power, particularly in the countryside where they
traditionally they had power)
Left land to rapacious bailiffs, if they could afford to live in Versailles
Were divorced completely from the people who paid their way
The nobility was anything but a single, uniform class:

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At the top the great aristocrats (nobles of the swords Noblesse de lepee): had
great power and privilege due to close ties to the crown (could ask the kings for favours
at a particular time, happened regularly for those with access to the king, if in need of
money they were willing to sell one of their surplus sons to an extremely rich bourgeois
for example through marriage)
Lesser nobility (service nobility Noblee de la robe): were the descendants of
rich Parisian families
Anxious to be accepted by the upper nobility, tried to compete with their styles of
Usually more enlightened because they came from bourgeois families who were
influenced by enlightenment ideals
Functioned as a group that provided an instrument for exercising merit, & added
rationalist leveling due to their bourgeois background
Hobereaux: to maintain status and dignity they didnt work, however they were
not wealthy enough to go to Versailles, instead lived in the countryside and were
despised by everyone by the nobility who had to recognize them, and by the peasants
because the Hobereaux took much of their money to sustain their lifestyles
3)Everyone else:
Peasants, urban dwellers, lawyers, merchants, artisans (often who were wealthy)
Better off than any other group on the continent
Feudalism and serfdom were not abolished, but they had worn away due to
absolutism and because serfdom is an inefficient way to cultivate property; only existed
in backward regions and on the estates of the church
Advantage was that they were able to sell surplus food for example
There were also disadvantages, which came from an archaic tax structure,
refused to adopt new farming techniques that were coming from England because
French peasants were extremely conservative
Rise in fertility and better survival rate resulted in an enormous increase in the
rural population over population caused dislocation and anger because there wasnt
enough money to buy land, also angered that the lands of the clergy were being badly
run and cultivated
Too little property available for sale, unable to create a wealthy class of successful
farming peasants
Many taxes, had to pay fees (tides) that they had to pay to the church, there were
also pay manorial dues angered and annoyed the rural classes
Wanted more land & a fair system of taxation because they were the ones who
suffered the most, wanted more equitable distribution of wealth
Bourgeois: skilled artisans (affected by the ideals of the Enlightenment, hated
the structures of the ancien regime even thought they didnt suffer as much as the

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Above them were lawyers; & above lawyers were tax farmers and international
Increasing Dissatisfaction with the Monarchy:
Anger directed towards the royal government
King appointed ministers everything led back to the palace of Versailles
Gap between the governed and the governors, there was nothing that allowed for
dissent to happen all of this meant that the anger of an entire population was directed
towards the monarchy (king and his court at fault for everything)
Marie Antoinette was meddlesome, & extremely extravagant, didnt know what
to make about what was going on at the court (couldnt understand why people were
saying that she couldnt have as much fun anymore), also; she cared more about her
native Austria
Problems became increasingly visible, thus it was becoming obvious that France
was approaching financial collapse and bankruptcy
Increasing problems due in part to tax farming, & the structure of French life
under the ancien regime
Financing wars of glory led to the chronic deficit of the crown
Louis 15th kept kingdom afloat by borrowing money
Louis 16th sent huge amounts of money to the US during the American
Revolution (in part out of resentment of England)
Half of the budget of France went to paying the interest of the debt, & interest
rates rose
Something had to be done immediately; the cost of borrowing money grew so high
that it was becoming difficult to pay
Louis addressed this by choosing a philosophe (A.R. Turgot) as his minister of
Turgot was successful for some time by means of imposing austerity on the court
(austerity=amount of money they could spend at Versailles); also introduced a program
of radical reform that saved the monarchy
However, these measures of austerity alienated the court nobility who thought
having to pay taxes was unfavourable, & went against tradition, they were highly
against this
The credit of the monarchy was declining; no one was willing to lend money to
France anymore
C. de Calonne: suggested that the upper classes be taxed; nobility argued that
they were against this changing policy that was centuries old
Estates-General, 1789
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