HIS109Y1 Lecture Notes - Charles Alexandre De Calonne, Anti-Clericalism, Philosophes
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History Lecture Notes 21
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION I
C. de Calonne
Nolesse de l’epee
Noblesse de la robe
The Outbreak of Revolution
The Ancien Regime was now defined as “unnatural” – contrary to the laws of nature
- The Revolution was a true demarcation event; perhaps most significant European
event up to this point
- How did the ideas of life, liberty, property, and freedom lead to tyranny and
Lead-up to the French Revolution:
•25 million French citizens; divided into the three estates
•Clergy: Least numerous (100,000~150,000). The Roman Catholic Church was very
unpopular in France, due to the anti-clerical ideas of the Philosophes, and the
monopoly on all progress of the nobility (owned 10% of land, which was very
badly cultivated, and was still run by serfs). There was hierarchy even within this
estate. The lower clergy was the poor, and the great clergy came almost exclusively
from aristocratic families. Most of these high clerics rarely even visited their
dioceses, being closer to their aristocratic life than their clerical one. The granting
of free gifts to the king (as a sort of protection money) was given to subvert the
responsibility of taxation. All this made the 1st estate highly disliked
•Nobility: (Approx. 400,000) Owned perhaps a quarter or possibly up a third of all
the land. The Absolutist policies made their feudal responsibilities and privileges
meaningless. They were now a self-indulgent group of courtiers. The rich, greedy
bailiffs who took over the nobility’s land were oppressive towards the commoners.
This estate was also divided. The highest aristocrats were descendants of ancient
feudal families (Noblesse de l’epee), and thus they held great influence and power.
Their proximity to the crown meant they could ask for favours from the king,
usually money and property. They also held great names to sell through marriage,
receiving enormous dowries. They were awful people. The Noblesse de la robe
were descendants of rich, provincial bourgeois families; they had bought
occupations with noble titles attached to them. They attempted to compete with the
higher nobles, but at the same time they were more educated, held Enlightenment
ideals, and thus functioned as a wealthy, rational leverage of this class. The
hobereaux were at the rock bottom of the nobility. They were disgraced nobles who
lived in isolated, dilapidated houses, and refused to work to keep their aristocratic
dignities. They were hated by the nobles because they were an embarrassment, and
they were hated by the commoners because they were vile, vicious people.
•Third estate: 98% of France, 80% of whom worked the land, and the rest who were
artisans, shopowners, and merchants. Contrary to popular belief, the French third
estate was quite well off compared to the rest of the continent. Feudalism and
serfdom had not been legally abolished, but had merely faded away due to new
institutions. Individual farms were very small, but served to feed their diet. Their
disadvantages were partially their own faults; they refused to adopt new farming
techniques from England, and refused to grow new crops due to tradition. Still
driven by tradition, they overpopulated the rural areas, which exacerbated the
effects of limited resources. Almost the full weight of taxation was burdened upon
the peasants. They also had to pay tithes. They sought a more equitable distribution
of wealth. The 8% of the third estate were the bourgeois; they held about the same
amount of land as the nobility, but they held a lot more wealth. They worked hard,
and were most deeply infected by the Enlightenment ideals. Even though they did
not suffer as much as the peasants, they felt their political and social powers were
being limited by the Ancien Regime.
In conclusion, every class was unhappy and resentful towards the government. This was
the downside of the absolute regime; everything was the state’s responsibilities, and
everything could be blamed on it. The Estates-General had not met since 1614!
•Had the very best of intentions; he began speaking of reform, and even adopted a
trade of locksmithing as Rousseau recommended in Emile.
•His biggest weakness: his wife. She was a very good mother, but she was a stupid,
ignorant cow. She manipulated her husband.
•The state was approaching bankruptcy; the system of tax-farming was failing
France, but another factor was the fact that the richest paid least and the poorest
•Under Louis XV, the crown was able to maintain afloat due to foreign loans. In
Louis XVI’s reign, the Crown had almost nothing, due largely to the expensive
wars like the American Revolution. 50% of the GDP went to the paying of debts.
•More and more people were unwilling to lend the king money.
•Louis XVI decided to hire a philosophe as finance minister; A.R. Turgot. In the
beginning, he was very successful by restricting the expenditures of the Royalty.
These measures of austerity alienated the court nobility, who complained of paying
taxes. They sided with the queen to fire Turgot. Turgot warned Louis XVI with the
reference of Charles I in England.
•1786: C. de Calonne, Turgot’s successor, gathered the assembly of the notables
(Estates-General including only the first two estates) to convince them to pay taxes.
This failed, so Calonne realized the Estates-General had to be summoned. Louis
XVI agreed, and opened the Estates-General of 1788, for the first time in 175 years.
•Problem: no tradition of representation in France. All the rules were antiquated, and
so some concessions were made: the Third Estate were recognized as being more
powerful, and allowed them to send twice as many representatives. However, the
vote was by class, not by head. This meant that their vote could be easily outvoted
by the first two estates.
•Enormous inflation, impoverished wage-labourers, and other grievances were listed
in the Cahiers. However, to make any reform, the third estate had to convince the
king to start voting by head. They argued that since the third estate constituted 95%
of the population, they represented the general will.
The ancien regime was now defined as unnatural contrary to the laws of nature. The revolution was a true demarcation event; perhaps most significant european event up to this point. 25 million french citizens; divided into the three estates: clergy: least numerous (100,000~150,000). The lower clergy was the poor, and the great clergy came almost exclusively from aristocratic families. Most of these high clerics rarely even visited their dioceses, being closer to their aristocratic life than their clerical one. The granting of free gifts to the king (as a sort of protection money) was given to subvert the responsibility of taxation. All this made the 1st estate highly disliked: nobility: (approx. 400,000) owned perhaps a quarter or possibly up a third of all the land. The absolutist policies made their feudal responsibilities and privileges meaningless. They were now a self-indulgent group of courtiers. The rich, greedy bailiffs who took over the nobility"s land were oppressive towards the commoners.