Edexcel A Level history option 1A, France in revolution 1774-99, The origins and onset of revolution, 1774-89 - Unit 1.1


Was Louis XVI doomed from the start?

Absolutism, court faction and parliaments:

Absolute monarchy 

  • The Bourbon kings ruled France as an absolute monarchy. It was generally believed and widely accepted that the king’s power was God-given; he had a divine right to rule with total power. 
  • There was no elected parliament and the King chose a small group of ministers to advise him. The most important was the controller general.
  • The King was the only person who could initiate new legislation and he was under no obligation to accept the view of his advisors.
  • He had the right of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, where someone could be arrested without trial by issuing a letter de cachet (royal seal) like an arrest warrant. They were seen as a symbol of despotism.
  • The royals lived in extreme splendour with the Palace of Versailles being 402m long and filled with the finest art, furniture and decoration.

 Limit to the monarch's power

  • Parlements – local law courts, by the 1780’s they were situated in 13 regional administrative centres.
  • The most important Parlement was in Paris.
  • Members of these parlements would be important nobles and higher clergy (bishops) and it was their responsibility to ensure the local people performed their civil duties and to prosecute those who did not.
  • They could refuse to register and implement laws if they felt them to be against the values of the ancien regime. However the King could issue a lit de justice to overrule the parlements.
  • If the King did not have the support of the parlements, he would risk being accused of despotism.
  • The left the King in a somewhat uncertain position, with the power to create laws, yet lacking total power to see these get enacted.

The three estates, the rights of nobles and church privilege:

  • French society was divided into three classes known as estates. The first estate consisted of the Catholic clergy, the second estate was the nobility and the third estate was everybody else.
  • The estate to which a person belonged was not necessary of an indication of wealth, it was more concerned with determined rights, privileges and responsibilities. 

First Estate:

  • Clergy members numbered around 130,000 of the total population of 28 million.
  • Majority of the estate were monks, nuns and lower clergy such as local parish priests who were often very poor.
  • The remainder were higher clergy such as bishops and archbishops, who would be very wealthy and whose positions tended to be hereditary.
  • They were exempt from paying direct taxation such as the Taille (tax of land) as well as the Tithe which was 1/10 of a person’s earnings and produce that was paid to the clergy. This was resented by some as it was thought it would only make the wealthy wealthier. The bishops rarely visited their dioceses and failed to benefit the local community

Second Estate:

  • The wealthiest estate with the most privilege.
  • By the 1780’s the size of the nobility had reached 350,000


No comments have yet been made