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The French Revolution: 1774-1789
An Introduction to the Context
James Sutton…read more

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The Ancien Regime
· The organisation of government and society in
France, before the revolution started in 1789.
· This was an outdated system based upon the
medieval idea of a hierarchical society, with the
king at the top and the population in their
place according to their title and birth, not by
their merit.…read more

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The King, Louis XVI
· He appointed ministers, including the intendents, who
acted as his local officials and were responsible for the
different 34 regions of France.
· Louis ruled as an absolute monarch, and later faced
criticisms on charges of despotism. Louis' belief was
that he ruled by divine right.
· The king was expected to pass laws only for the well-
being of the whole kingdom.
· There were 13 Parlements through which the laws were
passed.…read more

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The First Estate 125,000
· The entirety of the clergy, holding the highest position
in society next to the King.
· There was a huge difference, in terms of wealth and
power, between parish priests and the bishops.
· Clerics were very influential in France. The Catholic
Church governed the daily lives of most people, and it
controlled education and cared for the sick.
· They could only be prosecuted in their own church
courts, as well as various financial privileges, and were
not required to pay the taille.…read more

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The Second Estate 250,000
· The nobility, of which owned around a fifth of all
the land in France.
· Nobility could be acquired through the inheriting of
a title, or the purchasing of a venal office. The
majority were rich and influential.
· They had a right to be beheaded rather than hung,
and were exempt from the corvée (forced labour
on the roads), the taille (direct tax) and the
gabelle (salt tax).…read more

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The Third Estate 27.5 million
· A mixed group, ranging from lowly peasants to rich
landowners. Around 85% of the Third Estate were
peasants, including some landowning peasants.
· Higher were the Bourgeoisie, who were more artisan
than peasant, some of whom went on to purchase venal
· They were required to pay direct taxes, such as the
taille and the vingtieme, and indirect taxes, such as
the gabelle, as well as their tithe to the church. The
third estate was also required to do unpaid labour
service to maintain the roads.…read more

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