AQA: Section 1: Origins of the French Revolution 1774 - 1789

1. Absolutism and the Ancien Regime

2. Impact of Enlightenment in France

3. Economic problems and royal finance.

4. Developments February 1787 - May 1789

Chapter 1: Absolutism and the Ancien Regime

Louis XVI as King/ Louis' councils

  • Married MA in 1768 and became king in 1774 to allie France and Austria.
  • Conseil d'Etat (council of state) - dealt with major issues of state and foreign affairs.
  • Conseil des Dépêches - despatches from Kings officials and dealth with church affairs.
  • Conseil Royal des Finances - managed state finances and household costs.


1st Estate - clergy (church) - wealthy institution

2nd Estate - nobility - lived off rents of their land estates.

3rd Estate - commoners - not all poor, wealthiest ones were bourgeois whose skills brought for income.

Monarchs limit to power

  • Despotism
  • Law of God
  • Paris Parlement (responsible for 2/5 of France)
1 of 7

Chapter 2: Impact of Enlightenment in France

Enlightened philosophers

Montesquieu - Defended nobility and priviege but questioned structure of polictical authority.

Voltaire - Defened free speech and supported toleration, civil rights and right to a fair trial.

Rousseau - Believed that Governments should protect liberty and ensure equality.

Diderot - Rejected religion and saw the church as a bar to progress.

Enlightenment views/ Salons

  • Questioning traditional assumptions, ideas and institution.
  • Criticised "Divine Right" and absolute monarchy.
  • Many philosophers were "desits" who accepted the existance of God but not organised religion.
  • Salon acted as centre of interllectual and social exchange, they took place in the homes of salonnières such as Madame de Stäel.

American Revolution and War of Independance

  • Benjamin Franklin was an enlightenment thinker and the Declaration of Independance (1776) was based on enlightened ideas.
2 of 7

Chapter 3: Economic problems and Royal Finance #1

Economic Strengths

  • Rapid growth in population
  • political stability
  • lots of suitable farmland
  • trade is booming massively, interally, externally and colonial.
  • transport and infrastructure is improving.

Economic Weaknesses

  • Economy is too reliant on agriculture.
  • Overtaxed peasantry
  • Lack of competitiveness with other countries
  • Banking is simple and old fashioned
  • Dependance on good harvests.
3 of 7

Chapter 3: Economic problems and Royal Finance #2

Who they were - What they wanted  - why they were unsuccessful - why they were popualar

  • Turgot (1774-76) - Wanted to get rid of indirect taxes and introduce a general land tax that everyone would pay. Ideas offended many influential people and estates.
  • Necker (1777-81) - Reduce corruption particulary in tax farming. He was loved by 3rd estate and had a lot of support from them. He was a Swiss protestant which means he was unpopular in court.
  • Calonne (1783-87) - Imposed a general land tax which all estates would pay. He removed the corvee and replaced it with a tax on landowners. His reform programme targetted 1st and 2nd estates making them hostile.
4 of 7

Chapter 4: Developments Feb '87 - May '89 #1

Assembly of Notables (Feb-May 1787)

  • A council of high-ranking nobels and clergymen who had to provide ideas and advise the king.
  • Calonne wanted to inforce new plans to tax the church, which didnt go down too well. He wanted to cut government spending and standardise indirect taxes like gabelle, as well as a land tax that everyone must pay.
  • Calonne reforms were dismissed and so was he, he was replaced by Brienne in May 1787.

Clash with parlements (May 1787 - May 1788)

  • Brienne needed to endorse tax changes but without the Assembly he turned to the parlements. They would support reform but not tax change.
  • Brienne tried to reinforce the tax proposals using a lit de justice - Paris parlement refused to accept this and petitioned for an Estates General. In August '87 Parlement was banished to Troyes before returning in September the following year.
  • A royal session occured in November '87 where Duc d'Orleans was exiled along with 2 other members.  Louis announced he would allow an Estate General in 1792 if parlement accept a vingtième.
5 of 7

Chapter 4: Developments Feb '87 - May '89 #2

May Edicts

  • May '88 Parlement issued "Fundamental Laws" - furiating Louis and more members were arrested.
  • Louis created the May Edicts in which there would be a new court of nobles, officers and magistrates chosen by the king which will decide laws. Parlements legal work will be transferred to lower courts and the number of judges in the Paris Parlement will be reduced. The new court would also have the right to remonstrate.

Revolt of the Nobles (May-August '88)

  • Parlement raging and demanding an Estates General. June '88 - Brienne demands for large don gratuit but clergy only pay half. Royal authority has disappeared.
  • Royal officials and intendants are attacked. King orders royal troops, who were pelted with stones on the Day of Tiles. Many of the riots are led by nobles across the country.
  • August '88 - France is declared bankrupt. Brienne resigns and Necker is reappointed but even had few options left, he summons the Estates General to 1789.
6 of 7

Chapter 4: Developments Feb '87 - May '89 #3

Third Estate representation and growth of politicalisation

  • Dec '88 - Necker and the king decided that the 3rd estate should have double representation.
  • Best way of strengthening royal authority was to side with the 3rd estate.
  • May '89 - Growing politicalisation of the 3rd estate because of activities of the Society of Thirty (Société des Trente), Abbe Sieyes' pamphlet "What is the 3rd estate?", poor economic solution, beginning of elections and cahiers de doleances.

The state of France by the meeting of the Estates General (May '89)

  • Elections took place at a time of economic despair. Riots occured when rumors spread about a wallpaper manufacturer Reveillon which was supposidly considering cutting wages.
7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Origins of the French Revolution 1774 - 1789 resources »