Causes of the French Revolution

Causes of the French Revolution with historian's views.

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  • Created by: cat1232
  • Created on: 06-05-12 09:14

Political Causes

Role of Monarchy

  • Enlightenment caused pressures on old regime
  • Weak Monarch- bad decisions
  • Marie Antionette
  • Cost of warfare
  • Privilege under attack meant nobles saw the crown failing in duties

May Eddicts

  • Responsibility of new laws passed to plenary count- chosen by king
  • Legal work of parlements transferred to lower courts- reduction of judges
  • Passed on lit de justice- led to revolt of the nobles

Reaction to may eddicts and revolt of nobles

  • Clergy disapproved of may eddicts
  • Pamphlets and disturbances increased- nobles incited riots (uncoordinated)
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Political Causes Continued

Calling of Estates-General

  • chance to gain voice
  • Paris parlement very popular until decision to meet as in 1614 (separately)- seen as selfish defenders of privilege- 3rd estate became enemies
  • December 1788- Necker granted doubling of third- still not voting by head
  • Society of thirty- led campaign of 3rd- 60 (ish) nobles- attacked tyranny

Meeting of Estates-General (4th May 1789)

  • Estates divided internally too- most clergy poor- sympthised with 3rd
  • Met separately
  • 17th June- 3rd Estate called itself "National Assembly"- others joined
  • King called royal session

Tennis Court Oath (20th June 1789)

  • locked out of royal session
  • Oath to never dissolve another assembly until new constitution established.
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Economic Causes

French Economy by 1789

  • 1780- Calonne reported imminent bankruptcy
  • Population growing- until 1776 economy in boom- after 1776 depression
  • Mainly agricultural, tax collectors motivated by self-gain 
  • 1788- bred shortages- inflation etc

Government attempts to fix this

  • 1774- Louis restored parlement
  • Anne Turgot (74-6)- proposed general land tax- parlement objected- dismissed
  • Necker (76-81)- resorted to borrowing with IR of 8-10%- paid wars. 1781- published compte rendu- showed peacetime figures. unpopular- dismissed.
  • Calonne (83-87)- Borrowed for public works. "summary of a plan for the improvement of the finances"- general land tax etc- parlement rejected- Assembly of Notables- rejected- criticised nobles for selfish- sacked.
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Economic Causes

Loménie de Brienne (87-88)

  • tried to adopt Calonne's plans- assembly of notables protested
  • accounts showed how governement may have caused bad economy- nobles called for estates-general
  • Assembly of notables disolved- took reforms to paris parlement- protested
  • passed on lit de justice- parlement pushed for estates-general
  • 1787- parlement exiled- return month later- land tax abandonned, increased borrowing, king agreed to call estates-general
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Social causes


  • Increased pamphlets by 18th c. e.g. Rousseau, Voltaire
  • But- not organised, mostly aimed at gentiles, not in favour of abolishing king.

Problems with privilege

  • Protested against equal tax and delayed financial reforms
  • frequent disputes (88-9) between privileged and unprivileged
  • Revolt of nobles (88) due to lack of government trust and power.

Problems with rigid social structure

  • Many bouregoisie richer than 2nd estate and clergy but taxed more
  • 3rd who tried to better themselves were disliked
  • January 89- Abbé Sieyes- "What is the 3rd estate?" - no longer indifferent and demanded assemblies to reform financial and political disadvantages
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Historian's Views

A.Cobban (Rev.) - Blames Louis XVI

W.Doyle (Rev.) - Blames Louis XVI

J.Hardman - Louis is intelligent/ hardworking and not to blame for slow government

T.C.W.Blanning- Enlightenment was a movement of the educated elite

D.G.Wright- Conflict changed from between king and aristocracy to between privileged and unprivileged.

F.Furet (Rev.) - Conflict was over application of democratic ideas

G.Rudé (Marxist) - 3rd esate powerhouse of revoultion- revolution from below (bourgeoisie)

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