- The most important person in France from 1774 was King Louis XVI.
- As the King, he was the head of the social hierarchy and the head of the government
- To help Louis to run the country, he chose 36 intendants who were head of different divisions in France and responsible for tax collection, etc.
- Louis was seen as 'God's representative' in France.
- Although he was an absolute ruler and could imprison anyone without trial - under the lettre de cachet - and he was powerful, the King of France was not a despot; he did not just do whatever he liked and ruled where he saw fit.
- King Louis was expected to rule with a fair regime and only pass laws for the well-being of his subjects.
- The pattern for law making involved subjects, too. The King would consult with his advisors and ministers and an edict would then be drawn up and sent to the Parlement. 13 Parlements acted as Supreme Court and could challenge royal edicts before they become a law. If approved, the edict could then be registered as a law.
- Through the Lit de Justice, the King could enforce new laws without passing them through Parlement, however if this was used too much then it would cause resentment and weaken his government.
During the 18th century, the people of France were divided 'estates' according to their social status.
The First Estate was made up of the Clergy. There were around 170,000 members incuding parish priests, monks and nuns, bishops, archbishops and cardinals. The Church controlled education and provided care for the sick. The first estate enjoyed priviliges such as being exempt from paying the main direct tax, the Taille, they could only be tried in church courts and they were not required to perform military service or financially support or house military troops.
The Second Estate was made up of the Nobility. There were 3-400,000 members of the nobility; the nobility of the sword and the nobility of the robe; you had to be born into the nobility of the sword but someone could buy or earn the status of nobility of the robe. The second estate had the right to be heard in a court of law, had the choice of beheading rather than hanging and they were exempt from paying the Taille, the Gabelle (salt tax) and from Corvee Royale (forced labour on the roads).
The Third Estate was made up of the rest of the population, with around 24,500,000 members Within the third estate there was the bourgeoisie (middle class) and the peasantry, the peasantry making up around 80-90% of the population. They were required to pay direct taxes like the Taille, the Vingtieme and capitation and indirect taxes such as the gabelle, aides on drinks, taxes on tobacco and Tithes to the Church as well as being expected to do Corvee Royale; which was unpaid.