Top 10 Causes of The French Revolution

The French Revolution was one of the major events which reformed European history. It was continued for about a decade, from the 5th of May 1789 to the 9th of November 1799.

Although started as a government reform moment, it soon turned into a radical movement. It caused a huge political turmoil, overthrew the monarchy, saw the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and had more such effects.

French Revolution movement was started after King Louis XIV’s and Louis XVI’s expenses. The country was in the huge debt in the 18th Century. The most important part was played by the commoners, peasants and the labor class people of France. 

They were influenced by the philosophers and the political leaders that brought changes in their society and the history of Europe.

The top 10 causes are mentioned below for the ease of understanding the French Revolution Movement.

10. Depressed Third Estate

The Third Estate Raises Its Voice French Revolution

The 24,700,000 French population in the 1780s was divided into three classes- First, Second, and Third Estates. 

The First Estate included the Roman Catholic church’s clergymen, The Second Estate included French monarch and nobilities, 

The Third Estate included everyone else- lawyers, peasants, laborers and so on. The Third Estate had about 98% of the population of France yet they had the least number of rights. 

Their quality of living was poor compared to the people of higher Estates who enjoyed all kinds of privileges. In the Estates-General, a general assembly of France, each Estate got collective one vote. 

This meant that even though the Third Estate had the majority of people, they would collectively get only one vote. The system was biased towards the class system instead of individual voting.

The Clergy and The Nobility tend to disregard the commoners of the Third Estate. The decisions were taken against the favors of commoners benefiting just the Clergy and the Nobility.

It was a horrendous injustice upon the commoners which had people having little money to spare. On the other hand, the people in the First and Second Estate were enjoying and exploiting all the wealth. 

It is very well demonstrated how the wealthy upper class and the clergy worked together and supported each other. They would often turn a blind eye on the misery of the poor.

9. The Monarch and The Church

The Monarch and The Church French Revolution cause

The Bourbon monarch of France was highly infamous for its faulty and ineffective leadership abilities. The emperor ruled on the basis of ‘The Divine Right of Kings’. 

This rule stated very clearly that the King was unanswerable to anyone regarding his decisions.  Louis XV miserably failed to bring reform and peace to the distressed people of the Third Estate. 

He was focused more on keeping his throne and his rich lifestyle. Also, the royal treasury was depleting at a fast pace due to the expenses and extravagant lifestyle led by Queen Marie Antoinette.

The Clergy used religion as a tool to terrorize the poor people to extort money. The mutual bond between the royals and the Church made it impossible for poor men to get any justice. 

The system burdened the poor and made the rich richer. This economic distress was another reason why the Third Estate revolted and the French Revolution happened.

8. The third Estate Bears the Taxes

The third Estate Bears the Taxes French Revolution

As discussed earlier, about 98% of the French population was included in the Third Estate. The 2% of clergy and nobility were comparatively less in number. The Nobility and Clergy owed about 25% and 10% of the land of the country, respectively. 

The rest 65% of total land was sparsely distributed among a large population which wasn’t enough to provide them with considerable financial stability and security.

The tax system excluded the First and Second Estate from paying taxes. This meant that the poor commoners of the Third Estate were bound to pay huge taxes.

In contrast, the Upper Estates were permitted to collect taxes from commoners. 

The monarch had imposed heavy taxes yet failed to provide any security from the looting or rioting. Thus, the exploitation of the commoners led them to revolt against the higher Estates.

7. Wars Come with Price

Wars Come with Price French Revolution
Wars Come with Price French Revolution

France fought in many wars against Great Britain throughout the 18th century. France had lost the very expensive Seven Years’ War during the time of Louis XV. 

He tried to avenge by making anti-British allies and Navy but miserably failed to do so. This led to huge financial loss and a mountain of debt fell on the head of France. 

The monarch considered Britain as its enemy. Louis XV was succeeded by his grandson Louis XVI who too indulged in the wars against Britain. 

The wars such as the American war of Independence again costed huge deal of money to the king. Although America won, unfortunately, France had next to nothing left for profit. This made the financial status of France to become poorer.

Things got worse when France faced multiple poor harvests due to bad weather. This caused a great hike on the prices of flour hence caused an increase in the price of bread. 

Since the bread was the staple diet, it forced the commoners to spend about 90% of their daily earning on just buying the bread. This made them resent the Monarch even more. 

Rumors that the monarch is plotting to starve the commoners and was hiding bags of grain in the palace further enraged the commoners against the monarch.

6. The Third Estate Raises Its Voice

The Awakening of the Third Estate

Amidst all the trouble, in May 1789, King Louis XVI summoned The Estate General after 173 years. 

The Estate General meeting was held with the hidden moto to solve the financial crisis but not for the commoner, rather for the higher-class people. 

As discussed earlier, each Estate had only one vote. The third Estate feared that they will be overruled by the higher Estates. They even feared that they will be forced to bear all the burden of taxes and war.

Hence, they wanted to abolish vote by status and rather wanted a fair voting system- voting by the head. The Nobility and the Clergy got angry as they did not enjoy the same powers over the commoners of the Third Estate, as they use to before. 

This caused great hostility between the three Estates and caused the commoner to revolt against the unfair feudalism. Henceforth, the Third Estate formed National Assembly.

The people of Third Estate were locked out of the chamber of Versailles where the Estate Generals were held. 

They gathered in the indoor tennis court where they pledged that they will not leave until they reformed the constitution.

Later on, they invited people from the higher Estates to join them. About forty-seven Liberal Noble and most of the Clergymen joined them. On 27 of June Louis XVI reluctantly absorbed the three Estates into National Assembly.

5. Marking of French Revolution- Fallen Bastille

Marking of French Revolution- Fallen Bastille

Bastille Saint-Antoine or The Bastille was a fortress which was used as a state prison by the Monarch on the Easter side of Paris. 

Bastille Saint-Antoine or The Bastille was a fortress which was used as a state prison by the Monarch on the Easter side of Paris. 

The Bastille was seen as a symbol of the French Monarch’s dictatorial reign. At the time of the French Revolution, it housed just seven prisoners. 

On 14 July 1789, a mob of commoners marched and attacked the prison. They had not come for the prisoners but demanded enormous firearms stores present inside the prison. They were refused by the Prison Governor and hence the mob seized the prison.

Since the Bastille was a prominent symbol of the ruling of the king, the storming of the prison Bastille signified the launch of the French Revolution.

See Also:

4. Revolutionary Words of Wisdom

Revolutionary Words of Wisdom

The 18th century is considered the Age of Enlightenment. Philosophical and intellectual movements dominated the minds of people all over Europe. 

The Philosophers of the time like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, and Baron de Montesquieu raised questions against the integrity of the Monarch. They raised questions against the unjust feudal system and the biased Estate System.

Baron de Montesquieu encouraged the government system grounded on the division of power. 

Since the commoners were already under the unjust practice of the monarch and the church, they got a new voice in the writings of the philosophers. The wise words of philosophers influenced and gave momentum to the French Revolution Movement.

3.Documentation of The Declaration and Termination of National Constituent Assembly

Documentation of The Declaration and Termination of National Constituent Assembly

The National Constituent Assembly, better known as National Assembly documented The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. 

The Declaration was drafted by Abbe Sieyes and Marquis de Lafayettein 1789. They were under the consultation of Thomas Jefferson.

The Declaration gave them the right to property, security, liberty, and resistance to oppression. On 30 September 1791, National Assembly was adjourned and was replaced by Legislative Assembly. 

Unfortunately, an agreement was made that none of the members of the National Assembly will be elected in the new Legislative Assembly. This led to a huge loss of great political figures. 

The Legislative Assembly had members of various political points and moderate royalists and also radical republicans.

2. Maximilien’s Command for Bloodshed- The Reign of Terror

Maximilien’s Command for Bloodshed- The Reign of Terror

Maximilien Robespierre was a lawyer-turned-politician. He is known as one of the most influential people of the French Revolution. 

After the king’s execution, the intense war with European nations and conflicts within the National Convention led the French Revolution to its most brutal and chaotic phase.

In June 1793, Girondins were forced to surrender to the National Convention. The Jacobins apprehended the complete control of the National Convention and implemented several essential courses. 

This also included the abolition of Christianity and the launching of a new calendar. As a consequence of all these, the blood-spattered Reign of Terror was invoked. A 10-month period of bloodshed and turmoil where the opponent of the revolution was beheaded in the thousands.

Brutal killings were approved under the commands of Robespierre. Ironically, he was the main associate of the draconian Committee of Public Safety.

On 28 July 1794, his death marked the commencement of the Reaction of Thermidorian where the French people came united to revolt in opposition to Maximilien’s Reign of Terror.

1. The Rule of Napoleon Bonaparte

The Rule of Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a military leader and a statesman who took an active involvement in the French Revolution Movement. He was a prominent figure as he led many successful campaigns in the French revolution war. 

After the plunge of Robespierre, the National Convention implemented a new constitution that created France’s first legislature consisting of two bodies in the year 1795. The directory council consisted of five members responsible for governance and execution.

The young and fierce Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed as the army general. Since the beginning, France faced a financial problem, political conflicts, and corruption in the council which remained unresolved till 1799.

Seeing all this, Napoleon abolished the council forming a new consulate and appointing himself as “first consul” of France. This day marked as the beginning of the era of Napoleon in the pages of history. 

Napoleon in power dominated much of continental Europe becoming the greatest military leader of his era. He made economic and social reforms and emphasized on strengthening the central government. 

The Napoleonic code embodied the principles of religion, equality, feudalism, and tolerance. He crowned himself as the emperor of France in 1804.

Conclusion:

French Revolution was a movement of commoners and poor people of France who had a very depressed and unjust life. It was a reforming movement which gave a voice to grievances of poor with the slogan “Liberty Equality Fraternity”. 

As explained in the causes, all the reasons or factors are interlinked and involved mainly the people of the Third Estate. Facing grave injustice, they were dominated by the wealthy people whose wealth was drained by the sweat of the poor workers, laborers, and peasants. 

The emergence of Philosophers and their Idea of change and reform gave fuel to the spark of revolution in the heart of commoners. 

The French Revolution inspired many people all around the world and left an everlasting mark on European history.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Top 10 Causes of The French Revolution," in HistoryTen, October 17, 2020, https://historyten.com/french-revolution/major-causes-french-revolution/.
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