Thursday, 27 May 2021


In 1789, the French Revolution was erupted and marked in the history of human struggles for freedom and equality. It challenged and overthrew the older society and strengthened the state that aimed to represent the people's will. The revolution brought changes, not only in French society but also throughout European society. India was influenced by the ideas generated during this revolution, i.e., liberty, fraternity, and equality. Some of the major aspects of this revolution are given below –

I. The Division of Feudal Estates: The French society was divided into “feudal estates”. It was divided into three estates. Estates mean a system of stratification found in feudal European societies whereby one section or estate is distinguished from the other in terms of status, privileges and restrictions according to that estate.

a. First Estate: It consisted of the clergy, which stratified into higher clergy such as cardinal, the archbishops, the bishops and the abbots. They lived a luxurious life and gave little attention to religion. Some of them preferred the life of politics to religion and spent much of their time in wasteful activities like drinking, gambling, etc. In comparison to the higher clergy, the lower parish priests were overworked and poverty-stricken.

b.  Second Estate: It consisted of the ability. There were two kinds of nobles, i.e.

           i.  Nobles of the sword - Nobles of the sword were big landlords. They were the protectors of the people in principle but in reality, they led a life of a parasite, living off the hard work of the peasants. They led the life of pomp and show and were nothing more than ‘high born wastrels’; that is, they spent extravagantly and did not work themselves. They can be compared to the erstwhile zamindars in India.

            ii.  Nobles of the robe - Nobles of the robe were not by birth but by title. They were the magistrates and judges. Among these nobles, some were very progressive and liberal as they had moved in their positions from common citizens who belonged to the third estate.

c. Third Estate: It comprised the rest of the society were peasants, the merchants, the artisans and others. There was a vast difference between the condition of the peasants and that of the clergy and the nobility. The peasants worked day and night in the production of food for the whole society but were overloaded with so many taxes that they lived a hand to mouth existence. Yet they could barely survive due to the failure of any kind of protection from the government. Since the poor peasants had no power against them, i.e., clergy and the nobility, they continued to exploit the poor and kept on pampering and flattering the King.

II. Political Aspects of French society: French also maintain the theory of the divine right of king. Bourbon Dynasty ruled France for about 200 years. The people had no personal rights. King’s word was law and no other trials were required to arrest a person on the king’s orders. Laws too were different in different regions giving rise to confusion and arbitrariness. There was no distinction between the income of the state and the income of the King.


III. The war with Britain for an independent America: Another cause was the state's effective bankruptcy due to the enormous cost of previous wars, particularly the financial strain caused by French participation in the American Revolutionary War. France's inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt, which was both caused and aggravated by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation. Meanwhile, the royal court at Versailles was seen as being isolated from and indifferent to the lower classes' hardships.

IV. Economic Aspects of French society: the war was very expensive which ruined the country at the time of the king of France from Louis XIV. Louis died in 1715. France became bankrupt. Louis XV Instead of recovering money from bankers borrows money. Louis XVI, a very weak and ineffective king, inherited the ruin of a bankrupt government. His wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, known for her expensive habits, is famous for her reply, which she gave to France's poor, hungry people who came to her asking for bread. She told the people that, ‘if you don’t have bread, eat cake’.

Louis XVI Marie Antoinette

V. Intellectual Developments in France: In the 18th century France entered the age of reason and rationalism. Philosophers like Montesquieu (1689-1755), Locke (1632-1704), Voltaire (1694-1778) and Rousseau (1712-1778), whose ideas influenced the French people, believed in the true things which were proved by reason.

a. Montesquieu believed in the theory of the separation of powers and the liberty of the individuals.

b. According to Locke, that any ruler who looks away from these rights from his people should be removed from the seat of power and replaced by another ruler who can protect these rights.

c. According to Voltaire, religious toleration and freedom of speech is very essential for individuals, for freedom of speech and expression.

d. Rousseau believed that people can develop their personalities best only under a government that is of their own choice.

The major ideas of these and several other intellectuals struck the imagination of the French people. Also, some of them who had served in the French army, which was sent to assist the Americans in their War of Independence from British imperialism, came back with the ideas of equality of individuals and their right to choose their own government. The French middle class was deeply affected by these ideas of liberty and equality.


ESO13-1 Emergence of Sociology in Europe ~ Link
Sociological Theory-George Ritzer & Jeffrey N Stepnisky ~ Link
Origins of Feudalism ~ Link
NCERT - French Revolution ~ Link
French Revolution ~ Link
The French Revolution ~ Link
French Revolution (.doc) ~ Link
French Revolution of 1789 ~ Link
Access-to-History_France_in_Revolution ~ Link

The War of Independence or The American Revolution that was no Revolution: Another look at the Reasons ~ Link
The American Revolution (1763-1783) ~ Link
Timeline of the Americal Revolution ~ Link

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