The French Revolution was the most significant event in the world. There were no single reasons for the outbreak of the French Revolution. Various reasons have contributed to the causes of the French Revolution. Reasons that attribute for the causes of the French Revolution are- Political Causes, Economic Causes, Intelectual Causes, and Social Structure of France.
- CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
- POLITICAL CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
- ECONOMIC CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
- INTELECTUAL CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
- SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF FRANCE
CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
The following chief reasons were responsible for the causes of the French Revolution in France:
POLITICAL CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
The Autocracy of the kings
Even before the French Revolution, there was an autocratic form of government in France. So, the king considers themselves as ‘Representatives of God on Earth’ and ruled over their subjects without any check or restraint. The will of the kings was law. No judicial inquiry was essential for the imprisonment of an individual.
Persons like Voltaire and Mirabeau became the victims of the authority contained in lettres de cachet. Owing to being an absolute authority, the king had not called any meeting of the Estates-General for the last 175 years. The appointment of officers and their termination was their sole right. Hence, the state does not have a proper policy, as a result, everywhere there was chaos and confusion. As a result of the above, it contributes to one of the causes of the French Revolution.
The defect of the French administration was another cause of the French Revolution. In fact, the administration was never appropriate. It was a hotbed of favoritism and nepotism. Most of the administration were reserved for the aristocrats and the nobles. Even if they do not possess the qualification, the administrative post was given to them. As a result, an incapable person controls the administration.
Lack of Efficiency in the Administration
During the reign of Louis XVI, he was popularly famous for his efficient administration across Europe. However, after his death, Louis XV ascended the throne. Louis XV was spendthrift and foolish. Thus, he increases the debt of the country.
Besides, because of Louis XV’s stupidity and incapabilities, many American and Indian colonies moved away from the grip of France.
Also, the Seven Years War had a great impact on the finances of France. It not only exhausted the royal treasury but also affected the honor of France adversely. Thus, failure in financial administration was yet another reason that causes the French Revolution.
The king and the queen were spendthrift, they spent a lot of money on luxuries. Besides, the courtiers also followed the lifestyle of their sovereign. These luxuries lifestyle has a great impact on the Royal treasury.
Besides, the king lives in Versailles along with his family. The Versailles was located very near to Paris, just 12 miles away. The King also has numerous servants and around 1500 horses.
Therefore to maintain his luxurious mansion, the King has spent crores of Franc. Historians believe that the extravagance of the king and the queen was responsible for emptying the royal coffers. As a result, hefty taxes were imposed on the common man, which in turn aggravates the situation of the common man.
The Power of the Court
On the eve of the French Revolution, there were about 17 courts of law in France. No book of the law was available for the guidance of the judges but in each court, there was a register of laws. The Kings make these laws as per his wish. Thus, the laws in France did not have a university and their applicability differed from place to place. Thus, the power of the court was another reason that causes the French Revolution.
Disability and Unworthiness of the rulers
The France monarchy had become completely immortal and corrupt during the reign of Louis XVI. There were countrywide discontentment and dejection in France due to the evil deeds of the king. Robertson has written:
Louis XVI was greatly influenced by his queen who herself was a spendthrift lady with no love for the country. The king was just a puppet in front of his queen. He failed to bring about any reform due to her evil influence. Consequently, the fire of revolution went on smoldering within the country.
If Louis XVI controls his own mind and did something for the good of the people, it should slow down the French Revolution.
Burden of Taxes
The general masses had to pay 80% of their income in taxation. They were not only groaning under the burden of these heavy taxes but they also lead a very miserable life. The members of the First Estates and the Second Estates were exempted from all taxes.
Apart from the royal taxes, the peasantry had to pay various kinds of taxes to the church and the clergy. Also, the commoners also had to do forced labor on the estates of the nobles and they got nothing for it.
Hence, the common people remain unhappy with the present ruler and his officials. The common people feel the need to change the present form of government so that it decreases the common people’s burdens.
Besides, the common people were unhappy with the present ruler and his officials. They wish to remove the present government so that they might have a sigh of relief. Thus, we can easily say that the burden of taxes was another reason for the causes of the French Revolution.
Character of Queen
Marie Antoinette, the queen of Louis XVI, also contributes in many ways towards the causes of the French Revolution. She had great control and influence upon her husband. She was an extravagant lady and spent a lot of money even when she knows France’s economic condition was in the deteriorating stage. Also, Marie Antoinette’s influence proved to be very dangerous for both her husband and France.
ECONOMIC CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
The tottering economic structure of France was also one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the revolution. Some historians regard that it was the economic causes that fanned the flames of revolution in France.
At the same time, Louis XVI was fond of waging wars and took an active part in many wars. Thus, the war involves a huge amount of money. Consequently, the national debt increased beyond the limit. Thus, the national debts of France had gone quite high. Besides, he also spent a huge amount on the construction of the royal mansion at Versailles, which was located twelve miles away from Paris. Because of the growing debt, Louis XV and his successors tried to control these debts but they did not succeed.
After Louis XVI ascended the throne, he wants to improve the economic structure of France. But due to his Royal Spouse (Marie Antoinette, who was an extravagant lady), he too could not improve the economic structure. As a result of her extravagant, it led to a heavy drain on the finances of the State. She was famous as “Madame Deficit” for her spendthrift ways. The king was just a puppet in front of the queen and the nobles.
The taxation System
The taxation system in France was never organizing appropriately. The privileged class was free from all taxes, while the underprivileged classes have to pay 80 percent of their income as tax, to the state government. Thus, inequality in taxes results in discontent and sadness to the masses.
No doubt, Louis XVI tries his best to improves the economic condition of France. Thus, he appoints finance ministers to administer the State finances. But due to the extravagant lifestyle and influence of Marie Antoinette, sadly even he did not succeed to improve the economy.
INTELECTUAL CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
Ketelbey remarks that “writers of all kinds prepared the French Revolution.” In fact, when the political, social, and economic conditions in France began to decline, the writers and philosophers with their writing and speeches, invoked the present conditions of the common people.
Hence, they condemned not only the prevailing social system but also they show their resentment and discontentment against the evil practices of the church. Thus, the intellectual arouse the people from their slumber.
Montesquieu outright rejected the theory of the Divine Right of the kings. He suggests that the king should be select by the will of the people.
Rousseau introduces the meaning of Democracy in France, through his book, “Social Contract”. He criticized the tyrannical rule of the kings of France and also held them responsible for bringing the country to the brink of revolution by their despotic and arbitrary acts.
Influence of the American War of Independence
France’s participation in the American War of Independence was another cause of the French Revolution. England and France were old enemies of each other. In 1775 AD, the English colonies in Northern America revolted against British rule. This war of independence continued for eight years from 1775 to 1783 AD.
In this war, France took part in it to help America and crush England, its old enemy. Though America got the upper hand and got freedom, yet it causes a severe financial blow to France.
However, France’s participation in the American War of Independence proved very dangerous for France because the soldiers who returned to their country (France) after the end of this war, brought with them revolutionary thoughts. The soldiers of France now realized that no reform could be effective in France, so long the privileged nobles and priests were present in the country. They lost their thrust on the present government to bring changes in the state. So, in order to change the present government, they turn towards Revolution.
Besides the cases referred to above, there were some other significant reasons which contribute to the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1789. The rise of the middle class, disaffection among soldiers, and the emotional ferment of the public and famine of 1788 also contributed to the outbreak of this revolution.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF FRANCE
The social structure of France was yet another cause for the outbreak of the French Revolution. The social structure of inequalities, that was prevailing in France creates dissatisfaction among the masses. Hence, discontentment of the common people forces them to oppose the prevalent social structure.
French society was mainly divided into two classes:
- the Privileged and
- The unprivileged.
The nobles, feudal lords, and the higher clergy formed the privileged classes while the unprivileged class consists of the peasants, tenants, laborers, artisans, small traders, and shopkeepers. Though the unprivileged classes had to bear the burden of the taxes, they do not enjoy any special privilege. Thus, they lead a miserable life.
The Privileged Class
The privileged class consists of the nobles, feudal lords, the landed aristocracy, and the upper clergy. The privileged class was barely 1 percent of the total population of France. But they enjoy all the rights and privileges. Thus, they also impose various taxes from the commoners while they themselves were freed from all taxation.
Besides, their domesticated animals were free to graze in any field of the peasants and they had no right to oust them. Owing to their tortures and cruelties, the peasantry nursed hatred, dislike, and upon the privileged class.
Apart from the high posts in the administration, the young sons of the nobles, irrespective of the requisite qualification, hold lucrative posts in the church. Also, the upper clergy utilized the wealth of the church according to their own wishes and led a life of pleasure, luxury, and immorality.
On the other hand, the lower clergy not happy with their position. The autocratic form of the government way had very low income while they used to perform all the rituals. So, they had an intense hatred towards the higher clergy for their fabulous wealth and privileged.
The Unprivileged Class
The unprivileged were divided into two categories.
The first category was famous as the bourgeoisie and the second as commoners.
The bourgeoisie or the middle class was rich and consists of physicians, lawyers, philosophers, and professors. So, they control trade and intellectual activities. Often they used to lend money to the nobles. The government also often took loans from the middle-class people at the time of their need.
Also, they used to pay the highest taxes to the government. Though they pay high taxes but they do not get any privileges like the nobles. Neither they were not freed from taxes nor were any appointments made from this class on any lucrative post.
It is worth mentioning that contemporary philosophers influence the general masses (Underpriviledge Class) because of their intellectual and high education. The revolution was really led by these people of the middle class, for they made the commoners realize their miserable plight.
The second category of an underprivileged class is the commoners. The position of commoners in French society was most deplorable. They neither could make their daily needs nor possessed clothes to cover their body.
Also, they failed to provide food to their children and felt extremely dissatisfied and dejected. Their number in French society was considerable.
Though the major burden of taxation was borne by them, however, the revenue collectors tortured them severely. In case of non-payment of dues, the revenue staff will enter their houses and throw away anything they wish. Thus the position of the commoners among the unprivileged was extremely sorry. They were greatly unhappy with the prevailing system of government and the social order of the day.
Thus, the Political System and the form of government in France, the economic structure fanned the flames of the French Revolution, the intellectuals, philosophers, and writers invoke the present situation of the common man and the social structure of inequalities between the privileged class and underprivileged class are all responsible for the causes of French Revolution.
Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh
A Guide to History of Modern Europe 1789-1945.
Imphal, Khumanthem Babudhon, 2018,