In 1789, France was under a revolution. It was ruled by absolute monarchy for centuries. Unfairness between Estates started to frustrate the people at the bottom of France. The French government was 4000 million livers in debt (Christopher Hibbert 1980 p.14). Besides the partial blames that Louis XVI deserved, the situation was quite out of his control. There were many other reasons that lead to this revolution and every single problem was connected with each other. The most important short term factors were the bankrupting of government and the Famine. As for the most important long term factors were the heavy taxes and the enlightenments. Though Louis XVI was partially responsible for the French Revolution, it wasnt his entire fault, he just happened to be the scapegoat of some wrong deeds done by others.
Louis XVI was famous for being weak and indecisive (Peter Mantin 1992 p. 5) and that was the main problem of his running of the country. He was popular and beloved at first by all people of France because of his kind-hearted and compassionate personality, but hated later as his weakness and conservatism in politics and economics slowly appeared (Christopher Hibbert 1980 p. 3). He was too weak that even the 1st and 2nd Estates tried to control over him and he wasnt able to do strong decisive actions (Christopher Hibbert 1980 p. 3).
He even preferred personal hobbies to politics interests (Peter Mantin 1992 p. 4). The Aristocrats and the Church refused to help him out with money respectively in 1787 and 1788 when the country was in a financial crisis (Mr A J Field 2007 Schoolhistory.co.uk). At last, Louis XVI lost all control over his troop and the people of France and was in a passive position afterwards. All these nonalignment between estates and failures were indeed because of him, however, it wasnt his entire fault. After all, the 1st and 2nd Estate was the people who refused to help and there were other more important issues that contributed to the French Revolution.
Firstly, the reason why the government was bankrupt in 1788 that caused even heavier taxes on 3rd Estate was because of the humongous lavish expenditures of Marie Antoinette and the league war with the British of Louis XV (Tiffany 2007 Franceattraction.com). Marie Antoinette spent a fortune on her favourite residence, The Petit Trianon; on her stable of three hundred horses; on her sessions at the gaming tables; and also on her clothes, which cost 100, 000 livers a year. Besides, she loved expensive jewelries; her earrings from Charles Boehmer, the crown jeweler, cost 400, 000 livres and her diamond braclets cost 100, 000 livres (Tiffany 2007 Franceattraction.com). How about those parties that she had all day? One would have cost 200, 000 livres, no wonder the government bankrupted and was 4000 millions livres in debt. At that time, 50, 000 livres per year was already a lavish income and great titled heads lived for a whole year off 50, 000 livres utmost (Tiffany 2007 Franceattraction.com). Moreover, his father and grandfather spend loads of money on participating in the wars of Americans and British (helping Americans) and lost the war against another country (Ross Steele 2002 p. 102).
Secondly, every kind of heavy tax fell on the poor peasants while the aristocrats and the church got every kind of privileges that they didnt have (Waugh S. 2002 p. 84). It was this frustrating unfairness oppressing the people at the bottom of France for centuries that propelled them. The government didnt fix the economic issues by earning more external tariffs and being less lavish, instead, they oppressed the Third Estate to pay more taxes. There were all kinds of unnecessary and ridiculous taxes.
Overall, the Third Estate was forced to pay tithe (a tenth of their income or produce to church), pay a taille (a tenth to state), pay a vingtieme (a fifth of property), pay a gabelle (tax on salt), pay a seigneurial tax (feudal dues), corvee (work tax), aide (tax on wine) and pay a capitation (tax on the number of family members)etc. (Greg Hetherton 1992 p. 18) Besides, the government even permitted the private tax collectors to raise tax whatever they wanted, thus, causing the poor peasants to afford those taxes that were even larger than their own wages and far more than the government requested (Peter Mantin 1992 p. 45).
Thirdly, because of heavy rains and bad weathers, there were a series of poor harvest causing famine in France 1780s (Invicta M. 2001 Theotherside.co.uk). Many people lived off the bread line and when there were any matters concerning crops, harvest and food distribution, everything could be tipped into huge disastrous mess since people just wanted to survive. However, the poor harvest led to soaring of food prices (especially bread) and only a workers daily bread would have taken about 97% of his income. The famine infuriated the hungry and desperate 3rd Estate and provoked food riots (Invicta M. 2001 Theotherside.co.uk). At this point, the place was in a total chaos.
Last but not least, enlightenment played an important role in French Revolution. Without it, the French Revolution would be without a spirit to go on. This encouraged the people being oppressed by the 1st and the 2nd Estate to test the thing and to think themselves, instead of relying on false knowledge people gave. The five main ideas the philosophers came up with were religious freedom, freedom from absolute rulers, brotherhood of all people, welfare for everyone and personal happiness as far as possible. These long term and short term factors, flamed by enlightenment, started up the French Revolution.
I concluded that the French Revolution wasnt Louis XVI entire fault. He was only being at the wrong time in the wrong place. He was of course being weak and indecisive; however, there were more important factors responsible to the revolution. The financial crisis of the government, heavy taxation on the 3rd Estate, poor harvest and enlightenment contributed to the French Revolution the most. Therefore, to a moderate extent is Louis XVI responsible for the French Revolution.
:-Greg Hetherton (1992). Revolutionary France: Liberty, tyranny and terror. Camridge: Cambridge University Press.
-Peter Mantin (1992). The French Revolution. Heinemann: Oxford.
-Christopher Hibbert (1980). The Days of the French Revolution. USA: Penguin Group.
-Ross Steele (2002). When in France, do as the French do. Canada: McGraw-Hill Professional.
-Waugh S. (2002). Heinemann History Scheme, The early modern work, Book 2.
-Mr A J Field (2007). French Revolution-Year 8-Schoolhistory.co.uk. Retrieved 3 Oct 2007 from http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/year8links/frenchrevolution.shtml.
-Tiffany (2007). Marie Antoinette Versailles. Retrieved 4 Oct 2007 from http://www.franceattraction.com/marie-antoinette.html.
-Invicta M. (2001). French Revolution. Retrieved 4 Oct 2007 from http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/revolution.htm.