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Western Europe – France 1600 – 1850 Essay

In the year 1600, France was a monarchy ruled by Henry IV. He ascended to power after his childless cousin, Henry III, died. Ruling from 1589-1610, Henry IV survived at least 12 assassination attempts. The reason so many people tried to assassinate him was because the Catholics felt he usurped the throne and Protestants saw him as a traitor. Socially, France had 3 Estates: the Church, Nobility, and Peasants. The Church made up less than 1% of the population, the Nobility made up about 2%, and the Peasants made up the rest. The Church and Nobility were exempt from taxes causing the tax load to be placed upon the poor peasants who had no money. This caused higher taxes and higher cost for food, causing hunger.

There were changes that occurred in political and social structures between 1600 and 1850. The Peasants formed the National Assembly due to their lack of being represented. They wrote the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens. The National Assembly wanted France to remain a monarchy, they just wanted more representation. Another group, the Jacobins, wanted France to become a republic. Still angered by the social inequality, some peasants led the “Reign of Terror” which was basically a large revolt. The Nobility were beheaded by guillotine and their heads were put on long pikes and carried around town. Another big change that occurred during the “Reign of Terror” was time and date. Each week was composed of 10 days with 10 hours each. Each minute was composed of 100 seconds instead of 60. With the 10 day week, it wore down the animals and people sooner. This had a large impact on everyone because our bodies and the bodies of most of the animals we use for manual labor were created to do 6 days of work and rest for one day. After the “Reign of Terror” came the “Directory” which was a group of five “directors” who basically ruled the country. The “Directory” was eliminated with Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most notorious men in history, coming to power. Social changes that occurred between 1600 and 1850 included a decrease in power for the church and a decrease in the number of nobles. With Napoleon’s rule came more religious tolerance, which decreased the power of the Catholic church. Due to their being targeted during the “Reign of Terror,” the percentage of nobles to everyone else was decreased. All of these changes occurred because people were getting dissatisfied with the state of their country. The period of time from 1600 to 1850 saw many changes in the political and social structures of France.

In the year 1850, the government of France was still a monarchy, but it was ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon defeated the French Directory when he came to power. He abolished feudalism and was a big supporter of religious tolerance. He was also a brilliant military general. Eventually, he lost at the Battle of Waterloo and was later exiled and died. Also in 1850, the Church had come back, but they had less land and power. The church wasn’t the only one to lose power; the nobles had lost power as well.

Some things did stay the same over the 250 year gap between 1600 and 1850. The type of government in France stayed a monarchy. Probably the reason it stayed the same was because people were used to it and didn’t want to change. Another continuity was Enlightenment. This idea was going on throughout the entire 250 year period of time. Probably the reason this idea stayed around for so long was because it was straying from religion, which is a tendency society has been going towards for most of its existence.

Western Europe and specifically France had continuities and changes that occurred in the political and social structures over the time period of 1600 to 1850. These changes and continuities had affects on the rest of the world. For one thing, there was fighting in Europe and the setting up of colonies, which gave the British some money that they were able to use during the American Revolutions. This fighting and colonization also drained the resources of some of the European countries. Finally, the changes and stuff going on in France influenced all the other revolutions that occurred during this time: Haitian, Latin American, Mexican, and American. All of this shows how one country can influence the rest of the world through changes that it makes.


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