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There were many causes of the French Revolution, some long-term and some short-term. In this essay I will look at and explain them.
One of the causes of the revolution was absolute monarchy. This meant their country was ruled by someone who claimed all power. Some people thought that their country should be ruled by a government chosen by them. This would mean it would be their fault if the country wasn’t well governed, as they had chosen them to run the country- rather than someone who just happened to be picked as the ruler because they were the eldest (male) of the royal family! This is what had been done with King Louis XVI, the son of the previous king, Louis XV. This meant he didn’t have to have been a good ruler to become king, he just inherited it.
Unfortunately for France, Louis wasn’t really a very good king. He was more interested in his hobbies of hunting and making clocks and locks than in the affairs of state, which made the people angry: that he did not care about them as he should. Although he meant well, he was uneducated- and unintelligent- which meant there wasn’t really and way of improving the way he thought. This may not have mattered if he had taken advice as to how the country and the way it was run could be improved- but he didn’t.
This meant he ended up making some bad decisions and irritating his people, as it was them that the laws affected. He was also described as being honest- which could be both good and bad. It is usually described as a good point, although if the king expressed some of his views about someone (‘s ideas) to someone, and they weren’t good, this could also be a bad point. Another one of his good points was that he felt compassion: when you spoke to him of a disaster he felt for it. This would have been better, however, if he had shown in his replies that he cared- as his tone was often “cold and unfeeling”.
He also presented himself badly: he had very poor posture, carrying his rather heavy carriage very badly. This meant he didn’t look like much of a leader, and didn’t inspire (much confidence in) his people. Also, the fact that he was overweight wasn’t good, as this showed the poor people of France that while they starved, Louis obviously had too much to eat! He was also incredibly short-sighted. This would make him appear rather stupid, as people would be able to see him before he saw them. This would- could be dangerous and would also affect his ability to communicate. He was described as “looking like some peasant shambling along behind his plough”, which meant he obviously didn’t look like much of a leader- and wouldn’t really inspire much in his people.
One of the other things that made Louis look bad was his wife- Marie Antoinette. She was supposed to make the royal family look good, to promote them- but she really didn’t. Many rumours were spread about her. This made her sound bad, and also showed that people didn’t like her. It was also said that she wasted much of the state’s money on herself- on jewellery and one of her hobbies: gambling. This made the people angry as the struggled through starvation and poverty to pay their taxes to the king as he asked- only for his wife to spend it on herself! This wasn’t a good idea. She was also described as lazy and silly. Some of her better points were her beauty and her intelligence- although she was said to interfere in the running of the country, which wasn’t allowed. The peasants also thought her a bit strange, as she and her friends used to dress up as peasants and pretend to be poor for the afternoon!
Overall, the king and queen were not well liked, and France wasn’t really very well governed. Many of these problems were also experienced in England before the civil war- including the fact that Louis thought he had been chosen by God and therefore had the right to do anything he wanted- only he could pass laws. He was very much like Charles in both that way and in the fact that he never really ever called parliament, he and his queen weren’t very well liked by the people, the way they both ran their countries and in the fact that they were both executed (let’s hope our next king sees this pattern before it’s too late!).
Another long-term cause of the revolution was the growth of new ideas. People were beginning to see the world differently: there had been a scientific revolution. Scientists had discovered how to improve farming methods and prevent diseases, and were beginning to think- if they could improve and update their methods, can they not improve and update they way France is governed? They were beginning to think differently- and they wanted France to think differently too- the way it was governed was old fashioned and people wanted it to change.
France was also heavily influenced by the American War of Independence- and many of their new ideas came from there. America united in a war AGAINST absolute monarchy- to triumph in getting their country ruled by a government- just like the people of France wanted. The troops that had fought for America came home remembering the American Declaration of Independence. I said that everyone was born equal and had rights that could not be taken away, and that the government should act in the interests of the people.
This is what the French people wanted for France. They also remembered what it had stood for: Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. This was also what they wanted for France. They wanted freedom: freedom from an absolute monarch, poverty, starvation and being crushed by taxes. They wanted equality: for everyone to be equally treated, equally paid, equally taxed, equally respected. They also thought of fraternity, brotherhood. They realised that if they all joined together against the king, they were much more likely to succeed than if they tried to overthrow him on their own. The French had fought for these ideas in America- now they wanted them as their own.
Another long-term cause was the growth of industry and the rise of the middle class. As industry grew, more money was made, and many members of the Third Estate became fairly wealthy as they became merchants, bankers, ship owners, shopkeepers and workshop masters. When they had more money, they became more independent- getting better education, smarter- they began having lifestyles as good as some nobles- some better.
They wanted a greater say in the running of the country- they were beginning to criticize the way the country was run, spotting faults and wanting them corrected. They wanted to be listened to- to be respected. They wanted to be respected like the nobles who passed them in their carriages. They were respected just as much as the urban workers and landless labourers- and they wanted more. After all, it was them who had had to make something of themselves- they weren’t just born into riches! They were the ones on the receiving end of all the taxes and unfair treatment- it was them who knew how the country needed to be improved, and still no one respected or listened to them. They were getting irritated.
The burden of feudal dues was also growing. This meant the poor peasants, who were already crushed by the taxes they were paying, now had to pay even more tax to their lords. This was because the country was bankrupt, and needed more money to pay off its debt. The peasants were getting poorer and poorer, and this was one of the causes of the increase in poverty.
Poverty was increasing because the peasants were getting poorer and poorer and the taxes were getting larger. This meant the peasants were finding it difficult to pay, and getting more and more so as both feudal dues and taxes rose. This meant people couldn’t afford to feed them so well and were starving. This wasn’t a good situation.
The government was in a great deal of debt, and as they spent a lot more than they got in from taxes, it was growing. This meant they had more to pay back, which meant their total expenditure went up, which meant they had even less money (compared to the total expenditure) coming in to pay back their debt. This meant it was getting deeper and deeper, owing more and more money. This meant they had to raise taxes to keep up with the rate their debt was growing.
The government decided they couldn’t tax the Third estate any more heavily or they would have no money left at all. Instead, they were going to have to tax someone else, and, being the next lowest down, it landed on the nobles. The government desperately needed more money in, and raising the nobles’ taxes would help them bring in a bit more, before they got any deeper into debt. The nobles, however, didn’t want to be taxed any more than they already were (a very small amount)- complaining that some of them found it hard even to pay the small tax they already had to pay- and that if they had to pay any more they might soon have to turn to charity! The nobles were not pleased and were strongly against being taxed any more. This would mean their peasants would have to pay heavier feudal dues and would be even more crushed by taxes- it wasn’t looking good for the peasants.
The peasants and the Third Estate were already heavily taxed- so much so that they were being more and more of them forced into poverty and starvation because they couldn’t afford to feed themselves. They also wanted to see the taxes they paid benefiting them- which obviously wasn’t happening so far. They paid all their taxes, starved, and then saw their money being spent on the queen or paying back the debt that the government had got itself into- they were very angry and wanted to be better treated by the government.
There were also many short-term causes of the French Revolution. Unlike the long-term causes, they happened over a short period of time, and they were what really triggered the reaction.
One of the short-term causes was the Calling of the Estates General. The government was bankrupt and desperately needed money. No-one would lend it any and they couldn’t raise taxes. The king had to call the Estates General, which consisted of representatives from each of the three estates. They had not met since 1614, almost like the way Charles never called parliament unless he was desperate for money. The king hoped that by calling the estates general he would be able to introduce new taxes to help him out of his financial difficulties. The nobles wanted to control it and get CONCESSIONS from the king, and the poor Third Estate hoped it would help them with their problems of poverty and starvation. Everyone seemed to be disappointed.
The king had made a big mistake and had not proposed any major reforms as had been wanted by just about all the people. His son was very ill and dying, and Louis was very much a family man (unfortunately this wasn’t really one of the good qualities you looked for in a king). The third and first estates were very disappointed, and joined together to become the National Assembly. They wanted to propose major reforms themselves if the king wouldn’t, and so they lay down a new constitution which laid down how France could be improved, and how it should be run. They forced Louis to agree to their proposals, but found out he was secretly calling up troops. The National Assembly were worried he might try and use the troop to destroy them- and so they decided to take matters and the law into their own hands.
One of the other short-term causes was the storming of the Bastille- the much hated prison was destroyed by the Parisian workers who finally cracked under the strain as their grievances were ignored. This showed them that when they united together to destroy it, it was a lot more successful than just one man trying to destroy the prison on his own. They discovered the use of fraternity.
Another short-term cause, which came shortly after the storming of the Bastille in July, happened in October. It was really a combination of three/four things. One of them was the economic slump. The farmers’ harvests were failing. This meant they didn’t have so much to sell, and so their prices rose. Because there wasn’t so much wheat and it was more expensive, this meant there wasn’t very much bread and it was being wanted by more and more people, as the population of France was increasing.
With more people wanting it and less bread available, the price of bread rose drastically. Of course, with their taxes and the cost of living rising, it meant most peasants could no longer afford to buy bread, and poverty and starvation was on the increase! The people, worried Louis might try to regain power using troops, forced him from his palace in Versailles to come back to Paris with them, along with his family. Louis would now be surrounded by normal people rather than nobles.
Another cause linked in to the starvation/bread shortage was the crisis in industry, which had had thousands of people thrown out of work. This meant they were no longer being paid, which meant they hardly had enough money to feed themselves, and with both the taxes and the cost of bread on the rise, poverty was increasing and so was starvation.
Soon the peasants were revolting throughout most of France, burning castles and burning feudal documents. They also refused to pay taxes unless they were killed first, and that they would fight for their rights.
Overall just about everyone in France was unhappy for some reason and their problems were just growing. If they didn’t do something about them soon then they might never get them sorted out! They had to do something…