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Estates General

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  • 1. Atlantic Cape Community College Heritage of the Western World II Keith Carson, Senior Adjunct Professor of History The Estates General of France FIRST ESTATE: Clergy and Church Hierarchy; power and privileges of the Gallican Church created, in effect, a state within a state; functions traditionally within the domain of the Church included birth registry, death records, marriage licensing, education, censorship, collection of tithes, and poor relief; Church itself was exempt from taxation by the state and owned about 10% of the land; Gallicanism enjoyed a monopoly on public worship that was state-sanctioned; Protestantism was outlawed following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1689 by Louis XIV; clergy reflected larger social divisions within France: upper clergy shared the attitudes and way of life of the aristocracy from within which its ranks were drawn, while the lower clergy, or the parish priests, commoners themselves, resented the haughtiness, luxury, privilege, and decadence of the upper clergy; in 1789, when the French Revolution began, many local priests sympathized with the reform-minded Third Estate SECOND ESTATE: aristocracy, or titled nobility; aristocracy was a privileged class or artificial order whose members held the highest positions in the church, government, and military; nobility was exempt from most taxes, or used their influence to evade taxes; nobles collected feudal manorial dues from peasantry, also known as estate income; ; in addition to estate income the aristocracy was increasingly coming to dominate such non-aristocratic enterprises such as banking & finance, commerce, and industry; leading patrons of the arts & culture often taking cues from the King and court life; many key philosophes were nobles (Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Montesquieu), although most aristocrats were intolerant and suspicious of the reformist ideals advanced by the philosophes; nobility owned about 25-33% of French land; nobles of the sword: families that could trace their noble lineage back several centuries; highest of the ancien noblesse were engaged in court life and social circles at Versailles and Paris; they received pensions and sinecures from the monarchy, but performed few useful functions or services for the state; most nobles of the sword, unable to afford the gilded life at court, remained on their provincial estates, the poorest of them barely distinguishable from prosperous peasants; nobles of the robe new order of nobility (nouveau riches) created by monarchy to obtain money (sale of titles), rewards, favors, and control and weaken the authority of the old aristocracy; mainly comprised of aspiring, socially ambitious, and burgeoning bourgeoisie (middle class) as well as conferring noble status on certain government offices purchased by wealthy bourgeois THIRD ESTATE: commoners; bourgeoisie, urban laborers, peasants, and poor; bourgeoisie: merchants, manufacturers, wholesalers, bankers, master craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, intellectuals, and government officials below the top ranks; bourgeoisie possessed wealth, but lacked social prestige; barriers to social advancement included high cost of purchasing office, limited number of offices for sale, resistance from the aristocracy, and the hostility of the established nobility to those recently ennobled; for most of the 18th century, the bourgeoisie did not challenge the French social structure and accepted the privileges of the nobility; by 1789, the bourgeoisie had amassed a list of grievances including lack of meritocracy, a more effective, reformist parliament, lack of a constitution to impose limits on the absolute powers of the monarchy, no guarantees of specific rights such as fair trial, freedom of thought, and religious toleration, and the lack of administrative reform to eliminate waste, inefficiency and curb royal interference in business and commerce; peasantry: by 1789 there were about 21 million peasants in France; serfdom had mostly disappeared in France by the 18th century, although feudal customs and dues were still largely observed; peasantry lived in poverty which only increased in the final years of the Ancien Regime; many peasants owned land and some were even prosperous; peasants owned between 30-40% of the land, but most holdings were too small to support the peasant and his family; ; rising peasant birth rates in the 18th century led to continual subdivision of peasant farms; many peasants did not own land, but instead rented it from the nobility or prosperous neighbors; still other peasants worked as sharecroppers turning over a considerable share of their harvest to creditors; many peasants attempted to earn extra income by hiring themselves out for whatever labor was available in the region (agrarian workers, charcoal burners, wine transporters, or textile workers, etc.); increasing birth rate resulted in an oversupply of rural laborers and reduced the landless to beggary; onerous tax burden fell upon the peasantry; Louis XIV financed his courtly grandeur and paid for his wars by soaking the peasantry; the state employed an army of tax collectors to victimize the peasantry; in addition to royal taxes, peasants also were required to pay church tithes and manorial dues; lords continued to demand obligations from peasants as they had in the Middle Ages; inefficient farming methods, prices rising faster than wages, and poor harvests in 1788-1789 also contributed to peasant hardship; urban laborers: journeymen working for master craftsmen, factory workers, and wage earners such as day laborers, gardeners, handymen, and deliverymen who were paid by those they served; poverty of urban poor, like peasantry, worsened in the late 18th century; from 1785-1789 the cost of living soared 62% while wages rose only 22%; from 1789 to 1799 urban workers struggled for their lives as well as their livelihoods in the face of food shortages and rising prices; increased prices for the staple of the basic French diet, bread, hit urban laborers and peasants particularly hard; material deprivation drove the urban poor to acts of violence that affected the course of the French Revolution

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