French Society in the 17th
• French society had been a hierarchy since the
middle ages – Pyramid.
• Top – King, Middle – aristocrats, Bottom – serfs
• The Peasants
• Farmers owned small plots of land, worked
hard, but had little to show for it – brutal life.
• Victims of epidemics and famine.
• Were forced to work on lord’s property.
• No education, couldn’t read
• Paris was the biggest city in France – 600,000.
• Many come from the countryside for work.
• Most spent half of earnings on food.
• Many were poor and lived in slums – many
beggars, vagrants, and thieves.
• Prosperous merchants and aristocrats
displayed their wealth without embarrassment.
• The influx of cash into the cities caused
• This made flour very expensive – staple diet
• Middle class – important because they invested
in new business.
• Laws & regs made it difficult to make profits.
• Monopolies – guilds (shops) held special
privileges by the king to control how goods
were produced and cost.
• Many tariffs (tax) and tolls (charge to use a
road or bridge).
• France also lacked infrastructure – roads and
canals and gov’t did little about it.
There were two kinds of titles used
by French nobles:
some were personal ranks,
other were titles linked to the
fiefs owned, called fiefs de
• Duc: possessor of a duchy (duché) and recognized as
duke by the king.
• Marquis: possessor of a marquesate (marquisat) or
merely assumed by ambitious families.
• Comte: possessor of a county (comté) or merely
assumed by ambitious families.
• Vicomte: possessor of a viscounty (vicomté).
• Baron: possessor of a barony (baronnie).
• Prince: possessor of a lordship styled principality
(principauté), a title which was only semi-official and
never gave his possessor precedence at the court.
Not to be confused with the rank of Prince.
• Seigneur: meaning lord as possessor of a lordship,
can be the title of non-nobles. Generally referred to by
sieur i.e. sir, followed by the name of the fief, as in
• Fils de France: son of a king.
• Petit-fils de France: grandson of a king.
• Prince du Sang (prince of the blood): any legitimate
male-line descendant of a king of France
• Prince étranger (Foreign Prince): members of foreign
royal or princely families naturalized at the French
court, such as the Clèves, Rohan, La Tour
d'Auvergne, and Lorraine.
• Chevalier: rank assumed only by the most noble
families and the possessors of certain high dignities in
the court. Member of the orders of chivalry had a title
of chevalier, but not a rank of chevalier, which can be
• Écuyer: rank of the vast majority of the nobles. Also
called valet or noble homme in certain regions.
Louis XIV: Sun King
• Ruled extravagantly for 72 years.
• Took Absolute Monarchy to a new level. How?
• How was France pushed to the brink of
• Dutch wars depleted treasury
• Palace of Versailles ruined the economy
• Persecution of Huguenots (protestants) were
business people and entrepreneurs
• Louis XVI, king of
France, arrived in the
wrong historical place at
the wrong time and soon
overwhelmed by events
beyond his control.
• Ascending the throne in
1774, Louis inherited a
realm driven nearly
bankrupt through the
opulence (luxuries) of his
predecessors Louis XIV
• After donning the crown, things only got
worse. The economy spiraled downward
(unemployment in Paris in 1788 is estimated
at 50%), crops failed, the price of bread and
other food soared.
• The people were not happy.
• To top it off, Louis had the misfortune to
marry a foreigner, the Austrian Marie
• The anger of the French people, fueled by
xenophobia (an intense fear or dislike of
foreign people), targeted Marie as a prime
source of their problems.