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8 Key Events That Lead To The French Revolution

A Brief Overview

By Jessica BuggPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
8 Key Events That Lead To The French Revolution
Photo by Pierre Herman on Unsplash

Today, we depart from literature reviews to return to a topic that is one of my favorites to write about . . . history. And not just what happened, but WHY certain events took place.

A Francophile to the core, which I attribute to a French language immersion program back in small town KY, I took French for eight years and have had an affinity for the language, culture, and history for my entire life. And one day, I will make it there to visit.

Today, I thought we would delve back into our history series by looking at the French Revolution. A time when change was needed, where the disparity between rich and poor was growing ever wider, and a time where a new way of leadership was necessary.

Some would say, a not all too different time than our own contemporary times.

Let’s get started.

The French Revolution Was A Slow Burn Build Up Over Time Rather Than An Overnight Coup

Many times when we learn about or discuss the French Revolution, particularly in school, it appears that this storming of the Bastille, the “off with their heads”, etc was done in one passion fueled moment. At least, that is most peoples recollection of events.

The truth is, that tension began going back to King Louis XIV-the Sun King. Which was further exacerbated when Louis XIV moved the capital from Paris to the small hunting lodge at Versailles.

Versailles was a pivotal point due to the removal of the aristocracy from the daily interaction with the commoners because their presence was required at Versailles.

And, instead of attending to matters like crop failure, maintaining social order, and the like; King Louis XIV kept his courtiers busy with tasks like handing him gloves and other trivial things in order to keep them too busy with minutae to try to overthrow him. Which was quite brilliant, although not a long term solution.

When studying the motivation of King Louis XIV to instate such rigorous court protocol, with a ceremony for everything from dressing to eating, it reminds me of how we today are occupied creating the perfect social media posts instead of looking at things that may need to be changed in our own daily lives around us.

Lastly, the construction of Versailles and it’s surrounding grounds was EXPENSIVE AF. And it’s kind of not a good look to have so many in abject poverty while you are building a guilded seat of government that is far removed from the common people.

The people of France tolerated this until 1789 when a group of thousands marched to Versailles demanding the monarchy and aristocrats return to Paris. Keep in mind from the establishment of Versailles (1682) as the new official seat of government to the beheadings of the monarchy elapsed over one hundred years.

Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV) Had To Much Political Power

As a political and foreign policy strategy, fellow historians, please note, a side chick should be a last option for candidate as ambassador in most cases.

It was not uncommon in French court for the King to take a mistress or seven. In fact, it was encouraged and seen as a sign of virility, strength, and power. But the problem was, King Louis XV (who ascended after the famous Louis-Sun King) didn’t just dick his mistresses down and take them to dinner or shopping.

Nope. Louis XV decided to put some of his mistresses in charge of actual matters of state. I want to take a moment to point out that Louis XV was also acting as his own prime minister instead of appointing one so you can see where this could lead to some bad situations.

Louis XV even went as far as to allow his favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour to act as an advisor for domestic and foreign policy.

The people were not having that.

To make matters worse, Madame de Pompadour advocated for a peace deal with Austria after the French had lost a ton of money and men fighting in the war.

Want to piss regular people off? Send their sons to die and blow all of the countries money to win the war only to then say “no thanks, we don’t want the land and resources we conquered”.

I can’t imagine such a thing happening today, can you? Moving along.

Queen Marie Antoinette Liked To Buy Expensive Shit

Marie Antoinette was an Austrian princess, daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. A court known for success, prudent financial decisions, and good governance.

Also, remember the French had just won a war with Austria, where many, many men and dollars were lost. Only for King Louis XV to say “nah, homie, let’s just be friends.”

So the French already did not fuck with the Austrians.

And now we have the heir to the throne Louis XVI betrothed to an Austrian princess to seal the deal.

TBH, the more I research and really look at the context, Marie Antoinette was set to fail from the beginning.

Marie Antoinette was vilified due to her lavish spending, which she did do. She was known for outrageous fashion, gambling, throwing expensive balls and events.

But what isn’t discussed by many historians until now is the fact that France was already broke when she got there.

Marie Antoinette even brought a dowery and personal allowance from her homeland that supplemented most if not all, of her expenses and household.

We all know how the story goes, as a part of propaganda campaign it was claimed that the people of France could not afford bread and she said,

“Let them eat cake”

She in fact, never said that.

What Marie Antoinette was, however, was a unifying villain. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? Who better to unite the people in revolution than a foreign princess (from the country where so many lost relatives) who lived well while you were hungry?

Ultimately, Marie Antoinette would be beheaded during the French Revolution, but I am here to say, she was not the reason for France’s financial troubles. They were already broke before she got there.

Again, IMO, Marie Antoinette was doomed to fail from the beginning.

The Common Folks Were Highly Taxed While The Elite Paid Almost Nothing

I know, dear reader, it is hard to imagine a system where the poorest pay the most in taxes to support the state while those with the most resources pay next to nothing, if anything at all. But that was in fact the case for pre-Revolutionary France.

France’s social order at the time was divided into three classes referred to as estates — nobility, clergy, and everyone else.

The nobility and the clergy paid almost nothing in taxes while possessing the most resources, while the common people paid heavily in taxes to support government operation (such as the construction of Versailles and wars against Austria that were won but the people never saw the benefit from).

Any peasant or non-noble was responsible for paying a tax known as “taille”. The aristocracy was completed exempt from paying this tax.

Taille was a tax based on land ownership in addition to many other taxes. And this was a sizeable percentage tax.

Again, can one imagine a tax based on land ownership that is mainly only paid by the lower classes?

King Louis XVI Spent A Lot Of Dollars On The American Revolution As A Way To Say Fuck You Britain

One of my favorite historical figures from the hit Broadway play, Hamilton, is of course everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman. Lafayette.

Lafayette is even quoted in the play as saying

“I go to France for more funds,

I come back with more guns,

And ships,

And so the balance shifts.”

Which IMO, is the most underrated quotation from the entire musical.

King Louis XVI was more than happy to assist with funding the American revolutionaries because it would fuck with their arch enemy (the British). There was a very covert diversion of funds to provide the Americans guns and other tools of war.

But it doesn’t sit too well when your people are starving and you are sending money overseas to assist in fighting someone else’s war.

Again, one can’t imagine such a foreign protocol debacle occuring today . . .

This is such an integral part of history and how we live today that this particular section will be expanded upon in another article later this week. It’s that important.

Pacte de Famine and Food Shortages

France had been riddled with several crop failures and foreign trade disagreements which lead to food shortages for most people.

You wanna make people revolt? Have them go hungry. It’s one reason why food stamps in the United States will be one of the last government programs to be defunded if it ever comes to that point.

There was a theory at the time that the royal family and nobility were hoarding food for themselves and preventing the people from access to food and supplies.

King Louis XVI Locked The Third Estate Out

This was kinda like the straw that broke the camels back. The King decided to lock the third estate (the common people) representatives OUT of a government meeting.

Like, locked the doors so they couldn’t get in.

So what do common folk do when they represent a majority and pay most of the taxes while their people are starving do?

Held their own meeting at the tennis courts where they revised a plan for rapid reform.

Have I Mentioned King Louis XVI Was A Shitty Head of State?

It could not have been easy to follow up the Sun King or even his predecessor, Louis XV. But King Louis XVI inherited a train wreck and on top of that, he was known as a very indecisive ruler.

And when he DID make a decision, it was usually not the most ideal one.

One thing to be learned from King Louis XVI is that it is better to rule with confidence and decisiveness than to be seen as weak.

When you are weak you are open to loss of power.

Again, one cannot imagine a modern country being lead by someone who is deficient in areas of executive leadership and what the consequences would be.

Final Thoughts

The French Revolution will always be one of my favorite time periods to research and discuss. The major takeway from this piece should be that the revolution did not happen in a matter of days, weeks, months, but rather a century of ignoring the plight of the majority.

The good of the group should always supercede the good of the few, for anyone in leadership.


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    Jessica BuggWritten by Jessica Bugg

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