What were the causes and the effects of the French Revolution? The major cause of the French
Revolution was the disputes between the different types of social classes in French society. The
French Revolution of 1789-1799 was one of the most important events in the history of the
world. The Revolution led to many changes in France, which at the time of the Revolution, was
the most powerful state in Europe. The Revolution led to the development of new political forces
such as democracy and nationalism. It questioned the authority of kings, priests, and nobles. The
Revolution also gave new meanings and new ideas to the political ideas of the people.
The French Revolution was spread over the ten year period between 1789 and 1799. The
primary cause of the revolution was the disputes over the peoples’ differing ideas of reform.
Before the beginning of the Revolution, only moderate reforms were wanted by the people. An
example of why they wanted this was because of king Louis XIV’s actions. At the end of the
seventeenth century, King Louis XIV’s wars began decreasing the royal finances dramatically.
This worsened during the eighteenth century. The use of the money by Louis XIV angered the
people and they wanted a new system of government. Thewritings of the philosophes such as
Voltaire and Diderot, were critical of the government. They said that not one official in power
was corrupt, but that the whole system of government needed some change. Eventually, when the
royal finances were expended in the 1780’s, there began a time of greater criticism. This sparked
the peasants notion of wanting change.
Under the Old Regime in France, the king was the absolute monarch. Louis XIV had
centralized power in the royal bureaucracy, the government departments which administered his
policies. Together, Louis XIV and the bureaucracy worked to preserve royal authority and
to maintain the social structure of the Old Regime.
At this time in French history, the social classes played an important role in the lives of the
people. The social structure ofFrance was divided among three groups: the First Estate, the
Second Estate, and the Third Estate. Each social group had a varied type of people within their
structure, which presented the different views of the people.
The First Estate was the Church. During the ancien regime, the church was equal in terms
of its social, economic, and spiritualpower. The First Estate owned nearly 10 per cent of all land
in France. It paid no taxes but, to support church activities such asschool running and caring for
the poor, they collected a tithe, or a tax on income. About one-third of the entire clergy in France
served as parish priests. Also included in this estate were the nobles. Some of the nobles lived in
luxury in major cities in France, such as Versailles or Paris. Parish priests usually lived a
hardworking life. This Estate was the minority of the people in France, having approximately 1 to
2 per cent of the population.
The Second Estate in French life was the nobility. They enjoyed extensive rights and
privileges. They made up less than 2 percent of the population. They, like the First Estate, paid
hardly any taxes. Economically, the nobility was characterized by great land wealth. Nobles were
generally the richest members of the society. Typical sources of income were rents and dues for
the use of their farms or estates. The First and Second Estates were grouped together because
they had similar political beliefs.
The Third Estate consisted of the commoners. It included the bourgeoisie, peasants and
city workers. The bourgeoisie, or themiddle class, were by far, the wealthiest. In the bourgeoisie,
there were the merchants and manufacturers, lawyers, doctors and others similar to those types of
professions. Peasants made up the largest group within the Third Estate. They were forced to pay
hefty taxes, tithes to the church, and rents to their landlords for the land that they lived on. The
last group within the Third Estate were the city workers. They were servants, apprentices, and
The major cause of the Revolution were the differences these three groups had. However,
there was another important factor during these times. France suffered from harsh economic
problems. Poor farm harvests by farmers hurt the economy, and trade rules from the Middle
Ages still survived, making trade difficult. However, the most serious problem was the problem
facing the government during this time. The French