This post is part of a series about genealogy in France. You can read the complete series HERE.
The foundation for the Revolution began in February 1787 when the controller of finances arranged for the assembly of those who were deemed as “notables”, essentially great noblemen and some representatives of the middle classes.
The proposed reforms were an attempt to remove a budget deficit by taxation increases of the privileged classes. The assembly refused to agree to the reforms, suggesting that the Estate Generals which represented the Clergy, the Aristocracy and the Third Estate (Commoners).
who had not met since 1664, should have. The fiscal reforms, despite not being supported were enforced, leading to a “revolt” of the aristocratic bodies (Parliaments – important courts of Justice) whose powers were restricted by the Edict of May 1788.
In 1788, there was more unrest, King Louis XVI reappointed a reform-minded finance minister and promised to convene the Estate General on 5 May 1789. He also granted “Freedom of the Press”, and soon France was flooded with publications relaying the message of reconstruction of the state.
There were elections between January to April 1789 for the Estate-General which coincided with disturbances following the failure of the harvest of 1788. There were no exclusions from voting:
- 600 deputies of the Third Estate (the Commoners)
- 300 for the Nobility
- 300 for the Clergy
The Estate Generals met on 5 May 1789 and immediately they could not agree on:
- Vote by individual – essentially, one head, one vote which gave advantage to the commoners
- Vote by the Estate – the privileged orders might be outvoted
On 17 June 1789, the struggle led to the Commoners (Third Estate) declared themselves the National Assembly, saying they would proceed without the other two orders, if necessary. There was support from many parish Priests who were outnumbered by the Upper Clergy of aristocratic.
Royal Officials locked the church deputies out of their usual meeting place on 20 June. The meeting moved to the King’s indoor tennis course with the oath, stating they would not move until a new Constitution was given to France.
The King urged the nobles and remaining clergy to join the assembly. On 9 July, the assembly took the name of National Constituent Assembly though the King also began moves to gather the military to remove it. Rumours began to circle The Third Estate, of them being overthrown, an aristocratic conspiracy, leading to what is known as the Great Fear of July 1789.
This led to the peasants rising against their Lords and on 4 August 1789 it seemed the only way out was to abolish the feudal system. On 26 August the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proclaiming Liberty, Equality and the Inviolability of Property, and the right to resist oppression.
The King refused to agree. There was a growth of newspapers, all keeping citizens informed of the developments. Public ceremonies promoted the planting of “Liberty Trees” in villages and a Festival of Federations was held in Paris in 1790.