French Revolution Notes | Study History for UPSC 2022 (Pre & Mains) - UPSC

UPSC: French Revolution Notes | Study History for UPSC 2022 (Pre & Mains) - UPSC

The document French Revolution Notes | Study History for UPSC 2022 (Pre & Mains) - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC 2022 (Pre & Mains).
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 Page 1


PCS World History
French Revolution
Page 2


PCS World History
French Revolution
French Revolution and its causes:
• French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary
movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first 
climax there in 1789. Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” 
denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to 
distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
• The upheaval was caused by widespread discontent with the French 
monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI, who met his 
death by guillotine, as did his wife Marie Antoinette. Although it failed to 
achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, 
the French Revolution played a critical role in shaping modern nations by 
showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
Page 3


PCS World History
French Revolution
French Revolution and its causes:
• French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary
movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first 
climax there in 1789. Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” 
denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to 
distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
• The upheaval was caused by widespread discontent with the French 
monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI, who met his 
death by guillotine, as did his wife Marie Antoinette. Although it failed to 
achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, 
the French Revolution played a critical role in shaping modern nations by 
showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
Causes of French Revolution:
• The French Revolution had general causes common to all the 
revolutions of the West at the end of the 18th century and particular 
causes that explain why it was by far the most violent and the most 
universally significant of these revolutions:
1. Social Causes:
• The increasingly numerous and prosperous elite of wealthy 
commoners—merchants, manufacturers, and professionals, often 
called the bourgeoisie—aspired to political power in those countries 
where it did not already possess it. The peasants, many of whom 
owned land, had attained an improved standard of living and 
education and wanted to get rid of the last vestiges of feudalism so as 
to acquire the full rights of landowners and to be free to increase 
their holdings. 
Page 4


PCS World History
French Revolution
French Revolution and its causes:
• French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary
movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first 
climax there in 1789. Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” 
denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to 
distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
• The upheaval was caused by widespread discontent with the French 
monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI, who met his 
death by guillotine, as did his wife Marie Antoinette. Although it failed to 
achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, 
the French Revolution played a critical role in shaping modern nations by 
showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
Causes of French Revolution:
• The French Revolution had general causes common to all the 
revolutions of the West at the end of the 18th century and particular 
causes that explain why it was by far the most violent and the most 
universally significant of these revolutions:
1. Social Causes:
• The increasingly numerous and prosperous elite of wealthy 
commoners—merchants, manufacturers, and professionals, often 
called the bourgeoisie—aspired to political power in those countries 
where it did not already possess it. The peasants, many of whom 
owned land, had attained an improved standard of living and 
education and wanted to get rid of the last vestiges of feudalism so as 
to acquire the full rights of landowners and to be free to increase 
their holdings. 
• The division into estates in the 18th century French society further caused 
upheavals leading up to the revolution. The society was divided into 3 estates-
1
st
(Clergy), 2
nd
(Nobility) and 3
rd
(Merchants, businessmen, peasants, lawyers 
etc.) The first two estates were exempt from taxes while the third one bore the 
entire burden. 
• There was a direct tax imposed on them called taille which was also imposed on 
the members of that third estate as well as a number of indirect taxes. Another 
tax called tithe was also collected by the Church from the peasants. Another tax 
paid by the peasant was Vingtieme or income-tax. This amounted to about 5 per 
cent of all incomes. The nobles paid only a part and the clergymen were 
completely exempted. Another tax was Gabelle or salt tax. This was the most 
regressive of all the taxes. The Government had a monopoly of salt and 
everybody above the age of seven had to buy a certain quantity of salt every 
year (approximately seven pounds) from the Government which was 10 times its 
real value. Another tax was the Corvee or road tax. Road-making was the duty 
of the peasants and they had to spend many weeks in a year on the construction 
and maintenance of roads in their neighbourhood.
Page 5


PCS World History
French Revolution
French Revolution and its causes:
• French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, the revolutionary
movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first 
climax there in 1789. Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” 
denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to 
distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
• The upheaval was caused by widespread discontent with the French 
monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI, who met his 
death by guillotine, as did his wife Marie Antoinette. Although it failed to 
achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, 
the French Revolution played a critical role in shaping modern nations by 
showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
Causes of French Revolution:
• The French Revolution had general causes common to all the 
revolutions of the West at the end of the 18th century and particular 
causes that explain why it was by far the most violent and the most 
universally significant of these revolutions:
1. Social Causes:
• The increasingly numerous and prosperous elite of wealthy 
commoners—merchants, manufacturers, and professionals, often 
called the bourgeoisie—aspired to political power in those countries 
where it did not already possess it. The peasants, many of whom 
owned land, had attained an improved standard of living and 
education and wanted to get rid of the last vestiges of feudalism so as 
to acquire the full rights of landowners and to be free to increase 
their holdings. 
• The division into estates in the 18th century French society further caused 
upheavals leading up to the revolution. The society was divided into 3 estates-
1
st
(Clergy), 2
nd
(Nobility) and 3
rd
(Merchants, businessmen, peasants, lawyers 
etc.) The first two estates were exempt from taxes while the third one bore the 
entire burden. 
• There was a direct tax imposed on them called taille which was also imposed on 
the members of that third estate as well as a number of indirect taxes. Another 
tax called tithe was also collected by the Church from the peasants. Another tax 
paid by the peasant was Vingtieme or income-tax. This amounted to about 5 per 
cent of all incomes. The nobles paid only a part and the clergymen were 
completely exempted. Another tax was Gabelle or salt tax. This was the most 
regressive of all the taxes. The Government had a monopoly of salt and 
everybody above the age of seven had to buy a certain quantity of salt every 
year (approximately seven pounds) from the Government which was 10 times its 
real value. Another tax was the Corvee or road tax. Road-making was the duty 
of the peasants and they had to spend many weeks in a year on the construction 
and maintenance of roads in their neighbourhood.
2. Economic causes:
• One of the primary causes of hardship was the rise in population in France 
in 18
th
century further hardened by the burdens of taxes and landlessness. 
20 years before 1789 were a time of economic difficulties. The months 
leading up to the convening of the Estates-General coincided with the 
worst subsistence crisis France had suffered in many years; a spring 
drought was followed by a devastating hailstorm that ruined crops in much 
of the northern half of the country in July 1788. Distressed peasants were 
thus eager to take advantage of a situation in which the privileges of their 
landlords seemed vulnerable to attack. Urban workers, who suffered 
acutely when bread prices rose, were also frustrated. 
• Noting a downward economic spiral in the late 1700s, King Louis XVI 
brought in a number of financial advisors to review the weakened French 
treasury. Finally he appointed a new controller general of finance, Charles 
de Calonne, in 1783. Calonne suggested that, among other things, France 
begin taxing the previously exempt nobility. The nobility refused, even 
after Calonne pleaded with them during the Assembly of Notables in 1787. 
Financial ruin thus seemed imminent. 
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