Because the need to raise taxes placed the king at odds with the established nobility, he typically appointed as his finance ministers (to use François Mignet’s term), “rising men” usually of non-noble origin.
Turgot, Chrétien de Malesherbes, and Jacques Necker successively attempted to revise the system of taxation and to make other reforms, such as Necker’s attempts to reduce the lavishness of the king’s court. Each failed in turn.
In contrast, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, appointed finance minister in 1783, restored lavish spending more reminiscent of the age of Louis XIV. By the time Calonne brought together an assembly of notables on February 22, 1787 to address the financial situation, France had reached a state of virtual bankruptcy: no one would lend the king funds sufficient to meet the expenses of government and court.
According to Mignet, the loans amounted to “one thousand six hundred and forty-six millions… and… there was an annual deficit… of a hundred and forty millions livres. Calonne was succeeded by his chief critic Etienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, archbishop of Sens, but the fundamental situation was unchanged: the government had no credit.
To try to address this, the assembly “sanctioned the establishment of provincial assemblies, a regulation of the corn trade, the abolition of corvées, and a new stamp tax; it broke up on the 25th of May, 1787.”
The subsequent struggle with the parlements in an unsuccessful attempt to enact these measures displayed the first overt signs of the disintegration of the ancien régime. In the ensuing struggle:
In response, several nobles including Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orleans sufferred banishment, resulting in a further series of conflicting decrees by the king and the parlements. The conflict spilled out of the courts (and beyond the nobility) with disturbances in Dauphiné, Brittany, Provence, Flanders, Languedoc, and Béarn.
Despite ancien régime France being, in theory, an absolute monarchy, it became clear that the royal government could not successfully effect the changes it desired without the consent of the nobility. The financial crisis had become a political crisis as well.
On July 13, 1787 parliament and the nobility had demanded that the king call the Estates-General; the Estates of Dauphiné had seconded this in the assembly of Vizille; on December 18, 1787, the king promised to call the Estates-General within five years; after Brienne’s resignation on August 25, 1788, and with Necker back in charge of the nation’s finances, the king, on August 8, 1788, agreed to convene the Estates-General in May 1789, for the first time since 1614.
The prospect of an Estates-General highlighted the conflict of interest between the Second Estate (the nobility) and the Third Estate (in theory, all of the commoners; in practice the middle class or bourgeoisie). Society had changed since 1614. The First Estate (the clergy) and the Second Estate together represented only 2 percent of France’s national population.
The Third Estate, theoretically representing the other 98% of the French population, in practice represented an increasing proportion of the country’s wealth. But the other two Estates, which historically had often voted with each other, could still outvote it. Many of this rising class nonetheless saw the calling of the Estates-General as a chance to gain power.
According to the model of 1614, the Estates-General would consist of equal numbers of representatives of each Estate. The Third Estate demanded double representation (which they already had in the provincial assemblies). This became a topic for pamphleteers, the most notable pamphlet “What is the Third Estate?” coming from the pen of Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès.
Necker, hoping to avoid conflict, convened a second assembly of notables on November 6, 1788, but, to his chagrin, they rejected the notion of double representation. By calling the assembly, Necker had merely underlined the nobles’ opposition to the inevitable policy.
A royal decree of November 27, 1788 announced that the Estates-General would amount to at least a thousand deputies; it also granted the double representation. Furthermore, mere priests (curés) could serve as deputies for the First Estate, and the Third Estate could elect Protestant deputies.
According to Mignet, after reasonably honest elections, “The deputation of the nobility was comprised of two hundred and forty-two gentlemen, and twenty-eight members of the parliament; that of the clergy, of forty-eight archbishops or bishops, thirty-five abbés or deans, and two hundred and eight curés; and that of the communes, of two ecclesiastics, twelve noblemen, eighteen magistrates of towns, two hundred county members, two hundred and twelve barristers, sixteen physicians, and two hundred and sixteen merchants and agriculturists”.
Other sources give slightly different numbers, see French States-General.
Credits : This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Prelude to the French Revolution”.
Enter your DEPARTURE and ARRIVAL localities, your travel date and time below, Click on FIND TRAINS to view real-time train schedules, travel times, options and itineraries (direct or with intermediary stops). Tickets can generally be purchased 90 days prior to departure and the earlier you purchase, the lower the price. Bonjourlafrance offers all French and European train tickets for purchase worldwide.
By clicking on the BOOK A TRAIN NOW button you are assured of obtaining real-time schedules, PRICES (including discounts) and travel times, based on your choice of date and time, for France and European Train Tickets and Passes. You'll be directed to a page for SECURE PURCHASE in your country with client service generally in your language and/or French or English.