Collapse Of The French Monarchy Essay

3502 words - 14 pages

Why did the French Monarchy collapse in 1792?

In order to begin to answer this question it is necessary to first return to the Estates General of 1789. Although the body had not been convened since 1641, over 150 years prior, Louis XVI was not prepared to allow for any significant change in procedure; in November of 1788, the king had granted double representation for the Third Estate but also upheld voting by orders. Under such a system, the first and second estates had the happy fortune to be always in the majority, as most of the upper echelons of the Catholic Church were made up of nobles. As such, despite their overwhelming majority, both in the meeting halls of the Estates General and throughout the country, the commons had little power.

Historians Mora Ozouf and Keith Baker have both discussed the significance of the emergence of the public sphere during this period which gave rise to hundreds of political satires, pamphlets and cartoons which were used to devastating effect to decry the lack of influence the Third Estate was able to exert. Through these mediums, the commons began to question the legitimacy of a strictly hierarchical society and, even more troublingly as far the upper estates were concerned, started to suggest that the Third Estate, by virtue of their labours, were the only true citizens of the French Nation, as articulated in Father Sieyes pamphlet ‘What is the Third Estate.’ It seems that instead of engaging with these issues, the king ‘surrendered to reactionary elements at court’, most noticeably the Princes of the Blood who, in December of 1788 had issued a memorandum denouncing the various reform proposals put forward by the Third Estate in anticipation of the Estates General.

On June 17 the representatives of the Third Estate broke from the wider Estates General and declared that they now made up a new National Assembly, a single representative body in which deputies from all three estates would debate in common. Three days later, the deputies of the Third Estate, having been locked out of the Estates-General meeting hall in Versailles, joined together in an empty tennis court. Here, they swore an oath expressing their commitment to creating a written constitution and restating their determination to remain indivisible. The King responded to this, addressing the deputies in a ‘royal session’ on June 23 during which he rejected the notion that the Third Estate could constitute a National Assembly and insisted that every deputy represented only the order by whom he had been elected. He did make one concession however; on matters which affected all three orders, particularly those concerning royal fiscal policy, all the representatives would be permitted to debate in common.

The King put forward several reforms relating to taxation and expressed his willingness to sanction the decision of the upper estates to forgo their financial privileges, as advocated by Calonne the previous year. The King concluded by...

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