The Three Estates of the Feudal System of France During the French Revolution
There are three main interpretive perspectives that concern the French Revolution. These perspectives are the three estates of France. The first estate and second estate were comprised of the upper class – the nobility and clergy. The third estate was comprised of artisans, peasants, and the working class. As with all feudal systems, the upper classes did not have to pay taxes and had all the advantages, while the hardest working, and yet poorer, folks were left in even tighter straits because of their richer counterparts. Eventually this would lead to bitterness and constraint, which in turn would emerge into full revolt and rebellion.
The first estate included King Louis XVI and his clerics. These people never paid taxes and, in essence, did the least amount of work. In a time of famine and bad harvest, they squandered countless quantities of money on superfluous causes and selfish indulgences. They ate exceptionally well and were clothed and sheltered in the best of circumstances possible. Because of their lavish life, members of the first estate saw no need for change and were blind to any social problems. They were in such a mentality that if they could better their lives in such a fashion, then there was certainly no need for reform.
The second estate was similar in many respects to the first. Those in this estate were noblemen and noblewomen of high breeding and social status. These people were supposed to pay taxes in wartime; however, because they were not used to paying taxes, this rule was rarely enforced. This estate added to the strain on the economy, and yet the people of this class lived luxuriously enough that they did not care. They, too, saw no problem in the Estates-General or in social structure. Again, the members of this estate saw only profit for themselves and saw not the decline for the third estate.
The third estate was comprised of the workers, the beggars, the artisans, and the bourgeoisie. This class did all the working of the land and created most of what the higher classes took for granted such as horseshoes, homes, and other like things, yet they reaped little to no benefits. They did not have equal representation in the government, had no influence in voting procedures, and paid the heavy taxes laid down by the King. After a while, it grew so ridiculous and tiresome that the third estate joined itself into a union and rose up in defiance against the Estates-General.
However, there was a growing fear that their newly formed National Assembly would be disbanded by the government. Strains grew between the Third Estate and the higher Estates. Deputies of the Third Estate had to meet in a local tennis court on June 17, 1789, as they had been locked out of their meeting hall in Versailles. They vowed not to separate until a constitution was created and signed for France.
The king was forced to send clergy and noblemen to join the Third Estate in the National Assembly to keep some semblance of peace. They created an oath of allegiance, revolting against the government to place real representatives in the government, gain influence on the vote, and lift the burden of the hefty taxes under which they were placed.
The document was signed by 576 of the 577 members of the Third Estate, as well as, a few members of the First Estate in a meeting of the Estates-General held in the tennis court on June 20, 1789. The oath later came to be known as the Tennis Court Oath. This led to a greater revolt against the King himself and his wife, both of whom greatly decreased the economy of France in their lust for luxuries and vanities.
All three of these estates had influence on the French Revolution; without them, the revolution never would have existed. It was because of the oppression of the higher classes that the lower class rose up and stood up to the “lions of injustice” ( to quote Jo from Little Women). The third estate held the most convincing perspective because of its suppression and delineation from social graces. The third estate looked at its situation and chose to take action; whereas, the other two sat by on pedestals and acted as if things were perfect in their present state. It just comes to show that, when one group is discriminated against or socially eradicated, that group will rise up and become more influential than the people in the groups previously stomping on them.