1)Feudalism is often represented as a pyramid, with the monarch (king or queen) and nobility elite or “aristocracy” at the top and the peasant farmers at the base.

2)Peasants were the largest group in society, though they held the least power.

3)Feudalism politically is generally characterized by “absolute” monarchy –
“REX LEX” – the king was law. Political power was “top down”.

4)French monarch Louis XIV was the most famous “absolute” monarch. He called
himself the “Sun King”- everything in France “revolved” around him.

5)Louis XIV, Europe’s most powerful king, famously stated, “I am the state.”

6)Louis’ royal power was symbolized by his huge, lavish palace he had built atVersailles, ten miles outside Paris.

7)Feudal economies was largely agricultural. Poor peasants farmed land owned by the noble elite and church. The Peasant class were heavily taxed.

8)Economic opportunity was limited in a “mercantilist” economy that was regulated by the king or state. Most were peasants, though there was a small merchant “middle class”.

9)Feudalism was based on social hierarchy – “privileged” classes of “superiors” and “inferiors”. Your class was largely birth.

10)French society was divided into rigid (unchanging) classes called Estates.

11)The elite class of clergy (priests) made up the First Estate Positions of Church power and wealth were largely “reserved” for the “elite” families of the nobility.

12)French and European feudal society gave religious pre-eminence or “monopoly” to the Roman Catholic Church..

13)Church power and wealth was based on land ownership. The Church owned about 10% of land in France.

14)The second estate was the nobility. This “elite” class made up 2% of the population.

15)Neither of the first two estates paid much in taxes to the government. They were a “privileged” class largely exempt from laws “regular” people were under.

16)The Third Estate (“everybody else”) made up 98% of the French population.
Peasants made up more than 80% of France’s 26 million people. 


17)New, “liberal” ideals and the “enlightened” use of “reason” to change and
improve human life provided a sense of “optimism” to many.

18)The success of the American Revolution (1776-81) was an example of “enlightened” government many French admired and wished to imitate..
19)Thomas Jefferson stated in the American Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) that all people born “free and equal” with “natural” Rights given by the “Creator – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

20)The American Constitution (1787-89) included a Bill of Rights guaranteed to all citizens.Government formed by the people, for the benefit of the people was an example of “enlightened” government by social contract.

21)American government and “egalitarian” society rejected “feudal” social hierarchy with “privileged” elite classes of “superiors” and “inferiors”..(no king or nobility)

22)Government by natural rights, by law and social contract was an important development in the “enlightened” transition from “REX LEX” (the “king is law”, a.k.a. absolutism), to “LEX REX” (the “law is king” – limited monarchy) to just plain “rex” – government by “representation” and “law” with no king or queen.


23)King Louis XVI, coronated king in 1775, was unable to keep a budget, spending more than he took in from taxes. He borrowed money to maintain his royal life of luxury.

24)Wars also contributed to the French debt. Fighting in Europe was expensive.

Louis spent a sizable sum helping America to gain its independence from Britain.

25)France’s economic problems were made worse by an expanding population and heavy taxation. The Third Estate paid more than 50% of their incomes to Nobility, Church, and King.

26)Due to the very cold winter of 1788-89, the price of bread doubled at this time.

There were riots and killing due to food shortages.

27)Louis XVI’s financial crisis was caused by his overspending, indecisiveness and overall mismanagement.

When he tried to “fix” the crisis, he made things worse..

28)Facing bankruptcy, Louis attempted to tax the nobility to raise money.

The nobility resisted this “solution” to the problem.
29)The budget crisis would lead to “revolution”.


30)Louis XVI called the three estates to meet together as the “Estates General” in May, 1789. This representative assembly had not met since 1614. (175 years)

31)With one vote each, the larger Third Estate (98% of the population) could always get out-voted by the two smaller “privileged” classes. (Clergy and Nobility)

32)The more numerous Third Estate demanded more political power during the meeting of the Estates General .

The king and the nobility refused this demand.

33)The Third Estate delegates voted on June 17th to name themselves the National Assembly and pass laws and govern in the name of the French people.

34)The National Assembly was the first “deliberate” act of revolution, the beginning of the end of absolute monarchy (rex lex’), towards representative government (“lex rex”).

35)The king used the army to lock out the Assembly of their meeting hall.

36)The Assembly pledged on June 20th to stay in the King’s Tennis Court until they had drafted a new Constitution.

This pledge was called the “Tennis Court” Oath.

37)Louis then tried to make peace with the Third Estate. Louis instructed the nobility and elite clergy to join the Third Estate in the National Assembly.

38)In Paris, rumors flew that foreign troops were coming to kill French citizens.

People gathered weapons to defend Paris against the foreign troops.

39)On July 14, 1789, a violent mob seized the infamous Bastille royal prison. killing the guards and seizing gunpowder

This became the great symbolic act of revolution.

July 14th is celebrated today as the French national holiday. (like our 4th of July)

40)On July 17th, the Great Fear began, a ‘panic” and riots by peasants and others amid rumors of an “aristocratic conspiracy” by the elite to overthrow the Third Estate

41)In October, 1789, about 6000 Parisian women rioted over the rising price of bread. Seizing knives and axes, these women led a march on Versailles.

The 20,000+ sized mob demanded that Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette come to Paris.

42)The King and his family left Versailles as “hostages”, never again to return.