Causes of the French Revolution

On July 14, 1789, several starving working people of Paris and sixty soldiers
seized control of the Bastille, forever changing the course of French history. The seizing
of the Bastille wasnít caused by one event, but several underlying causes such as the Old
Regime, the raising of taxes, the American revolution, and the idea and beliefs of the
philosophes. The immediate causes of the revolution were the rising price of bread and
the locking of the third estate out of its meeting hall. Finally, the spark was the ordering
of the Swiss guards to Paris by Louis the XVI.
The first underlying cause of the French Revolution was the Old Regime. The
people of France were divided into three estates. The first estate was composed of the
highest church officials. They held about ten percent of all the land in France. They paid
no direct taxes to the royal government. The second estate was made up of nobles. They
were only two percent of Franceís population, but owned twenty percent of the land.
They paid no taxes (Krieger 483). The third estate accounted for ninety-eight percent of
Franceís population. The third estate was divided into three groups; the middle class,
known as the bourgeoisie, the urban lower classes, and the peasant farmers. The third
estate lost about half their income in taxes. They paid feudal dues, royal taxes, and also
owed the corvee, a form of tax paid with work (Krieger 484).
A second underlying cause was the raising of taxes. The third estate was already
being taxed enough, and the nobles refusal to pay taxes only worsened the problem.
The third underlying cause was the American Revolution. The French had
incurred an enormous debt by helping the Americans. The French also saw how the
Americans overthrew an absolute monarch and obtained freedom (Krieger 484).
The fourth underlying cause was the writings and teachings of several well known
philosophes. Many people took up ideas from philosophes such as John Locke, who
advocated freedom from oppression (Krieger 461).
An immediate cause of the French Revolution was the rising price of bread. The
grain harvest had been low the previous year, so the price of bread rose. Bread was
usually the only thing that the poor ate, and raising prices would make them starve
(Krieger 484).
Another immediate cause was the locking of the third estate out of its meeting hall.
Abby Sieyes suggested that the third estate become the National Assembly. On June 20,
1789, the king locked the third estate out of its meeting hall, but this didnít prevent them
from meeting. They instead met an a nearby indoor tennis court (Krieger 485).
The spark of the revolution, the event that touched off the French Revolution, was
the ordering of the Swiss guards to Paris by Louis the XVI. The king felt that he could
not trust his own military, so he hired Swiss mercenaries. He finally called them off when
the Bastille was stormed (Krieger 486).
The French Revolution was caused by many underlying causes, immediate causes,
and finally, a spark which touched off a national revolution, forever changing the course of
Franceís history.