3.4b Economic Reasons for the Revolution
The disturbed economic position of France was one of the chief factors of the ensuing revolution. The national debt had risen beyond control due to the wars waged by Louis XIV. He had spent astronomically over the royal mansion in Versailles, twelve miles from Paris. It was famous for its grandeur all over Europe.
The maidservants employed in the service of Louis XVI numbered 1600 and in the service of Marie Antoinette were as many as five hundred. The royal stable could boast of one thousand eight hundred horses and two hundred broughams. Twelve million francs were squandered annually over the upkeep of the royal mansion. The royal mansion at Versailles was known all over Europe for its matchless grandeur. Queen Marie Antoinette was in the habit of squandering wealth over the purchase of valuables. The public money in this manner was lavished remorselessly by the crown. According to Hazen, at that time, instead of matching expenditure according to the income, the income was devised with a view to the expenditure of the crown.
The famous historian Robertson writes about her: "Maria Antoinette was that ignorant, frivolous, and prodigal daughter of the Hapsburgs to whom France seemed only a bottomless purse to be drained for her pleasures."
The commoners were groaning under the heavy burden of the state
taxation. The aristocrats, the members of the royal household, the
nobles and the clergy who enjoyed special privileges were free from
every kind of tax. The heavy burden was borne by the commoners.
The poor peasantry had to pay separate taxes to the Crown, the clergy
and the landlords. Three days in a week the landlords extracted
from them labor for which they were paid not even a single farthing
and at the top of it they got from them poultry and grain from their
yield. Those farmers who refused to do unpaid labor had to please
the Crown by remitting Quit Rent to the Royal Treasury. On the death
of a freeman or on his selling land one-fifth of the income gained
by it went straight to the state coffers, in addition to what was
paid to the clergy. They had also to pay income tax and toll tax.
The officials of the state extorted taxes according to their individual
whims. The peasants had to pay salt tax. They had to work also on
building roads for which they were not paid even a sou. They had
to pay about eighty per cent of their income towards taxes. Therefore,
there was a general discontentment among the farmers and the proletariat.
Millions were spent annually over the upkeep of the grand building. Due to the financial mess created by Louis XVI’s maladministration and due to heavy expenditure on the army, particularly in the Seven Years’ War, the national debt of France had risen incredibly. Louis XV tried to meet this deficit as long as he was able, but after the coronation of Louis XVI, the condition of the French treasury became awfully appalling. To augment this was the lavish squandering by Marie Antoinette. That was a heavy drain on the finances. This needed immediate reforms. The monarch was a puppet in the hands of his queen and the influential courtiers. When the able ministers proposed to levy taxes on the nobles, they were deprived of their posts by the aristocracy of the age. D. M. Ketelbey writes about the hastening of the revolution in France by remarking:
''Fundamentally Turgot and Necker failed not from their own incidental demerits, but because of the character of the king and the strength of the opposing interests. Had the king supported them firmly, some measure of success would have fallen to them and when in May 1776 he dismissed Turgot, the Revolution became inevitable."
3.1 The Seven Years' War
3.2 Catherine the Great
3.3 The Industrial Revolution
3.4 The French Revolution
3.5 France as a Republic (1795 - 1799)
3.6 Napolean Bonaparte
3.7 Points to Remember