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Estates General, France

Mark Anthony Phelps

Subject History » Political History
Study of History » Comparative History

Place Western Europe » France

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1600-1699, 1700-1799

Key-Topics French Revolution, revolution, taxation

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00530.x


The Estates General was a French parliamentary body created in 1302 that served primarily to approve royal taxation. It was composed of representatives from three elements of society, the clergy (the First Estate), the nobility (the Second Estate), and the rest of society (the Third Estate). Prior to 1789, the last Estates General was called in 1614. The financial crisis facing France in 1789 was enormous. Interest on loans to cover the expenses of the Seven Years War and the War of the Austrian Succession was still being paid, and then there were yet more loans as France financed the Americans in their War of Independence . An estimated 50 percent or more of the government's budget was devoted to paying war debt. A disastrous harvest in 1788 further reduced royal income and led to widespread unrest among the people. After failing to win approval from the elite for taxation upon their wealth in the course of meetings of the Assemblies of Notables in February 1787 and November 1788, Louis XVI called for convening the Estates General. The conventions that met to choose representatives to the Estates General were also permitted to submit lists of grievances, the cahiers de doléances , which the king pledged to address in his perceived political role as the father of the nation. The official opening of the Estates General was on May 5, 1789. The total number of representatives was ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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